The Snail Trail

Travelling with my home on my back and in no hurry to get anywhere

The Mail Run Coober Pedy


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Off to the Outback on the Oodnadatta Mail Run

What an amazing adventure! 14 hours, 600 kilometres and a mailman with a passion for the country and a great sense of history,

The Mail Run travels over diverse country, including gibber plains, red sand hills, and 120 million year old in-land sea beds.

We left Coober Pedy at 8.30am and arrived back at 10.30pm. Our route was a huge triangle that took us out to William Creek, up to Oodnadatta and then back to Coober Pedy. But where we went on the way was amazing!

Our first mail delivery was to Anna Creek Station and to get there we had to pass through the Dingo Fence. This fence was originally built in the 1880’s to keep the dingoes out of the sheep country and it travels from Queensland, through New South Wales and into South Australia with a length of over 5600 kilometres – the longest fence in the world – and reputedly the longest man made structure – even longer than the Great Wall of China.

It is constantly being maintained by fencers who each have to keep about 300kms of fence under good repair. It doesn’t contain all the dingoes but it is a great deterrent and has saved many sheep from being savagely slaughtered by a pack of these wild dogs who can kill for the thrill! Anna Creek Station is the world’s largest working cattle station, covering an area roughly 23,500 square kilometres or 6 million acres. This makes it over seven times the size of the King Ranch in Texas, which is the USA’s biggest ranch. It is roughly the size of the country of Belgium, in Europe. It has an outstation called The Peake which we also delivered mail too. These cattle stations are part of the Kidman empire, founded by Sidney Kidman in 1899 and still held within the family. If you have a cool $350 million or so you could become the proud owner of this family business as it is currently for sale! 

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While googling info about Anna Creek Station I came across this fantastic photographic blog about the station, the cattle and the surrounding countryside, which includes areas known as The Breakaways and The Painted Desert. At the risk of making my photos look really pathetic, do yourself a favour and click here to see some great photos and read some good info! From Anna Creek Station we headed to William Creek with a stopover at the iconic William Creek Hotel for lunch. I found this video about William Creek that I thought you might find interesting and also some great stuff about Wrights Air that operates scenic flights over Lake Eyre and nearby country like The Painted Desert and The Breakaways. We met the owner of Wrights Air, Trevor Wright, at lunch and he gave our Mail Man, Peter Rowe, a hard time for still working  long, hard days at the age of 85! With his energy and enthusiasm he could have been 20 years younger!

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After some good food and a cold beer we started our travels down the Oodnadatta Track. This track follows the old Aboriginal trading route and pretty well the old Ghan Railway line and historic Overland Telegraph Line. It’s 620kms (320 miles) of unsealed, rough, dusty, corrugated road and is often impassable after wet weather. We passed by the Davenport Range to our next mail delivery at Nilpinna Station.

Relics of the old railway sidings are still visible from the road, and one called Edwards Siding is on the Nilpinna Station property. Peake Station was our next stop on the Mail Run. Peake Station is part of the Kidman pastoral holdings and is an outstation to Anna Creek but there is also an historic Peake Telegraph Station which was an important repeater station for the Overland Telegraph. You can find out more about it here and also see some great photos of the ruins. The following photos were taken by Margaret Cook, who I am travelling with.

South of Oodnadatta our driver, Peter, took us off the road to view the Algebuckina Bridge. This bridge was a massive engineering and construction feat when it was built for completion in 1892. The following information is from Wikipedia:

The Algebuckina Bridge is a Victorian era railway bridge south-east of Oodnadatta, on the Central Australian Railway in South Australia, and opened in January 1892.[1][2] It is the longest bridge in South Australia.[1][2] Of lattice steel construction, it comprises 19 span each 100 feet (30 m) long.[1] It was strengthened in 1926 to allow it to carry heaver trains.[2] It was built by a team of around 350 men, working in extreme desert heat.[1] The grave of one of them, David Saunders, lies nearby. He died in January 1890 from “heart disease accelerated by heat apoplexy.”[1][3] The bridge crosses the floodplain of the Neales River,[2] which is prone to seasonal flooding, and replaced a surface-level railway which was frequently washed away.[1] After a severe flood in 1974, which almost reached the bridge decks, the line was closed in 1981 and a new route built 100 miles further west.[1]

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Now, you’re probably wondering why I would have a photo of a wrecked car! Well, there’s a story attached to this fellow and he certainly didn’t have a good day this day! He was trying to drive across the railway bridge when it was in flood and forgot that the train was due to come through – like it only came through a couple of times a week and he got it soooo wrong! He couldn’t reverse, so he threw his dog into the river, jumped out of his car and the train just ploughed straight through it. He survived, but unfortunately his dog didn’t! I love these bush yarns, and our driver, Peter, was full of them. I also found reference to it on this blog site. One more mail drop at Allandale Station before we arrived in Oodnadatta in time for dinner.

