How I managed to fall asleep I will never know. But, after a good 7 hour sleep I sprang out of bed, knowing that I was about to jump into a fully loaded 80 series with a good mate and heading bush for three weeks. Well, after a coffee. This adventure will cover 7,500km of constantly changing track conditions, scenery and good memories for the 8 of us. Yep, 8 of us. I am travelling with my three kids (10, 8 & 6), and my mate Rosco is travelling with his three boys (15, 13 and 10).
We left Sydney in stormy, cold darkness and after passing through Dubbo, it was nothing but sunshine for 22 days. 22 days of bright sunshine, 4WDing in outback Australia. There is a God…!
So we put pedal to the metal and made first camp just out of Broken Hill. It was a big drive, but worth it to know we were already deep into our adventure, and a long way away from the office. Day 2 saw us hit the sights and sounds of Broken Hill and after full day of exploring, we all agreed that next time we will spend at least 3 days around the Broken Hill area. It really was a ripper part of outback NSW. The Broken Hill area offers so much information about Australia’s past and it wasn’t boring for the kids. We had to literally drag them out of the many museums and historical buildings that catered so well for all ages. Next was the short drive out to Silverton. What a cracker of a town that place is. We took in a brilliant mine tour, a beer at the Silverton Hotel and a visit to the Mad Max museum, before setting up for a camp in the sandy, shady haven of the Umberumberka Creek. This camp spot was fantastic. Not only was it free, but the firewood was plentiful, the sunset was one of the best I had seen for a while and the bird life was truly incredible.
Day 3 sunrise was a gift of about 300 signing birds that saw us up and into a healthy breakfast of hash brown, egg and sausage wraps. After we packed up and cleaned up the campsite, we hit the tracks for a drive up to Tibooburra, out through Cameron Corner and over the hilly track that takes us out to the Strzelecki. This trip out to the Strz was nothing but giggles and screams in the back of our trucks, as the kids lost their stomachs over and over again as we flew over the little sand hills. Once we were on the Strzelecki, we found the conditions were a little rougher, but as we were running low tyre pressures (22psi rear and 18psi front), the Mickey T, 35inch TTC Claws ate up the km with ease, and with very little slipping and sliding around. We made camp by the riverbank at the Strzelecki’s Crossing, which gave us another great night around the campfire, and after an early start the next morning, we only travelled for a short time when we decided to pull off the track and check out the Montecollina Bore for a rest stop. Well bugger me if the Montecollina Bore is not Vallhalla! Well, the closest thing you’re going to find Heaven on the Strzelecki anyway. As soon as we all laid eyes on the dam that was full to the brim from the pumping bore, we all threw off the dusty clothes and jumped in for very refreshing dip. It was clear and cool and gave us all a great break from the heat and dust, Before we hit the Strzelecki again for the scenic drive down through Lyndhurst, and then on to Maree in outback South Australia.
Maree was an interesting place with a long history of passing travellers with unique stories. I truly could have stayed there yacking with Dusty the barman at the Maree Hotel for days. While we were having a palate cleanser and exchanging stories and laughs, we met an old pilot who was travelling around the outback in his little 4 seater plane. He was travelling from one town to another, almost any town that had a landing strip he would stop for a look around. This old pilot, Harry, had also stopped in at the hotel for a liquid lunch and a few laughs. He told us to head for Coward Springs for a great camp spot the following day and showed us on the map where we could check out the amazing Lake Eyre from the best vantage point along the way. Let me tell you, it is well worth having a chat to the people you meet on your travels around the outback. No matter how good your planning is, you can always get the good oil from the characters you meet and you also get to share a good laugh over a coldie or two. So off we went north, exploring the famous Oodnadatta Track. A couple of stops at Lake Eyre found us all standing in awe at the size and beauty of this amazing inland lake. The colours and overwhelming size of Lake Eyre make you realise just how expansive our great land is.
After a couple more stops off the track to explore the various ruins that lay abandoned on the side of the Oodnadatta, we arrived at Coward Springs. The spring was first taped to feed the passing train on the old Ghan line and it is now run and maintained as a great campground for passing travellers on the Oodnadatta. Coward Springs offers shade, firewood, toilets and showers and of course, the clean and refreshing spring for a dip. Coward Sporing is not in the same league as the famous Dalhousie Spring on the doorstep of the Simmo, as you can only fit about 4 adults at any one time into the spring area that has been built out of old railway sleepers, but it still offers a relaxing soak which we all needed.
The morning of day 5 found us making tracks for William Creek for lunch and then on to Oodnadatta for a well-earned steak dinner at the Pink Roadhouse. After another great sleep in the swag, we ducked just out of town to the 6×4 track. This is a little 4WD course in Oodnadatta only a few km out of town that takes you through mud pits, salt flats and sand dunes and it will really test your truck and give you a little taste of what is to come, if you are heading over to Mt Dare and then through the Simmo after you leave Oodnadatta. As we headed back into Oodnadatta after completing the 6×4 track, I noticed that I had suffered a puncture in my left rear tyre. So it was straight into the workshop at the Pink Roadhouse to see Neville. Neville and Adriana Jacob are the owners of the Pink Roadhouse since taking over in early October 2013 from Lynnie Plate.
