Want a challenge this winter? Four wheel driving the South Australian section of the vast, timeless Simpson Desert could be the adventure you’re seeking. Drive from Adelaide along the Stuart Highway, then take the Oodnadatta Track to tiny Oodnadatta. From the Northern Territory, you can four wheel drive to Mt Dare or Poeppel Corner, also an entry point from Queensland.
However you approach, you’ll need a four wheel drive, a desert parks pass and plenty of supplies. Relax in natural artesian springs in Witjira National Park. Discover salt-crusted lakes in Simpson Desert Regional Reserve. See the Lone Gum in Simpson Desert Conservation Park. A journey through the Simpson Desert is real-world Survivor stuff. It can’t be attempted during summer due to the dangerous temperatures, and it requires lots of methodical planning. But the rewards are as enormous as the desert itself.
It’s recommended you cross the desert from west to east, so Witjira National Park on the western edge is a good place to start. Swim or just relax in the warm, therapeutic waters of Dalhousie Springs, where more than 70 mounds feed directly from the Great Artesian Basin. Like Ernest Giles, who was the first European here in 1894, you’ll love this huge, heated billabong in natural surrounds. Sit still and watch schools of small fish dart around you. Walk around the main spring past reeds, bulrushes and paperbark trees. At the popular camping spot nearby, you can pitch your tent beneath date palms planted by Afghan cameleers. Or camp at Purni Bore, where the run-off has created a wetland area filled with birds and frequented by a steady stream of camels, dingoes and rabbits. Explore the ruins of Dalhousie Homestead and check out the abandoned Macumba oil well.
From here, you can drive the French Line or the clay-topped Rig Road into Simpson Desert Conservation Park, right in the desert’s centre. Follow the Rig Road to the Lone Gum, a solitary Coolabah tree that’s determined to thrive, despite being hundreds of kilometers from the nearest watercourse. Walk into three states in two strides at Poeppel Corner. Visit the two flat-topped hills of the Approdinna Attora Knolls, once the highest dune crests in the area. Soak up the iconic Simpson scenery: soaring sand dunes, spinifex grasslands, gidgee woodland and bold bursts of wildflowers after the rain.
The alienscapes continue in the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve, which covers more than two million hectares of Australia’s driest land. See white, salt-crusted playa lakes and red sand dunes stretching to the horizon in graceful, symmetrical lines. Marvel at the sturdy creatures who live in the spinifex grasses. There are eyerean grass wrens, zebra finches, Australian bustards, hopping mice and marsupial moles, as well as more than 150 species of birds.
For help planning a safe adventure with minimal environmental impact, contact the South Australian Department for Environment and Natural Resources. Or let someone else do the organisation, and join a four wheel drive tour from Adelaide or Port Augusta. You could even cut out the wheels altogether and see the awe-inspiring Simpson Desert on a scenic flight from William Creek. Create your own experience, but just be ready for a true winter adventure.