2011 Simpson Desert TVAN Rally (West to East Crossing)

Friday, Nov 25, 2011 at 01:00


Travel notes of our trip from Sydney via Port Augusta to Mt Dare to participate in the rally then Birdsville via Innamincka back to Sydney.

Day 1: Thursday 14th July 2011 – My wife and I left Sydney at 7.30am and headed out via the M2, M7 and then on to the M4 travelling up through the Blue Mountains via Katoomba. Once at Bathurst, we had to take a detour via Blayney due to a fatal truck and car accident on the other side of Bathurst. We re-joined the Mitchell Hwy just before Lucknow and travelled on to Dubbo where we fuelled up (Diesel $1.47L). At 5 pm we stopped for the night at a free rest stop called Florida, 50kms east of Cobar. A good flat area to camp overnight. We had dinner and went to bed early -7pm. approximate distance travelled for the day 650kms.

Day 2: Friday 15th July - Up at 5am and on the road at 5:30 am - still dark and cold (2°C) but we felt refreshed after a good night’s sleep. We stopped at Cobar Hot Bake for hot coffee and egg n bacon rolls. This shop is highly recommended - opens at 6am. Travelled to Broken Hill where we grabbed some lunch and topped up the fuel in the Jeep ($1.50L). Continued on via Peterborough where we crossed the fruit fly checkpoint, then to Port Augusta where we had a big grocery shop at Woolworths. We fuelled up the Jeep and the 2 x Jerry cans that were on the Tvan ($1.46L). Fuel prices really started to increase from here!! Before leaving we grabbed an Eagle Boys pizza for dinner then headed north up the Stuart Hwy, not really sure where we would stop for the night. It was well and truly dark by then and we cruised at around 80kms/hr due to the high risk of animal strike. Because we needed to cover more kilometres for that day we continued into the night, much to the dislike of my wife. Cruising at this speed, it was not long before we were overtaken by a huge road train so we sat about 100 metres behind him and decided that Pimba would have to be our choice for the night. It had been pouring the day before and the car park / camping area was covered by a thin layer of slurry that gave off a foul stench. Mind you, after a full day of driving it was looking very good. We finally arrived around 10pm and were in bed not long after that. Our escort also turned off at Pimba and headed in the direction of Woomera & Roxby Downs. Approximate distance travelled for the day 1020kms.

Day 3: Saturday 16th July – Up at 6am and on the road by 6:40am. Pulled up at Glendambo for breakfast and had THE BEST egg & bacon rolls and coffee. Stopped at Coober Pedy for lunch, fuelled up ($1.62L) and went to IGA supermarket and grabbed some last minute supplies. Continued onto Kulgera Roadhouse, arriving there at around 6pm where we met up with other Tvanners from NSW & VIC.
To our disgust, there was a mouse plague at Kulgera. Upon entering the roadhouse, to pay for our accommodation, we were consumed with a foul smell that resembled “wet dog’ – mice had taken up residence and had left their calling cards everywhere. The lady there said that they had taken over and she had tried everything to get rid of them but to no avail. That night we had to tuck our pant legs into our socks to stop mice running up them. After dinner we chatted with our new friends over the bellows and cries, of the cattle that were parked nearby in a 3 trailer road train. The driver was having dinner in the roadhouse. The wife couldn’t wait until he was back on the road again as the sounds of the cattle were quite distressing. Approximate distance travelled for the day 800kms.

Day 4: Sunday 17th July – After topping up the fuel ($1.90L) we left Kulgera Roadhouse at 10:30am in convoy with two other Tvanners heading to Mt Dare via Fink. Due to the rain a few days earlier, the road was littered with mud holes and water so we kept the speed down as you did not know what was over the next rise. We stopped not far from Fink for lunch – found a flat clearing off the road. At Fink we caught up with the organisers of the rally and we all headed to Mt Dare – the convoy was slowly growing. Weather was fabulous - clear blue skies and 20°C.
Mt Dare also had a mouse plague!! They were everywhere. We had a quiet dinner and then we enjoyed a few drinks chatting with other campers. In bed around 9.30pm.

