This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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1999 Travels August 18

WEDNESDAY 18 AUGUST   KNOLLS TRACK CAMP TO QAA LINE CAMP   107kms

Our night’s sleep was broken by a dingo, prowling close outside the tent. At one stage, it seemed to almost be sniffing my head, with only the tent fabric between us! Not pleasant! We had not left anything edible outside – everything was securely packed in Truck. However, in the morning, our washing up gear was scattered about – sponge, scrubber, brush. They must have smelled of last night’s curry! We had heard that the dingoes were doing it tough, because of the effects of calicivirus decimating the rabbit population.

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John pointing out dingo paw prints amongst our scattered washup gear

We woke at 7.45. The sky was clear and it was already hot. Left camp at 9.30 – an improvement. Before leaving, we put in the second jerry can of fuel from the roof rack.

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Breakfast time in camp

We were actually further south of the Knolls than we’d thought.

The track was slow going – bouncy, with some rough gypsum outcrops. Several times the track crossed small dry clay pans – the track was a bit smoother there. It took us over an hour to reach the Knolls.

The Knolls gradually appeared in the distance as two small, low, flat topped mounds. They were formed when a gypsum crust formed in a couple of places and then over much time, the surrounding land eroded, but the hard crust protected the tops of these two areas. We parked by them and walked up to the top of one. We did not stay very long – the outlook from the top was just a broader expanse of what we’d been seeing from down below. However, the white crust of Lake Tamblyn added some interest.

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Outlook from top of Knoll towards Lake Tamblyn

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Another outlook from Knoll

This morning, two vehicles had passed us while we were packing up camp, presumably having come from the Knolls. There were two camps still here, so we were glad that we’d decided to camp in the solitutde where we did.

It did not take us long to reach the next landmark – the corner of the Knolls Track and the French Line – again!

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The corner of the AAK Track and the French Line track

We turned to the east – and back onto the dune crossings.

Immediately, the track became more sandy and bouncy, and the dunes higher and closer together. These were sometimes fairly challenging. Because of their steepness, there were not the slightly flatter tops of the Rig Road dunes; instead, it was really steeply up and immediately over and steeply down again. This is really where the sand flag becomes relevant.

We could clearly see, in the sandy centre of the track, where those who had been towing were dragging their tow hitches in the sand, as they bounced. No wonder some trailers fall apart out here! The effects of both drag and sand abrasion would be severe. It really is taking a risk, because breakdowns must be retrieved. The penalty for just leaving a broken down trailer or vehicle is far greater even than the huge cost of retrieval.

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On the French Line – trailer coupling drag marks in the sand between the wheel lines

We both drove sections again today.

The increased traffic on the French Line really gave us an insight into how limited, or stupid, some fellow travellers are. We encountered two vehicles travelling towards us, in tandem, where the women in each were using the CB radio to keep count of the sand dunes as they crossed them. We heard them gradually come into radio range, counting every few minutes, pulled over to let them pass, then heard them fading away into the distance. How boring would that be, over a few days? It was boring just listening to them!

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Slow going on the French Line

Another incident was potentially more dangerous. I was driving, and John was coaching me in managing the increasingly higher, sandy, dunes. We had been in radio contact with others that we had been hearing for some time. The woman, on the radio, said that they were crossing west to east – just like us. John was getting curious, because after some little time, they seemed to be getting louder, but we couldn’t see any sign of them behind. As I crested a dune, there was suddenly an oncoming vehicle about 2 metres in front of me, coming up! I took my foot off the accelerator causing us to immediately come to a stop in the sand. John yelled at me to gun it, not bog it – his focus as we got to the crest was on the next dune, not what was actually right under us. A little misunderstanding occurred, until he realized what I was seeing! It was very close.

The other vehicle had no choice but to back down the dune and we passed at the bottom. The stupid woman passenger said “Oh, silly me, I always get east and west mixed up”! I don’t know if she had enough intelligence to realize how close she came to causing a head-on collision. They had no sand flag.

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What it looks like, climbing up a dune…….

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All one sees at the crest is sky……..

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Over – and down we go again

Another phenomenon we noticed, now that we were fairly regularly meeting other travellers, and stopping usually to exchange a few words about the experience we were having, was that the invariably male drivers seemed not to know how to cope with a female driver doing the “tough stuff”. We would pull up alongside each other, they would talk across me, to John, and ignore me! Maybe it was no wonder that some women resorted to dune counting? It actually amused John no end – I think he was quite proud that his wife was capable of such driving.

We nearly came to grief a second time today. John was driving, crested one of the steep dunes, there was a deep hole on one side of the track just over the top, and we crunched down into it. Truck came very close to rolling onto its side, but we had just enough momentum to keep it going forward rather than over. We just had to hope no damage had been done – it was a hell of an impact.

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John standing in the deep hole made by something bogged – where we nearly rolled

We stopped lower down and went back to look. It looked like someone had gotten bogged coming up the dune, had to dig themselves out, rather than rolling back down the dune, and then had not filled in the resulting hole. We thought it had probably been one of the morons towing the trailers, the day before. I was glad John was driving when that happened and not me. It was very sobering.

