Simpson Desert 8 (Port Augusta to Melbourne…the end)

23 March Saturday

From Port Augusta we travelled through Adelaide and camped at the very pleasing Kingston Caravan Park next to the sea. It is next to the Cape Jafta historic lighthouse, that was built in 1868. During the night a strong gusting wind tried to blow our rooftop tent off the vehicle. Did not get much sleep. We had to move the vehicle with the pitched rooftop tent to a more protected area behind the ablution blocks at one am. in the night.

Cape Jafta historic lighthouse

Cape Jafta historic lighthouse

Kingston Caravan Park

 

 

 

24 March Sunday

A balmy windless sunrise after the night before. Today we are planning to overnight in Melbourne. On our way we passed through Mt Gambier. The extinct Mt Gambier Volcano contains a huge lake of high-quality artesian drinking water which changes colour with the seasons. In winter, it is a steel grey and then changes to a spectacular cobalt blue in the summer, from there it’s name, the Blue Lake.

Blue Lake

Blue Lake

Blue Lake

The scenery along the rest of the road to Melbourne was not too bad. Large wheat fields, cattle and sheep farms all along the way.

Landscape along the road to Melbourne

 

At 6pm we arrived in  Melbourne. Back in civilisation after a great trip, of which we enjoyed every moment.

The Olsen, Melbourne

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Simpson Desert 7 (Birdsville to Hawker)

20 March Wednesday

After a good 8am breakfast, we filled up with diesel and were on our way. We used 90 liter diesel for the desert crossing, which gives us an average of 16.5l/100km. Not bad, if you bear in mind that we were in 4 wheel drive, with deflated tyres and soft sand all the way.

Birdsville Track

 

Now for the long road back.  Following the Birdsville Track to Maree for 517 km, across the Tirari- and Sturt Stony- Deserts.

Birdsville Track

Birdsville Track

 

This track can also be very dangerous and is notorious for the flash floodings that can occur there. This is quite a boring road. Absolutely no plant life, only stones and rocks. All the same dark brown brick colour. Surprisingly the cattle along the road are in a very  good condition, I have no idea what they eat.

How do they live, what do they eat?

 

 

Halfway along the way we stopped and slept over at the Mungerannie Hotel, which also has a thermal spring, but, it was much too hot for swimming. The picturesque lake with it’s lavish surrounding plant life and abundance of bird life was a pleasant unexpected surprise.

Mungerannie Hotel, thermal spring

 

But…. don’t forget the millions of flies! It was a pleasant  place to stay with good food and an intriguing character, Phil, who owns and runs the place, barefoot. The nights entertainment in the pub included a few films of the history of Tom Kruse who was kinda famous in this part of the world where he made and tamed the Birdsville Track.

21 March Thursday

Phil served us an superb breakfast we were on our way again, to Maree. After lunch, at the Maree Hotel we were once again hit the road.

 

Miles and miles of endless rocks, sand and the odd emu along the road. These emus have the strange, bad habit of running alongside your vehicle and then they suddenly swerve right in front of you, can be quite dangerous. We are aiming to get to Coopers Creek, a dry river bed on the western border of the Flinders Range, where we are planning to camp over night. Our last night of camping on this trip. Some mixed feelings about that.

Coopers Creek

 

22 March Friday

We left the camp site at 8.30 am. Two of our group left us, to push on directly to Sydney. The rest of us decided first to go and explore the Flinders Range National Park and aim for a sunset arrival at Port Augusta. The Flinders Range is the largest mountain range in South Australia. The park encompasses some of the most spectacular scenery in South Australia.

 

The Flinders Ranges are mainly composed of folded and faulted sediments of the Adelaide Geosyncline.  It was not as a result of a meteorite or volcano, but, basically a large mountain that weathered away.

We made a stop at the Blinman General Store for coffee. Blinman is quite a quaint little town where it seems as if nothing ever happens.

Blinman General Store

 

From here we travelled through the Sacred Aboriginal Canyon, which is 19 km from the Wilpena Pound Resort. Wilpena Pound is the most characteristic landmark of the Flinders Range. It’s a large, sickle- shaped, natural amphitheatre, covering nearly 80 square kilometres. The high walls of Wilpena Pound are formed by the outcroppings of the eponymous Pound Quartzite in a synclinal structure.

A short pleasant hike up the very narrow dry creek  takes you up the Sacred Aboriginal Canyon and past majestic river red gums to where the rock engravings are.

 

 

 

 

The Adnyamathanha people of this area believe engravings were not made by people but were created for them by ancestral beings during the “Dreaming”.

 

 

From there we went to the Stokes Hill Lookout which is approximately 20km north of Blinman, on the Hawker  road. Here you are offered a spectacular panoramic view of Wilpena Pound.

 

 

Passing through the ABC range, we head towards the Brachina Gorge.

