We would have loved to have taken the Strezlecki Track to Innamincka but with the cyclones up north a few months back, water was now flowing into the Cooper and the Diamantina Rivers.
Lake Eyre, which was just a salt pan when we visited last trip, was now filling with water and the Strezlecki, Oonadattta and Birdsville Tracks were closed.
Leaving Blinman, the scenery was quite scrubby and hilly as the road twisted and turned through the Erugunda Valley.
This was ‘sheep and cattle station country’ and we would pass through many stations adjoining one another as we headed south to Yunta and the Barrier Highway.
The first station we came to was Wirrealpa HS.
Many of the stations out this way, although working stations, also cater for the tourist dollar with the ‘old shearers quarters (1860) here at Wirrealpa used for accommodation for tourists visiting the area.
To give you an ideas of the size of these stations, Wirrealpa covers an area of 1,600 square kilometres and has been owned by the same family for 5 generations.
The lease originally dates back to the early 1850s, with the station being established in 1856 by the then owner, John Chambers on a property that occupied an area of 904,320 acres.
The property changed hands a number of times over its short life, first in the 1860s, mostly due to ongoing losses caused by drought, then again in 1871.
In 1953 Wirrealpa was placed on the market and sold again resulting in the property being divided, with F. H. Fargher and sons buying a 228,480-acre portion, including the 8-bedroom stone homestead, which the family still own today, even after suffering through a 20-year drought from 1990 to 2010… and again through the more recent one!
From here on, the topography changed and the countryside flattened. We were now driving through dry, dusty, barren land for as far as the eye could see, with the Flinders Ranges a distant panorama.
Next came Martins Well.
Martins Well consists of approximately 1035 square kilometres of land.
When European occupation started in the early 1850s, Martins Well was taken up as part of the Wilpena Station and ran as a pastoral property.
In 2017, with a change of ownership, came the switch from a pastoral property to one of conservation, tourism and re-engaging with the traditional owners, the Adnyamathanha people of the Flinders Ranges. It is now called ‘Martin Well Rangeland Reserve’.
Passing the ruins of an outstation we couldn’t help but think of the hardship and loneliness that came with this land.
As these stations covered such large areas, they all had outstation huts for station hands. This was so they didn’t have to waste time travelling the many, many kilometres across the vast drought-blasted paddocks back to the main station.
We had been told in Hawker that we would compete with lots of road trains on this gravel road, but the only traffic we passed was 1 works vehicle just before Erudina Station.
Close by we also passed very noticeable signs stating ‘NO ENTRY’ on 2 locked gates and wondered if the vehicle and the gates were connected to the uranium mine site, we had heard so much about.
Apparently, the road trains carry an acid solution that is used to dissolve the uranium in the mine, which is then pumped back to the surface where the uranium is extracted.
We didn’t see any road trains, although we were told later, they move mostly at night under the cover of darkness.
Next, we crossed over Wilpena Creek where lots of Mitchell grass flats and River Red Gums lined the dry water course.
Kangaroos lazed in the shade amongst the trees, showing not the slightest interes in us as we drove across the dry creek bed.
Further on we passed Erudina HS, then came kilometre upon kilometre of bare gum trunks that looked like ghosts standing in the distance!
Erudina homestead was just off Wilpena Creek and is located on an area of 905 square kilometres. It has been in the same family for almost 100-years.
14-kilometres on at Erudina Shearing Shed we turned right and followed the Yunta sign then 50-kilometes further on we came to a T-junction where one sign pointed to Arkaroola in the north and the other south to Yunta.
Arkaroola was an area earmarked for pastoral development from as early as 1857. After many unpredictable years it finally established itself when the Greenwood brothers took it over in 1937. In 1968 it was purchased by Reg and Griselda Sprigg with Reg, a former geologist, seeing a unique opportunity to retain its unspoilt character, created a privately-owned sanctuary (Mt Painter Sanctuary), that is still operated by the Sprigg family today.
Continuing on little dust storms gusted around us.
The land was so dry that little ‘willy willy’s’ or ‘dust devils’ created havoc in the surrounding pastures.
Heading in the direction of Yunta our trip was punctuated with more large sheep properties, the homesteads tucked back from the road…
… and we followed a good gravel road for another 120-kilometres of relatively flat to gently undulating plains of low shrublands of bluebush, saltbush and blackbush.
