Talk about bad luck! In 1860 the Australian explorers Robert Burke and William Wills undertook an expedition to become the first people to cross Australia from south to north. They set up base camp at a place called Coopers Creek, said theyd be back in three months, and set off north with two other members of the expedition. After waiting four months, those who had remained at base camp buried some supplies, carved a note in a nearby tree informing Burke and Wills where to dig, and left eight hours before Burke and Wills staggered into camp. They found the meager provisions and attempted to make it to the nearest outpost of civilization, Mount Hopeless, but died of starvation only a few miles from help. Bummer.
We were significantly more fortunate than poor Burke and Wills. Instead of horses and camels, our expedition consisted of five 4x4 vehicles of all makes and levels of capability. Instead of dried food and stale water in drums, we had steaks and cold Victoria Bitter beer in ARB refrigerators. And instead of a leader who really wasnt familiar with the Outback, we had Brad Newham of Outback 4WD, who knows the country like you know your backyard. If youre thinking of making an Australian desert crossing, Newham can advise you as to the necessary gear to bring, but advises that its probably less expensive in the long run to purchase an Australian vehicle, have it outfitted, then sell it when your trip is over. Either way, Outback 4WD has you covered. Here are some of the highlights of our trip.
Pick up provisions in Broken Hill.
Assemble group at The Owl Barn on the Silver City Highway, where crazy old lady lives with her husband.
Stop shortly at Packsaddle pub, just past the point where pavement ends for frosty beverage.
Cruise along at 60 mph on dirt roads featuring pot holes the size of spare tires. Dodge Kangaroos that seem to swarm as thick as flies.
Arrive in Tibooburra and get room in pub for night. Room smells like somebodys dirty socks.
Have breakfast at pub where they almost give you enough bacon to reassemble a pig.
Arrive at Dog Fence on border of New South Whales and Queensland where we leave most of the kangaroos behind, but not the pot-holes.
Stop so the Kiwis, Michael and Patrick Whyte, can admire colossal termite mound.
Arrive at Burke and Wills Dig Tree for somber moment and Vegemite on crackers (tastes worse than anything we could possibly have in America).
Arrive at town of Innamincka or Innamincka pub. Take your pick, theyre one in the same.
Enjoy pubs excellent Sunday meat roast including every kind of meat except Kangaroo with all the fixings; meet Innaminckas pet pig, Greg, and discover her predilection for beer. Crash in hostel-style bunk beds.
Learn that Innamincka Hotel owner Dillon (never did get his last name) named pet pig Greg after his buddy, even though Greg the pig is a sow.
Drive through Mumba oil fields on our way to Mungeranie station, thus saving several miles of driving and much pounding on the kidneys. The station is closed to the public but our guide, Brad Newham, is tight with the owner.
Hook up with John John-O Hammond, of Mungeranie Hotel, who leads us at break-neck speeds over tight, twisty dirt track the remaining 120 miles to his place.
Down several well-earned Victoria Bitters (Fosters isnt Australian for beer, by the way) before crashing for the night.
Leave Mungeranie for the Birdsville Track, stopping off at several sites of local significance such as The Landmark, an abandoned car in the middle of nowhere that locals use as a reference point; The Page Family Grave, the resting place of a family who perished in the summer heat after breaking down on the road during Christmas time; and the Birdsville Racetrack, site of the famous Birdsville horse races, where thousands fly into the town of Birdsville for the race, then spend the week drunk at the pub.
Arrive at Birdsville and stock up on three days worth of supplies for a cross-Simpson trip.
Quick stop at Birdsville Working Museum, where everything from washing machines to chain water pumps actually works.
Head out into Simpson, stopping to air down at Big Red sand dune.
Spend rest of day riding on blown stock shocks (they lasted about 10 miles before giving up the ghost), wishing our Land Cruiser had an Old Man Emu suspension system.
Set up camp just outside official entrance to Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.
Bounce off bumpstops for most of morning while figuring out the finer nuances of shifting with the left hand.
Stop to check how hot shocks are and almost burn fingers. Totally amazed by how thick flies are.
Stop for lunch of ham and crackers, along with the errant fly that got unlucky. Fly nets are considered the garb of sissies in the real Outback. We were wishing we were sissies.
Run (not literally) into two dingos who chose to follow our tracks. Not smart of them because theres a $10 bounty for dead dingos in the Outback.
Set up camp and cook a feast, toss a visiting scorpion into the fire, and get a midnight visit from the dingos.
Enter Witjira National Park on way out of Simpson Desert and Dalhousie Springs.
Arrive at Dalhousie Springs and strip down for a much-needed swim. The water comes from an artesian spring and is as warm as bath water.
Leave Dalhousie, as well as the soft sand and dunes, and enter rocky track on way to Mount Dare and only fuel within 200 miles.
Fuel up at Mount Dare and stock up on ham-and-cheese sandwiches. No flies this time.
Haul at max speed (something like 55 mph) to Ayers Rock.
Arrive at campground tired and sore at 11 p.m.
Wake up to first sounds of civilization in three days and pack as quickly as possible to get over to Uluru (aboriginal name for Ayers Rock).
Enter park, pay $16.50 entry fee per vehicle, and drive around the biggest darned rock on the continent.
Dodge tourists and old people on buses for good photos, then pack it in for Ayers Rock airport and flight back to States.
Get dropped off at airport by Newham and Kiwis, who suggest to ticket agent that a thorough inspection of bags and a body cavity search would be a good idea.
Thanked powers-that-be that Australian airport personnel have a better sense of humor than their American counterparts and bid a warm farewell to Australia.