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  • Wayne

First big trip report from Bob & Della

Bob and I had this holiday planned in 2020, but with our Nissan Patrol and a tent. Permits for the Madigan Line across the Simpson were all organised! The Gecko and Cruiser were in the pipeline at the time too, before COVID struck. So, I guess a positive of our postponed holiday was that we got to do it in luxury this year. Crossing the Madigan Line wasn’t possible this year, due to COVID restrictions in aboriginal communities. Along with some other destinations, Plan B was to travel across the French Line and into Western Queensland. The ‘Rig’ had arrived in Tasmania in September last year, so we had the opportunity to try it out over the summer holidays before our six week trip overseas to the Big Bit started. This was a short trip for us- usually we aim for three to five months. We believe that both the journey and the destination are important and love getting off the beaten track. To be the only people at a campsite is our preference! Heading north from Tassie, we often duck into Ngarkat Conservation Park as our starting point after visiting family in Mount Gambier. It also gives a little introduction to sandy and rocky tracks and guess what, we have ALWAYS camped alone in the area.

The road out travelled past station properties – a good road with multiple crests and dips and those cattle grids that could leave you airborne if you weren’t concentrating. Yunta was where we arrived back in civilisation. Now we do duck into caravan parks now and then, but unless they are mentionable for the right reasons, I’m going to miss them out. We’ve often driven past the Gawler Ranges on our way home but this time we dropped in via Kimba. Obviously not the most popular national park as we only saw one other vehicle. Again, easy tracks with the scenery dominated by round hills covered in red rocks, spinifex, mallee and she-oaks. It’s meant to be one of the best places to sight the southern hairy nose wombat but no luck with that one! Magpies woke us from our campsite at Kolay Hut and roos bounded past frequently. Pondanna Outstation was well worth a visit.

The Goog’s Track had been on Bob’s radar for a while and would be a good test for our camper. The word at Ceduna was that it was ‘rough, chopped up and rough as guts.’ That just excited Bob. It was certainly a 4Wdriver’s delight but it was pretty messy as it is very well used. Luckily the cruiser handled it beautifully as it has low down grunt to crawl over sand dunes covered in whoopsies and big holes. The driver was pretty good too. It wouldn’t be a track to do at Easter, but we only came across one vehicle. Highlights were its remoteness. the beautiful interpretive signs and memorials to Googs and Dinger at Goog’s Lake, Lake Googs itself and the variety of track conditions and vegetation.

About this time, we started to hear weather warnings and about the floods in NSW. These rains impacted on our holiday plans too and led to Plan C, D and E! Dirt roads are quickly shut when wet and the fact that Mount Dare had received 140mms in a day meant there would be no Simpson Desert trip this year, nor a trip into Queensland. This became a reality once we arrived in Alice after travelling in rain and with water over the road for two days. Even Plan C was looking dodgy- to travel into the West MacDonnell National Park- particularly the Finke NP. Luckily for us, the Finke River dropped enough to cross the day we entered the West MacDonnell, allowing access to one of our most spectacular campsites at Redbank Gorge- no one else knew it was even open at the time. Unfortunately, when the Finke is running the Finke National Park is impassable so that option dropped off the radar ‘til next time.

We decided to travel South again via the Googs Track to the coast as roads closures prevented travel east. However, even the roads out to Kingoonya remained closed for days, so we got the maps out and re-planned again!

From the Ranges we travelled via Larapinta Track through to Kings Canyon and out to the Stuart Highway. No doubt this is usually a nice dirt road but with big washouts every 100 metres it made for a long day. Horses dashing out in front of the rig tested the brakes too.

What next? Whilst we have visited the Flinders Ranges before, you can always do more. As the ‘navigator’ I found a new track to get there, up beside the disused rail line just out of Port Augusta.

Not my best choice of tracks, but I did choose a wonderful station to stay at called Merna Mora, on the west of the ranges. This 131 000 acre property borders the western side of Wilpena Pound and through to Lake Torrens and the former matriarch of the family started station tourism in the Flinders. On arrival, we were directed to the riverbed, our campsite, set amongst the age-old redgums. Donald, the current fifth generation owner, graced us with his presence during the evening, full of humour and information! Again, we were the only ones there. Like many stations in the area, 4WD self-drive tours were available. There were three choices, all costing $45 - we chose the Bunbinyunna Track which took in the western edges of Wilpena Pound. Bob expected it to be pretty tame. It wasn’t! If ever there is an advertisement for the capabilities of the cruiser and Gecko combination, this was it. The track was only 35km but took five hours. WE did things we didn’t think vehicles were capable of- rock climbing, steep descents and ascents, steep dry creek crossings, technical wheel placements etc. We came out unscathed (although I did freak out a few times) apart from some very frothy beer!

After leaving the wonderful Merna Mora we crossed through the middle of the Flinders Ranges through Brachina Gorge. Being the Wednesday before Easter, we popped out at Blinman to find many other travellers, so headed north on a 4 hour, 40km loop 4WD track to explore the Artimore Property Ruins. Most of this track was along river beds and with signs up about not camping on the stations without permission, we later pushed on to Wirrealpa Station. Bush camping at Wirrealpa involved a 15 minute journey to ‘those ranges over there, until you come to the “While Cliffs” Another one of our favourite camp sites, alone!

