We bumped into Dalhousie Springs on dark, not an ideal time to find a campsite as we could hardly make out where the designated camping area was! We found a spot and Matt did a very quick set up while I got dinner on the go for two tired and weary little campers (and the big campers!) In the morning light we got our bearings a bit more, with a further smattering of rain meaning we pulled out our quick awning and rigged up a bit of shade cloth too for some shade. This hot sunshine one minute, raining the next, desert environment is a bit crazy! Dalhousie Springs is famous for being an oasis at the end of the Oodnadatta track, and the very beginning of the Simpson Desert crossing (most people cross from west to east, starting at Dalhousie, Matt really wanted to do the Simpson from Birdsville as part of our trip but a) time was not on our side, and b) east to west over the sand dunes is not ideal, so perhaps another trip altogether for a Simpson Desert mission!)
Seeing as though we arrived in the dark, we had already decided we would be staying two nights at Dalhousie. Although the water was still undrinkable in the desert, the showers were cold and the dingoes a bit too friendly…we could have a ‘refreshing’ dip in the spring – a much larger body of water than I had expected, “like a dam in Thorpdale” as Eleanor said… until you get in! The water coming up from the Great Artesian Basin comes out at something like 60 degrees, at one end of the little waterhole (closest to the spring) it’s more like 43 degrees, going down to a ‘cool’ 38 degrees near the stairs and main swimming area. Initially I was a bit worried about going for a swim here with the girls because I didn’t think we could stand up – a complete nightmare with two girls clinging to you! But thankfully Matt could stand, thankfully he’s a giant, and Eleanor can paddle about with the help of a swim noodle handily supplied.
The girls loved being able to go for a swim – we had to get their bathers and beach towels down from the roof rack for the occasion, packed up high instead of the winter coats, thermals and beanies I had more easily accessible. Although it wasn’t overly warm out of the water, a cool breeze made it hard to run from the warm (hot!) water to your towel.
We also had a look around the old Dalhousie ruins, from when the area (now a national park) was first settled by Europeans – what a life living out here in the late 19th century, with just the dingoes as company. Some dingoes were a bit too friendly for my liking, one walking through our campsite when I was at the toilet – I’m not sure if I’m grateful I wasn’t there or not, seeing as though the walk to the toilets was in the dark! I wasn’t looking forward to coming across a dingo on my walk to the toilets with Eleanor in the dark. This was our first campsite where we had really had a bit of time to kill during the day, the girls set up their magnet doll sets on the table and were easily amused. Harriet has become quite the little ‘twitcher’ – spotting quiet little birds and getting excited by the friendlier ones trying to eat her breakfast crumbs!
That second night at Dalhousie we were attacked by mosquitoes – completely eaten alive and nearly carried off whole! We were stupidly unprepared for the onslaught, which was probably only 20 minutes around dinner time, and the girls were covered in bites in no time. The poor things have been scratching ever since. We moved on the next morning, up the very corrugated road to Mount Dare, losing a rock tamer mudflap and going back 18km on the roughest road we’d been on so far to get it! The Mount Dare hotel beckoned – South Australia’s most isolated pub. We met up with some people who we’d had a swim with at Dalhousie, Matt had a beer (at 11am, but you’re in the middle of nowhere at a pub, what are you to do?!) whilst I had a coffee – which was half decent!
Onwards, across the SA/NT border, towards Finke, the road improved, and we turned off to Lambert’s Centre of Australia – one way in and one way out, a detour of our intended destination of Chambers Pillar but we ‘needed’ to go there. On our honeymoon lap of Australia in 2012 we went to Byron Bay (the eastern most point), Cape York (the northern most point) and Steep Point (the western most point) – naturally we needed to go the dead centre of Australia! Funnily enough, even though we live an hour away from Wilson’s Prom, neither of us have done the hike to the lighthouse to the actual southern most point of the mainland.
A sandy, rough road into Lambert’s – but very pretty as the landscape changed again to a more red sand and dune country. We really felt like we had hit ‘red centre’ country now. At the centre of Australia we found a few other travellers doing the same as us, a photo with the flag and marking the geographical monument. The bartender at Mount Dare had told us that we could camp at Lambert’s centre of Australia, and we were pretty surprised to find a nice little area to camp in the red sand. Another family there had just come from Chambers Pillar and said it was at least a four hour drive…and we had only really allowed two. So, a camp in the smack bang centre of Australia for the night it was!
Another brilliant decision of chance, landing us here for the night – as the girls had a ball! It became evident pretty quickly that there was Buckley’s chance of keeping them clean and out of the red sand…so if they were going to get dirty, they may as well have a real crack! We got out the beach toys and car and bulldozer we’d packed for them and let them go to town. The neat-freak husband was actually the one encouraging it – must be in holiday mode! My giddy aunt they were red. A bath in the ‘tub-tub’ was a must, a first for the trip, as the girls had previously gone to campground showers with us. A moonlit bath under the stars, in the very centre of Australia. We had a fire after gathering some wood, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of the girls playing in the tub, washing off their red sand, whilst we sat by the fire overlooking the Aussie flag flying over the marker of the middle of our country. One of those moments, y’know? Amazing.
In the morning we headed back into Finke – a small Aboriginal community, we were hoping to get diesel but silly us holidayers didn’t even know what day it was! Sunday. No diesel. Bugger. We followed the track of the Finke desert race, then promptly got bogged in soft sand trying to cross the river. Amateurs. A lot of digging, a lot of air out of tyres but we got there. Onwards, still following the race track, towards Maryvale Station, where our map told us there was fuel – we were hoping available on Sundays. We were in luck, and found a very hospitable couple managing the Maryvale store – with fuel and green grass in the midst of a desert! Flash.
Another bumpy track into Chambers Pillar, which Matt’s brother-in-law had recommended as ‘a must’ in the area. And he was right! We probably should have spent more time here, as it was a lovely campground overlooking the impressive rocky outcrops and ‘the pillar’. Neither of us have been to Arizona or the arid deserts of the US…but it seemed reminiscent of those landscapes.
We climbed to the top of the rise above our campsite to watch sunset over the pillar, before lighting a fire and cooking our dinner on it. In the morning we packed up Tilly before setting off on the 1km walk to the pillar and back. You can climb up and around the rocky pillar, stairs help along the way, and see the marks left by early explorers of the area in the 1870’s – pretty incredible. The view from up there wasn’t bad either…
Back into Maryvale, in a little convoy of cars leaving the Chambers Pillar campground (so I only had to open gates, not close them as well!) We did come across a Polish backpacker couple completely bogged in a sandy patch, in their little X-Trail. Being the good bloke he is, Matt pulled them out with his snatch strap, with the help of another Dad with two boys. In at the Maryvale store I got talking to the Dad, from Canberra, who was a fairly keen photographer and had been out at Chambers Pillar doing some night photography and painting the pillar with light. We talked all things night sky photography and our girls played with his boys – kids to play with! They were headed to Uluru so we said we might see you there, as that was our next stop too…