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 The GRAYnomad Chronicles :: #047

Editorial

After years of wondering what it would be like to cross the Simpson Desert we finally make the crossing. It's a great part of Australia and we just love it. To camp under the stars hundreds of kilometres from civilization is a wonderful experience.

Despite advice to the contrary the crossing itself is quite easy, at least along our route which is west to east on the French Line. At no time were my driving skills or the ability of our 24-year-old Landcruiser challenged.

My only regret is that we didn't have enough time, doing the crossing in just three days. This was because we wanted to travel with two vehicles and Bradley had to get back to work. Next time maybe we'll try it in the truck, and spend a couple of weeks.

 

Sun 23 Jul 2006

My makeshift shockie bushes have all but died, smashed by the rough roads. I wonder if they have any replacements here at the station?

As it happens they do have a lot of spare parts, mostly for suspensions as that is the part of vehicles that takes a real hammering out here. They have a bucket of shockie bushes, so we trawl through it looking for some the right size.

At first we have no luck, but then the boss comes over and finds four bushes that look about right. He gets some tools and is about to start work on fitting them. Chris steps in and stops him, "My husband is quite capable of doing the job" she says.

Good thing she did, as he still charges $10 for his time, I'd hate to think what it would have cost us to have him do the work.

I pull off the wheel and remove a shockie, yep the new bushes look like a good match. Ten minutes later we're up and running again. We only needed two bushes but bought all four so we have some spares.

We then drive around the corner to fuel up.


Some general photos from around the Mt Dare homestead.

While doing so we get talking to one of the employees. When he learns that this is our first trip across the Simpson he suggests that we do not go straight across the shortest route (the French Line) because we will find the dunes too difficult. He advises us to turn south and drive along the Rig Road as this is an easier option.

Finally we leave Mt Dare and drive to Dalhousie springs.

Dalhousie is an oasis and a very popular spot, as the name implies there are springs here, and apparently the swimming is great, especially if you have just crossed the hot and dry desert from the east.

While having lunch we notice that the shockie bushes on Bradley's trailer are buggered, lucky we bought the spares at Mt Dare.

It's still early, and there's too many people here for our liking, so after a quick look around, we head off.

We continue to Purni Bore, getting there early enough to fix Bradley's shockies and replace several loose tech screws on our Cruiser with steel rivets.


Bradley's camper trailer at Purni Bore.

Mon 24 Jul

I get up early to take some photos of the bore.


Steaming bore water at dawn.


Here we see the actual bore which is enclosed in a steel cage. The water runs off through an insulated pipe to the wet lands.


Even out here we encounter signs.


Wildflowers are much thicker on the eastern side of the dunes.

We leave Purni bore and drive to the intersection of the Rig Road and the French Line. According to the advice we received yesterday we should turn right here and proceed along the Rig Road because it's at this point, if we persist with the French Line, that the dunes are supposed to get difficult.


Left to the French Line, or right along the easier Rig Road?

However we didn't come here to take the easy route, so we lower our tyre pressures and continue straight ahead.

Very quickly we enter Simpson Desert sand dune country. This is not the classic Sahara-style dune country, rather a land of undulating vegitation-covered dunes with interdune areas often consisting of rock-hard clay pans.


Typical scenery on the French Line.

Depending on what you read there are up to 1400 dunes to cross on the French Line, some easy, some not so easy.

I guess the prevailing winds are westerlies, because the eastern side of the dunes is much steeper than the western side, therefore it's generally considered easier to travel in the direction we are travelling, that is west to east.

At around lunch time we reach Peoppel corner. This is the north-eastern corner of South Australia and a popular milestone on the trip.

There's a small information shelter and a marker for the corner. Peoppel placed his marker about 300m away where he thought the corner was located, not bad with the technology available in 1880.

After a short drive along the "shore" of the nearby clay pan we turn right and head east along the track. From here on it's known as the QAA line.


This ute passed us then didn't make it up the next dune. His mate snatched him back down for another try.


This time he makes it.


Some typical wildlife.

We carry on until just before sunset. The terrain has changed from open dunes to scrub and we drive a couple of hundred metres into the bush to make camp.


Our campsite.

Tue 25 Jul

We drive all day, the terrain has opened up again and now features huge clay pans in the interdune areas.


One of the clay pans that form the inter-dune space on the eastern side of the desert.

As you can see from the tracks these clay pans would be a nightmare after rain. We encounter just two vehicles all day but can here several on the UHF.

It's customary to listen for oncoming traffic on Channel 10, and to broadcast every now and then so people know there's someone heading their way.

