Day 32 - Menindee to Wilcannia and Cobar

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

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Where I stayed
Bush Camping

Flag of Australia  , New South Wales,
Friday, May 18, 2012

Waking up here for the second time was just as mindblowing as the first. We were like kids on Christmas day. We'd be tying to eat our bowls of cereal but would keep putting them down so we could run outside and look at (or photograph) various plants, bugs, birds or dead trees in the water. We found it hard to pack up and leave so we hung around until mid-to-late-morning. Once we had finally packed up and psyched ourselves up to start the engine and leave the campsite, it was decided that we would firstly go and look down the end of the road to where our campsite was. We had seen that a tourist cruise boat departed from down that way and it wasn't that far. One of the first things we noticed was that there were various camping areas every few hundred metres. Lucky for us, these places were quite packed with campers, caravans, RVs and poptop troopies.

Soon it was evident why they camped in this way - proximity to toilets. This is why it was so important for us to be able to be 100% self-sufficient, the best spots are always the ones without facilities. Nowadays with large 4wds pulling massive caravans, men are able to bring their wives (many of whom hate the outback, dust, flies and lack of comfort) without depriving them of their home luxuries. It's not sustainable. Most of the time they are driving a 3 tonne 4x4 with a 1 tonne caravan on the back, and yet, they still need to park it next to a dunny block - talk about lack of freedom. We couldn't help but laugh at a young couple on their trip of a lifetime. Their vehicle was bloody ridiculous, it was at least the size of a bus but was decked out poorly. In fact, their equipment levels were no better than ours - just more room to spread out. They drove to the toilet block from their campsite a km or two away to do their morning drop-offs, but due to the 100 or so campers sharing the toilet (and possibly due to the water table being quite high), we can only assume that the toilets were overflowing and the girl walked out without having gone. She didn't look happy, either the sight was too disgusting or she really wanted to drop something off urgently that morning!

Down at this end we saw the gates (Main Weir) which can pretty much shut-off the Darling River (to hold it in Lake Wetherell) as well as the inlet and outlet regulator devices for Lake Pamamaroo which were all at capacity due to the amount of water. After discovering hundreds of fish dead or dying on the banks, we checked with some other travellers who said it they were carp. Due to the carp choking up the river system it is now illegal to throw them back into the river if you accidentally catch one when fishing. The council provides bins for the popular areas but do you think these people use them? We then followed the road around a corner and our jaws dropped, hundreds and hundreds of campers had formed a pretty ugly shanty town. It looked like the rif-raf of western NSW had converged on this one point. Crappy old caravans that looked almost dead were being towed by rusty old jalopies. Makeshift clotheslines with daggy Y-fronts and womens undies were hanging up for all to see, and there didn't seem to be many more toilet blocks to spread the load. Suddenly it dawned on us, this was a fishing hotspot - a bogans paradise. 

Everyone camped there seemed to enjoy having their neighbours virtually encroaching on their plot. No one there seemed fazed that a caravan with a family with 4 mullet-wearing boys & girls were making a racket right beside them. Some looked like they hadn't moved for several months, possibly using the shanty town as a shanty town rather than a holiday. We hated being there and got out once we had made sure there wasn't anything of interest nearby. A little further along the way we came to Burke & Wills' campsite which they used just prior to splitting up the group and then eventually resulting in Bourke persishing at Yidniminkie Waterhole on the Cooper near Innamincka. Once we had seen & done everything around here, we headed into Menindee for our last visit, we dropped in at the takeaway and got coffees before a quick visit to the visitor's centre to find out about the roads. We wanted to get to Louth via Tilpa which meant getting to Wilcannia then continuing north alongside the Darling. They told us that the east side of the river was still flooded so we had to use the western road. We also dropped into the service station for a litre of motor oil as I had to top up the levels.

