Beyond the Black Stump

Terry Ryan and Diane King take us travelling in their Pioneer Mitchell across the Red Centre and beyond to explore some popular outback desert tracks.

A rare patch of water along the Oodnadatta Track

Joining us for the three-week expedition were four other couples, each with a camper trailer; a Tvan, a Cub Camper and two soft floor campers.

The objective of the trip was to explore some popular desert tracks crossing three states – Northern Territory, Queensland and back into South Australia.

Starting from Adelaide, our journey picked the Old Ghan Rail Route out of Port Augusta. The Old Ghan Rail Route is a popular tourist trail, following the passage of the old railway line. There are plenty of railway sidings (stations), some restored with interpretive signage to explain the key points of interest. With the railway line no longer used, you may find old dog spikes buried in the sand and railway sleepers at various point to help feed the evening fire.

Our first night's camp at Beresford Siding
Our first night’s camp at Beresford Siding

Leaving the bitumen behind just south of Lake Eyre, our convoy meandered up the Oodnadatta Track towards William Creek, taking in glimpses of the lake at the various vantage points along the way.

The first night we camped at the Beresford Siding, just north of Coward Springs. The area is popular for mound springs that generate heat from the Artesian Basin.

The privately-run Coward Springs campground nearby is also a beautiful location, with plenty of shade, lovely campsites and pristine facilities. There’s a small plunge pool there, heated by the natural mound springs. As an oasis in the desert, its only disadvantage is its popularity. You need to arrive by 4pm to score a campsite. And fees apply.

Coward Springs Campground

Our next overnight stop was Dalhousie Springs, north of Oodnadatta. You need a Desert Parks Pass to visit or camp at Dalhousie and from here you can take a day trip into the Simpson Desert. This wasn’t part of our itinerary on this occasion, instead choosing to soak in the thermal springs and explore the nearby Dalhousie Ruins.

Mound springs at Dalhousie

Although seasoned to tourists, dingos do frequent the campsites to make light work of food left unattended, such as thawing meat, smelly sandshoes and more, so be wary.

We skirted around the Mt Dare Hotel on the advice of the local mechanic, who warned of the bad bull dust holes if towing. Incidentally, Mt Dare also offers bush camping or donger-style accommodation, meals, fuel and the usual outback repairs and supplies.

Old Andado Station flanked by the red dunes of the Simpson Desert

Our next overnight stay was near Old Andado Station. There’s a very basic campground at the station with a shower and toilet. The station has been restored and there’s plenty of photos and artefacts of how the pioneers survived in such harsh environment.

Camping near Old Andado Station
Camping near Old Andado Station

The flies are very friendly here, so ensure you bring a head net.
Continuing along the Old Andado (Binns) Track, the trail parallels the red dunes for much of the way yielding an easy passage. It eventually passes the aboriginal community Santa Teresa as it nears Alice Springs.

From there, we continued east into the East Macdonnell Ranges, where we enjoyed a 13km hike at Trephina Gorge. We camped at Ross River.

Trephina Gorge walk in the East MacDonnell Ranges
Trephina Gorge walk in the East MacDonnell Ranges

Leaving the bitumen of the Stuart Highway, we turned east again along the unsealed Plenty Highway and across another state border into Queensland to Boulia and then south to Birdsville.

Following the stoney Cordillo Downs track south to Innamincka, we camped at the Cullymurra Waterhole, then west past Coongie Lakes (which was closed) to Walkers Crossing and back to the Birdsville Track.

Our last hurrah was west of Mungeranie, camping on the banks of the Warburton River at Cowarie Station ($30/night). It was the first time it had flowed for seven years. We were welcomed by Peter the Ostrich, who wanders around in free range mode.

Free range Ostrich
Free range Ostrich

From there, we were homebound south along the Birdsville Track.

Trip Highlight: Southern leg of Binns Track from Mt Dare to Alice Springs on the western fringe of the Simpson Desert.

Trip Carnage: 3 x broken windscreens from passing traffic; failed shockers (Cub); cracked floor/deck (Tvan); 6 x punctures, four on one vehicle running tyres with limited tread, the other two were new Bridgestones. All were running reduced tyre pressures for dirt road touring.

Owner Interview – Terry Ryan & Diane King, Pioneer Mitchell
When did you purchase your Mitchell?
We purchased our Mitchell from The Dirt Off Road Campers back in 2017.

What trips have you done?
In 2017 we did Googs Track and Gawler Ranges; in 2018 the Kimberley, the Western Australia Wildflowers, and Northern Flinders Ranges; and this year, our desert tracks expedition, as described above.

Have you had any problems?
There were some teething issues initially, but they were quickly resolved under warranty.

Are you happy with your purchase?
We love the Mitchell! It’s so easy to tow, quick and easy to put up, and comfortable – it has a great kitchen, terrific storage (a real strength) and quick action awning. It’s a great touring camper!

What’s next?
In 2020, we’re planning a trip to the red heart of the Pilbara, then north to Cape Leveque and through the Kimberley again.

Camping on the banks of the Warburton River at Cowarie Station
Camping on the banks of the Warburton River at Cowarie Station

Our thanks to Terry and Diane for sharing their adventure. If you have a trip you’d like to share with our newsletter subscribers, please send your contact details to

Need to plan a trip? Pull out your 4WD Touring Guide and trace the route from the trip above to get the blood flowing. We have plenty of good maps and touring guides at The Dirt Off Road Campers. Stop in and check them out soon!

And if you want more information on the Pioneer Mitchell see HERE.

Pioneer Mitchell GoRV
The award-winning Pioneer Mitchell touring camper