It was just on dusk when we got there, had a break for about an hour, then did the last mail drop at Mount Barry Station before arriving back in Coober Pedy at 10.30 at night. The following photos (a mixture of both Margaret’s and mine) will give you an idea of the country we travelled through on this fabulous adventure – the Mail Run from Coober Pedy

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Unfortunately we travelled through some of the most spectacular country, the Moon Plains and The Breakaways, in the dark but we did have a stop about 50kms out of Coober Pedy to look at the star filled night sky. The stars were so thick they looked like clouds – there’s nothing like a starry night in the desert!

Old Gladstone Gaol, South Australia


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Meandering Along the Mighty Murray River

The alliteration is a bit much isn’t it… I wanted to say Meandering along the Mighty Murray with Marion but that would have been really over the top! Anyhow, I was travelling with my sister Marion at this time and our aim when we left Penola was to find a nice spot on the river to set up camp for Easter before the crowds filled up the best spots. We found just what we wanted at Martin’s Bend, near Berri in South Australia.

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On the way we stopped at Bordertown which is known for it’s white kangaroos. Interestingly, they are not albinos as you might think, but a genetic strain of the the Western Grey Kangaroo.They have been successfully bred here and have been sent to various other locations around Australia. Bordertown is also the birthplace of Australia’s former Prime Minister, Bob Hawke.

Some of our other favourite stops were –

Spalding –  and The Barbed Wire Pub

There was a free camp on the Broughton River just out of Spalding and the next morning we wandered into the local Pub which has a Barbed Wire Museum

Cadell

We stayed at the Cadell Recreation Ground and were given a wonderful welcome by Margaret and Michael the caretakers, who remembered me from a one night stop-over on my way to WA twelve months ago…I’m impressed. Had a lovely walk along the Murray, too. The amenities here are immaculately clean and it’s a great stopover at a reasonable price.

Walker Flat

We had a wonderful stay here at the Walker Flat Boat Ramp Reserve and I did actually catch a fish, thanks to our great neighbour, Jacko, who taught me a couple of new rigs and kept me supplied with river prawns as the bucket of worms I’d bought did no good whatsoever! I now know how to do a Paternoster rig, and also a uni-knot- can’t say I’m an expert, but I can do it!

Burra

Burra South Australia

Marion at Burra

Stopped for a coffee, a bit of shopping and would have liked to spend a bit more time in Burra. We stayed at Burra Gorge that night which is on World’s End Highway at Worlds End….that was the only reason we went there! I love being able to make decisions based on place names…

 

 

Jamestown

We didn’t stay at Jamestown but went out to a picnic area that would have been a beautiful camp if there weren’t those big forbidding NO CAMPING signs. I drove up behind the Recreation Ground there, though, and found one of the many beautiful stone cottage ruins that dot this South Australian landscape.

Terowie

There is a free camp at the Railway Siding here and the town has a fascinating history. For a start, Terowie was once a town of about 2000 people and now has about 50 residents. Its fortunes changed when they changed the rail gauges, as previously it was the point where all passengers changed trains.

When the broad gauge railway was extended from Adelaide/Burra to Terowie in 1880, Terowie boomed, and for almost 90 years Terowie was the break of gauge going North and South. All freight and passengers changed trains at Terowie. In its heyday (1940-50s) there was a population of over 2,000 people – with the rail industry being the main employer.

In 1969, the broad gauge was extended to Peterborough and so Terowie began to decline, with many leaving and businesses closing. In 1989, the railways finally left Terowie and the line was ripped up.

It rained almost non-stop when we were there, so we didn’t visit the many information boards around the station and railway line, but definitely a place with an interesting history. It is now like a ghost town, as these photos of the Main Street show. So quiet even the chooks peck around the main street footpaths.

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Terowie’s other claim to fame is it here that General MacArthur’s famous words were reported as he changed trains here taking his wife and family from Darwin to Melbourne.

Terowie became a large military camp in 1942. When US General Douglas MacArthur arrived on our platform in March 1942 with his wife and son after escaping from the Philippines his famous words ”l came out of Bataan and I shall return” were reported here.

