Tag Archives: Outback

Simpson desert dreaming

One week on the road. Our normal lives feel so distant, it is hard to imagine being anywhere but here.

The desert grows more beautiful day by day. The rippling sand dunes are now covered with lush green vegetation. Recent rains have brought the desert to life. Two jet black eagles sit regally on a dune, watching us pass by. Their dark forms silhouetted against the red sand. Smaller birds twitter as they fly through the desert’s wild flower meadows. Flowers, grasses and small acacias populate the dunes, artfully planted it appears, as if to win a native garden show.

Rippling sands

Rippling sands

The bleached tops of cane grass tufts sprout like whiskers on the banks of the dunes. Purple flowers blend with clumps of native spinifex. A solitary kangaroo hops slowly away then turns to watch us from his garden home. There is plenty here for us all, he seems to say.

This truly is a botanist’s paradise. I lose count of the different species of flowers, shrubs and trees that we pass by. Bright yellow flowers dominate entire dune banks. From the viewing point on top of the higher dunes we see the desert garden stretching far into the distance on all points of the compass. Grey, green, yellow stripes on powder red sand.

Desert sands

Desert sands

Look, a dingo, clearly visible with her blonde fur against the colours of the desert. She looks at us, tongue lolling from her mouth, then walks away. There is plenty here for us all, she seems to say. Food is abundant for plant, animal and bird life after the rains.

As we drive towards Purni Bore, where we will eat lunch, we notice the land flattening. We are not yet out of the desert, but we are leaving her heart behind. We enjoy the luxury of a new shower and toilet block at Purni Bore and then drive on the flat pan, away from the dunes.

The soft sand is but a memory as we travel on rock strewn roads through the flattest country. In the distance we can see the flat topped mountains of the Emery Range. Our tyres are soft. The pressure was reduced to drive better on sand. We now begin to grow concerned that the rocks may cause a puncture. As it happens, the only casualty is our sand flag, that flies away, heading back to the desert’s heart. We understand the desire to return.

We drive forward on the rocky roads to Dalhousie Springs. The hot springs here are naturally created by water being forced up from the Great Artesian Basin that lies below us. This water is heated by high temperatures in the earth’s core and emerges at the surface at a comfortable 36-38 degrees. Time for a hot bath! We jump in and wash off the desert dust.

Out of Dalhousie Springs the roads are corrugated and rocky. It’s is not a comfortable ride. We stop off for a brief respite at Opossum watering hole. A sign reminds us that this is a significant place for aboriginal people. The magical stories of the Dreaming converge on watering holes such as this that have been used for thousands of years. It is easy to understand why.

Back on the rocky road, shaken but not stirred, we drive the last stretch of the day to Mount Dare. The red clay roads are deeply rutted. A final driving challenge before we camp and enjoy the hospitality of the Mount Dare Hotel.

Bush Poetry #2

Legs of the desert
by Max Smith

Over the rolling sand dunes
In a land that’s deemed so harsh
With a band of intrepid travellers
That all came from Deans Marsh

Through grit and determination
And working as a team
The achievement of these people
Was something to be seen

From dodging rutting camels
And eating such hard cakes
The lifting of ones spirits
Is what this land doth make

While sitting round the camp fire
When all of us are at rest
The joy of meeting new faces
And being put to a test

Will always be a memory
Until I’m laid to rest.

May 2014

Simpson Desert Day

Today is our second day driving through the Simpson desert.

I can share with you, dear reader, that it is unusually beautiful here. The colour of the sand, which varies from a creamy tan to a dusky pink, is a constant contrasting backdrop to the greys, greens and yellows of the vegetation. Wildflowers are unexpectedly prolific. We are lucky to see the desert in bloom. Flowers of yellow, white and mauve compete for attention with wattles decorated with yellow pompom flowers, with the complex geometric shapes of clumps of sand hill cane grass and spiky tufts of spinifex. I take hundreds of photos. I want to capture the memory of these sights and savour it forever.

We are not alone here. The desert is alive, but we see few of its inhabitants. The sand is traced with a multitude of prints, giving away their secret nocturnal existence. Dingo tracks follow the road for many kilometres. Tiny birds fly from bush to bush. Emus are spotted walking across the sands. A lizard slithers by. The ecosystem is alive and well, thriving on recent rains.

Our vehicles are tested by the harsh conditions and relentless low gear four wheel driving. They rock and roll as they climb the dunes. They shake and rattle as they twist and turn and any loose items are thrown about inside. A milk container is cracked, glass and plastic broken. Batteries fail and fuses blow. Fridge contents are thrown around as if in a blender. But the utes drive on, revelling in an opportunity to exercise their full capabilities. Few road cars ever have this work out.

