Sand dunes, salt bushes… and the mighty Simpson Desert!

The trip from Alice to Mt Dare wasn’t a long one by outback standards but it was a rugged one, especially the last 40-kilometres… and it was a relief to pull into Mt Dare.

This lone pub, initially a cattle station, sits in the Witjira National Park on the western edge of the Simpson Desert in South Australia and is just 10-kilometres south of the Northern Territory border.

It provides everything from great meals and cold beer to units, a basic campground, a tow truck service… and fuel – in fact if you’re travelling the Simpson Desert it is the last fuel stop before Birdsville in Queensland.

Witjira National Park is 7,770 square kilometres of gibber, sand dunes, stony tablelands, and floodplain country… and is home to bubbling artesian springs, one of Australia’s smallest deserts, the Pedirka Desert… and the start or the finish of the track that leads to the Simpson Desert… and along the Binns Track.

Like most outback pubs, stubby coolers are strung from the ceiling and stickers are plastered on the walls. There’s an interesting wall of photos of years gone by, and a couple of display folders portraying the life story of Molly Clark (Old Andado Station) lay open on a nearby table, as does the visitors book.

Another wall was dedicated to those who had come to grief in the desert and in a far corner local artwork, maps, books, and memorabilia – stubby holders, t-shirts etc are scattered on the shelves – all for sale.

A passer-by and a local from a nearby station sat at the bar engaged in conversation, fellow travellers enjoyed their meals and the resident dog wandered from table to table in search of a scratch, or at best a morsel from a plate… all adding to the character and typical outback atmosphere!

It had been a long day and as this was to be our last taste of civilization for a few days, and having already taken advantage of the last of the daylight hours to set up camp and admire the beautiful sunset, we proceeded to the dining room where we now enjoyed a lovely meal with Renate and Martin.

The current owners are Graham and Sandra Scott and along with their staff ensured we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Meeting locals and other overlanders is all part of the journey for us and there’s no better place to meet them than these little outback pubs.

Finally, after a delicious feed and good company, four adventurous spirits, excited about what lay ahead, retired to their respective abodes for the night!

Our plan was to depart Mt Dare early the next morning but with the station manager not pumping diesel until 8am we took full advantage of a beautiful sunrise through the window of our roof top tent before setting about our morning rituals of enjoying our last shower for at least 4 days, breakfast, packing up the tent, topping up our water containers, reorganising our cargo so the tools and recovery gear were easily accessible, and grabbing a few photos.

One of the most important survival aids in the desert is water and it is recommend you should carry at least 7-10 litres per person/per day – we had four 20-litre containers on board.

We had already purchased our Desert Parks Pass the day before, which would allow us to enter and camp in Witjira National Park, the Simpson Desert Conservation Park and the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve, all of which we would travel through crossing the Simpson Desert.

It also allows access to the Desert Parks of Innamincka Regional Reserve, Malkumba-Coongie Lakes National Park, Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Park and Tallaringa Conservation Park for up to 21 days at a time.

The cost of a permit is $160 (per annum), which comes with a handbook and plenty of information and maps of the desert parks, and can be purchased here at Mt Dare, online or at Birdsville if you’re travelling from the west.

With no services between Mt Dare and Birdsville we filled our 140-litre fuel tank ($2.45-litre) plus the two 20-litre jerry cans we carried… attached our desert flag, checked our tyre pressure, gave Harry Hilux one last check, and with the UHF radio switched to channel 10 our small convoy of two, with flags swishing and swaying, headed out over the gibber plains.

Sand flags are designed for high visibility and safety when cresting sand dunes and are a requirement when crossing the Simpson. It must be a minimum of 300mm wide and 290mm high, be fluorescent red/orange or lime/yellow and be mounted on bullbar or front of the vehicle, 3.5 metres from ground level – if mounted on roof rack, 2-metres from roof level.

Dalhousie Springs was a mere 70-kilometres away – over a road of punishing tyre gouging rocks and the occasional washaways… all conspiring to slow our progress – but we were in no hurry and the last thing we wanted to do was to rush to get to the other side…

… then just when we thought we had left all civilization behind, the crackling and mindless chatter over the UHF radio broke the silence and we couldn’t help but wonder that perhaps this wasn’t going to be remote journey we were expecting after all!

