The WA Variety Bash crew were up at 7.30 for briefing and breakfast so we got up to walk around and check out the cars in the daylight and then waved goodbye before they all got on the road up north.
We took the highway up heading for Marree and the start of the Oodnadatta Track which we thought we’d try tackle for the day to go see Lake Eyre – stopping off at the Ochre Cliffs to see the amazing vibrant colours of the clay and do some finger painting, and wandered around the ruins of Farina, an old ghost town that died off when the Ghan Railway was extended up to Marree and ceased to be the most northern point on the line.
There was a great campground just down from the ruins that we went to have a look at and chatted to the owner who told us a bit about the surrounding cattle stations and what they were up to at this time of year. He also told us to stop in at the general store in Marree and talk to Lyall about the conditions of the Oodanadatta Track, because he wasn’t convinced about the car we were going to tackle it with! We also did a fair bit of birdwatching to try get a good view through the lens at the huge wedgetail eagles we saw circling overhead. We definitely felt like we were in the outback now – red dust everywhere, empty roads and the glaring heat of the sun even at this time of year.
More driving on the (now dirt) highway and we reached Marree, where Lyall assured us that the track was fine. It had rained a couple of days previous but it was passable and he said to just take it slow and easy and that there were enough people out there today to help us if we got stuck at all, which was encouraging. So off we went on to the track – definitely 4WD territory but after a while we were more confident with the clearance underneath and just took it slow and steady and let others pass around us.
We reached Lake Eyre South and made some lunch and stood underneath the very limited bit of shade near the information booth and chatted to travellers who came and went while we were stopped. Lake Eyre was definitely very dry but we went out for a walk on the lake bed anyway to see what we could find. All we got was mud and salt but it was a surreal landscape to be in and well worth going along the track for.
The WA Variety Bash folks had caught up with us at this point and they stopped to check out the lake and tell us how impressed they were that we’d made it this far without any issues!
We packed up the lunch stuff and drove on, setting our sights on William Creek which was halfway along the track but was about in line with Coober Pedy on the main highway to the west to stay for the night and hopefully catch the William Creek Bronco Branding competition tomorrow. The rest of the track started out just like the first stretch, but we did come across a pretty tricky floodway that was genuinely flooded and stopped to try suss it out.
I was just about to go walk out into it and see the depth when a ute with a friendly local in it drove the other direction through it and stopped for a chat. He assured us that it was fine and that we would make it without any issues, just follow him and go slow and steady. He did a U turn and Ash watched from the side of the road as I took the Renault through about 30cm of water at its deepest, but it felt really firm underneath the surface so it was pretty straightforward. Unfortunately we’d left Ash on the other side of the crossing and she tried to cross over on foot but she quickly sunk in to the mud and had to be retrieved in the ute by going back over and bringing her with us – her boots got totally covered in thick yellow mud!! Moral of our story, always go over together! Our helpful new friend very kindly said to follow him further on where the next big one was about 3km up the road, and this one was much deeper – probably about 60cm of water – but again, slowly and steadily and straight through the middle following his tracks worked fine and the car got a bit of a muddy wash.
By this time we were both pretty exhausted from the driving and were pretty keen to get to a spot to camp, so we pushed on and were counting down the last 70kms to William Creek.. which took us the best part of an hour at least as this part of the road was so intensely corrugated from the road grader that we took some sections at about 10kph to avoid rearranging everything in the car!
Finally we pulled in to the tiny town of William Creek, population 12 – it consisted of one building near the single airstrip, a hotel/pub and a cafe in front of the campground. I am pretty sure someone told us that this is currently the smallest town in South Australia. We went in to the pub saw a lot of posters up about the bronco branding and read ‘free camping’, so asked at the bar but the guy was being pretty unhelpful and said that the campground was $24 a night…. We said we’d go look around and after inspecting the campground (which was more or less a car park with some toilets and powered sites for the campervans) we were not impressed. Smash persisted and took us for a drive around and followed the main road further along the track to see if we could spot any horse floats or groups of people elsewhere, and she found them! We drove down a road that took us around the back of the airstrip to a small show ground and there were groups of people dotted around the place with swags and campfires. She wandered up to a group of blokes and asked if they knew anything about the camping situation, and they enthusiastically told us about the arrangement and offered for us to pull up right next to their camp and join in, which we did. They were veterans of the event who had all been school mates in Adelaide and travelled up as a group for a holiday together every year and this year was the first year that they were joining in for the novice section!
We got chatting about all sorts of things with the guys and met a few more locals and visitors. Eventually we retreated from the warm fire back to the tent so we could get up nice and early for the day’s activities starting on our doorstep.