It’s easy to get along with other folks with camper trailers. It’s even easier to get along with folks who have the same brand of camper trailer as you. With this in mind, most brands, especially those among the premium manufacturers, are having annual get-togethers nowadays – not the least being those of us who own Vistas.
Vista owners’ gatherings – known as Hasta La Vistas - have grown slowly over recent years. This year’s officially attracted 15 Vistarados on an expedition through the South Australian outback – eight Vistas from Victoria, three from NSW, two from Tasmania and one each from SA and Queensland. It even managed to pick up a couple of other Vista devotees along the way.
Such get-togethers are invaluable. You get to talk to other users, and see how they do it, what unique new “fixes” have come along, and how you can improve your camping and add to the fun. The nights around camp fires are convivial and you get to cement new friendships.
VISTAS ON THE MARCH
The trip was put together by David “Numb Thumbs” Jones who referees the Vista owners chat pages. This year returned to a touring theme, starting at Willow Springs station adjacent to Wilpena Pound in the southern Flinders Ranges and heading north along the Oodnadatta Track.
The project had been meticulously planned over the previous six months, leaving plenty of room for individuals to apply their own initiative and undertake whatever side trips suited them.
Willow Springs, the starting point of the safari, is a 283 square kilometre pastoral property that was established in 1924 when the old Wilpena Station was broken up. New operators in 1985 began tapping the growing tourist market, something which expanded with the opening of its 60km long Skytrek 4WD trail in 1995.
The Vista group was allocated three camping areas well away from the main homestead, but found that one sufficed. Surrounded by two (fortunately dry) creek beds and fantastic lines of red gums, these red dirt sites were excellent.
From there, attendees took a variety of day trips, either along the Skytrek trail, or through Wilpena Pound, south to Sacred Canyon, or north to the remnants of the Appealinna settlement, a bare 1km walk away along a meandering creek line.
The group took advantage of excellent weather to drive to a sunset viewed from the top of the nearby Stokes Hill Lookout with stunning views over the Bunker Range to the east and Wilpena Pound to the west.
It was a pleasant and drama-free time, other than for, ahem, David and Jan Cook, who had a small kangaroo suddenly divert into the side of their Pajero while driving out of the camp one afternoon, leaving a ding in their front guard.
MOVING ON UP
After three days the group moved off to drive through the scenic Bunyeroo Gorge and into Brachina Gorge for a night’s camp at the Aroona campground. Most took the opportunity to drive to a spot where yellow footed rock wallabies are regularly seen at sunset, but a cold blustery wind, overcast conditions and the absence of all but a few shy wallabies sent most back to the camp with marsupial deprivation syndrome.
The group moved off the next morning in smaller assemblages to make their way to Farina on the Oodnadatta Track for the next evening. Meridee Flower, travelling on her own with her brand new Vista Crossover XLI, suffered a flat in the Gorge but rejected the many offers of assistance, declaring she needed to be able to handle such tribulations on her own, especially at the beginning of what will be a year-long journey around Australia.
There were mixed passages to Farina, with most stopping at Parachilna for a coffee, as well Leigh Creek’s supermarket, and the nearby ochre quarry, and some at Beltana to experience the evolving town.
Farina was, and is, a great place to camp. The beautiful sunset seen from the nearby war memorial was a lead-in to a good night around the campfire.
THE SKY TURNETH RED
The next morning saw a lot of examination of the Farina ruins before everyone made their own way to Marree and then along the excellent track to Muloorina station, adjacent to South Lake Eyre. This side track saw the only rain of the actual trip, a misty fall which touched only a few travellers. This was a great camp, made more “interesting” by the passage of a significant sand storm which turned the sky orange and had everyone scrambling for cover inside their campers for 45 minutes just an hour or two after arriving.
Muloorina offers a significant camping area along a lengthy billabong created by water flow from a nearby bore, which became the scene for an unofficial bath for many in a deep bend in the inflowing stream. The only downer was the absence of almost any birdlife, an occurrence explained by the presence of a number of feral cats.