On a section of sandy dunes, for some kms, we had noticed dog prints in the tyre track, and eventually overtook a single, very thin, dingo, plodding eastwards. It moved off as we got close – seeming rather reluctant to do so.

08-18-1999 16 dingo on French Line

Dingo highway

We reached Poeppel Corner at 1.30, in time for a late lunch. We had aimed to get here before stopping again.

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Whilst we were there three other vehicles came in, from the Birdsville direction. Two were travelling together and told us they had camped last night at the old vermin fence remains. The other was a solo traveller (who must have changed his mind about the crossing and returned to Birdsville, because he passed us, going back that way, as we were later setting up camp.)

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Poeppel Corner and Lake

There were some big salt pans in the Corner area: Lake Poeppel, by the Corner, and the next one to it.

Poeppel Corner marks the junction of Qld, SA and NT. The exact location was surveyed by Poeppel around 1880. He placed a marked log upright in his surveyed position, in the salt pan, the log having been brought from Eyre Creek by his camels. Later he found that his surveying chain had stretched a little, and a few years later, the post was moved to its correct position by the side of the salt pan. In the 1960’s Reg Sprigg removed this post and it was replaced with a cement one, but there is also a replica of the original wooden one. We took the obligatory photo of ourselves with this. And performed the other ritual here – trying to stand with feet in three states at once.

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The old corner pole at Poeppel Corner

I drove the first leg after lunch. Northwestwards, skirting the lakes, along the K1 Line. This section took us very briefly into Qld, then into the NT for a few kms. Then we turned east again, onto the QAA Line, where we crossed what would obviously be a nasty bog in a clay pan, when wet.

08-18-1999 24 lake cross at start QAA line

Claypan on the QAA Line

Back into Qld for the rest of the run to Birdsville.

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Corner K1 and the QAA Line

It was the roller coaster track again, sand dunes, chugging along in low range.

John drove for the last half hour or so, before we pulled off the track, to the side of a clay pan, for a little way, to camp. It was 4.30pm.

We had long since realized that we were going to take a day longer than planned, to get to Birdsville. The going was just too slow. Even then, tomorrow would be a long day. Those people who boast that they “do” the French Line route, with just one overnight stop, must take some incredible risks, not ever stop to look around. They are probably the ones who churn up the track for the rest of us.

Our claypan camp was between two quite high, red dunes.

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Camp by the QAA Line

After we set up camp, John did the radio sched with Alice Springs base, and amended our schedule with them. He “phoned” K to let him know we are running a day late, but that all is well.

Today’s churning going up and down the dunes has really used up the fuel – we could just about see the gauge dropping. We will get to Birdsville ok, but will not have much surplus.

Tea was tinned soup, a packet risotto, oranges.

John looks for the evening star, most nights. Can’t see it out here, and that upsets him.


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1999 Travels August 17

TUESDAY 17 AUGUST   RIG ROAD CAMP TO KNOLLS TRACK CAMP   115kms

It was almost 8am when we woke up, after an excellent rest. Of course, there was absolutely no human noise to disturb us, which is pretty rare, these days.

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Our Rig Road camp amongst the dunes,  in the morning

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On the dunes by our camp, in the morning

I went for a short walk in the dunes by camp. Saw a plant with an unusual green, kind of pea-shaped flower, and wondered if it was native or not. ( Followed this up, eventually, some time later and found that it was the native Crotolaria, or green bird flower).

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Green Bird Flower

There were also lots of little animal tracks on the dunes and it was fascinating to look at these and try to work out who was going where and the sequences.

While I was examining the desert, John phoned his old school on the radio -just because he could!

We were packed up and away by 10am.

08-17-1999 06 Rig Rd dunes getting bigger

Rig Road dunes getting higher and more complex

I started off the driving. Eastwards again. The dunes got higher. On an increasing number, there were side tracks towards the top, where travellers had made tracks to avoid the blown-out dune tops, where the clay capping had long gone.

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A side track around a dune crest – but with sand already blown over it

 

Eventually, there were a couple of dunes where I had to back up and make a second attempt. We let the tyres down further. John was trying not to have the tyres deflated to the point where they might roll off the rim. Then, I decided that John should drive the rest of the way to Walkendi Corner.

08-17-1999 08 less air needed

Tyres need less air from this point on – but we don’t want them too flat

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Made it over this dune

I then took over again – there was a lot of gear work and we were trying to keep John’s leg comfortable. I drove the 12kms or so on the NW trending section to the Lone Gum Tree.

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The Rig Road line goes on and on to the horizon – and looks deceptively flat

We stopped there for a look. This fair sized coolabah tree is a long way from the watercourses where these are usually found, and it is a mystery how it got to be here. It is a real anomaly in this country.

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The Lone Gum Tree by the Rig Road

Not far from the Lone Gum, near the junction with the Erabena Track, we passed a party of two vehicles, each towing camper trailers, going the way we had come. I thought they were fools to be towing in this country. We stopped, briefly, and chatted, of course. They told us that the French Line section they came across, was hard. Given our experiences on the track, this morning, I thought to myself: Ha – wait till you see what’s ahead when you turn west again! If you don’t already regret towing your campers, you will!