Day 5: Monday 18th July – Did not take note of what time we got up but we did have a great sleep. Today was a lay day and the official start of the rally so we just chilled out. Enjoyed a hot shower and we gave the Jeep a thorough check up to make sure everything was secure. We topped the fuel tank up yet again to ensure it was chock a block before setting out to cross the Simpson Desert. Wow it had now skyrocketed to $2.15L, still we were in the middle of nowhere.
That night we had a group dinner at the Mt Dare Hotel which Track Trailer provided - basic but very enjoyable. We were told that night, that the Eyre Creek crossing had opened. We were thrilled, as we had all intended to just go out into the desert then return to Mt Dare but now we are able to cross all the way to Birdsville. Now we were really excited!

Day 6: Tuesday 19th July – We all parked out the front of the hotel (15 TVAN’s plus 2 non towing vehicles – this photo is in December 2011 Camper Trailer Australia magazine) and we had a group shot before leaving at 10:15am. Headed as one group to Dalhousie Springs, had a swim and some lunch before heading off to Purnie Bore to camp for the first night of our Simpson Desert Crossing. The run from Dalhousie Springs to Purnie Bore was easy going with only a few low dunes to cross. At camp we all setup and within no time camp fires were popping up around the place, a few drinks and in bed at 9.30pm. Camp Location - 26° 17' 01.2" S 136° 05' 50.0" E

Day 7: Wednesday 20th July – The gathering was broken up into three groups A, B and C for this part of the trip, with two groups of 6 and one group of 5 and in each group there was a Sat phone and HF radio. There were far too many cars to travel in one group – much safer to split the main group up and put time between each group.
Up early, just before sunrise, still semi-dark, my wife and I went for a walk up the eastern dune and spotted two dingos lurking around but when they saw us they took off.
Our group was the A Team, 6 cars in all – 1 x Patrol, 3 x Landcruisers, 1 x Discovery 3 and our trusty Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. We were “Tail End Charlie” for our group. The A Team were the first group to leave at 8am followed by the B Team one hour later and then the C Team one hour after them. We had another great day 18°- 20°C. Our intended route was down the Rig Road, camping near Lake Griselda. Had a good but full day with no issues. Around 2:15pm we pulled into a great camping spot along the Rig Road big enough for all the others to join us. Had a big fire, a damper was shared and a few drinks and in bed at 9:30pm. Camp Location - 26° 34' 27.5" S 137° 03' 53.7" E

Day 8: Thursday 21st July – Another great day in paradise. Hopped up at 7.30am, no rush, as our group was the last to leave that morning - 10am. We all made bacon & eggs on the fire, yes times were tough but someone had to do it. Today, our intended route was to continue on the Rig Road and at the Knolls Track head north towards Lindsay Junction. This day was a lot slower to travel because we came across short sharp dunes and we had a few stops - the Lone Gum Tree, where we had lunch and later we passed 2 dead camels that were on the track. Note from wife "Always stay up wind when inspecting carcass. Odour will induce severe gagging!"
Due to the late choice of camping locations by the first group out that morning, we did not have time to catch up to them and so we had to pick a camp site before it got dark as the sun was dropping fast. At 5.15pm we found a site that was just big enough. This is not an easy feat to do when you are out in the Simpson Desert with so much foliage from all the rain over the past 24 months as we had 6 cars and 5 trailers to accommodate. At this late stage of the day we were not going to be too fussy. We all sat around a great fire and had a few drinks then to bed at around 10.30pm. Camp Location - 26° 13' 18.9" S 137° 37' 40.9" E

