Finally we were off on the Simpson Desert Trip which had been high on the bucket list of must do trips for many years.
The convoy consisted of 5 Jeeps and a Chevy Silverado. We had Stuart in his new Gladiator Rubicon V6 petrol leading the way, Peter in his Grand Cherokee Overland V6 petrol, Alan in his Grand Cherokee V6 diesel, Brian in his Grand Cherokee V6 diesel, Stefan in his Grand Cherokee V6 diesel and myself in the 2500 Chevy Silverado. I was going to take my 2 door Wrangler Rubicon but some of the distance stages required plenty of fuel, so with the fridge, swag, bags and 4 jerry cans of fuel, I simply could not fit it all in the little Jeep. Our sleeping accommodation was Stuart, Brian and Stefan had rooftop tents, Peter and Alan both had tents, and I Dennis in a swag on a swag platform under my 270 degree bush company pole less awning,- this will be my first time in a swag, and sometimes a motel may be involved.
Everyone except me met at the BP Calder Park, I joined them at Bendigo, we proceeded to Swan Hill for a bite of lunch and top up with the cheaper fuel prior to heading to the Lake Mungo camping ground, on arrival we picked out an individually laid out camping area – recommend this site.
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Next morning we headed off to Zanci homestead site comprising of many outbuildings, some of have been restored back to original condition and the Mungo Woolshed built in 1869 has a ingenious drop-log cypress pine construction from the historical Gol Gol pastoral station which is located in Willandra lakes region-very interesting walks and information to be learnt including the Mungo lookout.
Back on the gravel heading towards Menindee, the roads were in brilliant condition as smooth asp the best highways, the only thing that slowed us down was the dust, to enjoy these outback areas and appreciate what you are driving through, it is important to put some distance between you and the car in front, this makes for a pleasant relaxed drive and the air cleaner doesn’t need servicing as often.
On arrival to Menindee we met up with many other 4 wheel drivers and caravanners congregating at the local cafe for food and drinks. Relaxing stay then off to the huge Menindee lake which is bordered on one side by a raised well maintained Adelaide to Sydney rail line.
Leaving the Kinchega National Park we headed out to the black top to Broken Hill to refuel. After a quick stop in Broken Hill we cruised sown the Barrier Highway to Yunta to camp for the night. We arrived later in the day so camping options were limited, either stay in the Pub or unknowingly camp beside the main Broken Hill railway line. (Each time a train went past the vibrations could be felt in the swag)
The next morning Stuart was all excited that we were going to see the Waukaringa ruins, this was a small gold mining township established in 1888 and abandoned in the 1950s. At its peak the population was around 500 people the skeleton of the old hotel is the main attraction supported by a few outbuildings. While we were at the site the sky turned on a very special display for us at one point the angle from where we were standing the clouds just plumed up out of the hotel making a spectacular photo opportunity with all the vehicles parked in front of the hotel. Back on the road again enjoying this superb road surface heading towards Martins Well, only separated by dust conditions.
Martins Well is a huge 260,000 acre station, which is now also a tourist destination, boasting beautiful surrounding and native wildlife, in its peak the station carried approximately 6000 merino sheep and 500 poll Hereford cattle but due to severe drought conditions these numbers have been drastically reduced.
Next stop was in Blinman, a look around and then onto the great wall of China.
The great wall of China is a magnificent rock ridgeline capping a mountain in the Flinders Ranges. On a closer look at the wall is made up of very eroded rock formations which now give natural shelter to animals, it is another one of natures miracles.
Leigh Creek was our next destination, which is a former coal mining town established in 1943
and then became an open cut copper mine. The closure of the Leigh Creek coal mine in November 2015 closed as a result of the decommissioning of the Port Augusta Power stations, putting over 400 people far north region out of employment. Leigh Creek welcomes people to come and stay.
On the way to Maree we called in to Farina (ruins) established in 1878, it had 2 hotels, school, post office, bank, brewery and several stores. It was the rail junction for both narrow gauge track and standard gauge track. The area had a successful water well and nearby copper and silver mines. The small ruins- village has volunteer workers restoring some of the better ruins and are looking forward to receiving a train loco to compliment their train restoration programme. This great community welcomes visitors.
