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!




Simpson Desert 3 (William Creek to Mt Dare)


14 March  Thursday

Leaving William Creek behind, we were again following the Oodnadatta track.



We made a stop at the Algebuckina railway bridge, over the Neales River, south-east of Oodnadatta. It opened in January 1892 and is the longest bridge in South Australia. It is a Victorian era bridge that was originally built in the UK for the Murray river. But, when it arrived they realized that it was too short and they had to find another river where they could use it.

Algebuckina railway bridge



From here we were on our way again, following the Oodnadatta track towards Mt Dare. Along the way we made we made a short stop at the Pink Roadhouse.  A well known haven in the outback for travelers.

Pink Roadhouse

The scenery is now changing and it is beginning to look more like a desert. The road is becoming more rough. More large sharp stones, the size of cricket balls. The countryside is very flat with the odd red sand dunes . You don’t want to drive here with old worn tyres. We stopped for a break at the Eringa billabong, which is on a very large river that is completely dry.


Shortly before sunset we arrived at the Mt Dare Hotel. A welcome stop after a very bad road, full of large stones. Fortunately none of us had any tyre problems.



Today was a nice cool day, 25 degrees C. Much better than the 39 degrees of the previous couple of days. This is the most isolated hotel in Australia. The food at their restaurant was excellent. Esmé had chicken and I had a steak.



Tomorrow we will be entering the real Simpson Desert.



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.




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.



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?



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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