Day 9: Friday 22nd July – Woke up at 6am and rolled out at 6.30am, very cold morning 2°C which cleared to a beautiful clear sky. Intended route for today was to return to the French Line at Lindsay Junction and camp at Poeppel Lake.
We hit the road at 8.10am to try and close the gap with the other groups. We stopped and walked up to the top of the Approdina Attora Knolls which gave a great view of the surrounding terrain. At Lindsay Junction we turned back onto the French Line and also checked our tyre pressures as some people in the lead group were having issues with the soft dunes.
Unfortunately one of the lead vehicles jack knifed his trailer reversing down a dune which can happen very easily with momentary lapses of concentration. This turned out to be a big delay at the start of the day but there were no injuries to report or damage so that was the main thing.
We had to reverse down a few dunes as they were a little rough to get a good run up and we also stopped to fill in some bad ruts on one particular dune. The Maxtrax did a bit of work later on in the day as the sand got much softer. The best fix was to reverse down and run back up a few times to smooth out the humps so you could get some momentum and then you could climb almost anything.
We arrived at Poeppel Lake around 4pm, exhausted after our physical day but we enjoyed every single moment. As always, the wife put together a fantastic meal, then we visited a few others around there camp fires chatting about the events of the day. In bed by 10.30pm. Camp Location - 26° 0' 15.0114" 137° 59' 29.9754"

Day 10: Saturday 23rd July – Had a sleep in this morning and jumped out at 7am as always had a great sleep. The intended route for today was to visit Poeppel Corner then to get on the QAA Line and find a good camp site well before dark.
We were on the road at 8.10am and were the second group to leave that day. Because the lake was still quite full, we had a big detour to cover before we would reach Poeppel Corner where we would see the information bay and corner post.
A few minutes after leaving we heard over the UHF that there was a dingo up ahead. Because there was quite some distance between us and the lead car we did not think we would see it, we were wrong. At one point it actually was chasing us as we drove along and he became the new Tail End Charlie for a while. After a little while we slowed down and then stopped for a moment to see what he would do but he just sniffed the back of the camper and then circled around to one side of us. It appeared like he was looking for food, obviously travellers in the past have thrown food to him. He didn’t show much fear towards cars or humans.
Today was not as demanding as yesterday with regards to driving. You certainly had to keep your wits about you as every dune was different. With the UHF we did get a ‘heads up’ of any upcoming surprises and this was a positive for being Tail End Charlie. We were the last group into camp and arrived around 4pm. So we had enough time to setup, cook dinner and clean up before dark then we sat around another great fire with a few drinks and chewed over the day’s events. It was hard to drag yourself away from the fire as it was starting to get a lot colder than we had experience on previous nights but around 9.30pm we just had to call it a night. We were well prepared with flannel sheets, wool doona, woollen blanket and flannel pj’s, so once in bed we were very cosy. Camp Location - 25° 53' 56.0" S 138° 32' 47.9" E

Day 11: Sunday 24th July – Eyes opened at 6.30am and crawled out reluctantly around 7am and it was freezing, later finding out it was below freezing - 4.5°C. Yes, enough to freeze the b***s off a brass monkey!!!
Intended route for today was to continue along the QAA Line then cross the Eyre Creek and find a campsite. Took off at 9.10am and stopped for morning tea at the eastern boundary of the Simpson Desert Nation Park. We had lunch once we arrived at the Eyre Creek. This allowed the vehicles to cool down before we attempted the crossing. Two members of the first group to arrive at the creek waded out to check the crossing in their swimmers. The deepest section of the creek would have been at least 750mm. We decided to use the tarp across the radiator to stop some of the flowing water getting in to the electrics. It was a great sight to see all the TVAN’s cross the creek. One group at a time crossed, with cameras and phones recording the event. All of us made it safely across to the other side without any problems.

We now had to find a campsite. The first group were about 20 minutes ahead of us. They called over the UHF that they had found a campsite. Once we had caught up to them our group was not too impressed to see that it was in essence - a huge prickle patch (boy oh boy there are some nasty prickles out there in the Simmo). As we were the only group with children, this site was not going to be good enough, especially when this would be our last night in the desert. So our group saddled up and decided to continue down the track – consensus rules!! Our group leader, who may we say, was first class and the person you want to follow when you are endeavouring to conquer such a challenge (good on you Nory), was on his third crossing and was confident a better site was just down the road. We ended up camping at the intersection of the main track and the bypass, the normally dry arm of the main creek. What a corker of a spot. A few of us even went for a swim in the chocolate brown water – very, very cold (the wife nearly carked it – that is another story) but very refreshing. After all, it is not every day you get to have a swim in a desert. We had the BEST fire that night and to top things off, my wife had brought a large Christmas plum pudding and custard to celebrate Christmas in July. Off to bed around 10.30pm. Camp Location - 25° 53' 52.2" S 138° 51' 58.5" E