We camped at Maree and were surprised at the amount of people, cars, campers and caravans there. It didnt take long to find out why, the town was mainly the overflow people from the Birdsville Bash in Birdsville and on arrival here they learnt there was no fuel. Luckily for us the fuel truck was arriving overnight. The pub was fairly bubbling and people had their own parties happening and turned it into a fun time for all. I was up and packed and waiting at the servo before 6, on arrival it had just opened- a quick phone call and the rest of the troops arrived, with full tanks we were ready to venture up the Birdsville Track. Heading up the Birdsville Track we passed Lake Harry and passed through the vermin proof fence to Mungerannie Roadhouse. The petrol users topped up in case there may have been a fuel shortage ahead. While we were having lunch it was a great opportunity to look at all the money notes, caps, cards, hats, bras, signs ,knickers, horns and anything else one could imagine to hang up or pin to a wall or roof.
Once again we were on a great track surface all the way to Birdsville, some how both Stefan and Brian each had a puncture on this road.
We stayed in the Birdsville Caravan Park, had a good meal at the pub, sharing information sharing information on where we had been and where we are going. Next morning everyone lined up in front of the Birdsville Pub for a photo opportunity, as the pub is on a corner, guess what? We photographed the fleet on both sides. Brian left us this morning to go to Queensland to join up with his family.
Then it was out to Big Red, which was given its name from a particular sand dune that marks a symbolic edge of the Simpson Desert and stands approximately 40 metres high, when we arrived we stopped to air down the tyres and happened to be opposite where the final clean up was happening after The Big Bash event. A couple of workers circulated though us to see where we were from and where we were going, one guy suggested to me that it would be a waste of time me trying to get my big heavy THING up the steep side as he had many tries before he got his Landcruiser over and it was much lighter than my big THING. Being tail end Charlie I was last one up the easy side and sitting on top looking down and seeing the other Jeeps way down the bottom, it wasn’t hard to realise – yes this hill does have some height attached to it. Alan lined up and gave it a fair crack, but only made it up three quarters, reversed down and this time locked it in first high and off he flew making it over the top to a big applause from everyone – well done Alan. I looked at the hill we were using which was the steepest track and thought, what the heck I am here now, I must give it a go, thinking about what the guy said on the other side of the hill – I lined the big THING up and took off, the big THING flew over that hill without hardly dropping a rev or speed – I wish that guy was here to see it. I turned around at the top and went back down and asked to Stuart to video it while I did it again. I thought at the time (what was all the fuss about Big Red) (maybe 6.6 litre 400 hp plus and 1340 Nn torque with a little determination may have had something an input. See the video above.
Well with Big Red behind us travelling along the QAA line going south to north not the norm of south to north taking on the dunes on the steepest side giving us a bigger driving challenge. Heading across the sand dunes as the day got hotter, the sand became looser and deeper requiring more power to drive through it making the steep dunes at times quite challenging.
Stuart with his Gladiator being up front was the recovery vehicle and they were becoming more common as the dunes heated up, there were a couple of dunes where almost everyone needed assistance to conquer the dune, there was one in particular dune that had had so many recoveries on it that the sand was extremely loose and deep and the time of day did not help. Most of the dunes had both a steep climb and a less steep bypass climb all of the recoveries on this hill were on the bypass track.
It was now my turn at this dune I gave it a fair dinkum go but the deep sand was not to be climbed over, I reversed back down to the bottom ( Stuart was at the top wondering how he was going to get this 4.5 ton plus Silverado over the top) as he had only just been able to recover the heavy Grand Cherokee’s Stuart looked down and saw me driving straight up the steep side and over the top, he couldn’t believe it! On this leg of the trip everyone at some point needed some assistance except the Gladiator Rubicon with all of its built in technology who also had some difficulty but did conquer every dune and the Silverado. This was a real fun leg of the trip.
Before leaving the QAA line we crossed many large semi dried saltpans, luckily for us they had dried enough after the big Queensland floods and the pre made tracks had allowed us to pass across them without getting bogged.
Departing the QAA line we arrived at the Eyre creek which is a tributary of the Warburton river which flows from the western south west corner of Queensland into the north eastern corner of South Australia we decided it was time for a well earned break and cuppa enjoying the scenery looking down the huge mainly dried up river bed which only a few weeks earlier was under flood and impassable.
The next leg of our trip was Poeppel’s corner, which is the corner of the state boundaries of Australia where the state of Queensland meets South Australia and the Northern Territory.
This was a real buzz with all of us standing around the marker post verbally talking to each other across 2 States and 1 Territory. A great photo opportunity. After leaving Poeppel’s Corner we drove to Approdinna Attora Knowles which is a mountain within the Simpson Desert Conservation Park in North East South Australia with an altitude of 31 metres above sea level. This is a great tourist attraction mountain.
