What a huge year we have had so far! Here is a rundown of our Simpson Desert Crossings for 2022. Four tours averaging 12 days each.
We kicked off in April with our Madigan Line tour. This year was the first year that the Central Land Council have banned East West travel, so it was out with the planner to create a new tour. And what a ripper it proved to be!
We started in the Flinders Ranges, always spectacular, but this year even more so after the recent rains. The colours and the contrasts were just stunning. Our first day of fun was driving the tracks at Willow Springs (not the Race Track in California, although there is a thought!), this track is known as ‘Sytrek’ and takes roughly a day to drive this scenic, and in spots a bit challenging track.
From here we meandered through the Flinders, stopping at an Aboriginal rock art site, before hitting some tougher tracks in the Gammon ranges around Arkaroola and what a blast we all had around here. Later arriving at Marree, we headed north to Oodnadatta, before coming to the iconic Mount Dare Hotel….what Simpson trip doesn’t either start or finish here?
After a great meal and a few beers we were now getting close to the crossing itself. On the tracks early the next day, we hit the recently reopened section of the Bins track and what a gorgeous drive it was. Lunch that day was at Old Andado station, a reminder of how tough outback life used to be. Molly Clarks home is open to have a look through, still exactly as it was all those years back, but please respect it….. leave only footsteps and take only photo’s…it is a very special place and one not to be lost by us.
Well now we were on the Madigan and the next three days were spent crossing the beautiful Northern Simpson Desert. Have I mentioned the heat?? OMG it hit 47 degrees during the day, unheard of for April, but thankfully it did cool down some what at night, to allow for a good sleep.
We were, if not the first, in the first few across the Madigan this year. When we got to where the Madigan line joins the Hay River Track you could not even see the northern section of the track…that looked fun for the next tour!
From the joining of the Hay river track, we travelled south to the Adria Downs turn off. What a remarkable station Adria is. The generosity to allow us to use their station tracks is always appreciated, and there were signs of rain events everywhere, with Billabongs full, and lush grassy plains.
Then we are travelling East on the QAA before heading into Birdsville for a well deserved meal and a cold beer to wash away the dust. But we are not done yet!
The following day we headed for Innaminka via the historic Cordillo Downs Rd, stopping at the beautiful old shearing shed before rolling into Innaminka, to set up camp at the common. The Cooper was just way too tempting…a long soak on a hot day was just what the Dr ordered.
After a hearty meal at the pub we were all energised for our last days drive. The last day is 400 or so km’s as we headed south down to Camerons Corner, stopping at the corner post and the store, before heading through the Sturt national park, finding ourselves for the last night together at the Tibooburra hotel. Again, a lovely meal at the historic hotel, with plenty of talk about the experiences just lived and future plans and trips to come.
Thank you to everyone on this tour making it such a wonderful trip.
As everyone else headed home I meandered back to Innaminka. I had a couple of nights by the river before heading north and getting a room at the Birdsville caravan park….sometimes its just lovely being out of a swag and having a bit of air con at night!
After a few days break I was ready to meet the next wonderful group, this time it was the Simpson Hay River Track tour and thankfully the weather had cooled down a bit for this one.
However, the Simpson, right across, had had a fair amount of rain in the week since we completed the Madigan line. I was very anxious about getting across and had, over the previous days, discussions with SA parks and QLD police. I was told everything was good to go, so on the morning of the 25th April we rolled out of Birdsville to grey wet skies and what a trip this was going to be.
We made it to our first nights camp at Poeppel corner quite easily, as one thing’s for sure, the rain compacts the sand! We watched people heading across the salt flats, or should I call the mud pits, glad that we were going to go around them via the K1 line and the rig road…HA, little did I know!
So we travelled south on the K1 line joining the Rig road, and then pushing west. At this point remember, I had been assured everything was good to travel on….we pushed approximately 50k’s along the Ring road and the track was getting wetter and there was more standing water. I stopped and decided to put the drone up to see what we were heading into. All ahead of us was just a sea of water, hmm….time to turn around and find another way around.
We had travelled 130k’s, so it was a pretty big diversion in the Simpson, and this is one of the reasons we ask you to bring extra fuel. I was later to find out that the Simpson had now been officially closed. The ruling does not affect you though if you are already in the park. We camped that night where the Rig Road joins the K1 Line, had a great fire with lots of talk about what lay ahead and then climbed into bed.
The next morning we were rolling around 8 and heading back to Poeppel corner and those aforementioned mud pits! Well really, the only way to drive these were to keep your foot buried. It was thick, deep, sticky mud and you just had to keep going…. Jumping ahead a little though for a minute….we stayed at a caravan park a few days later and I was in our Ford Ranger Raptor which is a bright blue. After we arrived, all of us decided to wash our cars and later that day some one came up to me saying they would not have believed my car was blue…a total transformation…mud colour did suit it though!
