Simpson Desert -
The Simpson Desert is a remote, 4wd challenging, region, that
is located in the northern areas of South Australia, southern sections
of the Northern Territory and up into the South West of Queensland.
The area is considered remote and extensive planning is required if you
intend to journey into it. A well prepared vehicle is essential and it
is recommended that you travel in convoy with at least one other
vehicle. The towing of a trailer is not recommended, although many do.
Camping is allowed within 100 metres either side of the public access
tracks, however there is nothing in the way of facilities most of the
There are gidgee woodlands in the central region of the desert that
provide some shade and shelter for camping.
Recently introduced regulations see the Simpson Desert closed to
travellers from the end of November until March 16th each
Australian 4x4 Driver Training and Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours run
4wd tag along tours through the North Simpson and Simpson Deserts, the
trips are for either 12 or 14 days and will take in many of the iconic
towns and places throughout this Outback region.
On the 12 day trip we travel from north to south on the Hay River
Track, most people travel south to north and miss out on most of the
fun, to Poeppel Corner and then east to Birdsville via Eyre Creek and
The 14 day trip will take you through the remotest Simpson Desert
crossing in Australia where very few have ever been, much of it without
visible tracks - this
is your chance.
The third desert 4wd tag along tour that we operate is across the
northern edge of the Simpson and following the Madigan Line. This is
the route taken by Cecil Madigan in 1939 using camels for transport.
The track runs north of, and roughly parrallel for much of its way,
with the French Line and QAA Line from west to east.
If you are interested in any of these deserty trips reun by Australian
4x4 tag Along Tours then select the Tag Alongs button above then follow
the the Hay River, Madigan Line or Never Never button for more
The desert covers an area of approximately 170,000 square kilometers
with an average annual rainfall of less than 150mm. Beneath the deserts
surface is The Great Artesian Basin, a natural water storage area. The
water rises in places to feed natural springs, the best known being
Dalhousie Springs which is the starting point and entry into the
Simpson from the west.
Over the years bores have been drilled along the stock routes to water
the stock as well as several around the oil exploration tracks and
The first European explorer to visit the area was Charles Sturt in 1845
when he came across the Eyre Creek to the east, but it was not until
1936 that it was first crossed completely by Ted Colson.
On the eastern perimeter of the park he is known to have sighted the
remains of the 800 km long rabbit fence put up some 50 years previously
by the Vermin Control Board to stem the spread of rabbits, in which it
was unsuccessful. The fence was maintained up until the early 1930's
when it was abandoned.
The first motor vehicle crossing of the desert was undertaken by Reg
Sprigg in 1962. Little did he know what a precedent he was setting for
the modern four wheel drivers of today.
Whilst several other explorers traversed various parts of the desert
subsequently it wasn't until the late 1950's that the Simpson Desert
gained notoriety by becoming a major search area for oil and gas.
The search resulted in many new tracks being established, several off
which are still in use today. The main major routes through the desert
today being the WAA Line, the French Line, the Rig Road and QAA Line
The most sort after trek across the Simpson these days is between
Oodnadatta, in South Australia, and Birdsville in Queensland covering
approximately 650 kilometers,
depending on your route, and is best undertaken between April and
October, The summer months are considered too hot with temperatures
exceeding 50 degrees C.
You must obtain a Desert Parks Pass and the trip can be done in, on
average, around 5 days. You can spend a lot more, or even less, time
here depending on how long you decide to linger at the various
It's up to you! There is a lot to see and do if you want to. Whatever
you do don't deviate from the existing tracks. To do so will be to
place your life and those with you in
The Deserts Pass pack can be purchased by ordering from The Department
for The Environment and Heritage Office at Port Augusta (Phone 08 8648
5300 or Freecall 1800 816 078, or from several retail outlets between
Marree and the desert.
The Simpson Desert has some of the world's longest sand dunes, which
mainly run in a north south direction and gaining in height as you
Some dunes are known to be up to 200 km long and they are often spaced
about a kilometer apart. Areas between the dunes are often claypans and
saltpans with gibber-ironstone flats towards the eastern areas of the
desert. The area between two dunes is known as a swale.
The crests of dunes are constantly moving which can cause steep drops
and extreme caution needs to be taken at all times when crossing them.
As from March 16th 2014 a sand flag is now mandatory and should always
be attached to your vehicle to alert drivers coming in the opposite
A mine spec flag fulfils the current requirement, the old triangular
flags are no longer suitable.
Rain can be experienced at anytime of the year but seldom lasts long
and doesn't form catchments on the ground.
