Article from Travel Outback Australia
We were loaned a brand new Stirling Z EzyTrail Camper Trailer and decided on a north south crossing of the Simpson Desert, the Hay River Track, to test it out.
Making hay while the sun shines, too right!
We had already arranged our permit for the Hay River Track through Jol Fleming who was instrumental in gaining the original access from the Traditional Owners of this part of the NT. You can contact him by email here [email protected] or by phone on 08 8952 3359.
This trip is not for the inexperienced and, ideally, should not be travelled alone. Jol puts out a great information sheet on what is required for this trip so it will pay for you to go through the checklist he supplies when you apply for the permit.
Suffice to say this is very remote country with little or no outside help available so be prepared. We only saw a few cars along the whole route over the five days we travelled along it.
This was phase two of our trip in 2017 having already driven the Googs Track and ventured into the Gawler Ranges.
After having to return home for a few days we took off again with the Stirling Z EzyTrail Camper Trailer in tow, first to Alice Springs to see our two daughters and then catch up with the many friends we have there.
The Stirling Z was a pleasure on the highway with good manners and no drain at all really on our diesel Prado. Sure we used a few extra km/litre of diesel but this is to be expected, especially at highway speed.
By this stage we were proficient at erecting the camper but because we wanted an early start we simply pulled into the caravan park in Coober Pedy and stayed overnight in a cabin. There would be plenty more nights in the camper on this trip.
Day one of our Hay River Trip
After a week in Alice we travelled up the Stuart Highway before turning off onto the Plenty Highway. The highway is slowly being upgraded as widening and sealing of the Outback Way, Australia’s longest short cut takes place.
So we travelled along the narrow seal initially before hitting the unsealed section past Gemtree and then came across a nice new section of double width bitumen road.
Further on still and back on the dirt again we neared Harts Range (Atitjere in Eastern Arrente) and came across more roadworks as they continue this massive upgrade. By the way Harts Range has a small store so if you have forgotten something.
After leaving Harts Range we journeyed further along the Plenty until we came to Jervois Station (eftpos available) where we filled our diesel tank in the Prado and the jerry on the camper trailer. We wouldn’t be able to refuel until either Birdsville or Innamincka, depending on which way we decided to travel when we got down to the QAA Line so we topped up every available container.
Backtracking about 6km along the Plenty Highway we turned left towards Batton Hill. Once onto the sandy track we stopped to air down on both the Prado and the Stirling Z.
We travelled through beautiful mallee and spinifex country along a fence line before arriving at the Hay River itself where we found river reds, ghost gums and bloodwoods. We stayed the night at Batton Hill (camping fee applies) setting up the camper adjacent to a firepit and enjoying our first night alone since leaving home.
The camper, while still considered a bit of a luxury, has become a refuge and a comfortable place to sleep. We still haven’t used the awning due to the extra time taken to do so and the fact we have been staying only one night at each spot.
In fact as we were travelling alone on this trip we left behind the supplied annex because we knew we wouldn’t use it and it saved on weight and storage space. The trailer also came with a portaloo so all in all for a base model it was reasonably well equipped.
We found the vegetation quite thick along the Hay River and the trees, often overhanging the track, resulted in us losing our sand flag which must have hooked up as we drove through. Luckily I had picked up another flag earlier which someone else had lost, probably due to the same reason.
Notwithstanding this the track is easy driving here even with the camper trailer behind. The Tropic of Capricorn came and went, only a single handwritten small sign to show it even existed.
I’d picked up a cold, obviously from someone in Alice Springs judging by the time delay leading to my symptoms, so not feeling the best handed over driving to Amanda.
We turned off for Lake Caroline which was supposed to be worth the detour but were stopped in our tracks at the first crossing of the Hay River. The crossing was far softer than expected and although we nearly made it, we became bogged trying to get up the soft banks of the river’s edge.
The weight of the trailer made it difficult for us to get out and it is here that we were luckily aided by members of the Sydney Landcruiser Club, otherwise we would have taken a lot longer getting out.
With the day getting greyer and darker and Lake Caroline a bit of a disappointment in our eyes, we headed back out onto the main track and camped a few kilometres further south.
It rained overnight dampening not only my mood but also confirming that I didn’t feel much better. We were glad we were in the camper though which kept us dry and out of the elements.
It was with some effort that I got the fire going this morning but with the increased humidity the flies came calling. We judged that we’d had only a few mm of rain so after breaking camp, a little later than usual, we got back onto the track and away from the flies.
The country was still much the same along the river with the usual coolibahs and mallee until after lunch when it became a bit more open. The coolibahs were replaced by scattered bloodwoods and the appearance of canegrass and dunes were starting to appear to our east and west as we travelled southwards.
The track zig zagged through dry flood out country and the swales. We had to continuously swing wide on corners to avoid losing the new flag.
We pulled up late afternoon just north of where the Madigan Line crosses the Hay River Track.
The day was to be warm and sunny, in contrast to the few before, and we continued through coolibah lined swales until the vegetation began thinning out and the Hay River itself faded from our view. As we crossed the Madigan Line we made note of the condition of this track and that it appeared that many vehicles must have made the journey this year.
