As we drive south through The Gap, the point at which the Todd River cuts through the MacDonnell Ranges and which marks the outskirts of Alice Springs, we’re all excited to be on the road. Our big red Toyota is packed with swags, food, guitar, eskies, beer and – most importantly – spare diesel and water.
We turn off the Stuart Highway down the Old South Road and, as the wheels spin on the red earth, our adventure begins. The first part of our journey will follow the Old Ghan Railway Line that was abandoned when it was replaced with the current Ghan Line, which runs further west.
Named after the afghan traders that rode their camels through these parts, the railway follows the old telegraph line, the construction of which was the impetus for Burke and Wills’ fateful journey.
We head south along the dirt red track, past Mt Ooraminna, which we climb before stopping at Bundooma, an old railway siding, for lunch. We’ve barely gone 50km on our journey when we’re almost stopped altogether by swollen rivers crossing the road. Just south of Finke, we come across a creek that has burst its banks and is flowing quickly and deeply across our path. And here I thought this was supposed to be the desert.
To be completely safe, we decide to wade through the river before driving, to check the depth and strength of the current. With water thigh high and almost fast enough to knock us over, we’re a little nervous about driving into it. But we realise there’s no going back, so we give it a go; our big red truck forges a path like Moses through the Red Sea.
We cross four more swollen creek beds, none quite so deep or fast-flowing, and come out the other end just as the sun is setting, turning the surrounding countryside a fiery radiant red. After stopping to collect firewood and admire the scenery, we find our camp for the night, a glade of red mulga trees by a dry creek bed. Kicking back on our rolled up swags, cool beers in hand, we cook and eat dinner beneath the stars. After a few songs around the campfire we roll out our swags. As I lie watching the stars twinkle through the mulgas, with the breeze blowing across the desert plains, I feel high on life. This is the way to live, out in the elements, in touch with nature.
After a quick stop in the morning at the Mt Dare Hotel
We drag our swags beneath the shady palms and have lunch, followed by a siesta. Taking our time, we follow the track on to the Oodnadatta through Fogarty’s clay pan, just in time to have a beer at the Oodnadatta pub and find a spot to camp on the clay pans on the outskirts of town.
(LEFT) to fill up on fuel and water, we head out to Dalhousie Springs, where water temperatures reach 43 degrees. Just near the springs the old telegraph station buildings stand in varying states of disrepair, beside a mound spring oasis.