Simpson Desert Diary 2002

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Simpson Desert Diary 2002

Post by slunnie » Tue Mar 07, 2017 10:40 am

Simpson Desert 2002

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Wednesday 3rd July 2002
The King’s School

It is the last day in preparation for the big trip. Graham came around so we could do a shop before we leave. Todays shop will give us time to pack before tomorrow’s departure. We fill 2 trolleys at North Rocks Coles and blow a hell of a lot of money in the process.

Back at home many hours are spend organising, and packing the vehicle. The Discovery if full to the roof in the boot, and not far from it in the cabin. Swag is tied to the Cargo barrier to avoid concussions in the event of a Roo strike.

3am and it’s time to hit the sack.

Thursday 4th July 2002
The King’s School to Balranald
854km trip, 854km total

Big drive today. Misson Outback, location Balranald

I leave King’s to pick up Graham at Beecroft. ETA Beecroft is 8am, arrival time is 8.30. After picking up Graham, a medicine run to Mum and Dads is required to drop of Medicine for Simba. I’ll miss my Dog. Patrick and Sue will be leaving for Townsville on Friday so I wish them well also. At 9.30 the big trip departs. A fairly uneventful drive out of Sydney via Bell Line of Road to Lithgow. We then pass through Bathurst before turning off to West Wyalong. Passengers and car are traveling well enjoying the scenery and pleased to be out of Sydney and away on a trip to die for. After Bathurst we lose the quality roads, but no the less they are still good. As the Kilometers build up on the trip meter, and the late night takes a toll, I hand over the reins to Graham. 15minutes into the continued journey we spot some Ducks on the road. It appears some Ducks are a little more agile than others. At about this time we stop the truck, and I ponder about the incredible strength of IPF spot lights and GME aerials. The duck was very quiet as I took its warm, limp but quiet body from the aerial and look apologetically into its eyes before laying it by the side of the road. As we pass through each town I think about the people I know that live there, the Dunhills, the Luelfs, Tracy at Hay and so on. As we continue the journey to Balranald the sky darkens before coming into Hay. The progressive King Springs at the rear cope with the weight quite well, a 2.7t truck, perhaps more cruising at 140kmh on the plains. The half inch or so they have give, angles the already marginal headlights a little too high, as the occasional car flashs it protest about the blinding light. Uprated headlamp globes exacerbate the problem. We pull into destination Balranald, wondering about where we will stay the night, and about Dot and Karen who have moved here. Dot is my previous leading teacher from my Deniliquin days, and Karen a fellow teacher. We book into the Shamrock hotel and have dinner at the local RSL. While having dinner, a veal snitzel, Dot and her husband are also dining a few tables along. I say my hellos as she takes a while to remember me. And I thought I was her favorite. Later she comes over and asks if I would like to come and work at Balranald Central and Dist Ed school, as she will need an IA teacher at the end of the year. We take her up on an offer to see the facilities the next morning. After a lazy return walk to the hotel, we retire for the night watching the MTV awards.

Friday 5th July 2002.
Balranald to Mungo NP.
230km trip, 1084km total

Big sleep in today waking to the sound of room service. Bacon and Scrambled eggs with toast and Juice. America wasn’t bombed by the Taliban, but some madman has shot 2 people in the airport before being shot himself. We quickly eat breakfast and get organised before leaving for Balranald central. On arrival we are greeted by Dot, the Principal, and then taken to see Dave the head of Industrial Arts. He shows us the staff room and the Distance Education office which is busy and a mound of paperwork and preparation. Explaining the high school part has about 150 students, and staff have a 50% distance education load, the class sizes range from 2 or 3 up to about 15 for a Yr7 Design and Technology class. A tour of the Workshops shows some reasonable Dept of Ed workshops, especially considering the sizes of the school. The projects the boys are undertaking are impressive. I would love to come and spend a year teaching out here, though I don’t think this would be possible. The town seems quite nice as are the people. Met with Karen at the school, a big surprise and a very welcome one at that. A lot of catching up, and it turns out she is soon to be married to a locally met man in Newcastle. Oh well, the lucky fellow. Karen is also a Yr8 master and keen to return to Newcastle in a rush.

We then continue on out way to Mungo NP. As we leave the town, we are amaze at the absolute flatness of the terrain, covered in small shrubs, millions of kangaroos and twice as many sheep. It seems the highway passes through the paddocks that are separated by cattle grids. The odd detonated sheep lay on the side of the road, victim of a passing truck no doubt. I’m grateful for my bulbar, and would like to see Harold Scrubby, anti-bullbar lobbyist in this remote environment. We sit at a reduced speed as livestick, wild life and remains litter the road. After some turns we leave the black top and head for Mungo. The Roos continue, and the Emus now match them in numbers.

Mungo NP is based on an ancient lake that has since dried tens of thousands of years ago. We take the self guided tour, and amazing circuit of the NP. We have a look at the old shearing shed at the base which has been used for over 100yrs and discontinued about 30 years ago. The steam driven machinery and sheep skin aroma remain. We continue to the Walls of China. These are a massive dune set that exist in the middle of a huge plain. They have been formed over about 20,000 to 30,000 years. Spectacular to climb, as the ground looks like a lake that has suddenly dried. On top of the fine grit sand dunes you can see for miles in every direction, as the sand lightly covers water formed paterns that could be ancient topographical maps. It truly has to be seen to be believed. From the moving sands, pillars of vegetation and compacted soils stand in rebellion, as water erodes channels through the ground around them.

