Australian 4x4 Travel Page Header Image
Home    |    4wd Driver Training    |   4wd Tag Along Tours    |    Great Aussie 4wd Trips   |   Maps and Guides Shop    |   Contact Us

Simpson Desert

wrangler climbing a desert dune We have an excellent range of maps and guides for the Simpson Desert

Australian 4x4 Travel Maps & Guides Shop Button

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.

Camping is allowed within 100 metres either side of the public access tracks, however there is little or nothing in the way of facilities most of the way.

There are gidgee woodlands in the central region of the desert that provide shade and some shelter for camping.

Recently introduced regulations see the Simpson Desert closed to travellers from about the last week of November until the end of February each year.

The desert covers an area of approximately 170,000 square kilometers with an average annual rainfall of less than 150mm. Beneath the desert’s 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

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 areas

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’ and ‘The Rig Road’

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.
the french line -simpson desert image
4WD Convoy on The French Line
french line simson desert close up image
The French Line close up gives a better idea of the track surface
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 time here depending on how long you decide to linger at the various attractions. 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 welfare in extreme danger.

The 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.

Alternatively you may purchase it at the Pink Roadhouse or the Oodnadatta Hotel or the
Mount Dare Homestead.

The Simpson Desert has some of the world’s longest sand dunes, which mainly run in a northerly to southerly direction and gaining in height as you travel eastwards.

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 crests of dunes are constantly moving which can cause steep drops and extreme caution needs to be taken at all times when crossing them. A flag should always be attached to the top of your aerial to alert drivers coming in the opposite direction.

Rain can be experienced at anytime of the year but seldom lasts long and doesn’t form catchments on the ground.
The Simpson Desert vegetation, although sparse, 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.

From west to east start at 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 settlements.

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’ers, the town would have disappeared into obscurity.
There are many historical landmarks and museums in the area including the Pink Roadhouse, where fuel, food and local information can be readily obtained.

To start your trip head north out of town and veer right at the road split about 18km ahead. Left goes to Marla, heading about 190 km west.

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.

pink roadhouse oodnadatta image
The Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta
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.

If you have become complacent to the ‘road’ conditions up to now the track approach to Pedirka Siding deteriorates, but not to the extent that you will experience before your trip is over.
homestead ruins simpson deseret image
Homestead Ruins
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 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 and just south of the springs that has toilet and laundry 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 track 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.

About 50 km out from Dalhousie Springs you will come to Freeth Junction. Whilst your journey continues straight on a right turn here would ultimately see you back at Oodnadatta.
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 pools.

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
purni bore simpson desert image
Purni Bore
follow across the desert.

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 to Birdsville.

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.
lone gum simpson desert image
The Lone Gum
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 1960’s. 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.

desert camp simpson desert image
Convoy setting up Desert Camp
in the shade simpson desert image
"Under the shade of a coolibah tree"
simpson desert camp sunset image
Simpson Desert Sunset
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 Territory.

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 Gallery.


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.
approaching salt flat simpson desert
Approaching The Salt Flat
lake eyre simpson desert image
Lake Eyre
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 with 500 meters either side of the track unless otherwise 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 in a variety of birdlife.

About 20 km from Eyre Creek is the Big Red dune, thought to be the largest dune in the desert and many drivers find it hard to cross. There are a couple of alternative crossings to the north and south of Big Red, with the one to the north appearing the most popular.

If you are traveling from east to west, or Birdsville to Oodnadatta, then this dune is even harder to cross.

There are spectacular views from the top of the dune and it is worth allowing some time to take in the surroundings.

Your trip is nearing its end now but not before you cross Lake Nappanerica. 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.
birdsville hotel queensland image
Birdsville Hotel
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 disappeared.

Today its is a thriving tourist destination with the highlight of the year, The Birdsville Races, taking place in September.
Some more pictures from along the way
Only leave your tracks in the Simpson
please take all of your rubbish out with you
only leave your tracks image
sturts desert pea image
Sturts Desert Pea
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 fate of many desert animals - particularly during drought - This one ? Probably a camel skull on a dune in simpson desert image
simson desert track image Track conditions can vary widely between loose sand to ironstone rock
Also on the way to Lake Eyre on route to Lake Eyre
cameron corner new south wales image Camerons Corner which is the furthermost north west point of New South Wales where the borders of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia join
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 high fence dingo fence at cameraon corner

Disclaimer 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 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 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 Desert trip. Do not attempt to access the Simson Desert in an ill-prepared vehicle and without adequate communications equipment. Do not under estimate the limited supply of fuel, water and provisions in the Simpson Desert area as well as the possibility of encountering extremely harsh elements and conditions. If you do so you will place yourself into an 'extreme risk' situation.


Australian 4x4 Travel Maps & Guides Shop Button



Sitemap
   |    Privacy Policy     |   Copyright Australian 4x4 Travel 2013
Give John or Amanda a call today
(02) 4739 8034 or Mobile 0408 245892 for your enquiries and purchases

Australian 4x4 Travel operates 12 day Tag Along Tours that include the Simpson, North Simpson, Hay River and Outback regions of four states

Australian 4x4 Travel Outback and Desert tag along

Our trips are very relaxed, informal and non regulated, unlike trips run by many of the other tour operators and this 12 day trip represents outstanding value


You are going on holiday so go on a relaxed and enjoyable holiday