Leaving Birdsville, we headed down to Innamincka. Our GPS, which had been giving us problems for a while, told us it would take 26 hours, and we did it in six. We realised pretty quickly that it is always a good idea to have a few forms of navigation handy, as you can rarely go wrong with the humble paper map. We spent a few days camping at Minkie Waterhole on the banks of the Cooper Creek at Innamincka.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”You are at the absolute mercy of the weather and whatever it throws at you”[/blockquote]
There is an old Outback legend about the mystery of the ‘Min Min Lights’, which are lights that appear from nowhere, shine brightly, follow you around and then just disappear. One night, laying in the tent, Dean woke up to a bright blue light shining into the tent. There was no sound of footsteps, engines or anything signalling other humans around and there was no one else camping near us. Either there were a few too many beers that night before bed or Dean was lucky enough to encounter a Min Min Light. If you are in the area, consider yourself lucky if you experience this mysterious event, something that has scared the pants off Outback Jackaroo’s and locals alike.
The weather was heating up and we had broken the air-conditioning unit in the Patrol on an earlier 4WD track. We were itching to see Lake Eyre, Coober Pedy and other iconic Outback destinations that South Australia offers, but due to the heat and the lack of water in the Lake we decided to spend three lazy weeks fishing, swimming and cooling off. It was just what we had dreamt about when planning this trip each night after long and stressful days at work. And here we were living it every day. If you can, definitely stop at the Murray for a few days to recharge. You won’t regret sitting by the river soaking up the picturesque Outback.
We finally managed to drag ourselves away from the Murray and head towards Western Australia. Although we didn’t get to see Lake Eyre, Australia’s biggest salt lake, we did stop at Lake Gilles, which is a smaller salt lake about an hour west of Port Augusta. Watching the sunset over this blindingly white salt lake is absolutely amazing. If Lake Eyre isn’t an option when you are heading through South Australia, Lake Gilles will not disappoint.
Heading further west, it’s worth stopping in at Wittelbee Conservation Park to camp for a couple of days to charge up before heading across the Nullabor. We had a cracker of a campsite, atop a small cliff and overlooking the ocean.
There are a number of things you need to keep in mind when you cross the Nullabor. When we crossed it, it was hot, stormy and humid. We had downloaded weather warning apps for our phones, so when we had reception we were getting warnings for both floods and fires at the same time. You might get a straight run across, but weather is something to keep an eye on especially because you are so remote if you breakdown. Another thing to keep in mind is it is 1600km of long straight road, so regular stops are a must to stay focused. After driving it we decided that any future trips into WA will be along the 4WD tracks Len Beadell built and will completely bypass that stretch of 1600km long tarmac.
The weather when we crossed into WA was really playing havoc with our plans. We had wanted to cut across from Norseman to Hyden along the Hyden-Norseman 4WD only road, but storms had flooded the road and there was no access permitted so we went via Esperance. We thought we would camp along the beach, but of course there were severe storm warnings for this area.
Our trip to Wave Rock became hundreds of kilometres longer. If you are ever looking at hitting the road and seeing this spectacular country, you’ve just gotta accept that you are at the absolute mercy of the weather and whatever wind, storms, hail and flooding it throws at you.
Leaving Wave Rock, the weather decided to calm down a bit and we headed towards the beach. Banksia Camp was by far one of our favourite spots to camp along the south-western corner of WA’s beach, and is definitely worth spending a night at. Access is via the Sandy Mandalay Beach Road, which takes you over sand dunes and offers pretty impressive views. If you’re anything like us, being from Victoria, we don’t get to do a lot of beach driving, so it was a novelty every time we hit the sand.
Banksia Camp has camping spots and a hut with four separate rooms. If you’re keen for something different, chuck your mattress in one of the rooms like we did. There were a couple of other travellers there on their way back to QLD after completing the Canning Stock Route. We were a bit jealous as they told us their story while we shared some delicious tucker they had cooked in their camp oven.
After leaving Banksia Camp, we cruised casually up the coast, spent some time with friends in Perth and then had a red-hot go at camping along Wilbinga. We had accessed the track from the Wilbinga Grove rest area near Lancelin. The track was windy, steep and pretty enjoyable as we crested huge dunes. After about an hour, we finally got to the beach itself and drove down from the dunes, to find it was high tide and the waves were massive.
We decided to get off the beach pretty quickly, only to find we couldn’t get up the dune. We were bogged. We only got out after a lot of digging and letting the tyres down to 8psi! We kept heading north and checked out the wonderfully weird Pinnacles and spent three days in Carnarvon so we could watch the AFL Grand Final at a pub- which, as we found out, is very different to watching the grand final in a Victorian pub. As in, no-one we came across in WA really seemed to care about it. Their loss!
THE TALLY SO FAR
Coldest night: 2, along the Murray at Lowbank Landing campsite.
Warmest day: 40, along the Murray at Lock 4 campsite.
WHERE TO NEXT:
We leave Carnarvon and head up to the top half of WA to Karinjini, the Gibb River Road, Cape Leveque and then over into the Northern Territory.
This part of the trip includes Innamincka, the Murray River, around the Eyre Peninsula, across the Nullabor, around the lower south-western corner of WA and up the coast to the Pinnacles.
The Murray River is probably Australia’s most iconic river, beginning as a mountain trickle in the Victorian High Country, it spans just over 2500kms before flowing out to the sea in South Australia.
There is heaps of camping available around Innamincka- our favourite site was at Minkie Waterhole along the banks of the Cooper Creek. Camping fees do apply here. The Murray River offers an abundance of free and paid camping sites, all with awesome fishing and swimming opportunities. The Nullabor has plenty of rest stops along the way for overnighters. Our pick of this part of the trip though is Banksia Camp, in WA’s south-western corner: 4WD access only, right near the ocean, with the cleanest long-drop toilet facilities we’ve ever seen and fees apply.
WHAT TO TAKE:
As always, be prepared. We always travel with at least a week’s worth of food and water, two spare jerries of diesel and enough spares to build a twin for the Patrol.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
South Australia is a hot, hot place. We travelled through the hotter months, and as such, ignored water-less places we really wanted to see (like Lake Eyre and Coober Pedy) in favour of spending three weeks swimming in the Murray.
FUEL & SUPPLIES:
As long-term travellers, we quickly realised the best time to stock up on supplies was whenever it’s possible. There are a few towns throughout this part of the trip (Renmark, Port Augusta, Ceduna, Norseman) that offer all supplies possibly needed.
Travelling around and to Innamincka requires a 4WD with decent tyres- the Sturt Stony Desert is called just that for a reason. It’s a tyre shredder. Just south of Walpole, the 6km Mandalay Beach Road will lead you over sand dunes to Banksia Camp. Deflating tyres is a must.
Wilbinga offers beach camping and dunal driving. We found the sand to be soft and getting off the beach was a challenge that required the tyres sitting at 8psi! Long-handled shovels and MaxTrax are a necessity here.
MAPS AND GUIDES:
We used HEMA Great Desert Tracks and Camps Australia Wide 7.
TRIP TIME OF YEAR:
October and November.
RESTRICTIONS AND PERMITS:
The Desert Parks Pass covers camping along the Cooper Creek near Innamincka. Fire restrictions for SA vary from area to area, so it’s best to check which area you’re in and when their fire restrictions start and end.
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