 

The ABC range was so called  because they thought there were 26 peaks… same amount of letters as the alphabet, which was later discovered to be far too few, there were many more. But, the name stayed. The Brachina Gorge is a spectacular  and passes through millions of years of earth history. It is also named “The Corridor Through Time” due to the sedimentary layering and uplifting from the period between 520 and 640 million years ago. The geology includes meteorite debris from 480 million years ago.

 

The town of Hawker was our next stop where the Jeff Morgan Gallery is a “must see”. Jeff completed his 360 degree Wilpena Panorama in 2003 and he became one of a small number of panoramic artists in the world officially recognized by the International Panorama Council.

 

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Simpson Desert 6 (Big Red to Birdsville)

 

19 March, Tuesday

Today we made  slow start. The wheels only started turning at 9.30 am. after we had a great breakfast of bacon and eggs. The flies are still a problem, they are just as bad in Queensland as in South Australia.

Big Red ahead

 

 

Today is the day that we are going to take on Big Red. Big Red is the largest and most famous dune in the Simpson Desert. It is approximately 35 metres above the plains. Apparently it is quite an achievement to make it to the top of Big Red in your 4×4 vehicle. We have to travel 19Km from our overnight camp to get to the dune, so we should be there quite early in the morning. As we approach dune it looks quite impressive from a distance.

Clearing Big Red

On top of Big Red

 

 

Today we are the second vehicle in our convoy, just behind Vic Widman of Great Divide Tours, our excellent guide. Wayne and Jenny, also of GDT were were covering the back of the convoy. We easily made it to the top in 2H. Making it to the top like this was almost a bit disappointingly easy. The view from the top is quite extraordinary. On the one side is a large salt pan with some dry tree skeletons standing in the shallow water.

our group

 

 

There are even a few small patches of resilient green grass in the lake. The razor sharp edges of the sand dunes form a sharp contrast between the blue sky and the red sand. Adding the green,white water at the bottom, makes this look like a fake photoshopped chocolate box picture. With the sunlight and shadows constantly moving you can spend a whole day on this dune with your camera.

view from the top of Big Red

on top of Big Red

 

We drove down to the salt pan and then went over Big Red again along another “easier” route. From here we went to Little Red. The sand on this dune was a bit softer and the leading edge a bit steeper. It also has a slight plateau half way up, which makes it a bit more challenging. I might have been a bit too eager and our two front wheels became airborne at the top. Quite fun. The 3 Troopies and the Landrover could not make it to the top. They had to take an alternative route around the dune to get to the top. So, it so turned out that Little Red was more difficult than Big Red.

Birdsville Hotel.

Birdsville Hotel.

 

Now, it’s time to stop and inflate the tyres again, end of the sand. At Birdsville we had a cleaning session of the vehicle as well as ourselves. A proper shower  was very welcome. We stayed overnight at the Birdsville Hotel.

Birdsville Hotel.

 

 

Birdsville is a very interesting town, it used to be known as the Diamantina Crossing and is the most isolated town in Australia. The highest temperature recorded, on a couple of different occasions, in Birdsville was 49.5 degrees C.  The Birdsville Races is a horse race held each year in September and the funds raised are  in aid of the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia.

Birdsville race track

 

During the 2 days of the event the population swells from about 100 to around 7,000 people for the two days. Birdsville also has an 80 kW geothermal  power station, the only one of its type in Australia.

 

 

 

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Simpson Desert 5 (French line to Poeppel’s Corner)

 

17 March, Sunday

8.30 am and we’re on our way. This morning we were already up at 5.30, making sure we did not oversleep again. We had more than enough time, too much actually, for coffee, a wash and breakfast. Our gas burner is not working so well. I think the pipe is too long and too flexible. Bernard, doing his social rounds,  is very talkative and entertaining this morning.

making everything tight

 

Following the French Line, today we crossed-over some dunes that were higher than those of the previous days.

French Line

 

 

On most of them you had to make a sharp turn on the crest, so as to get your angle right for the descent on the other side. The reason is because of the angle of the prevailing winds. At this point we are the only vehicle so far that has not been stuck in the sand yet.

one of the sharp turns

 

 

 

The flies are unbelievable! They appear out of no where when you step out of the vehicle and within seconds there are at least a hundred sitting all over you. The nets that cover your face are absolutely essential. They even manage crawl in under the nets as well. Wearing the head-nets, takes some getting used to.

flies, flies and more flies

 

I think everyone forgets to remove the net at times, when you try to drink or eat something….  even brushing your teeth. Everyone must have swallowed at least one fly at some stage.

Our overnight campsite today ended up being in a dry salt pan. The wind is still blowing strong from the South. Once again we had a day temperature of in the upper thirties.

