We woke up early and with a mixture of excitement and anxiety had breakfast and packed the car. Once our morning briefing was over we left Birdsville behind to cross the worlds largest sand dune desert.
It will take 3 days to travel the 600 kilometres between Birdsville and Mt Dare. This is the real deal. Once we start the crossing there will be limited help. Medical or otherwise. A vehicle recovery service is based at Birdsville and Mt Dare. As you could imagine the service does not come cheap and is not covered by any of the automotive club membership’s. RACQ, NRMA etc. We carried 140 litres of fuel, 50 litres of water and enough food to feed an army for a week. As well the usual spare parts, tools and first aid.
We drove the 40km to the edge of the Simpson desert and to the first and the largest sand dune of the Simpson desert. Big Red. Here we dropped tyres pressures and had another short talk with our group leader. We then proceeded one by one to cross the first of many dunes that we would have to navigate over the next three days.
Forty metres at its highest point big red has to be crossed if traveling east to west or vis versa. However the main track doesn’t take you over 40 metres of dune. You drive over a smaller section know as little red. Big red is reserved for the people who want to challenge themselves and there vehicles.
On our rest day in Birdsville, most of the group went out and tackled big red. Much easier when not loaded up with fuel, water and camping gear. Alec and myself decided not to go and have an easy day. We both needed it. We would have the opportunity to try the following day as part of the crossing.
Big red is north along the dune about 500 metres from little red. Myself and a couple of other’s had a go at the various different routes up the step section of the dune. Did I make it up? You will have to watch the video below.
I tried a couple of times. Each time I only just missed out. I could have tried different tyres pressure, larger run up or one of the easier tracks. But I was concern with my fuel usage and time was getting on. After all we were about to cross a desert. I was little bit disappointed I didn’t make it up. Maybe next time.
After our play on big red we headed west into the desert. Over the next three day’s we drove up and down sand dunes, rolled across flat salt lakes and felt and saw the isolation and beauty of the desert. The absolute vastness of Australia is really brought home when after two long days of travel, you crest a dune and you can still see nothing but more dunes. It really is an amazing experience and something that no picture can truly capture.
But I going to try anyway. Because pictures are much better than reading my dribble.
By mid morning on the third day the sand dunes started to become smaller and the track less sandy. We stopped for lunch at an abandoned oil well. It is now a running bore, creating a small oasis in the desert. While stopped we inflated our tyres back to gravel road pressures. The soft sand dunes behind us now.
After lunch we continued along the dry and dusty track to Dalhousie ruins. The ruins were the original homestead of the first settles in the area. It’s hard to believe that a living was made from such a vast and unforgiving landscape. The area is no longer farmed and is part of the Witjira National Park. We left the ruins and made our way to Dalhousie Springs. Our camp for the night.
Once camp was set up we had a swim in the spring. It was like having a warm bath. Which was good, we hadn’t had a bath or shower for three days.
We spent the night in the tent. We were warned that the mosquitoes would be bad. This created a bit of a problem. Normally we would have dinner early before the mosquitoes arrived. We couldn’t do that this time as the fly’s were bad. I wasn’t taking any risks, mosquitoes love Alec. I decided we would eat a whatever was handy meal in the tent and chill till bed time. We both had fun reading books and playing games till we both nodded of to the sound of dingo’s howling in the distant.
The next morning we set off to visit the first slice of civilisation that we had seen since leaving Birdsville three days earlier. Mt Dare Hotel. Which is the finishing point of our Simpson desert crossing. Here we fueled up the cars, had lunch, toke photo’s and enjoyed the feeling of satisfaction of what we had achieved. Alec even got a well deserved ice cream.
We then headed north, leaving South Australia and entering Northern Territory and to our last camp for the tour. Old Anandado Station. Our camp was situated at the old homestead of outback pioneer Molly Clark. She passed away in 2012. The homestead has been preserved as a museum and is open to the public for viewing.
We had a slow start in the morning for our last day of the tour. Alice Springs our destination and a day of driving. However it was some of the most interesting driving on the tour.
We were making good time and was approximately 150km away from Alice Springs when one of our group called over the radio. Their four-wheel drive had lost drive and had no choice but to pull over. The transmission had sprung a bad leak and no road side repair would be able to get them any further. A tow truck was the only option.
We left the stricken vehicle and made our way to Alice springs. We found a bed in a caravan park and got ready for our final meal together at the local sports club. Over dinner we recounted our adventures, laughed about the mishaps and exchanged contact details. Tomorrow we would be going our separate ways. I could not of asked for a better bunch of people to travel with.