UHF channel 10 is used to communicate with other vehicles on the track to give location or call ahead when crossing dunes… but the conversations we were hearing were far from a call for help or to give an update on whereabouts!

Stands of mulga and acacia dotted the clay pans as we continued, with our first stop the Dalhousie ruins.

These ruins are testament to the early pioneeers brave enough to build a life in this remote, outback country. All that is left today are a few palm trees planted very early in its history, interspersed with discarded artefacts and remnants of what was once the homestead.

Further down the track we came to an incredible oasis… and possibly the reason why these early pioneers thought they could settle in the area. 

In the middle of this very harsh country are the beautiful Dalhousie Springs!

This large artesian spring is heated naturally from the Artesian Basin (there are around 70 mound springs in this area) and a swim in the warm waters at this haven, in the centre of Witjira National Park, is not to be missed!

The protection and rehabilitation of these springs was the main reason for the establishment of this National Park, and along with the flora and fauna the area is a refuge for birdlife and a home to a unique species of fish known as the Lake Eyre Hardy-head.

Dalhousie is also a popular camping area and a major stop over for travellers coming to and from the Simpson Crossing… but nothing prepared us for the number of 4WDs parked here. We had planned our trip to arrive in Birdsville a few days before the influx of crowds for the Birdsville races – but I guess everyone else had the same idea!

This stopover has great amenities, bins, fences and paths… and near the sturdy steps leading into the water there are noodles and tyre tubes to share – so quickly donning our swimwear for our obligatory swim we joined the many people wallowing in the warm, mineral rich water.

Birdlife was in abundance and the springs were surrounded by lush bush greenery and date palms. Ducks, waders, and cormorants swam and fished near the water’s edge, white cockatoos graced the tree branches and falcons circled on the thermals high above. The occasional dragonfly or beautiful butterfly fluttered by, and the water was alive with little nibbling fish.

Think swathes of green bush, palm fronds set against dry, barren land, clear blue skies, and winter temperatures of 30 degrees celsius and it doesn’t really get much better than this.

It was the ideal place, at a soothing 38- 43 degrees celsius, to soak away the dust and relax before our next big drive. The water temperature varies around the pool and if we got too hot in one place, we’d just swim to another… and it was certainly difficult to drag ourselves back to the vehicles for a bite to eat and a coffee before setting off for the desert.

Once we left the springs, the track climbed to a tableland of more gibber plains and swamp land that I should imagine would be impassable after a rain, then, after crossing several claypans we came to Freeth Junction, where the closed Macumba track comes in from the south. It is around here that the Finke River disappears into a salt pan in the Simpson Desert.

With only a display board with emergency contact details and instructions for radio use we were really starting to feel isolated on this stretch of track.

Beyond Freeth Junction the sand dune country gradually began and it didn’t take long before the rough, rocky track gave way to sand with the gentle roll of gradual ups and downs and noticeable sandhills indicating we were soon to cross one of the most famous and hardest of all desert crossings in Australia!

By the time we reached Purni Bore, we were definitely in dune country and surprised that in the 75-kilometres from Dalhousie to Purni, we hadn’t passed one vehicle.

The temperature had risen quite considerably as we pulled in for our lunch break and now hovering in the mid 30’s we were greeted with literally hundreds of white cockatoos lazily vying for space under the covered picnic area and in the surrounding bushes… too hot to lift their wings and fly away!

Still in Witjira National Park, Purni Bore is another little oasis that came about because of drilling for oil in the 1960s.

Surrounded by several pools it is also suitable for swimming but with the water coming out of the ground around 85 degrees it was just a bit too hot for a dip!

This was the last designated campground until Birdsville with a toilet and a hot shower (using water from the bore) however, as it was still relatively early in the day we decided to keep moving… but not before pulling on our walking boots and seizing the opportunity to stretch our legs and hunt out the now capped borehead where the water still bubbled and steamed from the ground then flowed through a pipeline to the shallow refuge wildlife and birdlife have come to rely on over the years.

With Purni Bore done, we still had a few kilometres to cover before we officially entered the Munga-Thirri Simpson Desert National Park.

Apparently, our journey into the desert doesn’t start until you reach the signs so, with camera ready, we continued.

The occasional chatter on the radio gave some idea of oncoming traffic and it wasn’t far down the track we met a small convoy of 4WDs heading our way.

4-kilometres on we came to our first sign and our adventure into the vast desolate Simpson was about to begin!