I’m not sure I’ll return!

Gladstone

Our final stop together was at Gladstone where we shouted ourselves a caravan park to catch up on domestic duties. It was also a good place to do a couple of day trips to local attractions, so we duly went off to the Wirrabirra Produce Market on the Sunday and had a look at the community campsites at Laura and Wirrabarra while in the area. I would definitely recommend these if you are travelling through this part of the country.

Gladstone has a remarkable old gaol which we visited, too. It was closed in 1975 because they only had bucket toilets!

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Then it was time to say farewell to each other as Marion headed back to Peterborough on her way to Broken Hill and all points East, and I travelled up to Quorn on my way to Port Augusta and then all points North. I’ve already told you about the Pichi Richi Railway journey that I had in Quorn, so my next adventure is when I leave Port Augusta and start the long trek towards Darwin. So much to see…..


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The Pichi Richi Explorer – Steaming into the Past!

  

I became a real tourist today and boarded an old steam train for a two hour journey into the past. The Pichi Richi railway is actually part of the original Ghan track and runs between Port Augusta and Quorn, in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. My journey today started and finished at Quorn with a stopover for a cuppa at Woolshed Flat. What a wonderful way to spend a few hours!

All aboard!!

 

 Leaving Quorn 

Passed a flock of hundreds of corellas

  

Through gorges

  

To Woolshed Flat, where they turned the engine around to the other end of the train for the return journey. 

   

   

And back to Quorn  

  

Now here’s a bit of trivia for you! To split the stones that were used in the drystone walls they would drill a hole in the stone with a star shaped drill then pack it tight with feathers, fill it with water and overnight the feathers would expand and break the stone open. Bet you didn’t know that before! 

What a great trip!

  

Petticoat Lane, Penola,


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It’s Wine O’Clock in Coonawarra

Coonawarra? In Rosemary speak, that’s Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon! After leaving the Solos Rally in Penola we toured the famous South Australian wine areas of Coonawarra, the Barossa Valley and the Clare Valley.

Penola to ClarePenola is in the heart of the Coonawarra wine growing region, famous for its Terra Rossa soil and the amazing full-bodied red wines it produces.But Penola is famous for more than wine. It is also the home of Australia’s first saint, Mary McKillop and Marion and I visited the Mary McKillop Centre for a very informative hour or so delving into the life and times of this remarkable woman and also Father Julian Tenison Woods, who inspired Mary as they shared a common vision for the children of this area.

when Mary MacKillop and Julian Tenison Woods made their dream a reality
‘Little did either of us then dream of what was to spring from so small a beginning.’ Mary MacKillop 1891

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I found the information about Father Woods fascinating – what an amazing man! Not only was he a priest and an educational visionary at the time, but he was also a botanist, a scientist, a fossil collector and more. He deservedly shares an equal space in the Interpretive Centre with Mary McKillop.

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Neither Marion or I are particularly religious but I have to say we were both quite moved by our visit to this centre and the insight into the amazing lives of these two people.

The schoolhouse is on the corner of Petticoat Lane – now doesn’t that invite you to wander down the street, which is what we did to admire some of the old cottages.

Driving away from Penola you could see the changing seasons reflected in the colour of the vines along the side of the road. It was just a taste of what was to come! In the meantime, we’re off to find a camp for Easter on the Murray River on our way to the Barossa and Clare Valleys. Cheers!


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The Barbed-Wire Pub

In the little town of Spalding in South Australia there is an amazing Barbed-Wire Museum in the local pub. Who knew there were so many types of barbed wire? The museum also has artworks made from barbed wire, fencing materials, different types of fence posts and a wonderful display of photographs of all the bridges that lead into the area and several of the ruins of local stone cottages. Marion and I stopped by here after staying overnight at a free camp in the picnic area on the Broughton River about 1km out of town.  Well worth the visit!

   

                 

The Murray Princess,


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On the Home Run to Penola

Our final stop at the top of the Eyre Peninsula was Port Augusta which we carefully skirted as best we could and continued to head down the coast, this time on the Fleurieu Peninsula. We still had a few days before the rally began and I was keen to stop in one spot for a while when we got closer to Penola. Setting up and packing up my van every day is not my idea of my travelling lifestyle!

