Crossing the Simpson Desert: What the heck were we thinking?

“Oh, for f**** sake” mutters Kevin in frustration. The Cruiser is screaming in low range as Kevin tries to gain enough momentum to reach the crest of the massive sand dune. Our springs are bouncing like yo-yo’s in the deep, scalloped sand and our heavy load is momentarily air-borne with each bounce. Our seat belts clunk as they pin us to our seats and then after a moment of indecision the Cruiser, nose sky ward, surges over the crest before plummeting earthward again down the other side of the dune, where we hope there is a track beneath us.We are following ‘The French Line’ across the Simpson Desert and we do this over and over and over again. There are 1100 sand dunes to cross on this 450km extremely remote route and the track is badly scalloped and chewed up. It is simply impossible to gain a decent run up to a steep dune when the track upwards looks like a wavy sheet of corrugated iron. The more speed we get the more we bounce. When we get to the crest we get a view of sand dune after sand dune all the way to the horizon. Its immense and goes on forever. We groan each time we see the view.

An example of the scalloping of the dunes. Makes it hard to get a run up when you sink into holes.

We both comment frequently, “Why, the heck are we doing this?”

The Simpson Desert was never meant to be an inclusion on this epic half lap of Australia. It was a last minute, let’s do something adventurous on our way home, kind of decision. Not thought out, no research done, and no Simpson Desert specific preparations done. Quite simply, we had no idea what to expect. We certainly didn’t anticipate the brutality of the track.

A valuable lesson has been learnt from the experience. The Simpson Desert is an epic, iconic Australian 4WD journey that should be given the respect and preparation it deserves. It’s not a destination that should be taken lightly with a ‘she’ll be right kind of attitude’. It’s certainly not a trip that you have your vehicle packed for a trip down the coastline of WA. The inflatable boat, the snorkels and masks and the overloaded Trayon didn’t exactly contribute positively to a sandy desert crossing. And it’s not a trip you should do solo and without a satellite phone because if something goes wrong with your vehicle you are incredibly remote and no help available.
This, of course, occurred to us when the car started making strange noises.

It’s awesome and beautiful but it goes on and on and on……

Of course, we realised the error of our ways when we were half way across and the dunes kept getting bigger and more chewed up. We could tell when a dune was going to be particularly bad as it had at least three alternate routes to choose between, all just as bad. Once we had to reverse back down all three. That was a dicey one. The cruiser was making unpleasant clunking noises and developed a rather pronounced squeak. We suspect we blew out a shock absorber. There was only so much bouncing they could absorb I guess. Most of the time we were travelling at only 10km per hour.

A great example of a dune that we know is going to be a doozy. And it was. We tried all 3 and failing. Got it on the middle one on the fourth attempt.
The lovely Dalhousie Hot Springs on a cold winter morning.

All that aside, I’m glad we have experienced it. Dalhousie Hot Springs (24 – 36 degrees swimming on a chilly morning) was absolutely magnificent at the start, the magnitude and colour of the Simpson Desert needs to be seen to be believed and I think the most fascinating aspect of the Simpson Desert was the absolute silence. When we camped in between the dunes there was no sound in the evening or the morning. No crickets, no birds, no wind – just nothing. It’s the first time I have ever experienced this. It’s not lifeless – there are tracks on the dunes; dingoes, camels, hopping mice but the absence of bird life was a bit freaky. No water in the desert. It’s cold at night but we have a campfire and there is something quite eerie about camping so totally alone in complete silence. Eerie and wonderful.

Camping between the dunes- alone and in complete silence.

So, absolutely shattered, we finally reach Poeppels Corner where I jump from South Australia to the Northern Territory to Queensland. It’s the corner of the three states.

Decisions, decisions… Which one should I choose.

Our guide book tells us from here to Birdsville it’s still 170km (that’s a long way at 10km per hour). Here the route traverses the QAA Line where the largest sand dunes reside. What? Bigger than the ones we have just come across! That was horrific to read. We both just wanted out of the ‘Simmo’ by this stage. We were afraid for our car and had no wish to damage it further for no reason. So, a quick study of the map revealed an alternative option. There is a track from Poeppels Corner called the K1 Line that runs parallel to the dunes. This leads on to the Warburton Track which crosses claypans and intersects 200km down the Birdsville Track. Both these tracks were listed as ‘easy going’. My only concern was that we were heading even more remote, with not one soul knowing where we were and no method of communication except an EPBIRB in the glovebox. What the heck! Off we go anyway, turning south and just looking at where we are heading on the map is a bit daunting. It’s the most remote we have ever, ever been and on a remote narrow track, in the desert, of the driest state in the driest continent. It turned out to be a good decision though; the tracks were good with only a couple of really easy sand dune climbs and we even sighted another car coming towards us which was very exciting. Such a relief.

K1 Line. Much easier than driving over dunes.

So, that’s how we end up deciding to visit Kevin’s parents in Kapunda, South Australia while we are in the State of SA and part way down the Birdsville Track already.

So, in hindsight the Simpson Desert turned out to be a little ‘too much’ of an adventure for us but has given us a hell of great story as a finish to our journey. It will be a grand camp fire tale that will be told with much relish in the future. One day I’d like to do it again properly and give it the preparation and time it deserves. We’ve had a taste and know what to expect now.

An exquisite desert sunset

3 thoughts on “Crossing the Simpson Desert: What the heck were we thinking?

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