We set off in late July from Brisbane, full of anticipation in the latest Apollo (brand new) Trailfinder vehicle. We were particularly excited because it had a much increased fuel capacity which meant we could range even further into the outback than in the past 11 years, when we hired the Adventure Camper. Our aim was to drive across Australia from east to west, keeping to desert tracks where possible.

Trailfinder vehicle

Our first night, following the usual food stocking frenzy, was in the Springbrook National Park, just south of Brisbane. We experienced a spectacular thunderstorm during the night which rattled round the Great Dividing Range. The next morning dawned cool but sunny and we climbed Mount Warning, using the fixed chains to climb the volcanic plug at the top section, to see the next thunderstorm rolling in from the west. We escaped the exposed summit just in time!

Driving over sand dunes

We then headed west over central New South Wales and spent a delightful day walking the Great High Tops in the Warrambungles. The Breadknife and associated volcanic plugs were yet a different aspect of Australian landscape, but we failed to spot the koalas that were supposed to frequent the area. We had a couple of bitterly cold mornings where the temperatures dropped to -4C°, freezing our water and washing up liquid,  and our breakfast slid over the ice on our picnic table.

Cold Breakfast

Heading further west we passed through Broken Hill and at last reached the dirt tracks. We made for the Flinders Ranges where we spent a few days climbing and walking. St Mary Peak was a splendid walk enjoyed in perfect winter sunshine. The geological features visible from the summit were simply amazing.

We now headed north along the Oodnadatta Track which included views of Lake Eyre still full of water. A pleasant night at Coward Springs, which included a dip in their natural spring spa, was followed by a day of exploring various mound springs in the area.

From Oodnadatta we headed out to Dalhousie Springs which we had visited twice before, but had been unable to venture further into the Simpson due to lack of fuel capacity. It was to fulfil a longstanding ambition to cross the Simpson Desert. Having taken advice from Adam Plate at Oodnadatta Roadhouse, we went for the French Line. We felt quite intimidated at first by its daunting reputation, but soon found the Trailfinder growled its way effortlessly over the 1140 sand dunes. Books reported this route as being tedious because of its direct route over the dunes, but we were utterly bewitched by its charms. Desert rats scampered up our legs at dusk and falcons circled in their dozens as soon as we stepped out of the vehicle. The wildflowers were magnificent and all too soon we reached Big Red for the final climax. (Again Trailfinder didn’t falter) – we were most surprised to see Lake Napperenica just beyond, full of water and birdlife after days of desert. Sadly, we had to leave the desert and we rolled into Birdsville to wash clothes and bodies having washed for a week or two in a couple of inches of water in the bottom of a bucket!

Simpson Desert

We headed west again round the north of the Simpson via the Plenty Highway to stock up again at Alice Springs before driving out into the western deserts, but not before celebrating Paul’s birthday with an ascent of Mount Sonder at the western end of the Western MacDonnells. We then drove out to Haast’s Buff and the Gary Junction Road before turning south along the Sandy Blight Junction Road – so different from the Simpson. Much less frequented and more camels than humans – it had more of a pioneering feel to the trip.

Finally a leg down the Great Central Highway before heading slightly north again to reach Shark Bay at the very western tip of Australia for a delicious couple of days by the turquoise blue sea. It was almost unbelievable to see the sea again after 8500km of desert landscape!

Beachside

A couple of days driving south to Perth saw us dropping off our precious Trailfinder at the Apollo branch in Perth. As we drove away to the airport to return to the UK I couldn’t help glancing back at our faithful friend, now stood sadly among a row of towering mobile homes. Its adventures, with us at least, were over.

Katharine Horder

September 2012