The Simpson Desert is always a big bucket list item for four-wheel drivers, and for good reason. As well as being extremely remote, it’s a serious challenge for drivers, passengers and vehicles. With several routes to choose from, the biggest test for most is driving up Big Red, the largest dune within the Simpson Desert.
As popular as it is now, it wasn’t until 1936 that a non-indigenous person crossed the Simpson Desert; Ted Colson, who successfully rode camels from Bloods Creek to the Birdsville Hotel, had a beer then turned around and walked home again. The first person to drive across the desert was geologist Dr Reg Sprigg, who in 1962, with his wife and two kids, drove a Nissan Patrol G60 across 1100 trackless sand dunes without a GPS or radio.
There are several ‘must-haves’ to access the Simpson Desert.
- A Desert Parks Pass purchased either online before you leave home or from an agent as found on the Parks SA website.
- A UHF radio switched to channel 10 to call ahead when crossing the dunes.
- A sand flag attached to your vehicle to suit the following requirements:
- The flag must be at least 300mm wide and 290mm wide with fluorescent materials either red, orange or green.
- With or without a bullbar the flagpole must be attached via a bracket with the top of the flag 3.5m from the ground at a minimum.
- Alternatively, the flagpole can be attached to the front of your roof rack with the top of the flag at least 2.0m from the ground.
We departed Birdsville not long after sunrise and on reaching Big Red, tyre pressures were reduced to 18PSI all round before we parked on top of the dune for the obligatory photo. As the UHF crackled to life, we descended the dune and began our crossing of the Simpson Desert.
The second dune was a bigger challenge than Big Red, but after a few failed attempts, I finally made it over. Once in the groove of dune driving, there were no other difficulties in crossing the desert. On reaching Eyre Creek, we discovered that the bypass track was to be used as the water was still too deep to cross. This added 80km to our journey, but we’d allowed for that in our fuel calculations. The effects of all the water blew us away. The desert was very green in patches, with wildflowers adding different colour displays, a rare sight indeed.
The ford across the Eyre was easy, with a rocky base and shallow water. We then turned south and made our way back toward the QAA Line. A lone vehicle was spotted making its way across the plain and so we stopped to check they were ok. They’d followed a detour sign further west and got themselves lost. Extremely relieved to see us, they didn’t have enough fuel to make it to Birdsville. Even though it was the beginning of our adventure, their request for five litres of diesel was granted as a donation. I asked them to ‘pay it forward’ so hopefully they followed through. It was slow going once back on the QAA line and as dusk approached, we decided to make camp 30km east of Poeppel Corner.
Next morning, we continued along the QAA line crossing a couple of salt lakes before following the K1 line south to Poeppel Corner. This is the point where SA/NT and QLD meet and you’ll discover there are two posts. Poeppel originally mapped the QLD/SA border and stretched his chain a tad, meaning his post was out by 274 metres. From here we tracked along the French Line to the turn off to the Knolls Track. The awning provided the only shade available to enjoy lunch before following the walking trail to the top of one of the Approdinna Attora Knolls. With the sun beating down, it was very bright looking across the nearby salt pans.
The Knolls track was slow going, with sections of gypsum dominating the route. On reaching the Rig Road we tracked across clay capped sand dunes for 32km before turning south along the swales between the dunes. From here speed was increased on our way to the Lone Gum. How this coolabah ended up in this remote location, far from any watercourse is intriguing and unknown.
With the Lone Gum disappearing in our mirrors, we continued south along the Rig Road before turning west. After finding a good campsite just off the track, we were rewarded with some stunning colours in the sunset sky. Next morning, we encountered our first dingo. I’d been watching the footprints on the track and upon cresting a dune, the dingo was lying in wait. It didn’t hang around long, just long enough for a few long-range photos before disappearing amongst the spinifex.
Heading due west, we crossed plenty of dunes, more yellow in colour than the burnt orange further north. There was plenty of radio chatter and we eventually met a party heading in the opposite direction in a swale between the dunes. The Rig Road then turned north-west to meet up with the WAA Line before turning west again. The Rig Road is certainly the easier and quickest route across the Simpson Desert as the dunes aren’t as high and the sand isn’t as deep.
After crossing several dunes, some with well-used campsites on the flat, we reached the junction with the French Line and enjoyed some lunch. We encountered another lone dingo on the track east of Purnie Bore, its ribs were obvious, but it didn’t seem too bothered by our vehicles.
We exited the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve and entered the Witjira National Park just prior to reaching Purnie Bore. Feeding from the Great Artesian Basin, the bore was recapped in 1987 to reduce the flow yet sustain the wildlife that relies on this permanent water source. This is one of the most popular campsites in the Simpson Desert.
The Spring Creek Road from Purnie Bore to Dalhousie Springs was severely corrugated, the worst we had encountered, and it made me wonder where does all the money paid for Desert Parks Passes go? We had a refreshing swim in the warm waters at Dalhousie, another popular campsite, before driving the short distance to the ruins of the Dalhousie Homestead. It’s well worth a visit with information boards explaining what life was like back in the late 1800s.
We made the final dash to Mount Dare via Bloods Creek, this may be a longer route but it’s less rough than the shorter track via Christmas Well. We pulled into Mount Dare as darkness fell and enjoyed a beautiful meal before trying to find a campsite in the dark. All up we’d travelled 697km from Birdsville in three solid days. The Simpson Desert is stunning, and you’ll never tire of getting out there and enjoying its beauty.