Old Andado Homestead and the Red Sand of the Simpson Desert.

In the sand dune country of the Simpson Desert, where the sand is red and the sky is blue, is an old station homestead called Old Andado. The homestead is perched in the valley between two parallel red sand dunes so is the perfect opportunity for a genuine desert experience. Not only that but the little ramshackle corrugated iron homestead with its dusty concrete floors is a living museum of the past. No one lives here now but inside it is as it was. A relic. It’s a home filled with the contents of a persons life that belongs to another era of time. The beds are made but covered in thick dust. There’s trinkets in the cabinets, pots on the old wood stove, a tea pot in a knitted cozy on the table, clothes in the wardrobe, a bottle of perfume on the dresser, drums of flour and sugar, photos of family, a long abandoned child’s tricycle out the front.

Old Andado Homestead

This is Molly Clark’s beloved home. Molly is still here but her body lies in a peaceful grave at the base of the sand dune 200 metres away. Her final resting place forever. She died in 2012 at the age of 89. I can feel her presence though as her home is exactly as she left it, full of her life. The old front door is unlocked and upon entering it’s like stepping into another era preserved by a patina of red desert dust. Frozen in time. A living museum.

A corrugated iron kitchen with tree beams slung together with wire and an old wood stove.

Old Andado in 1993 was listed in the Heritage register so today is an untouched piece of history for 4×4 adventurers like us to wonder through. You half expect Molly to step around the corner and offer you a cup of tea and a scone. But it’s just silent. Just the desert wind blowing through the screen windows. The same wind that brings the dust. The atmosphere inside is so hard to describe and it certainly makes you more than a little introspective. It’s fascinating. I feel like a ghost from the future, intruding on a scene from the past. It’s eerie but peaceful. Looking at it with rose coloured glasses on a cool winters day, her life looks kind of idyllic but it would have been incredibly hard. Fifty degrees in summer under a few sheets of tin and a meat house out the back.

This was the refrigerator for the meat

Molly Clarke with her husband Mac and three sons arrived at Andado Station in 1955. Tragically she lost her husband and her oldest son in the 1970’s. Then she lost her livelihood when the NT government forced her to destroy all her cattle due to a brucellosis and tuberculosis outbreak in southern states. Molly sold the property but retained the old homestead and a 45 square km block. With remarkable ingenuity she found a new business venture in tourism and set up camping facilities at the homestead and cooked meals for visitors.

The campground next to the homestead. Due to Covid a bit lonely but a great spot.

After 50 years, poor health meant that she finally had to leave and move full time into Alice Springs, but right until the end Old Andado was always her home. It still is. The epitaph on her grave stone reads “At home in the country you loved. When the times get tough, the tough get going”. That tells us a little bit about Molly Clarke.

The dust is obvious but the message still resonates

For a time volunteers and a caretaker looked after the homestead and her granddaughters continued on the legacy of preserving it. At the time we visit here today, there is no caretaker and nature is stealthily making its presence felt.

I love this little doll sitting in a high chair covered in red sand, slowly deteriorating Poignant picture.

For now, I kind of like it though. It adds to the authenticity of an era now gone. It would be sad to see it disappear totally into the sands of time though.

A gate with so much character just like the rest of the homestead

In the visitor book on the kitchen table is a recent comment from one of the owners “It’s been a bloody long time between visits from me. I knew the place would be covered in dust and lots of dead plants. Sad to see after everyone’s hard work. Time to let bygones be bygones and secure the future of the place”.

Sounds like all is not lost and Molly’s legacy out here on the remote edge of the Simpson Desert may well continue for future generations. That’s a good thing. There is just so much potential to keep Molly’s tourism dream alive. It’s a special place.

Molly’s corner
Her home

To be able to camp here between the red dunes is a true Simpson Desert experience. I understand why Molly loved it here for so long despite the hardship and the remoteness. Her front verandah is the epitome of peacefulness. The silence is absolute and standing on the crest of a red sand dune under a vibrant blue sky looking at dune after dune on the horizon is just mesmerising.

This is the Simpson Desert. Red dunes, blue sky

The 4×4 Track here from Alice Springs is incorporated into the Binns Track which stretches from Mt Dare to Timber Creek at the top of the NT. We however, came here especially just as a long weekend jaunt from Alice Springs. The 330km track via Santa Teresa took us a bit over 5 hours and was a lovely scenic drive. A bit of bull dust, corrugations and sand but overall an easy drive. Certainly a fantastic way to experience the red dunes of the Simpson Desert without having to drive all the way across to Birdsville.