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Erosion of the one-time clay capping of the Rig Road

Shortly after we parted, a solo driver passed us, who we thought was going too fast for safety in the conditions. He stopped briefly, to tell us there was another vehicle going west to east, like us, about 70kms in front. I very much doubt we will be catching up to that! John got on the CB to warn the people we’d been talking with, that he would be coming up behind them, at a too-fast speed. Unfortunately, the guy was listening in! He made some comment about each doing things their own way.

There was yet another eastwards section, with increasingly high dunes. We were getting pretty good at driving these by now. The key was to select the right gear and speed before heading up the dune, to avoid having to change down part way up.

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The driver’s eye view coming up a sand blocked dune – with a bypass track to the left

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Taking the side track around the sand blow

We saw a couple of groups of camels today. At one stage, coming up to a dune, there was a group of about ten, silhouetted along the crest. We had to wait for them to take their time, ambling across the track, before continuing.

08-17-1999 13 rig rd camels

Camel right of way

Our lunch break was taken in an interesting inter-dunal clay pan area. It was getting quite hot by now. We were moving towards the part of the Simpson Desert where there are large areas of playa formations – places where temporary lakes form between dunes when it is wet, then dry out, leaving salt and clay pans behind.

08-17-1999 20 salt pan and sandy tk

A salt pan and a sandy side track

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Lunch stop on a clay pan – Rig Road

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Desert wildflowers

Soon after lunch, we reached the junction of the Rig Road and the Knolls Track. Also known as the WBY Line, or the AAK Track. Here, the Rig Road turns south east, eventually after some 100kms to meet up with the Warburton Track and then the Birdsville Track. That section of the Rig Road was supposed to have some very steep drop-offs from the dune tops. Our way was to the north again on the Knolls Track, and we would be on the Rig Road no more. We wanted to visit the Approdinna Attora Knolls, to the north.

08-17-1999 24 last Rig Rd marker we will see

The Last Rig Road marker that we will see

08-17-1999 23 cnr Rig Rd and AAK Tk

Another Pink Roadhouse signpost

This section of track was very undulating and like a roller coaster.

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Roller coaster AAK Track

We stopped to gather some firewood, then at 4pm, stopped roughly 10kms short of the Knolls. We set up camp near a clump of Georgina gidgee trees, a bit of a distance off the track. This area had been used as a camp before – there was even some firewood left. We figured that most other travellers would camp at the Knolls, since it is a landmark, and our spot would give us more solitude.

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Georgina Gidgee trees

After setting up camp, John did the radio sched with Alice Springs base, then called his brother C. As always, he was pleased to hear from us and I could just picture him getting out the maps to work out where we were.

08-18-1999 02 AAK Tk camp

Camp by the AAK Track

Tea was a packet soup, pasta with curried tuna and pineapple. I am using a small amount of water to cook the pasta, so it is a bit gluggy, but can’t be helped. That water then gets added to later, for the washing up!

We ate just on dark. As we were clearing up, heard a vehicle noise, saw lights, and two vehicles went past on the track, heading south at a fair speed, seeming very purposeful. We watched/listened to them fade into the distance. I felt a bit uneasy, but they did seem to keep on going. Later, as we sat round our campfire, we speculated that they may have been a recovery crew, out of Birdsville, going to some “event” behind us. It seemed rather unlikely that travellers such as ourselves would drive at night.

The night was not as cold as the last ones have been.


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1999 Travels August 16

MONDAY 16 AUGUST    PURNI BORE TO RIG ROAD SOMEWHERE   136kms

I crawled out of the tent about 7am and joined the queue for the shower. This was my last chance to be clean for a few days, and especially to wash my hair. We are conserving our water, so after this it will be Baby Wipes for getting clean! It was a very pleasant and appreciated shower.

We did not leave Purni until after 10. John had to program the GPS after we were packed up. It seems to be a very fiddly process. He also emptied one of the fuel jerry cans from the roof into the tank – less weight on the roof now.

We let the Truck tyres down to a softer pressure, as we will hit the dune country properly today.

We drove out along the French Line and were soon into small dunes. The track was not too bad, but needed care in driving. The sections between dunes were far more vegetated than I had expected.

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Between the dunes – the western end of the French Line track. Not all that desert like.

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The French Line track not far from Purni Bore

It did not take us too long to cover the 30kms to the French Line/Rig Road corner. At that corner, which was signposted by one of the Oodnadatta Pink Roadhouse signs, we turned to the south, onto what appeared a much better track – initially at least.

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French Line straight ahead. Rig Road to right

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Our first N-S run between the dunes was quite a good track, but it was obvious that the dunes were getting higher around us.

We stopped briefly at Mokari Airstrip, once used to service the oil rigs, but now for emergency use only.

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Mokari Airstrip

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The Rig Road at Mokari Airstrip

After the airstrip, we were onto a W-E section, and dune crossings, for some 36kms, to the junction with the WAA Line track. We had lunch here.