We continue on the circuit admiring the Mallee scrub, learning the difference between Eucalyptus Socialite, Eucalyptus Domosa and Eucalyptus Gracillus. The local method of catching wild goats is using a water source as bait and ramps and fencing around it as a trap. Apparently the goats will use the ramps to jump the fence to gain water, then be trapped and taken away. Sub-terrain food preservation rooms have also been built by previous landowners to help keep food fresh for longer, and battle the harsh outback environment. It’s like driving through a Roo and Emu paddock in the NP. A rush of Emus will dart in front of the 4WD, and as you slow to admire them you will look forward as the tail end Charlie works hard to catch up. No bull bars needed this time.

We camped in the main camping area, where intermittent light rain serves to keep you on your toes, dampen gear and tease you during critical moments like tent setup. A stir-fry dinner, Bourbon & Coke and Chilli CC’s before bed, nice and relaxed.

Saturday 6th July 2002.
Mungo NP to Menindee Lakes
225km trip, 1309km total

We have a 7.30 rise to a sun that is yet to join us. As the sun promptly rises the crispness of the air warms to something more soothing. We have a look over the dried Lake Mungo and admire the former lake floor plain and also wild emus and kangaroos. We walked down slightly and explored in the enormous cracks that have opened up from storm weathering and follow these to the top of the hill. Amazingly, these canyons end in walls about 2m high and with a shear ending. The soil is very crumbly with nothing apparently holding it together. On our return to camp, more of the fluorescent green birds play around us. Back at camp there is a flock of little brown birds that throw caution to the wind and eat the remnants from our table. Later I am able to get close enough to take some very close photos of them, almost as if they are posing for a photo shoot. It turn out they are very tame, will take food from your hand, and in fact will fly up and land on your hand and shoulder to gain a feed. These are very amusing but game birds. Wild uncatchable emus roam the campsite.

We pushed on to Pooncarie by dirt road where we filled with diesel, indulged in a meat pie and finally met with the Darling River. The river level was down at about 1.6m and very green. Despite this it was still flowing with certainty. The banks on one side were moderate and had a beach at the bottom, the other side very steep and showing the previous tide lines on many preceding floods. Eucalypts adorn the banks, while many hold on for grim death with much of their roots exposed from the eroding bank.

As we continue towards Menindee the road meanders through impossible land for the local graziers, with no ground cover, half dead yet sparse trees and adjacent to an apparently unhelpful Darling River. There is many a carcass that adorn the road, and many more Emus running beside it.

Entering Menindee we look for the tourist information center which we quickly find, and quickly find closed. On our departure a man in a ute pulls into the carpark and indicates to us. He owns the center and opens it for us. Apparently he was driving past and saw us there. This guy with his lazy eye is quite an interesting fellow, he has all the information on the area as one would expect, and is an avid bird watcher and photographer. I select one of the Postcards for Nick Phipps, who is feeding my fishies and realize it is a real photograph with a labeled back. These Menindee Lakes photos are nothing short of amazing so I bought 5 of them. He goes on to tell us about the birds that he has seen in the lakes, including a sea eagle, and the work he has done with the NPWS. It turns out he has also published some books with the aid of NPWS and been granted funds from the Premier Bob Carr. While standing at the information center, which is located on the Menindee (1005km) railway platform, an enormously long freight train passes through. Not only are the carriages now articulated with each other, but the road trailers from semis are now also being mounted onto train bogies and hauled. These use no extra chassis, only that of the trailer, and on this train were towing what must have been at least 15 or 20 other trailers at the last part of the train.

From here we turn into Kinchega NP which surrounds Menindee Lakes. We take the tourist drive (Lake Drive) to see the sites starting at the gate. Just a short walk from the main gate down a NPWS only trail, it is amazing to see such a flat barren landscape with so many dead trees. Its like a holocaust that only a photograph could explain. We follow the meandering water course (Darling R.) around a winding dirt road that reminded me so much of when I lived in Deniliquin, until we reached the remains of the PS Providence. This was a paddle steamer that became grounded for a year before water levels rose high enough for it to move again. When the time came to move it, the crew forgot to put water into the boiler resulting in the greatest disaster to occur in the Darling’s history. Only a torn boiler remains, high up on the bank. Later we also pass through another historic shearing shed. This shed was involved in shearing 6 million sheep, and saw the use of every shear type from manual clippers through to the latest electric clippers. It was considered expensive to build at the time, but this was justified by the incredible strength in its construction. A steam powered engine was brought up from Melbourne to clear dams in place of Bullocks, but it turns out the bullocks were needed to pull the water out to power the engine anyway, and so was a waste of time. The engine then became a power source for the shearing shed.

The night was spent at Cawndilla camping area next to Cawndilla lake. A great sunset photographed over the lake, lied with dead trees. So typical of this sandy soiled area.