This desert was named by Cecil Madigan (Madigan Track) after Alfred Allen Simpson, an Australian industrialist, philanthropist, geographer, the president of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia and, the owner of the ‘Simpson Washing Machine Company’… but this country is the traditional lands of the Wangkangurru and Lower Southern Arrernte people with the true desert dwellers the Wangkangurru. The Lower Southern Arrernte people living around the desert edges.

These people lived in and around the Simpson Desert for thousands of years and it wasn’t until the beginning of the century when sadly the Aboriginal populations were dramatically reduced by two outbreaks of influenza (passed on by white settlers) that they left the desert and settled around the desert fringes on pastoral stations or in the small towns.

In 1936 it was first crossed by a European by the name of Ted Colson who successfully rode camels from Bloods Creek to the Birdsville Hotel, had a beer at the pub then walked home again… and in 1962 geologist Dr Reg Sprigg was the first person to drive more than 1100 sand dunes in a Nissan Patrol G60 without a GPS or radio – along with his wife and two children. 

Still on the French Line it was approximately another 25-kilometres of bumping over sand dunes from the start of the Simpson before we turned onto the Rig Road and it was here, as we pulled into Wonga Juction (where the French Line continues north and the Rig Road veers south east) that two more 4WDs pulled out… heading towards Birdsville.

There are only three tracks that can be taken to across the 1136 parallel sand dunes of this desert and they all converge into the QAA Line near Poeppel Corner where the Northern Territory, South Australian and Queensland borders meet, 170km west of Birdsville.   

The French Line, or shot line as it’s called, and named after the French Oil Company who explored the area for oil and built the tracks, is the most popular, the shortest, most direct and the most difficult route with large dunes to cross.

According to the guys at Mt Dare, it was pretty dug up and a highway for people heading to the Birdsville Races.

The WAA Line sits below the French Line and runs east west in the same direction. The dunes on this track, although less prominent, are often softer and subject to large holes, otherwise known as blowouts, caused by the winds.

Lastly, the Rig Road is the longest and southern-most of all the tracks.

Regarded as the least demanding by many we were told it would be the best track for us given it’s not so busy. We were also told it wasn’t maintained and had deteriorated somewhat – so not to expect an easy ride!

Once capped by clay to allow heavy drilling and earth moving equipment to be transported between oil wells, these tracks are now left to the elements… and adventurers like us in our 4WDs and big trucks who plough through each year.

One thing is for sure though… they all need to be handled with care!

Finally, having turned right off the French Line onto the Rig we travelled between dunes rather than over them… and we soon began to realise just how remote this alternate track was when we no longer had the mindless chattering about dinner menus and how people handled the track conditions broadcasting over the UHF radio.  

Just a word of warning, if your planning on doing the Simpson please choose an unallocated channel to chat to your friends! The UHF repeater channel 10 is there for a reason – for yours and others safety to call in at call points, check for oncoming traffic over the dunes and to call for help if the unexpected arises – not for idle chit chat!

14-kilometres on we came to Mokari airstrip.  

From here the track curved to the east again and we were rolling over the dunes, now larger and often with a more severe drop on the other side.

We passed the old abandoned Glen Joyce Oil Well and after another 48-kilometre stint of roller coaster dunes we arrived at ‘Linnies Junction’.

This was where the Colson Track, having crossed The French Line further north, meets the WAA Line and the Rig Road track.

We were told it was important to keep veering right on to the Rig Road and ignore any other turnoffs we might see.

The WAA track heads directly east from here crossing the Erabena Track before meeting the Knolls Track… so turning south on the Rig Road we headed parallel to the dunes following the swales along a narrow trail, constantly dodging rocks and scrub that lined the sides of the track making it very difficult for Martin and Renate to navigate Fidgety (the large Commander) through.

Driving in the desert is typically quite slow and overall we only averaged between 10-30-km/h – less over the sand dunes… plus the numerous stops we had had throughout the day, the kilometres we travelled were quite low.  

Fortunately, once you are in the desert you are spoilt for choice when it comes to camping and it was getting late when we pulled into Macumba Oil Well.

With our first full day of driving into the ‘Simpson Desert’ completed and Fidgety and Harry Hilux set up in a large, dry, dusty clearing for our first night in the true wilderness, we collected fire wood, had our meal then sat ourselves around a raging campfire to reminisce about our day.