Anyway, onward we went, more water, more mud, until we got to the Spring creek Delta. Here there was 12km’s of deep water between us and a swim at Dalhousie! The going was slow with deviations all the way but our reward was a swim in the always glorious hot springs. After a soak, a quick call on the Sat phone to organise a late arrival meal at Mt Dare and we were back on the track heading for our evening stop at Mount dare. Here we had a much needed and greatly appreciated meal, drink or two and a hot shower.
We were met by many a traveller waiting to head into the desert amazed that we had made it across. Out of all of my crossings, it is one that I will definitely not forget in a hurry!
In the morning we refuelled…so far the most expensive diesel on any tour, $3:40p/l. On later tours the price had dropped to $3:15p/l, but when you need it you need it!
The next few days from here were beautiful, and thankfully smooth sailing. We went to the geographic centre of Australia, a road that just gets worse and worse over time….14k’s of corrugations each way, but the all important photos were taken and we were heading again to one of my all time favourites, Chambers Pillar for the night.
It was nice to roll into Alice for a well earned rest day, catch up on washing, a bit of a restock, and hot showers…..oh the luxury of it all!
From here we had an easy run through the East Macdonnell ranges, climbing our way down into Ruby Gap at the very end. Our first night back out under the stars and a great fire to sit around. Bit of history the next morning after climbing out of Ruby gap, we had a look around the Arltunga gold fields, the pioneers really were tough. In 1887 Arltunga was the Northern Territories first town with up to 300 people living here.
From here is was a magnificent run up the Binns track to Gem Tree caravan park, a little ripper, with a big open camping area, and of course we grabbed a meal while we were here! The next morning the excitement was building as we are heading on to the Hay river track. Firstly, a final refuel at Jervois station, not much conversation here today though as the whole place was down with Covid, so a quick fuel stop only.
The eighty k’s down to Batton Hill is always rough and this year has been no exception. Once you are past Batton Hill you must thank the foresight of the indigenous elder Lyndsey Booker who opened this track for us all to enjoy. Sadly Lyndsey has passed away, but his family, with help from the Central Land Council continue to manage this beautiful run through the desert. After a couple of nights of endless stars and great company and bush tv we are back on the QAA heading into Birdsville to finish our tour. We all have a coffee together at the roadhouse, those with campers and caravans retrieve them from storage at the caravan park, we all say our good byes and head our own way.
What a great group this one was. We took, I think, the first LDV ute across the Simpson and it did well, although the starter motor did suffer from the amount of mud there was out in the desert and we had to remove it and strip it down a couple of times to enable us to keep going. The one good thing though was it was easy to get to.
For me it was a much deserved run home to be with my family after the first couple of Simpson trips for the year.
After being home for a couple of weeks it was time to head back to Birdsville to pick up the next group and take them across the Desert, there was no rest for me on this trip home as I had decided to use the mighty 200 series 6×6 for the rest of the year, the old girl had been sitting around for a couple of months prior to my decision to use it again so there was a lot of work required to bring her back up to speed.
The Simpson Central Australia tour is a tour I designed to get people across the desert for the kick off of the Canning Stock Route. Sadly the Canning in May was still closed, so we only had 4 customer cars along this year. It really was amazing to see just how the desert recovers from flooding. There really was no sign of what we had been through only a month before, bar the deep ruts in the salt pans, you would not have known that these were nearly impassable bog holes!
We left as usual from Birdsville heading out to the QAA line. This trip I mixed it up a lot, in all we drove on every single track there is in the Simpson…I even took these guys to Lone Gum, a place I have not been to for quite a while.
Beautiful clear skies, getting much cooler this time in the desert, and the bush TV was still working fine with plenty of great conversations around the fire and talk of the excellent desert experience.
After a few days we rolled into Mt Dare via Dalhousie, again a fine feed, showers and a good nights sleep. Today we head to the geographic centre, and nope, the track in was not better, before heading for Chambers Pillar, where sadly for these guys mother nature did not play ball for sunset or sunrise with overcast skies 🙁
From here, the next day we headed to the Stuart highway, before heading north and camping by a beautiful billabong. We travelled the next day through the Owen Springs conservation park a stunning area, and wow you could see the effects of flooding everywhere! Through the Finke River Gorge we travelled, again, water damaged, but as beautiful as always, before staying at Kings Canyon where we had a great social night with a wonderful meal and a few drinks watching the sun sink over the Canyon.
The last day of the tour we headed across to Yulara, and here we had our farewell meal, overlooking Uluru….the rain had set in though, so for our guests this time, they got to see rain on the rock! Not something many people get to see…waterfalls pouring off it….spectacular!
Normally to continue on to the Canning Stock Route, we have a 2 day break to restock and catch our breath before heading onto the great central road. From here though this year, we then started the Plan B tour which was a run down through South Australia…..a ripper of a trip, but more on that one in a later post.
