The Simpson Desert is a large area of dry, red sandy plain and dunes in the
Northern Territory The Northern Territory (NT; formally the Northern Territory of Australia) is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, ...
South Australia South Australia (abbreviated as SA) is a States and territories of Australia, state in the southern central part of Australia. It covers some of the most arid parts of the country. With a total land area of , it is the fourth-largest of Austral ...

South Australia
Queensland Queensland ( ) is a state situated in northeastern Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the ...

in central
Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australia (continent), Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous List of islands of Australia, sma ...

. It is the fourth-largest Australian desert, with an area of . The desert is underlain by the
Great Artesian Basin The Great Artesian Basin (GAB), located in Australia, is the largest and deepest Artesian aquifer, artesian basin in the world, stretching over , with measured water temperatures ranging from . The basin provides the only source of fresh wate ...

Great Artesian Basin
, one of the largest inland drainage areas in the world. Water from the basin rises to the surface at numerous natural springs, including
Dalhousie Springs Dalhousie Springs, also known as Witjira-Dalhousie Springs, is a group of over 60 natural artesian springs located in Witjira National Park on the western fringe of the Simpson Desert, 180 kilometres northeast of Oodnadatta, South Australia, Oodna ...

Dalhousie Springs
, and at
drilled along stock routes, or during
petroleum Petroleum, also known as crude oil and oil, is a naturally occurring, yellowish-black liquid A liquid is a nearly incompressible In fluid mechanics or more generally continuum mechanics, incompressible flow (isochoric process, isoc ...

exploration. As a result of exploitation by such bores, the flow of water to springs has been steadily decreasing in recent years. It is also part of the
Lake Eyre basin #REDIRECT Lake Eyre basin The Lake Eyre basin ( ) is a drainage basin that covers just under one-sixth of all Australia Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a Sovereign state, sovereign country comprising the mainland ...
. The Simpson Desert is an
erg The erg is a unit of energy equal to 10−7joule The joule ( ; symbol: J) is a SI derived unit, derived unit of energy in the International System of Units. It is equal to the energy transferred to (or work (physics), work done on) an objec ...
that contains the world's longest parallel
sand dunes A dune is a landform A landform is a natural or artificial feature of the solid surface of the Earth or other planetary body A planet is an astronomical body Astronomy (from el, ἀστρονομία, literally meaning the sc ...

sand dunes
. These north-south oriented dunes are static, held in position by vegetation. They vary in height from in the west to around on the eastern side. The largest dune, Nappanerica or Big Red, is in height.


Aboriginal history

Wangkangurru The Wangkangurru, also written Wongkanguru and Wangkanguru, are an Aboriginal Australian people of the Simpson Desert area in the state of South Australia. They also refer to themselves as Nharla. Country Norman Tindale estimated their tribal sw ...
people lived in the Simpson Desert using hand-dug wells called ''mikiri'' from long before European colonisation until the
Federation Drought In Australia, the Federation Drought is the name given to a prolonged period of drought that occurred around the time of Federation of Australia, Federation in 1901. Though often thought of as a long drought, until the record dry year of 1902 the ...


