The story of Brookfield Conservation Park is an interesting one. I'll briefly run through it now, but for more detail click on the pic of the Brookfield signage which you can zoom into to read
. Basically, forty-odd years ago, the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago purchased the property to aid in the conservation of the Southern Hairy-Nosed Wombat which they were concerned about. Eventually it was handed over to the South Australian Government as a gift. How cool is that? Good on you America, you're not all destruction, excess and wastage after all. The park is a pretty impressive drive due to the salt bush vegetation and rocky terrain. There are some spectacular birds in the area too - such as Singing Honeyeaters, Scrub Robins and Mulga Parrots. We drove the main loop road in the park and had almost completed it when we saw a Hairy Nosed Wombat on the road. We stopped and got out being careful not to frighten it. Julie managed to shoot some video of it, but when I began to slowly tip-toe towards it for a closer look it bolted.
From here it was 40-50km to Waikerie. The main thing I wanted to see here was the Murray River Queen. When I was a kid the Murray River Queen seemed like a floating resort or mini Titanic (this may have only been my perception as I was only a youngun) Today it looked like it's best days were behind it. It is now permanently tethered to the shore and is used as a Backpackers Accommodation for fruit-picking visitors. A few hundred metres from the shore we made friends with some native wildlife at the local Waikerie Wildlife shelter where some rescued animals were rehabilitating
. A little further up the road and you are in the township's main street. Here you will find the Waikerie Bakery which caught our eye at first until we saw the Chocolate Factory - not only was it on a waterfront reserve, but it was also much more spacious with plenty of green, an outdoor seating area and lots of birds. We grabbed a table in the sun and ordered sandwiches, coffee, chocolate and cakes.
As it was now 2pm (and we wanted to be around Renmark area tonight) we figured we had better hit the road. We headed east on the Sturt Highway stopping briefly at Holder Bend lookout. This was a high point looking down at the river and the flats on either side. There are roads leading down to a network of 4wd tracks and campsites by the river, the problem being that the whole area is quite populated so if you set up camp down there you will most likely be able to see houses, farms and people working. Not very relaxing. Besides, it was a bit bare and a tad uninviting - maybe even a bit bogan or booner (couldn't tell for sure). From here we had 60 kms to go before Berri. It seemed longer, possibly due to the extremely straight road. Some parts weren't the most scenic either. We passed Kingston-On-Murray which the tourism literature recommended but it too looked like a bogan's paradise. We drove on.
We passed some massive wineries which looked more like factories or oil refineries with huge complexes of pipes and whatnots
. Some of these were quite large and well-known brands such as Stanley Wines. We passed Lake Bonney which was also recommended but it just wasn't for us. The whole area appeared to be geared towards a different type of person. When we got to Berri we were much happier. The town looked much friendlier and inviting than many places we had seen over the past 2 days so we dropped by the Visitor's Centre to get some info from the girls working there who were extremely helpful in telling us about all the camping spots in the vicinity. One of them suggested the Tea-tree campground at Lyrup Flats which was part of the Lyrup Forest Reserve. This sounded ideal as all we wanted was a waterfront camp with no-one around. With still 60-90 mins of daylight remaining we headed south out of town so that we could go and see Lock No.4, so we did Murray Crossing #5 and got there as the sun was getting low.
After a quick look (after all, a lock is just a lock innit?), we headed northeast towards the village of Lyrup. The GPS directed us along a dirt road which was bright red. Now we knew we were in the Outback. The community of Lyrup was just a few houses and a shop or two - mainly supporting orchards and farms. In the middle of the township was the ferry, and on the other side of the river was the forest reserve. We drove onto the ferry and the fella was extremely helpful. He told us we could get out of the car and take photos
. He also gave us information on all the campsites scattered along the river. Upon arrival on the other side we inspected the first camping area (100m from the ferry), we thought it was too close and the banging sounds wouldn't be relaxing - besides there were 20-30 campers there and we hated the look of it. We drove another 500m along a dirt track which took us to a completely deserted section of riverfront. Awesome! This is it! The river was nice and swollen, probably due to the huge floods from the Murrumbidgee a month or two earler. We set up camp 4m from the shore and absorbed the serenity until it got dark on us.
I put the TV and Next G antennae up on the roof and we were sorted for the night. I can't be 100% certain but I think we cooked risotto that night. It got cooler as the night wore on but our proximity to the river meant the warmer water acted like a buffer so it wasn't too bad. We had a quiet and peaceful night, we didn't see another soul enter the camping area - nor did any boat traffic pass us (possibly due to having to pass through the lock). Meanwhile, 400m away there were 30 campers on top of each other and a 24-hour manned ferry. We had full strength internet, mobile phones and DTV from Berri which was only 5km away but we were miles from civilisation.
Woke up to a crisp cold morning of about 7 degrees. We got out of the caravan park without too much mucking about. We crossed the bridge into town so we could have a hot breakfast at the roadhouse. Our intention was to follow the Murray and head up toward Berri/Renmark today but first we had to inspect the Brookfield Conservation Park which was about 10 kms from Blanchetown. The Sturt Hwy took us in a westerly direction until we could see the boundaries of the conservation park. Due to the hard work of volunteers and dedicated carers the thriving vegetation is clearly visible from a distance. The fact that we were above Goyder's Line was also obvious to us as we had progressed from Open Woodland and Eucalypt bushland in the areas east of the Mt Lofty ranges to what was clearly becoming Mallee country around (and beyond) here.