MORE ICECREAM THAN WATER
The next morning most of the group headed out on the 40km drive to Level Post Bay on South Lake Eyre. While there was water in the northern lake, none of it had made it down as far as this southern extremity, and our team had to be satisfied with the salt-encrusted mud and evidence of idiots having done donuts on the lake surface.
The next day the group was on the move again, taking in various sites along the Oodnadatta Track, including Plane Henge and several of the old Ghan railway stations as well as the Mound Springs. The plan had originally been to spend the night at Beresford Siding but with a complete absence of facilities it was generally decided against and instead a booking was made for the group to spend the night at Coward Springs to make the most of the thermal spring as well as the hot showers.
That night we shared ice cream prepared in a Vista fridge by team leader, David Jones. It was a welcome respite in an area which had had very little rain for a long time, the operators at the camp ground telling us they had had just 8mm of rain since November 2017.
BULLDUST TO BULLDUST
The day after the convoy was back on the road. Some rolled on via the ruins of Strangways and its extensive mound springs and into William Creek for lunch or fuel before heading back out of town to the turn-off to Halligan Bay on the main body of Lake Eyre, while others took the turn off directly for the lake.
The 64km track out was in pretty awful condition, with severe corrugations and plenty of bulldust. The previous week’s steady south westerly winds had pushed any water away to the far shore of the lake, so nothing was visible other than a crust of fresh salt, but with all the Vistas lined up along the lake edge it was a great night spent at one of the nation’s most iconic destinations.
UP WILLIAM CREEK
The next morning took the group back through the corrugations and bulldust to William Creek, many leaving quite early to avoid the worst of the expected rush of vehicles from the Shitbox Rally which was heading down the Oodnadatta Track on its way from Perth to Sydney in five days.
The Rally had the noble target of raising $3 million towards the work of the Cancer Council, but with over 270 vehicles spread across contestants and support vehicles it promised to place a severe burden on the Track and all its resources.
Fortunately even the last of the Vista stragglers made it into William Creek before the rally arrived. The rally taxed to the limit the fuel supplies at the tiny outback outpost, which along with a bus tour group, the Vistarados and the usual flow of adventurers and travellers, created a record day of business for the one-man-owned township.
A TIMELY ESCAPE
William Creek provided a respite for the Vistarados, as some got to spend a day refurbishing themselves and their vans while 16 owners took the opportunity for a flight over Lake Eyre. At night the Vista owners occupied half of the small restaurant for a welcome dinner together.
After two nights at William Creek the group moved on. The original plan had been to spend two nights at Algebuckina Bridge further north along the Oodnadatta Track but reports from other travellers heading south were that the place and its waterhole were so very heavily infested with mosquitoes that it made night life all but impossible.
In view of this, and forecasts of the possibility of rain in the next couple of days, it was decided that the bridge would just become a brief stopover and that the group would push on to Oodnadatta and Arckaringa Station and the Painted Desert.
After a little time spent examining the gaudy colours of the Painted Desert the group part of the journey was declared over. This was a little earlier than had been planned, but with forecasts of coming rain it was decided that discretion was preferable to being rained in. The various vehicles hit the tracks for their routes either home or on to other adventures around the nation.
It was a wise decision, as Arckaringa Station recorded 25mm of rain the next day, closing their access roads for three days.
HASTA LA VISTA, FOR NOW!
For the departing Vistas the trip home or elsewhere had its moments. Myself and Jan smashed a rear window on our Pajero, Meridee Flower had a disagreement between her new Vista and a tree at Alice Springs, and Andrew and Christine Woodmansey suffered a battery collapse in their Land Rover and had to beat a retreat to Coober Pedy for a replacement – but those are the small prices you pay for testing man and machine to the limit on outback roads.
None would regret a minute of it and all are looking forward to next year’s Hasta La Vistas, wherever it may be, with eager enthusiasm.