Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Simpson Desert

Our first stop at Purni Bore was just 70 kms down the road from Dalhousie Springs – the track was sandy but easy driving so was our lunch stop.  This trip is about constant food – just as soon as a couple of the boys are fed they are asking for the next meal.  This takes some management as we have to transport all our food until
we reach one of the small outback towns in Queensland where there is a shop and if one or two of the boys had their way they would eat up large in the beginning and we would have real issues at the end of the desert days
Purni Bore was the creation of a bore for mining purposes which was not successful.  This is due to the bore draining water from the Dalhousie Springs and therefore not allowed.  Dalhousie Springs has very significant spiritual meaning to the Aboriginal people and must be retained in its present format and shared by all people. 

The mine at Purni Bore did not proceed but the water is still leaking into a small lake area and it could be seen to be boiling.  There was a pit toilet – the last we would see for three days!

We continued on into the desert following the French Line and the first of the 1000 plus sand dunes that we were to cross.  The desert was quite different to what we all expected – there was quite a bit of scrub amongst the sand.  We were not sure if this scrub was normal or was the result of the Queensland heavy rains a couple of years ago.  The trip across the desert is apparently easier from West to East which is the direction we were taking.  The sand dunes were very soft sand and in most cases there was a slightly easier incline rather than decline.  The red sand flag is required as it is impossible to see over the top of the sand dune as you commence the incline.  There was so little traffic we never encountered another vehicle on any sand dune.
A further 50 odd kilometres into the desert we chose our campsite for the night – travellers can stay anywhere along the track but must be within 50 metres of the track.  There are no formed campsites and no facilities.  We chose our campsites to be near a large dune so that the boys could sledge down the dune – they also loved sledging down the track as it came down the dune and this was permissible as there was basically no traffic – as it was so quiet we would have heard a car coming but it never caused us a problem as none came along.  We cooked dinner using the gas camp cooker and then played our customary game.  During the evening we heard a vehicle come along so we were quick to check it out as we had been told the tow truck was coming through to help a stranded vehicle.  Sure enough the Mt Dare Hotel tow truck had a 4wd vehicle under tow using a very long tow rope.  It would not have been a pleasant journey as it was dark and the tow truck had to keep up his speed to be able to pull the 4wd vehicle up and over the dunes. The dunes have a track leading up them but these are soft sand and often have a bend on them as they reach the top before “sliding” down the other side through the soft sand.  This would have been a hairy journey on the end of a tow rope and much rather that vehicle than us.

During the evening we had an unwelcome visitor!  At 3.45 a.m. we had a visit from a dingo who thought he should take ownership of our gas camp cooker.  We woke to the rattling of the gas stove and it certainly sounded loud.  Peter took a look out the tent and in the dark could see what was happening so in gallant style out he went (and the kids will want me to add that he was only in his undies) making lots of noise and trying to frighten off the dingo.  The dingo was not going to be put off by some noisy person and he kept hold of his catch so Peter had to resort to picking up our sand rake and giving the dingo a whack on the back.  One broken rake later and lots of noise from both parties, the dingo took off and the camp cooker, tubing and gas bottle were put inside our tent.  Fortunately there was no damage to the cooker or the tubing and the kids had a great story to tell.
The next morning we had a leisurely start allowing the kids plenty of sledging time before heading on for the day.  We soon realised that we had taken it all a bit too casually and still had a long way to go.  We saw a dingo running through the scrub with a feral cat in its mouth the next instalment of the dingo story was added – the dingo wanted our gas cooker so that he could cook his catch.
As we only averaged less than 20 kilometres an hour it was a long afternoon of driving before we set up camp again.  We only met up with one other group during the day – two vehicles driving together with two guys and a teenage boy.  We were so pleased we had the satellite phone in case we had an emergency as we couldn’t rely on meeting others.