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The straight line of the Rig Road on a west to east section

08-16-1999 08 cnr Rig rd and WAA Line & bad rig tk

Corner of Rig Road and WAA Line. We go right.

The next 35kms was SE again, mostly between dunes, though we crossed the occasional one.

Stopped to look at the Macumba No 1 Well, now closed down.

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The shut down Macumba No 1 oil well

Our final leg for the day was back to heading east, and crossing dunes regularly.

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Looking back to the west along the Rig Road, and down the easier slope up the western face of the dune

I drove some sections today – the first run south, to Mokari, and later some of the W-E track, including some quite badly broken-up east faces of dunes, with big gullies. I did not find it any hassle – quite enjoyed myself – and John was being an excellent passenger.

08-16-1999 09 rough tk wendy driving

I drove this section of the track. The eastern face of the dunes were often cut up and eroded

We stopped for the day about 4pm, some 25kms before Walkandi Junction, in a valley between dunes.

We had not seen any other vehicle since leaving Purni – which made us feel pleasantly isolated.

John was able to get through for the afternoon radio sched.

Set up the tent, trying to angle it into some low bushes, for a little protection – maybe – should camels come through!

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Our camp beside the Rig Road

The dunes we crossed today were really varied. There is nothing boring about this desert!

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Sand dune patterns

There had been some light bits of cloud in the sky during the day, and this made for some pretty pastel sunset effects. It got cold quickly, once the sun went down.

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Sunset coming. Evening light on the dunes at our Rig Road camp

Tea was a tin of soup and a packet of macaroni cheese. I cooked some dried apricots in a little water for dessert.

We bundled all the fridge stuff that was now going off into a double layer of garbags and left it in the fridge.

We had wood on the roofrack, that we had gathered a couple of days ago, so were able to have a campfire to sit round after tea.

08-16-1999 15 Rig road camp by fire

We read, and watched the stars, which were so bright. It was a most enjoyable evening. At one stage, I walked up on to the high dune behind us and looked all round – there was just pure darkness in every direction. No sign of any other people. Just occasional rustlings from little critters.

We slept well.


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1999 Travels August 15

SUNDAY 15 AUGUST   DALHOUSIE SPRINGS TO PURNI BORE   75kms

We were up at 7.30. It was a day with blue sky but was not hot.

Left Dalhousie at 9.30am.

The country we passed through today varied a little. We had claypan bog areas to begin with – the claypan Spring Creek delta, with the evocatively named Gluepot Bog. There was some sandy plain country, stony in parts. There were the occasional jump ups, just to be different. It was not really hard to drive.

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Spring Creek Delta and extinct Dalhousie mound springs

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The Gluepot Bog

Not far from Dalhousie, there was a dingo beside the track. He was quite a big one. We were able to get quite close to him, for photos.

08-15-1999 04 dingo near dlahousie

One of the locals – good looking dingo near Dalhousie Springs

We trended north east across the flood-out country for much of the way.

At Freeth Junction, where the closed Macumba track comes in from the south, there was a display board with emergency contact details, and instructions for radio use. Here, we really began to feel isolated.

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Sign at Freeth Junction

It is around Freeth Junction that the Finke River disappears into a salt pan in the Simpson Desert.

08-15-1999 06 Freeth Junction where Finke ends in desert salt pan

The ancient Finke River ends in a salt pan near Freeth Junction

We used the HF rdio to phone K, from here. It was a clear call, for once. He confirmed that he had received our instructions and understands the seriousness of reporting to authorities, if we have not contacted him by the date specified. He is our safety net, along with the trip plans we’d left with Alice Springs Base.

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At Freeth Junction. The track we came in on trends to the upper right of the photo

Beyond Freeth Junction, sand dune country gradually began. By the time we reached Purni Bore, were definitely in dune country.

The long parallel dunes of the Simpson extend in a general NW-SE line. There are over 1100 dunes from Birdsville, stretching up towards Alice Springs. Some are 200kms along. It is the largest sand dune desert in the world. Before finding out more about the place, I had envisaged something like the Sahara, but the Simpson dunes are vegetated enough to be, largely, fixed in position.

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What the Simpson Desert looks like from space

We do not have to cross all 1100 dunes, as some only begin to the north of here. But we will tackle several hundred of the things. I will not be counting! Going the way we are, we start with the lowest dunes – maybe 3 metres or so – and gradually build up to the bigger ones in the east, around30 metres high. By then, we will have had plenty of practice at climbing dunes. Also, going this way, we will be going up the less steep side of each dune. They have been shaped by westerly winds, so the east side is the more steep drop-off side.

The tracks that we will be following now, were put in by companies exploring for oil and gas in the 1960’s and 70’s, and sinking wells.  Reg Sprigg – of Arkaroola fame – surveyed the first seismic line across; this became known as the French line, because the French Petroleum Company did the first geological survey along this. Essentially, it runs in a broadly straight line from Purni to the Qld-SA-NT border at Poeppel Corner. It is the route most commonly taken by Simpson travellers, partly because it is the shortest, partly because of its reputation for challenging dunes.