This is my first night in the swag. It’s very comfy and I think I will like this type of accommodation, but way to cosy to get changed in, and definitely tight to be typing on the laptop.

Sunday 7th July 2002.
Menindee Lakes to Broken Hill
193km trip, 1532km total

Today we woke to what is again a postcard picture of the Menindee Lakes. Red and Blue sky, aqua coloured water, the skeletal remains of former trees, grasses growing on white sand and an abundance of local fauna. The Emus, Kangaroos, and what would appear to be millions of birds heading roughly eastwards. I fully approve the use of swags by the way, and must buy one. We met some fellow camper who was very interesting and then continued to move northwards to Broken Hill. On the way we pass the dry, swamp like Menindee Lake littered with what would have to have been at least 300 emus grazing on the grasses.

The road to Broken Hill was very uneventful, apart from a 110kmh pass on an unseen Emu by the side of the road. About 50km from Broken Hill the terrain becomes hilly and the townships name becomes obvious. At about thin time we also cross from EST to CST which mean we made 30mins. I assume then it takes 1hr longer to travel in the opposite direction. Obviously the thoughts of somebody 30mins younger than myself.

When in BH, we quickly find our accommodation and head to the shops for extra supplies prior to the big trip. While talking on the phone to Edwina Phipps, I notice oil on the rear suspension that I thought was unusual. It turns out to be coming from the transfer case, and I assume is as a result of the recent service. When organised we then head about 25km out of town to Silverton, a small historic tourist town to the north of BH. We had a look at the old Goal that is now a historical tourist site, and to many of the Galleries, which exhibit some outstanding outback art. At the top of the hill we also spot some Camels. Keen to check them out we take some very close photos and give them some much-needed attention, something they seem grateful for. We also pass by a coiner who offers free ear piercing with leatherwork equipment (ouch), and has produced many example of modified currency.

On our return to BH we stopped at a camel ride property and had the experience of riding these creatures. They looked very happy, except when asked to sit down, and with their long twisting necks somehow reminded me of Mr. Squiggle from my TV youth.

Returning to the Caravan Park we met with the rest of the tour group, and organize to go out for dinner. Scruffy and Sam are our guides, with Wayne to follow up. The people all seem very nice. Scruffy has a look at the vehicle and thinks the oil leak should be ok. We had dinner at one of the local clubs, dining with Eddy & Simone and Greg in particular and obviously Graham. They were all great company.

On our return to the Caravan Park we have a great conversation with Scruffy before going out for Diesel and refilling water.

Monday 8th July 2002.
Broken Hill to Olive Downs
639km trip, 1978km total

This morning we formed our convoy ready for departure at 8am outside the caravan park. Scrappy our guide at the front, Wayne our tail end Charlie. We moved out of town using convoy procedures onto the Tibooburra road, making our way north. The majority of the road to Tibooburra was unsealed and provided many rough moments. Extended sections of corrugations and explosive bull dust made conditions at times quite hazardous, but at the same time eye opening and in some bizarre respect interesting and exciting. With each passing vehicle, each member of the convoy would radio when they had been passed. At our first break, we realize that we cant get into the back of the car. At first I thought the dust had caused the sticking, but it tuerns out that a thermos flask, towel and 2l of water have fallen onto the locking button, and the servo doesn’t have the strength to open it. The boot remains sealed for the rest of the day, and the plan from Scruffy and Wayne is to remove the cargo barrier tonight. As we get further out of BH we again return to EST.

We turned off the highway and had a look at a salt lake that was interesting. The water levels were down and so we could drive a fair way into the lake, but we didn’t venture too close to the water. It was a good opportunity for some photos and a rest break.

We again continued along the highway to Malparinka. A funny little town that is just off the main highway. The Pub is very nice where Graham and I have a counter lunch. Malparinka seems to be a fairly historic town with a couple of restored building and not much else. There seems to be a Pub and a residence, and literally nothing else. I assume this is how one family can make a town, but apparently it is a hot local watering hole.

As we continue north we see the beginnings of Jump-up country where the flat plateaus fall sharply into the plains. Apparently this is cause by erosion resistant, but crumbly soils, and quite a sight to see in the outback. We continue into gibber country also. Honestly, it is just amazing to see ground that is totally covered in rock and not much else. Flora is made up of small bush’s that come out of the ground with the slightest persuasion and not much else. Trees only seem to live in or around watercourses. The road through the gibbers is like a railway way line, with two clay rails through a sea of rock. The gibbers seem to be predominantly in the Sturt NP.

On the way through Sturt NP to our campsite we stop to admire another magnificent sunset, photographing it at every angle, and off every reflection in an effort to capture the postcard moment. Barren country to the orange horizon, and the sinking sun under the blue sky. The dusty trails in the outback country with the setting sun and blue sky all combine to produce what would make an absolutely superb soft water colour painting. Unfortunately, this postcard picture will remain in my mind and nowhere else.

We set up camp just inside the Queensland boarder about 70 km from Cameron corner and outside of the NP. This allows us to have a campfire and generally enjoy ourselves, unlike inside the boarder where constraints rule supreme. Graham using one of Wayne’s toolbox reach (wire) is used to reach through the cargo barrier and remove the goods stuck on the boot door lock. We are in! A film box is taped over the lock to prevent any further dramas. The magnificent sunset subsides and millions of stars in the bright Milky Way appear, as a satellite moves across the night sky at an incredible speed. Graham cooks dinner and we dine in the company of the other group members around the first nights campfire. A good day had, as I retire to the swag.

