Simpson Desert French Line

StartClick to Reverse the Dynamic Map and Driving NotesDalhousie Springs
DifficultyDifficulty 4/5
Suitable for4WD Bike 
Distance438.61 km
Minimum Days3
Average Speed33.85 km/hr
Driving Time12 hrs 57 mins
Article By: ExplorOz Team
Page Updated: 22 Dec 2015


The French Line (or shot line as it's called) is the shortest and most direct route across the Simpson. The route crosses the dunes at right angles and there's about 1200 of them in all.

The track is crossed in both directions and because its only single lane wide, head on collisions are a reality but they can be avoided if you take the necessary precautions. These precautions include flying a dune flag from the front of your vehicle (lead vehicle in your party), carrying a UHF radio and scanning all stations plus periodically making a warning call of your position from the tops of high dunes to warn any oncoming traffic.

Distances are often calculated from either Mt Dare Homestead or Oodnadatta because they are your last stops for fuel (diesel and petrol), water, a telephone and your last chance for supplies (although very limited). The trip across the French Line from Dalhousie to Birdsville is regularly done by tourists with just 2 to 3 camp stops. There are no designated camp sites in the desert (other than Dalhousie Springs and Purnie Bore) but there's plenty of wide open spaces to find a place all to yourself.

Select a camp site in the swales between the dunes where the ground is flat. There is very little shade as most trees are too low to offer any significant shade. There is plenty of dead mulga wood lying around for campfires but only burn small fires for cooking and make sure you carefully extinguish and cover it up with sand before you depart. It's ok to burn little bits of paper and cardboard rubbish including toilet paper but bag the rest and take it out of the desert with you.

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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. 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. Rains normally occur in the heat of summer (late December through to early 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 .

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.


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 you are fortunate to travel in a season that has seen rain in May.


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.


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, Betoota and Bedourie) 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:

Fuel Supplies & Usage

Fuel Symbol Fuel is also available at Mount Dare Hotel and Oodnadatta - see Mt Dare to Oodnadatta via Dalhousie.
4cyl 68 litres *4cyl 60 litres *4cyl 88 litres
6cyl 84 litres *6cyl 104 litres *6cyl 77 litres
8cyl 67 litres8cyl 104 litres *
Usage is averaged from recorded data (* specific to this trek) and calculated based on trek distance.

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. The Simpson Desert is CLOSED from 1 December 2012 to 15 March 2013 to ensure safety of visitors and emergency personnel. The closure affects the Simpson Desert Conservation Park, and Regional Reserve in South Australia.

Closest Climatic Station

Birdsville Airport
Distance from Trek Mid Point 193.61km E
Mean Max. °C40.
Mean Min. °C26.424.721.717.
Mean Rain mm20.933.
    Best time to travel      Ok time to travel      Travel NOT recommended

Services & Supplies

There are supplies at Oodnadatta and Mt Dare but these locations are not on this route.


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What to See

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This list may not be complete for the entire region. Places listed here are directly located along the plot file associated with this Trek Note. You can locate other nearby Places by browsing the map or searching Places.

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Where to Stay

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LocationsDistanceDirection Time
Dalhousie Springs to Spring Creek Delta Bypass6.49 kmE75° 9 min
Spring Creek Delta Bypass to Freeth Junction46.96 kmE78° 58 min
Freeth Junction to French Line & Alka Seltzer Bore Access8.26 kmNE58° 10 min
French Line & Alka Seltzer Bore Access to Purnie Bore9.36 kmE78° 14 min
Purnie Bore to French Line & Rig Road27.68 kmE78° 35 min
French Line & Rig Road to French Line & Colson Tk38.29 kmE78° 1 hr 37 min
French Line & Colson Tk to French Line & Erabena Tk52.37 kmE79° 2 hr 8 min
French Line & Erabena Tk to French Line & Knolls Tk35 kmE84° 1 hr 36 min
French Line & Knolls Tk to French Line & Thomas Track14.08 kmE85° 38 min
French Line & Thomas Track to Poeppel Corner26.02 kmE83° 1 hr 10 min
Poeppel Corner to QAA Line & French Line Access18.71 kmN340° 29 min
QAA Line & French Line Access to QAA Line & K1 Line3.32 kmE96° 9 min
QAA Line & K1 Line to Narrow-leafed Hop Bush, QAA Line9.13 kmE95° 19 min
Narrow-leafed Hop Bush, QAA Line to Gypcrete Interdunes, QAA Line10.14 kmE97° 22 min
Gypcrete Interdunes, QAA Line to Salt Bush Flats, QAA Line13.26 kmE95° 26 min
Salt Bush Flats, QAA Line to Georgina Gidgee Interdunes, QAA Line20.97 kmE95° 33 min
Georgina Gidgee Interdunes, QAA Line to Spinifex Dune, QAA Line17.69 kmE94° 26 min
Spinifex Dune, QAA Line to Simpson Desert NP East Boundary2.11 kmE94° 3 min
Simpson Desert NP East Boundary to QAA Line & Annandale Ruins Access16.42 kmE84° 27 min
QAA Line & Annandale Ruins Access to Eyre Creek, QAA Line0.12 kmE98°
Eyre Creek, QAA Line to Big Red18.72 kmE84° 28 min
Big Red to Birdsville43.51 kmE94° 1 hr 1 min
Dalhousie Springs to Birdsville438.61 km  12 hr 57 min
Distance is GPS recorded driving distance (not straight line), Direction is straight line from start to end, Time is calculated from actual GPS driving data.


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Travel Journals

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