Driving across the baking, endlessly flat volcanic plains, a tinge of orange simmers on the horizon. This sea of orange sand slowly grows in height while passing the odd stunted and lonely acacia tree; they are all that remains from what was once desert woodland. On the fringes where the plains meet the dunes, auberge after auberge begin to appear in a surprising show of civilization surviving in these harsh conditions. And beyond this is the shoreline for a mighty ocean of sand that continues as far as the eye can see; welcome to the Sahara.
The Kennedy Ranges is a stark mesa, some 75km long and 25km wide, rising dramatically out of the surrounding desert landscape. The arid climate combined with a millennia of erosion, has resulted in sparse, half strangled vegetation desperately vying to get a foothold in the rubble which gives the place a post apocalyptic feel. This really is the wild west of WA.
The Simpson Desert National Park, now referred to by its traditional Aboriginal name Munga-Thirri National Park, is Queensland’s largest reserve at 1 million hectares. However, this park covers only one part of the greater Simpson Desert which crosses over the South Australian and Northern Territory borders to cover more than 17 million hectares of Central Australia.
The Birdsville Track is one of Australia’s most iconic outback tracks. Starting in Marree, South Australia, this 517km historic cattle route transverses the Tirari and Sturt Stony Deserts, ending in Birdsville, Queensland. Traveling along, the scenery seems to never change until you realise abruptly that it has; from stoney plains, to white, elongated dunes to yellow, sandy swales there is incredible diversity if you only just pay attention. This is some of the most arid terrain in the country where the landscape seems inhospitable to most, but surprisingly this region provides prime fodder for the organic beef industry. The rich abundance of mineral salts in the scrub vegetation gives cattle a complete diet without the need for supplements, so unfortunately even the driest of deserts isn’t spared the affects of cattle grazing!
Lake Eyre, the largest salt lake in Australia, is situated in the heart of the country 15m below sea level. Its vast salt plains have a footprint the size of a small country with a catchment area that covers three states. The lake has only filled to capacity three times during the last 150 years, but if you are lucky enough to see it during flood, you will witness the miracle of life’s colour flourish; tens of thousands of waterbirds amass across the country into a spontaneous pilgrimage to breed and feed on dessicated fish and frogs resurrected from the dry earth. The endless reflection on the water will also make you forget where the sky ends and the land begins.