We travel slowly at approximately 20 km/hr, looking out for other vehicles coming towards us on the track. Through the day we meet seven vehicles driving from West to East, the opposite direction to us.  Nearing the end of the day, a large sand dune stops Howard in his tracks. As he is reversing down, an oncoming vehicle appears on the crest above him. A close call.

This last dune is going to be a difficult one to climb.  It is deceptive.  Approaching what appears to be the top, a second hidden summit emerges.  It is two dunes in one. The sand at the top is soft. One by one the vehicles attempt the climb. First hard right, then hard left. After a few false starts everyone but Max is over. The V8 roars and here he comes, up to the right, then to the left. A glimpse in through the windscreen and we can see Max relaxed, a cigarette in his mouth, totally at ease as he twists the wheel and the Landcruiser ploughs through the sand to reach the summit. A cool customer.

The shadows are long in the late afternoon sun and we stand on top the dune for a while to take in the view. The desert stretches out below us. A spectacular end to another perfect day.

Bush Poetry #1

Poetry around the camp fire

I’m in the desert
The Simpson Desert
We’ve travelled many miles
I’m sitting in the sand
Red sand
Big red is in the distance
It seems it must be conquered
And conquer it we did
Clumps of grass and acacia dot the dunes
Flies annoy my eyes
The sky is blue and goes on forever
Horizon too seems far away
I gather up my sticks and play.

by Beryl Bush

Birdsville to the Simpson

The sound of dingoes wailing like banshees breaks the silence of the desert night.  We are in Birdsville.  Today we venture into the desert.

Sand flags are attached to our vehicles and straps are checked and tightened to make sure everything is ready for the desert crossing. We take a trip to the tourist information office to buy our desert parks pass and we are ready to go. A refuel at the servo and a detour past the bakery for a coffee and cake is all we need to set us up for the journey.

Birdsville has lived up to its reputation. A friendly place with every facility a traveller could need. It may be a remote destination, but it has the feel of a real town with a strong community.

Big red road sign

Big red road sign

A few kilometres outside the town, we stop for the obligatory photo beside the road sign to Big Red, the famous sand dune. Big Red is the highest dune in the Simpson desert, standing at around 50 metres. It lays down a challenge to our drivers that they are keen to accept.

As we prepare to leave the photo spot Brett and Christine find their ute will not start. A dead battery is the cause. We thank the desert gods that the battery has failed so close to town, where it is easy to buy a replacement. Out in the desert this would have been a more challenging problem to solve. Back to Birdsville we go. It does not take long. Battery purchased, fitted and tested and we are off.

The Simpson Desert is the world’s largest parallel dune desert. It is made up of over a thousand parallel dunes running along its length from NE to SW. Our route will run from E to W, along the QAA line to Poeppel Corner and then along the French Line to Mount Dare Hotel. We will be moving across and over the dunes and will have some challenging 4WD action ahead of us.

Sand dune

Sand dune

The first sand dune is relatively easy to climb, but we novices feel a surge of excitement when we successfully reach the other side. Next comes Big Red. It is slightly off the main track, and is not on our route, but it is definitely on our itinerary. We take the side track towards it, see the dune ahead and the adrenalin starts to run in anticipation. Howard is first to attempt the giant dune. He easily reaches the summit on the second attempt. We see two figures at the top, watching the rest of the team’s attempts. Max hurtles towards the dune and loses power about three quarters of the way up. He reverses back down and powers back for his second attempt. He does it. He and Heather stand at the top looking down.

Malcolm and Olive try twice unsuccessfully to climb the dune, but they have conquered it before and decide to sit this one out. Brett steps up to the plate and powers up the sandy incline. The ute loses power in the middle of the dune. He tries again and gets almost to the top, but can’t find the traction to get through the soft sand at the summit. He decides to call it quits. It’s been a tough day already and he will pass on this challenge.

Tackling Big Red

Tackling Big Red

Richard lines up to take his turn. He charges at the dune, wrestling with the wheel to stay on track, only to lose traction midway. Four more attempts in different gears see him climb to the very top of the dune, only to lack enough power for the final push over the crest. Another group of vehicles approaches the dune and he knows he only has time for one more try. He is determined to conquer the colossus and his face is set as he lines up for his attempt. The radio crackles with advice on the gear to select, “Low 2”, “High 3”. He selects low 3 and manoeuvres the ISUZU to the starting point. At the last minute he flicks off the air conditioning, hoping that might help him find the extra few horse power he is looking for.

