19-Jan-2005 -- Jeremy Watson and Steve Mansfield got up at 5.30am, Wednesday 19 January 2005 to reach this confluence; fourteen hours later they returned home rather weary and battered but happy and successful.
We drove the 260km south from Darwin to the Fergusson River railway bridge at a comfortable 130kph on the Stuart Highway. You can do that in the Northern Territory because it is big and empty and has great roads; it is almost twice the size of Texas and it only has 250,000 people in it. The railway is the newly completed Alice Springs to Darwin railway and it happens to be right next to the Stuart Highway at this point. The rest of the journey was a 19.5km bushcrash on foot.
The going was good, we were able to take an almost straight line and it would have been an easy walk but for three things:
1. This is the middle of Northern Territory Wet season when nobody in their right mind goes trekking; the heat and ultra humidity is totally debilitating and today there is not a hint of a breeze and no cooling storms anywhere, it’s just a huge sauna. We start out with 3L of water each and rely on picking up more water en route but we are soaked with sweat and everything chafes.
2. The spear grass is still standing and has seeded. The spear grass looks lovely and green but it is chest high and has delightful seeds with barbed spikes specially designed to fix themselves into clothing and drill through to the skin, soon the inside of our clothes feel like pot scourers.
3. The place is full of lonely Tabanids - they are like horse flies and their bites hurt. The sweat seems to wash the repellent off because it has to be constantly replaced.
Apart from that it was a pretty walk through open Eucalyptus and we certainly had the place to ourselves.
It is actually possible to get a little bit closer to the confluence on the Highway but we planned the route this way because it took us across a number of small creeks and we didn’t want to be far from water at any stage. We lay down in any creeks big enough as you can see in the photo but although it looks pleasant in the picture the water is actually hot and not very refreshing. We also thought we could follow the Fergusson River for the first 2km but this would have lead through a boulder field and dense scrub so we went bush.
We found the confluence with an EPE of 6m and happily it was free of spear grass; there were some boulders there that would have been nice to have lunch on but they were too hot to sit down on. The composition of the boulders was interesting so we have put a picture in for you geologists.
The site would look completely different in the dry season and possibly worth redoing to record it brown or burnt black. If anyone does this it might be better to walk in along the Cullen River; it probably won’t be flowing but there should be crocodile free billabongs to jump into. Note that apart from the Cullen there will be no water whatsoever en route during the dry.
We were both getting very wobbly towards the end of the walk out and suffering clear signs of heat exhaustion despite glugging all the water we could fit in. We both live in Darwin, we are acclimatised and we take all the right precautions but be careful if you want to walk at this time of year, 19km isn’t much in the cold but it’s ambitious in this soupy climate. We drove to Pine Creek and sat in an airconditioned pub for a long while rather subdued, didn’t feel like celebrating much. I think the bar lady considered we were a bit afflicted.
There are plenty of confluences left in central Australia but very few you can walk to; many would require a very significant off road expedition or a helicopter. Who is going to do them?