We planned to be different and take a more roundabout route. This would enable us to see more of the Desert, hopefully for some of the time be away from the more popular parts, and also be somewhat easier, as for some of the way we would follow the Rig Road. This route was developed to service oil and gas operations; it was graded and clay capped, to be able to carry trucks. Much of this has broken down in the years since it was used, and it is 4WD only, now.

As well, our route would take in some N-S tracks, in between the parallel dunes, rather than always going across them as the French Line does. We still will have to cross the things, but the inter-dune tracks will provide variety.

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Our planned route across the Simpson Desert

I was expecting that there would be more travellers on this first part of the way, where we are on the French Line route, and the more popular E to W way. But it was a surprise that in the 75kms from Dalhousie to Purni, we passed only three vehicles coming towards us.

We were the first to set up camp at Purni Bore – another surprise. So we were able to pick a spot where there were some low bushes around us. The camp area here was not dusty like Dalhousie was.

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Our camp at Purni Bore

While we were setting up the tent, several vehicles from a Melbourne 4WD club came and set up nearby – guess we must have picked the most attractive part of this fairly extensive area! Later, another four vehicles arrived. One lot, with children, camped right behind us, despite there being lots of other space around! There are times that I hate other travellers….. At least, the group with the feral kids, from Dalhousie, did not appear – we had dreaded them tagging us this far.

Purni was beautiful, in a surreal way. The water from the bore is so hot that it steams for a while after it runs into the pool area. Dante’s Inferno came to mind.

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The steaming outflow water at Purni Bore

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The bore at Purni

There are no pools to swim in, here. The water is too hot and too polluted by feral camels and donkeys. But there is a hot shower and a laundry tub with hot water, along with the long drop toilet. It is all kind of anachronistic amongst the dunes.

There were lots of birds – water birds, bush birds and hundreds of corellas clustered in one area of trees. We spotted crimson chats – hadn’t see those before.

08-15-1999 09 Purni Bore & emus

Purni wetlands and emus

After camp was set up and lunch was had, we walked around the perimeter of the wetland area. Like at Coward Springs, this is here because of the bore outflow. Purni Bore has been capped, in recent times, to limit the outflow, so the wetland is not as extensive as it once would have been.

On our walk, saw a mob of about eight camels. Later, near sunset time, these appeared on the dune skyline.

08-15-1999 16   camels Purni Bore.jpg

The extra vegetation, and the water, attracts camels

We wanted a photo of the corellas rising from the trees, so John walked around that way to see if some would take flight. He made a noise and there was a mass takeoff. It was a pity I couldn’t capture the very loud and raucous noise they made, as well as the image! It gave John quite a fright.

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Corellas taking fright

08-15-1999 14 view over Purni Bore to camp area

Looking over the Purni wetlands to the camp area, ar right

By the time I’d gotten things organized for tea, there was a queue at the shower, so I gave up on that, because we did not want a late tea. Then John got fiddling with the GPS and didn’t want to stop, so tea was late after all!

We ate tinned soup, a stew made from chick peas, kumara, spinach and tomatoes. So tea used quite a few tins and we lightened the load in Truck.

After tea, went and sat round the campfire (bonfire!) of the 4WD club. Talked with them. They had, between them, had a lot of varied experiences. They had just come from the Canning Stock Route – a trip that took them two years to plan. They seem very well organized. It was a pleasant, convivial evening, if somewhat cold.

The fridge did not work again, this afternoon, so we have finally given up on it.


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1999 Travels August 14

SATURDAY 14 AUGUST   MT DARE HOMESTEAD TO DALHOUSIE SPRINGS   86kms

We got up about 7.30. Before breakfast, we walked around the campground area, looking at birds. There were a number of red-tailed black cockatoos in the trees and we watched their antics for a while.

It still took us nearly two hours to breakfast and pack up, but it gets easier each time as we work into the routine of where everything goes.

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Cleaning out the tent – morning at Mt Dare

Topped up the diesel here, and also one jerry can, which we’d carried empty until now, in preparation for the long stretch across the desert. Fuel was $1.15 cpl! We filled the empty 10 litre water container with local water, too.

Advice was that the longer track to Dalhousie, via Blood Creek Bore, was in better condition, so we chose to go that way. There is not far to go today, so the extra distance and time is not an issue.

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Track intersection at Blood Creek Bore. John checking the roof rack tie downs

It was another blue sky day, but with that cool wind again.

We stopped a few times along the way, mostly for photos, though the old yards at Federal ruins were interesting to wander about and look at. This station became part of the Dalhousie pastoral run.

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Old yards at former Federal Station – now part of Witjira National Park

Another stop was to photograph the Red Mulga, miniritchie, with its unusual curly bark.

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Red mulga – miniritchie

Today was a pleasantly short one, after the long one of yesterday.

Dalhousie Springs is in the Witjira National Park, so most of today’s driving was in the Park, which is quite a new one. It segues into the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve to the east. To travel and camp here was why we bought our Desert Parks Pass, when we were at Wilpena.

