Members Trips

stories from Australia


Simpson Desert/Red Centre
part one
30 June to 21 July 2007

by Ken McGuinness


    Ever since the 2002 Simpson Desert trip I've wanted to do it again and take the family to experience one of Australia's iconic outback journeys. Finally, we decided the time was right in 2007 - actually Renee wasn't convinced that winter in the desert was a good idea and the kids weren't convinced that they'd enjoy a touring holiday with a group of strangers but we booked a tagalong trip with Great Divide Tours anyway. And then spent six months getting ready for the trip. That meant a new car, a suspension upgrade and some other modifications, fitting the car out with drawers, water storage and batteries and a new tent (the camper had to stay home for this trip). Then we were ready to depart.




Click here to view a larger map in a new window.


Saturday 30 June Sunday 1 July

We had to be in Broken Hill on Sunday night to meet the rest of the tagalong group. Unfortunately, Lauren still had two more performances of the Kirrawee Gang Show on Saturday, so we decided that Mitchell and I would drive to Broken Hill on Saturday/Sunday and Renee and Lauren would follow by plane on Sunday.

After leaving home about 7am, we had an easy day's travel to Cobar in the central west arriving around 5pm. Unable to get a motel room, we christened the new tent (a Black Wolf Turbo Lite) at the local Caravan Park. It was a cold night and getting up early the next morning to be in Broken Hill by lunchtime was a challenge. Renee and Lauren beat us into Broken Hill by an hour or so and were already booked into our cabin when we arrived. We spent the rest of the afternoon getting fuel and last minute supplies and some final re-packing of the car. Early evening we got together with the other members of the tagalong and headed into town for dinner at the Musicians Club.

Monday 2 July

By 8.30am our convoy of 9 vehicles had assembled outside the caravan park, facing north. We headed out on the Silver City Highway not thinking that, in three weeks time, we'd be passing this way again on our way home. The bitumen soon gave way to a good dirt road cutting across wide open plains carpeted with green in stark contrast to the barren brown I remember from the last visit. We stopped for morning tea at Packsaddle - a roadhouse serving the surrounding properties and the tourist traffic - about 130km north of Broken Hill.

Further north, we stopped at Milparinka for lunch and an opportunity to briefly explore the ruins of this old outpost. The remnants of the old courthouse, jail and other community buildings sit atop a small hill overlooking barren, stony fields. At Tibooburra on the edge of the Sturt National Park we had our first change of itinerary. Recent rains had cut the road north to Olive Downs and Toona Gate on the NSW/Qld border and meant we had to take an alternate route heading north-west directly to Cameron Corner. Even this road was cut in one spot by a large, normally dry, lake and required a detour of several kilometres.

By late afternoon, we reached Cameron Corner, junction of the NSW, Qld and SA borders marked by a corner post and the Dog Fence. For our first bush camp, the group spread out in a valley behind the Corner Store not too close to other groups camped nearby. As the sun set, a chill invaded the night and soon everyone was gathered around the campfire to reflect on the day's travel and contemplate tomorrow's journey.


Tuesday 3 July

Next morning we were treated to a stunning sunrise - which made getting up at 6.30am (to be on the road by 8.30) seem almost worthwhile. After photos at the corner post - who can resist being in 3 states at once - we headed west into the Strzelecki Desert. This route offers a great roller-coaster ride up and down small hills although care is needed on the crests. We had morning tea at the base of a dune where the kids spent some energy running up and jumping down before turning north along the Strzelecki Track and passing through the Moomba oil and gas fields.

We reached Innamincka in time for a late lunch and set up camp on the Town Common, a network of campsites situated along the slow flowing Cooper Creek. We spent the afternoon exploring the small township before returning to camp for sunset drinks and dinner.


Wednesday 4 July

The morning saw us heading east out of Innamincka towards the Queensland border. We visited Burke's grave on the banks of the Cooper Creek and, further on, the ill-fated Dig Tree at Burke and Wills base camp on their exploration of a route to the Gulf of Carpentaria. After lunch, we turned north travelling through Nappa Merrie and Arrabury stations on the Queensland side of the border.


Here, the road cuts across vast stony plains circled by 'jump ups': flat-topped rocky outcrops. Despite recent rains and floods in the area there is little vegetation save lines of hardy trees that mark the intermittent water courses. Late afternoon, the stony terrain gives way to sand and a somewhat more vegetated landscape. Our tagalong leader scouts ahead to find a campsite off the road while two vehicles attend to punctured tyres.