There’s nothing like an outback night sky and a nice glass of red to make you feel relaxed. The desert is a mystic place at night where the galaxy is like a never-ending magic carpet of twinkling and shooting stars, which we found hard to drag our eyes from… that was until two guys in a Toyota Landcruiser (with trailer in tow) sped into our campground – one in quite a distressed state.

They had had a small drama back down the track when one of their vehicles broke.

They were heading to Mt Dare to deliver the trailer then heading back to their campsite where they had left their family and travelling companions – and the stranded trailer belonging to the broken vehicle… all before the tow truck from Mt Dare arrived!  Apparently, it was an insurance issue.

The tracks across the Simpson are not gazetted roads and so standard roadside assistance provided by the RACT, NRMA, RACV, RACQ and the likes doesn’t apply unless you take out special insurance.

While trailers are not banned in the Simpson, they are discouraged and for good reason. Tackling over a thousand dunes I should imagine is challenging enough without the added drag of a trailer – not to mention the extra revving and tyre spinning that damage the track making it harder for those following behind.

If the worst does happen, Mt Dare has a tow truck and Birdsville Roadhouse has an old 4×4 MAN flatbed truck, but recovery is not cheap and can run into the thousands of dollars at $400 per hour including travel time to reach you.

Both men were from Victoria, their destination Birdsville Races… but it didn’t seem they were going to get there anytime soon – and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the one driving the land cruiser who had been planning this trip for 10-years!

We made them a cup of tea, offered them a meal, Martin let them use the sat phone and we arranged to call on those camped further down the track the next day… then after we finally convinced them to camp with us for the night, we all retired to our beds.

A sat phone is an absolute must for any remote outback travel where there is limited to no reception… and the Simpson is a complete black spot for mobile phones! They can be hired at Mt Dare or Birdsville depending on which way you are travelling but make sure you phone ahead and book one, as they are in very short supply!

The last we heard of our visitors was banging and whispering then the car starting up and roaring away into the distance in the early hours of the morning.

Packed up and with the GPS set roughly on the location of the people we were to call on, we gave our own vehicles a once over then broke camp early the next morning and turned east… and soon the ups and downs and side to side of dune driving started all over again.  

It was slow and steady work as we spent most of the day in low range driving at no more than 10-20- km/h.

The deep corrugations in the dunes made it hard to get up and over and many times Renate and I would sprint up a dune to dig out the deep sand drifts just to give Guy and Martin a clear run up, then wave as our vehicles zipped past!

The Simpson is the largest sand desert in the world and consequently looking for these people camped in the sand dunes was like looking for a needle in a haystack. Eventually, we came across them and to our surprise they had made themselves very much at home.

All set up with showers and awnings these people looked like they were there for the long stay.

There were 3-people, two vehicles (one broken right through the middle) and a camper… the second apparently parked further up the track waiting to be retrieved!

Of all the wildlife in the desert the only creatures we saw of late were our regular encounters with the bush flies… and believe me I think this campsite was the very place every bush fly on the Simpson Desert congregated! As welcome as we had been made by the people, we couldn’t wait to hop in our vehicles and head off!

It was mid-afternoon before we continued along the Rig Road and another hour before we turned north and started driving in the swales between the dunes as we headed towards the Erabena track.

At this point we were close to the dry lake system of Poolowanna and not far up the track we entered the Simpson Desert Conservation Park.

Then came to the ‘Lone Gum’, a solitary coolabah tree, growing in the middle of the desert with just low scrub all around. It was long way from any water, and no one could tell me how it came to be there… but this tough little tree just keeps on thriving and surviving in this harsh and unforgiving desert!

As soon as we stopped the flies again descended on us like a plague searching out and crawling into every unprotected orifice… but thankfully, as it was nearing sunset, they didn’t hang around for long and soon disappeared.

As dusk approached, we decided to make camp and after finding a good campsite we were again rewarded with some stunning colours of the sunset sky.

The pristine night sky out here in the desert is mesmerising and even with no moon, the glow from the stars was enough to guide us in the darkness.

Our day started early next morning as we were keen see the sunrise cast its magic over the red dunes… then as the fire crackled to life over the silent land we boiled our billy, poured a cuppa and cooked breakfast.

Within a short time we had packed up, ready for another day’s travel… and with the Lone Gum disappearing in our mirrors, we headed eastward over more challenging dunes.

