Trip Leader (TL): Malcolm and Trish Harrison – Dmax
Participants: David Igglesden – Pajero
Tail End Charlie (TEC): David Igglesden – Pajero
Date: 9th – 20th August 2019
Malcolm and Trish made their way from their home in NSW to Alice Springs where they met up with David Igglesden at the G’Day Mate Tourist Park …. conveniently situated next door to the only micro brewery in Alice. Hmmmmm!! After sharing a couple of pizzas and sampling a few beers on the Thursday, we headed off on Friday the 9th August to make our way across country to Marble Bar.
On the way out of Alice, a mandatory stop was required at Bunnings and about 10am we headed north on the Stuart Hwy and turning off some 25km from Alice on the Tanamai Track. A further 115km brought us to the start of the Gary Junction Rd, also known as the Kintore Rd.
This was all sealed to this point, then we hit the dirt. The track was a wide well maintained gravel road, and much to our surprise was in very good condition all the way to Marble Bar. We dropped in to the Art Gallery at Papunya and had a very interesting talk with one of the Gallery administrators.
Over an hour later, after learning much about the local artists, we continued on our way west passing the prominent Mt Leibig and found a suitable place to camp for the night next to an old dam and a couple of NT government water bores, used for monitoring reservoir levels.
David got his remote control plane out and had a quick practice. No crash landings, so all was good. There was plenty of wood around so a fire was lit, dinner was prepared and eaten and we all retired for a good night’s sleep under a near-full moon.
Daily Mileage: 360km
We set off at 9:30am and continued our trek westward passing the spectacular Ehrenberg Range and stopping for a break at the Gary Junction/Sandy Blight turn-off. This was marked by Len Beadell when he and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party(GRCP) first put the roads in. There is a replica plaque of the original marker on a white painted post. Most (if not all) original plaques that Len Beadell installed at prominent positions during his time constructing many thousands of kilometers of outback track, have disappeared (probably adorning some traveller’s sheds). But fortunately many have been replaced with replicas which have been put in place by Connie Sue (Len’s daughter) and her partner Mick.
We had planned to refuel in Kintore, so we decided to head down the Sandy Blight and come in to Kintore from the South. This gave a better perspective of Mt Strickland and Mt Leisler, which form a picturesque backdrop to the community.
We managed to get to the store about half an hour before it closed, so we were just in time to fill up our tanks at $2.15/lt. David and Malcolm also considered $5.20 for a Magnum was a fair enough price and treated themselves.
Malcolm had a quick chat with the local copper that was stationed outside the shop while the local dogs hung around waiting for any morsel of chocolate to drop from his Magnum ….. Fat Chance!!!
After getting directions out of town and a bit of advice on the track from the bobby, we made our way back to the Gary Junction , turned left and headed towards the WA/NT border. Note, the roads into and out of Kintore are badly corrugated and rocky.
We stopped at the border for the obligatory photos and to see another of Len’s markers. A couple of significant finds were made … a small patch of Sturt Desert Peas and an abandoned collapsible Bush Dunny (unused by the look of it)
By the time we reached the original location of the GRCP Ration Truck burn out, David was in need of a nanna-nap so we pulled over to read the notice and for David to get his reclining chair out.
Shortly afterwards, a Police Ute came by and stopped, and at the same time David realised he had a flat tyre. The tyre was changed and an informative discussion was had with the local cops. One from Kintore(NT) and the other from Kiwirrikurra(WA), though the WA copper was billeted at Kintore. Well, it did seem the nicer of the two communities
With the cars ready to roll, we made it to Kiwirrikurra where David tried to see if there was any tire repair facilities (no!) while Malcolm and Trish found the original Beadell’s Ration Truck that burnt out during the construction of the Gary Junction.
As time was getting on we decided to plug on looking for somewhere to camp for the night, and found a wonderful place off the main track surrounded by desert oaks and the site of yet another Beadell marker, this time identifying the location in relation to Jupiter Well. With an abundance of wood, the campfire was soon going and dinner on the go. Also a promise from Trish to make a chocolate cake in the morning in the camp oven.