Some people have a vision of the desert being mostly sand but The
Simpson Desert has vegetation, although quite sparse in places, is
quite varied and is home to a variety of wildlife.
It is estimated that over 180 species of bird life alone can be found
here as well as a variety of other fauna.
The most popular crossing direction is west to east as the dune
approaches are not as steep in this direction.
This route would take you from dalhousie Springs in the west past Purni
Bore, onto the Freench Line and then the QAA Line into Birdsville.
Many start their trip from Marree in the Soiuth Australian Outback and
head for Oodnadatta, a town founded in 1890, due to the construction,
and imminent arrival, of a railway line, and flourished for the next 40
years or so. From here camel trains, driven by the Afghans, carried
supplies north to Alice Springs and other inland Australian
In the late 1920's the railway line was extended from here to Alice
Springs and was known as The Ghan. In the 1980's a new line was
constructed west of Oodnadatta and, had it not been for the popularity
of the town to 4wd owners, the town would have disappeared into
There are many historical landmarks and museums in the area including
the Pink Roadhouse, where fuel, food and local information can be
To start your trip head north out of town and veer right at the road
split about 18km ahead to Hamilton Station. Left goes to Marla, heading
about 190 km west and the Stuart Highway.
Shortly you will come to the Alberga River crossing which should
normally be dry. Further on you will reach Fogarty's Claypan, which
should also be dry. Failing which you are able to take a bypass track
to the west that will go around the claypan.
Shortly you will find the turnoff to Mt Sarah Homestead on the right,
and later Hamilton Homestead. By now you will be a little over 100 km
north of Oodnadatta.
A little north of Hamilton Homestead you will cross Hamilton Creek
there is a signposted track heading east which leads to Pedirka Siding
on the old Ghan Line.
About 45 km north of Pedirka and into the Witjara National Park, you
will come across the ruins of the Dalhousie Station homestead,
developed by Ned Bagot. There are many date palms around here the
history of which is unknown, but almost certainly planted by Ned or by
the camel drivers of the time.
Like the Dalhousie Springs there are many natural water outlets
stretching through the area, known as mound springs. Their
flow from the Artesian Basin which has brought with it earth deposits
forming the mounds.
These ruins are quite substantial and the original homestead was used
by an explorer, David Lyndsay, on his trips into the vicinity.
There is a well laid out camping area to the north of the homestead
adjacent to the springs that has toilet facilities.
From Dalhousie Springs you could detour north towards Mount Dare, a
distance of around 120 km and 90 km from the French Line junction,
where you are able to get supplies of fuel and provision, some
travelers, though, will head towards the east and The French Line if
they are able to carry sufficient fuel.
Be warned, though, there are no fuel or provision suppliers between
here and Birdsville. As your journey could see you traveling in excess
of 700 km at the worst and about 600 km at best, depending on your
route, you must ensure that you have adequate fuel, water, supplies and
communication equipment for the journey.
A little under 20km on from Freeth Junction and you will arrive at
Purni Bore. There is a camp site here, with toilets and showers, and
you may decide to stay a while to
view the variety of birdlife that flourishes in the wetlands produced
by the water from the bore as well as enjoy swimming in the warm water
From Purnie Bore, heading east, and out of the Witjira National Park
and into the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve for about 30 km you will
come across the junction of The French Line the WAA Line or about 40 km
further along The French Line the junction with The Rig Road.
Depending on your time available you have choices of the route you will
take. One way is to turn onto the WAA Line and continue to the
The Rig Road which then heads south before continuing east until you
reach either Knolls Track heading north towards Lake Tamblyn and the
French Line or heading further on to the K1 Line where you start
heading noth to join the QAA Line at Poeppel Corner and then east again
A popular choice is instead of turning right onto Rig Road continue
along The WAA line which is considered easier than the French Line but
harder going than Rig Road. However it does offer more places of
interest to visit and more diverse scenery.
Along the Rig Road, in the Simpson Desert Conservation Park, you will
come across the Lone Gum, which is a box eucalypt. This species are
normally found in clayey soils near waterways, how this lone tree has
survived here for a considerable length of time remains a mystery.
It was fenced off in 1966 to stop vehicle coming too close and causing
damage to its root system. Since then new seedlings have been seen to
sprout around the tree.
If you had continued along the French Line to the junction of Rig Road
you would have seen the Coulson Track off to the left, and north, at
the junction. This track ultimately ends up at Alice Springs.
About 13km south of this intersection, on the Rig Road,is the Mokari
Airstrip that was used during the oil exploration days of the 1960s.
