Simpson Desert – 15-28 July 2018

Simpson Desert: 14-28 July, 2018

Trip Planners: Val & Steve and Barbara & Trevor
Eight vehicles were originally signed up for this trip. Unfortunately  two couples had to pull out which left 6 vehicles and 13 participants.
Trip Leaders: Trevor and Barbara (Toyota LC 100)
Participants: Pete & Elaine (Triton Dual Cab), Maria & Greg (Izuzu D-Max Dual Cab), Carolyn & Mark  (Toyota LC 200), Deb & Steve  (Toyota LC 100), Erica & Bill & Susan (Toyota Hi-Lux Dual Cab).

Day 1, Saturday, 14 July – Munno Para to Farina
Travelling distance 562km, Navigator and Leader – Carolyn & Mark

The start – Munno Para
The convoy – Jamestown Bakery








Munno Para Shopping Centre was the start of the Simpson expedition. Bill, Erica, Susan, Pete, Elaine, Barb, Trevor, Deb, Steve, Maria, Greg, Mark & Carolyn. The weather was perfect as we headed off to Jamestown for our first bakery and fuel stop. Once watered and fed we travelled on to Hawker where we had lunch and topped up on fuel and snacks. We saw heaps of emus (affectionately known as a ‘bush turkey’), kangaroos, foxes and sadly a whole lot of road kill.

We arrived at Farina around 4pm. If you have never been to this place it was like coming into a small community rebuilding its settlement, with street sign names showing the layout of the old town which was a rail head for the local stations and original Ghan line.

Restored building – Farina
First camp fire – Farina Campground

The renovation of buildings is being carried out by volunteers and even the old bakery has been rebuilt and operates for six weeks of the year, baking fresh bread and pastries to sell to the visiting tourists. The Farina campground had flushing toilets and a donkey shower with the campsite cost being $5 per person. It was a perfect location for our first night stop.
Maria & Greg


Day 2, Sunday, 15 July – Farina to Algebuckina
Travelling distance 419km, Navigator and Leader – Maria & Greg
We awoke to a very cold minus 1 degree at sun up to find that our

gas canisters for our BBQs and stoves were too cold to operate – lesson number one learnt from the Trevor & Barb – ALWAYS take your gas canisters to bed with you to keep them warm.

Restored and operating – Farina Bakery

Most of us went to the Farina bakery to enjoy their pasties, sausage rolls and coffee for breakfast and were told of the history of the bakery, particularly the bakers ovens, by

one of the volunteers.
We left Farina at 9ish – it was beginning to warm up and was now a whole 2 degrees, to head to Maree for a fuel stop ($1.97 per litre for diesel) and a group show and tell of where everybody stores their recovery and first aid equipment so that if needed everyone could access it without hunting for it.

Five wise men helping a traveller in trouble
A disreputable group at The Bubbler

We arrived at the Lake Eyre South viewing area at 12.15 pm, where we helped out a very ill-prepared traveller heading in the opposite direction who was experiencing tyre problems (rough dirt road – tyre pressures 45 psi; staked rear tyre; no repair kit and a “toy” air compressor!). Plugged his tyre and pumped it up with Mark’s REAL compressor and then let the rest of his tyres down to a sane pressure.
Onwards to The Bubbler Springs which is a mound spring fed from The Great Artesian Basin (GAB). In many places the Basin water has pushed its way to the surface in the form of natural springs and The Bubbler is one of the 169 spring groups within the SA part of the GAB. These springs have great significance for local Aboriginal people whose ancestors relied on them as watering points and as sacred sites for important ceremonies.
Bill developed a puncture so with all hands on deck the tyre was replaced in 5 minutes.
We had a quick stop for lunch at the Springs before heading to our final destination for the day – Algebuckina Bridge.
We found a lovely place to camp near the Algebuckina waterhole, on the opposite side of the bridge, where we spent the night around the campfire getting to know each other better.
Elaine & Pete

