First across the Simpson Desert in Australia.
To be one of the first to cross the Simpson Desert when it opens after the rainy summer season is quite a special experience.
The desert is still pristine. No tyre or foot tracks. Just you and the desert as it might have looked thousands or millions of years ago.
The desert is closed for all vehicles between 1 December and 15 March every year, because of the rainy season. Although the Simpson is a desert it does get rain. Previously some of the heaviest rain in many years occurred during 2009-2010, and has turned the Simpson Desert into a garden of flowers and colour. It was so flooded that is was almost impossible for any vehicles to travel through the desert for a few months.
The Simpson desert is the 4th largest desert in Australia. Its 176,500 square meters make it the world’s largest sand dune desert. Under the desert is the Great Artesian Basin. There are numerous natural hot water springs around the desert. It is also part of the huge salt Lake Eyre basin.
The Simpson Desert is an erg, the same as on Mars, Venus and Titan. If you don’t know what that is, ask Wikipedia! The Simpson also contains the world’s longest parallel sand dunes. These north-south oriented dunes are static, due to vegetation and vary in height from 3 meters to 30 meters. The largest and most famous dune is Big Red or Nappanerica, which is 40 meters high.
So we were bursting with excitement and anticipating the unknown desert where we will be for 2 weeks with no fuel, water or any ablution facilities available. You have to take everything there and back with you. Including 180 litres of fuel and 40 litres of water per person. This is a special 4×4 camping trip that we have been looking forward to for a long time. We decided to do it on an organized “tag a long” tour by Great Divide Tours under the very competent leadership of Vic Widman, the owner. Vic proved to be an excellent manager and tour leader, assisted by Wayne and Jenny. He also carries a satellite phone with him. They even provide a breakdown mechanical service.
So, off we go!
At 8 am we left the Chinese Phoenix Motel in the town of Maree, on our way to Wilmington. It is a long, lonely road. The plant life is bushy along most of the road interspersed with very large cotton fields, all under irrigation. All the towns along the way are very small and many are not more than a fuel pump and a shop. The only people around seem to be the odd Aboriginal customer strolling around. Late afternoon we reached the very nice camp site, on the riverbank at Wilmington. Now was our chance to unfold, erect and light up all our camping equipment and lights while we are still in “civilization” Everything works and we are in business! Inside the tent it is extremely hot, but, with the help of a light breeze later on, we slept like logs.
After breakfast and a great shower with strong warm water, at 9am we are on the road again. Steve, who runs the camp site came to collect our key to the ablution block at 8 am. He is a very entertaining guy, with many stories about everything and everyone in the district. It turns out to be “Adelaide Cup Day” and everyone in Port Augusta is watching the horses. We checked in at the Big4 camp site, which was taken over by Aspen Parks. in town. It is here that we are going to meet up with the rest of our group. We checked into a cabin, which was a bit of a disappointment, not up to the normal Big4 standard.
We met the rest of the group over a very good, reasonably priced, dinner at Ian’s Western Hotel.
We will be 10 people plus the 3 Great Divide Staff members. 6 vehicles in total. Just a nice size group. From now on we will be travelling in convoy. Very fully laden,….. with fuel, water, spares and oils for anything, maxtrax, 2 spare wheels each, UHF radio, etc. etc. Our last “civilised” sleep went well in the Big4 cabin with the A/C running all night.
Tomorrow the adventure begins!