Driving a Haval H9 to the middle of nowhere
Part 6: On the Strzelecki Track
This is Part 6 of our adventure to the middle of nowhere Australia with a Haval H9, which we baptised Ivanhoe. See Part 1: Melbourne to Mildura here, Part 2: Mildura to Broken Hill here, Part 3: Broken Hill to Tibooburra here, Part 4: Tibooburra to Cameron Corner here and Part 5: In Cameron Corner here. Today we leave Cameron Corner, heading west to try and catch the legendary Strzelecki Track.
Google Maps says it will take over 20 hours to cover the 630 km that separate Cameron Corner to Hawker… Hopefully Google Maps is wrong and we’ll arrive before sunset in order to avoid kangaroos. Given the amount of mud we’ve had to face on the way from Tibooburra to Cameron Corner, we brace ourselves for a particularly tricky day as the Strzelecki Track is prone to flooding: it was the case when I first visited the area with Damo the Haval H8. The Track itself is only open for 4WD vehicles so this could be tricky.
In fact, the unsealed track from Cameron Corner to Merty Merty, the junction with the Strzelecki Track, is completely dry and smooth, sometimes sandy. A good opportunity to test Ivanhoe our Haval H9 at high speed on thin gravel. So far so good.
We cross no one all along the way to the junction, everyone is probably recovering from their New Year’s Eve hangover. A couple of stops to refill the windscreen washer fluid gauge and soon enough we arrive at Merty Merty and the Strzelecki Track.
The junction onto the Strzelecki Track is a real slice of desert solitude. The signs point to Innamincka, 140km to the north, and Lyndhurst, 315km to the south west, unsealed all the way. There is absolutely nothing and no one here, only the sound of the wind and dust flying from the track.
We’re now onto the Strzelecki Track, a pass I had not been able to join in my last trip to this part of Australia, so it does feel like I’m ticking boxes on this trip. To my surprise parts of the track are actually sealed, removing a certain element of remoteness from the experience. This is one of the most barren landscape I have ever had the luck to discover, even more barren than the Birdsville Track.
The Strzelecki Track goes from Innamincka to Lyndhurst and is 475 km (295 miles) long, passing along Mount Hopeless which was named after the perceived prospects for the region by explorer Edward John Eyre. It used to be one of the driest and loneliest cattle stock routes going from Queensland to Adelaide and was pioneered in 1870 by bushman Harry Redford, aka Captain Starlight, in a rather unusual way…
Towards the end of the track, the blue sky reflected onto the red earth and the lonely Gammon Ranges to the south appeared to float above the horizon like a mirage. We have pushed Ivanhoe to up to 100 km/h on the unsealed sections of the track and as a result the back left tyre kept overheating, requiring multiple stops to cool down. But apart from that, the Haval H9 has taken the Strzelecki Track in his stride. The Track turned out to be a much easier run than expected, being completely dry for the overwhelming majority of the distance we travelled. The Track is very wide and flat and doesn’t present many obstacles, if any.
The silence is deafening, and forces you to take stock of where you are. Stopping to take a few snaps really drives home the fact that we are in the middle of nowhere, and to me that means freedom.
It’s almost as if the Strzelecki Track is the definition of emptiness, or nothingness. Traversing nothingness sounds boring when you say it, but it’s an experience like no other. Big skies, endless straight roads and only crossing road trains is something only Australia can offer. My co-drivers Bas and Sergio had never visited this part of the country and for them it’s one of the most exhilarating things they have done.
This man drove a thousand head of stolen cattle from Queensland past Mount Hopeless to Blanchewater where he sold them. He then went on trial for the crime but was found not guilty as the jury was impressed by his feat of basically blazing a new cattle stock route.
We arrive in Lyndhurst, at the end of the track, in late afternoon which means we will have to be extra careful for kangaroos when we take the road again tonight at sunset. We’ve already used one extra 20L jerrycan of petrol on the Strzelecki Track so we are eager for a refill. Bad luck: the Lyndhurst Roadhouse that has the only petrol station is closed for New Year’s Holidays and won’t reopen until January 3rd! This is a big issue as we may not have enough petrol to reach Hawker. We turn to the other building in Lyndhurst: the Lyndhurst Hotel, which technically only offers diesel fuel. But thankfully the manager of the place, Willie, has a few jerrycans of petrol he keeps for emergencies, and he agrees to sell 10L to us at a reasonable price. Added to the second 20L jerrycan of petrol we have in the boot, this will be enough to get us to Hawker. The Haval H9 creates quite the commotion in Lyndhurst: one of the blokes had heard of the Haval brand as he’s seen it advertised on TV, and everyone wanted to open the hood to peek into the engine. They were a little disappointed it was a 4 cylinder but quite impressed we’ve managed to go through Cameron Corner unscathed. After a pub dinner we are off again, this time headed towards Hawker which is sealed all the way.
The entire trip is spent admiring the sun progressively setting onto the flat horizon and the luminosity is spectacular. Dusk comes with the ever-present danger of invisible and erratic kangaroos. To the inexperienced driver it seems impossible that such a big animal can remain unseen up until the time it appears right in front of your car’s bonnet. But kangaroos do that to you. We met one fellow that came out of nowhere as they know how to do, but thankfully he crossed the road in time to avoid us. It’s pitch dark when we arrive in Hawker which is the closest town to the fantastic Flinders Ranges National Park. But this is the subject of another post…
Stay tuned for the last part of this Series in the iconic Flinders Ranges…
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