The Bubbler, Mound Spring
Mark contemplating Algebuckina Waterhole

Day 3, Monday, 16 July – Algebuckina Bridge to Mt Dare
Travelling distance 311km, Navigator and Leader – Elaine & Pete

Waking up at the Algebuckina waterhole was warmer than Farina and quieter, except for the flock of Corellas that arrived at sun up.
There was a brief moment of concern when Pete couldn’t find the car keys but fortunately Elaine knew where they were. It was a good reminder that taking your second set of car keys with you is always a good back up.
It was 7 degrees, as we headed out on to the Oodnadatta Track just on 9am, to the first stop which was very nearby. The Algebuckina Bridge is a magnificent example of Victorian era engineering. Most of us climbed up to admire it and walk out along the tracks as far as still permitted by the safety fencing.
(Construction of the bridge started in 1890 and it opened for railway traffic in January 1892.T)
We stopped at the famous Pink Road House at Oodnadatta for morning tea. Bill took the opportunity to see if the tyre could be repaired but unfortunately it had to be replaced as an unmatched tyre and at the cost of $390. Some of us bought some reminders of the Pink Roadhouse and had a look around the town before heading back out to the track and up to Mt Dare.
We passed eleven oncoming motor bikes on the route that took us up through Hamilton Station. Pete and Elaine were leading and very cleverly found a lovely spot for our lunch, in the big Station campground with shaded tables and even toilets. (Most of the Stations on the Track have realised that they can make money from the increasing number of tourists passing through. Hamilton Station has set up this fly proof shelter and long drops to attract larger groups. You probably are supposed to pay for the use of the facilities. T.)
After lunch we headed out over the dry gibber plains before our next stop at the beautiful and amazing Eringa Waterhole. Then we braved the relentless corrugations on the road to Mt Dare where we enjoyed hot showers, flushing toilets and a delicious dinner with the group at the Mt Dare Station café.
Erica, Susan & Bill

Algebuckina Bridge over the Neales River
Lunch stop, Hamilton Station
Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta
Eringa Waterhole

Day 4, Tuesday, 17 July – Mt Dare to Dalhousie Springs
Travelling distance 84.5km, Navigators & Leader – Erica, Susan & Bill

We woke to a crisp and clear morning. After packing up camp we departed Mt Dare at 8.45am. The start of the track was quite sandy. As there was no wind, it meant the dust hung around, so the convoy spread out quite a long way so that we could see ahead. It’s amazing to think you’re in the middle of Australia and it should be secluded, but there are so many others doing the same thing. The roads have been VERY busy!
Twenty minutes out, the track started to turn rocky. Our speeds dropped to 20 to 30km an hour and it took a lot of concentration to avoid the sharp rocks. After travelling about 40km, the roads became sandier and corrugated, so speeds picked up a little. It was a quick morning tea break at Opossum Waterhole, which was dry, before continuing to the Dalhousie ruins.
The Dalhousie Station was once a prominent homestead built 1872-1875 and South Australia’s most northern pastoral lease. The land was used to graze and breed sheep, goats, horses, camels and cattle. In 1925 the homestead was abandoned due to the amalgamation of several pastoral leases.
Dalhousie Springs was a welcome sight and it didn’t take long to set up camp and have lunch. It wasn’t much after that before one, then two, then most of us headed to the hot spring to have a swim as it was quite warm in the sun.
Dalhousie Springs is like a big upside-down shower rose discharging water from the Great Artesian Basin through around 80 holes called mound springs. The water at the main swimming hole is around 34-38 degrees and up to 14m deep. It was amazing to see this beautiful place.
We spent the rest of the day relaxing as well as checking equipment ready for commencing our desert crossing the next day. We were warned that the local dingoes stole food and rubbish from the campers. After dinner a couple of us reported missing rubbish bags. Barb must be a great cook, because a dingo stole Trevor’s empty dinner bowl and it was found out in the scrub the next day, licked clean!
There was no campfire that evening due to National Park rules; and Steve, Deb, Peter, Greg and Mark ventured for a night swim. It was funny to watch them floating on pool noodles, with steam rising from the water, and headlight torches shining in the dark. It was a lovely night.
Lessons learned from the day. Don’t visit Dalhousie in the school holidays – the camp was like a caravan park in the Christmas holidays. And the desert skies are beautiful at night.
Carolyn & Mark

