06-Sep-2008 -- The confluence of 27S-114E is approximately 80km north of Kalbarri in Western Australia. The confluence visit was undertaken as an SES Kalbarri exercise in Planning, Communications, Track mapping, GPS navigation, compass use and 4WD challenges.
The planning phase involved using Google earth and ‘Ozi’ Explorer 1:100,000 maps on an Ipod plus way point insertion in the two GPS systems. The SES Diesel Troop carrier had HF, UHF and VHF radios, 3 spare wheels, safety gear, tools, first aid, camping gear, food and lots of water. We considered ourselves to be fully prepared for all eventualities.
The planned route was to travel up the north west highway to the vermin proof fence, travel west along side the fence for 60km then follow indicated tracks northwards to hopefully within 100 to 150 metres from the confluence point. We planned to walk the last bit then return via coastal tracks down the coast to the Murchison Station river crossing point and back to Kalbarri.
We left Kalbarri about mid-day on Friday 5th September having checked in with all radio channels. The vermin proof fence was found 72km up the north west coastal highway and we followed the north side track in a westerly direction for approximately 60km. Photographs show how straight this fence is and the abundant wild flowers on display. We encountered several emu’s who wouldn’t get off the track – we slowed – they slowed but did not divert into the bush. The only way was to pass them – we now know they can run at 60km/hour! We got to our second waypoint, which had a track going north for 16km to our 3rd waypoint. This track was heavily overgrown and required one person to walk in front and prepare the way. After about 1Km and 1 ½ hours this route was abandoned as too difficult.
So we returned down the vermin proof fence for 17.3km and turned north up a much better track which used to be along the old telegraph line. We followed this for 14.4km and turned east for another 15.8km to arrive at our 3rd waypoint. Turning north with the light starting to fade after about 1km we found a camp spot to spend the night. After many years of low rainfall there was plenty of dead wood for the campfire – recent good rains had resulted in significant regrowth – so the bush was quite green. Photograph 27S114E-WP3-WP4 shows the red earth track flanked by vibrant bush and an old anthill.
The next morning we travelled a further 4km north to our way point 4 then turned east heading for way point 5 a distance of 6.8km. About half way we came upon evidence of old station activity with the remains of a stockyard and sheep-loading ramp. At waypoint 5 we turned north and after 4.6km turned east at our waypoint 6. The tracks were still giving good reasonable 4WD access and we were making good progress to our last turning onto a track (just visible in Google earth) leading north to within 100metres or so from the confluence of 27S and 114E. We could not find this track and after searching in vain for about half an hour we parked our vehicle just off the east/west track at 27deg 01’ 34.50” S and 114 deg East which was 3.05km due south (as the crow flies) from the confluence point.
So we carried water, backpacks two GPS’s, compass, hats, sun cream, etc and headed north. The bush was thick, requiring lots of deviations from the straight line. Good stout boots were essential – and next time long trousers not shorts would be better to avoid scratches (immediately pounced on by flies whenever a water break was taken), and bush ticks – one wasn’t found until 2 days later latched onto the groin area of one of us!
After an estimated 5km of actual walking we navigated using the GPS to the confluence point and double-checked the location with a second GPS. We got there at approximately 11:00 am on Saturday September 6th 2008. The confluence is in the middle of nowhere, flat landscape, no rocks, and just patchy bush. We took photographs of the GPS and the 4 compass points as evidence of being there.
As an exercise in bush compass techniques we put away the GPS’s and navigated due south back to our 4WD and were about 50m off line when we saw the while paintwork glistening in the sun through patchy bush, at a distance of 100metres or so. It was a welcome relief to get back to motorised transport – we would not recommend doing this in the hottest time of year.
The plan for the return trip was to continue on the east/west track to the ocean cliffs and then turn south along tracks a little in land. Then to return to Kalbarri via the Murchison Station. The track got more rugged with sharp limestone especially when we turned south. There are east/west gully’s caused by infrequent streams and after the winter rains there had been significant vegetation re-growth which was higher than the car bonnet in the middle of the track and frequently required deviations round obstacles and then trying to re-find the track. Then we got our first puncture. No problems as we had 3 spare wheels. Then we got our second puncture and the track was getting more difficult to follow – very rugged on the top of the limestone hills – overgrown in the gullies. This track we were on, had not been used for some months – maybe years and 10km north of the vermin proof fence it disappeared altogether. We then noticed that our third spare wheel was off the older vehicle and was 6 stud – ours was 5 stud. So if we had another puncture we would have to split the rims and transfer the tyre/inner tube to one of the 5 stud wheels.
We navigated towards a waypoint we had picked as a gate in the fence going cross-country. About 3 km from this gate we had our third puncture – the tyre being ‘speared’ by sharp fire hardened bush wood, which we couldn’t see! The blown tyre was not the best and the location was not good for changing a wheel so we continued with a flat tyre until we reached the gate. Back on a reasonable track we used the Kangaroo jack to break the tyre seal and transfer the last spare tyre to a 5-stud wheel. Using the HF radio we contacted home base and put people on notice that we may require some assistance if we had another puncture. We also decided to travel back along the vermin proof fence, which would make us easier to find if we needed assistance. Sure enough about 29km from the north west coastal highway we had another and last tyre blow out - nowhere to go!
So the SES came out to rescue the SES!
What we learnt from the trip was to set up a formal check list of necessary items to include all we took with us plus also spare inner tubes, repair kits, full tool kits, etc. Also it was confirmed beyond doubt that good communications (in our case HF radio or Satellite phone) with someone back at ‘base’ who knows the trip plan, is essential.