Charles Sturt Charles Napier Sturt (28 April 1795 – 16 June 1869) was a British officer and explorer of Australia, and part of the European exploration of Australia. He led several expeditions into the interior of the continent, starting from Sydney ...
, who visited the region from 1844 to 1846, was the first European to see the desert. In 1880, Augustus Poeppel, a surveyor with the South Australian Survey Department, determined the border between Queensland and South Australia to the west of
Haddon Corner Haddon Corner is a heritage-listed location (geography), site in Tanbar, Queensland, Tanbar, Shire of Barcoo, Queensland, Australia. It is in outback Channel Country at South-West Queensland, on the border corner with South Australia. It was a ...
, and in doing so, marked the corner point where the States of Queensland and South Australia meet the Northern Territory. After he returned to Adelaide, the links in his surveyor's chain ere found to have been stretched. Poeppel's border post was too far west by 300 m. In 1884, surveyor Larry Wells moved the post to its proper position on the eastern bank of Lake Poeppel. The tristate border is now known as
Poeppel Corner Poeppel Corner (known as Poeppel's Corner in Queensland) at latitude 26th parallel south, 26° S and longitude 138th meridian east, 138° E is a corner of state boundaries in Australia, where the state of Queensland meets South Australia and the ...
. In January 1886, surveyor David Lindsay ventured into the desert from the western edge, in the process discovering and documenting, with the help of a Wangkangurru Aboriginal man, 9 native wells, and travelling as far east as the Queensland/Northern Territory border. In 1936, Ted Colson became the first nonindigenous person to cross the desert in its entirety, riding camels. The name Simpson Desert was coined by
Cecil Madigan Cecil Thomas Madigan (15 October 1889 – 14 January 1947) was an Australian explorer and geologist, academic, aerial surveyor, meteorologist, author and officer of the British army. He was born in Renmark, South Australia. His family had associa ...

Cecil Madigan
, after Alfred Allen Simpson, an Australian industrialist, philanthropist, and geographer, and president of the South Australian branch of the
Royal Geographical Society of Australasia On 22 June 1883, the Geographical Society of Australasia started at a meeting in Sydney. A branch was formed in Victoria in the same year. In July 1885, both the Queensland and the South Australian branches started. In July 1886 the society became ...
. Mr Simpson was the owner of the Simpson washing machine company. In September 1962, geologist
Reg Sprigg Reginald Claude Sprigg, (1 March 1919 – 2 December 1994) was an Australian geologist A geologist is a scientist who studies the solid, liquid, and gaseous matter that constitutes Earth and other terrestrial planets, as well as the proce ...
, his wife Griselda, and their two children completed the first vehicular crossing of the desert. In 1980,
Bob Beer
Bob Beer
became the first person to run across the Simpson. Beer ran 420 km across the desert in 6.5 days, starting at Alka Seltzer Bore, South Australia and finishing at
Birdsville Birdsville is a rural town and Suburbs and localities (Australia), locality in the Shire of Diamantina, Queensland, Australia. In the the locality of Birdsville had a population of 140 people. It is a popular tourist destination with many peo ...
, Queensland. A documentary was made about this trip called “The Runner”. In 1984, Dennis Bartel was the first white man to successfully walk solo and unsupported west-to-east across the Simpson, 390 km in 24 days, relying on old Aboriginal wells for water. In 2006, Lucas Trihey was the first nonindigenous person to walk across the desert through the geographical centre away from vehicle tracks and unsupported. He carried all his equipment in a two-wheeled cart, and crossed from East Bore on the western edge of the desert to Birdsville in the east. In 2008, Michael Giacometti completed the first, and only, east-to-west walk across the Simpson Desert. Starting at Bedourie in Queensland, he walked solo and unsupported, towing all his equipment, food, and water in a two-wheeled cart to Old Andado homestead. Also in 2008, Belgian Louis-Philippe Loncke became the first non-indigenous person to complete a north–south crossing of the desert on foot, unsupported, and through the geographical centre. In 2016, explorer Sebastian Copeland and partner Mark George completed the longest unsupported latitudinal crossing (west-to-east across the dunes) of the Simpson They linked the Madigan Line, Colson Track and French Line (Simpson Desert), French Line for the first time, walking from Old Andado homestead to
Birdsville Birdsville is a rural town and Suburbs and localities (Australia), locality in the Shire of Diamantina, Queensland, Australia. In the the locality of Birdsville had a population of 140 people. It is a popular tourist destination with many peo ...
, a distance of in 26 days. In 1967, the Queensland government established the Munga-Thirri National Park, formerly known as the Simpson Desert National Park.