A very dry Opossum Waterhole
Dalhousie Ruins
Dalhousie Springs

Day 5, Wednesday, 18 July – Dalhousie Springs to Simpson Desert Camp 1
Travelling distance 140km, Navigator and Leader – Barbara & Trevor
In the morning Pete had found Trevor’s bowl that was stolen by a dingo the night before. We got started at 8.45 am and were all pretty excited at actually getting into the Simpson Desert. Heading out to Purni Bore, the road conditions were sandy corrugations!! We stopped for morning tea at Purni Bore where there was a lot of birdlife enjoying the flow of water.
While driving, Pete’s roof rack had fractured but he was able to reposition the weight of the items packed up there and carry out repairs when we had set up camp in the afternoon.
We had started on the French Line and headed towards the turnoff to the Rig Road and there was not much traffic.

Lunch at the turn off to the Rig Road
Rig Road sign (and a few unsavory characters found on the way)
Digging the toilet
Roof rack repairs

At 3.15 we pulled in to camp for the day with time for Pete to make repairs to his roof rack. Deb and Barbara started to dig the toilet hole, then Greg took pity and went to help. Thank you to the toilet-hole diggers!!

Desert camp 1 – room for everyone

Barbara & Trevor

Day 6, Thursday, 19 July – Simpson Desert Camp 1 to Camp 2
Travelling distance 140km, Navigator and Leader – Deb & Steve
We broke camp just before 9am and set off along the Rig Road. It was a beautiful day, bright blue sky with no clouds and a light breeze. The sand dunes looked beautiful in the morning sun, a rich red complemented by the grey green bush. Traffic had dwindled significantly compared to the first few days, with a small group of campers and one convoy of three cars the only passing travellers.

We had a quick stop for morning tea at 10.30am, then hit the track again. It wasn’t long before we came across a single set of dingo prints in the sandy track and we followed them for over 5km before sighting the dingo at the top of a sand dune! Was he heading for Birdsville too?
The track varied between hard clay and soft sand, smooth patches (which seemed few and far between) corrugations, dips and bumps. Trevor and Barb became stuck on some soft sand at the top of a dune, but managed to dig themselves out just as the Spraggs had reversed back to help.
We had lunch at Walkandi Junction, then travelled the short distance to the Lone Gum Tree. There were no koalas or jolly jumbucks spotted but there were three bird nests in this single Coolabah tree.

The Lone Gum Tree

Coolabahs are not found anywhere else in the Conservation Park and no one knows how it came to be there or how it keeps on thriving in this harsh place. It’s a long, long way from any creeks or rivers. However, with a fence to keep tourists from walking too near and the rain that fell throughout the Outback over 2010-2011, this tree is no longer alone and has quite a few thriving seedlings growing with it.

Then it was back in the cars for another hour before pulling in to camp between a couple of large sand hills at

Desert Camp 2 – evening nibbles
Desert sunset

Deb & Steve

Day 7, Friday, 20 July – Simpson Desert Camp 2 to Camp 3
Travelling distance 110 km, Navigator and Leader – Carolyn & Mark
Day 7 started in the early hours of the morning when we all experienced our first Simpson Desert Sand Storm. It caused some people to get out of bed and collapse awnings and cover the campfire remnants, and lasted approximately an hour. As fierce as it came, it was gone. As usual we were all up ready to go by 8.50am. Today also marked our half way point across the desert and our holiday.