Port Augusta to Penola

Port Augusta to Penola

Our first overnighter we planned to stay at one of the National Park camp sites but when we arrived we found that you had to book a site on line. Well, that was a bit hard to do as there was no mobile or internet reception until we had driven the 5kms back to the gate so we thought we’d keep going. We ended up at Baroota Rodeo and Campground. It was dusty but the welcome made up for that, and the showers were great. After a lazy start the next day we continued along the coast road, stopping to photograph yet another jetty at Port Germein. The signs claim it is the longest timber jetty in the Southern Hemisphere at 1.5kms long, but I think Busselton, in Western Australia, beats it at 1.8kms, so they can justifiably claim the title!

We continued to hug the coast until we got to Two Wells, where we headed east to Gawler to avoid going through Adelaide, our aim being to make it to Mannum and a caravan park to catch up on washing clothes, hair, etc. The caravan park at Mannum was a great find – right on the river – and our camp site was looking out over the water. I also bumped in to a lovely couple I had met at Pinjarra, in Western Australia, Peter and Ann, who were also staying there. We couldn’t wish for anything nicer.  The water hens were pesky, though, and one ducked in and stole my toast off my breakfast plate – cheeky thing!

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Margaret decided to head to Penola the next day and I decided to cross the river to Haythorpe Reserve and have a couple of days by myself before tackling the last leg to Penola. Both Haythorpe Reserve and Bolto Reserve are directly over the river from the Mannum township and the ferry runs 24 hours a day on demand. They both have flush toilets and there is an honesty box for the overnight fee of $10. It is free to use the ferry and it carries both vehicles and pedestrians. I love these ferries, having first used one at Cadell on my way across to the west 12 months ago.

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I just had to take a photo of the Paddle Steamer Marion, as that is my sister’s name – although my sister was built a little later than 1897!! The PS Marion is a fully restored, operational, wood fired, steam driven Paddle Steamer and was totally restored for its 100th birthday in 1997. Mannum lays claim as the birthplace of the Australian paddle steamer with the launch of the Mary Ann in 1853. Both the links I have included above give some great information about The Marion, its specifications, and its history – fascinating stuff! And you can find out more about the Maritime Museum at Mannum here.

But the most spectacular sight was the Murray Princess as it cruised by my campsite! What a great trip on the mighty Murray River that would be!

The Murray Princess,

The Murray Princess, paddle steamer

With a stopover at the Naracoorte Showgrounds for one night I finally caught up with my fellow Solos at Greenrise Lake as we camped up to enter the Solos Rally tomorrow. It has been only 14 days since I left Western Australia and I have travelled over 3200kms……so much to see ….. so little time!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haslam Jetty


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A Breath of Fresh Eyre

After crossing the Nullarbor, a trip of some 1600 odd kilometres, we arrived in Ceduna for the next leg of our journey to Penola, where the Solos Rally was being held in 10 days time. Did we take the short way? Of course not, we added another 1600 kilometres to our journey by going via the Eyre Peninsula!

It was Friday the 13th the day we arrived! Margaret may live to regret the comment she made about never having bad luck of Black Friday!

We stocked up our supplies and went off to the Information Centre to find out what we should do and see in the area. The lady there was really helpful – and a very good salesperson – because we both walked out with a $72 National Parks Pass for 2 months. The first park we were going to was just south of Ceduna on the Eyre Peninsula and was called Decres Bay in the Wittlebee Conservation Park. The road in soon became a gravel road which was very rough and rocky but ok until we got to a sandy patch on a bend where Margaret became firmly stuck in the sand. I tried to dig her out but the weight of her Winnebago just kept burying her deeper and by this stage she was a little stressed, you might say! Three 4×4 utes stopped and one had a winch on it which was finally successful in dragging her out backwards where she promptly reversed all the way to the main road and we headed back to Ceduna and a Caravan Park where a stiff drink was in order. So much for going off road on the Eyre Peninsula – that experience cruelled it for Margaret and she was very wary of any gravel roads after that!

We had been recommended to go to the Shelley Beach Caravan Park and that turned out to be a disaster, too. We were allocated a spot right at the end of the park where they were still developing the extensions, so it looked like we were camped in a gravel pit, and the amenities were at least 70 metres away. The owner was very apologetic, told us not only were we on sites that shouldn’t have been let out but also we had been overcharged. To compensate he gave us two stubby coolers each – Big Deal!! I won’t be recommending that park to anyone even though most of the reviews on WikiCamps were very favourable.

Shelley Beach Caravan Park

Shelley Beach Caravan Park

One night was enough here so now we really begin our tour of the Eyre Peninsula. Our first day took in the coastal sights of Smoky Bay, Haslam and Streaky Bay, where we veered off the coast to go to Murphy’s Haystacks on our way to Port Kenny and our eventual camp for the night at Coodlie Park Bush Camp.

