After finishing our trip around Australia, soon after we had an opportunity to go to the Simpson Desert for the first time. Driving from Brisbane to Birdsville was the first part of our big adventure. This was really an unplanned trip, but there was a reason for it.
50th Anniversary of crossing the Simpson Desert
Nissan organised an event in Birdsville to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of crossing the Simpson Desert.
As part of the event, there were many activities planned like workshops, a music concert, and dinner at the famous Birdsville Pub. Also, a well-known outback adventurer, Pat Callinan was present as he was shooting a film of this historic event.
Another event attraction was a new Nissan Patrol Y62 model, which did not impress us at all. It was shiny and bulky, not really looking like an adventurous 4WD car.
The most important though was an organised convoy trip to the middle of Australia Poeppel Corner where three states join together: Queensland, South Australia and Northern Territory.
This non-profit event was organised between 16 and 22 July, with most of the 4WD drivers coming on the 20th of July. Convoys of Nissan owners were departing from different parts of Australia to finally meet in Birdsville Caravan Park for celebrations.
Because of the limited resources in Birdsville, it was only the first 200 registered vehicles to participate in the event. The registration fee we paid was $700, but in return, we received a special edition of the Hema Simpson Desert map, Nissan warm jacket, and few other freebies plus access to all workshops and Birdsville Pub dinner.
The main celebration was planned to end with an outback concert at the Birdsville Racecourse that happened on Saturday evening, the 21st of July.
To this day when people see this label on my car they ask, if my car was the one that crossed first the Simpson Desert – no, it wasn’t.
What happened 50 years ago?
In 1962, while searching for oil, geologist Reg Spring, his wife Griselda and their two children Marg (10 years old) and Doug (7 years old) made a successful, historic Simpson Desert crossing in their Nissan Patrol G60.
It was the first time a car crossed the Simpson Desert and now we can celebrate it.
The Simpson Desert is known for the world’s longest parallel of thousand sand dunes. Back then, it was a big challenge to even attempt to drive this treacherous land as literally there was no track, and often the sand was very soft.
On average, they drove 5km/hour making slow progress every day, but they succeeded.
This year, Marg and Doug were going to take their very old Nissan Patrol G60, start from Mount Dare Homestead and finish in Birdsville. Perhaps it would be a completely different experience.
Interestingly, their Simpson Desert crossing happened 26 years after Captain Ted Colson crossed the desert with his team of camels. He was the first non-indigenous person to cross this wilderness.
Wet start in Toowoomba
We left home in Brisbane, on Friday, the 13th of July. The weather in July is pretty cold. In some places, temperatures drop below zero.
We stacked some sleeping bags, tent and camping equipment so theoretically we were prepared for the worst.
Our first stop was Toowoomba. Unluckily, the weather was horrible as it was raining all day.
As part of the plan, we were supposed to meet the rest of our convoy in Toowomba Caravan Park. When we arrived, it was still raining and our tent was not very good for such weather but we found out later why.
Most of the people had arrived already and we had a little gathering in the evening discussing what is ahead of us. It was a great time to know each other and prepare mentally for the next day.
Toowoomba to Charleville
The next day, our convoy leader decided to go via Moonie Highway to bypass the roadworks happening on Warrego Highway around Chinchilla.
Driving in a convoy is slower than driving by yourself as everybody has to gather on time and be ready. Our group was well organised and we left Toowomba by 7.30 am. It was still raining though.
In Surat, we had a quick lunch, then turned right and get to Roma. We did not stop in Roma as it was still raining.
During the drive, we kept communicating by UHF radio so there were no worries and without any problems, we arrived in Charleville in the late evening.
Most of the people went to Charleville Caravan Park, but we decided to stay in a motel that night due to the weather.
Charleville to Windorah
Luckily, the next day brought us a nice change in weather as it stopped raining. Our next town was Quilpie where we planned to stop and visit the museum. Our final destination for the day was Windorah, 450 km from Charleville.
The Diamantina Developmental Road to Quilpie was narrower and we started feeling the remoteness of this place.
Quilpie - home to horse races
Quilpie happened to be a town with just 600 people living there. This small town is full of true outback attractions like Powerhouse Museum, Military Museum, Railway Museum, Baldy Top Lookout or Bob Young Memorial Park.
As we only stopped for a short break we went to the Quilpie Information Centre, museum and gallery. We met with friendly staff and had an opportunity to talk about their town and history.
The remaining bit to Windorah was still a bitumen road and we arrived there in the early evening.
Cold night at Windorah
In the late afternoon, we went for a walk and we met a man who travels with these 3 camels. He had his own wagon with all necessities inside and he was slowly progressing through the Australian outback. You never find people like this in the city. That’s for sure!
The night in Windorah was one that we remembered well. It was only 4 degrees in the morning, and our tent did not handle it well. Its walls became wet during the night (through our breathing) and the water started dripping down from the ceiling.
To make things worse, at 3 am in the morning, a local rooster started crowing like crazy, so we did not have too much sleep. The morning was very cold and we promised to buy some additional sleeping bags in Birdsville.
In the morning, after 70 km of driving on Diamantina Developmental Road, we stopped at the left turn to Birdsville. That was the time to drop the tyre pressure to 25 psi, as the remaining part was all dirt with water puddles here and there.
After, one short break, our convoy leader said that whoever’s car is most dirty when we get to Birdsville, this car will be announced a winner. There were many puddles and washouts on the way, so most people were taking it with force to make sure the water splashed everwhere. Crazy! We did it too.
Even the remaining 300 km was driving through emptiness, we still had two attractions on the road.
180 km before Birdsville we stopped at Deon’s Lookout. The site is named after a local man who crashed here with his helicopter, long time ago.
The lookout is located on the cliff with a stunning 360 view of the surrounding outback.
There is a day/night rest area with a toilet, sheltered picnic table and rubbish bins.
20 km after Deon’s Lookout, we stopped at Betoota Hotel. At the time of our visit, it was a fully ruined building without doors or windows.
Later on, we found out that Betoota was known as the smallest Australian town with one building and a population of one.
Back then, Betoota Hotel and pub was run by a Polish migrant, Simon ‘Ziggy’ Remienko, the only resident at the only building in a 400 km road stretch between Birdsville and Windorah.
Ziggy closed the pub in 1997 and since, the hotel deteriorated significantly and become a ruin.
In 2019, Betoota Hotel was renovated and open to the public again.
Arriving in Birdsville
We were very tired after driving the whole day. The weather was cool and at night the prediction was 2 degrees. So, we went to the only shop at the Birdsville Roadhouse and immediately bought 3 sleeping bags. At least we were prepared for the night.
The plan was to rest two days, attend some workshops, drink beer in Birdsville pub and try the famous camel pie.
Birdsville is a very isolated town, also known for its annual horse races. The temperatures are extreme reaching below zero in winter and above 45 degrees in summer. Not really our favourite place but definitely a town with a true outback character.
The next day, the plan was to visit Poeppel Corner, located in the Simpson Desert. We were going to pass endless 50 meters high sand dunes in a convoy driving all the way in a low range gear. Sound challenging!
Driving from Brisbane to Birdsville was definitely fun, but the real adventure starts now.