We both agreed we must do the Madigan Line, possibly next year and without a camper trailer.
After more and more canegrass and sparse clumps of spinifex we encountered dunes several hundred metres or so apart that we had to cross. Most were quite easy to crest but a couple were very tough to get over with the camper trailer behind.
On a couple of these dunes we made several failed attempts. Reversing back down the dunes with a trailer attached is a pain in the arse but a necessity that at least the trailer handled without trouble.
This was the reason we had brought the Stirling Z EzyTrail Camper Trailer along with us on this trip. Whilst not relishing the idea of crossing dunes with a trailer we wanted to make sure it could so that we could report once completed.
Airing down even further certainly assisted us in getting over the more difficult of the dunes we encountered. Yet I still find it amazing that some people resist airing down to the point that they brag about it and ignore the damage they are doing to the tracks.
With the temperature getting warmer and still more dunes to cross, we departed early, seeing many more good camping spots along this section of track. Our Hema map was telling us we were coming up to a sharp turn right, at a place called “the glove”.
With our imaginations working overtime over just what this might be we found our answer. A simple leather glove placed over the top of one of two steel pickets right on the corner. Who knew?
After driving past the Beachcomber Well turn off the track turns more into a road with a capped dirt seal. We were able to put some air back into the tyres and cruise along at a very comfortable speed, gobbling up the kays before we hit the claypans north of the QAA line.
We saw more vehicles in an hour at the end of the Hay River Track than we had for the last five days. The UHF crackled with the ubiquitous calls of “cresting” and convoys talking to each other as we drove southwards to pick up the K1 Line.
Once on the K1 line we came across a couple of vehicles heading northwards and stopped for a quick chat. We were informed the track was a bit rough going and expected yet another hard slog getting the trailer over the dunes.
This was not to be. The K1 line follows swales and tracks along the edges of north-south aligned salt lakes and many of the dunes were hard capped, obviously the remains of earlier oil exploration in the area.
That afternoon we did more kays than the previous three days on the Hay River Track! It just goes to show that everyone’s driving experiences are or can be different to your own.
With the dunes gradually getting smaller and paling to more of an orange colour, we passed the Rig Road junction and set up our last camp on the K1 Line as we headed for the Birdsville Track.
Starting with an easy run through low dunes and scattered acacia shrubs we encountered a wide swale with many dead and some still living coolibah trees. With salt ever present we soon saw small samphire clumps and evidence of mound springs popping up confirming the presence of salty water and probably the cause of the die off in the coolibahs.
The terrain became flatter and flatter as we approached the Warburton Creek. Lignum and even gibber appeared as a stark contrast to what we had seen over the previous week.
Pretty soon we had crossed the dry creekbed of the Warburton and shortly thereafter, pulled up at the junction of the K1 line and the Birdsville Track. We had just crossed the Simpson Desert north to south.
The Stirling Z EzyTrail Camper Trailer had towed really well and, as long as you aired down, was able to be taken over some decent dunes. As I said I’m not a fan of towing in this environment but at least you know that the trailer is equipped to do so.
We really enjoyed sleeping in the trailer and although we are quite minimalistic normally the campers kitchen with sink and gas hotplates was a luxury we enjoyed.
Jervois Station to Birdsville along the Hay River Track is approx. 620km.
Jervois Station to Mungerannie via the K1 Line approx. 930km
Permits, contact Jol Fleming, Direct 4WD Ph (08) 8952 3359, 0408 485 641 www.direct4wd.com.au for the Hay River Track and a Desert Parks Pass can be obtained here. (https://forms.business.gov.au/smartforms/servlet/SmartForm.html?formCode=DesertParkPass)
Munga Thirri National Park information can be obtained here (http://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/munga-thirri/camping.html)
EzyTrail Stirling Z
Forward fold camper trailer (spec’s available here (http://www.ezytrailcampertrailers.com.au/products/hard-floor-camper-trailers-for-sale/stirling/stirling-z-hardfloor-camper-trailer.html)
Spec’s at a glance
100L water tank
235/70/R15 Off Road Tyres with 6 Stud Alloy Rims
Price as/website from $15,500
Easy to tow, good suspension
Relatively easy to erect with two people
Good LED lighting
The forward fold provides a seating area at the rear should you wish to sit inside
Not dustproof in forward drawers even with supplied fan on
Fidgety getting all canvas tucked in when folding tent back down
Gas burner hobs dislodged while driving on rough roads
Having to remove the gas cylinder and take it to the rear kitchen and connect every single time
We’d like to thank Ezytrail Camper Trailers for the opportunity to take the Stirling Z on our travels.
One small note however, check your trailer bearings regularly. Even though I had been checking the temperatures of the hubs for the first few weeks on the new trailer the installed bearings lasted just two months.
On the second to last day of our trip a bearing capitulated and left us stranded on the Birdsville Track. Unfortunately the bearings listed on the company’s website were incorrect and led us to much inconvenience.
If it was me I’d change out the bearings to a better quality set for peace of mind. Always carry spare bearings, some grease and make sure they are the right ones!