Joining the Tagalong at Cravens Peak and Ethabuka

on 25 Aug 2014 

From Naree Station Reserve we continued north, through Hungerford and Quilpie and across to Windorah, Bedourie, Boulia. Some great camping spots helped us iron out our bush equipment and routine, and we woke each morning happier and more relaxed. The stress and the excitement of our month in Somerset faded against the mysterious pull of the desert that enveloped us and drew us in.

At last we stopped at the Cravens Peak sign where we met our fellow travelers and Peter and Matt, managers of these two stations and our guides for the five day tagalong trip through Cravens Peak and Ethabuka Reserves.

An hour later we were at the homestead, hot scones and a warm welcome awaited us as we were briefed on our trip and what we should expect.

Before very long we were facing our first sand dune, a reminder that this property lies on the edge of the Simpson Desert. On our first effort we failed to make it over the top, but Matt’s advice when we came to a stop after reversing back down the hill made all the difference. ‘Put it in second and floor it all the way up,’ he said and with that we roared up the hill and skated over the top.

Driving the sand dunes is like taking a ride on a psychedelic roller coaster. It is both exhilarating and terrifying. As you go up, the brilliance of the red sand rolls into the brilliance of the blue sky. At the top you dangle for a moment in the blue, there seems to be nothing beneath you, and then down the snaky path, the red of the sand and the green of the bushes and grasses mingling, as you draw breath and prepare for the next dune just in front of you.

Desert is a bit of a misnomer, if you think of desert as just sand. There is ground cover aplenty, a wonderful variety of small bushes and different types of grasses in this red sand dune country, a mixture of blues and greens against the red earth. The landscape is home to dozens of small creatures, lizards, small mammals, snakes and insects. In the afternoons we explored these marvellous parallel dunes, catching occasional glimpses of fast moving creatures and identifing dozens of different animal tracks. In the distance the horizon is a straight line that is occasionally broken by low hills, dark purple in the hot sunlight.

On the way to our first night’s camping site we stopped to climb an unusual outcrop of rock. Aptly named Plumpudding because it is perfectly round with steep sides and a flat top, it might have been turned out of a basin on Christmas Day a long time ago. Composed of stones and small rocks it is an anomaly in a mostly sandy region. Not as easy to climb as it looked, it offered a fabulous 360 degree view of land that makes up the two properties, stretching further than the eye can see, roughly a million acres.

This first night we camped on rocky ground, but our swags were equal to it, and once again we fell asleep watching shooting stars and satellites fizzing their way across the night sky. 

Our second night we camped at Ocean Bore. Now I know what a ‘turkeys nest’ is. Like the nest of a scub turkey it is a dam built by pushing soil up to build an enclosing earth wall. We watched zebra finches and white winged fairy wrens as they fluttered around the water body that is fed by the bore. We, too, appreciated the benefits of the bore when we experienced the fantastic bush shower complete with hot water that Matt had built prior to our arrival.

Four days were just too short on these two properties. We know we only scratched the surface of what it had to offer. Apart from driving the sand hills, which was an adventure in itself, we visited the Painted Gorge, a sacred aboriginal site. Although not permitted to enter the gorge itself, we saw many engravings on the rocks on either side of the entrance. Walking across the grassy ‘ampitheatre’ and along the rocky walls that surround the space, it was easy to imagine a meeting place of some significance, where corroborees and reunions of family groups would have frequently taken place.

Another highlight was the Pulchera Waterhole, where we spent our last night before leaving. A huge stretch of water, it will become part of the Mulligan River in a good rainy season. For now it is a shallow lake, a magnet for many local birds, the corellas, brolgas, pelicans and several different waders and ducks. An oasis in a dry land. We watched the bird life in the evening, and again at dawn, before leaving this magic part of the world with regret.