Day 30 - Anabranch to Broken Hill and Menindee

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

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Where I stayed
Camped by Lake Pamamaroo
What I did
Menindee Lakes

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

We slept in until 8:00 this morning when we were woken by the sound of a road train pulling in to use the toilet. As soon as he inspected the loo, he had to get back into his truck and drive off as it was unusable. We got up and had our weetbix and began to pack up. As we were getting ourselves together a mini-bus group pulled in and used a picnic table for morning tea or something. The place was beginning to get quite busy as it was on the main route from Broken Hill to Mildura and the rest of VIC and SA. Pretty soon the stream of comers and goers was enough to make us leave. It was deserted when we arrived, it stayed quiet all night and now it was getting too packed to hang around. By 10am all the picnic tables has groups brunching on them.

When we got to Coombah Roadhouse we realised that our decision to stay at Lake Popiltah was the best decision we ever made. The Coombah roadhouse was only a service station and basic store run by a woman, she didn't seem too happy to see us. I'm not even sure she was a woman - it might have been Doug Mulray. As we pulled in for fuel she barked "cash only" and made us mess about with the van's positioning (to the millimetre) before she did the filling for us. There were some old asbestos-looking shacks at the rear which looked at least 50 years old, these appeared to be the remains of old motel style rooms or cabins - they may have just been old storage areas - I dunno. They didn't look like they had been used for over a 20 years and the local nature and wildlife had started moving in. We filled up with fuel and got the hell out of there.

The last 125km heading North into Broken Hill was spectacular, the landscape and hills and colours had us rubbernecking out the windows constantly. We actually didn't need to go to Broken Hill on this trip, but we loved it so much back in 2010 that we thought we'd drop in and enjoy the atmosphere for a few hours. The first priority was a good feed and a decent coffee. Being a decent sized city with lots of mining dollars around there are plenty of options. Julie found a Sydney-style homewares, kitchen, bric-a-brac cafe/catering place - I'd have prefered a proper cafe - but we did it anyway. We ordered and sat down. The food took about 15 mins, the whole time not one male walked in. A group of 3-4 young mums with daughters came and sat near us - still no males. Our food came and we enjoyed having a meal prepared by someone elso for once. The food and coffee ended up being quite good but I never saw another male walk into that place.

It's a weird place Broken Hill, full of blokey blokes and man's men. Buggered if they are going to buy a wrought-iron hibiscus candlestick holder for the kitchen. Either the wife does it, or they'll just use bloody normal candlestick holders from Mitre-10. Meanwhile, there is a new subculture emerging where the blokey blokes are being shown up. Younger, cheaper and dumber contractors from big cities bringing their hotted up Hondas with megawatt audio systems blaring out fucking shitty auto-tuned vocals on every track, wearing stupid hairstyles and pathetic shoes with no socks. It'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

Anyway I digress, after lunch we headed up to the Pro Hart Gallery which we deliberately postponed last time we were here. You always need to leave something for next time. Since we love Broken Hill so much we already have our plans for our next visit. The gallery was just as awesome (if not, better) as we had expected. Pro Hart was an amazing artist with an impressive way of capturing Australiana. We saw stacks of his works as well as his workspace and tools he used. His cars were pretty damn cool too. Most importantly though, was his wife who came in a told us stories and answered questions about Meeester Haaart. After photographing all the artworks that we were drawn to (which was almost all of them), we figured we should keep the ball rolling and move on. We bought a souvenir or two then we were back in van heading into town to go to Repco for some motor oil to top up the van. 

By 2pm we were on the road to Menindee. It's only about 113km so we weren't in a hurry which made the drive quite enjoyable. Again, that Broken Hill landscape provided us with the awe required to maintain excitement levels. As we arrived in Menindee, the first feature we passed was the flow control regulation channel - this connects Lake Pamamaroo to Lake Menindee via Copi Hollow. When I saw a turnoff to a small observation point I had to have a look. Like so many of Australia's great water schemes (snowy hydro, Murray-Darling), I am totally fascinated by it. Basically, originally all these lakes only filled up when a flood came down the Darling. What the Menindee scheme did was set up a series of channels and gates allowing the water to divert via the lakes system (yet still allowing for environmental flow down the Darling River), and allowing it to be captured and held in the lakes. This provides water for irrigation (we saw vineyards near Menindee) as well as supplying Broken Hill with a reliable supply.

