Crossing of the Simpson Desert
Trip leader Bernhard Kuepper
A team of two Toyota 76 met at my address on the 21st of March 2019.
We took it quietly down old south road through Finke to Mt Dare Homestead. There we took the opportunity to fuel up, sleep a last time in a bed and get meals cooked.
We also got the latest info on the status of the roads crossing the Simpson Desert. The French line was open from Dalhousie to Poeppel Corner. The further track to Birdsville was to open on Saturday, 23rd.
On the 22nd we took of to Dalhousie and enjoyed a swim. The ambient temperature was exceeding 40C and the water had the same temperature. Therefore we didn’t stay long. Then we left towards Purni bore. The roads were ok and dry.
Given the Taifun Trevor was threatening to drench the desert and Birdsville we made a decision to speed up our crossing. Our first camp was close to the Erabena track. The activity of the flys was horrible too. The condition of the track was variable with parts being so bumpy that my rear suspension did regularly bottom out at 10km/h. Marks lifted truck did much better, but equally had less weight to carry.
The dunes were slowly getting taller. Sarah provided us with an excellent dinner.
Unfortunately we didn’t time the wake up time right and skipped breakfast for the flies. The track towards Poeppel Corner was much worse and required lower average speed. Mark and I also got our first sense of how to get stuck.
The final score was 5/4 and I took the lead!
I also popped the left rear Tyre of the rim and lost the internal TPMS sensor. This required us to change tyres as the valve was broken.
Poeppel Corner was a nice stop at noon. We duely took our pictures and left an updated Club Sicker on the information board.
Until now we followed the tracks laid by two vehicles the days before. Since they weren’t allowed further, we now cut first tracks into the sand.
The QAA Line was rough from Poeppel Corner on and we averaged 15km/h. At the end of daylight we set up camp 120km out of Birdsville. Sarah, again, treated us with an exceptional dinner. The night was warm again and no blanket needed.
We did beat the fies to a cooked breakfast and headed on. Well after a jumpstart for Marks car. It was amazing how green the desert was. Also the terrain kept changing and we/I as the lead vehicle, had to conquer steep dunes which crests had been blown towards us by Easterly winds over the hot summer. The clay pans equally did not challenge us. We even did a bit of a drag race. Mark gave me a head start only to blow me away. Powerful beast! We could see that the clay pans had had a lot of water, but the surface was dry. Driving at some speed didn’t allow for us to sink in.
Before noon we reached Big Red. Again I got stuck at the very top and Mark made it at his second run for it. He gave me a gentle pull and on we drove. It was quite fascinating to see so much green left and right of the road, which by the way was in very good condition.
We took our welcome picture at the information sign. Then we circled the town and decided to book in the hotel. Info we obtained suggested to leave on the day as heavy rain was on its way again.
We decided to stay and recover. And the rain came.
The next morning all roads out of Birdsville were closed. And it rained the whole day.
Well Mark and I made good company at the pub. The bakery served breakfast and the pub lunch and dinner, as desired. We drove around Birdsville and discovered the corrugated camels, horses, artesian bore, The Bakery and the Burke and Wills tree. Well kind of. Mark found the sign and followed. The already soaked ground was even more unforgiving during the rain and Mark slid towards the river bank. 4 snatch straps in a row further and we were free and muddy as hell. This earned us and the cars a wash down. Cleaner and soaking wet we made it back to the hotel to warm up. The temperature had dropped.
A few jumpstarts on we bought a new starter battery for Mark. This solved the battery issues.
Tuesday was dry. Rumours appeared that the desert may be opened on Wednesday. The alternative routes were long and uncertain. To the North towards Mt Isa there is only an 80km stretch of unsealed road. But there had been a lot of water and one road point for us was flooded almost 2m deep. We met the chopper pilot who rescued the people and it was horrific. Furthermore the east to west highways like the Plenty were closed too. Down South the Birdsville track is closed until further notice. We could have made it further East and then South. The tracks were still closed and images of flooded roads kept coming in.
When we met a lovely family – Three Escape Together – on FB, we decided to team up and tackle the desert backwards.