33-kilometres on we reached Poolowanna Oil Well, another abandoned exploration site.. and also the abandoned trailer belonging to the travellers back down the road.

We had already passed the rusty remains of a few other trailers along the track – a stark reminder of the harshness and remoteness of this unforgiving desert.

Turning north we wound our way along the Knolls track following the dunes, traversing them occasionally and on more than one occasion, running along the ridges.

Except for a few kilometres of severe corrugations, more sand drifts, washouts and rough rocky sections that certainly tested our suspension and had our teeth rattling, the track wasn’t too demanding and the scenery was very different as we skirted saltpans and clay flats.

Spinifex, cane grass and  acacia had followed us right across the desert lands and now we were privy to incredible salt lakes and a beautiful desert wildflower show with billy buttons, poached egg daises and cunningham bird flower, all in bloom thanks to the recent rains.

Then, just as we topped the next dune, we glimpsed the first of many large lakes we had to cross.

What lay in front of us was a vast white lake that stretched as far as the eye could see.

Our first response, as we sighted the deep tyre ruts creating circles on the white shimmering salt plain was – how are we going to get over this?

We could clearly see the track that crossed the lake, but the white salt was broken where the large circles were carved into red dirt . Obviously, vehicles had driven onto the lake when it was wet earlier in the month!

From a distance the heat created a shimmering haze suggesting it was quite wet and boggy but on further investigation we were surprised to find it was quite firm and we were excited to have the opportunity to drive across… plus where better to stop for a morning tea break, admire the scenery and grab a photo or two.

It was quite a surreal experience sipping a cup of tea on such a large expanse of salt while high above eagles soured on the thermals.

It was an interesting landscape with salt crystals encrusted on sticks, plants and roots and at first reminded me of Lake Eyre, where signage warned against driving or walking on the unstable salt covering, but walking on this crusty surface was an experience all of its own… although, I still had visions of disappearing below the surface, so we quickly retreated to our vehicles and exited on the other side!

From there we followed more twists and turns in the track with the long dunes gradually growing bigger and harder to cross… and more salt lakes.  

Surprisingly, aside from the guys with their broken car we hadn’t passed another vehicle on this track.

Just as we turned east again and headed toward the French Line the low, twin outcrops of the ‘Approdinna Attora Knolls’ appeared.

First discovered by David Lindsay in 1883, and then named by Ted Colson in 1936 they are the remnants of ancient high dunes and the whiteness of their gypsum rock in a sea of sand contrasted noticeably against the red dunes that surrounded them.

These knolls, which are sacred sites for the Aboriginal people and a restricted area for this reason (although a short path winds up the side), were clearly not hard to miss!

Finally, just when it seemed we had been traversing the dunes for ever we reached the junction of the French Line… and the real fun began!

Following the Commander, we bounced along in low range, calling in at the call points and riding over the massive dunes one after the other.

The landscape here didn’t seem as desolate as it did on the lower road and at first it was hard to determine which provided the more difficult driving.

The dunes we had traversed over the past few days , although not as high as on the French Line, were closer together making it, at times, near on impossible to get a good run up!

But it didn’t take us long to find out… the dunes on the French Line were just deep, scalloped, corrugated sand – and it quickly become apparent why flags are necessary! The brief warning they provided to an approaching vehicle could make all the difference between avoiding a head on collison or not!

At each one we would radio ahead to notify anyone coming in the other directions of our presence – then when all was clear we would choose a path (there were quite a few where others had attempted from different angles), accelerate hard and hope with all our might we had enough momentum to climb up with our heavy load, and reach the crest.

At times, because of the deep corrugated sand it was near on impossible to get a good run up, resulting in another attempt… and each attempt at a dune meant clinging to our seat belt or the steering wheel as we bounced along, hoping nothing was going to break and willing Harry on… then with the bonnet pointing sky ward we would surge over the crest, hoping and praying there was a track below us as we plummet earthward and down the other side!

Occasionally, where there was a broader crest, we could stop to snap photos and linger a bit longer to take in the magnificent views of sand dunes that stretched ahead of us – one after the other, for as far as the eye could see… and sometimes in the distance, we could just make out a lone vehicle heading in our direction.

We continued crossing one dune after the other for the next few hours and just when we finally acquired the knack of dune driving, it was time to look for a camp for the night.

