The road to Tarcoola

Where: Tarcoola Road (off the Stuart Highway at Glendambo), South Australia
Permits: None.
Costs: None unless camping in Kingoonya pub caravan park
Difficulty: Easy gravel road with slightly more bumpy gravel side tracks
Days required to do it justice: 2+days

What I love about travel is that you can get so focussed on a particular track that sometimes you see the route to the starting line as nothing but a journey to be completed. Then sometimes that journey turns into a gem of a trip in itself. We’ve had the Googs Track  (known as the ‘mini Simpson Desert’) on our ‘t0-do’ list for a long while. We  recently decided to have a go at the Googs from North to South which saw us heading north from Adelaide on the Stuart Highway to Glendambo then along the Tarcoola Road to the Googs track and finishing in Ceduna on the South Australian coast.

Sometimes however the travel Gods have other ideas and our Googs trip hit shaky mechanical ground before we even left Adelaide resulting in a smaller taste of the Googs than we had originally planned. Our mechanical woes began with a front diff replacement and were closely followed by a broken hitch as we travelled on a backroad near Port Augusta. We thanked our lucky stars we were not injured, the damage was minimal and we were close to a big town to buy a nice new hitch (potentially the most expensive hitch in Australia). We noticed a slight bend in the tow bar as a result of all the drama but were confident the travel Gods could throw no more our way and headed onwards to conquer the Googs.

smiling through another trailer mishap

smiling through another trailer mishap

The big gash we left in the road after our trailer hitch break

The big gash we left in the road after our trailer hitch break

After refuelling at Glendambo (‘home of 22,500 sheep, approx 2 million flies and 30 humans’) we followed the Tarcoola Road to the start of the Googs track, a distance of just over 40 kilometres. And there we started an unexpectedly interesting journey. The graded gravel Tarcoola Road has a rich early mining history, runs along the Dog Fence and also runs right next to the Transcontinental Railway line. The railway line is surprisingly busy with freight trains travelling from Adelaide/Sydney to and from Perth. After a chat with some loco drivers parked up in one of the sidings we learnt these 1.8 kilometre long trains can reach speeds of 110km/h from standing in just one minute despite weighing 3000 tonnes. Our Conqueror looked pretty small parked up next to it.

A 1.8km long loco on the Transcontinental railway

A 1.8km long loco on the Transcontinental railway

Crossing the Transcontinental Railway

Crossing the Transcontinental Railway

The road passed through the tiny community of Kingoonya with it obligatory outback pub while the scenery gradually became more red-sand desert like. On close inspection of the HEMA maps we spotted a number of abandoned mine sites next to a salt lake marked as South Lake and followed vague vehicle tracks out in that general direction.

Welcome to the Kingoonya Hotel

Welcome to the Kingoonya Hotel

Diggings and shafts indicating extensive mining activities lined the track and after crossing a Simpson-esque sand dune we popped out next to a massive salt lake with a pile of old mining equipment sitting right on it. This mine was apparently a tin mine and the amount of machinery here, dating possibly from the 1940’s or 50’s suggests it was a productive enterprise. How they extracted tin from the actual salt lake still mystifies me, let alone how they avoided getting the heavy machinery bogged in the soft surface.

South Lake tin mine. Mining right on the salt lake

South Lake tin mine. Mining right on the salt lake

South Lake tin mine

South Lake tin mine

South Lake tin mine

Large shafts in South Lake tin mine

We found a great little campsite sheltered amongst desert oaks and surrounded by wombat holes. Sadly no wombats were at home at the hole we chose for Critter cam despite there being little wombat footprints scattered all over the track in the morning… and Paul managing to actually fall into a wombat hole 🙂 (no photos of that as I was laughing to0 much).

Wombat holes are massive. Be careful walking on the sand above them as you might fall in

Wombat holes are massive. Be careful walking on the sand above them as you might fall in

Wombat Feet

Wombat feet look a bit like baby’s footprints

Camping near South Lake

Camping near South Lake

The next morning we headed out through the town of Tarcoola to the start of the Googs. On the horizon Tarcoola looks like a big enough outback town and full 3G converage kicked in on our phones. As we drew closer we realised the town is mostly deserted apart from a handful of railway workers housed in modern dongas and a few recluses tucked away in ramshackle homes. There was an abandoned hospital, a community hall, a school, a church and a pub with a sign from 1999 declaring they are ‘reopening soon’ hanging above the boarded up front door. Just out of town huge holes mark the rock faces next to more piles of mining equipment, some of which had ‘private property’ signs nearby. Tarcoola was once a prosperous mining town which also served as an important hub in the early days of the Transcontinental Railway. Now it sits waiting for the odd visit from Googs Track tourists.

Abandoned pub Tarcoola

Abandoned pub Tarcoola

Abandoned Pub Tarcoola

Abandoned Pub Tarcoola

Abandoned church Tarcoola

Abandoned church Tarcoola

Tarcoola abandoned gold mine

Tarcoola abandoned gold mine

An abandoned TV we found Kingoonya

An abandoned TV we found Kingoonya

The great thing about the road to Tarcoola is that can be an interesting detour from the boring bitumen of the Stuart Highway on the way to Coober Pedy or even a side trip on the road past Lake Gairdner. It’s even a way to get a little taste of the northern end of the Googs just as we did.

Tarcoola Road

Tarcoola Road

 

The dog fence near Kingoonya

The dog fence near Kingoonya

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