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Just do it: Travelling the Simpson Desert solo

About Kathleen

Having it all and enjoying every minute of it .... mostly

Photographer, traveller, adventurer.

You are never too old to go on an adventure.


The incredible things I learned during my solo adventure in the Simpson Desert.

Things didn’t start well. It rained in the . By the time it dried out and I got away it was noon. Then Purni Bore, my first chosen camping spot, was disappointing. So I continued into the desert. That was, after all, the point of my trip.

One of my campsites in the Simpson Desert.

One of my campsites in the Simpson Desert. The stars were incredible. Picture: Kathleen Swinbourne

The first thing I noticed about the desert was how vegetated it was. I was expecting rolling red sand dunes. What I got was rolling red sand dunes covered in vegetation – scrubby wattle trees, grasses and a few wild flowers. It hadn’t been a wet winter so there weren’t a lot of flowers out, but the were beautiful.

The second thing I noticed was . I’d been driving for over 100km, and since Purni Bore, at not much more than walking pace. Driving along with the roof and windows open, I could smell the desert and had time to look around.

I’d stopped a few times to look more closely and was just thinking to myself that things were a lot easier than I expected, when suddenly they weren’t. And I do mean suddenly.

Things went from “I’m really enjoying this”, to “get me out of here”, with nothing in between. Up until this point I’d been driving on the Rig Road, which is the road built for the heavy mining vehicles, to get around the desert. When I say “road”, I really mean a clay-capped, red-sand track, but that clay capping on the dunes made a lot of difference.

But when I turned onto the WAA line, I hit real sand dunes. No more clay capping. Just soft, red sand and the biggest dunes I’d traversed so far. Problem was, I still had over 300km to go!

But the biggest thing I noticed was the peace. And the isolation. And that really is what I went to the desert for.

It's nearly 500km from Dalhousie to Birdsville via the WAA line, so I had a lot of time on my own. Completely on my own. For the three days I was on the WAA I didn’t see or hear another soul.

I’d drive in the morning, then pull up, set up camp and spend the afternoon just soaking up the desert - the sounds, smells, and the changing light. To me, this was heaven.

Some of my takeouts from the desert are:

  • . At least until you get near Poeppel’s Corner, when the wattle trees change and it smells like popcorn.
  • The colour of the light doesn’t change that much. Because of the lack of clouds the sunrises and sunsets aren’t that spectacular. The light is a golden colour, but there aren’t any of the outstanding pinks and mauves often present when there is cloud.
  • During the day the main sound is birds, but at night that changes to chirping and rustling from. I didn’t see any nocturnal creatures, but I did hear them. At some point something climbed into my car because there was what appeared to be mouse poo on the floor and passenger’s seat. I never saw the animal, but I hope it got out again safely.
  • . I looked up from lighting one campfire and there was a dingo on the other side of the fire staring right at me. He had walked at least 15m across the camp area and I hadn’t heard him coming. He walked around for a while staying a few metres away from me, then curled up and went to sleep under a tree about 10m away. I doubt that would have happened if I wasn’t on my own.
  • T and even the flies seem to be restricted to some parts. Some of my campsites I had very few flies, others I was covered with them as soon as I stepped outside. I don’t know why.
  • Even in the Simpson Desert, people leave their rubbish behind. I got sick of picking up other people’s toilet paper and burning it. A lot of the rubbish left around was burnable so could have easily been disposed of on a campfire. The rest should have been taken out.
  • But perhaps my biggest take out is that I can do it. I challenged myself, and I came through.

    I got bogged and had to dig myself out of holes five times (three times on the same dune) and I did it. I nearly tipped the car once and didn’t panic. I camped alone, and even managed to drive over the dunes in 2WD - long story. And that last one in particular taught me I should trust myself more.

    If you want the full story on my travels across the Simpson Desert, have a look on.

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