No maintained roads cross the desert. The Donohue Highway is an unpaved outback track passing from near Boulia, Queensland, Boulia towards the Northern Territory border in the north of the desert. Some tracks were created during seismic surveys in the search for gas and oil during the 1960s and 1970s. These include the French Line, the Rig Road, and the QAA Line. Such tracks are still navigable by well-equipped four-wheel drive vehicles that must carry extra fuel and water. Towns providing access to the South Australian edge of the Simpson Desert include Innamincka, South Australia, Innamincka to the south and Oodnadatta, South Australia, Oodnadatta to the southwest; and from the eastern (Queensland) side include Birdsville, Queensland, Birdsville, Bedourie, Queensland, Bedourie, Thargomindah, Queensland, Thargomindah, and Windorah, Queensland, Windorah. The last fuel on the western side is at the Mount Dare hotel and store. Before 1980, a section of the Adelaide-Darwin railway, Commonwealth Railways Central Australian line passed along the western side of the Simpson Desert.

Visitor attractions

The desert is popular with tourists, particularly in winter, and popular landmarks include the ruins and mound springs at
Dalhousie Springs Dalhousie Springs, also known as Witjira-Dalhousie Springs, is a group of over 60 natural artesian springs located in Witjira National Park on the western fringe of the Simpson Desert, 180 kilometres northeast of Oodnadatta, South Australia, Oodna ...

Dalhousie Springs
, Purnie Bore wetlands, Approdinna Attora Knoll and Poeppel Corner (where Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory meet). Because of the excessive heat and inadequately experienced drivers attempting to access the desert in the past, the Department for Environment and Natural Resources (South Australia), Department of Environment and Natural Resources has decided since 2008–2009 to close the Simpson Desert during the summer – to save unprepared "adventurers" from themselves. Another attraction is the Big Red Bash, which is billed as the most remote music festival on Earth. The event features concerts and a Big Red Bash drag race across sand dunes to raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. The desert can also be crossed by bicycle. The Simpson Desert Bike Challenge crosses the Simpson Desert every year in September.


The area has an extremely hot, dry desert climate. Rainfall is minimal, averaging only about 150 mm per year and falling mainly in summer. Temperatures in summer can approach 50 °C and large sand storms are common. Winters are generally cool, but heatwaves even in the middle of July are not unheard of. Some of the heaviest rain in decades occurred during 2009–2010, and caused the Simpson Desert to burst into life and colour. In early March 2010, Birdsville recorded more rain in 24 hours than is usual in a whole year. Rain inundated Queensland's north-west and Gulf regions. In total, 17 million megalitres of water entered the Sstate's western river systems, leading to Lake Eyre. In 2010, researchers uncovered the courses of ancient river systems under the desert.