Just as the sun was setting, we pulled into a secluded spot, well off the track in a lovely setting among gidgee woodlands and with an abundance of fire kindling we soon had a fire blazing and dinner cooking.

Camping out here in the desert had become a familiar routine – find somewhere to camp (which incidently can only be within 50-metres of the main track), set up, cook dinner and then relax around the campfire, beneath a breathtaking, star-studded night sky.

Our rule of late was to set up before sunset and rise before sunrise so we didn’t miss the best parts of the day.  

As dusk approached, we prepared ourselves for the light show. Over the last few nights, we had been privy to some very colourful, spellbinding shows… and tonight didn’t disappoint.

As the silence of the desert settled over us like a blanket we relaxed in the splendour of another Simpson Desert sunset. 

Breakfast the next morning was our usual affair of porridge and a couple of cups of tea then after packing up camp we made tracks for Poeppel Corner, which according to our Hema Maps app was roughly 25-kilometres down the track.

We knew there were still the challenges of more dunes to be had… and they didn’t disappoint as we tackled them one after the other head on, at times almost making it to the top then having to reverse back down for another attempt… all the time taking comfort in the knowledge that whenever we had two sometimes three goes, so did Martin and Renate in Fidgety.

We were travelling so slow the flies would swarm in the open windows and although we could easily have shut the windows and put the air-con on to solve the problem we were enjoying the fresh desert air too much… so we made good use of our fly swatters instead and blew the little pests out on the faster stretches across the salt lakes where we usually topped 80-km/h.

Like all tracks on the Simpson Desert the French Line is single lane and the busiest of all the tracks by far.  Often, we had to pull over to let other vehicles pass and each time we crested a high dune we would hold our breath in the hope that if someone was coming in the other direction they had seen our flag and had heard our UHF call from the lead vehicle before ascending.

There are numbered call points at various locations (probably 1-2 kilometres apart) along the French Line, which meant we were constantly advising oncoming traffic of our call point number, direction we were heading, our vehicle type and description, and how many vehicles in our convoy… and at least we knew if there was someone else down the track and where they were! 

Eventually we reached Poeppel Corner where we all enjoyed the novelty of circumnavigating the trig markers and crossing into the three states – Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia!

This heritage listed site was named after Augustus Poeppel, who conducted a survey in the mid-1880s to find the exact location of the central Australian colonial borders.

Originally the point was located in a salt lake and marked by coolabah post (dragged there by camels) but when it was found the measuring chain that he used was a few centimetres too long another survey was conducted by Lawrence Wells, who relocated the posts to their current position.

And just a little trivia… New Year’s Eve occurs three times each year at thirty minute intervals in Poeppel Corner – also at Cameron Corner and Surveyor Generals Corner!

With the obligitory photo to signifying our visit, our journey continued north-west as we left South Australia and headed into the Northern Territory with just 22-kilometres of travelling alongside the edge of the salt lake on one side and the  K1 Line track on the other before crossing into Queensland! 

Turning east again we were now travelling along the QAA Line.

Then, just when we thought it would be an easier run to ‘Big Red’ we hit more dunes and they seemed higher and more demanding!

It had been another day of slow going and as dusk approached, we pulled into a small swale area between the dunes, somewhere on the QAA line… just in time to see another magnificent sunset!

As we settled in for our last night in the Simpson Desert, dingos could be heard in the distance.

Many creatures roam this desert, but it appeared many are not easily seen or photographed!

Dingos and camels are meant to be very common with the highest population of camels being in the southern parts along the Rig Road… but we were yet to see either.

All Renate had hoped for over the past 4-days was to see a caravan of camels line up along the crest of a dune, a childhood memory of a past trip with her family!

It wasn’t totally lifeless out here though, fresh tracks from dingoes and camels could easily be found on the dunes so we knew they were about… and Renate made a new friend – a little fox whom she felt sorry for and gave a bowl of water!

Over the past four days we had fallen under the spell of the Simpson Desert.

There’s nothing quite like a cool August night somewhere in the outback. Just to enjoy the warmth of a campfire on your face and the cold night at your back, the smell of burning logs and a silence only broken by the howl of dingoes somewhere in the distance.

That night Guy was treated to his first haircut since leaving home many months ago. Not exactly a Brad Pitt hairdo – just a number 1 over the top which meant he couldn’t take his cap off for the next 8-weeks…

… we were treated to a hot shower with the water we had saved!