For example I say something like "Anybody heading west on the French Line?". UHF radios have a 5-10k range, so if I get a response I know to be careful on the dune crests as I may meet another 4x4.

Just before 4PM we sight Big Red, the most infamous and tallest of the dunes on the Simpson crossing. Big Red marks the end (or start if you're heading west) of the crossing, from here it's just about 30k of dirt road to Birdsville.

We watch as some other travelers attempt the climb.


We sight Big Red and the sign pointing to the "chicken track".


Here we see a 4x4 starting the climb up Big Red. He's already made it on an easier route (far right of photo) and is about to try a much harder way.


I know I can, I know I can.


I think I can, I think I can.


Bugger!


He did eventually make it on another route.

I hadn't planned to try the climb, not being that interested in ticking off conquests. However now I'm here I may as well have a go. Unlike the other Simpson dunes Big Red is steeper on the western side, it's quite easy to drive up the eastern side, but pretty steep when approaching from the west.

I try twice but there's a corner near the top that sucks all the Cruiser's momentum, and with an old low-powered vehicle I don't have that much momentum to start with.

We've been travelling on pretty low tyre pressures, but obviously not low enough for this climb. After my second attempt I lower the tyre pressure even further, to 12psi on the front and 15 on the rear.

This time we scoot right up the face and over the top.



The Cruiser parked on top of Big Red.


Bradley is towing a trailer and has no chance with a hill like this, so he backtracks and heads towards the chicken track.

After spending some time on top of the dune we drive down the eastern side and make camp. Bradley joins us and we settle in for the night.

Wed 26 Jul

I'm up early to photograph the sand dunes.


Our camp at the bottom of Big Red's eastern side.


First light on the dune.


Some sand ripples in the early light.


There's plenty of bugs on the dune as well.

I noticed yesterday that the beautiful weld I performed on the right-hand shockie mount had broken. So it's out with the welder to redo the job.

While under the car I find that the exhaust pipe has broken away from the muffler, so I weld that as well.


Fixing the broken shockie mount, Big Red is in the background.

Having done the chores it's back to some photography. By listening on channel 10 we can hear when people are approaching and scuttle up to the top to watch them.


This guy drove up the eastern side to have a look, then dropped over the edge and came back up from the western side.


These blokes were travelling together. The Range Rover had a couple of goes before making it after lowering the tyre pressure.


I'm not a big fan of Pajeros, like most modern cars you can't fix them and they are too good to get scratched, but they are very capable. This one, with a tourist at the wheel, shot straight over on the first attempt. The good thing about these vehicles is their huge power, they can just use brute force to overcome many obstacles.


We saw a few motorbikes on the Simpson, but they all need backup vehicles as they cannot carry enough fuel.


This photo illustrates the reason for using flags on tall poles. When approaching a crest you see the flag long before you see the car.

After an interesting morning watching various attempts to crest Big Red we head off to Birdsville. Just a few kilometres away we check out the "chicken track" which is an easier way over the dune.

I always thought the chicken track actually went around the Big Red, but it really just goes over a section that's not as steep.

There must have been some rain recently as there is quite a lot of surface water over the road. At one such place I decide to go around the puddle. We almost get around, almost but not quite.


Bogged in a mud hole in one of the driest parts of the driest continent in the world.

We're bogged down to the axles, the mud is very slippery and we're going nowhere. When I get out and walk through the water I find that it's only about two inches deep with a base as hard as concrete. Good thing I avoided that.

We do have recovery options for use when we're alone, but when you have another vehicle why bother?

Bradley drives through the water, we hook up a snatch strap and he tows us out.

At around 2PM we pull into Birdsville. We haven't had lunch and so decide to grab a bite at the pie shop. As I climb the steps I see two of the fellows we met yesterday on Big Red. "Hear you got bogged" one of them says.

Bloody hell, the bush telegraph works well out here.

After eating we book into the caravan park and have a well deserved shower.

Later we walk over to the pub for a meal and a few beers with Bradley. He must get back home as his holiday time is almost up. We don't have to go anywhere and plan to take our time so it's a parting of the ways.

Thu 27 Jul


Dawn over the Diamantina River.


A crow sitting on a dead tree.

We say or goodbyes to Bradley and he drives off. We'll hang around for a couple of days then slowly make our way east.

We stay at birdsville, revelling in the luxury of not having to go anywhere. We've loved the trip but it has been all go.

Here endeth the saga of our 4x4 adventure around half of Australia. We're still not home yet, but the off-road part of the trip is over.


The old pub and hospital.

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