Backtracking from Mt Dare, it wasn’t long before we found fresh track. We were now heading to Dalhousie Springs. The track shortly deteriorated and our pace slowed. It was as good, or bad, as promised. Water and the lack of, caused great cracks and softness. Coupled with the hard gibbers and corrugations, it was wonderfully wicked.
The sun was high in the sky by the time we parked at the springs. We managed to slide into a little shade in the day use area and walked around. It was hot. There were a few residents but the area obviously could host more. The ablutions block was rather sophisticated, confirming its capacity during peak period.
The water itself was quite hot, and given the ambient temperature we declined a swim. Instead hanging out on the stairs, I soaked my feet for as long as I could handle. Which wasn’t long. After enough time to let our teeth settle from the track behind us, we were ready. Friendly flies and the pull of the desert, I was keen to move on.
The track from Dalhousie to Purni Purni was worse. Diversions in place, we were meandering off of the HEMA map. So much so, my Mum, watching the SPOT tracking, noticed. But, outback star picket signage, and black and yellow barriers, guided us back on course. The hard packed earth began to soften at the edges, with sand. We met the Ranger shortly before Purnie Purnie. He asked how we were going and where we were headed before sharing a smile and rattling on past. He had been fixing a fence someplace over his shoulder.
We had the Bore to ourselves, excluding the resident dingo we could hear later when the sun began to drop. We set up camp and wandered down to the water. There wasn’t much, after the vastness of Dalhousie. But the sounds of insects and pond life was a racket. Wondering between the reeds, until they grew so tall we felt lost. We were also running out of dry land to walk on, so turned back.
After eating dinner, we had quick cool showers to freshen up before going to bed early. It had been an exciting day. Hot and on the edge of the desert.
Waking to the sun, we were efficiently packed and rolling. Flies are a good motivator. Those with a tent to strap to the roof are treated to an invasive ritual of inspection. Eyes, nose, mouth and ears. They’re only interested once both hands are occupied.
Properly in the sand, our eyes glued on the windscreen. After a group photo at the sign, we began. Beautiful dune after dune. Cresting the orange wave, glimpsing the genuine great beyond and then down again. Addictive stuff.
Only once did we misinterpret a dune track and run out of track and travel. Reversing down, from this angle we could see our mistake, and the track to the left was taken, easily. The day continued, up and down, up and down. The dunes were reasonably close together here. Stopping for lunch, the new usual included rice cakes, smeared with Philadelphia cheese, tomato and sometimes tinned salmon.
We both found it amazing and amusing; the beautiful lull when we stopped. The LandCruiser engine quieted, only the slightest of breeze rustling the foliage around you. Purity. Then the first buzz…. and there is goes, peace had, and lost. The flies have found us.
Finding some rhythm, we were enjoying the dunes. 4WD High range with low tyre pressures, the land cruiser barely noticed them. Hearing the rumble of the new exhaust was exciting, but it was barely a struggle to climb the sandy hills. Despite this there was a constant background anxiety for us both. Travelling solo, in such a remote location, we had researched the risks, the challenges and the potentiality of failures. So whilst we appeared to be having no issues, that healthy caution from us first-timers, kept us on course.
The side roads that would tour us North or South of the French Line were equal parts tempting and terrifying. We pinned them for next time. The dunes were getting bigger, the weather warmer and we continued our drive until 3pm. Giving us a few hours of lowering sun, and eventual declining fly activity. Camped in a beautifully vegetated swale, we found a tree to hide the Oztent behind before I went wandering on foot to take it all in.
Tracks litter the sand. Natural graffiti of a secret world. We had seen only unidentified lizards scurrying across the track, the occasional crow closer to Purnie Purnie. But no dingos or camels as yet. The tracks tell a different story. Peak hour traffic of all genus.
The foliage was a real treat. At some points, we were pushing past wattle bushes bigger than the LandCruiser. There were flowers everywhere. The way the sand changed colours also surprised us, driving all day, it was a hyperactive orange, fading to burnt yellow in the noon sun. But when we stopped for the day, the red slowly intensified.
We cooked lamb chops and I mixed up some Deb potatoes, adding butter and salt. Watching the moon rise again, and the dunes fall into shadow was wonderful. We went to bed with the sun.
Awake earlier again than previous mornings, David was determined to beat the flies. Strapping the Oztent, and rolling the awning, whilst I packed the chairs. We enjoyed our breakfast while we worked. Weetbix and coffee.
Before we left, we saw our first person since the ranger on our first day. A solo 79 Series headed to Mt Dare. We waved, they waved, and they were shortly gone and out of earshot.
