Penny's Tough Tracks: The French Line, Simpson Desert

30 Oct 2017

In this blog, Top of Down Under's Penny Wells talks about the challenges and sense of accomplishment traversing the Simpson Desert.

I could barely contain my excitement when our desert fluro sand flag arrived.  I could hardly wait to bolt that onto the bulbar next to our UHF antenna.  However until I actually had my tyres touching the desert sand I would have looked like a goose driving around town with it on.  The Simpson stretches between Birdsville in the East and to Finke in the Northern Territory.

There are several ways to cross this desert and we choose the most direct track called the French Line.  It's pretty exhilarating to navigate the largest parallel sand dune desert in the world.  At the onset of the journey I was fairly determined to count every one of the 1,100 sand dunes as we crested their peaks.  But this soon diminished as motion sickness set in.  Being the control freak that I am, I had to ask my husband to exit the driver’s seat and let me drive to get the motion sickness under control.

It's imperative to let your tyre pressures down to give your tyre a bigger footprint to enable it to race up the sand dunes and slither down the other side.  People do cross this desert in both directions so keep an eye out for oncoming traffic and this is where sand flags come into play.

In contrast to Cape York the only wildlife on these dry dunes is the occasional camel or lizard.  Along our journey we did pass a very determined lady who was walking across the desert.  We stopped and said hello and made sure she was ok before we continued on.  We did not however inform her of the dingo foot prints that were following her from behind as we did not want to unnerve her.  She had a support vehicle not too far behind and was in constant radio contact with them.

Camping in the desert will afford you free of charge the most spectacular night sky that you can imagine.  How small and insignificant you feel gazing up into a sparkly ebony night scape.  A good friend of mine towed an Ultimate off road camper trailer solo through the Simpson.  Only one dune resulted in needing a recovery.  Experienced four-wheel drivers with the know-how to complete a sand recovery using buried tyre or sand anchor would be best suited to tow in this environment.  Towards the end of the trek is the looming 'Big Red' sand dune.  Approximately 40 metres high.  It was here basking in the afternoon sun sitting on a rippling sand dune that we were entertained by all sorts of makes and models of four-wheel drives racing up this mighty sand dune, clawing their way to the top.  It's a huge rush and sense of accomplishment as you crest this monster dune.

After the festivities of Big Red it’s a 35km run to the Birdsville Hotel.  If you are like our crew, and over-stayed our time at Big Red due to a vehicle break down, you can ring ahead on a Satellite phone and order your meals before they finish cooking for the night.  What a way to end an epic trip, sipping a cold beer, laughing and discussing with friends the journey just completed.  Australia you just keep getting better and better the more I see!  

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