On Wednesday Stefan the local police officer and Dan the ranger opened the access to the desert for our team at 4pm. There was also a group of 4 Iveco Earth Cruisers and one Ford Ranger by the owner of the company. They also got allowed in, but with suspicion they might leave deep ruts in the soft clay pans.
We crossed Little Red and were greeted by WATER on the clay pan. I tracked on the sand to Big Red and it looked slightly better. Following the advice to stay on the central tacks, as they are compacted, I made 100m and got stuck. Mark took a new line and easily got in front of me where the surface was easily more solid. Another snatch with my boots full of muddy water and Marks long trousers also being wet and we were on the move. Our new team members with their Nissan and camper trailer made it through alright.
As we departed late and had to do more scouting and alternative tracking with the water we only made 38km until nightfall. Sarah did another amazing dinner. As all our plans for 2 weeks of slow desert crossings back and forth had been washed away we shared with Scott, Maria and Charles.
This time the night was cold and it stayed this way.
We took of early with waking up at 5am Qld time and breakfast before dawn. It was a good drive. We found our challenges and overcame them. Poeppel Corner was reached around 1pm NT time. We duely took further pictures and headed on.
The most amazing observation was how much the rain in the desert had changed the track. There were severe new washouts and our tracks only showed up occasionally. Still the clay pans were hit and miss and needed sometimes extensive routes around the sand.
The sand got redder and redder and the dunes less high. Well some at least. I popped another Tyre of my rear wheels bead. This time we could reseat it with water and compressed air.
Nightfall gave us the right setting for another exceptional meal. We also has camp fires going now. They helped a lot with the fies.
Next morning we had a good breakfast and a very early start. The sunrise was stunning in the rear mirrors and we stopped to indulge in it and all of its colours.
This day Scott destroyed a tyre permanently. Another wheel change further we went on. Beautiful landscape was passing us. Challenging steep dunes needed driving up. Most of the times I found the best way up straight away.
At the dune I got stuck at my nemesis tree, Scott needed 4 attempts and the whole speed he could get out of the clay pan to make it. And he did.
Eventually we arrived at Purni Bore again. This time we had a good look around.
Then it was off to Dalhousie Springs.
If we thought it would be easy, we were wrong. The road had been graded a few times and was 15-20cm below the level of the plains. Where we had no issues on perfectly dry roads on our way East we were now confronted with water on the track and sometimes besides of it.
Well, we made it in the end. At the entrance to Dalhousie we were greeted by the rangers who struggled to see how we made it there and back. They checked out permits and let us go.
Sarah and I got eaten up by mosquitoes and started to swell up badly.
So we wished the Three Escape Together farewell until their arrival in Alice. Then Mark and I headed back to Alice. At Mt Dare we fueled up enough to make it home for $2.50/l. Birdsville was very reasonable with $1.75/l in comparison. I discussed a further night at Mt Dare, but the unexpected 4 days in Birdsville had ripped a deep hole in our budget, so we pushed on and arrived back in Alice on early Saturday morning.
For information on the food and recipes please log onto Sarah’s webpage: joyfullness.net
. The recipes will be posted soon. All of them got best marks from all of us.
I used more diesel coming back as the dunes were steeper and I had to rev the engine more. Marks 76 with a stage 4 tuning actually did the first crossing W/E with 8l less than I.
Both vehicles lost a mud flap. I managed to find Mark’s one on the way back.
Mark needed a new battery as his starter one blew a cell.
I had no window washers on the way back. It was an easy fix in the end and only clogged up. I have panel damage from when the second tyre popped off the bead and the rear slammed into a sand dich. With the first tyre I destroyed my internal pressure sensor on that wheel. The door handle of my drivers door was only working sometimes. This will be addressed by Toyota tomorrow. I destroyed the tow plug when hitting the dunes with my rear. And I knocked off the ARB compressor switch with my knee.
This summarises all our casualties.
In conclusion the vehicle lifted and tuned with wider tyres made it easier through the trip.
Food for thought.
It has been a trip of a lifetime. We laid first tracks going East and in one week again going West. We did see the desert and Birdsville green after rain. And we did see more water on the tracks then we asked for.
In short: we made memories!
What a great team. Thank you Mark for your friendship and good advice. Thank you Sarah for managing our food.
Thank you Scott, Maria and Charles for your quite enjoyable company.