Simpson Desert SidetrackedSeptember 6, 2011
“Why don’t you cross the desert with us?”
Said Shane as we were having breakfast at Mount Dare Station, South Australia’s most remote ‘hotel’.
I had arrived the day before and rode my bicycle in at the same time that two motorbikes pulled up. They took one look at me and said, “We thought we were doing it tough…” And bought me a beer
6 more motorbikes and two 4WD’s had arrived when we all sat down for dinner.
I told them how I had a flat the day before and had been sitting on the side of the road to wait for a car to pass because after fixing the leak I had discovered my little pump had broken.
100 miles from anywhere is not the ideal spot to find out…
But the first car I tried to flag down just sped past me which is against all outback laws… the second one though helped me out with a little air and a beer at the Springs. So all was good after all.
One of the motorbike guys jumped up and gave me his little pump. And a map of where I was going (thanks & thanks!)
So here I was, the next morning, at the breakfast table with my bike packed up and ready to go and Shane asking if I would like to come accross the largest parallel sand dune desert in the world.
Sure, I thought. Why don’t I go into Australia’s fourth largest desert with two complete and utter strangers…?
Sounds like an excellent plan.
So an hour later I found myself back in the warm waters of the Dalhousie springs before heading into the scrub.
I’ll introduce you to my new travelmates.
Here’s Shane, 46, married to a Dutch lady and father of three. He’s a milkman in Makay. He goes outback regularly to get away from it all and takes with him a fridge full of ice-coffees (yum!)
Then there is Frank, 57′ owner of an earthmoving business in South Australia and very well equiped to travel this continent. Which is exactly what he has been doing for the last 4 weeks, going down the Anne Bardell hwy, Great Central road, Canning Stock Route up to Wolf Creek Crater, down the Tanami, stocked up in Alice Springs and happened to arrive at Mount Dare about an hour after I did…
It was only at our first camp that Shane and I discovered how well-equiped Frank really is. Apart from carrying enough food and fuel to last about a month including 110 litres of water. He also had enough alcohol to last all of us a lifetime….
Shane had his Ice-coffees and a bunch of tins with all sorts of surprising content.
I have never eaten so well on a camping trip before…. or drank for that matter.
Not just the food was in good supply, just to be sure to be sure Frank has built himself a 4WD-track at home, where he purposely gets his vehicles bogged just to practise getting them out again.
Lucky we didn’t need these skills… much. But it was good to know they were on hand.
And then, there was me… Well. You know me.
With three oranges and my toothbrush I was extremely well prepared.
I jumped in the vehicle with Shane and we were away.
We entertained ourselves by looking at and naming different plant and animal species. Since both our knowledge of native Australian flora & fauna is lacking a little we didn’t get much further than:
‘”Pretty purple flowers” or :
“Look, Yellow Bush!” or:
“Little Yellow Flower” or:
“A white Bush“, or:
And, “Great View”…
And so we spent many happy km’s in Frank’s tracks while pointing out different things. I did manage to point out the spinifex…. This prickly bush is probably the number 1 reason I get flat tyres on this continent, and is everywhere.
And sometimes we saw something completely different. Like pole B270.
The track we were taking was called the ‘French Line’. Originally called ‘Line B’, built by French Petroleum back in the 60′s to get seismic data out of the Simpson Desert to see if there might be oil. Pole B270 is one of the original permanent markers that indicates a seismic shot point. (I knew all that)
Every now and then we would stop along the tracks to have a break or something to eat.
With just 20 or 30 km/h on most of those track we weren’t actually going an awful lot faster then I would go on my bike. Although I probably would be pushing it a lot if I tried riding out here. But apparently there is an annual bike-race through the Simpson Desert… Now that would be fun!
In this desert, that’s 5 times the size of my whole country, just about everywhere is an excellent campspot. We would set up camp,
Get the fire going, cook up a storm,
And wait for the rats to attack.
Not just this one, but in their hundreds, if not thousands, they would come into our camp to nibble on anything they could find. Which usually happened to be Frank’s waterbottle, Frank’s clothesbag and Frank’s wires… They tried getting into my tent too. But miserably failed at that attempt.
Another visitor, and altogether a lot cuter, but doing at least the same damage was the spinifex hopping mouse. They do not like it when you accidently step on their tail though. They hop.
The very strange thing was, on our way back we saw almost no living rats, but a whole lot of dead ones and not one hopping mouse at all… It’s a mystery.
When crossing this desert the vehicles must put a little flag on the front of the bullbar. I have now realised that this is indeed very useful. On these single tracks of sand dunes you cant see oncoming traffic, but you do see the little flag bopping up occasionally.
As you get further east there is a whole lot of saltlakes to cross. They are a very pretty sight ‘specially when there’s water in them.
One of the sight’s to see along the track is “Poeppels Corner“
This is the exact spot where The Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia meet. Originally the corner point was located in the middle of the lake in the mid 1880′s when Augustus Poeppel dragged a Coolibah Marker post into the desert with a bunch of camels. But as it turned out his measure chain had extended by 2,5 cm due to wear and heat so the corner was relocated 274 meters east a few years later.
The original post is now in Adelaide, so I’ll have to go and see that one day.
