The Simpson Desert
is the common name given to the area between Birdsville in the South West Corner of Queensland
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
Click the "Map" tab below to see the route we've provided. Icons on the map are the POIs you'll need for navigation purposes. Be sure to check the list of Nearby Places
on each POI page.
If you'd like to save this information there are a couple of ways to go about it, depending on what you're actually after:-
- Ideal solution - download the ExplorOz Traveller App from Google Play or the App Store. The app enables you to carry the ExplorOz Places, Treks, & Maps data offline in your mobile device ready for your adventures. It is a complete mapping, navigation and tracking app. For more details, read our ExplorOz Traveller page.
- You can print a paper copy of the text using the print icon button shown above, near the social media buttons. For the best output it is advised to open each tab/section to load all images and artwork. You will still need to click open each Place page (listed in Where to Stay, What to See) to print off all available information.
- If you have a Hema Navigator or use Mapping Software such as OziExplorer, or TrackRanger AND you are an ExplorOz Member, then you can click the Download Trek button at the top of this page to obtain the raw data files (eg. GPX) for this Trek.
- If you're not a Member, or you'd like to batch download the entire Treks database you can obtain this by buying a product called EOTreks Route Files from our online shop.
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.