Off he goes, power on, up to middle of the dune, the vehicle gains traction as he turns to the left and the ISUZU pushes forward, finally easing over the crest and on to the summit. A shout of exhilaration and he’s out of the vehicle, punching the air. Mission accomplished.

With the excitement of Big Red behind us, we continue our drive into the desert. Every dune presents a different driving challenge. The convoy soon gets into the groove and we make slow but sure progress through the afternoon.



Beryl calls out over the radio, “We’re in paradise!” We climb the dune to find a treed plain below us that reminds me of an olive grove. The flat plain between two distant dunes is dotted with silvery grey green trees. We have found our first desert camp site. Wood is collected, a fire is set and we make camp.

After a tasty dinner, we sit around the camp fire, looking up at the starry starry night. Earlier in the day, Beryl had laid down a challenge to the group to each write a poem to read around the campfire. What a talented group! The poems each reflected the personality of the author – some comical, others lyrical – all giving a new perspective on the trip so far.

I will share a selection of these poems in future posts under the category “Bush Poetry” so that you, dear reader, can hear other voices tell the story of our travels into the red centre of Australia to see the Big Red Bit.

Birdsville track

The convoy gathered for a group photo at the signpost marking the start of the Birdsville track before filling up with fuel for the iconic trip from Marree to Birdsville. The girls lined up, smiling for their photo. The boys fell about when it was their turn, crying with laughter at Malcolm’s poses. “Look at these, the sexiest legs this side of Birdsville”.

Girls at Birdville road sign

Girls at Birdville road sign

We met up with Max and Heather at Marree last night, so now we are ten travellers in five cars. Marree is a small town that used to sit at the end of the old Ghan railway. Before the rail, it was a stopping off point for aboriginal travellers and Muslim cameleers as they moved between the desert watering holes. The hotel is now a welcoming stop for tourists and modern day explorers. Simple food, cold beer and a smile.

The track is unsealed, but well maintained. We can see the signs of recent rains, with deep ruts cut into the track by vehicles bogged in the mud. But today it is perfect weather, 30 degrees, sunny, with a few clouds in the sky.

Gibber stone

Gibber stone

The stone clad plains on either side of the track are identical, the red gibber stones glinting in the sunlight as we drive along. A solitary bird of prey hovers overhead, the only sign of animal life apart from a few Hereford cattle who stare lazily at our vehicles as we drive past in clouds of whirling dust. “Good looking stock”, a voice crackles over the radio, admiring the view. What else would you expect from a convoy of cattle farmers?

It’s thirsty work driving the straight sandy track through the rocky plains. We are relieved to hear the call to morning tea at Coopers Creek over the radio “Cuppas at Coopers!” But a plague of flies keeps the tea break short and we are soon on the road again.

Harsh country

Harsh country

The Strezlecki Desert and Sturt Stony Desert are not welcoming places. They are flat with few geographical features to relieve the kilometre upon kilometre of sandy, rocky land. The driving has its challenges too. A few moments distraction, a steep cattle grid on a crest and the utes are airborne, Birdsville Airways look out!

On and on we go, dust swirling, radio crackling, wheels turning. We recall that Tom Kruse, the famed Birdsville mailman, travelled between Marree and Birdsville through rain, drought, dust storm and high winds for 20 years. We are driving a direct route, but he had to zig zag from cattle station to cattle station, in a truck loaded up with supplies. It took him about a week to complete this journey that for us will be over within a day. We have it easy with our air conditioning and modern vehicles.

On and on we go. No matter how arid the land, how far from community support, there are always pioneers who make their stake and dig in to drag a living from the land. Such a place can be seen at the old Mulka Store. A few stone walls remain, together with a lonely grave marked with a marble stone. A young girl, only 14 years and 5 months old lies here. The exactness of her age a quiet reminder of the pain of loss felt by her parents. Just one sad story of many.

At lunchtime we stop at Mungerannie to take a look at the birds in a small area of wetlands around the uncapped bore. We are not disappointed. Noisy white corellas dot the trees and a pair of elegant grey brolgas tip toe their way gingerly through the grass and reeds; the scarlet flashes on their heads so bright against the sandy coloured vegetation. The cameras click. Well worth the stop.

On and on we go. The final run to Birdsville is dusty, each vehicle throwing up a fog behind it that the tail enders struggle to see their way through. We are glad to reach our destination, Birdsville feels like an oasis.