Dingo

 

 

18 March, Monday

8.30 am and we’re on our way again. This morning we decided to skip coffee. We surfaced at 6am and even that was still too early, everyone else was still asleep. Our first 25 litre water can is now empty. The surrounding sand dunes look ominous like black walls in the shadows of the rising sun.

We stopped for tea at Poeppel’s corner. Here you can stand in South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory, all at the same time.

Poeppel’s corner

 

You could celebrate the New Year three times over here in the same spot on the same day, since all three the states have different time zones.

Poeppel’s corner

Poeppel’s corner

 

 

The sand dunes are now becoming steeper and higher. We are still the only vehicle with a clean slate, of not getting stuck yet. We are now travelling in the Queensland part of the Simpson Desert.

 

It is almost as if the sand is softer and has more of a red shimmer to it since we crossed into Queensland. The surrounding scenery is also beginning to look more like a desert, with more sand and less grass and shrubs to be seen.

 

It’s already late afternoon when we cross from the Simpson Desert into the Adria Downs, a very large pastoral lease, used as a cattle station.

Adria Downs

 

 

Our campsite for the night is in a dry river bed……. that was flooded in 2012. Apparently the width of the river was 13 km at that stage.

sunset

 

We are now in the Queensland time zone, which is 30 minutes different from South Australia. These South Australians are weird, do they really think 30 minutes makes any difference?

 

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Simpson Desert 4 (Mt Dare to French Line)

15 March Friday

filling up at Mt Dare

 

After filling up our tanks as well as all the extra jerry cans,  we left Mt Dare just after 10.30 am. This is the last refueling spot until we reach Birdsville. Vic, who likes his tea, also had to have a cup first, before we could leave.

 

stones, corrugations and hobbles

The road wasn’t to bad, just a lot of stones, corrugations and hobbles.

 

The Simpson desert doesn’t have a “gate” where permits are checked, only a sign that states that you are now in the desert and that it was closed from 1 December until 15 March.

We made a stop at the Dalhousie ruins, which are really a bit of a disappointment. It’s more like a “not very old” homestead that has fallen in disrepair. The parks board in their “wisdom” decided to remove all but 2 of all the date palms that were growing there and also did some patch work on the ruins to make them look better. It now looks like a fairly recent stone work on a “modern” ruin.

Dalhousie ruins

We are now in the Witjira National Park.

Witjira National Park.

The Simpson Desert is underlain by the Great Artesian Basin,  one of the largest inland drainage areas in the world. Water from the basin rises to the surface at numerous natural springs, including the Dalhousie hot springs, which will be our next stop.

The outside temperature was 45 degrees C.  The Dalhousie hot springs forms part of a group of over 60 natural artesian springs. It’s a great place to take a swim in the middle of a parched desert landscape. The water temperature is about 38 degrees C and very pleasant to swim in. At the hot springs is a modern clean ablution block and it should be quite a pleasant place to camp for a day or two. Under the shade of the ablution block we also talked to a derelict person that was camping there out of the boot of his dilapidated car. He was visiting the springs because the water was good for his skin. Cut a large plastic coke bottle length-wise in two and you have two shoes. All you need are a few ropes to tie it onto your feet. This is what he was wearing……. he claimed that the dingos had stolen his shoes.

Purnie Bore is where we made our camp for our first night in the desert. Purnie Bore was sunk during the oil exploration years. Over the years, leaks in the bore caused a substantial amount of hot water to surface and develop into a sizable lake. Conservationists were worried that the salty water from the water body would change the native habitat. Since then, most of the old bores have been closed off and the overall flow has been reduced to a trickle.

Campsite at Purnie Bore

 

It was a beautiful  cloudless night sky. Many of the star constellations were visible. There were a few dingos sneaking around our camp site, but, they never came close and weren’t aggressive.

Purnie Bore

 

While making dinner, Esmé missed a few heart beats. As she turned around, there a dingo was standing right behind her. But, he took off as quick and quietly as he came. This would also be the last place where we would have a toilet and shower for a few days. There are wild camels roaming around the desert and they took care of most of the night sounds  with their snoring.

 

 

 

 

 

16 March Saturday

We started driving again at 8.30 in the morning, after only waking up at 6.30. Following the French Line, we passed one vehicle on our way to the Erabena Track. Apart from that we were making the first tracks in the desert for the season.

At the Erabena junction we turned towards the WAA line. We followed the WAA line, an east-west seismic line, similar to the French Line, for parts of the day and ended the day back on the French Line.

We made camp for the night in the open near the track. Fortunately there were a few small shrubs around that could provide some ablution privacy when needed. The starry night sky was spectacular, shining glitter everywhere above.

A southern wind, tugging our roof tent, was gusting at about 25 km per hour and that brought the temperature down to about 38 degrees C. It was almost cold at times.

 

 

Tomorrow we will be deeper into the dune world.

 

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