We could now see the occasional hill in the distance and just 30-kilometres from Yunta we arrived at the deserted township of Waukaringa.
Little more than ruins now, the Waukaringa township was proclaimed in 1888.
The first gold bearing Waukaringa Reef was discovered by a shepherd by the name of James Watson in early 1873 and records show that by 1889, 475 people were living in the town and surrounding area.
The hotel here was still operating until 1970 but had now largely been gutted with anything of value, including its timber floors, having been removed.
We had been told this was a good free camp and we had contemplated camping here but it had an eerie feel amongst the ruins of the old hotel so we decided the roadside stop in Yunta was a better option.
Yunta was our next stop but there wasn’t a lot to keep us there either. It was just a stop over town on the Barrier Highway with a few back streets, a hotel, a police station, 2 service stations and a couple of businesses and houses along the highway.
As far as camps went there was 1 park on Wikicamps that didn’t exist, a rest area on the highway which wasn’t that inviting and a very basic camp area at a local fuel station, so after spending a while discussing overnight options with a fellow traveller we headed east to see what free camps we could find a little further out of town.
From then on, every camp or roadside stop recommended to us by Wikicamps or CamperMate was disgusting; covered in toilet paper, dirty, graffiti on every sign and rail structure, and inundated with goats so we continued on along the Barrier Highway towards Broken Hill.
We hadn’t been on this section of the highway before and unfortunately, this region wasn’t as picturesque as we had hoped… just low weathered, dry and dusty plains only supported by low scrub that seemed to stretch on forever.
We passed towns that were little more than a train station in the scrub. These quintessential ‘outback’ towns were lacking any interesting features other than some old buildings and the odd bit of history associated with them.
Mannahill was just a blurr on the highway with only a police station, a hotel and a railway station.
200-kilometres east of Yunta we passed through the small town of Olary, which was no more than a pub, a couple of very old houses, a police station, a public toilet block and an old railway station that looked like it had seen better days… and nowhere suitable, or clean, to pull in for the night.
It had been a gruelling full days drive from Blinman and now, with the sun beginning to set over the horizon, any chance of a free camp or a descent caravan park was looking very unlikely in this part of the desert.
The Barrier Highway is the main highway from east to west and we passed a constant line of road trains heading in both directions between Adelaide and Broken Hill.
When these giant triple trailer trucks pass you in the Outback they don’t slow down for anything or anyone, so if you value your vehicle, and your life, it’s not a bad idea to get out of their way.
Not so lucky were the poor roos lying alongside the highway… now road train carnage for the birds to feast on.
Kangaroos and goats had become quite active in the dulling dusk light and had become quite a risk.
Many grazed along the verge and unable to foretell their direction of movement reliably we tucked ourselves in behind a big road train with the hope it would protect us as we headed for Cockburn and the New South Wales border.
Still we had our eyes peeled for somewhere to pull off the busy highway but with the light fading quickly our chances of finding a roadside camp were diminishing with each passing minute… that was until a glance to the side revealed a caravan pulled in between the highway and the trainline, so we quickly did an about turn and headed back.
Tucked in behind a few low bushes was the ideal spot for us to rest our weary heads for the night… and obviously for the couple parked up in the van next door.
They too had an issue finding a clean camp spot but eventually found this area far enough off the road to set up camp… and we were more than thankful to share the islolated, and not so secluded spot with them!
Now, we all enjoy some modern comforts of home on a camping trip, but it only takes the auxiliary battery in Harry Hilux to fail and so does the fridge.
Charging our mobiles, ipads, camera, the laptop and keeping the fridge cold only happened at the moment when we had the chance to plug in to power, so we really needed to have the battery replaced at our next stop if we wanted to enjoy some time of the beaten track and away from civilization.
The outback to me is always about appreciating the vast distances, the ruggedness, the nothingness, and the space to think… and the simple pleasures of a cold beer after a long, hot drive… and luckily for us the ice container we had packed in the bottom of our fridge before leaving Rawnsley Station was still frozen.
This unique little slice of Australia wasn’t really a free camp, which only added to its appeal for us… and of course there were no amenities so ‘Shaun the shovel’ was put to good use once again!