Later, in the famous Birdsville hotel, we enjoy the welcome and the great Aussie tucker, Shearers Delight lamb Cutlets, Shepherds Pie with gravy and Mallee Bull burger. A cool glass of beer or wine goes down well as stories are swapped around the table with Mick, a fascinating retired station hand in his nineties. Mick held so much Aussie history in his own life story. From Kidman to Tom Kruse, he knew them all. Asked what he thinks of the famous mailman, he smiles and says “He wasn’t a bad bloke”. We all know there are few higher accolades for an Australian.

After dinner, we retire to the campsite to gaze for a while at the Milky Way lighting up the night sky. Tomorrow the desert, we sleep and dream of climbing red sand dunes that seem to go up and up forever.





Inspired by the Flinders Ranges

This landscape inspires art.

In Hawker, on the edge of the Flinders Ranges, the artist Jeff Morgan was inspired to paint a round panoramic mural of the Wilpena Pound landscape. The work is astounding. It is also unique. It is the only cyclorama, or 360 degree round panorama, depicting a real view as seen from one viewpoint. Jeff’s work allows the viewer to experience the view from St Mary’s Peak as he has seen it. And what a view! As I climb the wooden steps in the centre of the tower that houses the work, I am inspired. The vista is stunning and he has reproduced it faithfully, and yet in an interpretation that is his and his alone.

Viewing the panorama

Viewing the panorama

What an artistic challenge, but I should not be surprised. This country, the Flinders Ranges, inspires. Views stretch to the horizon in every direction. The scale belittles any mundane worries and petty cares. The ranges are majestic in the true sense. In shrinking our own self importance, I think they may they have the potential to inspire us to greater works than we could otherwise imagine.

Looking to the left on the drive out of Hawker, the land is flat and stretches into infinity towards the horizon. It is dotted with flinty silver, green and grey vegetation. To the right, the landscape is dramatically different. The land has rippled over millions of years under pressure from movements in the earth’s crust. Massive rocky ranges have been forced into existence. Ancient sea beds have been uncovered, and limestone eroded to allow pink, yellow and grey rock to emerge on the surface. We are on another planet.

Fossil finds

Fossil finds

We take a short detour off the highway to one of Howard’s special places, and clamber up a stony incline to search for the fossilised remains of the sea creatures who lived here many millions of years ago. The rocks here are said to be between 500 and 650 million years old. We find intricately etched fossilised remains that in the delicacy of their ancient patterns suggest a hidden artist’s hand. Then when we reach the top of the rocky outcrop and gaze at the 360 degree views, we marvel at the shapes carved into the earth by dried river beds and the deep pink and ochre hues of the distant mountain ranges. Is nature the greatest artist?

Fossilised designs

Fossilised designs

Lunch time brings us back to earth and we visit the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna where we sample the feral antipasto plate. Emu, goat, kangaroo and camel are transformed into tasty smoked sausage, pate and cured meats, eaten with soft damper style bread. The walls of the pub are hung with brightly coloured indigenous artworks. The inspiration for their dots, swirls and line work taken from the natural world around us.

We leave the bitumen for unsealed roads at Lyndhurst and watch for swirls of dust approaching in the distance from oncoming vehicles. The leaders call out warnings on the radio as motorbikes and the occasional ute approaches.

The ranges disappear behind us.  The horizon seems to become more and more distant, the land flatter and flatter. This is the Australian outback.

The sun sets in dark oranges, pinks and yellows that reflect back the more muted colours of the rock. The day ends at Marree, at the start of the Birdsville Track and tomorrow is another day.


Big sky country

We are driving into big sky country.   As we distance ourselves further and further from the coast, I begin to see a new side of this ancient land.


The drive from Hahndorf to Hawker today took us from genteel horse stations nestled in grassy green hills and dales to vast big brand vineyards, from high tech wind farms to deserted ghost towns, and finally into the bleak beauty of the Flinders ranges.   As the kilometres ticked by, the land around us flattened, broadened and gave way to bigger and bigger skies.

Wind farms

Wind farms

The country began to show its age.  It seemed to grow more weary from the centuries of battering by sun, wind, rain and of course by man. How to explain this?   In the lush green hills around Adelaide, there is still a freshness, a youthful exuberance.  Anything is possible.  As the land becomes more arid and widens into flat plains, it is as if it exhales.   It settles into a stable but long suffering existence.   It has seen it all.  Nothing can surprise it.

