Simpson Desert National Park
The striking colours and landscapes of the Simpson Desert attract many visitors to the area.
Visiting the desert is a memorable experience but requires careful preparation and extreme caution as the area is remote and very arid.
The Simpson Desert occupies about 200 000sq. km of central Australia, mostly in the Northern Territory’s south-east.
Queensland’s Simpson Desert National Park covers 10 000sq. km of the north-east portion of this arid, but far from lifeless, expanse of parallel sand dunes. It is the state’s largest protected area and adjoins South Australia’s Simpson Desert Conservation Park and Simpson Desert Regional Reserve.
The desert landscape is dominated by parallel, wind-blown sand dunes up to 20m high, running north-north-west to south-south-east. Dunes are spaced about 1km apart and may extend up to 200km.
Inter-dunal areas are occupied by claypans and saltpans, sand drifts and plains, and in eastern areas, gibber-ironstone flats. Dust storms are common in dry times.
Climate Seasonal and daily temperature ranges are extreme. Birdsville’s average maximum temperature in January is 39° C but in the desert temperatures can exceed 50° C. Winter mornings can be freezing.
The area’s average annual rainfall is less than 150mm. The months April-September are usualy fine, although rain may fall in any month. No permanent surface water occurs on the park.
Vegetation and wildlife Despite the harsh conditions, the park conserves suitable habitat for a range of species which have adapted to the desert environment. Sandhill canegrass stabilises the loose sand on crests and provides a home for the elusive Eyrean grasswren. Lizards shelter from predators in spiky, rounded clumps of lobbed spinifex.
Georgina gidgee, a rounded wattle tree, occurs extensively in the dune swales on the Queensland side of the desert. It can emit a strong and offensive odour after rain.
Over 180 bird species, ranging from tiny insect-and seed-eating wrens to large birds of prey, are believed to occur throughout the desert and its margins.
The desert is home to the mulgara, a small, carnivorous marsupial with a distinctive crest of short black hairs on its tail. It is listed as vulnerable in Queensland.
Simpson Desert National Park is very remote.
For your safety ensure that you:
>> inform a responsible person of your itinerary;
>> carry adequate supplies of food, water, fuel, vehicle spares and medical supplies;
>> travel with at least one other vehicle;
>> have a suitable two-way radio installed in your 4WD vehicle;
>> do not leave the marked tracks;
>> are familiar with all aspects of your equipment and reasonably experienced with inland Australian conditions;
>> have one person in your group with a sound mechanical knowledge of your vehicle; and
>> do not travel through the Simpson Desert in the hotter months from November to March.
Many outback roads are unsealed and become impassable when wet. Check access details via the latest Desert Parks Bulletin on 1800 816 078 (free call).
Access From Birdsville take the old Birdsville track and turn west 1km south of the police station. The first 35km or road west from Birdsville to the "Big Red" dune is a formed shire road. The remaining 130km to Poeppel Corner requires a 4WD vehicle. It traverses loose sand dunes and may take 5-6 hours to cross. (see Safe desert driving section).
Please note that the track from Birdsville to the park boundary passes through private property Stay on the marked route unless you have gained permission from the landholder to do otherwise.
Vehicles must remain on the QAA line within the park. However, you can camp within 500m either side of this track unless otherwise indicated. Numbered posts within the park mark sites for the self-guiding drive.
A Desert Parks Pass is required for travel in the South Australian part of the Simpson Desert. This pass contains maps and useful information on desert travel. It can be purchased from the following office:
Queensland National Parks and Wildlife Service
Corner of Billabong Boulevard and Jardine Street
BIRDSVILLE QLD 4482 Phone: (07) 4656 3272 Fax: (07) 4656 3273
Park facilities There are no toilets, walking tracks or structured camping grounds. Vehicle tracks on the park are unformed, old mining/seismic exploration tracks. The closest food and fuel supply is Birdsville.
Camping Camping is permiteed within 500m of the QAA Line. A camping permit is required and must be obtained in advance. It can be paid for by cash, cheque or money order.
Safe desert driving
The following are some useful hints: Sand on the dune crests is constantly moving, creating steep drops, depressions and humps. Take care when crossing dunes
Approach dune crests with caution and look along the track for oncoming vehicles. Attach a flag to the highest point of your vehicle (eg. The radio aerial) to make your vehicle much more visible on crests.
Reduced tyre pressure may improve traction in soft sand. If you choose to deflate tyres, check tyre manufacturer’s recommendations, consider weight and load of vehicle, reduce speed, avoid sudden turns and drive to suit the weather and surface conditions.
Reinflate tyres immediately conditions improve.
Dunes are easier to cross when the sand is cool in the morning and late afternoon.
Gusty winds often create dust storms with little warning. Do not drive when visibility is poor.
Saltpans are composed of a thin, salty loam crust, overlying soft, black, sticky mud. Stay on the defined track and take care.
Self-guiding drive Ten sites have been marked with numbered brown posts along the track between the eastern park boundary and Poeppels Corner. These desert sites are described below:
B = Distance from the park boundary P = Distance from Poeppels Corner
Park boundary and vermin fence ( B = 0.0km P = 92.6km )
During the late 1880s an 800km fence was built in western Queensland in an attempt to prevent the rapidly expanding rabbit population from spreading further north. One leg of this ran north from the South Australian-Queensland border 20km west of Eyre Creek to a point about 240km north of Poeppels Corner. The fence failed to stem the rabbit’s advance and now, half buried by sand, it marks part of the park’s eastern boundary.
