Members Trips

stories from Australia


simpson desert crossing
june/july 2009

by David Jones


Ah, the Simpson! It conjures up images of sand, lots of sand, flies and epic crossings...

In my case, it was lots of thought, planning, a possibly cancelled trip and finally, success! Oh, and lots of sand and a few flies.

My original trip – planned for two years with some friends I have travelled a lot with - fell through at the last minute due to worries at work and illness for the three other drivers. Then Assegai kindly invited me to join his and Dean's (DKEZ) shorter trip, leaving a week after the original planned one. Fortunately Eyre Creek had decided to drop enough for the bypass ford to open.

I jumped at it!

Then, on the night before I was supposed to leave for Adelaide to join the trip, I fall off a ladder tightening the last bolt on the roof rack after much agonising (in both senses of the word...) as to whether or not I really needed it! Next morning I race off to the doctor and physio. They both said I wasn't going to die, so the trip is still on! I carefully avoided any mention of x-rays...

Friday morning at 6:30am I am heading for Adelaide. After a boring drive along the Western Highway/Dukes Highway and an interesting navigation exercise through the suburbs of Adelaide to find Assegai's house it was a short wait for the party to assemble.

We headed north to Wilmington for a good sleep with the rain pouring down and then off again in the morning drizzle to drive along the west side of the Flinders Ranges, mainly invisible in the grey murk. We stopped just short of Leigh Creek to collect some old railway sleepers from the side of the railway tracks for firewood – I knew that roof rack would come in useful! – and then made a short stop in Leigh Creek to get last minute supplies and a stop at the bakery in Copley for a Quandong Pie, then it is on to Marree and the Camel Races. Warning to travelers – DO NOT FUEL UP IN MARREE WHEN THE CAMEL RACES ARE ON!! The price of fuel goes up 20 cents a litre...

Interesting “sport’, camel racing... It seems to involve lots of falling off.

Then it was off up the legendary Birdsville Track, now a very dusty, very wide dirt road.

But we did have to do a water crossing along the way! It was at least 100mm deep. We spent the night at Mungerannie – interesting pub, on the market if you are interested! – dusty but good camping, hot showers if you get up early enough and the planes take off from the driveway outside the pub! In the morning Dean had to get a puncture fixed so Assegai and I headed off to Birdsville. We did the obligatory tourist things – the Pub, the Bakery – and topped off the tanks to the brim. I attached "Priscilla", my 7 metre sand flag mast with gold tinsel and flouro pink ribbon on top, to my nudge bar which caused quite a stir and a flurry of photo taking in town (and along the track...)

Dean caught up and we headed out to Big Red. We aired down and climbed the eastern flank. A decision was made not to climb the western flank as we were all at maximum weight and it was way too early to break or bend something! The vehicles pitting themselves against the legendary Big Red were really thrashing about over the huge bumps on the west side. Now we felt like we were finally on The Simpson!

We headed off west along the QAA Line into a lowering sun to look for a camp site. As we neared Eyre Creek we came across some lovely, lush green swales which had obviously been flooded earlier on. A decision was made to camp in one as we assumed (correctly) that the banks of Eyre Creek would be a bit busy. It was a beautiful night with a dramatic moon rise putting on a show.

Next morning we crossed the last few dunes to Eyre Creek and were presented with a beautiful vista as we looked down on the creek from the last dune. The banks were green, the trees happy and the creek flowing.

We turned up the bypass and cruised along for 30 odd kilometres, wondering what the crossing would be like. As it turned out, the actual crossing was easy. It was marked by long star stakes on the downstream side and was in a rocky spot so the bottom was hard. The water was about 500mm deep at the deepest point.

Next we had to head back 30 kilometres south to end up virtually where we had started the bypass track before continuing our journey west along the QAA line. We cruised along for a while until we found a great little camp site, the only one on the QAA line west of Eyre Creek Bypass that has grass!

At this point I thought I should share my elbow bruise with the party - now that we knew each other well enough...

We headed off for Poeppel Corner next morning. The dunes suddenly became steeper and softer just before Poeppel Corner, resulting in me getting stuck 3 times right on the crests until I worked out the system, engage first gear, high range and gun it! I was backing off too early, worrying where the track went over the summit. No-one could say they didn’t see me coming as my sand flag was taller than the dunes.

The required photos were taken at Poeppel Corner and then we continued west on the French Line.

Along the way, Assegai developed a very nasty case of nausea resulting in many stops. We got to the Knolls Track intersection about lunch time and decided to stay the night to allow Assegai to recover.

Next morning Assegai was much better so we headed south to the Knolls and on down to the WAA Line. Our plan was to head west along the WAA Line to the Erabena Track. Dean stayed at the intersection (he drives a petrol Pajero and was concerned about fuel) while Assegai and I raced down to the Lone Gum and Eagle’s Nest. We got to the Lone Gum to find three vehicles parked there and the families having lunch and playing some very loud Doof Doof "music". So much for feeling the serenity!

We returned to the junction, put two jerry cans of diesel in each Terracan and set off in pursuit of Dean.

After a while, Assegai found himself stuck on a dune crest. We tried snatching - but snatching up a dune seldom works. We tried the MaxTrax, but they didn't help at all. We tried dropping tyre pressures to about 10 psi, no good. Out with the shovels and dig, lots!