Morning tea
Approdinna Attora Knolls

Travelling was extremely slow with our first stop for morning tea at 10.30am. We had only travelled 32km. The slow progress was due to the constant corrugations, rock, and soft sand which only allowed us to travel at a speed of less than 20km an hour most of the time.
We stopped for photographs and lunch at the Approdinna Attora Knolls which are a unique and obvious feature in the desert landscape.

After lunch we continued along the French Line and the sand dunes got bigger and further apart.
A few of us got stuck and had to dig ourselves out or have a second go at getting up the dune.

We saw some gorgeous scenery and especially loved crossing the salt lakes.
We made it to the sign posts indicating the direction for Birdsville which after a long day was exciting.
That night we were all impressed with Steve and Deb’s entertaining talents with coloured lights dec-orating their tent and a roast dinner complete with vegies, prepared in the camp oven and followed up with homemade apple/pear crumble and custard!! Then we all got to enjoy yummy damper prepared by Pete and Elaine.
Maria & Greg

Poeppels Corner

Day 8, Saturday, 21 July – Simpson Desert Camp 3 to Birdsville
Travelling distance 144 km, Navigator and Leader – Maria & Greg
We awoke to a beautiful but cold morning in the desert (zero degrees), where we had made camp, approx 5 kms from the Poeppels Corner turnoff.
After packing up camp we left just before 9am, to commence our 4th day in the desert.

The Desert is such a beautiful place; such colour contrasts in the grey flood plains which merge into the orange sand hills and dotted with grey/ green bushes, determined to grow in this dry desert landscape.

The most disappointing thing on this trip has been the amount of toilet paper littering the track and caught in, and between, bushes. It appears many visitors are determined to ruin this place of beauty for future generations.

Contrasting sand colours
Decision time – to do Big Red or to not do Big Red!

We reached Big Red late in the afternoon and it was decided we would not attempt it but would return the next day to ‘play’ on that iconic sand hill. So we all turned right and headed for Little Red. A couple of our vehicles had to have a couple of goes with a little more momentum required but we all made it over.
That was the end of a successful Simpson Desert crossing.

Successful conquer of Little Red

Personally my first view of Big Red was an anti-climax for me as we had been climbing vegetated sand dunes all day, with them pro-gressively getting higher and higher until we crested quite a high dune to be greeted with an uninspiring barren sand hill which is Big Red. I’m not sure what I expected but thought it would be somewhat more magnificent than it is compared to others we had climbed during the day.
After putting air into tyres we proceeded to Birdsville where we had a beautiful camp site alongside the Diamantina billabong, sharing our camp with an array of kites, wedgies, ducks, pelicans, corellas, zebra finches, willie wagtails and reed warblers.
Elaine & Pete

Route across the desertDay 9, Sunday, 22 July – Birdsville
Everyone took advantage of not having to break camp and move on with this planned rest day in Birdsville. Most of us ‘got out of bed and dragged a comb across our heads’ to be out at Big Red at 9.15am before the maddening hordes arrived. It was lovely to drive beside the dunes before getting to the eastern side of Big Red and letting down the tyre pressures again. Mark, Greg, Steve and Bill all had fun going over and back up Big Red from the western side. The automatic cars were more successful in getting up the really steep and soft tracks but each of them can say they drove over Big Red.

Returning to town, some wandered the streets visiting the historical sites, some repaired and repacked cars and did washing. Everyone enjoyed lovely hot showers in excellent facilities of the Birdsville caravan park on the banks of the Diamantina.
The day finished with a group dinner at the Birdsville Pub with very generous servings of Roast Beef or Chicken and veg.
Erica, Susan & Bill

Highlights from Birdsville

This was a popular spot….
….and so was this!
Birdsville water supply
Pete’s “minor” modifications to the roof rack
Desert Recovery Vehicle
Nibbles – Birdsville Campground