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Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours - Simpson Desert

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Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours Jeep on Big Red sand dune

Simpson Desert - Australia

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.

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 from 12 to 14 days and will take in many of the iconic towns and places throughout this Outback region. Use the buttons below for more information.

Hay River Track 4wd tag along tour button  Simpson Desert & Madigan Line 4wd Tag Along  North Simpson & Never 4wd tag along bitton

On our 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 Big Red.

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 to go somewhere in Australia that very few have seen and to have an experience that very few will ever experience.

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.

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 way.

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 year.

If you are interested in a desert trip and want the security of traveling with others who are experienced travelers of these areas then the desert trips run by Australian 4x4 tag Along Tours may be the one for you.

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 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, the Rig Road and QAA Line

The most sort after trek across the Simpson these days is between Mt Dare Hotel, in South Australia, and Birdsville in Queensland covering approximately 600 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. Oodnadatta is a popular starting point for the trip, or even further east at Marree.

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 attractions.

French Line in the Simpson Desert

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 extreme danger.

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 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 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 direction.

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 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 owners, 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 about 18km ahead to Hamilton Station. Straight 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 and Dalhousie.

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 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 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 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.

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 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.

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 Roadhouse.

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.

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 high fence.


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.

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