Daily Mileage: 470km
Beadell sign said we were 11 miles from Jupiter well, and sure enough 17km down the road we came across it. On the north side of the road is a hand pump well which produces some good fresh water. However, this isn’t the original Jupiter Well, which is about 400m down a track on the south side of the road. The original Jupiter Well was made by a geosurvey party a short while before Len Beadell came by with the GRCP. There were some long sandy sections west of Jupiter well, but nothing to cause any issues.
We passed two graders heading west, about 120km from Kunawarritji. When asked if they were going to do a bit of the CSR north and south of Kunawarritji, the response was negative, and that they were going straight through to Punmu.
A short time later we came across yet another Beadell marker at the junction of the Gary Hwy and the Gary Junction Rd which marked the end of the Gary Junction Rd. We stopped for a late lunch and to decide where to head for camp that night as were a little bit ahead of schedule. Packed up and ready to go with the decision to head for Well 33 for the night, we set off on what is called the Jenkins Track and made our way to the CSR and drove 4km north to Well 33 where we camped for the night. There were a few camped there that night (doing the CSR) and we shared a campfire with some. David lent a helping hand to one traveller who had radiator issues, and armed with his various supplies of glues, adhesives, epoxys and cable ties, conducted a ‘bush fix’ on their radiator.
Daily Mileage: 242km
A quick check of the ‘bush fix’ was in order in the morning, before we took off and left the traveller to make his way to Port Headland to have a more permanent repair done, which made it a bit of a late start for us. So, back down the CSR and hanging a right in to Kunawarritji, we caught up with a lot of the overnighters from well 33 who were fuelling up there (at $3.40/lt). Fortunately, neither of us needed fuel as we planned to refuel at Punmu, where we expected it to be cheaper. , with the freezers of the Kunawarritji store sporting a variety of Magnum flavours, at a commendable price of $6 ea!!
David and Malcolm thought they got off lightly. 20min later we took off again, heading west towards Punmu on the Wapet Rd (or Kidson Track) after making sure there was not a skerrick of icecream or chocolate left on the Magnum stick.
105km from Kunawarritji, we crossed Lake Auld, the western side of which, the Kidson Track heads north and the Punmu/Kiwirrikurra Rd heads west. We stopped for lunch and Malcolm went for a walk on the salt flats.
A further 72km along the track, we reached Punmu and followed the signs to bowsers to find there was no one there. Malcolm spied a school break with the playground full of kids and teachers, so went over to ask what you did about fuel. You had to find the ‘big fellah with the Predator’. We eventually found John(?) who met us back at the bowser where we both filled up with diesel at a listed price of $3/lt. Malcolm had done his research and noted that some travellers had obtained a discount if paying by cash, but before asking big John(?), he said it would be cheaper if paying cash.
We had a great chat with him and another guy called Wayne. They are both doing a great job in the community and commissioned a ‘train’ to collect the kids to take them to school
These were converted 200lt oil drums on wheels and pulled along by the quadbike. John said their next project was 6 land yachts to race on Lake Dora, with the hope they could start an annual big event there in the future to attract land yachts from around Australia.
By this time it was getting late, so we bid farewell and set off for somewhere to camp for the night. An hour later we found a levelled hill off the main track and set up for the night. Not much firewood, but enough for a small fire and an early bed. But not before David got his RC plane out again to use the wind and thermals coming off the hill top.
Daily Mileage: 274km
Off again by 9:30am, we continued along the Punmu road and by 10:30am we arrived at the Telfer Mine Rd where we turned left and made our way towards one of the biggest gold/copper mines in Australia. The road was now like the black-top and twice as wide. We came across a manned (or womaned in this case) barrier ahead with another ute parked up. A quick chat with the ute revealed all transit people had to be escorted through the mine to the Rudall River road ….. to make sure we took the right road! There was a 30min delay while we waited for our escort, but the security lady made us comfortable with the use of their toilets and even offered us a shower (scrub your own back, by the way!!), which we all declined. Our escort eventually turned up to lead us through the property and show us the road to Rudall River.
