If Uluru is the spiritual heart of Australia, then surely the Simpson Desert is the dead heart. Explorer Charles Sturt described it as a “desperate region having no parallel on earth.”
But vacancy leads to beauty, and the beautiful, muted sunrises, broad, vacant vistas and truly magnificent, black, starry night skies make the Simpson a very special place indeed.
Vacated by the Aboriginals more than a century ago, it has never yet been settled by the Europeans who have so rapidly taken over the rest of the country. Australia’s driest region, stretching across three states (Qld, NT and SA), the Simpson is a sea of parallel red sand ridges between 300km and 500km long. The desert covers a total area of 170,000km2.
“Crossing the rollercoaster sand dunes of the Simpson Desert is one of the best Outback track trips I’ve ever done.”
– Tony Wheeler
If you want to conquer Big Red, you’ll start out at Birdsville (maybe after the races in September), and travel 36km to conquer a huge sand dune. You could then return to Birdsville for a cold beer at the famous Birdsville Hotel.
Alternatively, you could take on the great 4WD challenge of following the French Line – a road built in the early ’60s by French geological surveyors. It crosses the desert in an (almost) straight line of around 400km, ending in Dalhousie.
Did you know?
If you drive the French Line from Birdsville to Dalhousie (or the other way round), you’ll cross around 1200 dunes.
How to get there
All roads leading into Birdsville are unsealed. There are sealed roads up to 109 km west of Windorah, then 277 km of unsealed roads subject to flooding after heavy rain. The roads are open to conventional vehicles, but with caution.
Please ensure that you have excess fuel, water, food, medical supplies and spare tyres in case of an emergency.
Best time to go
In the middle of winter, when the weather is mild during the day. However, it can be very cold (zero degrees Celsius) at night, so be prepared.
For more information on Birdsville see Sink a few tinnies at the Birdsville Races.
Tips on how to tackle the French Line
** This is our original 100 Things to Do Before You Die. First published in 1996. There is an updated 100 Things To Do In Australia Before you die, published in 2011.