At the time of planning this Confluence visit, we did not know it, but this was to be our toughest Confluence visit to date. When checking the visited and unvisited Confluences in our home State of South Australia, this Confluence remained unvisited, so we set plans in motion to be the first people to log this Confluence and have another successful confluence logged for South Australia.
Checking detailed Topographical maps of this area, the only access to this Confluence point is through Nilpena Station, which is owned by Ross and Jane Fargher, fourth generation Station identities of the Blinman area, in the beautiful Flinders Ranges. Making contact with Ross about 6 weeks prior to making the visit, Ross gave the OK to enter his station, so I could now fully plan this visit. Ross and Jane purchased Nilpena Station in 1983, and at that time, Nilpena was running both sheep and cattle. In the early 1990’s, they moved away from sheep and now run solely Poll Hereford Cattle. Today because of the drought conditions suffered across Australia, they are running between 700 – 800 head of cattle, but in times when the conditions are good, they are able to carry nearly double this figure.
It was clear from the beginning that this confluence lies 3.4 kilometres inside Lake Torrens National Park Lake, so we knew we were in for a return walk of about 7 kilometres. Lake Torrens is an ephemeral salt lake that stretches over 250 kilometres in length and has only ever been filled once in the last 150 years.
Leaving our home at 6am with safety procedures in place in the events of becoming stranded, we set off for Parachilna, where we met Ross. After receiving information and a mud map of the area and to get us as close as possible to Lake Torrens and giving Ross an expected time of completing the confluence visit, we set off further North for Nilpena Station. Making our way through the station tracks, we managed to take the wrong track. The good side of this detour was that it took us to Mount Michael, the highest point in this area at 218 metres above sea level. The stone cairn at Mount Michael was built in January 1860 by the Lands Department, who have only been back to this site twice since then, in 1969 and their last visit in 1995 and still stands intact as it was built over 147 years ago. Even though we lost time; it was still an interesting detour.
Back on track again, we made our way still further west towards Lake Torrens. As we started to venture cross country, our vehicle became bogged in the soft sand. The only way out was to drop our tyre pressures and out with the shovel to dig out sand from our tyres. Retracing our tracks, we then followed an old fence line and things were looking better. After a few more kilometres of travel, the track disappeared yet again. Trying to find another way proved unsuccessful and we were still over seven and a half kilometres from the confluence. Plan B was put in place immediately, so we left a note in our vehicle in the event of Ross finding it in this out of the way place. With our backpack full of water and emergency food supplies, we set off on foot to reach this isolated confluence. Travel for the first two kilometres was over firm, but undulating terrain. We then entered the sand dune country, and this greatly slowed our rate of travel. The further we travelled, the sand was slowly sapping our energy and we were now pushing ourselves harder, as we had already lost 3 hours with wrong detours and bogged vehicle. Making our way through the sand hills, our trained eyes spotted what other people would not have noticed, aboriginal grinding stones and stone chippings. If time was not against us, we could have spent many hours examining these sites, but time now against us, as we have seen these types of sites before in our outback travels.
Reaching Lake Torrens, we were surprised at the amount of vegetation growing on the Lake surface. Having visited the bottom area of Lake Torrens before, we expected it to be like that, with nothing on the surface at all. Peering out onto Lake Torrens, looking North, West and South, the scenery was the same and mirages in the distance made one think that we were heading into water. Again our pace of travelled was greatly slowed, as our footprints broke the salt and gypsum covered surface. Most times we were leaving indentations of about 3 centimetres, with a couple of times deeper and packing my boots with soft mud. The only consolation of the very dry period that they had up here was that the Lake surface had little rain on it to make the surface softer and more hazardous that it was. The 3.3 kilometre walk out to the confluence seemed to take for ever, with each step seeming harder than the previous.
With 1.2 kilometres still to walk to reach the confluence, a very strange thing happened to the GPS reception. Depending on which page I was using on the GPS, the accuracy was always showing 3 – 4 metres accuracy. When I glanced down to check bearings, the GPS was showing 54 metres accuracy. I could not believe my eyes, and what was going very wrong? I checked the satellite strength page and I was locked onto 8 satellites with nearly full strength. This strange phenomenon lasted for about 15 minutes, so it was a very strange mystery. Like other confluence visits, it was great to enter the 100 metre range and we soon had the exact location pinpointed. We sat down at the confluence, had a bottle of water each and a couple of apples, before retracing our steps back to our vehicle, still over 7 and a half kilometres away. We stopped a couple of times to photograph a few things along the walk back. A good find was a small lizard, basking in the sun on the base of an old plant. The lizard did not move at all, with the only signs of life when it blinked its eyes.
It was a great relief to get back to the car, with the first thing to do was a most enjoyable cold drink from the car fridge. Next job to be completed was to reinflate the vehicle tyres, as we would be heading back on station tracks, with no need to venture off into the soft sand before reaching the main road. I had just finished doing the entire four tyres, when Fiona saw a vehicle approaching, which turned out to be Ross, making sure that we were safe, as we were 2 hours behind our intended check in time. After explaining our detours and our 15 kilometres plus walk, we said our most appreciated thanks to Ross for allowing us to travel through his property to enable us to reach the confluence.
From Nilpena Station, we headed back to Port Augusta for tea before finally returning home at midnight. To successfully log this confluence, we were away from home for 18 hours, travelled over 850 kilometres and walked over 15 kilometres.
Notes regarding the Lizard.
At the time preparing this report, I was not able to find out any details of this inhabitant of Lake Torrens that is living very close to the Confluence. Since then I have been in contact with the Department of Environment and Heritage and the South Australian Museum. What I now am able to report is that this has been the first ever sighting of the Lake Eyre Dragon on the Eastern side of Lake Torrens. It has only been reported once on the Western side of Lake Torrens, and that was in 1965. This small lizard usually lives on the margins of salt lakes in the Lake Eyre Basin and lives on ants and insects. The Lake Eyre Dragon can live up to 6 years and after breeding, the female digs a small burrow and lays up to 4 small white eggs, about half the size of a jellybeans, lays her eggs and then fills in the hole. After a 3 month incubation period, the small baby lizards dig their way out and have to fend for themselves.
In the picture that I have taken, the orange colour markings under the lizard’s neck shows that it is a female with eggs, and the colour is to warn off males who might be thinking of mating.
Both the National Parks and Wildlife Service and the South Australian Museum have shown a keen interest in this newly found lizard and will do further studies here. This confluence will receive more visitors from the Government Departments, not to visit this confluence, but to study this lizard.