Big Desert 2020

20 – 22 November 2020


This is the trip that turned out nothing like it was planned. The aim was for a social weekend suitable for caravans and couples and a relatively easy sand drive in the Little Desert. A constellation of factors changed all that relatively quickly. This included a motorbike accident, social and work factors for some of the participants, a hot weather forecast and a fire in the Little Desert National Park also resulting in the closure of the Horseshoe Bend campground where we intended to camp. Nevertheless, after a quick change of venue to Big Desert State Park, we still ended up with 8 vehicles, but the character of the trip had changed somewhat.

Six vehicles set off on Friday morning as planned. After a lunch stop in Nhill we headed up the Nhill Murrayville Rd, stopping for wood along the way. We arrived at Big Billy Bore Campsite mid afternoon and set up camp. As Dale, Tim V and Aaron were new to sand driving, we headed up to a “practice dune” just north of the camp, adjacent to the Delisio Track. Tim was a bit uncertain so went as passenger with Ross. We played there for about an hour and a half which was a good learning experience for those new to it. Everyone made it to the top of the hill on each of the two track options. With that it was back to camp to settle in for the evening. Tyler lit the fire as he wanted to do some camp oven cooking. The evening was pretty warm, so we definitely didn’t need the fire for heat, just cooking and ambiance. Tyler produced a terrific olive damper which was enjoyed by all. Johnny, Tim and Jimmy arrived later in the evening to complete the group. Through the evening the temperature had dropped which made for a comfortable night’s sleep.

The forecast for Saturday was for a hot day in the mid 30’s so we set of just before 8.30am to have a crack at Big Dune while it was still cool. We played on Big Dune for a couple of hours until is started to get hot. Low tyre pressure was the order of the day. There are four or five different track options on the hill and we had a go at all of them, or at least Tim N did! Three of us successfully drove the far right hand track, which we hadn’t attempted before. Dale drove Big Dune and was very happy with himself, and yes there is video evidence! Tim V was so close and came within a couple of car lengths of the top and Aaron gave it a good crack, but he was a bit light on the rear wheels and couldn’t quite get the required traction. Everyone had great fun as this is a cracking hill. We stayed at big dune until just after 11 am when it was getting quite hot and a bit hard on the vehicles.

From Big Dune we headed north up Big Dune Track to White Springs for a brief stop. There was some water there, but it was drying out. From there it was west on White Springs Track and then on Johns Bore Track where we again stopped to inspect the old “Johns Bore”. This was nowhere near as impressive as Cactus Bore was to prove later in the day. Johnny was particularly taken by the latter. Geoff thought he was bogged when he stopped on soft sand at one intersection, but Tim N suggested he should put it in low range as he wasn’t actually bogged. That worked, good suggestion Tim! We then headed along Fire Break Track which is the northern boundary of the park. There were some sandy rises along the track which were a good test of our driving skills. By this time it was getting hot so we stopped in a shady area for lunch which was close to the Murrayville Rd. Two members of the crew (who shall remain nameless) then made an emergency dash to the now nearby Murrayville pub as they realised they had “under catered”. Rookie error boys!

After lunch we continued along Fire Break track west of the Murrayville Rd, then south on Coburns Track. This was a great drive with numerous soft sandy rises to keep everyone concentrating. Along the track is a picnic / camp area called “Red Gums” where there is a large stand of gums over about an acre. This is completely different to the surrounding low scrubby vegetation and a nice spot to stop. From there the plan was to wind our way back to camp and arrive relatively early in the afternoon. However along Cactus Bore track we found another challenging dune on a side track. This turned out to be the icing on the cake for the afternoon. It was a track which produced a couple of boggings, and a lot of entertainment. At the top of this climb was a sandy ridge with spectacular views of the park, including another track leading south to another steep and challenging hill. Long story short, five of us ran that hill before joining the other three vehicles who stayed on the main track. From there it was again home to camp. We made one last stop at the aforementioned Cactus Bore, which Johnny felt was the highlight of the entire weekend! Glad we didn’t miss that Johnny!

The afternoon and evening were very hot, so much so that, despite having plenty of wood, the campfire was never lit. Most unusual for us! Apologies to Don Bird! The next group in will be very happy with the wood find. In the evening, Geoff put up the shower tent, which provided a pleasant cool off for those who partook as cold water was the order of the day. Later the older generation retired for the evening leaving the younger generation playing their version of what could be regarded as cards.

The game plan for Sunday morning was to have a slow start, a leisurely breakfast and roll out of camp around 10am. At approximately (or even exactly) 6.40am, there was an extremely loud, ongoing episode of rolling thunder. It went so long I thought it must be something else, but no it was thunder! Well, on further investigation (opening eyes) there was some very black cloud rolling in over the hill to the west. The game plan immediately changed. The entire camp had come to attention and began packing up. Shortly after there was about 10 minutes of rain, but fortunately that was about it. Unfortunately, it was just enough to produce damp camping equipment which would require drying out at a later time. In the end it was just after 8am when we left camp without any breakfast.

After refueling at Nhill we headed for Dimboola to have brunch at the local cafe. The egg and bacon rolls there are excellent and huge. Those who had one definitely didn’t need anything else for the day. Afterwards we deviated into the Little Desert National Park to see if the Horseshoe Bend Campground was open. The campground was actually open (although the Parks website said it was closed) so we checked it out. It was agreed that this was a great spot on the Wimmera River and that we should plan to go there again, despite 2 previous failed attempts due to COVID and this fire. Third time lucky?

Thanks to all who attended it was a great social weekend with lots of some good sand driving and the exploration of some tracks we had not seen before.

Geoff Davey (Trip Leader)
Ross Barry (Tail End Charlie)
Andrew Smith and Tyler
Aaron Dauber with Kelvin Rogers
Dale and Jamie Robertson (visitor)
Tim Van Bakkun (visitor),
Johnny Atanasov
Tim Neville with sidekick Jimmy Halikias