Little Desert – Day 1- Kiata to Yellowgums campsite

When we went: October 5, 6, 7 October 2015. This post will just cover the first full day. Day 2 is here.
How we got there: we drove to Kiata campground from Melbourne, it’s about 4.5 hours by car. The nearest town is Nhill.

Activity summary: camped overnight at Kiata, then 6 hour walk to camp at Yellowgums campsite.

What we did (the details):

This was our second attempt at completing the four day Desert Discovery walk in Little Desert National park. On our first attempt we copped an unseasonably cold night and decided our gear wasn’t really up to the challenge. This time the weather promised to be much warmer, so after months of watching the forecasts, we repacked our overnight hiking gear and set off in the car.

We arrived at Kiata campground in the afternoon. On the dirt road in, we had to give way to two big shingle-back blue-tongues crossing the road, and an emu with young in tow. Our spirits were high. Kata campground is beautiful: spacious, great facilities, studded with stands of black box and alive with birds. We set up camp in the gusty afternoon sunshine and then walked the short nature walk around the campground.

Ptiolotus spathulatus Pussy tails

Pussy tails (Ptiolotus spathulatus) fluffy little thing just outside the campsite.

We sat on some log benches around our camp stove, for dinner of green curry beef (which I promptly realised I’d forgotten rice for and had to borrow some from another meal, oops!) Soon it was dark and we settled down in the tent with the wind blowing in the trees all around us. An uneasy night of sleep until the wind died down.

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Black box gums in the early morning light

The next morning was cool but sunny, and no wind. We unzipped the tent to find a family of kangaroos staring at us from the fence line. Birds everywhere again; red rumped parrots, galahs, treecreepers, babblers.

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Tent in the morning Kiata sunshine

We were up with the sunrise, broke camp, had brekky and moved the car to the start of the trail. Then set off with packs full of tent, sleeping gear, water and four days of food.

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Starting off on the first day’s hike. Yes, that’s me!

We noticed right away that the park was crazy with wildflowers everywhere. So apologies for the floral nature of the photos. This is actually a bit restrained compared to the number of photos we took…

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Common fringe myrtle (Calytrix tetragona)

The track was recently re-cleared, and so it was easy walking… except for the fact that it was soft white sand for 90% of the time… which seems to work totally different muscles from the ones for walking on hard tracks.

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New growth after fire

One section of the walk was through a wide fire-break, which had recently been burnt. It was the most alien landscape: white sand and blackened trees. The sand was sprouting with new growth everywhere, and there we spotted three different orchids in the fire break and these gorgeous little white flowers: milk maids!

Burchardia umbellata

Milk maids, Burchardia umbellata

After the fire break the track dipped and rose but headed mainly uphill, towards Trig Point Lookout where we planned to stop for a snack. The sandy track showed many different animal tracks, huge roo prints, tiny hopping marsupial prints, bird tracks of all kinds.

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Foot prints in the sand… maybe mallee fowl have passed this way?

And the vegetation changed from broom brush to sheoak and banksia, the desert floor often carpeted with a riot of colour as the wildflowers bloomed.

Micromyrtus ciliata

Micromyrtus ciliata

The sandy track changed to hard red clay scattered with round pebbles as we approached the high point: the Trig point loomed on the hill and the viewing platform provided a great spot for a break, catching the breeze on the sunny morning.

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We stopped for a snack and drink on the platform at Trig Point Lookout

The track descended back again and returned to soft sand. Galahs flew overhead and lizards darted across the track.

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Grass trees and sandy track

Dillwynia sericea

Dillwynia sericea (showy parrot pea)

The lizards were actually a huge highlight of the day. I was constantly on the lookout of snakes, and although we were lucky enough to avoid any of those, we spotted a number of VERY speedy lizards zoom off into the scrub. And we managed to capture a couple on camera. They all seemed to be dragons of one sort or another. I have a huge soft spot for lizards, and the ones we saw here were all stunning.

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Painted dragon

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Sandy track and endless, endless sky.

After just over three hours of walking we reached Salt Lake, our lunch spot. The lake was amazing, we spent 30 minutes or so here looking around, having a break in the shade, and nibbling on our lunch.

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Salt Lake

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Salt Lake, cracks in the salty surface, roo tracks bounding across to the right.

But it was about here that the flies started to get really bad. We expected flies, but being so far from cattle we didn’t expect them to be this irritating. We sprayed our gear with Bushmans repellent, that kept them at bay for a bit, but we each had at least a hundred as passengers for the remainder of our walk… it makes it hard to drink, stops you from wanting to stop to take photos… and the continual fight to keep them out of your ears, mouth and eyes is just misery-making. Still, we kept on, and took a handful of snaps as we went.

Zieria veronicea

Zieria veronicea

We reached Yellowgums campsite with much relief. Big open sandy campsites arranged around a fire pit, tall gums on all sides. Shade. A storage shed to collect water and a huge water tank, and a small pit toilet. Bird life everywhere again.

But.

As I approached the water tank to refill a bottle ready to treat it… I could smell it. The smell of something dead. Do you know the smell? Something recently dead, dead and rotting. The tank had a sign warning of feral bees (they are attracted to water) and there were a few around… but there were more blow flies than bees. And when I filled my bottle, no bees flew down to check it out. And the water in my bottle was cloudy white, and reeked of sulphides… and strongly of death.

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Camping on the sand at Yellowgums. The Death Water is in the distance on the left.

We added one of our treatment tablets to the bottle and put it aside, but we both knew that neither of us were going to drink the water. We were down to the last litre of water that we’d carried in.

So we sat on log seats and discussed our options. We knew we’d need our last litre the next day, it was another 6 hour walk to the next camp site, and it was going to be an even hotter day. We’d been told the next camp site was on town-water, so we knew that wouldn’t be an issue. But we’d also been told that the water at Yellowgums would just ‘need boiling’ and it was way beyond that. Also, the third and fourth day were forecast to be in the 30s, and we were already struggling with the heat in the 20s, with our heavy packs. And we were now unsure if the third night campsite would have water that we could drink.

With heavy minds, we made two hard choices: firstly, we couldn’t afford to use water to cook dinner, so we ate our water-heavy fruit and carrots for dinner to conserve water and stop us from getting thirsty. And secondly, we decided that rather than continuing and risking future water in the hot weather, we should turn and head back to Kiata campsite the next day, where we had our own big water store in a can in the car.

We munched on mandarins and carrots, while Jacky Winters cheekily flitted around and right up us to check us out, a flame-capped robin hopped all around the camp peeping constantly and galahs sat high on dead branches calling to their friends. We bedded down as it got dark with boobook owls calling in the night. And even a frog croak or two in the middle of the sandy heat.

Useful information:

Books: This walk is described in Take a Walk in Victoria’s National Parks by John and Lyn Daly.

Online:

Continued here.

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