Tuesday 9th July 2002.
Olive Downs to Innamincka
317km trip, 2295km total

We rise to another typical outback sunrise, magnificent as normal. After pack up, we make way towards Cameron Corner. The roads run through so many different types of country. Gibber plains continue to make up such a large percentage of this, and the road continue to rattle the 4WD’s, break lantern mantles and test tyres to the extreme. As we near Cameron Corner we approach the Dog fence, a fence that was built, and is still maintained by each state, to control the passing of animals. QLD decided to take total responsibility for their fence, and so on boarder fence lies about 15 feet into Queensland. On Cameron corner there was a small shop that sold fuel, drinks and souvenirs. The bowsers had stickers all over them that passers by had left. As we all passed through the fence into Cameron corner the gate had to be shut. The corner itself is marked by a cement stand surrounded by chains, though it is possible to stand in 3 states at the same time, you are not meant to.

After leaving Cameron corner we head along the track to Merty Merty, and it was certainly a roller coaster of a ride. As we traverse the sand dunes, the dirt road would steeply rise, then immediately drop again. If going fast enough it would be easy to become airborne, but you had to be aware of the turning track and bull dust, as all could come apart very easily. The dune tops were marked with flags if a hazard was on the road. Along this road we stopped at a wrecked double decker bus. It looked like it had been turned into a make shift outback home, though it was currently in complete disrepair. The bus had been stripped, and was bearing the scars from rifles and shotguns. The adjacent windmill was also bladeless and unserviceable.

We continued along to Merty Merty where we had lunch against a sand dune. At the top of the dune facing one direction you could see so far away. It was flat and tanned, with trees that were dry and hardly alive. Turn the other way and there was a procession of sand dunes that rolled as far as the eye could see, absolutely magnificent.

We continued along the old Strezlecki track, which the locals tell us is the true Strezlecki track, where we were passed by one of the local oil company employees. He was good enough to take us slightly off the track and show us some old stables and the graves of a perished family. In the area the mining of oil and gas is quite predominant, and this is exported from the area using high-pressure bulk piping.

That night we spend at Cullymurra Waterhole on the Cooper Ck. We were not far from Innamincka, but this was the site of Bourke (Bourke and Wills), and a stone Cairn was produced in his memory. This was beside the Cooper Ck. The Creek itself looked very nice, and would have been very inviting for a swim if it weren’t a colour similar to the roads on which we were driving. It was filled with wild life, birds squawking in the tree in their masses, a lonesome Pelican patrolling his part of the river, clattering to let all know he was the boss, water birds and a Water rat searching and hunting for something to eat in the reeds between a low level beach and the shore.

That night we camped in the car park, a fire in the center and nobody to share the environment with. The Corellas squawked enmass, the sun quickly set over the hill with rich reds, deep blues and the night fell around the campfire.

Wednesday 10th July 2002.
Innamincka to Arrabury Station
182km trip, 2477km total

Waking to the squawks the local Corella flock, which were now on the move, I was accuse rightly of sleeping in. Well, life’s tough in such a comfy swag, and no apologies from me. We quickly pack up and head off into Innamincka, a town that you see advertised a lot, and build up great expectations. As we exit Cullymurra waterhole we reenter the gibber plains and I look up at the rock hills and wonder about if I could make such a rugged drive to the top, and what the views from the top would be like.

Innamincka is a corner town with the Innamincka Trading Post being the main store. This shop sold everything from fuel to food supplies, Engle fridges, souvenirs and hot showers. Scruffy tells us next fuel is about 570km from Innamincka so we filled up with Diesel and inspected the town. The pub next door looked quiet nice but having traveling customers was also very empty. There were big queues to use the bathroom facilities as a surprising numbers of passers by stop to use the facilities. In the distance, in the top of the gibber undulating hills is a huge radio tower. I would assume it is for telephone or TV communications. On the other side a runway is being used by light aircraft as the Innamincka airport. We had a look inside the ranger’s station where a lot of information has been set up on the history of the town. After about an hour we continue on our journey towards Arrubury Station.

As we head towards our next destination, the Dig tree, the gibbers come and go in fantastic territory, and we finally arrive at a dusty corrugated trail. After traveling down this, wondering about the massive steel straining posts for the fencing we arrive at the Dig tree. This is where Bourke and Wills had a support station setup, which was to be there for 3 – 4 months during the expedition race to the gulf in NT. It turns out that on Bourke’s and Wills return, the missed the departed support post by a number of hours. At this site, next to the Coopers Ck. Two of the trees here have engravings, One being LXV, and the other some dates and a magnificent engraving of Bourke’s face. The face is typically long and bearded. A great work of art that has stood up to the test of time and public display remarkably well. A flock of Corellas invade the area, and are incredibly thick on the trees. These birds are flying everywhere.

