Saturday, February 23, 2008

Motorcycling in Australia pt 3 - Menindee!

Menindee famous for its lakes, bird life and water sports, I was really looking forward to visiting.

(click to enlarge map)
( pink -my route, yellow -mail run)

Only 113km from Broken Hill, but with a late start and the heat already intense. The road started out being a little interesting with a few windy curves and some crests and dips to ride over. However this was not to last and soon back to the long stretches of straight flat highway.

Arriving at a small side road close to Menindee and where I estimated the first of the famous Menindee lakes would be, I took the side road which was posted as Sunset Strip. I came upon a deserted group of homes. Looking very much like a small settlement of holiday homes. However as I was to find out when I approached the lake and rode the bike down the boat ramp...the lake was dry and the holiday homes empty. No water here, no birds , no boats just a big stretch of dry land.

So on to Menindee and fast becoming very hot. Menindee a small township on the Darling river seems very quiet when I settled in the shade of a tree to consult my map and decide where to from here. The plan was to take the dirt road to Pooncarie another hundred or so km further. However due to the heat, mid 40s, and risk, if I had problems out on the dirt road, I was reconsidering my plans.
And along came the local postman and offered his block by the river with shelter and water, for me to camp for the night. This offer seemed like one of those opportunities one should take......and this proved to be the case. So a little later I was sitting with the daughter of the postman in the shade drawing pictures with cool drinks. That was just the start.
My Menindee camp
First morning and as it turned out for the following five nights that I stayed at Camp Menindee, I was woken by the raucous antics of the sulphur crested cockatoos and Galahs. Flying up and down the river welcoming in the sun with such enthusiasm and clamor. Really no way to sleep in. However the most beautifully spectacular way to start the day, watching the sun rise over the waters of the Darling river, the Lyre bird from across the river adding his voice to the chorus.
So Postman Kev and miss Candace turned up early morn to take me along with them on the mail run. Four days a week Postman Kev does one of two runs. So the station folk receive and have their mail collected twice a week. Must be a bit of a highlight for these folk who live so far in isolation. The big 4 wheel drive truck proved to be the ideal vehicle for these rough roads that alternated from rough corrugations to unstable sand.
So out towards Ivanhoe we go, up and back a track and then along the 'main' road, which just to me looked pretty much like another track. Lots of sand, salt bush and roos.

Sand changing colour as we cross parts that were at some stage and may again be parts of the lake systems of the area. So very dry now, as for the past 10 years Menindee has been in drought conditions. The past 6 years being severe drought. However at times these areas have been covered in flood waters. Around the town of Menindee there is evidence in many trees around the town and river, of previous incredibly high flood waters.

And in the middle of all this sand, salt bush, sparse trees and the odd sheep or cow, will be the mailbox, actually old fridges are very popular for this purpose, of the station home which is out of sight down yet another sand road.
Along the way on the two mail runs we encountered some lovely wildlife like this very handsome Bearded Lizard.
And this stunning Brown snake
And the Emu family that, as I have mentioned before are not the brightest bird in the bush, commonly known as bush chooks, Emus are able to be enticed to investigate any noise that is similar to that of their young. Postman Kev was able to encourage this one to approach the truck by whistling. Makes for good photographic shots!
The second mail run is to Wilcania up one side of the Darling river and return the opposite. The previous night the sky had darkened and turned a fiery pink and red at sunset, streaked with lightning as a storm crossed the plains north on Menindee. Unfortunately not a drop landed in Menindee to ease the thirst there. But it did land further north. On the way to Wilcania the following day we encountered a creek, normally dry, rushing with soil rich water. Such a welcome sight and cause for some excitement for the locals. After I checked out the depth it was decided it was safe to drive through.

Apparently a delicacy that tastes like peanut butter, Kev kindly dug out this grub for me to sample. However with my dislike of eating anything with a face I was hardly going to eat this wiggling huge grub. So I kindly offered it back to Kev and unbelievably he declined!
Flies , flies and more flies. And I did shower the previous night! This sand dune area was just teeming with flies.
This area, which I believe was part of one of the stations was also pretty special. Amongst the sand dunes that were constantly shifting with the wind, are bones and relics from times gone. Aboriginal human bones are easily found laying in the sand. Also huge stones that comes from a place very far from here. Carried here by the Aboriginal people and used to ground food or sharpened objects. More reminders of just how long the Aboriginal people have inhabited this ancient land. Amazing.

And then a very special treat. Postman Kev took me out to meet the Camel people. This was to be one of my many highlights of the whole trip. This couple Kye and Gill had travelled by camel wagon form Alice Springs to here in Menindee. Along the way collecting more ill treated and orphan animals. Now in Menindee, I am not sure if they plan to make it their home. Meeting them and their camels has completely changed my perception of camels.

Having previously heard and I guess blindly believed that camels are short tempered , nasty and spit, I was a little unsure as the whole herd of camels came cantering up toward the yard for the night. One rather large boy running right at me, them pulled up almost on top of me to cover me in camel kisses! He was so freindly and gentle that I instantly fell in love. I walked very happily amongst these beautiful animals in the yard and stroked them as several followed me slobbering me with affection.

Again I see, what I already knew, that it is people who cause animals to be 'bad' by ill treating them. I being brought up on a farm with lots of animals particularly horses, have seen it in horses and dogs. Of course camels are no different. They are intelligent, gentle and beautiful animals. And I am in love with camels.
Kye and Gill have rescued many of these 'bad' camels and through love and gentleness healed their hurts. They are truely inspirationaly people who I very much hope to meet again and spend more time in nature with the camels. Please check out their website

When the heat of the day began to lessen and evening came on, I was lucky enough to accompany Kev and family on the boat on the river. This was also to be a learning experience for me. Oh so different to the rivers of New Zealand. We travelled down river to the weir where the river stops flowing. I found this completely amazing to see. One side of the weir full of water the other completed dry. Alot of water is taken from the Darling river upstream to irrigate cotton that is grown around Bourke and in Queensland leaving less to flow to the lower reaches. Even in Menindee huge amounts of water is pumped out for irrigation of table grapes and household and personal use. Everyone relies so heavily on this river. Since I left Menindee there has been alot of rain upriver in Queensland which has allowed more flow and now it is flowing all the way. That would be so good to see.

The dry bed of the Darling River down stream of the weir

On the boat trips I was thrilled to see and photograph many birds. Mainly cormorants, herons, pelicans, darters and eagles. Some of the images here. I will be putting some more up in the Gallery.

Sunset on the river with the postman and family. We watched the wildlife and the light change from the harsh light of the day to the gorgeous soft hues of evening. Beautiful pastel shades in the eastern sky, the last sunlight touching all with gold highlights. Fantastic.

My stay in Menindee was totally unexpected and such a highlight of my trip. Postman Kev and his lovely family were very generous and kind and treated me like one of the family. Showing me about their little town and environs. Introducing me to other extraordinary people who have chosen to leave the rat race and live a peaceful and quiet life here in menindee. Lovely relaxed people who have the time to stop for a chat. Menindee has a special place in my heart.

So with the sun setting on Menindee for the fifth time while I camped by the river I started feeling I should move on. After all old Bluey had been sitting idle these last few days. Getting into the tent listening to the night sounds I had mixed feelings about leaving. I knew afew tears would be shed saying good bye to these ever so kind people and this lovely little place in the middle of the flatlands. However the trip goes on.........

See more images of Menindee here