18 days, 300km, one swag, zero showers and a exchange rate blowflies renders for one hell of a journey. Particularly if the journey takes ar in the Simpson Desert, recalls Australian travel writer Jo Stewart.

You are watching: Walking in the desert

When i tell human being I once walked 300 kilometers through Australia’s Simpson Desert v a camel caravan supporting a scientific expedition, I’m automatically bombarded through questions.

Living and also working in among the world’s most inhospitable settings without accessibility to showers, toilets, to run water, Wi-Fi and also the electrical grid might seem incomprehensible come some, yet with careful planning, meticulous preparation and also a little of true grit, is totally possible.

Related: What doesn’t kill you: Why we require to embrace Australia’s ‘terrifying’ nature

Apart native blistered feet and questionable human body odor, here are a few things i took far from the journey:


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While rainforests and also reefs get plenty the attention, Australia’s deserts space chronically overlooked. Photo: Jo Stewart

1. Don’t shot this alone

Apart from Antarctica, Australia is the driest continent ~ above the planet, therefore heading off right into the desert alone and unprepared is setting yourself up because that a Darwin award win. That’s why the expedition was headed up by a true-blue explorer experienced in desert survival. Make no mistake—there is for sure no method most human being could execute this alone and live come tell the tale.

2. No all researchers wear laboratory coats

While rainforests and reefs acquire plenty the attention, Australia’s deserts space chronically overlooked. ~ above this expedition, a team of scientists accumulated specimens (everything indigenous feral cat skeletons to kangaroo poo), dug pitfall traps come snare aboriginal rodents, assessed local bird populaces at dawn, and collection up recording tools to screen late-night chatter between bats. Take the mental picture of a scientist gift a dude in a rap coat and replace it v a woman in overalls, wielding an axe to remove the head the a dead kangaroo, and you’re closer to the truth. Science is savage as.


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“Walking provided the zoologists and ecologists a possibility to collect specimens: the corpse of a desiccated lizard freeze-framed in its final moment top top earth, bleached bones the feral camels and brumbies (free-roaming feral horses), kangaroo spines and dingo skulls…”Photo: Jo Stewart

3. Walking trumps driving—any day of the week

The legendary parallel dunes the the Simpson Desert space a favorite v the 4WD set, but dune-bashing isn’t the best method to go around things as soon as you’re functioning on a scientific expedition. Go is simply the best means to survey the landscape and also see what’s underfoot. Walking permitted the resides botanist to collect plants and also flowers (yes, flowers prosper in the desert and also their resilience only adds to your beauty). Walking offered the zoologists and also ecologists a opportunity to collect specimens: the corpse the a desiccated lizard freeze-framed in its last moment on earth, bleaching bones of feral camels and also brumbies (free-roaming feral horses), kangaroo spines and also dingo skulls – every bagged and also carried ago to Sydney because that study.

Walking additionally gave me the chance to stop and take photos and notes whenever ns liked, uneven a road journey wherein the best bits whiz by in ~ 100km an hour. Top top foot, you have all the time in the human being to stop and also take shots of bearded dragons lazing in the sunlight or the deep crack in clay pans the look choose fault currently coursing with the earth.


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“Our trusty camels carried all the water we essential for the trip, and also we rationed it together if it was the apocalypse.”Photos: Jo Stewart

4. Pick your swag spot wisely (especially if you endure from arachnophobia)

Arguably, there’s nothing more Australian 보다 a night under the stars in a swag, our selection of sanctuary for this expedition. Because that those unfamiliar, swags are basically an all-weather sleeping bag v a built-in mattress. Straightforward to set up and also take down, they safeguard you from the elements and insulate you pretty well against the cold desert nights.

Moving to a new location every day, we’d merely roll up our swags, tie them come the tops and also sides of ours camels, and move top top the following camp because that the night.

While the swag part is easy, recognize a prime location is a little of one art. Soft sand provides for a good mattress replacement, but not as soon as that soft sand is a spider habitat.

Returning to mine swag one night ~ dinner, my head torch revealed hundreds of pairs that beady spider eyes, lurking approximately my makeshift bed prefer a scene from ‘90s horror flick Arachnophobia. One more night ns made the wrong of setting up my swag on one ant superhighway and also woke increase to discover my snacks gift raided by an ant army of Napoleonic proportions.


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It’s simple to get the hump the end in the desert. Specifically if you accidentally set up her swag on one ants’ nest.Photo: Jo Stewart

5. Restaurants space overrated

Ahhh, food. The greatest worry of most people, whether traveling in Brooklyn or Birdsville, food takes on an altogether new definition when you’re on an expedition. As soon as you’re midway v a 300km+ walk, food becomes an obsession. Way out that the variety of the Uber Eats network and with no cheese drops native planes (no matter how hard we wished), our expedition had to it is in 100% self-sufficient.

Carrying tinned food like vegetables, tuna and beans to add rice, pasta and other items the don’t spoil, permitted the inventive camp cooks to whip up hearty meals. Items like preserved beef mince and chicken might seem weird, however when there’s no other option, a newfound love the dehydrated meat and also reconstituted peas takes over. Out in the desert, flour, salt and also milk cooking in the coals that the fire and covered in jam (and a couple of flies) tastes as great as something you’d get from a an elaborate patisserie in the city.


“Food take away on an completely new meaning when you’re on one expedition.”Photos: Jo Stewart

6. Access to fresh, running water is underrated

Our trusty camels carried all the water we necessary for the trip, and we rationed it together if it was the apocalypse. V water primarily reserved because that drinking and also cooking, there to be no showers, too much hand washing or washing that dishes. We provided one enamel camping plate because that breakfast, lunch and also dinner and after every meal, us were provided a piece of document towel come clean ours plate and cutlery. Maybe a small splash that water if you’d eaten something particularly hard to shift (note: nothing let her leftover Weetbix dry onto her plate, rather you’ll be utilizing a Swiss military knife to chisel it off). Lugged in jerry can be ~ by our camels (who drink 50 litres as whole before the trip, then never again till the end), I’ve never looked in ~ water the same method since returning.

7. Camels are the best/worst take trip companions. Ever

The ships of the desert that comprised our motley crew to be majestic yet temperamental beasts, at risk to flicking urine about with your tails and also spitting green, masticated leaf slime in ours faces. They make the journey feasible with their feats of strength and also endurance, however sure did take it liberties whenever lock could. Regardless, I’d rather travel v a pack of camels 보다 a busload full of tourists any day that the week.


There’s no shortage of startling scenes in the desert.Photos: Jo Stewart

Gallery: take it a depths dive into desert life


Photos: Jo Stewart

More information

Find out an ext about the Simpson Desert which covers the corners of three states, south Australia, Queensland and the northern Territory.

See more: Solved: A Normal Population Has A Mean Of 12.2 And A Standard Deviation Of 2.5.

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Jo Stewart is one Australian take trip writer who lives in Melbourne, but spends an not suitable amount that time at airports. She has visited all seven continents and also is comfortable mix it up at both ends—and all over in between—of the take trip spectrum.