Whilst he is buried somewhere else in the desert there is a monument
here to Jaroslav Pecanek who supplied provisions to the isolated
exploration crews in the region.
About 50 km further along the French Line are the Approdinna Attora
Knolls which are located in the Simpson Desert Conservation Park. The
first European discovery of the Knolls was by David Lindsay in 1886.
They are rare gypsum outcrops and are fragile by nature as well as
being considered of great scientific significance. They also provide
the highest vantage point in the area.
Management and conservation measures have been undertaken in the area
to minimize damage caused by vehicles and local animals. There is also
a designated camping area here.
Some few kilometers east of the Knolls, and just past Lake Tamblyn, you
will come to the junction with the K1 Line and on to Poeppel Corner.
Once at Poeppel Corner, which is at the intersection of 26 degrees
south and 138 degrees east you can just about stand at the point that
marks the meeting point of Queensland, South Australia and the Northern
There is a post there marking the point surveyed by Augustus Poeppel in
1876 whilst surveying the Northern Territory and South Australian
border. The original peg is now located in the South Australian Art
By now you are a little over 90 km from the Simpson Desert National
Park exit, about 175 km from Birdsville and you will have traveled
around 300 km from Dalhousie Springs, depending on which route you took.
From Poeppel Corner you will travel on the QAA Line for the rest of
your journey to Birdsville.
Shortly after leaving Poeppel Corner you cross Poeppel Lake, which is a
distance of 2km. If it looks at all wet take the detour to the north as
this is not a good place to get bogged. By the time you are at the
other side of the lake you will have had a brief spell in the Northern
Territory and then you will have entered Queensland and heading almost
due east, on the home run, to Birdsville.
Once out of the park the QAA Line runs through privately owned pastoral
lands and, unless you have permission from the land owners to do
otherwise, you must stay on the track. Camping is allowed either side
of the track as indicated indicated.
About 15 km from exiting the park, and a little over 100 km from
Poeppel Corner, you will cross the Eyre Creek having crossed a series
of floodplains between the sand dunes. If the creek is in flood your
safest route is to the north where there is a rocky crossing, although
there is another crossing to the south if the creek is only
experiencing minor flooding.
The creek area is popular for campers and, after any rainfall,
plentiful ina variety of birdlife.
About 20 km from Eyre Creek is the Big Red dune, the largest dune in
the desert and many drivers find it hard to cross. There are a couple
of alternative crossings to the south of the main Big Red crossing and
others further south at Little Red.
Stangely Big Red is one of the few dunes that is easier to cross east
to west rather than west to east.
There are spectacular views from the top of the dune and it is worth
allowing some time to take in the surroundings. It is also not uncommon
to have spectators along the top viewing those attempting to drive up
to the top.
Your trip is nearing its end now but not before you cross Lake
Nappanerica. A short drive south along the edge of the lake to Little
Red and then a left hand turn and, from here, you are about 30km from
Birdsville and on a much improved road. As you enter town the
Birdsville Pub is on the left, with lots of cold beer on tap, and the
camping area a little further on the right behind the Birdsville
Birdsville had its first settlers in 1867 and, whilst it was called
Diamantina Crossing for a short, was named after the first shop keeper
in the area, E A Burt.
Birdsville was the starting point for drovers taking cattle from
Queensland to South Australia.
The town was severely damaged by a cyclone in 1905 and, with the
closing of the customs post following the abolition of border duties
that were levied on the cattle passing through, the town almost
Today its is a thriving tourist destination with the highlight of the
year, The Birdsville Races, taking place in September.
Found in this region is the Sturts Desert Pea is native to many of
Australia's arid regions. It is found in all mainland states
except Victoria and was named after
Charles Sturt who reported having seen vaste stretches of them during
his trip into Central Australia.
The dingo fence can be seen at Cameron Corner which stretches from
Jimbour in Queensland down to the Great Australian Bight. It is
maintained by crews that are located at intervals along the 2 metre
The information provided on this web page is for use as a guide only.
If you are planning to undertake this trip you must seek out other
authorative advice and information. Desert and Outback travel
can be very hazardous and should only be undertaken after lengthy and
careful planning. The owners of this website shall not be held
responsible for any damage or injury that you may experience during any
conventional vehicle or four wheel drive trip, desert or otherwise.
Distances between places mentioned on this page are as a guide only.
You must verify these details yourself using professional maps and/or
mapping equipment before you set out on a the trip. Do not attempt to
access desert or other remote regions in an ill-prepared vehicle and
without adequate communications equipment. Do not under estimate the
limited supply of fuel, water and provisions in these areas as well as
the possibility of encountering extremely harsh elements and conditions.