So to Molly Clarke, we thank you. I’m sitting here in Molly’s kitchen writing this.We were first here 30 years ago and it feels exactly the same now as then. Molly had gone into town at the time. It feels like that now.

Taken from Molly’s front verandah. It’s peaceful and has so many stories to tell.
Barefoot on a red sand dune. No place I’d rather be.

Coming Home and Lessons Learned

So we’re home. And home is lovely. After months of living in arid landscapes, red dirt and deserts we had forgotten just how ‘green’ Cairns is. It’s so pretty with the mountain backdrop and rainforest. The ocean isn’t the glorious aquamarine of the WA coast but its lovely in a north QLD kind of way. Isn’t it wonderful we have experienced it all?

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The beach vista in North Queensland. It is rather lovely.

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The West Australian Coastline is worlds different in light and water clarity. Totally lovely.

So we did it, the trip of a lifetime, and it was just grand. No regrets. We gave up our jobs and drove 20232 kilometres across the top, down the west coast, across the middle and a quick dash down south. Fantastic. Australia is amazing.

So here are some random statistics on our experience travelling remote Australia by 4WD.

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Free camp near Karajini National Park. Totally splendid view and I have ordered this photo as a huge metal artwork for our wall at home. Great photo by Kevin.

The ultimate trip cost

  • We were away for just over 16 weeks in total and we spent $18 681 in total. I’m happy with that. I had budgeted for $1000 per week plus an extra $4000 for car repairs and maintenance. We came in under budget in our weekly spending averaging at $800 per week and went over in the car expenditure which blew out to $5860. Three services in Kununurra, Tom Price and Kapunda, front wheel bearings in Broome, rear parabolic springs and 4 Cooper tyres in Geraldton and, thanks to the Simpson Desert, new rear shock absorbers in Kapunda. We didn’t actually need the new Coopers but we were getting frustrated with the flats we were getting on the skinny split rim tube tyres and opted to replace them with fatter tubeless. No flats since so it was worth it.

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    Sexy beach shot on the beach in Geraldton. New shoes and a nice butt lift.
  • We travelled 20232 km and spent $4696 on fuel. The most expensive fuel was at Mt Dare Station SA just before the Simpson Desert at $2.15 per litre and the cheapest in Kapunda SA at $1.21 per litre. That’s a bit uncanny that South Australia wins the crown in both cases and it wasn’t even planned.

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    Good on you South Aussie – both cheap and expensive
  • Food came in at $4514 and we ate way too much chocolate. We would stock up on chocolate and other assorted snacks when we got to a big supermarket as that sort of stuff is too expensive to buy in remote locations. We bought 6 blocks of chocolate in Broome (after 2 weeks on the Gibb River Road) as it was so cheap and ate them all in 3 days. That’s why I had to buy moo moo’s in Broome. We ate a little too well and were not as disciplined as we are at home. Let’s not talk about all the kitchener buns and chocolate donuts in Kapunda. I’m paying for that extravagance now.

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    A South Australian Kitchener Bun. Taste bud heaven. One for breakfast every day. Need more moo moos.
  • Accommodation costs were very reasonable at $1957. A good mix of free camping, national parks, the luxury of three nights in a cottage at Geraldton and a couple of nights in a cabin at Kapunda because it was freezing cold.

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    Free camping at its finest. James Price Point north of Broome
  • Miscellaneous spending was $1654. This money was put aside for tours, entry fees and everything else. There were quite a few Op Shop purchases in there. It was one of my favourite activities in a town; pottering through an Op Shop in an exotic new destination. My wardrobe expanded unnecessarily and exponentially much to Kevin’s perturbed amusement and mild disgust. (Chuckle)

See my other blog on more detailed trip costs The Savannah Way from Cairns QLD to Broome WA: How much does it cost?

Other random observations as follows…..

  1. Between us we managed to read 28 books and listen to 3 audio books. Every book swap was taken advantage of with much gusto. That’s what we did in the evenings. Read books and ate chocolate.
  2. Ugg boots are just the best footwear on holiday, even in warm country (clean feet with ease)
  3. I made bread 14 times in the Weber Baby Q, and with home made lentil soup this was our most popular meal choice. (Chocolate for desert of course) We called our Weber ‘Baby you fat bitch’. A little harsh I know, but she was so big and heavy and took up a lot of space in the camper. We wouldn’t have gone without her though. She gave us so many awesome meals.
  4. The two equally worst roads were the Simpson Desert crossing and the Kalumburu Road to Mitchell Falls in the Kimberly. Both were particularly punishing to our vehicle but the scenic reward was worth it so no real regrets there.