But here I was at three states at once! (or in two states and one territory as I was quickly corrected…)
Before getting to Birdsville we had to make a 75km detour to cross Eyre Creek. With the amount of rain in the last year creeks are flowing and the birds flock in.
A beautiful sight to see.
Arriving in Birdsville and with Shane gone home, Frank and I happened to camp right next to my four old mates from Hamilton Station and the Dalhousie Springs.
(we go way back) They seemed surprised and slightly startled to see me pop up there (is she stalking us… But after a round of Hello’s and hugs we ended up having another lovely evening together where Banjo Paterson’s poem; Mulga Bill’s bicycle was recited to me. (see below for text)
They also gave us their museum tickets; they bought them with every intention to see the museum, but since it only opened at 3, went down to the pub first… and never made it to the museum.
So Frank and I walked down to the museum, but got side-tracked by that very same pub… and never made it to the museum…
Never made it back to the campground ’till early the next morning either. I can heartily advise you never to go for those 3dollar vodka-cans they have on offer at the birdsville hotel. I did happen to run into Dick Smith though… And some great local characters.
You know you had a good night when you seem to know every one in town the next day, and they know you… by name.
After a night like that nothing is better then a curried camel-pie at the Birdsville Bakery…
With my bicycle waiting for me in Mount Dare we had to make a move and after getting a few supplies set out to cross the desert once again. But for a change of scenery we took a slightly different track as on the way up.
We passed “Big Red”, at 40 meters the desert highest sandune and after 6 trys made it right up it the 7th time. As Frank remarked, ” Flat tyres and horsepower will get you anywhere…”
The view from the top of Big Red was gorgeous with the amout of water around.
This time the main pasttime was singing along to the mp3-player and trying to spot camels. The best place to do this from is the roof of the car…
We did see some, but before I could take a picture they were over the dunes and out of sight. Can’t really blame them though: I would run too if I knew I might end up in a pie…
Each car around here has a two-way, so you can let each other know where about you are. It’s very useful when you say something like,” Single vehicle heading west from George’s corner on the French line.” It becomes much less useful and sometimes even slightly annoying when people say something like: “2 vehicles heading west“… every 10 minutes! Or “vehicle cresting” (there’s 1100 crests!) …
After hundreds of sandy kilometres along hundreds of sand dunes we arrived at a spot where our map informed us there would be a “Lone Gum Tree“. The reason for this Gum Tree (Coolibah) to be on the map is that it’s very rare to find such a tree far away from any water-source. No one knows how this tree got here or how old it is… But I discovered that this tree is not lone at all. It has two little gum trees at it’s side. It’s also, most likely, the most visited lone tree in the desert… A good spot for a picnic though.
And I love those desert dunes. Even more so when Frank let me drive for a while
We got a pretty good routine going with setting up camp, cooking and packing up. I had finally discovered that it’s so much nicer to sleep out in the open (on top of the vehicle against little critters) instead of using my tent.
But after 9 wonderful days and a diet of alcohol and meat I was ready to get back on my bicycle.
So thanks to Shane and thanks to Frank for taking me on this Simpson Desert Sidetrack, it was a hoot!!!
Mulga Bill’s Bicycle
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that caught the cycling craze;
He turned away the good old horse that served him many days;
He dressed himself in cycling clothes, resplendent to be seen;
He hurried off to town and bought a shining new machine;
And as he wheeled it through the door, with air of lordly pride,
The grinning shop assistant said, `Excuse me, can you ride?‘
`See, here, young man,’ said Mulga Bill, `from Walgett to the sea,
From Conroy’s Gap to Castlereagh, there’s none can ride like me.
I’m good all round at everything, as everybody knows,
Although I’m not the one to talk — I HATE a man that blows.
But riding is my special gift, my chiefest, sole delight;
Just ask a wild duck can it swim, a wild cat can it fight.
There’s nothing clothed in hair or hide, or built of flesh or steel,
There’s nothing walks or jumps, or runs, on axle, hoof, or wheel,
But what I’ll sit, while hide will hold and girths and straps are tight:
I’ll ride this here two-wheeled concern right straight away at sight.’
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that sought his own abode,
That perched above the Dead Man’s Creek, beside the mountain road.
He turned the cycle down the hill and mounted for the fray,
But ere he’d gone a dozen yards it bolted clean away.
It left the track, and through the trees, just like a silver streak,
It whistled down the awful slope, towards the Dead Man’s Creek.
It shaved a stump by half an inch, it dodged a big white-box:
The very wallaroos in fright went scrambling up the rocks,
The wombats hiding in their caves dug deeper underground,
As Mulga Bill, as white as chalk, sat tight to every bound.
It struck a stone and gave a spring that cleared a fallen tree,
It raced beside a precipice as close as close could be;
And then as Mulga Bill let out one last despairing shriek
It made a leap of twenty feet into the Dead Man’s Creek.
‘Twas Mulga Bill, from Eaglehawk, that slowly swam ashore:
He said, `I’ve had some narrer shaves and lively rides before;
I’ve rode a wild bull round a yard to win a five pound bet,
But this was the most awful ride that I’ve encountered yet.
I’ll give that two-wheeled outlaw best; it’s shaken all my nerve
To feel it whistle through the air and plunge and buck and swerve.
It’s safe at rest in Dead Man’s Creek, we’ll leave it lying still;
A horse’s back is good enough henceforth for Mulga Bill.’