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Coodlie Park was certainly a Bush Camp. It was very basic and judging by the state of the camp kitchen and toilet, not often used or maintained. However, it was a bit of fun seeing what had been developed there and it was a shame it wasn’t better looked after and promoted because it had a lot of potential. It also had a private beach that the owners would take you to (for a cost of $15), but we decided to see the sights for free so one night here and we were on the move again.

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There was a lot to see the next day as we travelled through Elliston, where there was an historic reference at the jetty about how in the olden days wheat was stacked ready for transporting by ship to the markets. The jetty itself is constucted on steel pylons screwed into the sea bed and is about 430 metres long.  From here we passed through Sheringa and stopped off to see an example of drystone walling where the stones are placed in such a way that they don’t need mortar. These particular walls are believed to have been constructed in the 1850’s by convict labour. Not far from here we came across a delightful old cottage called the Lake Hamilton Eating House which used to be a stopover for coach travellers.

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Now to Coffin Bay, home of the famous Coffin Bay oysters. Wouldn’t you know it, we were there on a Sunday and hardly a place open, so I missed out on those beautiful fresh oysters I was looking forward to. Coffin Bay itself was quite pretty, though, with colourful sails on little boats skimming across the bay.

We finally had the chance to use our National Parks Pass near Port Lincoln when we stayed in a camp called Surfleet Cove in the Lincoln National Park. It wasn’t as attractive as some of the National Parks I have stayed in as the camping areas were formed around the ring road that circled the camp rather than being tucked into the bush, but we were entertained by a couple of families of emus that wandered through the camp. The long drop toilets were clean and the beach was quite sheltered but too cold for a swim.

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After a night at Surfleet Cove we headed into Port Lincoln, famous for its Tuna fishing, although it bills itself as the Seafood Capital of Australia. Commercially, Port Lincoln produces Abalone, Mussels, Oysters, Prawns, Whiting and Snapper,Blue Fin Tuna and Southern Rock Lobster. Pity that most Australians would not be able to afford to buy it! I certainly couldn’t and I was really hanging out for some fresh fish, too. On the positive side Port Lincoln provides overnight camping at Billy Lights Point and Alex Stencross Maritime Museum, which is a great initiative to attract RV’s to their town.

Not far up the road is Tumby Bay, which is another RV friendly town. Margaret and I stopped here for lunch at the jetty and wished we had more time to get to know this pretty area. We thought we might have got our lines out and tried to catch some fish for dinner, but it was so windy we were blown off the foreshore and kept travelling to our next destination.

Tumby Bay jetty

Tumby Bay jetty

It wasn’t a comfortable day travelling as we had a strong cross wind and Margaret really had to work hard in her larger van to stay on the road. We pulled in to Arno Bay thinking we would stay the night but it didn’t really appeal so we kept going to Cowell, which had a great free RV stop just out of town. The wind didn’t let up all night and the dust swirled so we were glad to be on the road again the next day. We drove into the township on the way out and once again it was a town that appealed to us for a longer stay if we had more time on our hands- lovely old cottages, historic town buildings and a nice foreshore. What is Cowell famous for? The beautiful Cowell Jade!

Jade deposits near Cowell on Eyre Peninsula are among the largest known nephrite jade deposits in the world. They were discovered in 1965 when Harry Schiller, a local farmer prospecting in the area, collected a 3–4 kg boulder of dense, hard rock near an outcrop of white, dolomitic marble. The boulder was subsequently identified as nephrite by Adelaide University and South Australian Museum.

Ninety-one separate jade outcrops were identified by Department of Mines geologists in 1974, and well over one hundred are now known. All are located within an area of ~10 km2, referred to as the Cowell Jade Province. The bulk of resources occur on the 23 leases held by Gemstone Corporation of Australia Ltd.

Whyalla was our next port of call, a brief stop at the information centre and to view the HMAS Whyalla at the Whyalla Maritime Museum. The Whyalla was the first ship built at the Whyalla shipyards in 1941.

Whyalla Maritime Museum

Whyalla Maritime Museum

Driving in to Whyalla we saw these spectacular mine tailings that looked like a many coloured patchwork quilt.

We arrived at Port Augusta, at the eastern end of the Eyre Peninsula, only four short days after starting our trip at Ceduna. It would be easy to spend weeks rather than days in this beautiful part of our country. Oh well, another place to go on the bucket list to revisit.

Next time I’d like to take a deeper breath of Eyre.