This is a trip that I did with my ex and a group of friends in 2008, which took us across the southern Simpson desert from East to West and then back again, following the 1939 route of Cecil Madigan, in a west to East direction. The northern crossing was very remote.Saturday 5th July
Distance travelled 663km
We left home in the dark, at about 5am, taking our usual route when heading west, out thru Kilcoy and Yarraman, stopping for brekkie on the Condamine River near Dalby. From Dalby we continued on to St George, where we stopped for lunch on the river. Our nights camp was on Wallam Creek at Bollon, which is a free campsite and is very nice and quiet. It is popular with the, grey nomads as there are toilets and showers. We threw the yabby traps in the river and walked downstream to collect firewood so we could have a small and cheery fire after dinner. We had rung our friend via Sat phone from here, and had organised to meet him at Montkleary Creek on the Cordillo Road. We had been in contact with him before leaving home as he was doing a trip with mutual friends, in his 1953 WW2 Jeep. We thought it would be good to meet up at Innamincka as we had met him there originally way back in 1989, the start of a long acquaintance…however, prior to leaving home we had discovered the Walker’s Crossing Track was closed by rain and alternatives routes would need to be taken by all of us, so changing earlier plans.Sunday 6th July
Distance travelled 348km
We left Bollon and drove on what has to be one of the most boring stretches of road ever laid, through to Cunnamulla, where we had organized to meet my brother and his wife. We arrived there at about 1045 and got fuel, and then parked up at the information centre. We had a look in the centre and sat outside waiting for Martyn and Amanda to arrive. They arrived at 1230hrs just as we were finishing lunch. After lunch, we drove out to Lake Bindegolly National Park, where we had planned to stop for the night. We found a really nice camp on the lake edge about 1km off the road, in a camping area opposite the park. The lake itself was very shallow and edged with lignum. We set up camp, then took our chairs out to the lake edge and sat there with nibblies and drinks until dark. The mozzies were bad just on dusk but didn’t worry us after that. The lake looked fantastic in the evening light…the water was perfectly still so the reflections were an absolute mirror image of the real thing The sun went down in an orange blaze, setting the scene for many more evenings to come. Monday 7th July
Distance travelled 430km
We set out from Bindegolly and headed for Thargomindah, where we topped up with fuel. It was bitumen all the way through to the Bellara Gas Field, where the road then became dirt. There were some gibber spots, some sandy spots and some wet spots with detours, after recent rain.
We had a message from another friend in Sydney via the VKS network this morning to say the Walkers Crossing Track was open again, so we could meet our friend Mitch at Innamincka as planned. Great news!! We arrived in Innamincka and headed straight for the servo only to pull up alongside Mitch who was filling the Jeep. We fuelled up and headed out to Kings Marker to camp. It was a fairly cool, and the wind was quite cold, but we had a nice fire to sit around, so we sat and chatted over a few drinks. Tuesday 8th July
Distance travelled 222km
We were late setting out, but we were in no real hurry anyway. On the way out from our camp, we stopped at Kings Grave Marker.
We had said goodbye to Mitch & Co but figured we would see them along the way anyway, as we were travelling the same road. We stopped for lunch at Walkers Crossing, which was dry, and not long after Mitch and Co pulled in, so we chatted with them until they had finished lunch and we had all looked at the monument to Sidney James Walker, a Santos employee. We then travelled along the Walkers Crossing track and Mitch caught up to us again as we were backtracking to find the way out to Lake Cartoongarnnie. We found the track ( it was lucky I had still the notes that I'd made in my notebook back in 2006 with us, as these proved invaluable in finding where the track was), went out to the lake, which like last time we were there in 2006, was dry. Our plan was to camp on Cartoongarnnie, somewhere near the old land rover and the old rabbiter’s camp, but it was quite windy and so we decided it might be nicer to camp at Kooncherra Dune, so we set out for Kooncherra and arrived at 1630 to find someone camped where we had hoped to be able to camp. It meant we had to just go further along the dune and hope to find a spot with some firewood. Having a few days under our belts now, a firm routine was setting in. We would pull up to camp, select a spot, unpack our gear, open the swags out to dry off any condensation from the night before, and get the billy on. One of the best bits about stopping for me is that first cup of tea!!
The wind dropped with the sun, although there was a bit of a breeze during the night and we had some sand blowing in our faces as we slept.