We camped overnight on our second night in a dry lake bed – the tracking from our SPOT and also the GPS when it tracked us some of the way (it didn’t always work as we drove across the desert) showed blue for the rivers and lakes however these were all dry and often dry salt lakes.  We didn’t see any water until we climbed Big Red much nearer Birdsville.  It was extremely windy as we put up the tents and the wind continued well into the night – it was quite scary being so exposed and we were really pleased to wake in the morning to stillness.  We had expected the desert to be much warmer during the days and cold temperatures at night but it was quite cool all day, especially in the wind and the temperatures didn’t drop much at night. 

With no facilities at all we were reliant on digging a hole for the toilet (the first night we put up a toilet tent but that was more work than was necessary so it didn’t happen again), and standing or squatting as necessary.   This is something I just love!  We had to carry all the water required for drinking, dishes and cooking so there certainly wasn’t enough for five people to shower – that just didn’t happen.  Teeth cleaning was limited to a small amount of water in a cup and burying the paste.  Pyjamas were not used – off with the outer clothes or perhaps add on another layer and into the sleeping bag.  Toilet paper had to be used and placed in a plastic
bag and carried with us – just delightful.  Still we all have a responsibility to keep the desert pristine so all rubbish created by us was carried with us through to Birdsville.  Unfortunately from 2013 camp fires are no longer allowed in the desert so although we carried a brazier for this purpose it had to be unloaded and loaded back on to the roof rack  used each day.

The third morning we set off much earlier in the day to try and get to Poeppel Corner.  The sand dunes just continued appearing and we continued to climb up and slide down the other side.  A few times we had to make a second attempt to get up the dune and on one occasion had to make three attempts before getting to the top.  The boys just loved these failed attempts and wished it happened at every dune but with the distance still to be covered we couldn’t just make two or three attempts for the fun of it.  We just wished that time was on our side – we could have easily covered the desert in five nights rather than three and it would have been more enjoyable for all.  The driving was really tiring for Peter.

Finally we reached Poeppel Corner which is the point at which Queensland, the Northern Territory and South Australia meets.  The track from here was quite confusing with no signage and a number of tracks leading off.  We took a punt and moved north west as we needed to travel in that direction for nineteen kilometres until we reached a right hand corner which is the beginning of the QAA line and as it was late in the day found a suitable campsite.  Having left South Australia behind we were spending one night in the Northern Territory and would then cross the border into Queensland.  It was much better than the previous night with no wind and proved to be a great place to camp.  Next morning we continued on our chosen track and we were really pleased to see a small sign showing that we were in fact heading in the right direction to the QAA line.  We had 115 kms to go to Birdsville and we were uncertain we would make that by evening.  Fortunately the track improved with greater flat travelling between the dunes as we crossed the dry lake beds.  There was more traffic on the road heading west today and we passed one very big group of about twenty vehicles – we were pleased we were not behind them as they were breaking up the tracks somewhat.  There were also two groups of motor cyclists also followed by their support vehicles.

By around 4 p.m. we saw the signage showing that the large dune in front of us was the well-known Big Red – the largest of the sand dunes in the Simpson Desert.  Of course the task ahead was to successfully drive up to the top of Big Red – there were a group of people at the top watching.  After five attempts we reached the top to lots of cheering from the group at the top and cheering from inside the car.  Two other vehicles decided to follow our lead and one eventually made it to the top and the second had to be snatched the last quarter.
The boys soon had the sledge off the back of the car and were zooming down the side of the dunes – much gamer than I would have been.  They had a great time even though they had to climb all the way back up again to have another go.  An hour or so later we look the easy track to the rear of the dune and drove the 36 kms back into Birdsville.  We had crossed the Simpson Desert – we did not need any assistance and for Peter and I we had ticked off another adventure.  We loved sharing it with the three boys and they seemed to have had a ball even though at times it was very hard.  A little bit of extra time would have been advantageous but
we had still made it and we were still all friends!

We arrived into Birdsville around 6 p.m. – up the tents had to go again in the dark but the prize was a shower for us all and proper toilets.


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