Shortly after touching down in Alice Springs, I joined the Diamantina Touring Co. LandCruiser convoy. We were heading into the heart of the desert and were off to meet the Pintupi Nine.
The commute to the quiet tracks saw us whizz by Uluru and along the Great Central Rd to the Sandy Blight Junction Road (a road built by the legendary Len Beadell). For the entire we were to pass very few travellers, and never share a campsite – it was twelve days of wide open spaces and peace.
Andrew Dwyer founded Diamantina Touring Co. in 1988. Andrew uniquely leads every trip himself, it’s a role that’s seen him travel the Canning Stock Route over fifty times and quietly crisscross Australia’s remote deserts far more often than most modern-day explorers.
Andrew’s passion for remote travel is infectious. His stories brought life to our indigenous and early explorer history. They also brought with them a connection to the land. With this connection, trips become more about the journey than the destination, they become richer.
Andrew is also a great cook, in fact, his campfire cookng book ‘Outback’ was a best seller. He orders a pallet load of incredible produce fresh from specialty suppliers in Adelaide prior to each trip. This is carefully packed into four giant Engel fridges. We guests would relax as Andrew and the team (Matt and Mark) whipped up a feast night after night.
Charcoal grill, bedourie camp oven, cast iron camp oven, giant pans – every night was a different method of cooking and a different meal. All were served on a long table under the stars with Mark pouring house white or red. It was delicious, and certainly not what I was expecting on a remote expedition style trip!
We made our way north up the Sandy Blight Junction Road through the Gibson Desert. At the Gary Junction Road, we headed east towards Kiwirrkurra, Australia’s most remote Aboriginal Community.
At Kiwirrkurra we met up with three significant Australians – Warlimpirrnga, Yalti and Yikultji. As members of the family known as the Pintupi Nine, they were the last Aboriginals to make contact with the Western world.
Until 1984 this family lived a traditional hunter-gatherer life in the middle of the Gibson Desert.
As Warlimpirrnga, Yalti and Yikultji guided us north, further into the desert, the LandCruisers came to an abrupt halt. Moments later the spinifex was ablaze.
With bare feet and honed instinct, this fire was expertly lit. It headed downwind clearing spinifex in its path, leaving trees unharmed, before petering out in perfection.
Just like the thousands of years prior, the elders and Indigenous Rangers continuously burn sections of land as the best defence against damaging larger fire fronts and for the restorative benefits to the land.
At our next stop, after a seemingly futile attempt to escape, a goanna was effortlessly cornered. This is considered a local favourite and was cooked up over the fire that very night, and shared amongst us. To my surprise, it was actually pretty good!
Traditional damper was another favourite. The skills, labour and time commitment required to gather, separate and then hand mill the seeds is impressive.
Bush onions and other goodies like grubs seemed readily available too. It didn’t take long for us to begin seeing the desert through a different set of eyes. What an incredibly different lifestyle the Pintupi Nine lived. It’s easy to see why this family still spend plenty of time out on their land like the old days.
After an unforgettable couple of days exploring and camping with Warlimpirrnga, Yalti and Yikultji, the Diamantina Touring Co. crew set up an amazing thank you lunch on the edge of the vast Lake Mackay.
From Lake Mackay, we headed north, travelling along a track not marked on any of my maps, through one of the largest untouched regions of Australia.
Perched above Balgo Pound was one of the countless stunning campsites. Each night we spread out from the central fire, unfolded our stretchers and unrolled our swags. The star-filled nights and sunrises don’t get much better than in places like these.
After a visit to the thriving art gallery in Balgo, we began the journey down the Tanami to Alice Springs.
This trip felt like a privilege. We travelled places few people travel, and experienced things even less common. Our time with the Pintupi Nine was only possible through Andrew’s relationships built over the years.
While I frequent remote areas in my own vehicle, this trip was not something I could have organised myself. Plus it was great to share the experience with a fun crew.
For those who are short on time, equipment or experience, Andrew’s trips are just a short flight to Alice Springs away. With little planning, it is possible to cross trips like the Canning Stock Route, Red Centre to Pilbara, the Simpson Desert, the Great Victoria Desert or this one to meet the Pintupi Nine off your bucket list.
While most guests travel in the Diamantina LandCruisers, limited numbers of well-equipped travellers are welcome as tagalong guests.