How rain can change a crossing of the Simpson Desert

It is quite amazing how rain, and it is often heavy rain, can completely change the adventure of crossing the Simpson Desert.

I was talking to another traveller regarding our DVD Simpson Desert at the Explore Australia Expo in Melbourne, and it occurred to me that the year we filmed that trip – 2012 – was an unusual one. A dumping of rain had closed all the roads, including the Oodnadatta Track, on the western side of the desert only a month before we were due to start out.

Fortunately the roads reopened and we were able to head off. The Oodnadatta Track was still in good condition even if much greener than usually seen.

The Spring Creek delta section of the Simpson Desert was still largely a bog, the track was mostly firm, although some of it was under water. This was the exact spot where one of the group became bogged, which took 2 hours of hard work from all involved to free him from the mud.

We have been to Birdsville and Big Red 4 times in recent years and each time has shown a different outlook from the top of the big sand dune.

In 2010, we travelled with Vic Widman and Great Divide Tours to follow in the tracks of Burke and Wills from Melbourne to the Gulf. Rain had caused a delay in our travels and we spent extra days at Mutawintji National Park waiting for the roads to open in south Queensland.

Sunset over Big Red

Sunset over Big Red from the shores of Lake Nappanerica

So we were 2 days late getting to Birdsville, and our arrival coincided with the build up to the Races. Vic took one look at the crowds in town and led the convoy out to Big Red. Here we camped on the shores of a big lake, Lake Nappanerica, a very pleasant spot.

Next morning, after skirting the lake, we climbed the dune to take in the view from the top. A smaller lake to the west also blocked the straight track ahead.

Vic was keen to leave Birdsville and head north before more predicted rain arrived – a very good move as it turned out. That year, Birdsville was cut off for a few days and the races were cancelled – a very rare occurrence.

Lake Nappanerica was there again the following year. We had completed our Binns Track trip at Mt Dare and decided to go home through the Simpson. Rain had caused both Eyre Creek and Warburton Creek to flood, closing access to the eastern side of the desert. By late July it was possible to cross Eyre Creek by using the detour to the ford, approximately 30 kilometres to the north of the QAA Line.

Eyre Creek in flood

A coolibah on the bank of Eyre Creek

The detour was an easy track passing some interesting country and occasionally crossing small dry salt lakes. The ford was a very pretty spot with several birds present and an egret fishing. The detour was a great experience well worth the extra kilometres (but of course is only available when Eyre Creek is in flood).

And we marvelled at the lake at the foot of the huge sand dune. The convoy took the detour route, which was quite dry, into Birdsville.


2012 was an entirely different experience. After the muddy and wet conditions in the west, Vic Widman, who was  leading this trip, was very concerned with crossing Eyre Creek. To everyone’s surprise it was bone dry.

Big Red and Lake Nappanerica

Lake Nappanerica at the foot of Big Red, biggest sand dune of the Simpson Desert

We pressed onto Big Red and Birdsville, which had had quite a lot of rain. Once again Lake Nappanerica blocked the path, as half of the group tried to find a route around the lake, while the other half headed to Birdsville via the detour road. To find out which group reached Birdsville first, you will have to see the DVD.




Big Red and dry plain

Big Red view of convoy crossing a green plain

In May 2014 we were in the desert once again, but this time it was the Madigan Line. This was another fine adventure, slower travelling than the French Line, but it was fascinating to see another aspect of the desert. The route took us down to the QAA Line via Eyre Creek and on this trip it was very dry, a symptom of the drought in outback Queensland. The lush vegetation was gone and there was no water anywhere in the creek.

And there was no lake beside Big Red – just a wide green plain where the lake had been.

So far this has been a dry year for the centre, which will be appreciated by the organisers of the Birdsville Big Red Bash when Jimmy Barnes and others will be Rocking the Desert like never before on 5 & 6 July 2015. Big Red will become a most spectacular outdoor concert venue for this big event.


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