We then visited Lake Tamblyn known for its tourism and fishing, then onto Rig Road – French line which is also known as the Shot line, this named after the French petroleum company who put the line in 1964. This line is one of Australia’s great touring tracks and can be one of the most dangerous crossing more than 1100 sand dunes, it is known to be the most demanding in the Simpson Desert with very soft sand and was slow going. When topping a hill you see a long straight road bordered by low vegetation disappearing into the horizon, eventually driving to that horizon and over the top and there would be another visual just the same as we had just driven across. Eventually we arrived at Purni Bore, it was drilled in 1964 by the French Petroleum Company tapping into the Great Artesian Basin, the water flow exited the ground at 85 degrees Celsius and the flow rate at over 1.5 million litres a day, when the oil exploration activities ceased in the early 80’s, the bore was left to flow openly creating an artificial wetland, in its peak over 80 species of birds were recorded. Lobbying from the environmentalists had the bore recased and restricted to slow the flow down enough to maintain the wildlife in the area that now had relied on this water source, the main reason for capping this flow was because it was upsetting the water levels throughout the Dalhousie water system 70 kilometres away.
Dalhousie Springs is our next stop, also known as Witjira – Dalhousie Springs which is within a group of over 60 natural artesian springs located in the Witjira National Park on the western fringe of the Simpson Desert.
After arriving it didn’t take long to find our swimmers and jump into the spring for a well earned dip.
The water temperature was absolutely perfect, the water was nice, clean and the little black 3 – 4 cm fish swimming around us cleaning off any dead or dried skin on our bodies – really therapeutic. While we were in the springs it was a good opportunity to swap information with fellow travellers giving us the inside info on what we should look out for up ahead. The swim was fabulous but all good things must end.
It was time to gather around and confirm thoughts of our direction and fuel supplies, we all decided to alter our original trip and incorporate William Creek for a flight over Lake Eyre as this was a fairly rare sight opportunity to capitalise on the extreme flooding Queensland had been suffering. With our fuel levels under control we visited Dalhousie area ruins, down to Pedirka ruin along the side of the Old Ghan line, then out to Hamilton onto the heritage trail to Oodnadatta to refuel and camp for the night. Next morning all packed up and refreshed we took a photo opportunity of the fleet in front of the famous Pink Oodnadatta Roadhouse.
Time to hit the road towards William Creek, on the way we called into a couple of old ruins scattered along the road, then Stuart mad a radio call asking if anyone would like to go into the old telegraph station approximately 20 kms in, I was the only one answering the rest of the convoy continued into William Creek to arrange a flight over Lake Eyre.
Meanwhile Stuart had already turned off into the old Telegraph station as he was well ahead of me, finally I reached the site 19 kms in to a real surprise, healthy palm trees and vegetation around a small artesian area, expecting just to see maybe an old building ruin but there was more lots more this turned out to be not only a small telegraph station but a small copper mine and smelter. The smelter was tiered into the mountain with a copper mine located right on the top of the mountain. Many of the old machine parts are still scattered around the site, the site operated around the 1850s to 1904, it wasn’t hard to see the pride in the building workmanship constructions the property, signage stated that this is now owned by the Kidman family cattle grazing company. On arrival into William Creek we had to wait an hour for a larger plane to arrive suitable for 6 adults or more the flight was amazing.
Having the opportunity to actually see Lake Eyre in flood near full with bird life thriving to see waterways directing flow as far as the eye could see and the natural land formation channelled and controlled by the water flow directions.
The young pilot worked seasonally in William Creek township doing a variety of shared jobs, in the cafe, accommodation, cleaning and the list went on. Basically this was a great opportunity for him to build up his flying hours fast and affordable and work with like minded people.
The town is famous for the William Creek Hotel, one of the worlds most remote pubs, the town was once on the Old Ghan Railway line, it is renowned for being the smallest town in Australia with a current permanent population of 3, in the busy season the town grows to 10. In this area is Anna Creek station – the largest cattle station in the world sprawling over 23,000 kilometres and encompassing 5 large cattle stations and a large bull breeding programme.
The next overnight stay was in Coober Pedy where we said goodbye to Stefan as he was leaving us to go back home. We all weakened and chose to stay in a comfortable motel as it was our last night in the real outback country. After a good meal we made our way down to the underground pub where we played some serious hit and giggle billiards – Alan ended up champion of the night.
