Broken down in the Simpson Desert

After driving the scenic Oodnadatta track from Lake Eyre up to Oodnadatta we travelled along a REALLY rocky little track to Mt Dare. Mt Dare was to be our last supplies before heading straight across the Simpson Desert so we did a final vehicle inspection making sure everything was still attached after the rough ride in. We also jammed as much diesel and water into the Prado tanks as we could and had the mandatory meat pie and a beer in the pub before heading off.

Robbo’s Roadtrip!

The road from Mt Dare to get to the Simpson Desert was even worse and at times we were wondering if we’d make it to the start of the desert or if all our tyres would blow out on the sharp gibber stones that make this ‘road’ in. We eventually arrived safely at Dalhousie Springs which marks the start of the Simpson Desert. Dalhousie is a natural hot water lake about half the size of a football field with perfect 37+ degree water all year round courtesy of the underground water  from the Artesian Basin. Previous visitors had left behind pool noodles and truck tubes to float around on so we took full advantage of this and spent a bit of time relaxing and letting the hundreds of funny little fish nibble the dead skin off our bodies…very weird!

Dalhousie Springs – The start of the Simpson Desert crossing

Leaving Dalhousie we had a quick check from the Ranger that we had the appropriate permits and off we went on our voyage to cross more than 1100 sand dunes for the next 500kms of nothing but desert. All the preparation to the vehicle and planning of supplies were now about to be put to their full test. There is no way to explain the beauty of the desert. Add that feeling of trepidation in the back of your mind as you replay everything making sure you have what you need and in my case picture all the things that could go wrong and how you would deal with it. Not that I was going to show my anxiety, but it turned out Tara was more relaxed than me as she “knew I’d fix it if something went wrong”!

Purnie Bore – 85+ degrees making an artificial wetland in the desert

We made it  to our first stop for lunch at the Purnie Bore without issue and had a walk around the near boiling (85 degree) water that comes out of the ground to form an area of marsh and wetlands teaming with bird life. This one however wasn’t natural, it was water fed from an 1800m deep hole drilled by the French Petroleum company when they were first exploring the area for oil.

We continued on through the desert and found camp for the night next to a big red dune where we watched the desert wildlife come to life after the sun had gone down. There’s literally nothing out there moving during the day other than birds, then at night all the little critters go nuts absolutely everywhere and were crawling all around our camp trying to find food scraps and steal our rubbish!

Simpson Desert camping

The next day we drove all day and covered only 80 km before finding camp again. The further in you go the larger the sand dunes get and the softer the sand becomes and after a third day of driving we were pretty much smack bang in the middle of the Simpson Desert.

We hadn’t seen any other cars all day, only 4 guys on dirt bikes that went flying past us a bit earlier. What would you expect to happen when you’re smack bang in the middle of the desert with no one around? Yep, you guessed it….the Prado starts to make a loud banging sound which was vibrating through the whole car! Unbelievable…we’ve driven over twenty thousand kilometres for four months so far on this trip and it hasn’t missed a beat, then in the middle of the desert for no apparent reason it starts doing this…

We got out and had a look under and around the car but couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Then Tee got in the drivers seat and slowly crawled along with me walking around the car trying to listen out for where the sound was coming from, we narrowed it down to the rear drivers side. A closer inspection found we’d snapped the top off our shock absorber which meant it was no longer attached to the car at both ends…which is a bit of a problem.

Did we pack that spare shock absorber? We certainly discussed it before we left, but decided against bringing it as we didn’t have space and I thought we were unlikely to break one! Plus we’d left it up at Jules’ farm and couldn’t really get it before heading off.

Anyway..time to stop worrying about all the “what ifs” so I took the wheel off and removed the damaged and irreparable shock. Just as I’d taken it off, a convoy of four cars comes over the sand dune next to us. They’d been following in our tracks all day about 10km behind us and were the support vehicles for the four motor bikes we’d seen. As it turns out one guy was a diesel mechanic, another an engineer, another an auto electrician and another owns an “Autopro” shop!

Removing the broken shock – Simpson Desert

The helping hands – Simpson Desert

After a bit of chit chat with the guys, we strapped up the car to stop the spring from falling out as well, pumped up the air bags which support the springs and slowly limped off across the dunes again.

The limiting strap replacing the broken shock absorber

We agreed with the guys a meeting point and if we weren’t there in a couple of hours they’d send the bikes back to find us. We made it safely to the meeting point which was Poeppel Corner, the post which marks the joining of NT, SA and QLD and soon found a camp with the guys for the night.

Poeppel Corner – being in QLD, NT and SA all at once – Simpson Desert

I think there were about 10 guys all up so we shared a huge fire and a few stories that night. It felt good to have other vehicles and people around with the Prado not being 100%. They were from the Murray Bridge area, which we’d passed through and camped at about 3 months earlier in the trip so there were some common links for conversation.

Simpson Desert support crew camp fire

One of the older guys Geoff owned a dairy and grain farm and the rest all seemed to be links to him somehow, either sons friends, their cousins etc. We’d also noted that Tara and I were the only ones sitting around the fire with a can of beer or glass of wine in our hands which is what got us thinking about their trip.  As it turns out they were also involved in Hillsong and often go away on trips like this and they shared some stories about concerts and events they’d been to up in Sydney. So in the middle of the desert, we break our car and run into a bunch of motor biking Christian farmers that are all auto experts in one field or another… what are the chances! All of the guys were great and we couldn’t have been in a better place that night.

Simpson Desert sand dunes

The next morning we head off a couple of hours earlier than them as we had to drive slower. This meant they were behind us in the event something went wrong with the Prado, but the desert eased up and we made it out the other end successfully.

We even managed to get the Prado up “Big Red” which marks the end of the desert and is the highest and most famous and feared dune in the desert.

On top of Big Red – Simpson Desert

I didn’t have so much luck on top of big red as I was manoeuvring to get back down again and managed to get bogged in sand up to the sills while side on to the hill…not a good place to be and i can’t even blame it on the missing shock. With a bit of shovelling and manoeuvring we managed to get back down Big Red safely and found the start of the gravel road which after pumping up our tyres took us safely into civilisation again at Birdsville, where we checked into the Caravan Park, showered and went to one of the most iconic hotels in Australia for dinner at the Birdsville Hotel.

Recovery time on top of Big Red – Simpson Desert

We’re now hanging out at the Birdsville Caravan park next to the roadhouse waiting for the mail plane to arrive with our delivery of new shocks. If they didn’t make it onto the plane arriving today, we wait for the next plane to arrive in 4 days!

There’s more photos available on the Outback SA photos page


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3 thoughts on “Broken down in the Simpson Desert

  1. Nice fix Robbo – McGyver style! What a trip and ultimately life changing experience . Keep safe and enjoy the remaining few months. Cheers Waz