Know before you go: Simpson Desert
The Simpson is one of the few real outback 4WD experiences left in Australia – but make sure you’re prepared.
The Simpson Desert is often called the Holy Grail of four-wheel driving in South Australia.
More than 1200 kilometres from Adelaide, it lies at the border of SA, the Northern Territory and Queensland, and covers more than 170,000 square kilometres.
In SA, it is split into three parks – Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve, and the eastern section of Witjira National Park.
With its massive parallel dunes that can stretch for up to 200 km, dazzling salt pans, huge open spaces and a clear view of the Milky Way when the sun goes down, the desert is stunning by day and night.
It also has a rich Aboriginal heritage and is home to the Wangkangurru people.
Despite its dry appearance, the Simpson has a surprising array of wildlife, including reptiles such as the sand goanna and central bearded dragon, mammals like the fat-tailed dunnart and ampurta, and even dingoes. There are also feral pests such as camels and foxes.
After rain, it becomes a birdwatcher’s paradise, with 195 species of birds recorded there, from zebra finches to wedge-tailed eagles. Even water birds can congregate around seasonal waterholes and the temporary lakes that appear on the salt pans.
A good downpour also means that the desert can be swiftly covered in wildflowers such as poached egg daisies and fleshy groundsel, which has a vibrant yellow daisy-like bloom.
The conservation park is also home to a series of fragile gypsum outcrops known as the Approdinna Attora Knolls. They are of great spiritual significance to the local Aboriginal people, as well as being geologically important.
The ideal time to visit the Simpson is from May to October, when temperatures are lower. For safety reasons, both the conservation park and regional reserve are closed from 1 December to 15 March, when temperatures can soar past 50 degrees Celsius.
Access to the Simpson and Witjira is only permitted by purchasing a yearly Desert Parks Pass per vehicle, which includes entry and camping, as well as maps, park information and a safety handbook.
Tracks are only suitable for high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles, and it is preferable to go with at least one other car and carry a CB radio set to Channel 10, plus a satellite phone or high-frequency (HR) radio and an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) in case of emergency.
All vehicles entering the park must also attach 2.9 metre fluorescent sand flags to improve visibility.
If you would rather have an expert guide on your desert odyssey, a number of commercial operators run Simpson tours, from chauffeured safaris to tag-along tours that allow you to drive yourself.
Get up to date information and check the National Parks South Australia website before you go.
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