Home for the night is a clearing in amongst low trees well off the track. Our tents are set up around the perimeter with a central campfire set while the sun disappears over the horizon.



Thursday 5 July

On the road again around 8.30am, we continued north paralleling the border before turning west and crossing back into South Australia and then heading north again on the Cordillo Downs road. We are back on harsh stony ground crossing unforgiving gibber plains, in the distance red dunes tumble down to meet hard-packed rock. Cordillo Downs station now covers around 7800 square kilometres and runs some 7000 cattle. The heritage listed woolshed is a reminder of its time as a sheep station. It was constructed in 1883 of local sandstone rubble. The corrugated iron roof was designed to be self supporting given the lack of any natural timber in the region.

Further on, we stopped to look around the ruins of Cadelga Homestead, an outpost on the Cordillo Downs property. By lunchtime, we've reached the junction with the Birdsville Development Road and are heading west toward's Australia's most famous outback town.

After a roadside lunchstop we reach Birdsville early afternoon and check into our accommodation at the iconic Birdsville Pub. There's time to refuel and restock before gathering at the pub for dinner.


Friday 6 July

There was time this morning for a visit to the Birdsville Working Museum - a fascinating collection of memorabilia, paraphernalia and assorted machinery, artifacts, and much more from Australia's pioneering days. The owner provides a 45 minute tour of the highlights of his collection, including working demonstrations of many items.

Next we head west out of Birdsville and into the Simpson Desert for the start of the serious part of our trip. First stop is Big Red, the largest of the Simpson Desert sand dunes (at around 40 metres) and the notional start or end of any Simpson Desert crossing. The prevailing westerly winds generally mean that the eastern approach to dunes is steep with an easier gradient on the western slopes. Big Red is the opposite and, after lowering tyre pressures, the convoy cruises up the eastern face of Big Red for group photos at the top of the dune. The first challenge is descending the much steeper western face and then, at the urging of the kids, going back over from the west.


The next few hours are spent getting used to desert driving - up, over and down the first of 1100 dunes to be crossed - and marvelling at the frequent changes in scenery. We climb up soft red sand following the tracks of the vehcle in front and flanked by low shrubs and spinifex clumps to the top of the dune. Looking north and south along the knife-edge peak before rolling down the other side. The valley floors are more often grey sand with a surprising amount and variety of vegetation - much greener than the trip in 2002.

Before reaching the border of the Simpson Desert National Park, there's a detour of several kilometres to skirt around a large delta still flooded from rains in recent months. A few hundred metres into the park, we turn off the track to make our first desert camp in between sand hills and then gather for sunset drinks atop the adjacent dune. And for dinner: roast chicken and veges cooked in the camp oven in the coals of the campfire - yum!



Saturday 7 July

All of the kids slept out under the stars last night and seemed to survive - although night time temperatures are now getting down below zero! We continue west on the QAA Line, up and over endless dunes before crossing into NT and then turning south crossing the mostly dry Lake Poeppel.

We lunch at Poeppel Corner, the border post where Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory meet before turning west again on the French Line. Travelling is slow with quite a lot of traffic sharing the route and the lead car negotiating with oncoming convoys to pass.

We camp tonight at Lindsay Junction just before the turnoff to the Knolls Track. After dinner, we bake apples stuffed with sultanas in the fire , served with custard - yum!


Sunday 8 July

Most of the kids slept out again last night. When I got up at 6.30am, they had ice on them! They decide not to sleep out again - the temperature got down to almost -5C and there were fresh dingo tracks around the campsite.

Leaving camp we turn south down the Knolls Track and soon stop at Approdinna Attora Knolls - large gypsum-capped limestone outcrops which offer a magnificent view of the salt crust of the dry Lake Tamblyn and the dunes beyond. Running between the dunes and with much less traffic, its a quicker run down this track to the junction with the WAA Line. Here, we again turn west traversing scores more dunes before turning south on Erabena Track to our lunch stop at the Lone Gum Tree.

After lunch, we retrace our route back to the WAA Line and continue west, over more dunes before finding another great campsite in the swale of the dunes. Another sunset drink, campfire, camp oven damper, under a bazillion stars - you could get used to this!



Go to part two