The Simpson Desert
is the common name given to the area between Birdsville
in the South West Corner
to Dalhousie Springs
in the far north of South Australia
near the Northern Territory
border and actually lies across the corners of 3 States - South Australia
and the Northern Territory
. The route we describe on this page is called the Combined Route - it is a customised trek route for those that wish to see as much as possible of the area in the one trip, taking in a little of each track.
There are 3 main tracks across the Simpson Desert
. Follow these links for specific trek notes
if not doing the Combined Route: Simpson Desert French Line
, Simpson Desert Rig Road
and Simpson Desert WAA Line
Using The Combined Route, you will travel 570km. Following our notes you will initially traverse the French Line with diversions onto the Rig, Colson, WAA, AAK and then pick up the French Line again to Poeppel Corner
and onto the QAA Line into Birdsville
. The Simpson Desert
can be crossed from West - East or East - West, depending on your preference. Our notes show both driving directions
. Tracks are defined only by the ruts and wheel marks in the sand - there is no grading or grooming of the track at any point of the trek.
How to Use this Trek Note
In this trek note, we provide Place to Place distances (see Directions tab), a downloadable plot file, and POI files to enable you to use this as your driving itinerary, or as a base guide to add other side trips. As with all ExplorOz Trek Notes, you can reverse the order of the direction notes by clicking the arrow alongside the words Start/Finish at the very top of the information on this page.
To see the route, click on the Map tab. Then use the Moving Map Control to take a virtual tour of the route. You can also click on the "What to See & Do" & "Where to Stay" tabs to see more about each Place that the route follows. Click each listed item to open a separate page (and download) for each Place for further information to enrich your understanding of the area.
If you use the Print button at the top of the page the text from all sections will be reformatted into one easy to read document (except for detailed Place information – do these separately). If you are an ExplorOz Member, you'll also be able to download any individually selected Places
(or all in one batch download) as POI/waypoint files to use in your GPS (all popular formats available).
The Simpson Desert
is the driest region of Australia
and it is a dunal desert - a sea of parallel red sand ridges around 300-500 kilometres long covering a total area of 170,000 square kilometres.
An interesting natural feature in the Simpson Desert
is The Approdinna Attora Knolls
found along the AAK Track. The "Knolls" are two gypsum outcrops that were once the highest peaks in the desert. The atmosphere in this area is quite different to other parts of the desert, with a salt lake (Lake Tambyn) and a significant gidgee forest. Please note that camping is prohibited within 1km of the Knolls.Poeppel Corner
is for many people a great highlight of their Simpson Desert
adventure. Here you can see a surveyor's peg marks the spot
of a tri-state junction - the borders of South Australia
and the Northern Territory
. This is not the original peg (it is preserved in a museum). Not far away you might find some of Poeppel's original mile posts and historic markers.
There are numerous salt pans and lakes throughout the Simpson Desert
and these can flood after rains and close the desert to vehicle traffic. Camping around the salt lake areas near the Erabena Track Junction/French Line is most rewarding because the gidgee woodlands
provide shade, shelter and soft ground for camping. There are increased wildlife viewing possibilities and you'll see great colours over the lakes at sunset. Dalhousie Springs
is an enormous natural spring-fed billabong at 38 degrees in natural surrounds. It is a carefully managed area that allows tourism, with minimal impact. Rubbish dumps are located here for your convenience. Day visitors may enter from the western edge of the Desert, however a Day Pass from the Ranger will be required if camping. Note - those travellers doing a desert crossing will be covered for camping here within the full Desert Parks Pass.Purnie Bore
is not a natural watering hole, however a borehead here allows some water to be released from the artesian basin to sustain the wildlife that have come to rely on this area being an "unnatural watercourse" for many years whilst the borehead was allowed to overflow, creating a large lake. Friends of the Simpson Desert
have created a bird hide from which to observe wildlife here and it's a popular camp site with good facilities.
Rains normally occur in the heat of summer (late December through to early March), although floods have been known to remain as late as July. Each season is different and you must plan your trip by keeping an eye on weather conditions and road reports .
The South Australian section of the Simpson Desert
is divided into 3 protected areas, Simpson Desert
Conservation Park, Simpson Desert
Regional Reserve and Witjira National Park managed by the South Australian Desert Parks department of the SA Department of Environment and Heritage
. A permit (the SA Desert Parks Pass) is required for all travel and camping.
The majority of the plant life you'll see is Spinifex and upside down trees! Desert vegetation depends on seasonal conditions. In particular after rain the Simpson puts on an incredible show of desert wildflowers including Billy buttons, Poached egg daises, & Cunningham bird flower. Most are short lived, and during the peak travel season most people have missed their chance of seeing the desert in bloom, unless of course there has been rain late rain.
Along the Rig Road
stands a lone Box eucalypt (colloquially known as the Lone Gum Tree
). The Box eucalypt is actually a member of the Coolibah family, which generally grows in the clay soils of flood prone areas yet is thriving in the middle of the Simpson Desert
dunes, far removed from the nearest watercourse.
NOTE: Firewood collection or wood fires are no longer permitted in Witjira National Park AT ALL. This does not include the Simpson Desert
Conservation Park or Regional Reserves
. In these areas, wood fires and solid fuel fires are only prohibited from 1 November to 31 March & gas fires are permitted other than on days of Total Fire Ban.
