Written By ~ All participants
Participants ~ Jim Gately & Vanessa Williams - Prado 120 Series Simon, Barbara & Cameron Winterbourne - Prado 120 Series Bob Fyfe - LandCruiser 200 Series Steve Hall & Wanda Whitman - LandCruiser 79 Series
Duration ~ One week
Destination ~ Simpson Desert
Across the Simpson from Farina through William Creek, Dalhousie Springs, Oodnadatta track, Purnie Bore, Poeppel Corner, Birdsville and Big Red, Windorah, Cunnamulla , Bourke and Nyngan to home.
Farina to Peake Creek Ruins – Jim and Vanessa
Then there were four. An unplanned trip, health and kid’s concerns reduced our trip participants to four vehicles. We met at Farina ruins on Tuesday with meet and greet around a camp fire after a visit to the ruins which are slowly being restored by a dedicated few.
It was interesting to watch a 30 second tent being erected, together with tent fly and awning – not quite the same timing as in the ads (the next time it went up it could have been the ad).
A brief discussion on protocol and plans and we were off, viewing the Stuart memorial and stopping at Marree. Kruze’s truck, a Ghan train and other historic items were of interest as we passed through Marree. Plane Henge with its sculptures made you wonder why, and why here? I suppose it’s like the sculptures on Lake Ballard in WA. The fascinating Bubbler and Blanch Cup had us wondering at the size of the artesian basin as we viewed the springs in the middle of vast barrenness. A brief stop at Coward Springs and we were off again. A drive up and down the main street of William Creek (‘cause we blinked!) and on to Peake Creek Sidings ruins where half the entourage chose to camp in the ruins, the other half were jealous and set up camp. A fire kept away the cold until we all retired with the milky way and another million stars.
4th July: Peake Creek Ruins to Dalhousie Springs – Simon, Barbara and Cameron
After a 5 million star swag sleepout in the ruin, we rose at 7am to a chilly morning in surroundings that seemed in the middle of nowhere which essentially is where we were. The air was crisp and clean and the sky clear and really it couldn’t get much better than this.
We had camped in a room in the “North Wing” whilst Bob parked his stretcher in the “South Wing” of the Telegraph Station. Jim and Vanessa pitched their humble abode out in the open and Wanda and Steve had their rooftop tent atop “Big Red” setup in minutes. Cameron decided that sleeping under the stars in his swag seemed like a great opportunity to start our desert adventure as well so he set himself up between the 4WD and the building.
The sound of kettles boiling and the sizzling of bacon and eggs was well under way as the campsite began to disappear as if we were never there… Vehicles packed, tyre pressures checked, morning briefing summoned and we were away by 9am bound for Dalhousie Springs via the infamous Oodnadatta Pub and the Pink Roadhouse. It was my (Barbara) turn to drive.
The Oodnadatta track was fast paced and an easy drive and in no time we found ourselves pulling up in Oodnadatta to fill our tanks to the brim with diesel to get us to Birdsville. The roadhouse is the hub of the town where vehicles are repaired, food is made and eaten and the post is delivered twice weekly to Mt Sarah Station, Macumba Station and Hamilton Station.
Vanessa announced with much disappointment the pub didn’t open till 11am and as we still had a fair way to go we couldn’t hang around for that elusive beer at the Oodnadatta Pub. Instead we spent a few minutes snapping away with our cameras before climbing into our trusty Toyotas and sped off into the dust following the mandatory convoy procedure with Jim and Vanessa at the helm.
As we followed the Oodnadatta Track, we drove through the vast expanse of Mt Sarah Station and then turned off at Hamilton Station to make our way up to Dalhousie Springs. As we rattled our way along corrugations and sandy sections we stopped for lunch at Pedirka Siding ruins which was situated on a gibber plain or stony desert. These ruins were old fettlers’ cottages and a bore and at some time was a hive of activity along the now disused railway. A change of drivers with Cameron at the helm and we were making good time to Dalhousie Springs.
