This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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1999 Travels August 19

THURSDAY 19 AUGUST   QAA LINE CAMP TO BIRDSVILLE   130kms

We slept well, with nothing feral disturbing us through the night.

While we were packing up camp, a very skinny, starving-looking  dingo appeared and flopped down under a nearby tree to watch us. I wondered if it was the same one we had seen yesterday, padding along the track, the other side of Poeppels Corner. It didn’t seem likely, but they do cover big distances, and it looked identically scrawny. We felt really sorry for it, so I put out the block of “dead” cheese, from our rubbish bag. It moved a bit further away when I moved towards it. I dug out a little hollow in the ground, lined it with a piece of foil and filled that with water. Littering, I guess, but to me it was in a good cause. We hoped that, after we left, it would come in to investigate the camp area and find the goodies we’d left for it.

Back on the track for more ups and downs over dunes.

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QAA Line and yet more dunes – but a creek line for contrast

There were several lots of passing traffic, including one convoy of seven vehicles, all heading west.

Gradually, the distance between the dunes widened again, trees began to appear, and we came out of the National Park at the remains of the vermin fence, built to deter the progress of rabbits, about a hundred years ago. It didn’t work!

08-19-1999 04 end of Nat Park on QAA Line

The end of the Simpson Desert National Park section

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The remains of the vermin proof fence

Then, the bottoms of the valleys between dunes became crossed by grey, rutted, channel forms, and we were in the Eyre Creek area. In floods, this can be over 15kms wide, either closing the track completely, or necessitating a big detour to the north.

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Grey clay pan and creek line between the dunes – near Eyre Creek

We lunched beside the main Eyre Creek channel, though John refused to admit this was our location, because his GPS said it was still some kms away. Because John has to work out co-ordinates from our maps, and then enter them into the GPS, there is room for error.

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The main Eyre Creek channel

After that, it did not take us all that long to approach Big Red – the large dune at the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert that is a challenge to drivers to conquer. Often, travellers who come to Birdsville, but are not tackling the Simpson, come out to have a go at Big Red, anyway. A form of local sport!

 

As we got closer to Big Red, but had not yet seen it, we had heard the radio traffic of drivers messing about at it. This was a bit annoying because we couldn’t tell if they were drivers coming our way, or not, in the dunes. The memory of yesterday’s close call was still vivid.

Eventually we crested a tall dune and saw Big Red in the distance, with a smaller dune between us and it. Could see the main track over it, and also the side tracks needed by the majority, to go around the steep crest part and over a lower point of the dune line.

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Our first look at Big Red – with a smaller dune between us and it

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The last dune before we reach Big Red

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That’s where we have come from – looking back along the QAA Line from near Big Red

We decided to try it – and got about a third of the way up.

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We got this far on our first attempt at Big Red. One side track is to the right

I got out and walked to the top – hard work in deep sand! But I had a great vantage point for the photos I wanted.

John backed down, let some more air out of the tyres – and didn’t get much further on the second try!

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Getting ready for another try

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The second try at Big Red

At this point, he sensibly gave up, and took the side track. Even that route was hard enough.

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Give up – going round

I walked down and met him at the base of Big Red – Birdsville side. This was the last of the sand dune driving, so it was time to inflate the tyres back to road pressure. Yet another instance where we are so pleased to have installed the air compressor.

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Coming down the Big Red side track

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The last of the sand dunes

While John did that, we watched some other drivers failing at the bypass track. I said it was hard!

It was an easy, 30kms drive on into Birdsville, through flat, stony country.

We have crossed the Simpson desert – yippee! Feel a great sense of achievement.

We drove straight to the legendary Birdsville Pub, for a beer. We had been promising ourselves the treat of a properly cold beer for the past couple of days! And wonderful it was, too. We toasted ourselves and our achievement.

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A COLD beer was much appreciated – the Birdsville Pub

At the Birdsville Caravan Park, booked onto a powered site for two nights, at $17 a night.

Set up camp, and then headed off for showers. The hot shower was so wonderful!

Then we relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, in shade by our tent.

John did the afternoon sched to Alice Springs Base. I used the phone box to call K and leave a message that we had reached Birdsville and all was well.

Tea was a split pea and vegetable stew with “instant” couscous. I’d been able to buy some fresh vegetables in town, on the way to the caravan park, to supplement the dried ones from our stores.

The Birdsville township has quite a pleasant feel about it. It is small, of course, but not tatty or decrepit – I don’t count the historic ruins in that category. It actually has quite a dynamic atmosphere, to us. The hotel staff are young, with-it people, back packers, I guess. The caravan park man seems pretty go-ahead. The airstrip is much bigger than I expected – and the runway is sealed.

Tonight we went to sleep to a background of human type noise – not excessive, but just there. The nights we had in the silence of the desert were so much better.


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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

08-17-1999 02 dunes at Rig Rd camp

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!

08-17-1999 19  Rig Rd conditions.jpg

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.

08-17-1999 21  sand blow over Rig Rd.jpg

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

08-17-1999 22  track round sand blow.jpg

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.

08-17-1999 25  AAK roller coaster.jpg

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.

08-18-1999 03  Georgina Gidgee.jpg

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.

08-16-1999 03  cnr French and Rig roads.jpg

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.

08-16-1999 rig rd e to w

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.

08-15-1999 03  Spring Ck delta and Dalhousie mound springs 2.jpg

Spring Creek Delta and extinct Dalhousie mound springs

08-15-1999 05  Glue Pot bog Spring Ck Delta Tk.jpg

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.

08-15-1999 simpson desert pic.JPG

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.

08-15-1999 simpson desert

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.

08-15-1999 15  Purni Bore camp.jpg

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

08-15-1999 10 Purni the bore

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.