We got him out and pushed him back down. Another try was unsuccessful - same result! Out with the shovels and dig again.

A third attempt was made with much gusto, speed and aggression. He made it up, but there was an ominous noise coming from the front tyre. "Wobba, Wobba, Wobba..." Assegai jumped out of the Terracan and did a "Toyota Leap". Then we informed him a front tyre had popped a bead....

Assegai got out his jack and took the tyre off to make it easier to reseat the bead. He got out his compressor, but found he couldn't open his bonnet - the nudge bar was pushed back... As he unbolted it to put on my roof rack along with the MaxTrax and snatch strap, I got out my air hose and popped the bead back on and inflated the tyre.

Dean radioed to say he was stuck on a large, steep, soft dune further down the track. He managed to dig his way to freedom eventually... We decided it was a bad idea to keep going along the WAA Line as Dean may run out of fuel bashing against the tall dunes and we had been informed by oncoming vehicles that there were six particularly nasty ones at the western end of the WAA.

We backtracked to the Erabena Track and headed down to the Eagle’s Nest and Lone Gum, this time no Doof Doof! The Eagle’s Nest is an eagle’s nest, built in a three metre tall cordwood tree about 2oo metres off the track. The Lone Gum is a very health coolabah tree in the middle of a whole lot of sand, not a streambed within cooee.

Off along the Rig Road, we spotted some camels along the way. Our total mammal count for the entire crossing was six camels and one very fat feral cat. Lots of dingo tracks, but no sightings.

The Rig Road was in reasonable nick with the clay capping starting to get a bit rough.

Along here we played leap frog with a group of seven Disco's from the Land Rover Club. I think they kept stopping for a spot of Pimms or maybe some Tiffin and Crumpets...

We pulled into Purni Bore for showers but decided not to camp there as it was getting a bit crowded after our desert camps. We camped just off the track, a little way short of Dalhousie Springs.

In the morning we headed for Dalhousie Springs and a swim in the thermal pool. I was so keen I dived in with my glasses on - not a good idea, but Assegai managed to find them with his toes! That was a lot quicker than draining the pool with a bucket.

Dalhousie was crowded with people camped everywhere. The flushing dunnies and the pool were very nice, though!

From here we drove out to Mt Dare to fuel up and hit civilization.

After Mt Dare, Dean and family headed for the flesh pots of Alice via the Binns Track and Assegai and I headed to Finke and then Kulgera and the blacktop home.

We stopped off at the Lambert Centre on the way so we could take it in turns standing on the geographical centre of Australia. We actually met the Neice of Dr Lambert on the way in. We also helped out an aboriginal family on the road to Kulgera who had boiled their Falcon dry and killed a head gasket.

From Kulgera (we had a burger there at sunset and refueled) it was a smooth run down the Stuart Highway to just past Coober Pedy and a road side stop at midnight for a sleep. We awoke at 5:45am to the sound of heavy rain on the tents so we packed up really fast to avoid getting bogged and were on the road before 6:00am, heading south. We reached Adelaide at about 1:30pm and I headed off at 2:00pm for home, arriving back in Melbourne at 11:20pm after a horrible drive in driving rain.


Fuel used:
Filled to the brim at Birdsville, put in 4 jerry cans on the way and topped off with 35 litres at Mt Dare. Total used = 115 litres. 698 kilometres on the odometer. 16.5 litres per hundred kilometres. I still had the emergency 40 litres in two plastic jerry cans.

Fuel prices:
Mt Dare = $1.85 a litre
Birdsville = $1.59 a litre
Marree = $1.78 a litre - NEVER will I fuel up there again!

What did I learn?

You can't have too tall a sand flag! (And you shouldn't steal National Parks signs... , even if you have room on your roof rack! “No, Officer, I swear, it is just the camera angle...” )

And if you have a sufficiently tall sand flag, it has to be adjustable! Cursed coolibahs! Fortunately, mine is!

An empty roof rack on a trip has its uses... and will probably be full by the end of the trip!

Oh, and you can’t have too much poultry!

MaxTrax may be useful (they sure weren’t for us!), a snatch strap is good, but a shovel is your friend!

A 9dB antenna mounted on your roof has a much better range than a 6 db mounted anywhere. I could talk to oncoming drivers long before my travel companions could hear the other half of the conversation. I suspect they were quite convinced I was going mad for a while... Now they know I am...

Always stop for a chat with the people in other vehicles. Everyone learns heaps about what is ahead that way! And you meet some great people.

Driving across the Simpson with a bruised bum and elbow hurts - but I wouldn't have missed it! Well, actually, make that a broken arm, as I found out when I got home... It is probably not a good idea to drive across the Simpson with a broken arm, especially if it isn’t in plaster!!! That is what the doctor, orthopedic surgeon and physio said, anyway. In fairly strong terms...

The effort spent on securing your load is ALWAYS worthwhile. Despite the thrashing, bumping, bouncing and crashing about, nothing moved, nothing broke! I use a beach ball, blown up to fill the space in the fridge, to stop the food getting thrashed around. It works a treat. Tossed salad is okay, but not tossed everything.

Always put things in the same place, so you can find them next time you need them!

And, the Simpson Desert is a fabulous, stunning, glorious place... With lots of sand and a few flies.


thanks to David Jones for sharing his trip with us