Day 26 - Lyrup to Renmark & Chowilla Game Reserve

Trip Start Apr 17, 2012
Trip End May 27, 2012

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Where I stayed
Bush Camping by a waterway off the Murray

Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Saturday, May 12, 2012

Lyrup was a blissfully peaceful place to wake up in. After a quick cereal we packed up camp and hit the road. Our first stop was Renmark. We parked the car and did the main streets on foot. For a Saturday morning the place was pretty dead. The vibe was somewhat absent too. Berri is heaps nicer. We found a small cafe run by a chinese couple and sat down for some bacon & eggs & coffee. Soon we were ready to face the world, so we grabbed some supplies and topped up the water tank at the town's free RV park. Once we had replenished our water we were ready to head off into the bush again.

Before doing so, we did a tour of Renmark and the surrounding areas. It is definitely a fruit-growing and agriculture town. The amount of infrastructure dedicated to moving large volumes of water was amazing. Even after driving down dirt country lanes for several kilometres you would come to a large pumping station or pipeline or even a massive diverted water storage area off a creek or river. These people are serious about watering their properties. Some are up to 100km from the river, yet are fully irrigated. This allows for some huge contrasts; million hectare properties which are green and thriving yet they stand in the middle of arid salt-affected desert. It's pretty amazing to look at.

Chowilla Game Reserve had been a must-see for several months leading up to this trip. We had read about the history of the place and the wildlife that could be found there. As it wasn't too far from Renmark (approx 20km as the crow files or 30-40km by road) we thought we'd be able to get there fairly quickly and maybe even go for a paddle that afternoon, so we got onto the Old Wentworth Rd and began the bumpy ride. Soon the road had degraded to a rocky and corrugated dried quagmire. We could only travel at 20km/h which meant that the 30kms of dirt road would take longer than an hour. About 3/4 of the way there we passed some caravanners who were on their way out of there and back to Renmark. We briefly wondered why they were leaving so late in the afternoon. It was after 3pm when we finally got to Chowilla Station. From here we just had to follow the river and creeks to a suitable camp site.

A few kilometres north of the station and old woolshed, the track began to follow a billabong or tributary of the Murray - it looked like it was connected to Monoman Creek but I wasn't too sure if this small section was Monoman or not. Eventually we came to a sign saying the road was closed and access was not permitted, with a diversion back to the main road to the west. We chose to do a u-turn instead and set up camp by the billabong. An information sign and dunny block were a few hundred metres away but upon closer inspection of the toilet block we found that the toilet bowls had been removed and holes boarded up. Maybe this was to stop any rising floodwaters from filling up the septic system and causing a shit explosion. I wonder if the toilets are back there now.

Once we were fully set up, the sun was getting quite low and red so we grabbed our cameras and tried to make use if it until it got dark. There were some large clusters of dead river redgums which looked 70-100 years old but the drought killed them. With the water level so high and so plentiful it was hard to imagine that 6 years ago this billabong would have been dry. You can't help but think that if the river wasn't so manipulated by weirs, locks and irrigation - would the levels have dropped enough during the drought to kill the trees still? 
We discussed inflating the boat and going for a paddle but it was nearly sunset and falling fast.

As the darkness fell across the area we were commenting on how the dead trees and the shadows combined with the dark looking water and saltbush plains to create an amazingly enjoyable eeriness. There was not another soul for miles and the wind was whispering through the trees as night fell. Fittingly, the name Chowilla comes from the aboriginal word Tjowila - meaning place of ghosts or spirits. Wow, even a thousand years ago this place still had the same vibe. Pretty cool stuff.

Eventually it became so dark that we had to move into the van and prepare dinner. Then it became so cold that we had to start cooking. I put the TV antenna up on the roof and scanned for TV channels. Stupidly, because we FELT so remote I cancelled the scan early before it came up with anything thinking it would be futile - yet we were only 20km's from Renmark so the signal would have been ok had I have been a bit more persistent. Internet strength was medium so we entertained ourselves by emailing, surfing and researching places to go in the coming weeks. By 9:30pm it was getting so cold that we made a pot of tea which warmed up the van just enough so that we could get changed into pyjamas and get ready for bed. All lights were out by 10:30pm.
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