Prepped with a full fuel tank and a lot of water we left Birdsville for Big Red, the biggest dune marking the start of the Simpson Desert crossing.
In the back of our minds, we knew if we struggled here we might need to reconsider our route. After some confusion as to which dune was in fact Big Red, full of elation both cars successfully climbed to the crest. After obligatory photos, we set off for a day of dune driving.
A wet desert crossing had never crossed our mind. Night 1 in the Simpson Desert we experienced a thunder & lightning storm. Usually dry salt lake crossings became very wet. After a long night, we hit the track, following age old advice to stick to the main tracks, sometimes easier to evaluate than others but we made it across 12 salt lakes. Today we started our solo travel and realised the enormity of what we were about to undertake. By lunch time we settled into the routine of dune driving and covered 125kms. I couldn’t help thinking of Chris Scott and all the sand driving advice I had read in his books over the years of preparation and anticipation. Proud of ourselves for getting through, we set up in the shade of a dune and shared a gin and tonic.
Mud! By now we are feeling pretty confident we knew how to cross dunes and salt pans. What we found in the afternoon was bog hole after bog hole. Eventually, after a poor choice of route, one claimed us. We had stopped halfway across a 100m mud bath. We’d not seen anyone since waving Martin and Neil off two days before. We attempted a retreat with some digging and Maxtrax ( like sand ladders). Exhausted and with a full metre’s progress in 30 mins Ruth got on the radio and raised a group heading our way . A team of 4 cars arrived one of which had broken down and was being towed. Their attempt at crossing left 3 bogged and one made it over. There was a moment when we were 5 bogged cars and suddenly losing hope.
After a great team effort, knee deep mud, digging, winching, snatching and towing, all 5 cars were on dry land. We still had to make it across to the other side, the team watched on as we succeeded! Warned not to be put off by the wet track up ahead, inevitable as we were to cross the spring delta, we made it through a series of long flooded sections including a single 5km ‘puddle’.
Our next stop was the much anticipated Dalhousie Springs, a natural spring in the desert thats 31- 38 degrees all year round. To say we enjoyed having this place all to ourselves is an understatement.
After relaxing in the soothing hot waters we departed for Mount Dare. Our rescuers had spent 8 hours travelling the 71 kms the day before so we we’re once again braced for knee deep bogs and long stretches of waist high water flooding the tracks. It was exactly that, so what a great feeling when we reached the dry land of the Mt Dare hotel. We received a warm and interested welcome from the hotel staff and guests, ordered 2 beers and shared stories of how we all came to arrive at Mt Dare Hotel.
We left Mt Dare with 2 other cars, it was great to be part of a convoy and have the peace of mind that we weren’t by ourselves. The 3 that had left an hour before were stuck 30m from the gate! Water was receeding pretty fast after 4 dry and hot days so after a tricky start we rejoined some main tracks. The car was showing signs of overheating so to be cautious given we were still 250 kms from tarmac, we pulled into a small outback town called Finke. A local directed us to ‘The Boss’ who could offer us some assistance in hosing out our radiator from all the dirt we had accumulated. Bill, the town ranger was kind enough to take us home for lunch while the car cooled down, his wife Lynn offering some recommendations of mechanics in Alice should we need it. After some friendly advice, and use of his garden hose we were on our way. Eventually we reached tar road, what a relief, however our radiator cleaning had not solved the problem. We drove onto Alice Springs, a slight detour to our plans as getting the car checked over was our priority. A night here and a visit to InTune, the car had a new fan clutch and a shortlist of ‘things to get fixed’. We left town with some spare parts.