We continue on though more gibber country into the dunes. The transformation of the country is abrupt and startling. It really needs to be seen to appreciated. Along the road the intervehicle rivalry escalates, and the scores will be settled tonight in a game of cricket. It’s the Land rovers Vs the Toyotas. All are confident in a victory. We turn off the track in a grove of bushes that protect us from the wind, which are beside a sand dune. After setting up early we relax around the fire and shoot the breeze. The cricket game is postponed until the clay pans of the Simpson Desert. I suspect this will help the Toyota drivers find the ball.

Thursday 11th July 2002.
Arrabury Station to Birdsville
312km trip, 2789km total

First thing is to run to the top of the adjacent sand dune and take a sunrise picture of the campsite. A grove of trees, with sparsely scattered tents, a windmill and water trough in the background and campfire in the center. When I arrive at the top of the dune I decide the colours of the rising sun, the blues and reds over the rich soils, are a much more attractive proposition and click away the last film. This really is god’s own country.

Our first stop today is at Cordillo Downs. This is a privately owned shearing shed that is no longer used. It is located in some very harsh and barren gibber country where about 1 sheep per km2 would be about normal. How the sheep lived is remarkable, let alone support a 100 stand shearing shed. The shearing shed is a grand stone and cement building that has a curved corrugated roof. It is not on use and has been outdated. The 3-wire fence outside hums loudly in the dusty wind.

As we travel the Birdsville development track, the mirages become increasingly apparent. It is amazing how they can so closely simulate water that is not on the ground. It looks as if sand dunes are running into water filled gibber plains with lines of trees growing from them. I’m sure this must have been demotivating and complete torment for the early explorers like Bourke and Wills. As we crash through the gibber tracks we see the occasional inquisitive dingo, and barely more healthy looking cattle.

Lunch at was at Cadelga homestead, ruins of previous stone home. This was located next to a river, and a very nice place, considering its location in the gibbers. This house can be walked through, and is without roof, but unfortunately the walls have become the canvass for many a vandal.

As we continue, so does the Land Rover – Toyota banter. Scruffy mentions a stopped Defender on the side of the road, and the banter between us fires up, just before the owner of the Defender pipes ups and tells Scruffy to be careful on the UHF. Scruffy explains his way out of it, and I assure the Defender owner the LR flag is flying.

Tonight bring us into Birdsville, where we stay at the famous Birdsville Pub. Many of us rush to get the washing done, and shower before dinner. On arrival we stop outside the airport where the local Policeman is on the Tarmac, apparently in some type of frenzy. We are issued with our room keys before finding our rooms. We fill up to our maximum capacity, the Discovery holding 155 litres of fuel ready for the trip into the Simpson Desert. A quick tour of the towns reveals a 3-trailer road train parked in a side street, with a total load of one bung eyed Bull. He was lying down on a very rough floor looking very sad indeed. There was a geothermal power plant just behind the hotel which generates electricity from the warm water brought up from the Great artesian basin, which is also the towns water supply. The service stations are also the souvenirs shops, the post office etc etc etc …….. Dinner was in the pub and beers were had. There were facilities to wash clothes and all worked the machines hard.

Friday 12th July 2002.
Birdsville to Poepple Corner
94km trip, 2883km total

Today all wake up with some excitement. Today we are due to head into the Simpson desert. The day begins with breakfast in the Birdsville Pub, the same place where we had dinner that night. It is a hot breakfast, that reeks of cholesterol. It is enjoyed with disregard. That morning we pack the vehicle and reinforce the xcracking shelf with some timber supplied by the publican / carpenter / builder yesterday. The full load is out into the vehicle and we head off to the local Working museum in town.

The Working museum is a great place full of operating history. So many things to look at, that you can see in operation by the owner. He is a carriage builder and does a lot of restoration work, in fact he is able in many field. He gives us a fully explained tour, and is quite a character, like everybody it seem, is also into a bit of auto banter. He even has horse operated machinery like hay processing machines, spring style bore pumps, boilers, horse drawn carriages, leather works, fuels bowsers and so on. He ended up making me a belt while I was there.

Yesterday Simone and Eddies car was giving them problems. It turns out they picked up a bad batch of fuel from Tibooburra yesterday and receive a full fuel flush, including dropping about 160l of fuel. After a fuel system flush they were back on the road, but it would take some time before the 4WD was back to normal.

After leaving Birdsville we shortly arrive at little Red, apparently a chicken run for Big Red. We skirt along the bottom of the dune until we come to real mans territory, and we all psych up for Big red. We all take a run up, and get to the top the first time. After meeting at the top we then file down the other side. Big red is a huge dune, and over the other side, vehicles are taking massive run ups to get over, but most don’t make it and take the chicken runs. A Land Rover Defender is the first to make it, and with loud cheering the Toyota boys are humbled.

From here we push into the desert along the QAA line. Most of the time we are traveling at only about 20km/h, and the vehicles are working very, very hard. They get bounced all over the place, the suspension bottoms out regularly, cargo is thrown all around the place and corrugations rattle the occupants. The roads today are soft and bad. Typically Simpson from what I understand. Up and down one dune followed by the next. There is supposed to be about 1100 dunes. With all of the rough terrain the rear shelf gives up and orders a repack. We put the 60l of fuel underneath, along with another 40l of water. This helps and the shelf sees the day out. Clay pans sit between the high dunes. They appear to be dry shallow lakebeds where a surprising amount of flora live. The soil is very dry, dusty and loose. Along the track I stopped and met Grumpy Mike Ranger from the Overlander forum which was quite nice. He and his wife are on a 2-3 month Aussie 4WD trip.

