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.





The Simpson Desert 1 (getting there)


First across the Simpson Desert in Australia.

To be one of the first to cross the Simpson Desert when it opens after the rainy summer season is quite a special experience.

The desert is still pristine. No tyre or foot tracks. Just you and the desert as it might have looked thousands or millions of years ago.

Simpson Entrance


The desert is closed for all vehicles between 1 December and 15 March every year, because of the rainy season. Although the Simpson is a desert it does get rain. Previously some of the heaviest rain in many years occurred during 2009-2010, and has turned the Simpson Desert into a garden of flowers and colour. It was so flooded that is was almost impossible for any vehicles to travel through the desert for a few months.

The  Simpson desert is the 4th largest desert in Australia. Its 176,500 square meters make it the world’s largest sand dune desert. Under the desert is  the Great Artesian Basin.  There are numerous natural hot water springs around the desert. It is also part of the huge salt Lake Eyre basin.

Australian Deserts


The Simpson Desert is an erg, the same as on MarsVenus and Titan. If you don’t know what that is, ask Wikipedia! The Simpson also contains the world’s longest parallel sand dunes. These north-south oriented dunes are static, due to vegetation and vary in height from 3 meters to 30 meters. The largest and most famous dune is Big Red or Nappanerica, which is 40 meters high.

So we were bursting with excitement and anticipating the unknown desert where we will be for 2 weeks with no fuel, water or any ablution facilities available. You have to take everything there and back with you. Including 180 litres of fuel and 40 litres of water per person. This is a special 4×4 camping trip that we have been looking forward to for a long time. We decided to do it on an organized “tag a long” tour by Great Divide Tours under the very competent leadership of Vic Widman, the owner. Vic proved to be an excellent manager and tour leader, assisted by Wayne and Jenny. He also carries a satellite phone with him. They even provide a breakdown mechanical service.

The Great Divide Team. Vic, Jenny, Wayne.


So, off we go!


March 10

At 8 am we left the Chinese Phoenix Motel in the town of  Maree, on our way to Wilmington. It is a long, lonely road. The plant life is bushy along most of the road interspersed with very large cotton fields, all under irrigation. All the towns along the way are very small and many are not more than a fuel pump and a shop. The only people around seem to be the odd Aboriginal customer strolling around.  Late afternoon we reached the very nice camp site, on the riverbank at Wilmington. Now was our chance to unfold, erect and light up all our camping equipment and lights while we are still in “civilization” Everything works and we are in business! Inside the tent it is extremely hot, but, with the help of a light breeze later on, we slept like logs.

Wilmington camp site



March 11

After breakfast and a great shower with strong warm water, at 9am we are on the road again.   Steve, who runs the camp site came to collect our key to the ablution block at 8 am. He is a very entertaining guy, with many stories about everything and everyone in the district. It turns out to be “Adelaide Cup Day” and everyone  in Port Augusta is watching the horses. We checked in at the Big4 camp site, which was taken over by Aspen Parks. in town. It is here that we are going to meet up with the rest of our group. We checked into a cabin, which was a bit of a disappointment, not up to the normal Big4 standard.

Big 4, Port Augusta


We met the rest of the group over a very good, reasonably priced, dinner at Ian’s Western Hotel.

We will be 10 people plus the 3 Great Divide Staff members. 6 vehicles in total. Just a nice size group. From now on we will be travelling in convoy. Very fully laden,….. with fuel, water, spares and oils for anything, maxtrax, 2 spare wheels each, UHF radio, etc. etc. Our last “civilised” sleep went well in the Big4 cabin with the A/C running all night.


Tomorrow the adventure begins!



Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On YoutubeCheck Our Feed