We passed many derelict stone built houses.   Monuments to the hopes and dreams of the past.       Their empty windows gazing out across windswept acres.   We come and go, the land lives on.

Terowie, like a ghost town

Terowie, like a ghost town

In the historic mining town of Burra, remnants of Cornish miners homes remain.  They are little more than caves dug out of the earth, with more in common with animal burrows than with 21st century homes.   This land does not give up its treasures easily.  It is not welcoming.   It demands resilience, fortitude and a spirit of never say die.

Miners' dugouts at Burra

Miners’ dugouts at Burra

There are memorials here to people who were made of sterner stuff.   People who could eke out a living from nothing.   I saw a signpost that marked the Herbig Family Tree, quite literally a tree that had once housed the Herbig family.  Man, wife and two children had lived in a hollow dug into the trunk of this 7 metre diameter giant.

I don’t want to leave you with the impression, dear reader, that these are depressing sights.  On the contrary, the country stirs feelings of wonder at the history of both land and its inhabitants.  It is a strong, fearsome beauty.  It is the beauty of the never ending story of struggle, victory and defeat; the never ending cycle of life.


Ready, set…..getting ready to go

The night was cold, wet and windy. The rain lashed down outside the cosy farm house, and we agreed it was surely time to escape the Otways winter for the dry and dusty red centre.

With two weeks to go, the ten travellers in our convoy met for a pre-trip planning session. Most of the group knew each other already, a few introductions were made and we got down to the important business of eating, drinking and trip talking.

Three couples are experienced outback travellers, Howard and Beryl, Malcolm and Olive, Max and Heather.  Between them they have travelled many thousands of kilometres across Australia and have had their share of mechanical breakdowns, tyre blowouts, snakes, dingoes, rain, wind and everything else the Red Centre can throw at them.  But they still keep going back for more.

The innocents abroad … I mean the less experienced pairs are Brett and Christine, who have been camping with their family for many years, but not four wheel driving in remote locations, and of course Richard and me.  Well, I’ll be honest, we are the newbies who ask the naive questions!  Especially me… I’ve not done a lot of camping and this will be the first time I have left the safety of the urbanised East Coast of Australia for the outback.

As we tucked into the warming vegetable soup, followed by Beryl’s sausage rolls with Jenny’s amazing tomato sauce, questions and answers mixed with tall stories around the dinner table.

“What do you do about washing your clothes out there? Are there laundry facilities at the camping spots?”

“Yes, in some. The rest of the time just jiggle your undies in a bucket of water and you’ll be fine. We’ll all smell the same by the end of the desert trip.”

“Does anyone know how to fold away the pop up camping shower cubicle?”

We were glad to hear Christine has mastered this feat of manual dexterity.

“Do people really sit on top of the Big Red sand dune (the biggest in the Simpson Desert) with drinks and snacks to watch beginners try to make their way up?”

“Yes, it’s entertainment for the locals, but don’t worry, you’ll have no problem getting up there.”

Some answers were comforting, others less so.  We began to feel our inexperience quite intensely.

After dinner, Howard unrolled the map of Australia and the group gathered around to trace the route we would follow from the South to the North of this massive continent.

The start and end dates are fixed.  Our leaving date, 17 May, is non-negotiable and was set many months ago.  We will leave as soon as Howard’s bulls are put in with the females for their allotted nine weeks a year.   This momentous event happens at the same time each year, mid May.   This is a little later than our own Limousin bulls, Stan and Galli, who wait patiently each year for Anzac Day for the same reason and who are already wooing and cooing their way around our paddocks.   I love the fact that we are planning our trip around the farming calendar.   That’s life in the country!

The target destination is Adelaide River.   We plan to be there for the Adelaide River Races on 31 May, another immovable date.   (An outback horse racing meet will be a first for me.) But wait, you may be thinking that Adelaide is on the South coast of Australia?   That’s true, Adelaide is a Southern city, but Adelaide River where we are heading is actually close to Darwin on the North coast.

So we have 13 days to travel approximately 4000 kilometres, including the Birdsville Track and the Simpson Desert.   This gives us some contingency, but essentially we will have to be on the road, making good progress to the North every day.

After the races, the convoy breaks up and we go our separate ways.   Howard and Beryl will stay up North and drive through the Gulf across to Queensland.   Olive and Malcolm will tag along with them.  Max and Heather are at the start of a longer trip and will return to Birdsville to pick up their caravan before heading back North with the creature comforts a caravan can offer.   It’s not practical to take the caravan across the Simpson so they are leaving it in a secure location there on our way up.   Brett and Christine have commitments back at home that mean they will most probably have to take the quickest route South.