As we travel the QAA line, we pass 2 people trying to cross the Simpson by motortcycle. Unfortunately the bikes are too heavy and have been sinking in the sand. About 70km from Birdsville they have decided to turn around and head back to Birdsville.

Saturday 13th July 2002.
Poepple Corner to Knolls Track / Rig Rd
133km trip, 3016km total

Today we continued along the QAA line, and the terrain has not eased on the vehicles. No damage is done to my vehicle, though it is taking its toll on some of the others. Tails drag in the sand, roof racks come loose etc. The condition of the road sees our typical speeds somewhere around about 15km/h for most of the day. Any faster and the vehicles with their contents will just get destroyed. During the day the dunes get smaller and easier to cross. Some of them still raise the pulse, along with the eyebrows. Lots of fun to be had in the sand.

Along the track we manage to see the odd dingo, some of which are very game and come fairly close to the vehicles. We see Camel foot prints, but no camels, and some Eagles in trees. We continue aloing this track and come across some huge salt pans that lie between the sand dunes. When the water level rises, the salt is left dried on the dirt where it sits as a top layer. These lakes are very flat and smooth, though many deep trenches are left by vehicles that may have on just made it across in damp conditions. Scruffy gets up to 65km/h over the clay pan, but the Disco hits 90km/h. This was a seriously dangerous run, and not something I will be trying again. The salt pans are amazing to look at, not to mention windy and dusty. These pans left a layer of dust over everything inside and outside of the 4WD.

We turn off the QAA line onto the French line (I think) where we visit Poeppel Corner, which is the intersection of Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territiory. It was a high wind and dust area when we were there, so we stopped for a quick break, took our pictures and moved on again. From there we crossed the saltpan and headed down the French line.

Along this trail we had a close look at a really good example of the Australis Invertis, or the upside-down tree. It turns out Scruffy has been having a lend of us all, and it is a dead snapped off tree with its branches buried by the moving sands. Well done Scruffy, you got us.

During our journeys we encountered a big sand hill that stopped most vehicles. The Discovery made it first go, though many took the chicken run. It was good to see the Troopy fail its first hill, as it added significantly to the Toyota / Landie banter.

That afternoon we also stop at a giant gypsum hill. It seems there is a lot of Gypsum in the soil, and the natural mount stands well clear of the surrounding terrain and makes a fantastic photograph.

That night we pull into our campsite, and a fantastic example of an eagle sits on a tree in the middle of our site. It isn’t worried by our presence and allows us to take many nice photographs of it.

Again a magnificent sunset makes me envious, as Sydney does not have anything of this calibre. Blackened earth, tree silhouettes, sky that progresses from red to blue, a quarter moon and venus. I hope the photo works well.

Sunday 14th July 2002.
Knolls Track / Rig Rd to WAA Line
137km trip, 3153km total

Today we woke to some pretty cold weather, though all had to be tough enough to endure it. Really there were no options. The mercury was down to about –0.5 degrees. After packing camp we headed south for a little in between the dunes until we connected with the Rig Rd. Rig road is a good trail through the desert that was constructed and oil sealed to heavy machinery could be brought in by truck. The trail now is unmaintained and should be traveled in 4wd. Compared to what we were used to by now, the Rig rd was like a super highway.

Along here we turned off to visit the Lone Gum. Interestingly the Lone gum is a Coolabah tree and the only of its type in the Desert. Nobody really knows how it got there, or how it lives. The soil is very dry, so I would assume its roots go a long way down, or it has tapped into some type of water source from the Great Artesian Basin.

From here we back tracked along the Rig Rd a little, and watched an Eagle hover above the vehicles as we drove. It spiraled above us with out flapping for at least 5 mins, and I don’t recall it flapping its wings in that time at all. It lest us when we turned off the track to head north again along the Erabena track. At this intersection we crossed one of the fellows who was crossing the Simpson with a motorcycle, sitting under the shade of a tree, reading a book.

After a few more kilometers we turn westwards again onto the WAA line, where we continued to name all of the Salt lakes. Saxa lake, Table lake, Rock lake and so on.

We stopped on an inter dune plain, where camp was set up and the infamous Landrover / Toyota cricket match was to take place. After a few wild balls, missed hits, dropped catches, dodgy run-outs and lost balls the game was called due to poor light, The Landies had walked away victorious and the Tojo’s humbled.

Monday 15th July 2002.
WAA line to Dalhousie Springs
363km trip, 3316km total

-5 Degrees this morning, and very cold. Back into shorts at a warming 4 degrees, the day was on track, and bloody freezing. The day took us along the WAA line and up the Colson track. By now the dunes were becoming smaller and very negotiable. As the dunes reduced in height, the frequency increased, but this didn’t make things difficult at all, in fact almost all of the day was completed in high range. We followed the Colson track up to the French line, at Colsons corner, where we rejoined the French line which took us out to Mokari Air strip.

