Queensland, South Australia, Trip Report

Crossing the Simpson Desert: Our Experience

Driving across the Simpson Desert is a bucket-list trip for any keen 4-wheel-drive owner. It’s been on the cards for us since we did our trip to Cape York roughly 12 months ago. Around Christmas time we decided we’d make it happen this year. We spent our spare time for the next 6 months getting the car ready, planning our camp and car storage set-ups, and investigating all we needed to know about the Desert. I can now say with certainty that it’s been worth it! We had a fantastic time, and the Simpson will go down in the memory bank as one of the most unforgettable places we’ve seen.

 

Getting to Birdsville

Based in Brisbane, we had roughly 1600 kilometres to make it out to Birdsville before the adventure really began. Most of the trip out is bitumen, so we opted to get some solid driving done at the start of our trip and cover the distance in 3 days. We spent the first night in Mitchell. Taking the easy option, we stayed at the caravan park in a cabin. Doing this allowed us to get away early on our second day rather than spending time packing up a tent. We were also rather grateful to escape the chilly overnight temperatures indoors!

 

We made it to Windorah for our second night. If you find yourself in the area looking for a camp you can’t beat the Cooper Creek bush camping area! This spot is something special. Only roughly 10 kilometres east of the township there’s camping either side of the Cooper creek, on both the north and south sides of the road. And the best part? Its completely free! We were also pretty impressed with the Windorah Solar Farm – you can’t miss it heading into town.

 

Cooper Creek Windorah
Our campsite at the Cooper Creek Bush Camp, Windorah

 

Our third day was just under 500 kilometres of driving, taking us to Birdsville via Haddon Corner. With two other state corners on the itinerary (Poeppel Corner in the Simpson and Cameron Corner on the list roughly a week later) we couldn’t miss the opportunity to add Haddon Corner to our trip. If you’re planning to visit Haddon Corner keep in mind it’ll add roughly 100 kilometres to your trip, and there’s some rough gravel and a couple of small sand dunes to tackle.

 

Sign to Haddon Corner
The sign at the turn-off to Haddon Corner

 

Haddon Corner
The marker for Haddon Corner

 

Heading out from Birdsville

Birdsville Caravan Park has such an interesting mix of people. While there’s certainly a lot of “grey nomad” travellers with caravans, we also met a few other travellers in tents, roof-top tents and campers. It was great having the opportunity to swap some stories with others we spoke to.

 

Dinner that night was at the iconic Birdsville Pub. The pub is a little touristy these days, with food prices similar to what we’d spend in Brisbane, but it is worth a look. In typical outback pub style there’s old hats pinned to the ceiling, framed newspaper articles, and a clock that’s always on 5 o’clock. I don’t think a trip to Birdsville is complete without a stop in here.

 

Birdsville Hotel
The iconic Birdsville Hotel

 

We witnessed such an awe-inspiring sunrise at Birdsville! Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera handy so I had to resort to snapping a quick photo on my iPhone. The outback is definitely “big sky country” with great opportunities for astrophotography and amazing sunrises and sunsets!

 

Birdsville Sunrise
Sunrise at Birdsville Caravan Park

 

We purchased our permit – the Desert Parks Pass – from the Birdsville Roadhouse, mounted our sand flag on the bullbar, and stopped in at the Birdsville Bakery on our way out of town. The curried camel pie is definitely worth a try. I’d rank it up there with some of the best pies I’ve had! Seeing the roads we needed were open, we were on our way to tackle Big Red and experience all the Simpson had to offer.

 

Road are Open
A welcomed sign to see – all the roads we needed to take were open

 

Big Red and Munga-Thirri National Park

Big Red marks the start of the Simpson Desert, and is the biggest dune you’ll come across. I was rather pleased to see a little Jimny proudly parked up top, being a fellow Jimny owner myself! Apparently it made it up one of the harder tracks not long before we came along. We also met a few travellers who’d left their vans back in Birdsville, keen to come out to Big Red for a bit of a challenge. We were grateful to be out there mere weeks before the Big Red bash, where thousands of people descend on the area for the music festival!

 

Big Red
The Big Red sand dune – it’s bigger than it looks!

 

The trip along the QAA line through Munga-Thirri National Park takes a good part of the day. We left Birdsville at roughly 10AM and only made it to Poeppel Corner just in time for sunset! It is one of the easier parts of the desert to drive through, with wide flats between the soft sand dunes. Camping is allowed in the Munga-Thirri National Park, but permits are necessary and are not covered by the Desert Parks Pass. As South Australia have recently banned the flying of drones in their National Parks, I took the opportunity to get a drone photo while still on the Queensland side of the border. It really makes you appreciate just how remote the country is out there!