We had bigger dunes today, much bigger. Announcing ourselves frequently but with no response, our progress was as we saw fit. Stopping for our lunch, and the odd interesting foliage. We still had no struggles with the dunes. Their increase in size just gave a longer rumble of the exhaust. Some dunes had sweeping turns at the crest.
Most now had awful descents on the eastern slope however. These twin staircases, out of sync of each other, were sucking the romance out of the drive. Wrenching us side to side, honestly threatening to peel the cabin from the chassis. Going as slow as I could, we tried to graciously fall down. The smooth swale track a welcome relief. We had read prior that the eastern slope is steeper, and obviously, travellers struggle to make the climb, unfortunately, it was likely due to their tyre pressures being too high. Each hump was a result of the dug out hole in front of it. Traction, spin, traction, spin…. repeat for 1100 dunes.
This was probably our longest but most exciting day. Large dunes, and brilliant, varied views. We eventually stopped in a clay hardened swale. Finding a stunted tree to make camp. Reminding us of its amazing vastness, our fellow traveller passed by again. Obviously not on the radio, or declining to respond given he was travelling behind us. His dual cab appeared to be ready to rattle itself to pieces as he flew up and over the dunes at breakneck speed. Unheard until he crested our last dune. We were just far enough from the track and his summit to see a return wave from his passenger. That, or she was grabbing for something to hold on. We had criss-crossed each other earlier, anytime we stopped for any length of time, they caught up and were ahead, and vice versa. But that was all we would see or hear of them.
Lingering sunset and an equally drawn out moonrise, our wide clay pan swale was a sparsely vegetated camp. There were ants about, negotiating the cracks. But the warmth and quiet of the sun was lovely. We were somewhat acclimated to the fly numbers here.
Our third day started much the same, however, the swales extended and we were cruising longer trails in bright golden sand and lake beds. The vegetation was less, but older. Grey stunted trees rather than floral arrangements. The quality of the tracks varied between handpacked sand, soft and waving, making us sail like a boat and sometimes washed out or corrugated. Something for everyone. But definitely a higher average speed.
When the dunes returned, they were big. We met a convoy, oncoming they were headed for the Hay River Track. About four of five vehicles, they didn’t linger. Not long after, we rounded on Poeppel Corner. It hadn’t taken us long at all. Collecting our portrait with the stump, we carried on. The terrain feeling familiar under our tyres.
The dunes returned in their glowing orange glory. Our progress was much faster than we anticipated and when Big Red loomed on the Hema, it took a few more dunes for us to believe we really were running out of desert. So, we turned around.
Making our way back to a dry and dusty, but shaded Eyre Creek, we made camp. Today was our hottest day, and it wasn’t just our earlier stopping time. The flies were thick here, but the shade was beautiful. The white creek bed was so fine, it kicked up puffs of smoke when I walked.
We applied wet towels to keep cool. In the end I surrendered to my fly net, but added my flannelette shirt over the top and distracted myself by reading. Soon adding a bucket full of cold tank water to soak my feet. Our last day in the desert was one to remember.
We waited until almost total darkness before the flies were few enough to consider cooking. It cooled enough for us to feel hungry too. The moon was a bright orb over our camp. Casting shadows with the tall gum trees.
By the time we were in bed, it was cooler, the Oztent paying dividends once again with its ventilation. We slept well until the heat and buzz of dawn woke us. Today we would greet Nappanerica!
Our routine honed to well oiled desert machine, we were departed efficiently. The dunes are far spread but large and flat. Big Red looms like the few before it but its multiple tracks, and hand painted sign remind you of where you are. We were a little distracted anyway, we saw camels! Finally, and what a troop! They didn’t hang around, obviously not interested in yet another vehicle making the dunes look difficult. Their soft toes expertly traversing the sand and salt equally.
Checking and deflating our tyres some more, we engaged low third, for a little extra oomph, I nervously sat at the bottom of the dune. Picking a line, there was naught to do but hit the go pedal. The run up is ridiculous really, but there is a soft bit, and dog leg, before the top. Not enough to stall us however, and we were up first go.
We celebrated before going back again to try the other lines. Easy enough except for the last, tyres deflated again, I just couldn’t find the gear to hold traction and momentum at the soft virgin peak. But we had a couple of tries at it. Parked on the dune, we embraced the wind for a look around and a photo. This dune really is a big one. But the view is bigger. We were lucky enough to have it to ourselves and it was bittersweet to say goodbye to the desert. The road hardens as Nappanerica dips out of the rear view mirror and soon, after inflating the tyres, we were roughing it along a noisy gravel road. We would be in Birdsville for brunch.