Mr E A Colson, who made the first recorded crossing of the desert from east to west in 1936, reported:
"I came upon the remains of the old rabbit-proof fence, which was erected over fifty years ago by the Vermin Control Board … From the skeletons … the rabbits must have invaded the country in millions, although the very few I saw were alive as I crossed the Desert".
On some sections of fence the migrating sand has covered all but a few posts, allowing the rabbits free access.
Spinifex dune ( B = 2.0km P = 90.6km ) The dunes in the north of the park are dominated by spinifex Triodia basedowii. This is one of the few dunes along the track where spinifex occurs. This perennial grass is well adapted to arid environments. To help limit water loss due to transpiration, spinifex leaves have a waxy cuticle and are curled to reduce the surface area. The older clumps can be recognised by their ring shape. The spiky exterior of spinifex provides a formidable barrier to predators hunting small mammals and lizards.
Clay pan ( B = 10.1km P = 82.5km ) Small claypans or playas are common in interdunal areas adjacent to the Eyre Creek system. They are formed when windblown sand invades drainage lines and traps water. Occasionally floodwater runoff fills these playas, allowing the unusual shield or tadpole shrimp to breed. These prehistoric-looking creatures spend most of their lives as encysted eggs waiting for rain. When the playas and puddles fill, the eggs hatch and the animals grow and breed, all in a few short months before the water disappears once again.
Georgina gidgee interdunes ( B = 20.1km P = 72.5km ) Georgina gidgee Acacia georginae is the only tree of any size that occurs in the park’s dune system. Coolibah Eucalyptus coolabah occurs to the east of the park boundary in theEyre Creek channels. Georgina gidgee occurs throughout the Georgina Basin. The tree contains sodium fluroacetate, the active constituent in the poison 1080. This poison is widely used for feral animal control.
Canegrass dune ( B = 31.8km P = 60.8km ) Sandhill canegrass Zygochloa paradoxa is an extremely drought-resistant species which plays an important role in stabilising dunes and trapping windborne sand. It is the dominant dune species in the park, providing cover for many of the smaller birds and hidden entrances for the burrows of small mammals.
The white-winged fairy-wren often frequents clumps of this grass. Males of this species are a distinctive sky blue with white wings. Much harder to see are Eyrean grasswrens whick also live in canegrass.
Saltbush flats ( B = 41.5km P = 51.1km ) Saltbush species, genus Atriplex, are extremely common herbaceous shrubs in arid Australia. Four types of saltbush occur at this site – all of which produce fruit. Bladder saltbush Atriplex vesicaria, lagoon saltbush A. suberecta, pop saltbush A. leptocarpa, and oldman saltbush A. nummularia. These plants have a high salt tolerance and salt content. The latter gives them a characteristic salty taste.
Gypcrete interdune ( B = 54.3km P = 38.3km ) As saline ground water evaporates gypsum crystals form a crust known as gypcrete. These crusts occur most often in the lower parts of desert basins adjacent to dried salt lakes. Gypcrete can only develop in arid environments as high rainfall would dissolve the sulphates. Please do not drive on these crumbly surfaces as the tyre track imprints will remain for many years.
Narrow-leaved hopbush ( B = 64.3km P = 28.3km ) The narrow-leaved hopbush Dodonaea attenuata is a very common shrub in the dunefields. It is an opportunistic species and is common in disturbed environments. Overgrazing of other plants by rabbits is thought to be responsible for its abundance in this locality. Ants are attracted to the slightly sticky, glossy leaves. Other plants here include desert cassia Cassia nemophila, white spear or wire grass Aristida sp. and canegrass Zygochloa paradoxa.
Saltpan ( B = 72.0km P = 20.6km ) You are now about two kilometres west of the Queensland-Northern Territory border. This saltpan, or playa, is the largest on this section of the QAA seismic line. Playas form when trapped floodwaters evaporate, leaving a crust of salt. Many of the saltpans are criss-crossed with camels’ large plate-like prints. Plants growing in these saline areas have close affinities with the salt marshes of coastal regions. The most obvious of these is samphire Halosarcia indica, a succulent plant without leaves. The nodule-like branch tips (phyllodes) function as leaves.
Poeppels Corner ( B = 92.6km P = 0.0km ) Poeppels Corner, at the intersection of the 26° S and the 138° E, marks the junction of South Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory. It was first marked with a wooden post by Augustus Poeppel in 1876 at the end of his survey of the South Australian-Northern Territory border.
The original corner post was rediscovered in 1962 by Dr Rex Spriggs who made the first motorised crossing of the Simpson Desert. It is now held in the South Australian Art Gallery and the corner is marked by its modern equivalent.
Caring for the Simpson Desert
Please protect the park.
Leave everything as you find it. This includes plants, animals, rocks, ruins and artefacts.
Firearms and other weapons must be dismantled and packed out of sight. They cannot be used in national parks.
Use fuel stoves to reduce the need for firewood. Wood provides homes for wildlife and nutrients for the soil. Ensure your fire is out before you leave it.
Leave pets outside the park. They frighten wildlife, annoy other visitors and can become lost.
Remore your rubbish from the park. Buried rubbish is dug up by dingoes. Leave campsites clean and tidy.
Bury toilet waste 15cm deep.
National parks are protected area under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Penalties apply for breaches of the Act.
Simpson Desert National Park
Corner of Billabong Boulevard and Jardine Street BIRDSVILLE QLD 4482
Phone: (07) 4656 3272, (07) 4656 3249 Fax: (07) 4656 3273
Longreach District Office
PO Box 202 LONGREACH QLD 4730 Phone: (07) 4658 1761 Fax: (07) 4658 1860