Kooncherra Dune would have to be one of my favourite places. The first time we camped beside it was back in 1989 on a Simpson Desert Trip. We have camped there 3 times now and I would go back anytime. It is a large dune and has lots of small animals living on it. The whole dune seems to be covered with animal tracks of some kind, mostly small hopping mice, beetles and lizards as well as numerous birds. There is something about standing on the top of a large sand dune, looking out across gibber plains and knowing there may not be anyone else within cooee……unfortunately this night there was, but the other campers were very quiet and we would not have known they were even there.Wednesday 9th July
Distance travelled 206km
After brekkie we packed up and walked along the top of the dune and then across the gibber plain and back to the cars, so it was after 10am before we set out. There was no water lying on the gibber plain despite recent rain, but the ground was covered with new green growth that would be a carpet of daisies and billy buttons in a few weeks time. At the end of the Walkers Crossing track we hit the Birdsville track, which is a quite good road so you can sit at 80-100km/hr easily. We carried on down to the Warburton track and turned onto it, and back onto a less distinct road and our first sand dunes for the trip. The Warburton Crossing itself not much to look at, but that was our stop for lunch, and where the first tyre deflation occurred to make for easier sand travel. It’s not a bad track but much slower and follows the dunes along the swales. Along the way we saw a camel sitting on top of a sand dune watching us go past. We have not seen very many vehicles at all in the last couple of days but interestingly passed a couple on mountain bikes just before we got to the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve border. They were resting in the shade of a few small trees…we had been following their tracks all morning. We camped along the base of a dune. It was so quiet…not even any birds. The dune was lovely and again the area quite green due to recent rain.
We were hoping Mitch and Co might have caught up with us this afternoon but we have not seen them, nor heard them on radio. Thursday 10th July
Distance travelled 152km
It was cloudy when we got up this morning and the rising sun cast a golden glow across the dune.
The sky was clear when we went to bed so it had come in overnight. It was quite cold up until lunchtime. We left camp on the Warburton Track and turned on to the Rig Road. Once on the Rig Road we hit some soft sand dunes. Years ago the Rig Road had clay capped dunes, but now the clay capping has been covered with feet of sand, so although the lead up the dunes is firm the caps are very soft loose sand. We bogged down on the first dune (me driving, high range, tyre pressures too high), and my brother Martyn, got bogged in on the second dune after his Defender jumped out of low range on the way up. He reversed back and went off the track into the soft sand on the dune approach. We came back across the dune and towed him out. Even that wasn't as straight forward as it sounds as Marty's Defender didn't want to come back up onto the road easily. He let more air out of his tyres and after that we were right.
The rig road then took us into the lakes area and we passed alongside a couple of really large claypans (salt lakes). We then turned off on to the Apporadinna Attora Knolls Track and followed it to the WAA line. The knolls track was really nice but fairly slow. The WAA line is going back across the dunes again and is also fairly slow. We stopped for the night about 7km short of the Erabena Track in the dune swales. There are some nice corkwood trees (Hakea Lorea). Friday 11th July
Distance travelled 144km
We continued along the WAA line. It was beautiful driving along the sandy track first thing this morning. We followed some dingo tracks for miles and then finally caught up with the dingo, and once he saw us he took off along the track, and we followed him over a couple of dunes. So far, since that first dune, I had not driven, so I thought it time I got into it, so I had a drive towards the end of the WAA line. We came back onto the Rig Road and the soft sandy track once again changed to clay capped track.
We stopped at all the track junctions to take photos.
We then turned onto the French Line and the track became softer again but only small dunes. We had passed about 10 vehicles during the day and had been told the French Line was very busy with cars “like a highway” but being later in the day we only passed the one vehicle. We stopped at Purni Bore to camp.
We had planned a camp shower knowing there was water at the bore but there is an actual shower and toilet now. Martyn syphoned another 18 or so litres out of his main fuel tank ( his fuel tank switch over system failed on the first day out) as there was some concern as to whether he would have enough fuel to make our destination…...Saturday 12th July
Distance travelled 101km
We packed up camp and went across to the shower block to fill our water containers. We walked around the waterhole at the bore. We could see the steam rising from the water since first light and it was still a little steamy while we were walking round. There were quite a few birds on the water.
We left Purni Bore and set out along the last of the French Line. A bloke at the shower had told us the track was rough and corrugated…he wasn’t wrong…it was diabolical!! We drove into Dalhousie Springs and couldn’t believe the amount of buildings and the campground set up…very different from our last visit, when we camped right alongside the water. We walked around the springs. I liked the lifesaving equipment and the tyre inner tubes put there for everyone’s use.
We drove out to Dalhousie Ruins. We were quite looking forward to seeing them again, remembering how pretty and spectacular the landscape around the old homestead and yards was. It was just as beautiful as we recalled…the area is desolate but very, very picturesque. The stockyards have fallen down a bit but the rest was much as it was 19yrs ago. We spent a lot of time looking around the ruins and taking photos.
Then it was back along the VERY corrugated road, taking an unmarked detour across country that cut off a few km of corrugations which was great. We stopped for the night at 3 O’clock creek…the camping area is open and gibber plain but down on the creek there are a few nice spots and we set up camp at 3pm. We were able to air out the bedding and sit and relax in the heat. Our hottest day so far we feel and the flies were pretty bad. After the sun went down it was time for the mozzies and they gave us a bad time…no idea where they have come from, there is no water around (except for the water tank). The mozzies didn’t let up all night and we all had a very disturbed and miserable nights sleep. It was too hot to take cover under the canvas of the swags and they were biting thru the sheets…Sunday 13th July
Distance travelled 140km
We left 3 O’clock creek and headed towards Blood Creek along a not so very used track. It was a really nice drive and once we got to Abminga we got out and had a good look around the old railway siding.