 

Munga-Thirri National Park
Drone view of Munga-Thirri National Park

 

We pulled into Poeppel Corner just in time for sunset and were grateful to be the only ones spending the night there. Having not purchased camping permits for Munga-Thirri National Park we were relieved to make it with only minimal daylight left to set up camp.

 

Poeppel Corner
Poeppel Corner at sundown with the salt lake in view

 

Crossing the Simpson Desert

Heading west from Poeppel Corner you have no choice but to follow the French Line. We knew we’d see some traffic on this track, but did not expect the number of vehicles and motorbikes that were heading east! The Finke Desert Race had finished days earlier. We saw a car or motorbike roughly every 5-10 minutes!

 

French Track
Driving the French Line – never ending soft dunes

 

We chose to head south along Knoll’s Track, both to escape the traffic and chewed up tracks and to see some different scenery. Others warned us of the track being quite windy, but we did not expect it to be so slow! Between the hairpin turns and rough sections we could only maintain a very slow speed. After reading in the Desert Parks Pass Handbook that the WAA line wasn’t recommended for single vehicles we continued to the Rig Road. The Rig Road was such a welcome change! We made up time nicely on the firmer, straighter track. It is definitely the easiest track in the Simpson, thanks to capping of the dunes with clay. Upon reaching Erabena Track we headed south to take a look at the Lone Gum.

 

Lone Gum
The Lone Gum

 

We decided to head north, assuming we’d likely head to the French Line and continue west from there. After meeting several other travellers along the way who’d tackled the WAA Line we decided to give it a go. It’s known for big, soft dunes and on that it certainly delivers! With tyres at 15PSI we crawled our way up even the most challenging dunes without issue. We camped mid-way along the WAA line with a campfire and amazing sky full of stars.

 

Night Sky in the Simpson Desert
The Simpson Desert at night, bathed in campfire light

 

Heading out of the Simpson to Mount Dare

Having enjoyed the WAA line and Rig Roads we continued west, only rejoining the French Line when we had to. We’d heard the heavier than usual traffic from the Finke race had continued and were thankful for the quieter, less damaged tracks.

 

Rig Road
Near the end of the Rig Road

 

The last section of the French Line was better than we’d anticipated. We made good time thanks to the smoother tracks and covered a lot of kilometres. We had considered spending a night at Dalhousie Springs, though with recent changes requiring pre-booking and no permit we had to push on. Mt. Dare was our stop for the night – we made it there just on dark.

 

Mt. Dare
Mt. Dare Hotel – a welcome sight after a big day of driving

 

Since Birdsville we’d covered nearly 600 kilometres and used around 120 litres of diesel. Our dual long-range fuel tanks meant we didn’t have to worry about fuel, but many others rely on refilling from jerry cans to make it across. Mt. Dare had run out of both petrol and diesel days before we arrived leaving some travellers stranded until the fuel truck came through! Its always best to expect the unexpected when travelling remotely. Ensuring you carry plenty of fuel, water, and food as a minimum is essential.

 

We enjoyed the friendly service and a fantastic steak – apparently from a neighbouring station – at the Mt. Dare Hotel. Inside the pub there’s stubby coolers strung from the ceiling and a resident dog who’ll look hopefully your way as you eat your meal. A hot shower was also greatly appreciated after bush camping in the desert for a couple nights!

 

Dalhousie Springs – a desert oasis

Well-fed and re-fuelled, the following morning we made the trek back to Dalhousie Springs. Its roughly 70 kilometres of very rough roads – expect wash-outs and large stones! But the back-tracking was definitely worth it. The spring is such a welcome sight. Surrounded by such remote, arid country you wouldn’t expect to find such a beautiful oasis! The spring is a large waterhole at around 38 degrees Celsius – perfect to float around on a pool noodle and relax, even in winter! There are small fish that live in the spring, and others report the fish nibbling on them as they swim. I’d considered that a little off-putting. Thankfully, when we were there the fish were actually hard to find and showed no interest in us.

 

Dalhousie Springs
Dalhousie Springs

 

From Dalhousie Springs we headed to the Oodnadatta Track for the next part of our adventure. We continued our travels down the Oodnadatta Track, Strzelecki Track, around Innamincka, Cameron Corner, Broken Hill, part of the Darling River Run, and home via St. George. And somehow we managed to do it all in 3 weeks! We had an amazing time, saw so many incredible places, and I can’t wait to share it with you all in future blog posts. If you’re keen to stay up to date with our travels make sure you subscribe to our blog and check out our other trip reports.

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