Adelaide Jeep Club
 
 

Simpson Desert Crossing
July/August 2007      

Text by David Munday

The weekend of 21st-22nd July 2007 saw 9 Jeeps from Adelaide Jeep Club (AJC) set off northwards towards the Oodnadatta Track at the start of a greatly anticipated adventure to cross the Simpson Desert. Initially several groups departed separately on either Saturday 22nd or Sunday 23rd July with all participants meeting up at our first official camp site at Coward Springs on Monday 23 July. The impressive AJC convoy consisted of three XJ Cherokees, one TJ “Tweety”, one KJ Cherokee, two WG Grand Cherokees, one XH Commander CRD ‘C2’ (heavily modified-see description at end) & a Landrover Discovery TD5 (ex TJ owner and current AJC member!)

The trip to Coward Springs took us via Woomera, Roxby Downs & the Borefield track. The eagle eyed were treated to a wonderful cluster of Sturt Desert Pea wild flowers on the road side enroute to Roxby Downs with a mandatory photo stop. All vehicles proceeded uneventfully up the Borefield track not withstanding the rough corrugations which caused the Commander’s GPS mapping system to go into spasm on day 1!

Coward Springs provided a pleasant campsite with good facilities including warm spring pool, wood fired “donkey” hot water for showers and long drop toilets. A picturesque sunset & then sunrise on Tuesday 24th provided us with a taste of what was to come.
Tuesday morning began what was to become a daily ritual of breakfast and an efficient (mostly) packup & reloading of all camping equipment. Most of us moved off at 0900hrs 6kms back down the track to see the Wabma Kadarbu mound springs including the fascinating “bubbler” springs.
Mid morning saw us arrive at Strangway Springs and ruins. This site is well worth exploring and is of national significance having provided drought relief for Aboriginal people well before early European settlement. From the mid 19th century these springs were vital to early European exploration, the establishment of pastoral runs and the construction of the Overland Telegraph and the Old Ghan railway.
Following about an hour of exploration we moved off towards William Creek for an early lunch and obligatory visit to the William Creek Hotel. JC managed to find a spot for his business card (“Re/max” of course). During the afternoon we headed further north towards our destination of Algebuckina and listened to JC reading over the UHF some fascinating history of the Old Ghan railway and the Algebuckina Bridge (all participants were asked to prepare notes regarding the important historical details of each leg of the trip). The Algebuckina bridge railway bridge which spans the Neales river opened in 1892 and is the longest such bridge in SA consisting of nineteen 30.9 m spans. Although closed since December 1980 it remains and impressive structure and we all spent some time looking over it before setting off for a campsite. JC managed to get “Tweety” bogged and so we had our first (straightforward) snatch recovery for the trip-no damage done! The evening campsite alongside a wide waterhole was very appealing- so much so that Daryl stripped off to his jocks for a swim-much to everyone’s amazement. This was followed by the daily happy hour, tea, then star gazing and amusing chatter around the campfire- mostly due to Bert who provided us with plenty of politically incorrect entertainment!

The following morning (Wed) saw us heading further up the Oodnadatta track and we reached the Pink Roadhouse around 1030am for re fueling and a short morning tea break. We then headed further north towards Mt Dare. Following a lunch break near Hamilton JC (TJ) and CC’s (WG, GC) decided to travel to Dalhousie via the Pedirka ruins as they were not continuing across the Simpson with the rest of us who chose to top up with fuel at Mt Dare. At the end of a fairly long day we arrived just in time for a late afternoon swim in the magnificent Dalhousie Springs-just the 38 degrees C (water temp that is!). The abundant birdlife in this oasis in the desert was a stark contrast to our prior travels. Refreshed after a relaxing “spa” we enjoyed our evening tea and campfire chit chat. This was also our first sighting of dingo’s in the wild, one of which snatched a fruit loaf from an unsuspecting AJC member! If you missed seeing them that evening we all heard their howling early next morning! However some of us were up before then having a early swim ~06.15hrs, in time to witness a wonderful sunrise over the enormous hot spring “pond”.

This morning was also time to bid farewell to John (trip leader until now) and Chris & Christine who were about to start the long trek home again. John T took over as trip leader and we all wished them well as we set off towards Purni Bore and beyond along the French Line. This was where the real adventure began! Sand flags flying proudly we arrived at Purni Bore late morning and had about 1.5hrs to walk around the wetlands, admiring the numerous species of birds, and have lunch. Pat found 2 very dead camels not far from the wetlands over a sandhill. We saw numerous camel footprints but not their owners!

