touring, travel and photography

Simpson Desert September 1997

Simpson Desert September 1997
Pictures are scanned from photos, sorry about the quality.

the group: Patrol – Andrew & Gray, Maverick – Mark & John, Cruiser – Phil, Bob & Adam

We left Whyalla on Friday afternoon (5/9/97), after work, and headed North to find a camp for our first night. The reserve in front of the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna seemed ideal. Flat ground, toilets and of course a pub made this the ideal spot.

Up at sparrows, swags rolled up, and we were OFF on the great adventure. A quick detour into Leigh Creek supermarket for some forgotten survival food – Parkers Pretzels – and on to Lyndhurst and the end of the bitumen. Marree and Lake Eyre south were next on the itinerary.

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Driving on Lake Eyre South

After a quick (?) stop at the Marree pub and fuel at the servo, we started on the Oodnadatta Track. Coward Springs, Blanche Cup and the Bubbler are all worth a visit. Curdimurka Railway Siding, scene of the biennial Outback Ball, is one of the few buildings left from the Old Ghan line, outside of the towns.

Continuing on the Track, next stop was the Peake Telegraph Station ruins. This was built at the turn of the century for the Overland Telegraph. It would have been a huge undertaking in the middle of nowhere, and was only used for 3 years.

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Peake Telegraph Station ruins.

We continued and were within 10kms of the William Creek Hotel, you could smell the cold beer, when Rowdy called on the radio to say he had a flat tyre. We turned around to help him. It was blowing a gale across the desert and it took three attempts to lift the Maverick. With the tyre changed, we continued into William Creek knowing we had earned that beer. Parked the vehicles in the camp area behind the pub and went inside.

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William Creek Hotel

After a few beers to remove the dust, we prepared dinner, and then returned to the pub for a great evening. We thought we’d had a few, but the bloke behind the bar was far worse than us. We were trying to buy 4 cans per round, but he insisted we had to buy 5 for $10, because he couldn’t work out the change! Apparently the drought broke that evening, because the whole campground was wet when we woke, but the swags kept us dry, and we weren’t in any fit state to have noticed rain anyway. I was rudely awoken by an incredible noise, and as I unzipped my swag, all I could see was a Cessna wing passing above me. Apparently I’d rolled the swag out a bit close to the road, and the road was also the runway, if the wind was blowing the right way.

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Algebuckina Bridge, the longest in SA, is now a disused relic from the original Ghan line.

There’s an EH holden rolled up in a ball next to the bridge. Apparently a couple of blokes were heading for William Creek for a beer when they found the creek was in flood. They decided to take a chance and drive across the rail bridge. They had to bail out when the Ghan came the other way across the bridge.

What are the odds when the Ghan only ran twice a week and would be on the bridge for a few minutes a week?

Oodnadatta was our final refuelling and resupplying spot before heading into the Simpson. About 100kms from Oodnadatta, Mark found that his new long range fuel tank in the Maverick was cracked and leaking. We stopped for the night near Hamilton homestead and at first light Mark and John drove back to Oodnadatta for repairs.

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Camp near Hamilton

The rest of us played footy and relaxed for the day. The Maverick returned at about 4pm and we left in a hurry for Dalhousie Springs. Apparently the tank was welded up on the vehicle, with a tractor exhaust piped into the tank as an inert gas. Only in the bush!

Driving as quickly as we could in the conditions, rough corrugations and loose gibber, we made a run for Dalhousie Springs as our chosen overnight camp.

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Entering the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve

We arrived at Dalhousie after dark, set up camp, had dinner, then spent about 4hours drinking beer and swimming in the magnificent Springs. No one went to bed before midnight, as the springs were so luxurious.

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Dingo watching from his vantage point on a cairn

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Swimming in the main spring

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Camp at Dalhousie

Next morning we packed up the swags and headed East into the Simpson Desert. At Freeth Junction we encountered the first of many of the Pink Roadhouse road signs. Much appreciated Adam & Lynnie!
It wasn’t long before we got into small dunes and sand country. We started counting the dunes but got bored after about 10. Apparently there are 1170 of them – we’ll have to take their word for it. Regardless, its the worlds largest parallel dune desert.

Continuing on through low dunes we arrived at Purnie Bore. Looks like a good place to camp with basic showers and toilets but the water coming out of the bore is bloody hot.

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Purnie Bore

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After lunch we headed off and the going was easy. We got to the Rig Road Junction and stayed on the French Line. Not as rough as we had been told but it was early in the trip. So far we hadn’t encountered any other vehicles. As it turned out we only saw one group all day and they were parked at Purnie Bore.

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Not long after the Rig Road we started looking for somewhere to camp on our first night in the desert. Spoilt for choice we continued until near dark to avoid the flies. Eventually we chose a large clearing with plenty of firewood nearby. We set up the tents and swags, cooked dinner and then settled in for a night of beer and then port around the fire. Around midnight light rain started to fall. This made us nervous as even light rain can have you stranded for a few days.

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Campfire in the Simpson

Next morning the only sign of the rain was that the dunes had firmed up and were even easier going than the day before….

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As it turned out we had camped only a few dunes away from the Colson Track so had made some good progress on the first day. Day two in the desert proper was a leisurely drive through dunes that were growing in size with large floodplains and claypans in between. Our original target was to get to Poeppel Corner late in the day. We stopped and chatted with a group heading the other way. They told us that Eyre Creek was flooded and the detour was 60kms to the North. Thats an extra 120kms added to the trip but we had allowed for this in our fuel reserves.

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Other than a short detour down the Knolls Track we followed the French Line and arrived mid afternoon at Poeppel Corner. A few pics and we headed North and then East on the QAA Line to find a campsite.

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Next day we again had threatening skies so made a beeline for Eyre Creek to get across before rain arrived. Meeting a few more groups heading West we were told that a rocky crossing was possible about 6kms South of the French Line crossing. We went to the normal crossing for a look but after wading in and finding it about a metre deep and with a very soft slippery bottom we headed South. 6km ended up being 20kms when we found an easy way across.

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French Line

Now we were in the big dune country of the QAA Line and really enjoying the driving. It helped that we could almost taste the cold beers at the Birdsville Pub. Final challenge of the trip was to climb over the Big Red sand dune. Phil did it easily on his second attempt in the petrol cruiser. Mark and I had multiple attempts to get the diesels over but 100km/h in 3rd gear did the trick.

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Lots of photos on Big Red and then we drove the easy dirt road into Birdsville. We decided to live it up and booked a couple of rooms at the pub. Showers, clean clothes and it was off for beers and dinner.

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The two days of driving home on the Birdsville Track seemed like a bit of a non event after our Simpson Desert crossing but beer and burgers at the Mungerannie Pub was a highlight.

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Yes, the whole trip really was just a very long pub crawl!

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