Having only walked for 3.5 kilometres on the first day of the actual trek, we expected to do a lot more on the fifth day. The day itself promised better conditions and the camels were rapidly getting back to a working routine. It was still cold at breakfast time and most trekkers lingered by the campfire for as long as possible.


Having only walked for 3.5 kilometres on the first day of the actual trek, we expected to do a lot more on the fifth day. The day itself promised better conditions and the camels were rapidly getting back to a working routine. It was still cold at breakfast time and most trekkers lingered by the campfire for as long as possible.


Breakfast around the campfire on day five.

By saddling and loading time the wind had abated to a steady breeze. Despite a sunny sky, the morning was still cool and most trekkers kept jackets and beanies on – at least at the start. The shepherding party bought the camels into position under a blue sky decorated with cirrus and cirrocumulus clouds in broad bands roughly perpendicular to the direction of the dunes.


The camels sitting in their strings, waiting to be loaded with their saddles and all the equipment for our trek.

The camels were much steadier today and, although some camels’ loads still required a fair amount of adjustment, we started walking a full two hours earlier than we had on the previous day.
The start of the trek continued along the edge of a dune, heading steadily north. The camels set a steady walking pace that was neither too fast nor too leisurely. It was no effort to keep up – but you had to put on extra speed if you stopped to take pictures or observe birds.


Andrew leads String A, along the edge of a low dune.

We stopped for lunch at around midday and then continued north along the swale until just before 4.00 pm, when we set up camp on the eastern side of a low dune surrounded by claypans containing shallow, milky-coffee-coloured water. In total, we covered 11.2 kilometres. Sunset that evening was spectacular, with the best views being from the crest of the dune just west of the campsite.


Cirrus plumes just after sunset, taken from the top of the dune to the west of our campsite.

Day six saw us leaving the campsite at approximately 10.30 am. Most of the day was spent walking along the dune, with the camels staying in the swale, while many trekkers climbed up to the crest of the dune for a better view of the environment. Today’s skies were particularly fine, with plumes of cirrus clouds in the morning that thickened gradually as the day progressed.


A view from the swale, showing the sky filled with cirrus clouds. The camel strings appear as tiny dots in the middle distance near the centre of the horizon.

Our route took us along a traditional corridor that has been used by stockmen since early settlement. By lunch time the dunes had opened into gibber-coated plains, although the low dunes maintained a presence on the western side of our track.


Heading west with the dunes behind the camel string.

Early afternoon saw us turning west and crossing the closest of these dunes, walking for a brief time on one of the vehicle tracks we touched upon briefly throughout the trek. The gravelly surface of the track was easier for the heavily-laden camels to walk down than the sandy dune sides.


Ingrid leads String B down the western side of the dune, taking advantage of an existing vehicle track.

Once across the dune, the gibber plain extended to the northern horizon and the heat from the sun on the dark pebbles created a distant mirage that was reminiscent of a Fred Williams painting. To the north, the horizon was unbroken with only the hint of a low dune away in the west and a slightly taller dune behind us in the south-east.


Lines of gibbers in the foreground give way to mirage on the northern horizon. We had to cross this plain before we could stop for lunch.

Crossing the gibber plain gave us a real feeling of being in the outback. The earth beneath our feet was largely paved with small, dark-red, wind-blasted pebbles and the only vegetation was low, dry grasses with the occasional succulent. A Martian landscape may be a good analogy.


The two camel strings crossing the gibber plain. This image was produced by combining two sequential shots using the Photomerge function in Photoshop.

Dotted intermittently about the gibber plain were claypans, many still containing water from the previous weekend’s rain. In these, we found a multitude of shield shrimp, tiny crustaceans that had hatched when the water collected and which would live out their brief reproductive cycle while the water remained, leaving eggs in the drying mud to produce the next generation when more rain fell.


A shield shrimp, photographed with the Ricoh G600, using the macro setting. The shrimp is approximately 1.5 cm long.

Towards noon, the gibbers gave way to sparse, low scrub. We were rather late finding a suitable place for lunch, after which we proceeded at the normal leisurely pace to our campsite. We walked 12.5 kilometres on day six before setting up camp just beside a single, prominent tree close to the end of a dune.


Our swags, set up ready for the night near the campsite at the end of day six.

One member of our party had to leave the trek at the end of day seven due to work commitments and we were expecting the National Park ranger, Don Rowlands, to arrive that evening to collect him. However, due to the recent rain, Don was late getting to the area and had to walk the last kilometre or so to our campsite so it was after 8.30 when he arrived. Lex had to pack everything and leave that evening so I decided it was the best time to take a group photograph around the campfire. Getting 15 people to sit still for 30 seconds was a challenge that not everybody managed to meet. The result is shown below.


Day seven began propitiously and we had the camels loaded and ready to go by 10 am. Our course continued northward through the gibber scrub under a totally cloud-free sky.


Continuing north through the gibber scrub on day seven.

Dunes returned during the morning and the scrub gave way to more open country, with patches of gibbers and shallow water dotted throughout the swale. Some of us walked along the dune crests to enjoy the views and the warm conditions and lack of wind made walking very enjoyable.


Looking down into the swale from the dune crest. The scrub we had walked through can be seen just below the horizon on the right side of the picture.

We stopped for lunch in low scrub, having covered 7.8 kilometres during the morning and returned to the dunes during the afternoon, having covered 14.8 kilometres – our longest day yet. Our camp that night was close to a vehicle track that crossed the dune. We would take advantage of it on the following day.
The waxing moon was high in the sky as we set up our swags, providing additional light for most of the night and making it impossible to photograph star trails. I would have to wait until the end of the trip to take long exposures. Alison cooked ‘bangers and mash’ for dinner and most trekkers retired early to prepare for the following day.


Campfire cooking at the end of day seven.


The bright moon overwhelmed most of the stars, making it impossible to photograph star trails.