Early afternoon we arrived at the Rig Road junction and it was time to lower tyre pressures (~15-20 psi ) as the clay capping does not continue past this point . With the obligatory group photo around the Rig Road Junction sign we head due East along the French line straight up & over a steep sand dune- no problems (yet)- just 170kms to Poepell Corner and 330kms to Birdsville.
It soon became apparent that we were in for a rough ride as most of the sand dune approaches were marked by deep wheel ruts and corrugations. Most of us had a decent sense of mechanical sympathy but even so there was no way to stop the banging and crashing of suspension components.

We set up camp just beyond the Colson track intersection relieved we had no real mishaps and just a few re attempts at getting over the more difficult dunes (mostly by a little more run up or changing to low range if it was really rough going) -no recoveries required though. We had travelled 138kms from Dalhousie Springs that morning (and a total of 1540kms from Adelaide). By now the routine of setting up camp, enjoying another happy hour, early tea and then relaxing by a campfire was well honed. Another beautiful sunset highlighted the red sand dunes in the distance and left us all reflecting on this magical land and also in awe of the extraordinary courage of our early explorers venturing out here. A near full moon did not diminish the wonder of another star filled sky either. This particular evening we spotted a lone dingo prowling around Roger & Claire’s campsite and we wondered how it survived way out here.

Friday 27th July was our slowest day covering 97kms across the desert to 30kms short of Poepell (which we had hoped to reach). The rough track repeatedly pounded our suspension systems requiring a lot of concentration to get the approach speed right - too slow and we bogged down - too fast and we risked breaking something! Indeed cracked frozen food containers and broken eggs were not unexpected. “C2” (Commander CRD) developed a worrying rattle from the roof which was identified as loose rear roof brackets. As removing the roof tray was a major task the entire tray was re-secured with 6 ropes which lasted well till Birdsville. Pat was having trouble with his rear luggage shelving which had come loose and the whole thing was jumping up towards the roof over every sand dune. He demonstrated some real improvisation with a portable drill and tent pegs which lasted the rest of the trip!

Saturday morning 28th July appeared to start off a little easier but by mid morning we had already had 2 snatch recoveries (Bert pulled Brenton back down a sand dune and ‘C2’ pulled out JJ having reversed up a sand dune to do so). Although our progress was slowed somewhat , for those of us not experienced in recoveries this was however great training. We eventrually reached Poeppel’s corner late morning having crossed several salt lakes along the way. We all took numerous photos and put a AJC entry in the visitors’ book before lunch. Then it was off towards the QAA line. The sand colour had changed noticeably being more yellow /white than red but otherwise did not seem appreciably different to drive through (some say alittle more difficult), but we had no recoveries and just a few reattempts at going over higher & softer sand dunes. ‘C2’ had a broken sand flag bracket but otherwise no damage was reported. By late afternoon we were ~80kms West of Birdsville having travelled 125kms that day.

Around another campfire that evening we were staggered to spot a fox raiding Nancy & Bert’s food supplies. This was the only fox we encountered during the trip.
Sunday morning we rose in great anticipation of climbing “Big Red” but not until we took the Eyre creek short bypass to the South. The presence of water and gum trees was a pleasant change of scenery! Soon afterwards we stopped just short of Big Red and had morning tea and admired it from a distance.

Then we all lined up ready for a crack at Big Red. Impressively we all got up first attempt except for Bert & Nancy who only just missed out near the top and fairly easily made it 2nd attempt.


A lone Mitsubishi Triton behind us struggled half way up about 6 times before giving up!

Some of us attempted a very steep approach track (having come down that way first) but none were successful (including a Prado nearby).

Somewhat alarmingly the Commander started draining coolant at a steady rate at the top of Big Red. It appeared to be a radiator core problem and we were fortunate to make it to Birdsville topping up the reservoir with water along the way.

This was Sunday so the local mechanic advised he would take a look the following day but wasn’t optimistic he could fix it.


We all booked into the caravan park across the road and had drinks and dinner at the Birdsville pub. The group decided to stay an extra night to await the mechanic’s report on the Commander’s radiator. He started the difficult task of dismantling the front end the next day and to our astonishment he found a 60mm bolt screwed into the (plastic) base of the radiator (placed during prior repairs to the front bumper). Incredibly the radiator had remained intact across more than 1000 sand dunes until the top of Big Red! Bert kindly supplied some plastic welding rods to the mechanic who did an amazing job of patching up the bolt hole (advising that this doesn’t happen to Toyotas!!).

That night we all joined a BBQ tea put on by the caravan park complete with Country Music singer.