We were privy to a beautiful sunset and gorgeous sunrise, night trains and road trains, a starry night and a loo dug on a jack jumpers’ nest – what more could you want… and it was definitely up there with one of the best free camps we had had this trip.
Soon after leaving camp the next morning, we passed through Cockburn and crossed into New South Wales with the final stretch to Broken Hill taking us through the Thackaringa Hills.
We were also not far from crossing the border into New South Wales so having learned from experience after being warned as we crossed from Victoria into SA a few weeks earlier we had already packaged our veggies, fruit, rice and honey to turf in the food bins… but much to our amazement there was not a bin to be seen, let alone a Quarantine Station, and our goods lived to see another day!
Unbeknown to us the quarantine check was way back at Oodla Wirra between Yunta and Peterborough, so if you’re travelling this way, just make sure you dispose of offending items (fruit and veggies) in the bins provided west of Yunta… it’s an ‘on the spot fine’ of $300 and believe me it happens.
Finally, the stony hills of Broken Hill emerged over a never-ending horizon and from a distance its outline seemed so small under the massive blue sky above.
Arriving in Broken Hill our first stop was ARB and to fill in the time while our auxillary battery was replaced, we immersed ourselves in a bygone world of grand old pubs and picturesque buildings.
With boundless tales to tell, we met quite a few true-blue locals – pioneers, heros and larrikins, around almost every corner on our self guided tour.
Broken Hill is a classic outback town with lots of history and big country pubs on almost every wide street corner.
With a new auxiliary battery installed and everything working again we headed for Silverton.
We had been to this part of the country before and from Broken Hill it is well worth the 25-kilometre trip to this little Outback ghost town.
Silverton was built by miners in search of fortune when silver was discovered in the region in 1875, and was once a bustling home to 3,000 people until the nearby mines of Broken Hill opened.
Today, less than 50-people call Silverton home and only a handful of buildings and ruins dot the landscape but most of us remember it for its role in movies like Razorback, Mission Impossible II and more famously, Mad Max 2… all thanks to its original buildings including its famous pub and its scenic desert surrounds. Other well-known productions filmed in and around Silverton include The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, The Flying Doctors, and Dirty Deeds.
Our accommodation for the night was at Penrose Park and after we were gruffly assigned our piece of red dirt for the night, we set off to explore the little town on our bikes.
The park was nothing special for the price, just a simple affair with some caged birds, farm animals, fairly basic amenities, a big train, playground equipment sticking out of the ochre sand and surprisingly, native birdlife that seemed to increased in numbers every time we opened the food drawers in Harry.
The highlight of our ride that afternoon were the replica cars from ‘Mad Max’ located around the town, the donkeys and dogs that wandered the town streets and a beer at Silverton’s famous drinking hole, the Silverton Pub… complete with ‘freeloaders’. The flies were just as thirsty as we were and very keen to share our drinks!
This hotel regularly featured in film productions and its inside walls were covered with memorabilia and photos with a great polaroid of Mel Gibson in Mad Max. A replica car of the ‘pursuit special’ from Mad Max and Mad Max 2 is parked outside the hotel and also worth a read were the rather unsavory sayings dangling from the pub’s ceiling.
The iconic Silverton Hotel, sitting in the centre of the town, is undoubtedly the heart and soul of this town, and is the local drinking hole for both 2 legged and the 4 legged creatures… with one very impatient dog whimpering at the door for us to let him in!
The original single-story hotel was opened in 1884 to cater for the towns growing horde of miners, but only 1-year later as the growing Silverton population became increasingly thirsty, a 2-storey hotel replaced it.
The building burnt down in 1918 with the then used Silverton Post Office becoming the current Silverton Hotel.
The ruins of the second hotel are located nearby and have been retained as it was the birth place of a significant Australian company, known today as BHP Billiton.
Over the next 2 days we rode our bikes around the village and over the ranges.
A 3-kilometre ride out of town took us to the 42-acre Heritage Cemetery, the final resting place for some of the pioneers of the region and a sombre reminder of the harsh lives lived in Silverton’s early years.
Mining accidents were tragically common in the area and isolation meant sanitation was bad and fresh water, fruit and vegetables were often in short supply. Consequently typhoid was a constant part of life in these parts and took the lives of many with the most heart wrenching graves, those of the children.