Day 12: Monday 25th July – Up at 6.30am had breakfast then I went for a quick walk up the nearest dune and then down to the water where the dry track would normally had crossed. The birdlife was prolific here. The intended route for that day was to climb Big Red and then to continue onto Birdsville. We were off and running at 8.30am, just as the other two groups approached the intersection.
When we finally came to the ‘foothills” of Big Red, we were in awe of the greatness of this huge sand dune. What a site to behold! All the photos cannot prepare you for the size of this dune and in comparison to all the other dunes that you travel over, it is BIG!!! By the time we had arrived at the launch area most of our group were out of their vehicles, sizing this big bugger up. One in particular, call sign Myrtle, said he was ready and double checked his tyre pressures and was off in a cloud of dust, camper in tow. Straight up, no problems at all. While we checked our tyre pressures, 14psi in the front 16 psi in the rear and 10 psi in the camper, the two non towing vehicles made it to the top also. It was now or never, so we too launched our assault. Off we went, not holding anything in reserve - we made it. Great fun!!!

Once we had made it to the top, straight ahead of us was a huge body of water. What a spectacular site - jaw dropping – as it was not something you were expecting. Every single Tvan had made it. In total we had 13 TVAN’s on top of Big Red at once. Two of the original 15 had to leave a day or two earlier due to work commitments. This was a true show of what these TVAN’s are able to tackle and to cross the Simpson Desert without breaking a sweat, so to speak, FANTASTIC!!! While on top we had our first digital coverage since Marla. It had been around 8 days so we had some catching up to do with love ones at home etc. The wife called the daughter and received all the news about Cadel (Tour de France), Casey (Moto GP) & Mark (F 1) all having wins.
Into Birdsville we rolled and parked out the front of the pub for another group photo. First port of call was the bakery. We had not stopped for lunch, so we made a bee line for the shop. There were no camel pies left so I had a chunky beef pie and the wife enjoyed a sausage roll, YUM. We set up camp in the caravan park in a non-powered site then hit the showers - so good after so long without showers. That night we all attended a group dinner at the Birdsville pub to celebrate our journey and to mark the end of the rally. It made a great change to have a meal served to you with a few drinks on tap. It was also wonderful to unwind and chat with everyone on the trip. This was the official end of the rally. We were In bed by 10pm, had another great day.

Day 13: Tuesday 26th July – Rolled out at 8am and it was another beautiful day. Today, for us was a lay day but for others they needed to move on so we had a few farewells to make and caught up with them at the bakery, they do a mean breakfast there and the coffee is not bad either. We dropped in at the visitors centre and had a look around picking up some information for the next leg of our trip and confirmed there were no road issues ahead. Back to our camp and a general clean up and some washing of the essential clothing items was needed then after lunch we had a stroll around town then did some souvenir shopping at the roadhouse. That night there was another gathering at the pub for those that were still in town. Early to bed that night - 9.30pm.

Day 14: Wednesday 27th July – Up very early today as we had a group of motor bikers that headed out between 5am and 6.30am. Intended route for today was to head east along the Birdsville Development Road then turn south about 114kms out of town and then on Cordillo Downs Road and into Innamincka.
After packing up we said our farewells to the others that were also departing and those that were staying then filled up the water tank in the camper and refuelled ($1.70L) at the roadhouse. We had one last visit to the bakery for a coffee before leaving at 11.15 am.
The Development Road was in great condition and we made good time but once we turned off the conditions changed a lot but we were not in a rush as our only challenge was running out of daylight. We had a quick stop to look around the Cadelga Outstation ruins. It always amazes me the extreme conditions these early pioneers had to contend with.
Not long after we found a shady spot for lunch. Later we drove on to Cordillo Downs and took the time to have a good look around this unique shearing shed structure.
With the sun rapidly setting and still a fair way to go, we were resigned to the fact that we would be doing the last hour into Innamincka in the dark- not a good thing but these things do happen now and then. Finally we arrived. I did know from earlier research, the easiest place to camp was the Town Common, so we headed in that direction not knowing exactly where we were going. So many choices to make - there were turn offs to the left, right and centre. There were quite a few campsites spread out all over the place, so after making some more left and right guesses, and to the wife’s delight we ended up finding 2 fellow A team Tvans from the rally enjoying a fire right on the bank of the creek. Relief at last. It only took us 15 minutes to setup our camp, then we were enjoying great company and we also had a terrific fire. We had a relaxing few hours next to the fire then turned in at 11pm.