Neville and Adriana may have only been owners of the famous Pink Roadhouse for a short time, but they are no strangers to the bush. As some of you may remember, they were the previous owners of the William Creek Hotel, so they know the Oodnadatta track as well as anyone. With Neville’s help we dunked the dusty mud tyre into the water bath and found the leak and after a quick repair, we were ready to hit the track again. In typical bush hospitality, Neville wouldn’t take any cash for his help. I’d say he was probably just happy with the 25 iced coffees, milk shakes and chocolate bars we all purchased while fixing the tyre. My kids can eat for china. After a refitting the big 35 muddy back in place, we were back onto the track and heading for Marla.
Crossing into the N.T. also brought the excitement that we were close to seeing Uluru, the Olgas, Kings Canyon and the scenic Mereenie loop which offers spectacular views of the West MacDonald Ranges, as it winds its way into Alice Springs. So after another ripper week of exploring we ticked off all of these iconic sights. Places like the Olgas and Uluru receive good exposure on the TV and magazines, but it is not until you are standing right in front of them do you really get a true perspective of the size and beauty of these natural treasures that we all share as Australians. You really need to load up the 4WD and get out here and experience this for yourself, as I can’t really put into words how wonderful this part of our Aussie bush really is. It’s just something everyone needs to see for themselves.
Alice Springs offered us a chance to pick up some fresh supplies, and take a good wash which was well overdue for some. I mean my buddy Rosco really needs to wear a sign advising people to stand clear when he is travelling away from home. After a few days without a shower, he smells worse than roadkill in the hot sun. He does keep all the flies away from the rest of us though, so there is always a bright side… So with Rosco now smelling like old spice and baby powder, we headed due south for the town of Finke. The 200 odd km trip down to Finke found us again traveling alongside the Old Ghan Railway Line, and this track also runs alongside the Finke Desert Race track. Travelling along this track with its constantly changing conditions, from bulldust, to sand, to clay pan flats and loose rocky corrugations, it gives you a real challenge and allows you to really test out your truck in true outback conditions. This is the sort of track that makes you glad you upgraded your suspension before you left home to some quality aftermarket gear.
If like us, when you travel out this way, you head for the Simpson Desert crossing, you need to consider that after you leave Alice Springs, there is no real roadside assistance before you reach Birdsville. Well none that will reach you in a hurry anyway. So you need to be confident in your truck and also be carrying enough tools and spares to get you out of any situation you may find yourself in. If you do break down, there is always the option calling Barnsy form the Birdsville Roadhouse to come out and get you or fix your truck, but at $ 395 per hour for his services, the thought of him travelling into the Simmo to get you and sort you out, considering it could take him several days, makes me scared of the thought of explaining that hit to the credit card when I walk back in the front door and see the bride. Ouch… So doing your daily checks, not only under the bonnet, but a good inspection all over your truck is a must, every day. 20 mins at the start of each day can really save you later as you can pick up small problems and repair them before they become trackside breakdowns.
After a stop at Finke we travelled down to Mt Dare for our final fuel up before we headed for Dalhousie Springs. The rough track into Dalhousie made the dip in the warm spring extra special and we all spent time soaking in the warm waters, as we chatted with several other travellers that had just come out of the Simmo from East to West. All of them commented on the small number of travellers they encountered. This was music to our ears as we were all hoping to experience the remoteness of this mighty desert and experience that big sky feeling, knowing there was no one around except for a handful of camels and dingos.
So after jumping back into our trucks, we headed east towards the Purni Bore and into the Simpson Desert. From Dalhousie heading east, it is only about 40km until you reach the first of the 1100 sand dunes that make up the Simmo, and at the western side the dunes are only small and easy to handle. As you travel east to Birdsville, the dunes slowly grow a little bigger each day which gives you good practice at climbing dunes before you reach the eastern end of the Simmo, where you find Big Red, the largest of the dunes in the Simpson Desert. Most travellers through the Simmo take about 4 days to cross, which allows you plenty of time to take in all of the changing scenery and experience some of the best camping you will ever have in Australia. There are plenty of great camp spots and all come complimentary with the best view of the stars I have ever seen in my life. With no intruding lights anywhere to be seen, the stars are so bright and they stretch from horizon to horizon. I recon any dingos that were hanging around our campsite at night looking at us, must have thought we were strange as we spent hours lying back in our camp chairs, staring at the sky, and yelling out when one of us spotted one of the thousands of shooting stars we saw.