I have never seen the iconic Uluru (Ayers Rock) so we will be taking a detour to the West from Alice Springs to visit Kings Canyon and the Rock before we head home.

We all talk through our plans and finally as the group breaks up we agree to meet at 7am on Saturday 17 May to head off on our adventure.

I will update the blog as often as I can along the way so that you, dear reader, can come along with us and share our Red Centre experience – at least virtually!


Tea with Howard

When Howard talks about the desert, he shifts sideways slightly in his seat and looks out into the distance.  It is as if he leaves the room where we are talking and is immersed for a few moments in the sights and sounds of the remote Australian outback.

We are sitting around the kitchen table in his comfortable Victorian farm house.    Two empty tea cups stand to one side. Spread out on the table is a huge laminated map of Australia. He is pointing out the route we and eight others will take in two weeks time, and as his fingers pass over the names on the map he frequently pauses to tell me more about the places the names represent.

Howard is a very experienced outback traveller.   His first trip to the desert was in 1989 when he was in his early thirties.   He and another local man decided to take off to see the Red Centre of Australia.   He admits he was very green at the time and had hardly been outside of Victoria. He was totally unprepared for the vastness of the country he was to travel and the impact it would have on him. He’s traveled back many times since, crisscrossing the interior of Australia in his four wheel drive.

I’m left with the impression that Howard fell in love on that trip, in love with with the remote desert spaces in the centre of Australia.

His fingers trace our route from Deans Marsh to Hahndorf, our first stop. Then North to Peterborough and on to Marree where we will take the renowned Birdsville Track. Turning left at Birdsville, we will head for Poeppel Corner where three Australian state lines meet.

“It’s possible to stand with your left leg in the Northern Territory, your right leg in Queensland and you arms stretched out into South Australia.” Howard chuckles, “I once stretched out flat on top of the post there to do just that!”

“The spot was named after the bloke who first surveyed the area to pinpoint its exact location. It was way back in the late nineteenth century and he had camels drag a post and measuring chain all the way from Birdsville. When it was surveyed again, they found he was a few hundred metres out, and that’s because the steel linked chain had stretched along the way.”

Every place out here has a story.

Simpson map

Poeppel Corner and the Simpson

Howard pauses, and then almost reverently says “And here’s the Simpson.” He stretches out his hand and covers first the desert and then our home state of Victoria. “Look, it’s as big as Victoria, and there’s not a soul living in it.” Later I Google this to see if it’s really true. I find that the Simpson Desert official area is about two thirds that of Victoria, but if you add in the surrounding area that is informally included when people talk of the Simpson, Howard is right. The Simpson is about the size of Victoria!

For overseas readers, let me help you imagine what this means so that you can visualise the scale of this desert. It is officially 145,000 km sq (56,000 sq mi). That’s bigger than the whole of England, which is only 130,000 km sq (50,000 sq mi). Imagine then that no one lives in the Simpson (although some indigenous folk live around the periphery), while England has 63 million inhabitants.

Courtesy of NT Tourism

Simpson Desert – Courtesy of NT Tourism

I ask if we will see many other vehicles when we are crossing the Simpson? “Last time I crossed it I saw about 12 other vehicles over 4 days. That was 13 years ago, so it will be a lot busier now. We will probably see 3 or 4 times more. It’s busiest in the winter months of June to September, especially in Australian school holidays, but we are early in the season, so it will be reasonably quiet.” This sounds like a massive understatement for one of the most remote places on earth, but I know what he means.

We are crossing the Simpson East to West on the French Line, a track created by a French oil company in the sixties to open up the desert for prospecting. Fortunately no economical mineral deposits were found and the desert was left in peace, but with an access road used by many 4WD explorers today.

Howard points out the waypoints from the French Line on the way to Alice Springs, where we will join the Stuart Highway, passing through Mount Dare and Old Andado. Every place has a story, but this is already a long post!

Once we reach Alice Springs and the highway, the stories peter out and with a swoosh of the hand Howard indicates that the remaining 1390 km to Adelaide River will be a straightforward couple of days highway driving.

Up the highway from Alice

Up the highway from Alice

To an English ex pat the distances are mind boggling. Overall we will be driving around 4000 km in 13 days. That’s the equivalent to driving from London to the North Pole or New York to Calgary. It’s a hell of a long way, but this is Australia. Long distances are shrugged off with a larrikin smile and a wink. No worries, mate.