Dalhousie Springs are more of the mound springs noted further south. In this area, there are a number of extinct mound springs, due to the level of the water table dropping.

We reached Dalhousie Springs before lunch time. The campground was rather dusty and barren. It is being redeveloped after much indiscriminate usage and degradation. Now there are defined camp areas, revegetation happening in fenced off sections, and access to the springs is only on foot.

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The approach and camping area at Dalhousie Springs

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Our chosen camp site at Dalhousie

The springs are a big waterhole, fringed with scrub and reeds. Obviously they are a major oasis in this very arid area. There were some water birds here, including a spoonbill perched in a tree.

We had lunch and set up camp, then went for a drive to look at the Dalhousie Homestead ruins, some 12kms to the south. Dalhousie was a pastoral cattle lease, from the later part of the 1800’s, and the buildings dated from that time – at a spot where there were local springs.

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Dalhousie Homestead ruins

We wandered about there for a while. The limestone ruins, with their associated date palms, were quite striking. It seems a very desolate area, but there was obviously a substantial cluster of buildings here, at one time.

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Dalhousie ruin. Date palms may have been planted deliberately, or may have been carried in accidentally by Afghan cameleers

We saw a flock of Bourke’s Parrots – first time we have seen these birds. They are nor much bigger than a budgie, and are a rather pale grey-brown, with some pink and blue areas. Very pretty.

We drove back to camp, to find a group of travellers – families – setting up in the bays near us. There were several adults and a heap of totally feral young children. Not our idea of ideal neighbours! Whilst the adults sat round their camp, drinking beers at a great rate, the kids ran riot, including through the fenced off revegetation areas, with their Keep Out signs.

We planned to go for a swim in the springs pool after getting back from the ruins. The water is the temperature of a rather warm bath. At one stage, the mob of feral children seemed to be campaigning with the drinking parents to be allowed to go run riot in the pool. I made a comment to John, designed to be heard by some of the brats, about watching out for crocodiles in the pool. Half an hour later, when we went for our swim, there was not a kid to be seen! And I did not feel at all mean or guilty.

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Dalhousie Springs pool

We swam for nearly an hour. It was very refreshing, but it also felt really chilly when we got out.

Did our radio sched with Alice Springs base.

The fridge did not start working when we turned it on. John eventually turned it off, after some hours with no cold building up on the elements. We will just have to manage without it. It is really only margarine, cheese, eggs and a few vegies that are in it now.

Tea was packet vegie soup, fried rice from a packet, with the addition of capsicum, onion, fried eggs. The packet fried rice does not take as much water to cook as “fresh” rice.

After tea, we read for a while, lacking the energy to do much else, like go walking. Maybe our energy was sapped by the long, hot “bath”?

There were lots of mosquitoes here. We got a number of bites before wising up and applying repellent.

A Ranger – aboriginal – came around after dark to check that we had camp permits or Desert Park Passes. Very pleasing to see such things being checked. He told us that there has not been rain that affected the tracks in these parts for two and a half years. But, back then, there were campers stranded at Purni Bore needing air drops of supplies. It is hard to visualize now, with it so dry. Although, having crossed Tenacity Bog, on the approach to Dalhousie, we could see it being a problem when wet!

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Tenacity Bog, on the approach to Dalhousie Springs

We heard dingoes howling in the night, not too far away. I love that sound.


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1999 Travels August 13

FRIDAY 13 AUGUST   CHAMBERS PILLAR TO MT DARE HOMESTEAD   311kms

We woke up at 7am. The night had been a bit too chilly and the lilo not comfortable enough to sleep well.

Again, it took us nearly two hours to breakfast and pack up.

It was a lovely clear day, but cool – I kept my windcheater on all day.

The route back to Maryvale seemed easier than it had yesterday. The fact of having driven it once turns it from the unknown to the more familiar. At Maryvale we bought Mars Bars, bottles of cold water and fuel – 98cpl.

Then we went back the way we’d come, yesterday, as far as the Rodinga Siding ruins, on the Old Ghan rail route. We stopped there, to put up a makeshift sand flag on Truck. John had pre-planned the construction of this, using the broken CB radio aerial and a bright pink piece of rag, from his stock of same; it had once been a T shirt. He tied the lot firmly to the roof rack. Quite effective and cheaper than buying a proper one. Sand flags are mandatory in the coming sand dune country, to give approaching vehicles some advance notice of one’s  presence.

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At Rodinga ruins, flying our new sand flag

Then it was onto the Old Ghan Track, heading south for Finke. At the start of this section, driving on the old rail alignment was a novelty, and we mixed road tracks and old rail alignment. But by the time we reached Finke, we had in fact, travelled most of the way on the rail alignment. It was much smoother than the road tracks, the latter having been used not long ago, for the Finke Desert Race, and really churned up. However, some track sections did appear to have been recently bladed.

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The churned up road track

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On the Old Ghan Track, with the alternate road beside it

The problem with the rail route was that there were lots of big metal spikes, once used to anchor the sleepers, still lying about, and these are risky for tyres. But we preferred to chance that, rather than get bogged, or break something, on the road tracks.