After a quick stop to look at the Dalhousie Station ruins nestled in amongst palm trees, our convoy pressed on towards the campsite eager for a swim and to set up camp. Dalhousie Springs is a busy little metropolis and is home to the largest artesian system in the world, The Great Artesian Basin. It was here that the first vehicle problem occurred. The Winterbourne’s Prado had oil splattered all over the rear wheel arch and it was not looking good. The men all appeared like ants drawn to a cake and the car was jacked up and the rear wheel was removed. At times like this it is best to leave the men to it and the women should go and investigate the spring pools. Steve had a look around and it was discovered that the problem lay with the shock absorber and not with any brake fluid and so it was ascertained that it was OK for the Prado to continue across the Desert. The swim in the hot spring water was an interesting experience as we shared the water with hundreds of small Dalhousie Goby fish which nibbled at our bodies, so we felt very clean after. After a very quick cold shower and dinner, our group convened for drinks and a recap of the day and then it was time to say goodnight to the dingo and the mozzies and drift off to sleep thinking of what might tomorrow’s adventures might be in this wide brown land……
5th July: Dalhousie Ruins to a bit south of Georges Junction – Bob
After a reasonably warm night (7 degrees) at Dalhousie Springs we were all ready to leave at 9am. Some of the troops had risen early to go for one last dip in the springs whilst others took the time to check their vehicles ready for the trip into the desert proper. Yesterday afternoon saw Steve help Jim out with an auxiliary battery problem, which was leaving his fridge out of power by each morning, a temporary cable set up was run and Jim now had proper charging of his battery solving the problem. Also yesterday, Steve and Wanda had a flat and Simon, Barbara and Cameron had heavy leakage from a practically brand new rear shock absorber fitted a week or so ago, so at this stage I was feeling fairly smug, the mighty 200 had not had a problem.
Well one should never allow smugness to creep in as about 12 km out of Dalhousie Springs on a particularly badly corrugated section of road my steering became suddenly incredibly heavy, after pulling over and having a look under the bonnet it was obvious that a gushing leak had occurred somewhere between the fluid reservoir and the power steering pump (an area inaccessible in these conditions). What to do? Well no sense turning back, one would simply have to put up with the job of steering a now “Sherman Tank” like vehicle across the Simpson with a view of getting a fix at Birdsville.
On we went into relentless corrugations and very soft sand dunes. A comfort stop was made at Purnie Bore and then a lunch stop at the Junction of the French Line and the Rig Road.
We battled on and made a stop for the night about 20km south of the Rig Road/WAA Line Junction, a night made memorable by being very cold (around 0 degrees) and for the colourful conversation around the camp lights, started by Vanessa (quite the stirrer). From memory we bedded down not much after 9pm, cold and tired from a hard day at the wheel. The thought of another couple of days or so of wrestling the steering was not helping settle me down, but then again I’ll always be able to say I crossed the Simpson the hard way.
6th July: Near Georges Junction (Rigg Rd) to a bit north on Knoll Track
We were on the Rigg Road heading for the Lone Gum Tree, an anomaly in this environment and spawning little lone gum trees that hopefully will survive. The tree has its resident koala – stuffed and strapped to a branch so it doesn’t fall out.
Going was slow; Bob was our major recovery “team” snatching us backwards off the dunes and forwards over the dunes. We eventually learned to pick the “best” line but still had “stuck” times. I think these “stuck” times gave Bob a chance to ease his shoulders a bit. There was a bit of relief when we travelled parallel to the dunes heading north.
Another million star camp along the track with a warming campfire, good companionship and finally refreshing sleep.
7th July: Knoll Track to Poeppel Corner – Jim and Vanessa
Back onto the French Line. These tracks have turned out to be considerably tougher than any of us anticipated. Steve and Wanda travelled across the French line last year but said the conditions were a lot easier then. We were afforded the opportunity to appreciate the greenery due to the growth after the rains. In this section we averaged 20kph over the first 43km and then only 10kpm over the next 40km. The French Line dunes consisted of multiple steps rather than smooth rises, and then, just as you thought you were totally shaken, you got into a “smooth” bit which was deep and soft sand over the top of the dunes.
Lots of vehicles at Poeppel Corner so we found a camp spot and set up. However, half an hour later there were very few left in the area. Day visitors, or did they find an alternate camp spot just over the dunes.