We bid farewell to him and drove south into the National Park. The track was in good condition for the most part and had been recently graded for most of the way to the park’s entrance, which incidentally wasn’t marked! Not even a sign, let alone a fence of any sort. We stopped on the way to have a look at Christmas Pool to find it completely dry and a bit disappointing. We arrived at Coolboro Creek just before midday to find quite a lot of water in it. was our intention to set up camp here, outside the Park, and to make a couple of day trips into the Park as some early research showed it was not very camper-friendly. However, rather than do this, we decided to take the camper-van in to Desert Queen Baths.
We found the track to Desert Queen Baths just a short distance into the park. It was 18km to the Baths and took just about an hour on a rather rugged track, but was well worth it.
Shortly after arriving and setting up, a group of 3 Parnngurr Ranger utes arrived. We got chatting to one of the Rangers and learnt how much effort they are making to train up some of the locals to be rangers, some of which were in the entourage. It was really encouraging to see the enthusiasm they all showed.
We cooked up dinner without a fire this time as there was no wood around.
Daily Mileage: 192km
We left Desert Queen Baths about 9am after getting a few more pics as the sun rose on the other side of the gorge, and made our way back to the main track that runs through the middle of the park and turned south to go to Number 11 Pool and a couple of other pools close by. The turn off was about 21km down the road and took about 40min to get there as the tracks in the park were not as good as those outside. It was then even slower going as we made our way through Number 11 Pool (dry), Tjingkulatjatjarra Pool (dry) and Watrara Pool (dry), which were all very disappointing, especially with the Watrara Creek just being a wide sandy river bed. It was however picturesque with the sides of the creek lined with beautiful gum trees.
There was a placard embedded in a tree trunk at Tingkulatjatjarra Pool which was placed there in 1970 by relatives of Alfred Ives who passed by there in 1937, 38 and 39 on a prospecting trip.
This was only a short drive of 7km, but took half an hour to complete. It was apparent that the other rockholes in the park were also likely to be dry, we decided to head out of Rudall River and head for Carawine Gorge, so we backtracked northward towards the Telfer Mine. Coming north into the Telfer Mine, it wasn’t necessary to obtain an escort, so as soon as we hit the Telfer road, we drove to the boom gate, checked ourselves out with Security and hit the Telfer Mine Road heading west. As this is a mining road, the road was in very good condition and we made good time reaching the sealed Ripon Hills Road about 5pm where we turned left then right a few kilometers down the road into a newly graded road to Carawine Gorge and set up camp for a couple of nights.
Daily Mileage: 322km
David got his BIG plane out this time and gave it it’s maiden flight, only to for it to return to earth a little sooner than he had planned. Fortunately there was a small bush in the flight path to help break the fall!
Trish got the camp oven out and baked some chocolate muffins and some cheese, dried tomato-topped bread rolls … which were up to her usual great standard. The birdlife is quite varied with an assortment of water birds (eagle, heron, dottrel, black swan and ducks of various sorts) and tree dwelling birds (willy wagtails, cuckoo shrike, yellow striped honey eater etc)
Daily Mileage: 0km
Our rest day over, we had an early start and left Carawine before 9am!! with a short stop out of the gorge at a small outcrop of “Polished Rocks”. This is an outcrop that has been exposed and was at the base of a glacier that scoured the rocks as it move. Back on the Ripon Hills road we continued west to Marble Bar 160km away. We have driven this road before and still consider it in our top 10 roads for stunning scenery (despite it being sealed). The colours of the spinifex and the red Pilbara rocks are quite eye-catching.
At one stage there were over 2000 people based there and it boasted two runways, one in a N/S and one in an E/W direction, with them being 2.2km and 1.6km long.
The Japanese were aware that the base existed, but were never able to discover it. This is nearly a 100km round trip from Marble Bar, but worth the time to visit.
The chef had a night off as we walked down the street and entered the Ironclad pub for a couple of cold ones and a plate full of Nasi Goreng. Trish had recently purchased a copy of the second edition of Australian Bush Pubs, in which is listed the Ironclad, so it was presented to the landlady to sign. Cheryl duly wrote a number of comments on the various pages in the book. This apparently seems to be a regular occurrence with travellers who carry the book with them. It became a little boisterous in the pub as it was Pool Competition night, so we left and had an early-ish night back at the caravan park.
