Shaken ... and stirred......
Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
59Trip End Apr 23, 2005
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Abstract: Left Birdsville anxiously for crossing of Simpson Desert, suddenly find ourselves loving the dunes and orange/red sand, spend 5 nights crossing desert, ring Andy (Rach's Brother) on Sat Phone on his birthday, enjoy long soak in Dalhousie Springs' revitalising thermal pool, arrive Mt Dare Homestead in need of beer grateful to be across safely but sorry to leave desert, Spend two days driving 'Old Andado Track' Arrive Alice Springs...
Nitty Gritty: Larry was stocked up with 190L of Diesel (Two tanks Two Jerrys) and 100L of Water the previous day and at the crack of dawn we were off... The track out of Birdsville was fine, a bit corrugated, but we were both a bit quiet as we were not sure whether we had 'bitten off more than we could chew'
As we approached the start of the desert 'Big Red' as it is called, supposed to be the largest dune in the desert loomed ahead. We got out let the tyres down to 20psi as recommended to increase the 'footprint' and grip, and supposedly stop the vehicle sinking into soft sand. We climbed to the top of the dune and looked over the top and out into dune after dune after dune to the horizon... gulp...
Larry was revved to 2500 rpm and we hit the bottom of the dune at about 55kmph and sure enough he cruised to the top. We swayed from side to side a bit but never seemed to be in trouble and he chugged down the other side. The west side of the dunes (due to the wind) is not as steep as the eastern side, this is why east to west is usually described as the 'wrong' way, as it is more difficult. Anyway, we were past the point of no return so carried on, it was 20 minutes later that we realised we had crossed 'Big Red' at the easy point and we watched as a chap in a landcruiser ute took 5 attempts to get over and made it., the noise his engine and suspension were making gave us no inclination to have a go as we had a long way to go and he was finishing..
Inevitably, later on when Rachel was driving, we had our first refusal (to use showjumping parlance) stopping short of the top in a slow stall, the car starts to creep backwards as it sinks into the sand, gulp. Remembering our training course and yelling at each other, ignition off, footbrake on, brief clutch, into reverse low range, clutch off, slowly off the brake (will it hold? yes..phew) then with feet off all the pedals turn the ignition on and chug chug chug, slowly and safely back down. There is much rejoicing, after another abortive attempt we are over, having cut up the dune nicely for the poor people coming after us.
The desert was empty, of people, but not life, when you take the time there is all kinds of small grasses, bushes and even trees here and there, how they survive is anyones guess... even more amazing were the dingos, camels and emus we saw, what do they eat?
We passed ony one group of five vehicles coming in the opposite direction that day and they said they had seen only one other car during their crossing
Before dawn we were awoken as two dingos sniffed around our tent, wow. The morning's dunes were OK apart from one which required 2 attempts, but we were gaining confidence in how to attempt them and learning about tyre pressures. We finally made it to Poepples Corner which is the point where Queensland, South Australia & Northern Territory meet, although they didn't have GPS' when it was marked and G spent some time finding the exact point which was some 200m away and he looked really funny striding around in his flynet holding his GPS pacing up and down, backwards and forwards.
Saw 1 single vehicle & a 4 vehicle convoy and a 9 vehicle convoy before lunch. The latter group included a vehicle where all inside were off their faces including the driver rather worryingly who was smoking a joint and opening a beer when they stopped to speak to us!! Passed another group of 5 as we turned off the French line we had been travelling along and on to Knolls track
The next stretch of the frenchline was like an assault course with dune after dune after dune, up and down, up and down and then the big ones came along! Gulp....We got up some really steep dunes, having a second attempt at one which had a huge scolluped out part towards the top and if hit too fast we could have ended up on our side. One another one, the wind had blown the sand free of tracks and as we zoomed up to the crest, we realised we'd overshot the track and had to reverse back down and have another go. Passed 1 vehicle today.
By now the terrain had changed from dune interspaced by wide valley of a few trees of a clay pan to dunes very close together and treeless covered only by spikey spinifex grass. It was really desert and from the top of the high dunes there was nothing but red sand in the distance.