And we set our table with our tablecloth and candles and dined in the middle of nowhere!

That night while everyone slept our curious fox wandered through our camp, feasted on our thongs and stole his water bowl.

As I look back now and reminisce, these are the moments that helped make another outback experience so enjoyable – not that we were too pleased about our thongs at the time!

Next morning, we slowly packed up from our wonderful bush campsite, the last for our desert crossing and headed for Birdsville.

We knew the track was going to be busy today after a motorcyclist pulled in to our campsite and told us there was a motor bike race underway.

The riders would be coming through in waves… and sure enough not far down the track we passed the first support vehicle then one cyclist, two and so on as they travelled westward… each indicating with a hand signal how many were following!

We crossed more wide clay flats and salt lakes and around 90-kilometres east of Poeppel Corner the track crossed the antiquated rabbit-proof fence… we knew then we were getting close to our destination!

Then came the vast flood plain of Eyre Creek and our first water crossing… and a sign pointing in the direction of a ‘detour’!

A short stroll along the creek bank showed definite signs of recent flooding with bushes stained from muddy floodwaters and the boggy tracks where some unfortunate 4WDer/s had attempted to cross… so following the arrow we headed south along the creek banks then north back up the other side adding an extra 59-kilometres to our trip.

The effects of the recent rains had created an oasis in the desert. Trees flourished in the creek bed, wildflowers added a brilliant colour display, birdlife nested in the trees, and an allusive emu dashed between the shrubs – the only other creature, apart from the fox, that we had seen on the track.

Finally, we came to one of the most spectacular features of the Simpson Desert… ‘Big Red’!

To tackle this monster is a challenge most 4WDers love to conquer… and believe me, it was nice to be able to boast about it later!

It can be difficult enough to cross this famous dune from the west – but apparently its nothing compared to coming from the Birdsville side… but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow!

For now, it was a matter of preparing ourselves for our dash to the crest!

There are a couple of deviations slightly to the north of this track to make things a little easier and ‘Little Red’ is always an option… but for us, we planned on the real deal!

With our tyre pressure reduced even further to 15-PSI it was like we were preparing for the runup for a long jump as we reversed back… then back a little further… and then with the accelerator planted to the floor we headed towards our final challenge! 

Willing Harry all the way – ‘keep going’, ‘keep going’, then our UHF crackled to life as woo-hoos from our travel companions echoed into the cabin and we ascended the dune.

We found out really early in our trip that momentum was the key to climbing these dunes and we wanted just enough to make it up to the crest before backing off… we certainly didn’t want to launch into orbit, which we knew was the best way to break something!

If you’re not accustomed to sand driving then rest assured after the Simpson crossing you will be expert in dune driving… and expert in tyre pressures too!

There’s nothing like the sands of the famous ‘Big Red’ between your toes and after taking in the fabulous view and snapping the obligatory photos we descended the other side.

Martin, Renate and Fidgety were waiting for us at the foot of Big Red – the last of the 1136 dunes completed… and our wonderful four nights and five days in the desert had come to an end!

From here, it was an effortless 36-kilometres into Birdsville where the ultimate reward for completing the mighty Simpson in one piece… was a beer at the Birdsville Pub!

If you think surviving five days on the desert is enough… then prepare yourself for surviving the Birdsville Races.

As soon as we walked through the doors, we were entering a world like no other. It was as Australian as it gets with race goers in full swing!

Race fever had hit Birdsville and with only five days until the gates opened this tiny town was already bustling with excited patrons.

Built in 1884, this iconic pub is the towns signature attraction and is the place where most desert travellers refuel going to or coming from their trip.

Having picked a relatively flat patch of ground we set up camp beneath the shade of a few coolabahs on the broken and dry earth of the Village Green.

A campfire pit had been dug and a fire set and while we waited for Renate and Martins friends to arrive (also driving a big truck) we positioned our chairs in the long grass and watched as a procession of campervans and 4WDs, some towing caravans, bumped over the dry earth, billowing dust behind them as they searched for the ideal site to set up camp.

Over the next few days Birdsville would slowly transform to accommodate an estimated 10,000 people.

For many, including our friends, they were probably fulfilling a lifelong dream to witness Australia’s greatest outback race meet, but for us it would only be our home for a couple of days… we were heading north to the warmth!

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