Next on our list was to escape the maddening crowds of Easter. The navigator directed the driver south to Hawker via Martin’s Well- such a peaceful track until we got to Hawker. Get us out of here! Choosing Carrieton as a place to camp and do some washing was a good choice. The smaller towns’ caravan parks are usually the best. A quick deviation to explore the ruins at Johnburgh and we were on our way with literally hundreds of travellers heading in the opposite direction towards the Flinders- it was Easter Friday. To avoid the crowds we did a circular route into the Bilbowrie Conservation Reserve, and found one of those campsites with little animal tracks everywhere in the red sand- one of my favourite things is to meander around looking at the tracks hoping some might even be a bilby.

Hitting Broken Hill, meant a rig wash and some meals out for dinner. AND it’s no trouble to pack up the Gecko, drive off to do things and then re-set it up. We’ve done it in the dark- no probs!

Rains in this area also meant the Sturt NP was mainly shut- we did a day trip to Mutawinji NP, but were unimpressed with the number of campers around- yes it was Easter! The navigator had hopes to find an alternative route to Bourke to follow the Darling south and planned a trip via the UR16 road (or track). BUT after 7 hours of travelling through very washed out and flood affected track with ‘no camping’ on station property signs, the driver was not happy! Fair enough. Just when divorce was imminent (not really) we found Goodwood Station, a station stay just after White Cliffs. Saved! After ringing Louth to check on road conditions (boggings, road closures on some sections) plans were changed again and we headed for the Murray via Menindee and the Darling. Highlights of this section of our trip was a two night stay at Nelia Gaari Station on the western side of the Darling, south of Wilcannia. A great place to chill and such beautifully planned campsites. Whilst we weren’t the only ones there, it felt like it. We could have a campfire, Bob could fish and there was even a rough but fun, golf course.

Travelling on to Menindee we stayed in the Kinchega NP on the river. A visit to the old Kinchega Shearing Shed was well worth the effort. Back into civilisation, we stayed at Wentworth- ever so green- at the Willowbend Caravan Park- yes a recommendation!

Travelling on to Menindee we stayed in the Kinchega NP on the river. A visit to the old Kinchega Shearing Shed was well worth the effort. Back into civilisation, we stayed at Wentworth- ever so green- at the Willowbend Caravan Park- yes a recommendation!

As Bob hadn’t been able to sink his teeth into the Simpson, he wanted one last hooray and had his sights set on the one-way section of the Border Track in SA. I planned a route via the Murray Sunset, travelling along much of the border which gets harder as you head south. A favourite campsite for the trip was in the Big Desert State Forest at a site called Coburns Pines. This is an area we will definitely explore in the future and it’s an area with few visitors- no recent vehicle tracks.

In the morning we decided to follow the Fire Track as a way to access the border track- this in itself was challenging- deep white sand, steep dunes and an hour’s travelling to do about 10kms. Tyre pressures were dropped to 18psi on the front, and 20 on the back. Bob reckoned we could drop them further if needed, despite the weight of the Gecko. We’d done the Border Track about 8 years ago and it was definitely challenging. It is an iconic 4WD destination but to see it so cut up was a shock and once you are on it, there’s no going back. The track is incredibly narrow and it’s one-way. Even the flat sections had whoopsies and the dunes had scalloped holes nearly a metre deep that weren’t even parallel so that the rig rocked and rolled. The 29km section is expected to take three hours and it does! As with the Googs Track, we were able to climb the dunes fairly carefully and slowly due to the cruiser’s low-down torque. With two dunes we had to access the chicken track and even those had netting put down to help with traction. It was epic and proved the capability of our new set-up.

Our campsite at Dogger’s Camp was ever so windy due to the area being burned out and exposed.

With only one night’ camping out’ left and the need to head towards Tasmania, we travelled east along the Red Bluff Track before following some nice dirt roads to Nhil. After re-supplying, the Central Block of Little Desert National Park was our final destination. We have previously explored the Western and Eastern Blocks. We camped at Stan’s Camp- celebrating our wonderful adventure together with a few beers, music, a campfire and lots of reminiscing.

The rig: well we are absolutely rapt with our set-up. We certainly lost sleep over parting with so much money, but now that trauma has passed, we are very happy. We’d initially had our sights set on a ISUZU DMAX. A friend, who owned a cruiser got Bob to look underneath it and said ‘Why would you buy anything else. It’s built so strong?” Good advice. The cruiser has handled everything we’ve thrown at it. It’s been roomy enough and comfortable. The suspension upgrade has been awesome. Even corrugations seem better and despite carrying such a big weight, the cruiser, with its beefy suspension has performed beautifully. When we first got the rig, we were worried about how the back springs hang so low, but this had no negative impact. We did upgrade to BFG all terrians 285 75, 16’s – these are probably the limit as to what will fit in the gullwing box as a spare. The Gecko has made travelling so easy. It can be set up in minutes. In fact, we have set it up in the same amount of time it takes some people to back their caravans into their spaces in a caravan park. True! There’s plenty of storage and you soon perfect where things ‘belong’ in all the spaces, Peter has included. Everything is so easily accessible whether you be travelling or set up. We opted for the gullwing boxes which are ideal for recovery gear, the camp oven etc. The bed is very comfortable- we opted for the egg-shell option. The heater feels like cheating, but oh how nice it’s been to warm up the living space before going to bed. Because we were on the move nearly every day, our battery system worked a treat. Lighting was another luxury as opposed to headlamps. There’s no perfect rig and one thing we worried about was that it would be annoying to have to pack up to drive around if you were staying somewhere for more than a day. Look it’s fine. It takes no time at all and is not a hassle. After 8,571 km travelled, if we got a dollar for everyone who stopped for a chat and said ‘We like your rig’ we would have done okay!

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