We took lots of photos and then continued on along the Old Ghan line. It was great driving along the railway line. As can be seen, the Geelong 4WD Club have been along this bit of the railway line.
Along the way we crossed over the NT border. There was a fenceline across and a border post beside the line. The brass plate on top of the post long gone.
We stopped for a look at Wells Creek ruins, not much there but some interesting stonework along the rail line.
We also stopped at Duffield and looked at the old points…Duffield still has the actual rails, where most of the other places the line has disappeared, probably taken to use in building stockyards and such like.
Along the way the country changed from Gibber plains to sandy creekbeds and claypans. It was a really nice drive and towards Finke the track left the railway and joined the main road. We had plans of camping along the rail line but instead camped in Goyder’s Creek about 10km south of Finke. The creekbed is really quite wide and very sandy.
We saw quite a few red kangaroos today along the wayMonday 14th July
Distance travelled 217km
We left Goyders Creek and made our way into Finke (Aputula). Martyn needed to fuel up so we had to wait for the store to open. Harsh penalties for taking alcohol and pornography into Finke (and other aboriginal settlements) are displayed on large billboards on the way into town.
We headed north and took a side road out across to Colson’s Pinnacle. It is on private land, so the road does not go right up to the range, but skirts the area a short distance away. We were surprised to see a woman on the side of the road cleaning her windscreen. She seemed to have no gear with her, although she did have a fridge in the car. We stopped and asked her if everything was OK…she seemed surprised at this. It was not until we passed a large camp further down the road that we discovered that she was obviously part of the “Desert Discovery: Colson’s Pinnacle 2008” team (a team of volunteers out in the desert doing studies on plant and animal life). Colson’s Pinnacle was quite imposing in what is otherwise a fairly flat landscape.
The road carried on up along the Old Ghan and we stopped at the railway sidings Engoordina and Bundooma. The road to Bundooma Siding was badly corrugated. We stopped there for lunch then went off over the dune to Alice Well for a look. The river at Alice Well was dry but it was such a pretty place and would be an excellent place to camp. We had hoped to follow the road along the river but it went into private property so we had to turn around and travel via the main road.
The road north of Bundooma was not so bad, although it followed the rail line more closely and in parts was right on top of the line and the sleepers were still in the road, and the road was littered with bits of broken railway sleeper and rail spikes which made driving a bit of a hazard. We turned off at a gate and headed out to Tickalara Aboriginal Settlement before getting onto the Chambers Pillar road. The road out to Chambers Pillar had some pleasant surprises as the rock formations came into view. Chambers Pillar is quite impressive.
We set up camp and walked out to the pillar to climb up and look at names carved into the rock back in the 1800’s. We then sat and waited for the sun to set and took heaps of photos.
After dinner we lit the fire. That was quite a feat as we had bought no firewood in but there was a railway sleeper and a piece of branch about 8 ft long left by the fire. The coals were still glowing from last nights campers efforts, so we were able to throw a handful of grass on and get it going and ended up with a great fire with the sleeper and the branch..15th - 17th July
After that all important first thing in the morning, the first cuppa, we set off to the sunrise viewing area to watch the sun come up and shine on Chambers Pillar. It was longer than expected till the sun came up, as it came up behind one of the rock outcrops. We then had breakfast, packed up and set out for Alice Springs. On the way into Alice we stopped at Eraminga Aboriginal Rock Carvings. We had phone reception here and so rang our friends Vince & Jan to let them know we were on our way (we had pre-arranged to meet at a caravan park in Alice Springs).
We pulled into Heavitree Gap Caravan Park and spied Vince and Jan who had sites reserved for us, so we are all camped together.
Our stay in Alice Springs was mainly taken up with restocking on food supplies, repairing vehicles (both Vince and Martyn had vehicle issues: Vince had a couple of leaking seals, while Martyn’s rear door lock had seized and awaiting a replacement on order from the local Land Rover Dealer), washing clothes and doing a little sightseeing. We had a fuse blow after testing a faulty compressor that Vince had bought at Supercheap…it was only that the fridge was warm and we realized it had been off all day, that we noticed!! We also got a flat tyre in the carpark of BBQ’s galore where we were getting a gas refill, so that was another repair.
We went out to the Ghan Railway Museum and the Transport Museum, both of which were well worth the visit. We visited a mate who lives in the Alice and went out for dinner with his family. It was a pleasant stay for a couple of days but we were all itching to get on with the next part of the trip…the Madigan Line