Crossing the Simpson Desert in a Ranger Raptor: Part 2
Kalen picks up where he left off in Part 1 of his first Simpson Desert crossing in the Club 4X4 Ford Ranger Raptor to film with the Offroad Adventure Show, with the first episode airing …
Kalen picks up where he left off in Part 1 of his first Simpson Desert crossing in the Club 4X4 Ford Ranger Raptor to film with the Offroad Adventure Show, with the first episode airing on Channel 10 at 1:00pm AEST on Saturday June 18.
Waking up for the first time in the Simpson Desert following a hard trek in, we were all eager to get rolling early just in case the Aussie outback decided to throw us another one of its infamous curve balls. One of the things I noticed at this point was the changing terrain. The last 30km or so getting to camp, whilst in the dark, was definitely different. The at-times kilometre long swales between the dunes became much, much shorter along with the dunes themselves; it seemed like overall it was more ‘flat’.
It was just different to what I’d expected and seen thus far, and this continued on day two as we headed towards our second camp on the shores of a salt pan near Poeppel Corner where Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet, which had us take in one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen.
Driving across the salt pan the next morning en route to Poeppel Corner was magic! The colours out here are absolutely spectacular and this was one of the things I really took away from the experience, but adding the stark endless white was a true feast for the senses.
We all observed plenty of camel tracks on the side of the road at this point but disappointingly, we never saw one despite being out there for 5 days. In fact, wildlife was limited to a multitude of bird life, a few lizards, plenty of scorpions around the fire at night and one very angry bird eating spider one night also.
Waking up to fresh tracks of various small lizards and animals on the sand was amazing, but there weren’t many to observe live. On the subject of flora, one of the things that amazed me when I came up to the region back in 2016 was the wildflowers. We have had no shortage of rain, but I think the timing was the difference, with my last trip being in July. I think it’s going to be a spectacular season for those travelling to the Big Red Bash this year!
Breakfast at Poeppel Corner saw us dig into the pioneering heritage of the place and take the all-important shot with the official marker identifying our position on the corner of the Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia, which is a corner I’ve been itching to check off my list!
Shortly after leaving, I had the opportunity to have some time behind the wheel of the Chevy Blitz. I’d grown attached to this old truck after having some time to wrench on its 80-year-old engine in Birdsville, but also understanding its historic significance as the vehicle of choice for Tom Kruse, the outback mailman all those years ago.
The first thing I noticed was the view; literally. Older vehicles tend to have smaller pillars, so I had a great panoramic view out of the driver’s seat. Getting used to driving it was interesting, with the clutch on the left, the accelerator in the middle and the brake on the right. To add to the challenge, each of these pedals were at completely different heights, which made a quick double clutch a challenge when going down gears. I had a hoot though and the torquey large-capacity straight-six motor just tractored up the dunes if you got the approach, gearing and momentum right. A definite highlight!
That night, we stayed at a bush camp off the French Line. This really was my favourite camp of the trip. The sand was a rich red ochre, the night was beautifully clear, and we arrived in time to watch the sun depart for the day. I was up with a friend and photographer Scott Mason on this night taking some “astro shots” of the various campsites. It’s incredible what someone with a bit of talent can do out here!
The next day saw us depart quite early with the intention to get to the famous Dalhousie Springs. This was a big leg for all involved, with numerous recoveries of the heavier or towing vehicles as we were all pushing along to get to the destination. Seeing the roadside sign letting us know that we’d left the desert as we approached Purni Boar was as a sad moment, but the promise of a warm dip in the springs kept us going.
To think that a French oil company came out here in 1964 to drill for oil is astounding. We were in modern vehicles with the mod cons and still struggled in places on tracks that have become pretty well defined over the years, so these guys would’ve had a serious mission to get out here! Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for this beautiful landscape, they didn’t find oil, but they did hit a natural spring, which was unable to be capped and now provides water for a vast array of animals. You can camp close-by where you can also find the first toilet and unbelievably hot shower as you leave the desert.
Dalhousie was an oasis, literally. A quick setup of camp as we arrived saw most of the contingent get into their swimming gear (some didn’t even bother!) and getting into the mineralised and beautifully warm water after four days in the desert. Someone must’ve thought of us four-wheel drivers when this was created! It was quite cool when we got there, but you do need to ensure you monitor yourself for dehydration as the water can be anywhere from 34- to 38-degrees Celsius. Think of a hot tub but imagine watching hundreds of corellas in beautiful gum trees around you! This is a spot I’d love to bring my family back to.
That night under the stars, we all lamented on the desert and many beverages were had late into the evening. I particularly enjoyed the early morning dip the next day that erased everything that had happened the night before. The campsite here was great, with showers and toilets.
The sun rose on the last day of the crossing and our thoughts turned to the final destination of the crossing, the Mt Dare Hotel. This place is an institution for us four-wheel drivers and it really didn’t disappoint. Graham and Sandy were the most gracious hosts in welcoming our large and tired group.
This really is such an important part of outback touring, with the last (or first) fuel stop for outback travellers looking to conduct or depart a crossing. The hotel also offers incredibly important services to those who come unstuck. With an ultra-rugged Unimog and trailer, Graham is the last bastion of support for those who break down in or around the desert. In speaking to him it was clear it’s not just a towing service. He talked about the psychology of reaching people who really had no other hope, right down to providing food and supplies as required. As for the hotel, the food was great and the beer was cold, so we all took a moment to celebrate what was at times a challenging but satisfying crossing of the Simpson Desert.
I took so much out of this trip. It was a massive bucket list item that I was lucky to tick off with a bunch of great people while feeling completely supported and safe along the way. It did, however, give me real insight into the importance of peace of mind out here. This is really as remote as it gets in Australia. Whilst I appreciated the time off grid to recharge and truly understood in detail why so many of our customers pedestal a desert crossing, it also cemented in my mind that there is so much that can go wrong. Preparation and knowledge are powerful allies to have on your side.
Another observation for me is the worth of travelling light in one’s setup. Yes, I stated before I didn’t need to carry food, but I could’ve easily accommodated it and a small stove. Drawers and complex fit outs look great, but they add an incredible amount of weight that eats into your space and payload capacity, it’s simply not required for most applications in my opinion.
Going modular with my setup meant I could run everything I needed whilst retaining the capability and driving characteristics of the vehicle; minimal fuss and effort, true to its form over the 70,000kms+ I’ve had the pleasure of driving it. It never missed a beat, did everything I wanted it to do, and in comfort. It even tugged a Toyota or two, albeit those towing trailers, on numerous occasions over the more challenging dunes.
I will be back, but next time I’d like to take one of the more challenging and more remote lines. You’ve not seen the last of me Simpson Desert!
PS. You reckon the Blitz and the Landy made it across? Because you shouldn’t assume! Make sure you tune in to The Offroad Adventure Show’s Simmo Or Bust to find out!