See that road closure sign up there? See all the red ‘closed’ signs? They’re the roads I was supposed to be spending the last 3 days driving on… however, it seems that mother nature had other ideas for my 4WD-ing buddy Phil, and I. You see mother nature decided to wait until the precise moment that our car left the bitumen and hit the dirt tracks until she unleashed her best desert rain storm upon outback south Australia, giving much of this vast region a thorough soaking and causing road closures left right and centre.
We made it as far as the outback town of Marree, 670kms north of Adelaide. The last 80kms of road into town are, for the most part, unpaved. I haven’t had much experience on dirt roads before, but if my few days of dirt road driving have taught me anything it’s this; don’t add water… unless, of course, you enjoy driving on a muddy, slippery, boggy mess.
As you can see, the bus in the photo above was bogged on the side of the road. Filled with almost 50 pensioners, it didn’t look like pushing it out wasn’t going to happen. A few 4WDs attempted to pull it out, but with no grip and a rather heavy load on board this didn’t work either. Phone reception was non-existent and the rain was coming down thick and fast. All we could do is tell them that we’d inform the authorities in Marree when we arrived and see if they couldn’t help them out.
An hour later, as we slid our way into Marree, we quickly found that there were no authorities. Just a pub and the general store (which also doubles up as a petrol station, restaurant and visitors information centre). We told the guy at the general store about the bus and he started making calls around town to see if anyone had anything heavy enough to pull the bus out of the bog… evidently these kind of local rescue missions are put together on a fairly regular basis. A few hours later, the bus rolled into town after being pulled out by 3 industrial vehicles. As its elderly occupants lined up for the buffet dinner at the pub there was a lot of chatter of penning strongly worded letters to the Prime Minister about upgrading the roads in the outback.
The pub was abuzz with news of road closures. Depending who we spoke to, it was looking like we were going to be stuck in Marree for anywhere from a day to a week. There was a sense of camaraderie among those of us stranded in town and we stayed at the pub until well after closing time… after all, we had nowhere to go the next day.
As luck would have it, the next day one road out of town opened up to 4WDs. This was the road we’d just come in on. A decision had to be made; stay and wait to see if the Oodnadatta track re-opened (unlikely), or make a 400km detour south to Port Augusta back along the road we’d driven in on so that we could then go north-west up to Coober Pedy, from where we could attempt the Oodnadatta track from its northern end in a few days time. We chose plan B and are now in Coober Pedy. Half of the track has just re-opened today (after 3 days of closure), so I think we made the right decision. We’re spending another night here in Coober Pedy and will try the track again tomorrow – whether we’ll get to do all or half of it is anyones guess.