We did a drive-thru of Menindee township to check out what shops and services may be available before lining up all of the caravan park and camping options for inspection. The caravan park in town just over the river was completely out of the question. It looked horrid - we drove on although I shouldn't be too hard on them as they had been under water a few weeks earlier. Next stop was Copi Hollow, this place looked really nice and the woman manager was nice and friendly. She told us that Menindee itself didn't have a TV transmitter but their caravan park can receive ABC and Imparja via satellite and they rebroadcast it to the park. It was located on the lake but all the good spots were taken. There were some waterfront grassy sites but they didn't grab us so we cast it aside as a last resort if we found nothing better. The next stop was the council-run park on Lake Menindee. This was facing dead West, and the sun was about to set. The manager was easy going and allowed us to have a look around, he advised sticking around to watch the sunset. We did a quick tour of the park but it too was a tad overpopulated. One of the last places to check out was a waypoint on the GPS I was given years ago on Lake Pamamaroo.

As we drove out to it it was nearly dark, we passed a caravanner who said he was looking for a proper camping area as the ones he had seen had nothing - we were never quite sure what he was after. It was only a few km along a nice dirt road to the camping area, we could see all the camper trailers, offroad caravans plus the odd rooftop camper owners preparing their evening meals so we thought - well this is it, and we drove in. The camping area was sloped (as it was shoreline) and very soft sand. It required a bit of skilled driving to get over an embankment with our two tonne 2WD camper. From my experience, half the time it is clearance rather than traction that gets people into trouble. Manoevering the van around sand hills, we did a few laps of the vicinity before we realised that there weren't really any decent spots to camp. When I double-checked the GPS I realised I had overshot the waypointed camping spot by a few hundred metres so we headed for an access track up the embankment back to the road.

All was going well until we hit the slope, next thing the van stopped moving forward but you could still hear the revs increasing......yep the back wheels were spinning and digging in to a patch of soft, deep red sand. Not worried at all (I wouldn't have brought a 2wd out here if I didn't know what I was doing), I got out and dropped tyre pressures to 25psi which was plenty to regain traction and drive straight out - piece of cake. We drove 350m back along the road and saw the smaller and least used track right where the GPS told us. We drove in and, well the photos should say it all. We had the most heavenly campsite in all of Australia. Not one other person was there, we were literally metres from the water (which was lapping higher and higher), and we were facing dead west into the sunset. We were so stoked that we couldn't even set up camp straight away because we were too busy jumping around and losing it at the view. The atmosphere was magical and we tried to capture it with our cameras.

Once it had got too dark for photos, we proceeded to set up camp. Curtains were positioned to take advantage of the view, wheels were levelled out with wood chocks and antennas were mounted on the roof. The first test was internet which was 5 out of 5 bars - being only a few kms from the township meant that we had an awesome signal. With such a small population and most likely fibre running to the tower, performance was better than in the Sydney or North Sydney CBD at peak hour. Test #2 was for TV reception and it was an epic fail. No digital TV whatsoever. We did however manage to receive two analog channels (quite weak) on UHF. They were ABC TV and Imparja. I can only assume that we were picking up the rebroadcast signals from Copi Hollow 6km away. They probably only have very low power but because it was mostly water between us the signal must have bounced across the lake. After trying to fine-tune the antenna (to get rid of static and to try to get stereo audio) we decided that Imparja was too weak and concentrated on ABC TV. 

Finally I found a position where the cable had to divert over a tree branch then drop down so that the slack in the cable weighed down the mast to give it an ever so slight lean to one side. Suddenly the static on the screen disappeared and the evening news came through with stereo audio - yay! I think we were even lucky enough to get a few comedy shows that night which was perfect as I'd hate to be stuck with politics or current affairs with only one TV channel. We spent a little bit of time preparing a nice meal that night and had a salad with pear, pine nuts and parmesan and I had some yummy grilled chicken with it. Once we had eaten and washed up we just relaxed and loafed around. Julie played guitar and did some reading, I found something amusing on Youtube which led to the next thing and the next thing. I remember sitting there at 10:30pm streaming something off Youtube thinking to myself "I wonder if I'm the only person downloading from the Menindee tower right at this moment". It was getting late and we had a full day the next day so we had a cup of tea and a hot sponge bath and retired for the night.

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