“Come they said. It’ll be fun they said. A holiday of a life time……..so they said.”
It was the year 2013, in the July school holidays, when five Land Rovers, ten adults, four children and three babies, set out on an epic journey of more than 3000km to cross the Simpson Desert. It was a journey that would change their lives forever (*disclaimer may not have changed anyones lives but lets run with that).
We spent a LONG time preparing for the trip, planning the route, agreeing on the must see places of interest, getting our Defender mechanically ready and planning meals & supply stops. We also took the opportunity to refresh some of our older camping gear including buying a new camping table, a saucepan set, and a frying pan with a removable handle, to help with packing and make cooking that bit easier. All were very worthwhile investments. Here’s a typical campsite setup.
For those not in the know the Simpson Desert (apparently the largest dune desert in the world) is a National Park in the north-east corner of South Australia that runs along the Northern Territory border and up and over into Queensland. The spot where the three states meet is called Poeppel’s Corner and it’s one of the places of interest we set our sights on. Another was the ‘Lone Gum’ the only substantial tree in the Simpson. There are several ways to get into the desert. We came in from Oodnadatta to Mt Dare then headed east towards Birdsville. The iconic Oodnadatta Pink Roadhouse and Birdsville Hotel are well worth the stop, even if you don’t have to fill up with fuel. Our longest planned distance between fuel stops was around 850km in soft sand so every last drop we could squeeze in was essential.
We were extremely lucky with the weather, with rain in front of us and behind us, but mainly sunny weather around us, although It got EXTREMELY cold at night particularly on the way up and on the way back, where thermals at night were essential. The wide open skies meant we were in for a spectacular nightly light show.
With all the rain the road from Mt Dare to Purni Bore (an artesian basin filled swimming hole perfect for a refreshing dip as long as you don’t mind being nibbled on by little fishes) had been closed for three days. As good fortune would have it, word arrived that the road was re-opening just as we were filling up the vehicles at Mt Dare and discussing Plan B! The muddy tracks made driving in a straight line interesting. Some of the water puddles stretched the full width of the road while others were like mini lakes that we had to divert around. There wasn’t a shammy large enough to keep the vehicles clean! We had one Go Pro video camera attached to the back of the vehicle and one down near the front wheel. Even though the front one got completely covered in mud, we took some of our best footage on this section of the trip with water spraying up and over the vehicle at times.
Apart from a delayed start to the trip due to one of the vehicles malfunctioning (it wouldn’t start), and accidentally running over our digital camera after it fell off the bonnet driving out of the first campsite (all of these photos were taken on my iPhone) it had been a relatively event free run to this point. That’s where things started to change. One by one the Landy’s became self-aware and started to dictate how far they would travel each day before spitting the dummy. Very soon the babies followed and then it was anarchy!
Well maybe it wasn’t as bad as all that, but one vehicle did completely fail to proceed, and a second blew their rear diff while towing the first. This resulted in a through-the-night complete rear diff transfer (hub to hub) from the disabled vehicle to the towing vehicle, involving some very imaginative bush welding. For those of you that know anything about mechanics you’ll understand this operation was an amazing feat and the towing vehicle made it safely home with no further trouble! The disabled vehicle and its owners were towed back to Mt Dare the next day by the wonderful folk from the Mt Dare Hotel ……….and then there were four.
Our final major hurdle was Big Red the largest sand dune in the Simpson Desert, at 40m tall, and the focus of my banner photo for this page. Three of the remaining vehicles in our convoy made it up and over. The fourth unfortunately also blew a rear diff but managed to limp into Birdsville. After cutting the axles to avoid any further damage to the rear diff, and disconnecting the rear prop shaft, this vehicle also made it safely home, with the exception of one shattered alpine window (how remains a mystery). Personally, we had a brake caliper come apart on us during a stretch of night driving, requiring an awkward bush fix, and one of our panard rod bushes disintegrated on the way home. Don’t ask me what that is – all I know that it made steering very interesting and not in a good way!
You’ll be pleased to know, however, that no babies were harmed in the making of this adventure and all have been successfully camping again since, so none have been scared for life – at least not that we’ll know until they learn to talk.
Putting all the mechanical difficulties aside it was another amazing adventure that took us through some of the most beautiful landscapes South Australia (and a bit of Queensland) has to offer. Ending as all our far north trips do, driving home through magnificent Flinders Ranges.
A restful holiday it was not, but it certainly was an adventure, and one I will remember fondly, once my therapy kicks in.