The countryside we travelled through today was mixed – some red sand dune country, some flat-topped mesa country, some river plains and flats, gibber stone plains in the south – some country similar to that around Oodnadatta. So it was a day of considerable variety.

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Red sand dune country

The first section, from Rodinga to Finke, had lots of arrow signs and X markers, relating to the Desert Race.

Just as on the southern section of the Old Ghan Track, that we’d tackled earlier in the year, there were the ruins of former sidings, at regular intervals.

We stopped to have our lunch at the historic Alice Well, by the crossing of the dry Hugh River bed. There are some stone building remains there – what is left of the former Government Depot and Police Station.

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What was left of the old Government Deopt at Alice Well

I had the lunch makings of Ryvita biscuits, cheese, vegemite, in the picnic basket and the fridge – which John had made sure was accessible easily. The fridge does not run while we are travelling, but the theory is that the contents stay cold through the day, anyway. The chill breeze, flies and dust dictated that I prepared the food in the passenger side footwell of Truck. It is actually quite convenient.

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Making lunch by the side of the track

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The bed of the Hugh River at Alice Well

Next we stopped to have a look around the remains of the old Bundooma Siding. There is not much left there now. There were some foundations and the old water tank on its stand.

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The reamins at Bundooma Siding

At Engoordina Siding there were remains of the fettlers’ accommodation – really close to the rail alignment.

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Engoordina Siding ruins – very close to the rail alignment

I took a photo of Colsons Pinnacle at a point where there was a good view of it in the distance. This is somewhat similar to Chambers Pillar – another erosion feature and a landmark for earlier explorers and travellers, because of its distinctive shape. It was also known as the Maiden’s Breast! It, and the surrounding mesas, are two toned, with alternating layers of light and dark rock. The horizontal line of separation of these is so straight it could have been drawn with a ruler.

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Colsons Pinnacle

I drove for some of the way, each side of Finke.

The river bed at Finke was wide, sandy and churned up, but we ploughed through fairly easily.

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Our old friend, the Finke River

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The track through the river bed at Finke

After Finke, we left the old rail route, and headed more to the west and south west, on dirt roads and station tracks. It was  stony country now, and more monotonous as the mesa country was left behind. There was almost no other traffic. There were gates to open and close, of course. Landmarks that reassured us that we were going the right way – very few signposts! – were New Crown Homestead, Charlotte Well, then crossing from the NT into SA.

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Going around a section of bad bulldust on the Finke to Mt Dare track

The waypoints that John put into the GPS yesterday, were mostly right and were an extra reassurance. However, we did go the wrong way for a short distance, south of Charlotte Well, where there were several tracks. It was a good thing that I was navigating, as well, and had my Westprint map, and realised we were on the Abminga track, not the one we wanted to Mt Dare.

We reached Mt Dare – homestead, hotel, campground – about 4pm. There was no one else in the campground. The man obligingly opened the bar, so we could each have a beer! To camp cost us $5 each, the beer was $3.50 each. John bought a cask of riesling that he saw there – $25! He’d asked for it before he knew the price.

The camp area was alright. Some bushes for shelter, bare dirt – as one would expect out here. They lit the hot water “service” for our showers – made out of an old, tall, LPG cylinder – ingenious. We enjoyed that shower, too.

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Our Mt Dare camp – with visitng willy wagtail

By sunset, there were lots of galahs in distant trees and they squawked on and off, well into the night.

The fridge was set up on gas, again. It is working, but does not seem to be cooling as quickly or as much as usual.

Tea: mushroom soup from a packet, with dried milk powder used to make milk for it. Then fettucine, with a bottled tomato sauce.

After the radio sched, John did work on tomorrow’s waypoints to take us to Dalhousie Springs. I wrote up the diary and some cards.

It was quite a chilly night, so we did not sit up too long.

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From Chambers Pillar to Mt Dare


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1999 Travels August 12

THURSDAY 12 AUGUST   STUARTS WELL TO CHAMBERS PILLAR   167kms

We were up at 7.30am, after a good night’s sleep, despite the occasional waft of odour from the camel farm next door.

Again, it took us two hours to breakfast and pack up – this is starting to look like the norm.

John topped up the diesel at the Roadhouse – $1.00 cpl.

Took the Stuart Highway south, for 10kms, then turned east onto the unsealed High Stock Route. This road appeared to have been recently graded and was in quite good condition, apart from a couple of bulldust patches that pulled Truck to one side when we ploughed into them.

And this road had gates! Lots of gates. I must have opened and closed at least eight of the things, in about 60kms.

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Just one of many gates on the Hugh Stock Route

As the name suggests, this route roughly parallels the Hugh River, for some of the way, but at too great a distance to really see it. After nearly 40kms, we crossed the Adelaide to Alice Springs rail line – carefully stopping and checking that there were no trains looming in the distance. We drove beside the railway for a short distance, before crossing the Hugh River bed; the nearby rail crossing was on a nice high bridge.