Coober Pedy is often referred to as the Opal Capital because of its quantity of precious opals that are mined here, the town is also famous for its sun-baked lunar landscape with thousands of mine shafts clearly visible from the road and scattered throughout the town, underground homes, churches, motels, pubs, carparks, hairdressing salons and a caravan park in fact if you name it it is probably underground in Coober Pedy. This is really something special to see and feel the stable climate of these diggings.
In the morning we were all fuelled up, tyres pumped up and ready for the 250 km drive to Glendambo turned right into Tarcoola Rd which ran parallel beside the Trans Australian Railway Line, we crossed the line from side to side until we came to Googs Track.
Googs Track was given its name from a farmer John Goog Denton who wanted to put a track through the Yellabinna Regional Reserve from his Lone Oak property to Tarcoola which basically halved the travelling distance.
Track works started in 1973 with an old Fordson Major tractor fitted with a front end loader with a blade fitted, later a bulldozer was introduced, works halted for a while due to breakdown and fuel shortages. Goog put the track through to Mt Finke then a grader was purchased and the local station owners joined forces and completed the track through to Malbooma in 1976. The sheep farmers wanted the road to continue so they could get their wool through to the Port Thevenard, and Ceduna faster, however it was too tough and was abandoned. The track is approximately 200 kms long with over 300 dunes, some were challenging dunes especially to the inexperienced, some sections are very narrow with bush and scrub lined sections, some corrugations and is now often used for a training desert sand driving track for those who would like to cross The Simpson Desert or The Canning Stock Route etc. It has many hill crests that are blind so a sand flag is recommended .
Our first night was at Mt Finke, just before we turned into the camp ground the sun was very low and in our eyes, the track was narrow and on a bend I didn’t see a small stump on the edge of the track and wrecked my rear tyre on it. Alan helped me change the wheel in the soft sand – Stuart and Peter were already in camp and set up for the night, it took a while to change the wheel just slow going. On arrival into camp a really nice surprise was waiting for us, Stuart had prepared a meal for us – with a nice warm fire and a few drinks and nibbles it turned out to be a great night. Before turning in for the night Stuart asked if there were any takers to go up Mt Finke in the morning to catch the sunrising, only one reply, Me! Mt Finke is 170 metres to the summit, the climb is through rugged rocks and some light scrub.
All packed up and on the track again, enjoying the challenges and precision driving was required through the narrow sections and enjoying the stunning views across the park.
We called into Goog Lake which is 15 kms long and up to 1 km wide in some places bordered by scenic vegetation, it has a nicely laid out camping areas with planted pine trees scattered throughout the grounds and has a really nice tranquil feel about it. This campsite is complemented by good toilets – a family memorial for some of the Denton family members is on display. The day was getting on so we all decided to spend one last night in the bush before returning to civilisation.
Alan had some tucker he wanted to cook up and there was enough for all of us, I had some flavoured Kranskys which were cooked as an entree the nibbles, nuts, and drinks were all out on the table, fire going what more could one ask for – perfect last night.
Down the track again to the start of the Yumbarra Conservation Park which was the end of our trip and the big double gated heavily meshed dog wire fence. This fence is one of the longest structures in the world. It stretches 5614 kms from Jimbour on the Darling Downs near Dalby Queensland through thousands of kilometres of arid land ending west of Eyre Peninsula South Australia on cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain above the Great Australian Bight near Nundroo. Time for a few final photos before we leave the desert side of our fabulous trip.
Next into Ceduna to have my tyre changed with the spare carcass I was carrying so I had a spare on the way home if needed. Met up with the troops at Ceduna Bakery for a nice coffee and snacks.
Back on the black top for home this would be approximately 1600 kms away.
Our way home from Ceduna was through Port Augusta, Crystal Brook, Burra, (stayed overnight) Renmark (for breakfast) we drove the Stuart highway across the Calder highway down to Bendigo where I said thanks for a great time guys -Stuart, Peter and Alan – I turned off towards Yea and the others continued towards Melbourne
The total trip covered just over 5500 kms.
Fuel consumption in the sandy desert – the petrol’s were up to 25 litres per 100 – the diesels were around 21 – 23 per 100 and the Silverado was an unbelievable 15 litres per 100.
This trip certainly was a massive tick of the bucket list and would have no hesitation if you get the opportunity to do this trip – DO IT.
See you on the track