We said goodbye to Menindee (we actually really liked it - there is a level of pride there now which we liked as the town has had it's share of social issues in the past). We believe it is now changing and on the move for the better. We drove out of town the same way we drove in, just after the water regulator channel we turned right onto the Menindee-Wilcannia Road. It is classified as a main road but is just a dirt track at times, it had also suffered recent flood damage and had some deep but solidified tyre tracks. It is an extremely picturesque road and the mixture of desert plains, saltbush, farms and freshly-filled waterholes/wetlands had us stopping for photos regularly. The road itself is 156 kms long but at an average speed of approx 60km/h (and less in some spots) it took us over 3 hours but was a very enjoyable drive. We saw a car which had been rolled at one point and thought about the poor occupants but then realised it was probably drunk locals.

It was around 3:00pm when we got to Wilcannia and we were a little bit dry and parched. We had worked up quite an appetite too so we headed in to Miss Barretts for some refreshments. Miss Barretts is the only new shop to have opened in Wilcannia for over 20 years, not only that but they sell the best coffee for over 100 kms (I reckon it's more like 196km as Broken Hill has a few cafes). We walked in though the front door and Bill was there with a big welcoming smile and friendly voice - just what we needed after a hot and dusty half day drive. We ordered our toasted sandwiches and coffees and had a look at the memorabilia and bric-a-brac at the rear of the shop. Once our food was ready we took a table on the front verandah overlooking the Darling River (which was actually beginning to show signs of dropping back to normal water level after the floods). We chatted with Bill about our adventures and explained to him that we were on our way to Trilby Station near Louth and that we wanted to follow the Darling to Tilpa then stay on the river to Trilby. "Hmmm" he said, as the roads had been closed for weeks and the word was that they were still closed.

In our efforts to try to work out an alternate route we must have looked concerned because he then proceeded to pick up the phone and call the Louth pub for road information. Sure enough it was still a few feet under water out that way. For confirmation he then phoned the local BP depot operator who had taken a tanker load of fuel to Louth that morning. He also confirmed that the road was not in any state to drive on. We were both extremely grateful to Bill for such great hospitality and service, Bill, if you are reading this, thanks and keep up the great work. Also, owing to the efforts of people like Bill, Wilcannia feels like it is on the way up. New settlers are heading out that way and new businesses are being planned for the town. The indigenous communities are gaining confidence and some of the younger aborigines are gaining education and professions in the area. There is a new wave of pride entering the community but it's important to allow the healing to continue. Water in the river helps as this brings visitors, but the visitors also need to come into the town and visit the cafes and shops. It won't happen overnight - but it will happen. We then drove to the back end of Wilcannia to visit the BP fuel depot and talk the the operator. He confirmed that although he got his truck to Louth, the van would drown.

We checked the maps and GPS and decided that we would have to re-route back to Cobar then take the Louth Road north from there. The Barrier Highway from Wilcannia to Cobar is mostly arid semi-desert which makes for some spectacular scenery along the way. There was still water in the wetlands which was nice too see (especially for birders like us) although it made driving difficult at times as birds tend to change direction suddenly and go too close to the road. It was quite a good drive most of the way but after a few hours the sun went down and it was time to think about pulling up. It was too far to Cobar still so we pulled over and checked out a roadside rest area where we saw other campers setting up. The rest area had a dirt road leading out the back of it which we followed into the bush until we got to another perfect little campsite quite a distance from the road. This looked ideal so we got the van into an ideal position and set up. It ended up being quite a pleasant spot - we were far enough from the road that the noise didn't intrude and we had no other campers in our vicinity, yet a few hundred metres away there were grey nomads and campers.

Being 60-70km from Cobar, we were about 30km out of TV range but Next G was sweet, besides we had plenty of campsite entertainment but that didn't stop us from staying outdoors until it was too dark and cold to stay out there. That's when we moved indoors and began to cook some dinner and relax a bit. It had been a big day, the Menindee-Wilcannia Road is quite tiring and then following that with a few hours of highway driving had me knackered. I just felt like eating and eating - I had two big schnitzels with salad plus sweets afterwards. As usual, it gets too cold to change into pyjamas at 10pm so we boiled some water for tea which made the van nice and toasty. I think I was alseep before my head hit the pillow.

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