Of all the wildlife you'll encounter in the Simpson Desert
, you'll become the most acquainted with the bush fly - annoying but thankfully gone after sundown. " Eagles" are the most commonly seen of the birds in the desert area although there are some 150 different species of birdlife including the Bustard, Wedge-tailed Eagle, Brown Falcon, budgerigar and Zebra Finch. Around the floodplains you could see Black Kites, Crested Pigeons and Galahs. Many creatures are nocturnal, so they are not easily seen or photographed. These include small marsupials but there are also some feral animals such as rabbits, foxes, camels and donkeys. Dingoes and camels are very common throughout the Simpson with the highest population
of camels being in the southern parts so the Rig Road
is the best place to spot
them. If you get out of your vehicle during the day you might see some reptiles such the Perentie (goanna), Western Brown Snake, Woma Python and the Banded Skink.
In the 1800's, the Simpson Desert
was inhabited only by Aboriginal tribes. In 1845 explorer Charles Sturt was the first European to see the Simpson Desert
but it was not named until the 1930s when another Australian explorer and geologist, Cecil Thomas Madigan, named it after Allen Simpson, the sponsor of his subsequent expedition.
The first European to set eyes on The Knolls was the Australian explorer David Lindsay on 11 January 1886. The first successful crossing of the desert occurred in 1936 by E A (Ted) Colson and the first motorised crossing, wasn't until 1962 by geologist Reg Sprigg and his family. 10 months later and using pegs laid out by Reg Sprigg, the oilworkers of CGG (Compagnie Generale de Geophysique) the prime contractor of French Petroleum, forged a track now known as the "French Line" with their Land Rovers, supply trucks and Blitzwagon semi-trailers in 1963. This path was built with the sole purpose of oil exploration. However, oil discovered in the Simpson was of poor quality and therefore of no commercial value and after a clean up, the expedition was abandoned.
The Mokari airstrip
was used extensively during the oil exploration days of the 1960s. Nearby is a monument to Jaroslav Pecanek who provided essential supplies for the isolated exploration crews. He is buried elsewhere (unknown) in the desert.
In 1973, Charles McCubbin and Warren Bonython, harnessed to a lightweight aluminum cart of their own design and armed with ski stocks, were the first to cross the Simpson Desert
on foot! It took them 32 days.
Since then, the Simpson Desert
has become a focal point for modern day explorers
crossing on all forms of transport - including bicycles. The French Line and associated access tracks for the oil exploration activities still remain the only routes throughout the desert and it is unlikely that tar is ever possible (or wished) to be laid across this part of the country.
Logistically, some people struggle with fact that towing trailers across the Simpson Desert
is strongly discouraged. However with advanced planning, this is quite manageable. If you are doing your Simpson Desert
trip as part of a longer journey, you are advised to drop off your trailer at either Mt Dare (west end) or Birdsville
(east end) and conduct a loop trip (via Maree & Oodnadatta
) or a double-crossing to retrieve your trailer.
UHF Channel 10 is the official channel for communications the Simpson Desert
, however this is designed for checking oncoming traffic and is not to be used for general chit chat. For chatting you should respectfully select an unallocated channel. Also note there is a repeater on Ch 7 Duplex for contacting Pink Roadhouse
, and Ch 6 (2 or 4) Duplex for contacting Mt Dare Hotel. Anywhere in the Diamantina Shire (comprising the towns of Birdsville
) you must not use UHF Ch 8 and 38 as these are to be reserved for emergency calls only - these channels are monitored by the Clinics, Police and station operators and must remain clear.
For any dune driving you should fly a dune flag (sandflag) from the front of your vehicle to avoid head on collisions on dune tops. Why not get an ExplorOz Sandflag
? These are sold in our online shop
as flag only, or as a complete kit
with rugged offroad pole and bracket. For safe travel, the lead vehicle in any direction should periodically make calls on Channel 10 from the top of large dunes on the UHF radio
to advise oncoming traffic of your position. Head on collisions do happen unfortunately, so take every precaution possible. Conditions of the desert tracks vary greatly from season to season, month to month and day to day.
You will need a Desert Parks Pass which is a permit that covers all access and camping. It is advisable to arrange this permit well in advance as it contains specific and comprehensive travel planning information, including a set of maps and booklets. Desert Park Passes can NOT be forward dated. This means, they have to be dated with the date they are purchased. A Desert Park Pass can be purchased online directly from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources SA here: Desert Parks Pass
Fuel Supplies & Usage
||Diesel||4cyl 91 litres *
||ULP||4cyl 116 litres *
||LPG||4cyl 114 litres|
|6cyl 97 litres *||6cyl 129 litres *||6cyl 100 litres|
|8cyl 92 litres *||8cyl 94 litres|
Best Time To Visit
Generally, the best travelling is in the middle of winter when the weather will be cool to mild during the day but it can be very cold (zero) at night. Due to extreme summer temperatures and to ensure the safety of visitors and emergency personnel, the Simpson Desert
is closed for travel between Birdsville
& Dalhousie Springs
during the peak of summer from 1 December to 15 March each year. During this time only the Witjira reserve is open and visitors may still access Dalhousie Springs
Closest Climatic Station
Distance from Trek Mid Point 193.61km E
|Mean Max. °C
|Mean Min. °C
|Mean Rain mm
Best time to travel Ok time to travel Travel NOT recommended
Services & Supplies
The following locations have various services and supplies: Birdsville
There are supplies at Oodnadatta
and Mt Dare but these locations are not specified on this particular route.