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The Great Victoria Desert is one of Australia’s hidden treasures - a vast sand dune and sand plain desert - the largest in Australia. Its area is shared equally by the States of South and Western Australia, north of the Nullarbor Plain and south of the Musgrave Ranges, and is bounded on the west by Laverton and the goldfields and to the east by Mabel Creek Station due west of Coober Pedy and the Stuart Highway.
The desert was named after Queen Victoria by the explorer Ernest Giles in 1875. Its dunes trend east west, and aside from the major palaeo-drainage basin at Serpentine Lakes it has no major watercourses. Save for a few vehicle tracks, this vast wilderness is virtually untouched by man. The international significance of the Unnamed Conservation Park that lies on the South Australian side of the desert was recognised in 1977 when it was proclaimed a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. It is one of the largest arid zone biospheres in the world.
Sandplains and dunefields are the dominant landform, forming the southern part of the anticyclonic whorl of dunes that include the Simpson and Great Sandy Deserts. The dunes are longitudinal, from 5-20 metres in height and can run for up to 100kms. Salt lakes are another feature of the desert, the best known are the Serpentine Lakes, other lake systems are the Nurrari and Wyola Lakes, Lakes Maurice and Bring, and Plumridge Lakes and Yeo Lakes in Western Australia.To the south is the vast limestone Nullarbor Plain, and to the south east Tietkins Plain and the Ooldea dunefields.
The Great Victoria Desert is remarkably well vegetated, and contains diverse acacia, casuarina and Eucalyptus communities. The most spectacular tree is the marble gum Eucalyptus gongylocarpa.
Successive anthropologists have attempted to delineate the complex Aboriginal habitation patterns of the Great Victoria Desert. Daisy Bates lived with Pitjantjatjara people at Ooldea siding for many years.
Len Bedell, surveyor and road maker named the Ann Beadell Highway after his wife . His network of roads constructed for the Woomera, Emu and Maralinga projects criss cross the outback.
After successful atomic tests on the Montebello Islands in Western Australia in 1952, the British Government were keen on establishing a site for ground based testing. Two bombs were detonated at Emu Field, then the testing moved to Maralinga.
We pick up from all Coober Pedy hotels mid morning and meet the incoming flight from Adelaide. We head west onto Aboriginal owned Mabel Creek Station. Following station tracks we arrive at the Dog Fence, the world’s longest man made structure.
Our first morning in the Outback, awake to birdsong, a blazing campfire, fresh brewed coffee or billy tea, and a hearty breakfast. We break camp and head west towards Emu.
We enter the magical Great Victoria Desert. Over the next five days we travel westward, largely along internal corridors thick with an astonishing array of vegetation. The road we take is the Anne Beadell Highway, which is really a track not a highway.
We visit Lake Ballard, the site chosen by British sculptor, Sir Antony Gormley, to display his world-famous ‘Inside Australia’ art installation of 51 sculptures known as the Antony Gormley Sculptures.
We trek eastward to Pinjin, a ghost town where little remains of a brief gold rush in the early 20th century. We gradually enter more and more remote country.
A day of great variation of scenery as we push eastward through the Great Victoria Desert. Gradually the heavily vegetated country gives way to stunning bluebush plains interspersed with stately western myall.
We wind our way southward through the remains of old rabbiters camps across vast endless plains until we arrive at the tiny hamlet of Forrest on the Trans Pacific Railway.
We follow the railway line east. It is a surreal experience as the rail line is dead straight for hundreds of kilometres. Occasionally a freight train will pass, there are siding ruins, old tips and beacons that once provided lights for airplanes traversing the continent.
A full day tour of the Maralinga village, bomb sites and testing ground. We will camp south near Ooldea siding which for many years was the home of Daisy Bates.
Ater exploring Ooldea and the surrounding area we travel east through sandhills to Wynbring, and extraordinary granitic outcrop. There are some wonderful short walks to be enjoyed in the area.
Ater exploring Wynbring we follow alongside the vermin proof fence past Lyons to Malbooma and on to Tarcoola, the junction of the Sydney-Perth and Adelaide Darwin railway lines. Tarcoola reputedly has a population of two since the Pub, one of only two iron- clad hotels in South Australia closed.
Leaving the Gawler Ranges we arrive in wheat country. Gradually the country becomes more civilised as we pass Iron Knob and Kimba to make our way to Port Augusta. From Port Augusta we trek south to Adelaide arriving early evening at city hotels and the end of an extraordinary adventure.