Daily Mileage: 176km
A late start was made as we refuelled, completed our washing and picked up some bread and ‘stickies’ for mornos.
We were not expecting to travel so far today and act more like tourists. So we visited Chinaman’s Pool, the Marble Bar and the Flying Fox Lookout …. all on the Coongan River.
The Marble Bar is a jumble of exposed rock in the bed of the river, but what was initially thought to be Marble was in fact Jasper, with all sorts of banded colours visible.
To get the best out of this spectacular formation, you need to wet the rocks then the colours really come through. The Flying Fox runs from one side of the river to the other which is somewhere in the order of 250m and was used to transport ore from the other side of the river to the Marble Bar side for processing. We continued down the Hillside-Marble Bar road to Comet Mine. This is an old gold mine that is not operating any more, but there is an interesting museum there with lots of old mining equipment, local history photos and information, rocks and gems from all over etc … and an interesting ‘caretaker’ called Gerard, who will tell you anything you need to know about the area. He was passing through about 4 years ago and he’s still there!
22km further down the road is the turning to Glen Herring Gorge and a short 3km track to the end, where we found a pleasant area to camp for the night. Glen Herring Creek was dry but a good half hour’s walk down the river bed revealed a few small rockholes and eventually brought you to a large rockpool surrounded by high gorge walls of Pilbara-red rock. A must if you are in the area. A number of Painted Finches were constantly flying down to the rockhole for a drink while a kingfisher was little more shy.
Daily Mileage: 43km
We were on the road by 9am and continued further south on the Hillside road, making our way eventually to Hickman Crater. The crater had been on Malcolm’s list ever since he came across it on the Web. It is the most recently discovered crater and was found by a geologist (called Hickman funnily enough), not by stumbling across it while prospecting, but by studying Google Earth back in 2007. It is located 27km off the BHP rail-line about 75km from Newman.
Rather than go back to Marble Bar and down the Nullagine road, we continued down the Hillside road, through the gate and on to the Bonney Hills road through cattle country, and the odd mine.
This was a well kept road and the homestead of Hillside, perched up on the banks of the (dry) Shaw River overlooking the river was a perfect setting.
We crossed the river a couple of times before picking up the Bonney Hills road which had 3 or 4 gates to open and close before reaching the Nullagine road. Here we turned south and upon reaching Roy Hill Mine, the gravel ended and we were back on black-top. This is also a pretty road with a number of interesting hills on either side of the road. 30Km north of Newman is the turn-off to the BHP rail-line and is marked with a sign to Kalgan Pool.
We took this turn crossed the line and headed NW along the rail line for 11km before turning off towards the hills, the first 21km of which was reasonable and looked recently graded (for mining exploration purposes), but the remaining 6km (which took half an hour) was over very rocky and hilly terrain. We eventually reached the rim of the crater where someone (Mr Hickman??) had erected a mailbox on a pole.
Looking into the crater showed a nice flat trees, sheltered place to camp, which meant descending a rather steep loose track to the base, but presented no problems ….. we’ll worry about getting back up tomorrow!
There was plenty of wood for a good roaring fire, so that was lit, dinner prepared and the port brought out. The wind, which was very strong on the crater rim was not so bad down below and died off during the evening.
But before the went, David got his plane out again, scaled the crater sides and used the wind and thermals on the rim to use his BIG plane in glider mode (since he had bent the prop shaft on its prior flight).
Daily Mileage: 317km
19th – 20th August
We set off from the depths of the crater at 8am as we knew it would take an hour to do the 27km back out to the rail-line. Engaging 4WD, low range first gear and turning on the rear locker, Malcolm managed to pull the Camper-Van up the side of the crater with only a bit of minor wheel slip and we carried on back to the rail-line and on to the blacktop and in to Newman where we all refuelled and aired up.
Malcolm and Trish left David here as he still had a week or so of vacation, so he was going to chill out around the Pilbara then head home, while Trish and Malcolm high-tailed down the Great Northern spending the night in Cue then the following day reaching Perth
Daily Mileage: 611km plus 644km Trip total mileage Alice to Perth: 3651km
A great trip with great weather, great company and a few more tracks crossed off the list.
Where to next year??
Trip Report Trish