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    Simpson Desert bounce over 1000 sand dunes like this. New shock absorbers……

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    Corrugations on the Kalumburu Road. They were doozies….

    See my blog THE GIBB RIVER ROAD for more on this…….

     

  5. People ask what was the absolute highlight of the whole trip and I find it impossible to narrow it down to one place. We saw and did so much that was absolutely stunning, each in its own unique way. So many ‘wow, moments. I loved it all.

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    Dales Gorge at Karajini National park

    So the highlight has to be the length of our trip. Four months was an ideal time frame. We didn’t feel pressured for time and we felt the pure joy of freedom to explore at our leisure. That was a sufficient length of time though as by the end we were both weary. I don’t think you can keep appreciating it as much if you do it perpetually. It was time to come home and we actually started to look forward to a couch, a TV, our own toilet and a bed where Kevin doesn’t have to climb over me to go out for a wee. It’s the little things.

  6. Kevin and I, for the first time, spent 24 hours a day with each other, for four months in a confined living arrangement. We survived, we laughed a lot, we became more tolerant, we relaxed into a comfortable camaraderie and it made our relationship stronger. It was a fantastic experience to share.

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    A shared experience at its finest

    See my blog for more on snorkelling with whalesharks Waves, Wild Wind and Whalesharks

  7. We saw hundreds of emus in all states. They were the dominant wildlife on this trip which was great because I love them. They’re so quirky.

Lessons learnt along the way

Follow the weather. The perception of a holiday is 95% dictated by the weather, especially when living under a canvas roof. A place that is simply magnificent in sunshine becomes bleak and horrid in wet, bleak, cold and overcast weather. During the winter months the North of Australia is the place to be. Gotta love warmth and sunshine.

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Just add sunshine to turn an ordinary scene into paradise

 

Less is more and will save you grief. We overpacked. Too much ‘stuff’. I tried to be minimalist when we packed but failed and it became obvious when at our first service, the mechanic assumed we were there to get our suddenly sagging rear springs replaced. We carried too much ‘just in case’ stuff and things that only got minimal use. The heavy generator and max tracks sat on the roof rack the whole way with no use, the boat only got used twice, the BBQ plate that got used once, there was too much stuff in our internal cupboards like the heavy camp oven that didn’t get used, too many clothes (in my section). The excessive weight of our vehicle became stringently obvious in Kapunda when the mechanic replacing the shockers couldn’t lift the vehicle with a 4 tonne hoist (our gvm is 3.3 tonnes). No wonder we suffered trying to cross the Simpson Desert and had the considerable expense of replacing our suspension.

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Up and over the dunes with our heavy load. There is a lot of useless weight on that roof rack just to start with and I’m pretty sure ‘Baby the fat bitch’ was bouncing her way up and down the floor. See my blog Crossing the Simpson Desert: What the heck were we thinking?

It’s nice to have a home to come back too. We did actually consider selling up everything to travel perpetually prior to this trip. Sell the house, hit the road and be totally free. That’s a romantic notion though and I’m glad we didn’t go down that path. It’s wonderful to be free but living in a confined space, always on the move takes its toll. I’m positive that the thrill of travel wouldn’t be as great if it was a way of life rather than just a holiday. I guess it’s a personal thing because some people happily do it but we need a place to go ‘home’. Then we can plan and get excited about the next adventure. And there will be more………..

Thank you

So to those people that faithfully followed my blog on this adventure, thank you for coming with us, thank you for the likes and nice comments and I hope you enjoyed the journey. I hope I encouraged other people to do similar and inspired you to visit these amazing places in our beautiful country. It is so worth it. We are much richer for the experience. Kevin and I have luckily both got our jobs back straight away so we didn’t even have to line up at Centrelink, which is a huge bonus. We took a risk and the reward was beyond our expectations.

There will be more………….

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Cape Leveque with my favourite WA colour scheme

Broome and Dampier Peninsula

OCHRE CLIFFS, BLUE SEA and CREAMY SAND with a touch of MELANCHOLIA

Laverton to Uluru: The Great Central Road into Australia’s RED HEART.

Just what is it about Lawn Hill Gorge?

QUOBBA STATION AND RED BLUFF : SWELLS, SURFERS AND HUMPBACK WHALES

Adrenaline filled adventure at Karajini National Park

and more …….

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Home is beautiful too, lets never forget that.

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