Monday, April 14, 2014

The Outback - Poeppel Corner to Birdsville - Day 6

My tent leaked last night!  Dark clouds started rolling in around 7pm and by 11pm, lightening and thunder boomed across the dark desert sky.
Rain pelted down, soaking the red sand and giving the two 4x4s a very good clean.  Our restless minds were buzzing with anxious thoughts on the track condition and especially crossing Lake Poeppel.

Breakfast was rushed as we packed our gear and discussed the option for the day as Doug and Ruth were continuing West across the Simpson Desert whilst Neil and I were doing a u-Turn and heading back to Birdsville.


We escorted Doug and Ruth back to Poeppel Corner and watched as they tackled a 1km salt pan covered in a layer of water.  Doug, driving his big Land Cruiser 80-Series, with its 4.2 diesel engine and Mickey Thompson Baja MTR tyres had a tough challenge on his hand ensuring that the wheels remained in the old tracks.  A slight detour of the established track would quickly bring the vehicle to a grinding halt.  The only support we could give was moral support over the UHF radio.  Thankfully, they managed to cross the pan. Read more about the crossing on Doug & Ruth's website.
Would you drive this?  Looks easy in the photo!
Our challenge was the 18km of Lake Poeppel:  16km North and 2km East.  The first mud puddle loomed out and we plowed through in high range, diff lock engaged.  After exiting the very first mud section, the Prado started idling like a tractor - something had broken off near the engine and we suspected it was an exhaust muffler but could not confirm due to the layer of mud under the vehicle.

The Prado D4D is fitted with Mickey Thompson STR tyres, a tyre that the Mickey Thompson portraits as a weekend warrior.  These tyres were fitted by the previous owner and surprised me throughout the trip with their ability to grip the sandy conditions and the muddy ruts.
Mickey Thompson Baja STZ
Thankfully the rain had only impacted 40km of the 160km we had to complete.

First stop in Birdsville was the Roadhouse.  Peter Barnes, the owner and mechanic, took one look at the Prado and noticed the exhaust had sheered completely off near the turbo.  An hour later and the exhaust was very neatly welded together.
Dinner time... desert driving certainly makes one hungry, especially after crossing Lake Poeppel and the concentration required.   Two venues in Birdsville provide evening meals and the Birdsville Bakery was our choice for the night.  Serving fried chicken and Broo Beer, the bakery has a lively atmosphere.  Neil and I spent time with Kelly Theobald and her partner Sam, quizzing them constantly about life in Birdsville. The more they talked, the more I was captivated by life in the Australian Outback.
Diesel fuel was not cheap in Birdsville and 330km of dunes resulted in a very poor 18l/100km fuel consumption.  Typically the Prado D4D averages around 12l/100km.

Two days in the Simpson Desert left me wanting more - this desert is very different to North Africa, especially as you are restricted to existing tracks primarily due to the dune crossings.  A full East / West crossing will cover around 1100 dune crossings!