The Simmo is an ever-changing landscape and as you crest every new dune you are constantly amazed at how different every new valley is. Some are baron, some full of trees, some are dead flat salt pans and some are full of small shrubs and lizards. As you travel along the French Line as we did, you find very little opportunity to put your camera down as every direction you look is a picture postcard scene. You only travel about 100km each day in the Simmo, but as you are constantly entertained by the challenging track conditions and the wonderful views, you find yourself ready for a camp and a cold beer at about 4pm each day. With large dunes each side of you as you pull up for a camp, you are never quite sure if the next travelling party is just a few dunes over, or 80km away. It doesn’t really matter as the most important thing is where you are and who you are with and of course, the fact that you are not at work!
As you arrive towards the eastern end of the French Line, you stumble across Poeppel Corner only a few minutes detour off the main track. This is definitely worth a visit and our kids found it very educational to read through the information board provided at the site detailing the history of the Augustus Poeppel expedition back in 1880. Man these early explorers would have done it tough. Not easy like us in our Landcruisers, with loads of water, supplies and communication if we get into strife. We continued east until we hit the junction of the K1 Line south. After a left turn heading north, we travelled for about 20km across an amazing salt pan, until we met the Hay River Track north and the QAA Line east to Birdsville. With Birdsville drawing closer with every dune we crossed, we could almost smell the Curried Camel pies at the bakery, and the thought of an icy cold draft beer at the Birdy Hotel was enough to make the last 166km feel like we were on ice skates. But we still had the Goonamillera Crossing and of course Big Red to tackle before we could settle in at the bar in Birdsville. With the Goonamillera Creek as dry as an old boot, we only stopped for a quick break and a few snaps of the camera before we jumped back behind the wheel for the last leg in towards Big Red. Apart from the size of the giant sand dune, Big Red is easy to spot with her 4 track options to climb up from the western side. It is an experience that every 4WDer must have a crack at, at some point in their lives and even though this wasn’t my first time driving up Big Red, it certainly wasn’t any less exciting as the first time I had a crack. So with 2nd gear selected, I was off with the right foot planted. I’d love to say I made it up the hardest track on the first attempt, but sadly it took a few attempts at the monster dune and given that my 80 was fully loaded, I think she did pretty well. But after reducing the tyre pressures a little further to 12psi, we were up on top of Big Red with high fives all around.
After we had our fun on Big Red enjoying a setting sun which gave us some fantastic photos and a great way to farewell our Simmo crossing, we made the short trip across to Little Red, and then on to Birdsville for a camp and a good feed.
After a day exploring Birdsville we headed south, with our run back to Sydney taking us down the Cadelga track which runs through the historic Cordillo Downs station. We made the stop in at the Cordillo Station to look over the old wool shed and soak up some of the history of the early pioneers of this area. The information boards provided to travellers at the woolshed are fantastic and detail for all visitors to the area the real hardships faced by those early pioneers, in this beautiful but harsh part of our great country. Probably the most interesting information provided, is the detail about the method the current owners use to muster their 7,800 square km property at Cordillo. The information board reads, and I quote, “the cattle are mustered in the cooler months, using bikes, Toyotas, and helicopters,..”. Not just 4WD’s folks, but TOYOTAs! Sorry to all the Nissan drivers out there, but it looks like only a Toyota is up for the harsh terrain in this neck of the woods!! Every Toyota owner has gotta love that…
After leaving the Cordillo Woolshed, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves pulling into Innamincka and setting up camp on the banks of the mighty Cooper Creek. The hotel at Innamincka is a great spot to meet county characters and that night we found ourselves chatting with some of the funniest and most interesting people we had met on our adventure, and the feed we had that night at the pub, was on par with the best dinners I have eaten anywhere in Australia. A visit to Innamincka is not complete without doing the short drive out to the Burke & Wills grave sites and also to the Face Tree & Dig Tree. These historical locations provided all of us with a real sense of what the Burke & Wills exploration party faced back in the early 1860’s. Once again the information boards provided at these locations for travellers is really well presented and gives you a true sense of that part of our pioneering history.
Leaving Innamincka for the run back to Sydney, you are presented with a few choices of tracks. Given that I had not travelled down through the Toona Gate, back in NSW, we headed off south past the Epsilon Station and down past the Omicron station until we found the 38km track that would take us back into NSW via the Toona Gate, through the Dog Fence on the boarder of NSW and Qld. This track was quite fun and reminded us of the Simpson Desert we had travelled only a week earlier, with its sandy single track and little sandy dunes to climb over every 600m or so. Not long after passing through the Toona Gate, we found ourselves back in Tibooburra for a top up of the tanks before we were back onto the tracks and heading for White Cliffs and the then the run back through country NSW, on our way home to Sydney.
The whole adventure took us 22 days and we covered 7,500km of some of the most amazing country Australia has to offer. What we learnt about our early history and the people we met and places we saw will stay with us forever. We hadn’t even made it home before we were all taking about and planning our next big adventure to another part of our iconic country.
It doesn’t matter whether you have the latest 4WD with all the best mods, or an old early 90’s 4WD like Rosco and myself. Just get it set up right and get out there and make your own memories that you will remember and talk about together around the camp fire for years to come. The Aussie outback is there for us all to share.
Matt Penrose – OzOffroad