After another 25kms, came to the junction with the Old South Road – also unsealed – and turned south. The road was alright.

It was some 33kms to Maryvale Homestead. For a little way, the road ran close to the alignment of the Old Ghan rail route, before it swung away to the SE. We did not sidetrack to visit the Rodinga siding ruins at this point, being focussed on getting to today’s destination of Chambers Pillar.

We stopped at the store at Maryvale and bought biscuits and a tin of smoked oysters – these would be lunch. Bought a map, and some coke. All this cost $25. At least, we were able to use Visa for it.

Now we deviated from the Old South Road onto the track to Chambers Pillar, to the south west of Maryvale. After a few kms, stopped at the crossing of the Hugh River to eat our impromptu lunch. Buying the makings at the store saved having to unpack anything in Truck, apart from the board, plates, knife, tin opener that I carry in the picnic basket on the back seat, with the thermos and drink makings.

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The dry Hugh River bed, near Maryvale, where we stopped for lunch

After that, the track varied from good to challenging. There were bulldust patches at times.

We stopped to add to the firewood supply that we already had tied up on the roof rack.

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Gathering more firewood from beside the track

The crossing of the Charlotte Range, that other people had told us was hard, seemed easy enough to us. From here, we caught our first look at Chambers Pillar – distant, but quite clearly an impressive, slender column. There were surrounding flat topped hills, just like we’d seen further south, on the Oodnadatta Track.

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First look at Chambers Pillar, on the centre horizon. Track is indicated by the red line in the sand

The sand dunes that came after the Range were more challenging. This was the only section of the track in where we might have had problems, had we tried to bring the van in here. John had to have two attempts at one dune, after taking the wrong route the first time.

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Tackling a dune. The Range crossing is behind us on the horizon

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In places, the track was quite good

Chambers Pillar is a sandstone column that stands about 50 metres above the surrounding country – therefore it has been quite a landmark for earlier travellers and explorers. The first to see it, and name it, was John McDoull Stuart, in 1860.

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Chambers Pillar

The colours of the Pillar, and the nearby eroded landforms, remind me of Rainbow Valley, so I am guessing that the same factors caused there to be more resistant red sandstone at the top.

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Window Rock (left) and Castle Rock (right) are close by to Chambers Pillar

We reached the camp area, 45kms from Maryvale. This is near the base of the Pillar. The camp area is small, but very pleasant, with desert oaks that give some shade. It is a very scenic place to camp, between the Pillar and Castle Rock, which is even more impressive, I think. It has greater complexity and therefore more moods as the light changes.

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Castle Rock and part of the campground

We paid $5 in camp fees – honesty box system. There were several other lots of campers there, so we had no real choice about where we fitted, but we did like the bay we got into. We had a fire pit/BBQ plate, a low table platform, and there were pit toilets for the campground. Very nice.

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Our camp at Chambers Pillar, with Castle Rock behind

Set up as quickly as we could, then walked to the Pillar, which was only about 500 metres away. We walked around the base and scrambled up the scree slope to the base of the rock pillar, proper. This was a steep little climb.

08-12-1999 pillar from below

We had to scramble up this loose scree face to reach the base of the Pillar

Some workmen were there, building a walkway around the western face at the base of the rock part of the Pillar. The workmen were camping here too, accounting for why the campground seemed fuller than we’d expected.

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The eastern face of Chambers Pillar

Apparently the platform  is needed due to erosion by tourist, like us. Hopefully, it will stop these same tourists from carving their initials into the Pillar – we saw too much evidence of that. What is it about some people that they must do moronic stuff like that?

The platform will impinge on photos of the sunsets, though. It is a very photogenic place. We were lucky to have blue sky, with just a few bits of cloud, for interest, without spoiling the light.

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The western face of Chambers Pillar, and the partially built walking platform at its base

There were great views from the base of the Pillar, out over the surrounding country. We looked for a while in the general direction we plan to head after this. It looks big country! In a place like this, I feel very small and insignificant.

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The view from the base of the Pillar, towards the south, where we are going next

We wandered about for a while, taking photos. There was no shortage of material as different angles and vistas opened up. Did some more of this, later, as the sun was going down – wonderful colours.

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Late afternoon sun on Window Rock

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Castle Rock – late afternoon light over the camp ground

John did the radio sched with Alice Springs base.

Tea was a packet minestrone soup, and a Hawaiian tofu stir fry. Quite enough to satisfy.

We noticed lots of predatory crows in the campground – have to be careful not to leave anything unguarded that they might want to investigate.

The Chescold fridge appears not to be working! We disconnected it from the gas, emptied it, turned it upside down and shook it for a while, then talked nicely to it. Put it all back together again and now can but hope. Past experience has taught us that sometimes gases or chemicals or something, settle and compact on rough roads, and a good shake up is all that is needed. It will be a real nuisance if it has decided to really break down.

After tea, John worked on more map and GPS entry. I just sat about, taking in the solitude and the night noises.

Later, it seemed the fridge was working.

The night was cool, but not cold.

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The route to Chambers Pillar