The Simpson Desert is also a large part of the World Wildlife Fund ecoregion of the same name, which consists of the Channel Country and the Simpson Strzelecki Dunefields bioregions of the Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia (IBRA).IBRA Version 6.1
The flora of the Simpson Desert ecoregion is limited to drought-resistant shrubs and grasses, especially ''Zygochloa paradoxa'' grass that holds the dunes together and the Triodia (plant genus), spinifex and other tough grasses of side slopes and sandy desert floor between the dunes. The Channel Country section of the ecoregion lies to the northeast of the desert proper around the towns of Bedourie and Windorah in Queensland, and consists of low hills covered with Astrebla, Mitchell grass cut through with rivers lined with Eucalyptus coolabah, coolabah trees. The ecoregion also includes areas of rocky upland and seasonally wet clay and salt pans, particularly Lake Eyre, the centre of one of the largest inland drainage systems in the world, including the Georgina and Diamantina Rivers. Wildlife adapted to this hot, dry environment and seasonal flooding includes the water-holding frog (''Litoria platycephala'') and a number of reptiles that inhabit the desert grasses. Endemic mammals of the desert include the kowari (''Dasycercus byrnei''), while birds include the grey grasswren (''Amytornis barbatus'') and Eyrean grasswren (''Amytornis goyderi''). Lake Eyre and the other seasonal wetlands are important habitats for fish and birds, especially as a breeding ground for waterbirds, while the rivers are home to birds, bats, and frogs. The seasonal wetlands of the ecoregion include Lake Eyre and the Coongie Lakes, as well as the swamps that emerge when Cooper Creek, Strzelecki Creek, and the Diamantina River are in flood. The birds that use these wetlands include the freckled duck (''Stictonetta naevosa''), musk duck (''Biziura lobata''), silver gull (''Larus novaehollandiae''), Australian pelican (''Pelecanus conspicillatus''), great egret (''Ardea alba''), glossy ibis (''Plegadis falcinellus''), and banded stilt (''Cladorhynchus leucocephalus''). Also, the mound springs of the Great Artesian Basin are important habitat for a number of plants, fish, snails, and other invertebrates. Native vegetation is largely intact as the desert is uninhabitable, so habitats are not threatened by agriculture, but are damaged by introduced species, particularly rabbits and feral camels. The only human activity in the desert proper has been the construction of the gas pipelines, while the country on its fringes has been used for cattle grazing and contains towns such as Innamincka, South Australia, Innamincka. Mound springs and other waterholes are vulnerable to overuse and damage. Protected areas of the ecoregion include the Simpson Desert National Park, Simpson Desert, Goneaway National Park, Goneaway, Lochern National Park, Lochern, Bladensburg National Park, Bladensburg, Witjira National Park, Witjira and Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre National Parks as well as the Innamincka Regional Reserve, and the Munga-Thirri–Simpson Desert National Park. Ethabuka Reserve is a nature reserve in the north of the desert owned and managed by Bush Heritage Australia.Ethabuka Reserve
Bush Heritage Australia. Retrieved 12 February 2013.


The extensive dunefields of the Simpson Desert display a range of colours from brilliant white to dark red, and include pinks and oranges.


The sand ridges have a trend of SSE-NNW and continue parallel for great distances. This pattern is seen throughout the deserts of Australia. Some of the ridges continue unbroken for up to 200 km. The height and the spacing between the ridges are directly related. Where five to six ridges occur in 1 km, the dune height is around 15 m, but when only one or two ridges occur in 1 km, the height jumps to 35–38 m. In cross section, the lee side is the eastern slope with an incline of 34-38°, while the Ripple marks#Definitions, stoss side is the western slope with an incline of only 10-20°. In cross section, the cross beds are planar with foreset bed, foresets alternating between east and west. The foresets have incline angles of 10-30°.


The sand is predominately made up of quartz grains, which are Roundness (geology), rounded and subangular. They range in size from 0.05 to 1.2 mm with 0.5 mm being the typical size for the crests and 0.3 mm being the average size on the dune flanks. The active crests have sand sediment, but on the interdunes, the sediment is not as well sorted. The sediment varies in color from pink to brick red, but by the rivers and playas, the sediment color is light grey. The progression of the color from grey to red is due to the release of iron oxide from the sediment when weathered.

See also

*Australasian realm *Ecoregions of Australia *List of deserts by area *Simpson Desert Important Bird Area


External links

Trek notes for The Simpson Desert (ExplorOz)Into the Simpson Desert: Join veteran desert archaeologist Dr Mike Smith on an expedition into the remote southern Simpson Desert (2007) - includes audio blog, expedition slideshow and photo diary
National Museum of Australia {{Authority control Deserts of Australia Ergs Deserts of the Northern Territory Deserts of Queensland Deserts of South Australia Lake Eyre basin Central Queensland Far North (South Australia) Australian outback tracks Ecoregions of South Australia Ecoregions of Queensland Ecoregions of the Northern Territory IBRA subregions Biogeography of Queensland Biogeography of the Northern Territory Biogeography of South Australia 1930s neologisms