Day 15: Thursday 28th July – We were up at 8am and had another great day in paradise after a fantastic night’s sleep. Our friends were both heading off that morning in the same direction to continue their travels. We had decided to stay for a couple more days to check out the sites as this was our first visit to Innamincka. After farewells we went up to the Trading Post to see what was on offer in regards to supplies, not that we needed much but it is always good to know what is available. They had quite an assortment of items.
We then headed out to Burkes grave and onto the Dig Tree for lunch - all very interesting. It was a great days outing, it was roughly a 140km round trip.
Back at camp we had a relaxed afternoon then cooked our dinner in our Hillbilly fry pan (highly recommended due to its foldable handle and non stick surface once seasoned) over an open fire. Life just does not get any better than that. We had another good evening next to the creek by the fire – in bed by 9pm.

Day 16: Friday 29th July – Rolled out around 7.30am after lying in bed listening to all the bird action on the creek. At times it sounded like a waterfall as there were numerous cormorants taking off and landing in a fishing frenzy, quite amazing. Innamincka is a great place to visit as it is an oasis in the middle of the desert.
Bacon and eggs cooked on the fire for breakfast. Today we headed out to visit Will’s grave site along with other camp site locations to the west of town. We ended up back in town at the pub with a plate of hot chips and sauce for lunch. Back at our camp we just chilled out while we did a few minor checks and adjustments to things. Birdlife in the creek was prolific as they were continually catching fish. We had another campfire dinner, delish. In bed by 9.30pm.

Day 17: Saturday 30th July – Wake at 6.30am and out at 7am. Intended route for today was to head south down the Strzelecki Track via Moomba then turn east near Merty Merty via Cameron Corner to Tibooburra.
We were on the road at 8am with a small detour to the tip to drop off rubbish. We then made good time cruising down the Strzelecki Track. We stopped at the Moomba information bay for a quick look but it become too windy so we moved on. Continued down to just past Merty Merty and pulled over for a well earned morning coffee that hit the spot. We walked up a nearby dune for a good look around and had a great view of the nearby Merty Merty Station.
We rolled into Cameron Corner for a burger and chips for lunch and were greeted by a coach load of Queensland tourists who were so impressed by the Tvan and swamped us with a myriad of questions.
The road into Tibooburra was seriously corrugated and easily the worst we had on our whole journey, very unpleasant. On the way we did drop in to have a look at Fort Grey but the sign read – “no fires” which put a stop to the possibility of an overnight stay. We just continued on to Tibooburra.
Our accommodation that night was at the Tibooburra Caravan Park, we had stayed there before but we then had stayed in an onsite cabin. After fuelling up ($1.73L) we found a nice quiet spot down the southern end of the park to make camp and as always the wife put a great meal together in next to no time. Back in communications again so we made a few calls after a nice hot shower as we knew we would not have any reception tomorrow. That night we turned in around 10pm.

