Last year, Eoin, a friend of my brother Len’s from university days, being newly retired, hatched a plan to drive across the Simpson Desert, as you do! Eoin’s wife Betty is not a camper, but agreed to go. Len was keen also, but his Nissan X-trail doesn’t do deserts. Len’s son Geoff offered his 15 year-old Nissan Navara twin cab, so the trip became a possibility for Len. Len recalled my wife Margot saying she’d like to see Simpson Desert before she turned 70, so he invited her. Since Len’s wife Nola doesn’t do camping, then yes there would be room for me, should I so desire, although it was well known that I was a very reluctant camper at best and had mostly avoided it in my 70-plus years.
I agreed to give it a go.
7000 kilometres has been mentioned, it would have been thereabouts. 26 days and 25 nights, nine camping under the stars, 11 in cabins, motel rooms or apartments and five with relatives. The whole trip was an experience of a lifetime with the centre-piece a west to east Simpson Desert crossing in a convoy of five vehicles. In this post I’ll give a bare but illustrated outline of the trip using first names as we go, then some of the photographic highlights. A second post will cover the metrics of the trip, some of the issues you have to face if contemplating a Simpson crossing and how we fared on our journey. Over time I plan to do more specific posts on the individual segments, supported by a selection from the thousands photos produced by several cameras.
On Saturday 26 July, Len, Margot and I set out in Len’s X-trail with trailer to stay overnight with my elder brother Ron and his wife Lorna in Rockhampton. Thence on Sunday we proceeded to Emerald, where Len’s son Geoff lives. There we loaded up “The Beast” as we initially called it. Here we have Margot and me ready to go, with great expectations:
On the first day of the trip proper we travelled west to Winton, where it was beer o’clock in the Bladensburg National Park:
Len is looking very serious, but truly, he was the life of the party from beginning to end! From Winton we did a side trip to Kynuna to see the Blue Heelers Hotel and the Combo (“Walzing Matilda”) Waterhole, and thence via a dirt road back onto the Outback Way and on to Boulia. The Outback Way starts in Cairns and finishes in Laverton in WA. We traversed the part from Winton to Yulara:
The Plenty Highway from Boulia to the Stuart Highway has over 500 km of unsealed road, shown in green, but it’s not too bad, traversable at about an average of 80kph. We camped at Boulia and Jervois Station.
In Alice Springs Nola flew in to join Len. They linked up with Eoin and Betty, exploring the gorges in the West MacDonnell Ranges, and thence to Kings Canyon and Yulara, the resort associated with Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas).
Margot and I hired a car and went our own way because we had to stay on the bitumen. We sacrificed much of the West MacDonnell Ranges but had an extra night at Yulara.
We all met up again in Alice Springs, where I offered to trade Nola an airfare home for a seat in the Navara for the desert crossing, but she wasn’t tempted.
In Alice Springs Eoin and Betty introduced us to Darral and Marion. Thence we travelled in convoy to Mt Dare, on the western edge of the desert in SA.
The decision was to go via the historical site Old Andado Station, a fascinating place, of which more in a later post:
The further south, the rougher and more rutted the ‘road’ became until the corrugations were worse than any we experienced, until, that is, the final run into Birdsville.
At Mt Dare we were greeted by Irene and Ian G-J, and by Patsy and Don, the beginning of an amazing fellowship of the desert with the loveliest people you would ever hope to meet.
After a meet and greet dinner at the pub we emerged bright and bushy-tailed to set out the following morning from Mt Dare, not sure even then which of the three main routes we would take, but determined to enjoy the desert.
We chose a mix of tracks, ending up as you do at Poeppel Corner, where SA, NT and QLD meet. Here we have Len, me, Marion and Darral at Poeppel Corner:
Len and I are in Queensland, Marion and Darral in SA and Margot took the photo from the NT.
After five days in the desert we had a group celebration at the Birdsville Hotel. From the left we have Len, Don, Patsy, Irene, Darral, Marion, Betty, Eoin, Ian G-J, me and Margot.
That photo was taken by one of a group of bikies from Byron Bay who snuck into the back corner of QLD unobserved by the constabulary. They were on a charity ride!
In the morning Darral and Marion had to rush off to an important meeting in Brisbane, but the rest of us met for a final hurrah at the Birdsville Bakery, a happening place. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted such good pies! From the left, me, Irene, Ian G-J, Don, Patsy, Margot, Betty and Eoin.
Then we went our separate ways. After a day in Birdsville our party camped on the banks of Cooper’s Creek near Windorah on the way back to Emerald. More magic! After a day of cleaning up in Emerald Len stayed on for Geoff’s 40th birthday celebrations, joined again by Nola. Margot and I drove back to Brisbane via Roma staying at my sister’s place (Lorna and Ken) at Dulacca, west of Miles.
A plan is already afoot for a reunion of the fellowship of the desert in March next year.
My prize for the best photo so far is this one of the rising full moon through desert grass taken by Margot at Purnie Bore, our first night in the desert:
The place was magic and the 2nd to 10th prizes could also go to photos taken by several cameras that night and the following morning. More in a later post.
Also magic was the sunrise on the banks of Cooper’s Creek. Here’s a photo taken just before sunrise:
Coming from west to east Big Red has to be something of a climax of the desert crossing. It’s big enough to have parking platforms on it. Here are three of our vehicles:
I’m using that shot as a signature image for the series of posts.
The next, featuring Patsy and Don, gives a feeling of elevation as well as shifting sand. Most of the other dunes we saw were quite stable.
Earlier this year there had been periodic rain around Alice Springs and the western part of the desert, so wild flowers flourished. Here’s some desert peas from near the entrance to Desert Park in Alice (allocate a whole day if you’re visiting):
No doubt they were watered, but this one wasn’t:
Flowers emerged from cracks in rocks, or from hard barren ground, as this one from the eastern part of the Uluru base walk:
In parts of the desert the hills were alive with flowers:
That was I think from near Purnie Bore. Here’s another from further along:
And a different colour:
There was much of interest on the way over to Alice, including the giant ant hill:
and this gum, a thing of true beauty in a desolate environment:
This is one of Len’s artistic shots of Uluru:
Here’s one of mine from the base walk:
Len and I on different days took photos of the sunrise on Kata Tjuta with a zoom lens from over 40 km away at Uluru. This is Len’s:
And the reverse, without zoom:
Finally, the lookout opening into the inner sanctum of Kata Tjuta:
I wish to thank Geoff for foolishly, recklessly but generously lending us his vehicle, Len for inviting us on this journey and for his expert driving in the desert, Margot for insisting on sitting in the back seat during the desert crossing and much more, Eoin for his sensitive, consultative leadership in putting the desert crossing venture together, and the whole group for their kindness, good cheer and fellowship generally. We were truly blessed.