Mokari air strip is an unmanned landing runway, and also the point to reinflate tyres, which we did. It was also a good opportunity to sample the rich red soils of the Simpson Desert, as we would very soon be out of the desert.
diminishing dunes.

It was fantastic to see some of the wild life today, we all stopped alon the track and were able to photograph a falcon that was on a tree next to the track. The bird didn’t seem terribly worried by the vehicles, though closing photographers did keep it on guard. We also crossed a group of 4 Camels, which we all so longed to see. We all stopped and had a look, and were able to stop on top of the same dune and photograph them. They seemed to have some young camels with them, and maintained a distance from us. 300mm zoom did the trick. After quite a while the ran the bottom of the dune away from us, and part way up the other side. They have what appears to be such an awkward way of moving.

Soon after the airstrip we cross from the Simpson Desert into Witjira NP. The crossing is finished, and soon after the dunes run out also. Relief from the dunes is apparent, though this is not the case from the gibbers and corrugations which are back with vengeance.

W have a break at Purnie Bore, a man made bore that was capped recently. There is an amazing amount of Birdlife here that feed from, and live in, the resultant marshlands. The water that is trickling out comes out hot enough to burn, and the marsh is warm. If you don’t watxch carefully where you walk, you sink very quickly and very deeply. The birds swarm and swoop, the crows chase and crystals form from the evaporating mineral rich water. A very nice area indeed, and I caniimagine bird watchers would love it.

Following what was the French line we cross a large salt lake and come into Dalhousie Springs, a highlight in my books. The camping areas are well fenced and the amenities well provided, though the area was pretty busy. We stopped for just over an hour where we had a late lunch and took a dip in the warm spring. The water is supposed to be about 38 degrees, but it depended on where you where in the spring. I could of stayed there for another day. The water was generally shallow, and the bottom rich with black mud, something I used for war face paint. Oh well, its good to be young. There was a resident duck, labeled the Peking duck and Dalhousie Goby fish. Due to the number of campers we decided to move on to 3’oclock creek about 10km down the road, where we would camp/

After seting up camp, Greg wanted to go back to Dalhousie and have a look at the ruins. As most of the group very marginal on fuel, the tour did not take us down there, but the diesel Discovery’s seemed to be fine. The ruins were just unbelievable. They where stone buildings that where falling apart, the walls must have been about 14cm thick. The area was rich in Palm trees and the dropping sun just set it all off perfectly. It honestly was like something you would see on a postcard. Palm trees in the edge of the desert, sitting on a small plain overlooking the area as far as the eye can see, a dropping sun and white walled, largely untouched ruins. The sky changed from Blue to a dim red sun with orange / red and blue skys. We returned to camp watching the sunset change the horizon showing everything from deep blue to the usual. This was set off with a slight mist or fog just sitting over the lower terrain.

Tuesday 16th July 2002.
Dalhousie Springs to Ghan Railway
264km trip, 3580km total
This morning we packed up to another chilly morning, and quickly left camp. Just outside of camp we were lucky enough to see a dingo sitting in the grass just outside of camp. It looked as if it was by itself, but it can be hard to tell at times, and I would assume we were the attraction. We all gained photographs, and the Dingo was very obliging.

On leaving Scruffy opens the conversation talking about recent warnings that the mud has been found to cause some type of skin disorder. When I realized he was leading me astray, I asked Eddy (a dermatologist) for an appointment, which he refused. Damn.

Todays drive would take us to Mt Dare which was our fuel stop. Unfortunately, the bowsers were all empty and no fuel was available, which was a problem for the TD Landcruisers and Jackaroo. After a quick break, and look around we were on our way to New Crown, the next possible fuel supply. On of the TD Land cruisers ran dry, not far from the New Crown station, a cattle station, with it being calculated to have been 2 litres short of making it. It was refueled from the Defender of Barry and Janet’s.

When we got to New Crown, it was a homestead ona station that sold fuel from gravity fed bowsers, the fuel being in tanks on stands. The Diesel bowser was a handle, and a small guage that just clicked over litres and dripped a lot of fuel everywhere. Possibly a fire hazard, but it also held the earth together, and got us going again. On the other side of the field was their runway, the plane so they could go into Alice Springs, and the holding yards where they had a number of bulls. The Simpson Desert leg from Birdsville to New Crown, 660km, used 110 litres of diesel or about 16.6l/100km of fuel. Some of the petrol vehicles used around 25l/100km. Greg’s Tdi300 used 85 litres, the TD Land Cruisers used about 150 litres as did the V6 Prado.

After refueling we visited the Lambert center, which was worked out to be the center of Australia. It has been worked out to be the equivilant of the center of gravity for the country, something that took 2 years to calculate. A narrow slalom like road took us to the site about 12km off the main dirt road, and there was a replica of the flag post situated at Parliament house. We all had photographs taken.

Soon we had arrived at Finke, a small predominantly Aboriginal town. This rown did not look memorable at all, but has secured its position on the map by holding the world class Finke Desert race, a race from Alice Springs to Finke and return. We were disappointed to find the shops were closed, but apparently the locals were in some type of Council meeting. It’s and Aboriginal governed town, and I would assume this is a way they meet to make decisions about the town and its direction. While we were waiting for the shops to open, we were amused by the local town kids who had just finished school for the day. They seemed to be quite friendly and were very interested in us, and they liked us to be interested in them. I think this is an Aboriginal trait, as thinking back to when I lived in Wellington, this was also very much the case. There were dogs everywhere.