Day 18: Sunday 31th July – We woke up tired as we had had a shocking sleep because it had been very cold during the night and we only had one blanket on the bed. We did not jump out until 7.30am. The intended route of the day was to travel south along the Silver City Highway then turn off towards White Cliffs via Cobham and head south again to Kayrunnera and on to Mutawintji National Park.
We were on the road at 9am. We crossed paths with another couple towing a new rental TVAN from Queensland. As the roads are very narrow we pulled over to let them have the entire road so there was less chance of windscreen damage. They pulled up thinking we had a problem so we had a brief chat and mentioned the TVAN Rally Simpson crossing. From then on we did not see many more vehicles but we did see a lot of emus, goats and kangaroos before getting to the park. Arrived at 2.30pm and had a late lunch then set up camp - plenty of room as there were only 3 other groups in the camp. Had a chat with the ranger and he advised us a school group (a coach load) would be coming in at around 11pm that night. We went for a walk along the dry creek bed in the late afternoon, very picturesque. We could still see the effects of the January floods that had ripped through the park and had caused a large amount of damage. Had another great fire and went to bed at 9pm.

Day 19: Monday 1st August – We woke up when the school group came in at 10.30 pm but they were pretty good and we drifted back off to sleep after a few minutes. Our intended route for the day was to go to Broken Hill via the Silver City Hwy then head back towards Sydney via the Barrier Hwy. Hopped up around 7am and made the wife a cuppa then had breakfast. One of the head teachers came over and spoke to me about the noise and I said it was not a problem and we would be heading off in a while, somehow I think we were in the spot they normally setup. Another teacher came over later and was very interested in the TVAN and had a lot of questions that I was more than happy to answer. We had a lovely hot shower (solar) before leaving and we were back on the road by 10.30am heading for Broken Hill.
At Broken Hill we visited the Silver Mint & Art Centre as we had been there before and had purchased some nice gifts. Fuelled up ($1.50L) before doing some grocery shopping then contacted Jeep Assist as we had had a flashing light on the dash since Dalhousie Springs. This was to do with the electronic sway bar disconnect system. I was given the option of getting towed or driving to either Mildura or Dubbo service centre. Mildura was a lot closer but totally in the wrong direction so Dubbo was the choice. I called the Dubbo service centre and booked in for 1.30pm the next day. We had 750km to travel and really had to get going as it was now 2.45pm. Well, we made it to Baden Park Rest Area 87km east of Wilcannia before the sun beat us. Had a quick dinner then made a few phone calls to the children and had an early night at 9pm.

Day 20: Tuesday 2nd August – We had the alarm on just to make sure we did not sleep in and it went off at 6am. Intended route for the day was to get to Dubbo and then work out our next move once we had finished at the service centre. I made the wife a cuppa and we were on the road by 6.50am. We stopped at Cobar for a late breakfast - bacon n egg roll and a coffee. Rolled into Dubbo just on time and found the Jeep service centre. Had lunch in their waiting room then I ended up out in the workshop and then I went out for a couple of test runs. We worked out a solution that would get us back on the road. Rather than waiting a day or two for parts to arrive, we decided to head for Bathurst for the night, it was now 5.10pm. Our reason to stop at Bathurst was because of the fact that our son was attending Charles Sturt University. We always camp on Mount Panorama at McPhillamy Park. We arrived at 7.45pm to setup camp. Around 9pm the son arrived with his girlfriend and we had a little gathering in the back section of the camper as it was mighty cold outside at that time of the year. We kicked the visitors out at 10.30 pm and were in bed at 10.45pm.

Day 21: Wednesday 3rd August – We had a great night’s sleep and with only a little drive that day we did not rush out of bed that morning - 8am. Intended route for today was Home. We took our time having breakfast and packing up. We then met last night’s visitors in town for a coffee before leaving for Sydney - or so I thought. My loving wife spotted the new Vinnies store that had relocated and was now a much bigger store so she just had to give the place a thorough look over. Well 1 and 1/2 hours later she surfaced, giving it the thumbs up and advising me they had done a great job with the new store.
Finally on the move again, we travelled to Lithgow to fuel up ($1.47L) then headed along the Bells Line of Road as we had plenty of time and it is a far more scenic route. We could not go past Bilpin without buying an apple pie and sliding out the kitchen for another cuppa. We arrived home at 4.30pm to some very happy dogs.

I must admit I could head off tomorrow and do the whole trip again without a blink of an eye but it is good to be home!

Total kilometres travelled = 6260
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