Days 1 and 2: Getting There


Days 1 and 2: Getting There
Spending 10 days walking in the Simpson Desert isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but my partner and I decided it was time we saw more of Australia and getting a feel for the outback was a great way to start. A relative had told us of his excellent experiences on a Simpson Desert trip run by the Outback Camel Company (, which has been operating since 1976 and runs trips that replicate the experiences of the early pioneers.

So we decided to give it a try. Little did we appreciate what an adventure we were embarking upon.

The company is owned by Andrew Harper, who has a wealth of outback experience, having walked across Australia in 1999 with three camels, following the Tropic of Capricorn. This trip started on the Western Australian coast and took 229 days, reaching the Queensland coast on 10 December. The three camels involved, T.C. (for Top Camel), Bindii and Morgan, were part of the team used on our trip.

Getting to the camel camp was an experience in itself. We were collected from a hotel in the centre of Adelaide early on Wednesday morning, carrying only our daypacks, the kit bag supplied by the company and our sleeping bags. All clothing for the next 14 days was packed into the kit bag, along with eating utensils, a bowl and a mug. With such tightly-controlled packaging there was no room for luxuries and we had to be sparing with soap and shampoo because all of the water on trek was allocated to drinking and cooking. Opportunities for washing were extremely rare.


Waiting for the OKA to collect us in Adelaide.

The vehicle we travelled in was an OKA, an Australian designed and built 4WD ‘bus’ that can accommodate 13 passengers. It’s quite impressive, although rather noisy to travel in. Brendan, who owned the OKA, had attached a trailer for carrying our food for the journey (from the start we had to be self-sufficient) and also provided swags for our first night in the outback, along with some pop-up ‘mozzie’ tents in case of rain. Most of these were packed under tarpaulins on the roof of the OKA.

We left Adelaide in a gentle drizzle, which persisted until we reached Hawker at the southern end of the Flinders Ranges, where we stopped for lunch. The road proceeds north along the western edge of the Flinders Ranges to Leigh Creek, where the extensive open-cut coal mines were visible from the OKA. Unfortunately, there was no time for sight-seeing as the bitumen ended 334 km further north at Lyndhurst and we had to reach Marree, 118 km further north to camp for the night.

Despite predictions of no rain, it was drizzling as we set up our swags at the Marree camping ground so out came the ‘mozzie’ tents to protect our gear from the rain. Dinner was prepared and eaten in the open shed that served as a general meeting area for the camp site and, before long, everyone had ‘hit the sack’.

The following morning promised better weather, although concerns remained about our ability to reach Birdsville as roughly 40mm of rain had fallen in the area over the past four days and the last 100 kilometres of the Birdsville Track was reported to be ‘very sticky’. After rising at 6 am and loading all our gear on the OKA, we were on the road at around 8.00 am with the hope of reaching the camel camp before nightfall.


Loading the OKA for the trip to Birdsville.

We stopped briefly at the Mungeranie Hotel for fuel and information on the road conditions – and to see an example of a typical outback pub. Several old vehicles that had been used in the past for delivering the mail (and other essentials) were parked in the huge area in front of the pub. A bore-fed wetland, which fringes this area provided some brief photo opportunities.


An interior shot of the Mungerannie Hotel. Sticking your hat up on the ceiling of the bar appears to be a tradition in the area as we saw a similar display at the Marree Hotel.

An hour-long stop for lunch at the Mirra Mitta bore gave us time for more picture-taking. The bore water flows steaming out of the pipe and creates a narrow channel that leads to a small wetland. Two brolgas were among the birds seen on this wetland. However they took off before we could get close enough to photograph them.


The Mirra Mitta bore flows out of the ground at near-boiling temperature, creating clouds of steam in the dry desert air. A little way down the channel, where the water had cooled, small shrubs fringed the stream and water plants began to appear.

The desert landscape provided some interesting photographic subjects, thanks to the scattered cirrocumulus clods that followed the rain. The contrast between the stark countryside and the fluffy clouds was dramatic. Everywhere the horizon was absolutely flat with very occasional low hills in the far distance.


Scenic shots taken on the lower section of the Birdsville Track.
By late afternoon we were within 100 km of Birdsville and the road surface had become very muddy and ploughed up with deep furrows. The distance between them was narrower than the OKA’s wider-than-average wheel base so driving required a high level of concentration.


Looking forward through the OKA’s windscreen at the Birdsville Track shortly before we reached the really muddy section (where picture-taking became difficult).

Most of the last half of the Birdsville Track passes through Sturt’s Stony Desert, which is dominated by extensive gibber plains – and very little else. We were surprised to see how much surface water remained alongside the road after the weekend’s rain. It added an extra dimension to the landscape and would have provided some great subjects if we had had time to stop. Sunset was too spectacular to resist and I was able to grab a couple of shots through an open window as the OKA struggled slowly through a particularly sticky patch of the track.


A sunset shot taken from the OKA showing the shallow pools of water that remained after the weekend’s rain. The absolutely flat, unbroken horizon is typical of the area.

We arrived at Birdsville after dark, where we were met by Andrew Harper and a couple of his crew. After a brief pause for refreshments in the celebrated pub, it was back into the OKA for the 75-minute drive to the camel camp. We arrived in camp at about nine p.m. in time for a hasty meal, the issue of swags, small tarpaulins, trowels, matches and toilet paper and brief instructions on how to set up the swag and manage hygiene in the desert. By around 10 p.m. most of us were in our swags in preparation for an early start on the following day.