Monday, July 24, 2006

Hay River Track

The Hay River Track

This Track is destined to be one of the great outback journeys on every 4WDrivers “ must do” list, it has fantastic scenery, great camping and that real remote feel with over seven hundred kilometers of challenging driving through the Simpson Desert.

Our trip started almost accidentally as we had planned a trip to Cape York but a cyclone had damaged the roads and we were not sure if the roads would be officially open again before our trip started.

While looking around for a back up trip we stumbled across the Hay River Track and after a little more investigation decided that we should switch our plans as we had to get permits etc which would take a fair bit of time and so the Cape York trip would be our new Back up plan.

The permits arrived just in time and we left Brisbane and headed out to Mitchell to meet up with John and Kevin in Johns well set up Petrol 80 series Toyota, Michael had joined me in my Diesel GU Nissan Ute.

A couple of days later we arrived in Birdsville to stock up as this would be the last chance to get fuel for over 700 Kilometers.
John had close to 300 litres of petrol and i had the standard tanks containing 170 litres of Diesel... We both carried plenty of water as well.

We left mid afternoon to head out to the well known sand dune crossing known as “Big Red” where we both crossed easily then turned around to tackle the much harder west to east crossing.

John powered up the soft dry sand in his wagon making it look easy but i didn't have the speed or power necessary to make it and had to wait until several other vehicles had smoothed the track out before i finally managed to keep enough momentum up to make it over the top.

The four of us are mad keen photographers so we set up camp at the eastern base of the dune as we wanted to get both sunset and sunrise shots of this famous icon.

The Next Morning we headed west across the Simpson Desert following the well established QAA line and it wasn't long before John was stopped by a large dune with two different tracks up the eastern face.

A couple of tries on the left track got him no further up so he tried the right hand track a couple of times without luck so while he was reversing back down i had a go at the left track and gave it everything it had and powered straight up ... woohoo, that’s evened the score!!
John powered up in my tracks and we let three brand spanking new patrols get in front of us. They took off at a million miles an hour and were flying over the track with no consideration for oncoming traffic. They had no flag or radios to let anyone know they were coming and only one of the group appeared to speak broken english which we found out when they got bogged trying to pass us at the big dune.
The UHF radios soon let other groups know what to expect and one group set up a blockade to stop them and “ explained” how to drive safely across this well used but remote desert track.

Later that day we crossed a large salt lake and it was here that the QAA line finished, to the left following the shore was the K1 line and to the right was the start of our adventure to head north through the vast northern region of the Simpson Desert.

We followed the shore line and an old track until the site of the old Peopel Oil Well then continued northward up the same track to the site of the old Beachcomber Oil Well.

An old shot line heads east from here and we followed it across the dunes until a white plastic marker post appeared where we turned left and followed the track northward between the dunes and made camp beside the track.

The terrain along here was a barren deep red sand reminiscent of a Martian landscape which really added to the remoteness of the area, maybe it was just the photographer in us but we were all highly impressed by this “Martian Paddock”.

Next morning we drove along the bare red interdunal plain then crossed a dune before continuing along the next plain, we continued in this manner for quite a while and the dune crossings were some of the hardest sections of the whole trip partly because people coming the other way had made new tracks to try and get up the even harder east face of the dunes and we didn't know which set of wheel tracks were the main ones.

The soft movable tops of these dunes were not much of a problem to climb in the direction we were traveling but sometimes as we dropped off the top of the dunes the tracks would veer sharply to avoid a hole or ridge and you had to be ready to instantly correct your path ... we all agreed this section was the most fun of the whole trip!!

Eventually we got to the valley which the Hay River ran in but it looked the same as a dozen other valleys we had crossed except that we stayed in this valley and the driving got easier and we started to see some greenery and stunted trees.

We stopped at a blazed tree indicating Madigan’s camp 16 and signed the visitors book then not long after came across a group of Danish walkers who had crossed the Madigan line from the western side of the desert and still had another 300 odd kilometers to walk before they reached Birdsville, they had already walked for 18 days and still had a long time to go!!

We reached Madigan’s camp 15 and our GPS directions told us to follow a left track but we found we were heading due west across the Madigan line so we backtracked and took the right hand track to the north and not long after made camp just past a large tree filled area of the dry river bed.

Next morning i went for a walk back towards the treed area and found a number of Aboriginal made implements so the area probably holds water for a time after the rest of the river dries up.