The final Simpson trip for the year, the Hay River Track tour was another one affected by weather! Rain, rain everywhere this year! So this tour was supposed to not go near Birdsville, as it starts at Marree and ends at Marree, travelling South to North through the Simpson. Why did I not want to head through Birdsville with this tour? Well its slap bang in the middle of the Big Red Bash week and unless you have tickets to the bash, its a good reason to not go through Birdsville.
Best laid plans and mother nature don’t always see eye to eye though and the Warburton track had just opened when back flash flooding closed it again. So another plan B, a camp on the Birdsville track before heading through Birdsville. You can’t travel the Birdsville track though without stopping in at Mungerranie, always a great stop with a few people on the tour opting to buy lunch while we were there.
We found a great spot for the first night on the track, had a lovely fire and sat around getting to know those who we were about to share the experience with. The next morning we headed to Birdsville and surprisingly it was pleasantly quiet, busier than normal, but not too bad. We were told the crowds were all there a day or two ago and that the people working at Birdsville were enjoying a well deserved break! We all topped our tanks and headed for the bakery for a coffee and a pie. Once everyone was together again, the desert parks passes were handed out, UHF channels selected and we were off with a little trepidation as to what we would find at the entry to the bash.
Well really, bar a bit of bass being carried in the wind from the band playing, and a few 4×4’s manning gates into the festival, it did not have any effect on us at all, so we aired down and head along the QAA into the desert.
Once we were at the junction of the Hay river, we turned north and enjoyed three beautiful star filled nights. Crossed over the Hay river to Lake Caroline, saw the marker for the Tropic of Capricorn, had starry nights, beautiful days and great evening fires. It really was now cooling down, being early July, and the coldest I saw was -4 degrees! A little different to the 47 degrees of April!
After the Hay river we refuelled again at Jervois before heading to Gemtree caravan park for the night, much busier this time round with lots of caravans in for the night. The next morning, after a luke warm shower we headed south on the Binns Track to Arltunga for a look around the government town and the police station. Lunch was had at the ranger station giving people time to have a look through the museum, then from here it was an easy run into our overnight stop at Alice Springs, some people opting for a meal out, while others just enjoyed the time to do some washing and some shopping.
After leaving Alice behind we drove out past the airport, not as many planes parked up as there was in 2021, but still a lot of aircraft sitting there, and then a quick leg stretch at an Aboriginal rock art site before taking everyone out to Chambers Pillar for a look around. Sunset and sunrise did us proud this time with lots of photos being taken and also, this time, the road had just been graded, so what a treat!
After here we drove down through Mt Dare to our camp at Dalhousie hot springs. The warm water was a treat, but sadly this year the camping area really needs a lot more work to bring it back up to scratch!
We are on the home stretch now, driving some just reopened roads up through Oodnadatta before turning south on the Oodnadatta track, setting up camp at one of the old railway sidings, before returning into Marree before lunch the next day.
Again a big thank you for everyone who joined me on this tour, I know plenty of friends were made and memories made.
So was there any issues with cars? This is a question that I am regularly asked. I will start with my vehicles….you must remember that I lead the tours, so if there are any ruts etc, I hit them first then warn others of them being there! The Raptor broke a roof rack on the Madigan, who knows why, it only had one tyre on the rack and to say the least I was disappointed by this failure.
So customer cars…..the LDV had a starter motor issue that we were able to keep going for the tour. A 79 series modified Landcruiser lost his bolts out of the after market exhaust as I think the installer did not have his wheeties that day! Oh and who can forget the mighty G wagon shedding its very feeble looking rear wheel carrier! The car on tour that used the least fuel on tour is fought between two manuals, one, a 5 cylinder Ranger and the other a 4 Cylinder Amorok, both were in the very early 10 litres p/h the heaviest users were the Landcruiser at around 17-18 litres p/h. No vehicle that came across the desert this year was petrol so I have no stats for this year.
Apart from those minor issues, all the cars went home with a few more k’s on them, a bit of desert dirt trapped in areas that cannot be washed, and happy owners with lifelong memories.
Thanks again to you all and I am looking forward to taking a lot of you on future adventures.
So Tracks 4×4 has finished in the Simpson (with Customers) for 2022. I am now heading up to the always fun Cape York with 2 tours up there this year. One is a camping trip and the other one is a bit more luxurious, staying in accommodation there and back.
Then I am off to do the Canning Stock Route in October and there are still a few spots available if anyone is interested! With Tracks forever growing I am taking a new guide, Paul across the Madigan line in November with the plan that he will run the Madigan Line tour for me next year.
As you can see Tracks is always moving and taking wonderful people all over Australia in a safe controlled way. Thanks for reading and I am looking forward to meeting you and showing you some glorious parts of this beautiful continent of ours.