Hay River Run, June 2006. Part 2. Into the Simpson Desert – the QAA Line

Thursday, Oct 05, 2006 at 21:01


It’s got to be something really special to see Val up, dressed, packed and ready to go before sun-up. But on this morning it happened that way, such was the sense of excitement and adventure in the camp.

By 8.00am we were all assembled in front of the pub for the obligatory group photos. This took quite some time as there were many cameras on hand to record this momentous occasion, and a bit of juggling of personnel to get everyone in the shot.

Then it took a bit of time to get the convoy arranged into the order that we would use until we reached Batton Hill, but at last we were rolling, the bright array of sand flags giving a festive air to the convoy. Our first stop was to let down tyre pressures before going over Little Red and into what for many of us was unknown territory. But first we waited while a Britz Troopy decided if it could get over.

Once over that first dune, there ahead of us the QAA line stretched out ruler-straight to the horizon. And we really saw what it was like to be in the desert. A few stunted coolibahs, dry dusty tracks and big dunes looming up every kilometre or so. The convoy raised a fair amount of dust but at this stage no-one seemed to mind. Someone decided to keep a count of the dunes.

After about 30 kilometres we came to a long soft dune that Troopy somehow just could not get up – 3 tries, 2 drivers and it just would not go over. Ooops … then we discovered that in our early morning excitement we had locked the hubs but had forgotten to engage 4WD. That done and with red faces we were on our way again, quite easily this time. No chance of keeping our little faux-pas a secret though – we were laughing so much, mostly from relief, that we had to ‘fess up over the radio and explain the source of our mirth.

We reached a very dry Eyre Creek in time for morning tea and a welcome cuppa. There was not much time to scout around but a quick walk down the creek bed revealed the shell of a small crab – out here in the desert! Not long after that we passed the sign flanked by plenty of gidgee trees, advising us that we were in the Simpson Desert National Park. To mark the spot the track has a slight bend in it at that point. As we went on the scale of the landscape and the space and emptiness began to make itself felt, perhaps the start for us of that “desert fever” that lures people back time and again for that magical sensation.

The desert has been very dry (even for a desert) but there is still variety to be seen in the landscape. There was some mulga in flower and another small wattle. Despite some cloud cover it was very windy and hot. Soon we noticed that the colour of the sand seemed to change according to the viewing angle – bright red to the side, paler looking straight ahead. There was some animated discussion to try to work out why that happens, maybe it had something to do with the angle of the sun relative to our track.

We had a few stops where we pulled off the track as much as we could to let oncoming traffic get past our big convoy. At one such stop we had lunch and got chatting to a couple from the approaching convoy who amazingly turned out to be not-too-distant rellies of Val’s who came from the area west of Grafton. After that Val got some good natured teasing about the number and distribution of her “cousins”.

Our group was in good spirits and we were making good progress with no dramas. The track continued on straight to the horizon, although it often bends about a bit as it goes up and over the dunes. There were some corrugations and dry claypans – what would they be like after rain? The approaches to some of the dunes were chewed out resulting in a steps-and-stairs effect that we had to learn how to handle.

We collected some wood along the way, loading up the space behind Troopy’s bulbar that makes an excellent firewood carrier. Then close to the end of the QAA line we found a reasonably sheltered spot to camp in a big patch of gidgee and settled in for the night. There is a palpable sense of relief that we have made such good progress on our first day in the desert. It was a happy band of campers that settled in around a single big campfire as we began to become better acquainted with our fellow travellers.

After dark some of us went for a walk with torches to see what animals or stars etc we could find. There were certainly lots of stars and some animal tracks but no actual animals to be seen – not the furry variety anyway, although we did see a lot of small holes that were probably where small mammals or reptiles lived. We did see a few dune spiders as our torches reflected from their shining eyes – little sparkling jewels in the sand.

Back at camp we rejoined the group around the fire, most of us a bit reluctant to call an end to what has been an exciting and satisfying day. But finally the embers died down and with the realisation of another big day tomorrow it was time to call it a night. Soon the cool desert air was quiet again, not even a dingo to be heard.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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