To complete our trip we had to return to Adelaide in the OKA, which had driven in from Birdsville at around 8 pm on the previous evening. As we had a considerable distance to cover, Brendan wanted an early start so we were up at first light to pack our trekking swags and leave them at the campsite for the next group of trekkers, who would arrive later in the day.


To complete our trip we had to return to Adelaide in the OKA, which had driven in from Birdsville at around 8 pm on the previous evening. As we had a considerable distance to cover, Brendan wanted an early start so we were up at first light to pack our trekking swags and leave them at the campsite for the next group of trekkers, who would arrive later in the day.


Packing for the return trip to Adelaide.

Alison prepared a cooked breakfast with bacon and eggs so we wouldn’t be hungry before we reached Birdsville. After farewelling the girls (who would remain at the camp to supervise the camels and prepare for the next group), we loaded our bags – and all the stuff that had to be taken back to Adelaide or Birdsville – into the Oka and set off. We were escorted by Andrew’s ‘Troopy’, a Toyota Land Cruiser, which had arrived with Brendan’s OKA on the previous evening, driven by one of Andrew’s staff. On the way out, Andrew, John and Ryan led the way in the Troopy while the rest of us followed in the OKA.


Some of the parallel dunes we had to cross in order to reach Birdsville.

Initially we headed south, following a vehicular track, which turned east after about 10 kilometres. From there we had 19 dunes to cross before reaching Birdsville. This part of the trip turned out to be more of an adventure than anything we had encountered thus far.


Some dunes were relatively easy for the OKA to get over.

The OKA sailed over the first few dunes with ease before reaching one that was somewhat steeper. We all had to disembark to lighten the load (and also to minimise the risk of injury in the unlikely event of the vehicle toppling over). Brendan revved the motor and the OKA crawled gingerly over the top of the dune, sending up plumes of red sand as it plowed along the track.
Before one of the slightly steeper dunes we were amused to see the road sign below.


In another situation, it may have been informative. Here it simply stated the obvious and we passed over the crest with some power in reserve.
When we arrived at Big Red – the largest and most challenging dune – conditions looked forbidding. The road ahead was partly covered with water and deep ruts showed where other vehicles had passed. Tracks on the dune face showed some of them had come close to the top. However, who could say how many of them had actually crossed to the other side?


The main track across Big Red.

Signs beside the road encouraged us to head south, providing the encouraging news that Birdsville was only 36.3 kilometres away. So that’s what we did.


A kilometre or so down this track, the road swung east once again and provided a run-up of roughly a kilometre that would allow vehicles to get up enough momentum to carry them across the treacherous sands. We passengers climbed up to the top of Big Red to watch the vehicles cross.


Our vehicles down in the swale west of Big Red, preparing for the crossing.


A view from the top of Big Red showing our fellow trekkers waiting for the Troopy to attempt to cross.

The Troopy made the initial foray but was stopped at the first ridge.


The first ridge on Big Red was deeply rutted and the sand was soft, making driving across difficult.

Second and third attempts were made without success. On the fourth attempt – with the engine revving and dust flying, the first ridge was crossed, but the vehicle was halted by the final few centimeters of elevation at the final ridge. Not to be outdone, Andrew called for a push and the ridge was finally conquered.


Pushing the Troopy over the final ridge.

Now it was the turn of the OKA. Brendan revved the engine and tore along the runway, only to be halted at the first ridge.


The OKA stuck on the shoulder of the first ridge.

Several more attempts were made without getting any further before the experts in the group gathered to assess the situation.


Where to now?

By now it had become pretty obvious that the OKA had no chance of crossing so a decision was made to head back along the road and go north at the junction just before Big Red, travelling around the dune instead of across it. As it happened, this would take us back to the campsite where the trek began.
Although the detour added about 40 minutes to our overall travelling time, we managed to reach Birdsville in time to stop at the Birdsville Bakery for a long-awaited coffee and the chance to visit the National Parks office for some information on the Simpson Desert.


The very modern – and well-appointed – Birdsville Bakery.


