Crossing the Simpson Desert by Motorcycle
Part Two – Marree to Dalhousie
With Mark Battersby
We were welcomed to the new day by a stunning sunrise and even visited by a dingo at breakfast. He kept his distance and was no doubt just checking out what Mick was going to whip up for us. We packed up our site in no time and turned left on the Oodnadatta Track, towards William Creek.
While the Oodnadatta Track may be remote and desolate it is not without its sights along the way. Two Cessna planes stand on their tails pointing towards the sky as if ready to launch with the release of a cable, not something you expect to see here.
We meet up with three bikes and a 4WD that are also crossing the Simpson west to east. I must admit I felt a bit sheepish on my little 250 cc as I glanced over the Husky 701, KTM 690 and KTM 1290. We would catch up with these guys later, and they had some stories to tell!
We continued towards William Creek after a short stop at Lake Eyre lookout, passed a horse drawn cart, a Hyundai Excel and stopped at a flooded ford listening to hundreds of seagulls – and not a chip to be seen.
William Creek was a welcome sight as my thirst level was high and thirty minutes or so out of the saddle is appreciated. Tourist buses had recommenced their travels since the heavy rains had subsided, and groups were gathered around the iconic pub.
A quick inspection of the bike revealed a stray rock had pierced my headlight, easily repaired with a strip of duct tape. I wasn’t going to be riding at night anyway so night vision was over-rated.
A quick beverage or two, a few photos and we continue towards our next stop, Oodnadatta. It is 200 km to Oodnadatta, but the WR just ate it up as the bike and I felt more at home on the dirt. The conditions were great with a hard packed base and thin loose topping.
There are a few dips along the way but they aren’t really gotcha moments, just enough to keep you entertained and make sure you are paying attention.
We pull into Oodnadatta and the famous Pink Road House – so famous and photographed I decided I didn’t really need to take any – okay I forgot! Suddenly it hit me, something slightly terrifying but also liberating. This was the last time I would have phone or internet reception in four to five days, depending on how the crossing goes.
In the age of Googling every problem, emails on hand and being seemingly hard-wired to the main-frame it’s initially an uncomfortable realisation. Both Norri and I have brought our drones for the crossing and a recent firmware update means we cannot fly them without downloading and installing said updates…
So there we are, using what felt like dial-up modem speeds, playing with our drones and cursing the internet. Really? What else did I expect over 1000 km from Adelaide on the Oodnadatta Track?
Downloads complete, we continue on our way out of town in search of a quiet campsite. Less than thirty-minutes out Mick discovers a track to the left which leads us to a perfect soft sandy clearing overlooking a dry creek bed. As luck would have it a stone fire pit has again been built for us, the locals really are considerate up this way.
We are welcomed by a spectacular sunset which offered no warning of the weather approaching. For now we are in ignorant bliss loving our warm fire, BBQ chicken and ice cold beverages. An entertaining day’s ride capped with a great evening, can it get any better?
As the sun rises on day three my thoughts now shift towards the desert as I try to imagine what I’m in for. Sure, I’ve watched countless hours of YouTube, read dozens of Facebook posts, and of course they all conflict each other.
This isn’t a criticism of the information, it depends on rider skills levels, routes taken and track conditions at the time. In short, I really had no idea what to expect.
The sunrise provides the perfect photo opportunity, but as I position my WR for the shot it suddenly disappears. This is the last time we see the sun for the next 36 hours. We gather and look towards the north and see nothing but grey clouds in our direction of travel.
Mick and Norri finish cooking up jaffles in the fire and a sense of urgency begins to overcome us. The weather has been unpredictable for weeks and Queensland has been hit by record rainfall, causing the Cooper Creek to spew floodwaters toward Eyre Creek – potentially closing the Simpson, which had occurred only two weeks earlier.
It is just under 200 kilometres to Mt Dare, the last chance for supplies prior to embarking on the crossing. The track conditions change quickly and deteriorate from those we had enjoyed along the Oodnadatta Track.
Rather than a loose covering of pebbles, larger rocks now littered the track, some large enough to grab your front wheel and relocate it without warning. Suddenly cattle grids and deep ruts were part of the track and short sections of sand and bulldust gave me a taste of what was to follow.
I found this section physically demanding, but also thoroughly enjoyable on the WR as she seemed to thrive in the more challenging terrain. The landscape changed frequently with the variety including rocks, tree lined sections and even a water crossing.
We arrived at Mt Dare early afternoon and it surprised me that it took nearly four hours to travel less than 200 kilometres. A sneaky check of my phone revealed that Telstra hadn’t recently installed any towers and Facebook would have to wait.
If Oodnadatta was a realisation we were leaving phone reception, Mt Dare was a wake up call that this was our last opportunity for fuel, food, water or any supplies. In hindsight I should have purchased some Coke for my bottle of Bundy – a decision I’ll regret.
As the boys fill up the 4WDs, I commence topping up the WR filling my 14 litre Safari tank, 7.5 litre Rotopax, plastic jerrys and a 11 litre Giant Loop fuel bladder. I’ve been told to allow between 32 and 35 litres for the crossing but decide to take more – especially as the 4WDs are carrying it for me.
We head into the Mt Dare general store, petrol station, pub, ranger’s station and souvenir shop. You could spend hours taking in the iconic décor from stubby holders, signs, posters collection of trinkets left behind from previous tourists. I ordered the highly recommended beef burgers washed down by our favourite beverages. Next stop – Dalhousie Springs and a long awaited bath in the hot springs.
Perhaps it was an attempt to lull me into a false sense of security, but the road towards Dalhousie seemed slightly easier than the Mt Dare road. That is with one big exception, a steep sharp cattle grid that launched myself and the WR to an altitude I wasn’t comfortable with. Thankfully the landing was safe, due more to luck than skill. Other than this and a close encounter with a snake it was a fun ride into Dalhousie Springs.
Since leaving Mt Dare we have been heading east towards the desert, straight towards dark skies. We haven’t seen the sun all day and have little doubt that rain is headed our way, it’s just a question of when and how much.
We pull into the campground in a designated area surrounding the springs. It’s a popular spot with a dozen or so 4WDs setting up camp and it’s a weird feeling to hear powered awning, compressors and music playing.
Mick finds a site under a shade cloth structure which will provide some protection if the rain arrives. We set up our swags and tents in record time, change into our outback bathers and charge towards the hot springs.
I haven’t showered in three days so a Dalhousie bath is something I’ve been looking forward to. Previous visitors have left a collection of pool noodles at the springs entrance, which prove to be ideal for floating in the 37 degree water. Flies are your constant companion at Dalhousie and the only time you escape them is when you are fully submerged.
After drifting across the hot springs for half an hour or so, our appetites kick in and we make our way back to camp for dinner. Mick treats us with a spread of crackers with spiced pear dip, not exactly what I was expecting but delicious all the same.
Did I mention the flies? No fires are allowed at the campsite and the flies become increasingly annoying, so much so we all decide to call it an early night and retreat to the safety of our swags and tents. Everything leading up to this has been preparation, tomorrow it gets real as we head into the desert. The moment feels significant, as it represents the point of no return.
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