Fenced in 1888 and classified as an historical site, this part of the cemetery cannot be disturbed, with a separate section being established for the local residents to be interred in.
From the cemetery we rode a rather rugged trail along the heritage walk over rocks and ranges, taking in some wonderful sights.
Silverton is surrounded by a range of hills, surrounded by flat plains that stretch for hundreds of kilometres in all directions. The hills are called ‘The Barrier’ and it was well worth the ride along the heritage trails just to see the Mundi Mundi plains.
The painted white rocks marking the path were easy to follow this time. On a previous trip we managed to get lost and had to cut cross country back to the town!
This time there were quite a few information signs along the trail…
… and picnic tables where we could stop to catch our breath from the hard ride.
From the top of the hills we had magnificent views out over the Mundi Mundi Plains, we could see the original Umberumberka Mine and we could look back over the town of Silverton. It was beautiful and a fantastic photo opportunity!
There were lots of wildlife and birdlife too with the occasional wedge tail eagle gracing the sky or a lizard that crossed our path and occasionally we got up close to some ‘locals’… wild goats, emus, kangaroos and donkeys!
There was even good phone coverage when we stopped to take a call from our daughter, which was more than what we had back at camp!
Heading back to camp we descended a rather narrow, steep, rocky range then rode along the old Silverton Tramway cutting back into town.
Unlike us who risk our life riding our mountain bikes, if you do decide to walk this trail it takes about 2½ hours… but make sure you go prepared with good walking boots and take plenty of water. It is a bit of a hike, very rocky under foot and there are quite a few steep sections.
The Mundi Mundi Plains are only around 5-kilometres on the other side of Silverton by car, and although we had seen them in daylight from the lookout at the top of the range, there is nothing more beautiful than a sunset over the dusty vastness of these flat, treeless plains that seem to stretch on forever. It felt like we were on the edge of the world as we drank a toast to the setting sun… what a view!
Leaving Silverton after 3 nights at Penrose Park Campground we headed back through Broken Hill.
Around 5-kilometres from Silverton was the ‘Day Dream Mine’ where it is still possible to experience what life was like for men working the mine in its heyday.
Established in 1882, this mine attracted a sizable settlement which, while short-lived, boasted 500-odd residents at its peak, as well as the districts first smelters and while the settlement gave ground to Silverton and then Broken Hill, mining continued here until 1983.
Upon arrival back in the ‘Silver City’ or Broken Hill as it is otherwise known, we parked Harry Hilux in the same street that the boys from ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’ parked their bus and set off to explore. The Heritage Palace Hotel is famous for featuring in the filming of this movie.
Harry needed a much-needed wash then after gathering some groceries, filling up with fuel, visiting the Information Centre to fill our containers with water, checking out the Miner’s Memorial, and visiting the grave of the great Pro Hart, a man I greatly admired for his art, we headed towards Wilcannia.
After sitting on a nest of bullants at our last free camp I was beginning to think Broken Hill was surrounded by them when we came across a striking sculpture of a bullant sitting outside the Tourist Information Centre.
Designed by artist Pro Hart and built in 1980 this bullant originally stood outside the Stephens Creek Hotel until 1990 when it was donated to the city and moved to its current location.
The former Stephens Creek Hotel was located on the road from Broken Hill to Tibooburra before it burnt down and today if you drive down that road you will encounter a giant ceramic barn owl instead, with wings stretched protectively over two ceramic chicks on the side of the road. Behind this strange vision is the burnt out remains of a pub and a few sheds out the back, and a sign that reads ‘Stephens Creek Art Gallery and Owl Barn’.
We wound our way up the dirt road to the Miner’s Memorial that towers over the city’s skyline. This memorial stands as a monument to the hundreds of people who lost their lives underground in the Silver City, working to make Broken Hill what it is today.
Last time we were here I sat on the ‘Big Red Seat’, another of our ‘Aussie Big Things’, but this time it was all fenced off.
Leaving Broken Hill we had our photos taken via candid camera, passed through the time zone and put our clocks forward half an hour as Broken Hill is on South Australian time.
The greatest part of our ‘Aussie Outback Adventure’ is all the amazing and wild stuff that happens along the way so strap yourself in and come travel with us – the road ahead is as long as you make it!