The Award For The Worst Place To Stop For Lunch.
Alec’s Making Money Skills.
I had with me a dust pan and brush. I use it to sweep out the tent. A fellow traveler realised this was a good idea and asked me if they could borrow it. Unfortunately whenever I got the dust pan out Alec would play with it and get upset when I toke it off him. So I told our travel companion that he would have to negotiate with Alec. After much haggling a rental fee was agreed upon. A princely sum of five dollars.
A Big Thankyou.
A single father taking his four-year old son to cross the Simpson desert is not something most parents would think do for a holiday. For some reason, I thought it would be a great idea. I not sure what that makes me. Totally insane maybe.
There are many reasons that I want to do trips such as this one with Alec. I obviously enjoy them but also I want Alec to experience life outside the cosy surrounding’s of the suburbs. To grow up with wonderment and amazement and not to be afraid of world and the people in it.
I like to describe this trip as an adventure and not a holiday. A holiday always sounds like relaxing on a beach drinking cocktails. This trip definitely wasnt that. We had tough times but also many amazing times.
However none of this would have been possible without help. I owe our fellow travellers a huge thankyou. You all toke to Alec and treated him not like a four year old but another person in the group. Including him within the group and maybe spoiling him a touch. All helping to make his trip awesome.
I also thank everyone for helping me. Might have been keeping an eye on Alec while I was busy setting up camp or putting up with a tantum while having lunch. Every little bit helps.
A big thankyou to Paul the managing director of Tag along tours of Australia who was also our guide for this adventure. For taking the risk of letting us do the tour and the many times Alec interrupted during you talks with the group. Your professionalism and dedication to the tour was outstanding.
Thankyou for the amazing memory’s.
Hi guys Great adventure
just wondering were Any of the vehicles standard Height.?
What about tyres is there a preferred type.?
How about were there any Auto transmissions ?
What about Fuel what was the average Litre per 100 kms..
Did you all meet up on the way or was it a pre organised affair?
Thanks just considering this shortcut to SA seeing we can’t drive through NSW
At the moment.
I am glad you enjoyed the read.
Yes a couple of the vehicles were standard height. However all had some sort of aftermarket suspension upgrade to handle the rough conditions and carry the extra load.
A good set of all terrain tyres is all that is needed for a desert crossing.
Yes there was auto transmission’s on the trip. Including my patrol. I find autos are great for sand driving and made the crossing a more pleasant drive. Both drive systems have there pro and con and it really come done to personal preference.
In my patrol which I have large mud tyre’s and was very heavy as you can imagine. Between Birdsville and Mt Dare I got 22 litre per 100kms.
Mine wasn’t the worst or the best in our group. Every vehicle is different.
I did the trip though a tag along tour. Crossing the Simpson is not a trip to take lightly and using a tour meant I had back up if something went wrong.
I highly advise to travel with at least one other vehicle and do lots of research and preparation before attempting the crossing. If something does go wrong there isn’t much help and no phone service. Vehicle recovery from either Birdville or Mt Dare will run into the thousands of dollars and there is very little options for medical help.
I hope this helps. A little of jealous you are out and about. We haven’t been anywhere since covid hit.
Stay safe and happy travels
Thanks for the read. Do you have details of any sight seating on the trip. Doing the trip at the end of September. Going to start at birdville then make our way up to Alcie springs after. and see kings canyon and uluru.
What stops did you camp at each day in the simpson desert. How many hours did you drive each day etc.
I don’t have much more info on the sight seeing. The desert crossing was all organised by the tag along company and I pretty much went with the flow. We did miss a couple of things due to plans changing. When doing Uluru etc I didn’t really do much re-search. Plenty of info about and everything is well sighed. Hard to plan anything with a young child.
As for camping in the desert, we didn’t stop a camp sites as such. The camps were just a suitable flat spot between dunes. We did some big days on this particular trip as we were making up time from the early detour around flood waters. I think we were doing close to 8 hours a day. All off us were happy to stay in the cars due to the really bad flies.
Great story nicely written and short
I want to do this one day!
I noticed no one was towing a trailer (sml) across the desert , is this because it carn’t be done ?? Too hard going ? or just not a good idea ??
Hi Gary. You can definitely tow a trailer across the desert. Although there is a lot of contention on the issue.
As for our trip, the tag along company don’t allow it.