As ‘C2’ & JJ did not leave until 1.30pm we camped at Walker’s crossing (which was dry despite Birdsville caravan park gossip that it was under a metre of water!). We left a message on HF radio for Bert but he didn’t get it for 2 days! However we did manage to contact the remainder of the convoy from Walker’s crossing to Innamincka using satellite phones and arranged to meet late morning the following day. Of note ‘C2’ carried an Iridium system that proved excellent but the club loan Sat phone was Global Star- the latter was a lot less reliable in getting a good signal & keeping it).

On arrival in Innamincka around midday on Wednesday 1st August JJ and ‘C2’ set up camp with the others although Pat & Sue and DD set off for Coongie Lakes for an overnight visit. Meanwhile the majority of those remaining in Innamincka joined the Discover Cruise down the Cooper. The animated tour guide (boat driver!) barely due breath for 2 hours as he excitedly pointed out hundreds of birds and numerous tortoises then gave us a summary of Burke & Wills last days at the site of the King memorial. Many photos were taken and we all soaked up the majesty of the Cooper Creek and its abundance of wildlife as the sun set.

 

Early evening we soon realised it was safer to eat without camp lights as swarms of insects surrounded our food supplies and tents! After eating our meals quickly in poor light we returned to the campfire and listened to Daryl’s expansive account of Burke & Wills fateful journey as part of our regular historical updates.

Thursday morning was free and so David & Daryl (‘C2’) set off for the Dig Tree 70kms away and listened to a fascinating retired former pilot who could probably have talked all day if we didn’t have a time limit! The others had a quiet morning whilst awaiting the return of the Coongie Lakes group. Then it was off down the Bore track towards Cameron corner (although Bert, Nancy, Brenton & Gail detoured down the Strzelecki track having waited for a mechanic to assess Bert’s XJ rear poly air bags that sustained earlier damage (& could not be repaired quickly).


We all met up in time for happy hour camping at Cameron Corner. That night we had steady rain ~18mm the first time we had seen rain during the trip. Next morning we discovered all roads to the East towards Tibooburra were closed with no clear idea of when they might re-open. This lead to a lively discussion of the groups travel options. Eventually it was decided to head back west, down the Strzelecki track to Mt Hopeless and on towards Arkaroola. By late afternoon we had setup camp some 10kms north of Balcanoona next to a dry creek bed (not in it!).

As several members had to return to Adelaide by Sunday 5th August the group parted company at Balcanoona with DD, C2 and Pat & Sue heading West to Copely before joining the bitumen highway south. The remaining 4 vehicles headed south to Yunta before going onto Broken Hill for a final day or 2 (camping on a property belonging to a relative of Bert).

We were nearly at end of our journey but as DD & the Lobos headed on to Adelaide ‘C2’ stayed overnight at Spear Creek and were momentarily tempted to try out the 4WD track- only to be told it was tag along only and abit rocky! Having walked part of it we decided we hadn’t missed much! Sunday morning came quickly and ‘C2’ headed for home by lunchtime- a total of 3623kms, >1100 sand dunes crossed, some terrible corrugations and rough tracks traversed with only 1 puncture in 9 cars (sidewall stake); an amazing, awe inspiring trek across some of our country’s most challenging terrain dotted with plentiful wild flowers and an majestic birds wildlife.

Before finishing I must acknowledge the Adelaide Jeep Clubs excellent organizing committee and the leadership, support and generosity of our 2 trip leaders John Cullen (President AJC) and John Tuckwell. The organization, preparation and execution of this trip was most impressive and professional. All vehicles and their passengers made it back safely after an incredible and very inspiring and enjoyable journey.

Finally I would like to especially thank Glenn Bull, Manager of Mount Barker 4x4 Centre in SA whose expertise, resourcefulness and tireless efforts to modify ‘C2’ in time for this trip are to be applauded.

David Munday

Footnote:
For those who have cast doubts on the Commander CRD’s abilities off road I can assure you that with the right modifications it is a highly capable and very fuel efficient force to be reckoned with-even with a bloody bolt in the radiator for over 1000 sand dunes!!

‘C2’ Modifications:
~ 130L rear auxillary fuel tank with 3mm bright form steel base, 50mm Terraflex lift kit, custom heavy duty Bilstein rear shockers & rear polyair bags, Cooper LT 245/70/17 ST’s, custom heavy duty high tensile steel front bash plate and 2 x ARB 4.5T tow hooks including reinforced steel bracing, 3rd row seats removed and new floor fitted with Black Widow fridge slide and ~8 ARB tie down rings, Rola Alloy tray for 2 full size spare wheels; rear L side swing away battery tray with Optima Yellowtop dual battery system, additional dash board mounted volt meter and fuel guage + fuel transfer pump switch; Anderson trailer plug; TX 3400 UHF remote radio head.