Our continuing journey took us onto the beginning of the Finke desert race, race track, which was very rough and corrugated. I would assume this is why it makes such a good race track for the off road racing vehicles. We passed under the Day 2 start line markers. The track then took us through the Finke river. The river here was very wide, sandy and dry. It was broader than I expected, and is apparently the oldest river in the world, as it does not move its course. The track that we were now traveling used to be the old Ghan Railway that passed through Finke and continued up to Alice Springs. Due to floods and sand movement it was decided to move the railway track further west to a more reliable location. In its peak period it would see 57 trains per week pass over its distance. The sleepers had now been removed and a dirt road now takes its place, though this is highly corrugated.

Bush camp was set up on the side of the road, an area littered with huge camel foot print craters.

Wednesday 17th July 2002.
Ghan Railway to Chambers Pillar
153km trip, 3733km total

7.30 sleep in this morning, and although very much appreciated, I was equally late.

We continued along the old Ghan railway, and fortunately the corrugations had become less intense. I think all were grateful for this, though the corrugations were still very bad. As we traveled the railway line we stopped and had a look at some of the old sidings. The First siding was Engoodina RS (Railway siding), which use to be an old station. The building was still in place though very much in ruins. The white walls still existed, though not much else. No tracks were evident either.

We continued northwards, and the next siding we came to was the Bundooma RS. I would assume that these names have some type of Aboriginal heritage, though I am uncertain of this. Bundooma RS was an enormous water tank that sat well above road level and was fed by spring water. It was used to refill the water supplies for the steam locomotives that come through, up and down the line. I climbed to the top of this, something that was highly unsafe, though the no regrets policy prevailed. When I got to the top, the tank was dry, and about half of the roof had fallen through. The side of the tank had a water level gauge on it that worked through a float, pulley and indicator principle, and like the boom, was missing.

On the trail, in between Bundooma RS and the next, being Rodinga RS we encountered a number of Camels on the road. These Camels it turns out are with 3 ladies in a western gypsy type wagon who were spending 3 weeks traveling from Alice Springs down to Oodnadatta to drop off some Camels, and to break in some others. They had stopped to let the Bull Camels off the leads, as some wild camels had been spotted. Their bull camels were to protect the young ones who were at risk.
Camel trailer

Next stop was the Rodinga RS where we also inspected some white walled railway station ruins. This station was very similar to the Engoodina RS although in better condition.

We stopped at Maryvale for fuel and lunch. Maryvale is a working cattle station, which sells fuel and has a nice little shop. I bought some woodwork here that was made by the local aboriginal community, which was a snake and a small ground bird.

Chambers Pillar was the next stop. This place is absolutely unbelievable. It is a great big sandstone monolith that sticks out of the ground. At sunset it changes from a bright richly red-topped rock that layers down into a beige sandstone colour. As the sun drops it’s colour dims in intensity, though the night sky turns into the traditional blue and red hues. A great opportunity was taken to sit in the grass at the photographic area and take a series of snapshots as the mood of the pillar change so dramatically over about 30 minutes. A truly spectacular view.

Thursday 18th July 2002.
Chambers Pillar to Idracowra Station
85km trip, 3818km total

upearly for sunrise photos.

Met ross from idracowra, a 4000km2 cattle station

Run into homestead and up a large scenic dune

Ross swaps for the work Suzuki Jimny bull catcher.

Acoss finke river

Through property trails to the ghan railway bridge, Eddy smashes the Prado

Across to the rocky outcrop and hellfire pass lunch on a claypan

Along fences and soft fireswept dunes

Camp at the bottom of a huge dune

Friday 19th July 2002.
Idracowra Station to ???
843km trip, 4661km total

wake up to Sam squashing the swag (found out later).

Spectacular sunrise, starting with dune like maroon waves next to the dune, changing to bright electric orange and yellow clouds over the horizon and through the tree tops.

We head down to the Finke for a photo shoot of the whole group, 4wds aligned at 45 degrees. Greg gets bogged.

Head out to the Ghan railway where we see the Ironman, who represents the laying of the 1,000,000th sleeper on the Ghan line (a yellow one).
Break at Stuart Hwy for morning tea, and a fuel stop.

Say goodbyes, exchange addresses, more photo’s

Head south to Coober Pedy where we see the moonscapes where opals are mined. Visit an underground opal shop where a vase is bought. Many of the places in Coober Pedy are underground. The soil is hard enough to machine out rooms int the ground and fix fittings to it for an underground room or rooms. Stand on the top of the mounds on the building and see over the districts.

Continue heading south, with massive Hawks and Falcons adorning the Stuart Hwy, feeding on road kill

Find accommodation at Glendambo about 130km before Woomera. Have diner and have the worst shower ever, as the water is bore and does not work with soap.

Next day drove to Cobar via the blood hwy between Wilcannia and Cobar. Plenty of road kill for the needy.

Cobar to Sydney.


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