8th July: Poeppel Corner to Birdsville
We were greeted this morning to a beautiful display of sunrise and red clouds – red in the morning sailor’s warning! Based on yesterday’s travel times we made a very early start with the plan to camp somewhere west of Big Red. By 12:30pm we had travelled 50km! not helped by a series of snatches and the need to change the tube in a tyre (having run out of spare wheels). We found a very suitable camp spot at Eyre Creek. BUT, as we were admiring the spot we looked up at some not-very-nice rainclouds. Group discussion agreed we did not want to spend a week at Eyre Creek if it did rain and mud us in, so we headed for Birdsville. We admired Big Red (closed for a running event and concert), headed up Little Red and into Birdsville campground at 7pm – Since we started on NT time and now on Qld time we had travelled for 12 hours covering only 168.4km. The pub closes for dinners at 8:30pm so we set up our camp and headed for the Birdsville Pub for a well-earned beverage (or two) and a hot meal – we couldn’t see or smell our condition.
9th July: Birdsville and Big Red
Big Red opened at 10am. Bob made his way to the mechanic to see if they could do anything about his power steering – by this time his shoulder muscles were something like a weight-lifter’s (and just to add insult to injury, the wind damaged his awning overnight by blowing it over his vehicle).
It is amazing the havoc yoghurt can cause when it spills in a fridge. It took quite some time to empty the fridge, clean everything in it and then clean the fridge itself.
We got to Big Red about 11am, most of us still unshowered and in not-very-clean clothing, but after breakfast we played there for a couple of hours. Not many people were attempting the hardest track and fewer were succeeding as the sand at the top was extremely soft. Steve showed us how to drive the easiest track, not that “easiest” is an appropriate term for any of the tracks. Cameron drove the same track in Steve’s very heavy truck. My turn. A Steinbauer performance chip really does help when you want momentum - we blitzed the hardest track in a Prado.
Back down again and Vanessa’s turn. Before we went down she was going to try the middle track but enjoyed the hard one as a passenger so she aimed at it – and blitzed it again. Any track up Big Red is a great adrenaline rush and we were all “rushed”. We watched as others attempted their choice of the three runs up and enjoyed the thrill of any that conquered this dune.
Play over, we headed back into Birdsville, showered, shaved (both boys and girls), fuelled up, got some provisions and enjoyed coffee and snacks at the bakery. Bob’s steering required a part to be flown in and he was to stay there (watching the cricket) for a few days (It turned out that the part didn’t arrive until the following Monday with the repair completed on Tuesday when he headed home). We enjoyed another evening around the campfire telling lies about our driving skills and how we conquered the Simpson.
Bob advised us later that he, together with his lack of power steering, also powered up the hardest track – as you would expect from a mighty 200 Series and a guy who developed massive shoulder and arm muscles crossing the Simpson.
10th July: Birdsville to Windorah via Haddons Corner
It rained overnight. As we walked we increased our elevation due to the mud that stuck to our boots. Breakfasted, packed up and met Bob at the bakery. We checked in at the Information Centre to see how much rain had fallen and the conditions of the roads. To our surprise, no rain had officially fallen as it was too light. And no reports were in from SA for Innamincka or that region either.
Signs said all roads were open! We were off, heading for Haddon Corner and the Dig Tree. There was little bit of water along the road. We found the corner turnoff and headed in. OOPS! This road was muddy and slippery with the probability of getting stuck if we lost momentum – so it was “continue until we can turn safely”, slip-sliding all the way. A run-off over a sand dune got us a turn-around point. Dug some mud out of the wheel arches and headed back out. The vehicle that was stuck and being snatched by his mate were out by the time we returned. They advised that it had rained heavily last night and flooded their camp and it rained more heavily further south (where we planned to go).
ABORT! ABORT! ABORT!
New arrivals, who wanted to go to Haddon Corner and didn’t (this was their third attempt in three years), advised us that Innamincka was isolated with all roads closed around it.
We also turned around and headed for the bitumen and made our way home via Windorah, Cunnamulla (great caravan park beside the river on Weir Rd), Bourke and Nyngan.
It was a great adventure. It was a great trip. It was a hard trip. It was a great group of people. It was a great accomplishment. And it was great to be back home to tell of the tale.