An amusing – but relevant – notice on the bakery’s door.

While our leaders attended to other matters, we had about 40 minutes to fill in Birdsville before lunch so some of us did a walking tour of the town, photographing icons like …


…the celebrated Birdsville Hotel,…


… Sturt’s Desert Pea flowers and…


…signs providing useful information about the area.

After lunch, which was eaten in the courtyard of the garage where we re-fuelled, we boarded the OKA for the trip south to Adelaide. The road had been graded while we were in the desert and its surface was much smoother, allowing us to travel somewhat faster than we had on the way up.


However, the graders had also loosened some large stones, one of which was flung up by the back wheels of the OKA and ricocheted off the trailer to shatter the rear window of our vehicle. It was a freak accident, but no less awkward for that. We had to stop to make emergency repairs in a bare and hostile-looking environment.


The OKA stopped for emergency repairs in Sturt’s Stony Desert.


Brendan gingerly removes the shattered rear window of the OKA.


An emergency replacement made from shatter-proof plastic is fixed in place with duct tape.

Since there was no way to source a new rear window, the replacement window remained in place all the way back to Adelaide. Meanwhile, the cabin of the OKA became very dusty until we discovered where the dust was coming in and plugged the leak.
Having been delayed by both the detour around Big Red and the rear window incident, it was dusk by the time we reached the Mungerannie Hotel, the first place along the Birdsville Track to offer camping facilities with hot showers. Brendan selected a suitable spot for our campsite, close to the banks of the wetland. Our swags were unloaded and we set them up ready for the night. Then it was off to the showers, up to the ‘pub’ for a pre-dinner drink and back to the campsite for dinner, an excellent stir-fry prepared by some of the trekkers from food brought by Brendan for our trip.
While we were enjoying dinner, I set up the first of two long exposure photographs I took that night. I mounted the EOS 40D and standard 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens on the Velbon Ultra Maxi M tripod. With the ISO set on 400, the camera set for RAW+JPEG capture, the lens aperture at f/7 and the shutter speed set to Bulb, I used the RS-80N3 wired remote trigger to set off an exposure that lasted for just over 40 minutes. The result is shown below.


This exposure of just over 40 minutes has a fair amount of noise, partly because it was brightened as part of the raw file processing and partly because the ambient temperature was around 12 degrees Celsius.

The second long exposure was the shot below showing the OKA parked at our campsite. The campfire is behind the vehicle as we wanted to have a shot in which the stars were visible. To capture as much of the sky as possible, I switched to the 10-22mm lens and set it at 10mm. With the ISO set to 400 and aperture at f/7, I made a 12-minute exposure using the remote trigger. The result, in which the brightness of the sky was adjusted in Adobe Camera Raw to reveal the stars, is shown below.


A 12-minute exposure taken with a 10mm lens at ISO 400 and f/7 aperture.

Since we still had a long way to go to reach Adelaide, breakfast the following morning was at first light and we were driving towards Marree just after the sun rose. I had a few minutes for some pre-dawn shots of the wetland before being hustled into the vehicle.


Pre-dawn on the Mungerannie wetland. 24mm focal length, 1/40 second at f/4.6, ISO 400.

We had a brief stop at Marree to re-fuel and stretch our legs. One of the local landmarks is the Lake Eyre Yacht Club, an incongruity in the desert. However there’s a small clubhouse with a catamaran and a couple of canoes out the front -plus souvenirs for sale.


The Lake Eyre Yacht Club at Marree.

About 90 minutes after leaving Marree we arrived at Lyndhurst, where we had a brief stop to take pictures of the ochre mines that had been excavated by local Aboriginal. The colours in the earth were so astonishingly rich it was no wonder the ochre was prized for decorative arts and traded widely among tribes the length and breadth of Australia.


The ochre mines a few kilometres north of Lyndhurst.

Just south of Lyndhurst we returned to a sealed road, which would remain with us right through to Adelaide. Retracing our route, we travelled along the western edge of the Flinders Ranges, stopping for lunch at Hawker and finally arriving at Adelaide at about 7.30 pm.