Did some side trips to an abandoned oil well that G thought would be like something out of Dallas, but instaed was a capped pipe, and to lone gum which is a single gum tree in the middle of the desert and no one knows how old it is, where it came from, or more importantly, where it gets its water from
It had been a freezing night and can you believe it, we were wearing our down jackets in the morning as we packed up! Neither of us fancied b'fast this am which was a bad mistake as the next dune field was huge, the steepest dunes we'd crossed so far.These ones were tricky as they were not straight up and straight down, but had curves in them and swists at the top are it was tricky to get the correct speed and momentum when you had to keep turning corners.
We nearly came unstuck when R powered over a dune and over ran the crest slightly and had missed the track and as we were pointing down hill, and there was lots of spikey grass in front of us, the only option was to turn the wheel and drive sideways slightly, which is what you are not supposed to do and we lurched over to the left and thought we would roll on our side, but luckily not. Our hearts were racing and we had to stop for an hour to have some food and calm down
The next days dunes were less steep, except for one which took 4 attempts to get over, but we did it! The really frustrating thing was that some of these steep ones were nothing on the other side, so we did realise then that west to east is less steep, but on some dunes, there was more soft sad on the west side so it was horses for courses....And suddenly we were at Purni Bore and had finished the main part of the Simpson Crossing. There was a waterhole here where we watched birds and studied tracks in the sand and more importantly had a shower and laundry.
It was R's brothers birthday so the following am we rang using the satellite phone which had an amazingly clear line, but unfortunately he was on the phone! Drove the short distance to Dalhousie Springs where you can take a dip in a natural hot spring which was lovely and then set off for Mt Dare Homestead where we were to return the sat phone. We had travelled the road before and it was awful. It was 80km of gibber plain which is small rocks of fist size which you have to drive over slowly and the car shakes and vibrates and your fillings practically drop out.
We were in need of a beer when we reached Mt Dare Homestead and cooked a celebratory meal of roast turkey and all the trimmings followed by treacle sponge - it's amazing what you can cook up on a camp stove
We left Mt Dare for the 450km Old Andado track to Alice Springs which turned out to be one of the most beautiful tracks we have travelled down and we are raving about it.The 1st section followed the floodplains of the Finke river and was really sandy with lots of trees which made a change from the desert. This was cattle country and we came across some lovely chocolate brown cows on the track and they thought they were being mustered so trotted along the track and we thought we'd be floowing then all the way to Alice.
We emerged from this area to the edge of the Simpson and we were in dune country again although this time we were parallel with them which was nice and they were the colour of tomato soup. The next section was of small stones which were easy to drive on and similar to bitumen, so we made good progress.
We stopped at a conservation park set up to protect a special type of wattle that only grows in 3 small areas of central australia. The trees looked like trees from the Cat in the Hat books and had spikes for leaves.
We really felt like we were in the middle of know where out here as the land was now totally flat and isolated and somehow the dunes that we had been in had enclosed us, so we felt less isolated some how
We camped at the base of a 200m high mountain range that sprang up from the ground abruptly and continued the 230km to Alice Springs passing the aboriginal community of Santa Theresa on the way. Like other settlements we have passed, they don't seem to notice rubbish and litter like we do and the place was full of junk and rubbish!
Finally we reached bitumen and it was time to pump up the tyres to the correct pressure and learn to drive on bitumen again. We booked into a camp site we'd stayed at before which is great and had the longest shower ever.
We headed off to the land councils for both Northern Territory and Western Oz to apply for permits to cross some aboriginal land as we travel west from Alice, and booked Larry in for a service.....gulp. The timing belt needs doing and a few other things so we have a $900 bill to pay, but you take the rough with the smooth whan you by a vehicle!
The plan......we will travel west from Alice to Warburton where we will refuel and then head on to Newman and up to Port Headland on the west coast and then to Exmouth for a spot of diving before heading north. It will take about 3 weeks to reach Newman, so don't expect an update until the end of May!