We made pretty good time as the terrain was fairly flat and smooth and as we got to the turn off to Lake Caroline we caught up with Lindsay Bookie the Aboriginal Custodian of the Northern Simpson who assured us the dark stormy clouds heading our way would barely drop a sprinkle, we chatted a while then he returned to Batton Hill Camp and we turned left into the dry river bed and followed the coarse sand downstream for a kilometer or two then exited the far bank and started to follow a chain of small claypans to the north west for about 11 kilometers until we came upon the vast dry bed of Lake Caroline.

Lindsey had told us of a good campsite on the far side so we skirted around the edge of the lake and found the little gully where we soon made camp and explored the area.

We cleaned up someone’s campfire remains out on the lake bed as it really took away from the view and set up our chairs overlooking the lake a settled back for happy hour ... great spot !!

Those dark clouds were looking pretty ominous as the sun went down but at least somebody knew where we were and we had plenty of food and water if we had to wait a few days.

We rolled out the awning before setting up the swags underneath to keep any drizzle off our heads and not long after had our first sprinkle of rain... then a bit more heavy rain ... then a torrential downpour that had a virtual river flowing through the camp and into the deep part of the gully.

Water was pouring off the awning onto the swags and i was sure i would have a drenched bed shortly but my custom made swag from Trackabout Campers didn't let a drop in, Michael in his old style swag was not so lucky and got completely soaked, Johns swag with the hoops to hold it up leaked water through the zips and Kevin’s mini tent thing leaked a small amount as well.

The next morning we found three inches of water in the wash up dish but the clouds were clearing so every bush in sight was soon covered in wet bedding.
From the top of the little rise we could see that the lake had filled with water and it was clear that it was not going to go away in a hurry.
A short time later a helicopter landed on our little happy hour hill to see if we were OK, apparently they were heading to one of their mining sites and spotted us in a sea of water as far as the eye could see, We told them we were OK and that Lindsey was expecting us that day and knew exactly where we were.

I had a walk out on the lake and found it still hard as a rock underneath with a slippery layer on top so we decided to get out before the water soaked in and made it impossible to leave for a few weeks and by lunchtime we were all dried out and packed up.

We skirted right round the lake just beside the water line and found the going easy until we reached the other side and discovered that there was no longer a track to follow, just a series of water filled claypans heading off in all directions so we followed the GPS line from the track in and soon found our string of claypans leading back to the river.

John stayed back a bit in case i got stuck and we skirted around the sides of the claypans as much as possible but found the grassy section between them to be very boggy and eventually just drove straight through the middle of them without any dramas until we finally made it back to the still dry river bed.

We followed the river bed back to the Hay River Track and found the track quite dry apart from the occasional puddle.

A short time later we passed two cars out of a five car group heading south with the other three cars having turned around and gone back. They warned us of a boggy section up ahead but we didn't see their side track until too late and then couldn't afford to stop but managed to make it through ok, straight after that we hit the mining road and the deep soft soil just soaked up the power and i was in first gear flat out, not spinning at all but only just managing to keep moving ... it was like trying to tow a fully laden semi trailer up a steep hill!!

My fuel level was getting low enough as it was without this so i was glad to get to Batton Hill Camp ten to fifteen Kilometers later.

After giving Lindsay a good natured stirring about his weather predicting ability we set up camp and had a nice hot shower.

Just in sight of the camp was a bogged 5 axle truck with a water tank on the back for the mining camp, it had sunk in the soft dirt on the roadway and they waited until the next day before dragging it out with a huge earth moving machine. The F 250 4wd also got bogged when they arrived the next day.

We awoke to a very cloudy day and John and Kevin headed off on the bush tucker tour while Michael and i walked over to the nearby Batton Hill and climbed it to take some pics.

Later that afternoon we tagged along behind Kevin the local guide as he took us through some amazing table top mountains and finished up at Goyders Pillar ... we were all very disappointed at the bad light as the pics would have been awesome with some sun and blue skies around.

We then headed back to Batton Hill Camp and cooked up a nice lamb roast in the unique wood fired oven they have there.

Next morning we said our goodbyes and drove to Jervois on the Plenty Highway and refueled with 155 litres of Diesel for the 705 Kms covered since Birdsville, John didn't refill until Alice Springs so we don't have a record of Petrol usage for the track.

For those who like to get off the beaten track and explore areas few people have ever seen this track would sure take some beating!!

.Shane Gerrish