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Exploring the Surreal Beauty of Australia's Simpson Desert

A flat, barren desert notable for its sand dunes and red dusty landscape, Australia’s Simpson Desert covers an area of 176,500 square kilometres. It’s only the fourth largest desert in Australia, but it’s also one of the most frequently visited due to its well-travelled tracks and parallel sand dunes which shift in the wind. The desert stretches from the Northern Territory all the way down to South Australia, criss-crossed with beaten tracks, parallel sand dunes, and the occasional natural springs that pop up along the way. Enjoy a trip into Australia’s red central heartland by touring the Simpson Desert, and you’ll find that the desert has its own rhythm and patterns.
Image by Temsabuita

Must-See Sights

A good home base for further exploration of the desert is the city of Alice Springs, which is accessible by bus or plane from other major cities. Many of the desert’s most intriguing sights can be visited on a day trip from Alice Springs, including the red sandstone of the Chambers Pillar. Rising up out of the flat red base of the desert, the pillar showcases the names of 19th century explorers who navigated this region. Another popular attraction accessible from Alice Springs is the Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve. If you’re interested in learning more about the area’s rich Aboriginal culture, this reserve is a great place to start. It is home to a range of rock carvings and ancient petroglyphs. Finally, don’t miss the sight of Rainbow Valley, a sandstone bluff marked by coloured rings which come alive in the sunshine.

Planning Ahead for a Road Trip

If you want to explore the depths of the Simpson Desert by car, you’ll need to plan ahead before departure. It’s best to attempt this journey during the months of May and October, so you can avoid the extreme heat of the desert in summer. Tracks are also closed between December 1 and March 15 due to poor driving conditions. If you plan to enter the Simpson Desert Conservation Park, you’ll need to purchase a Desert Parks Pass in advance. Be sure to choose a vehicle that’s well-equipped for the harsh desert terrain. It’s helpful to compare off-roading options at a local reviews site like before selecting a vehicle so that you’re sure it’s up for the challenge. Your car will need plenty of storage space for supplies, along with high ground clearance and tyres suitable for all seasons. Finally, don’t forget to bring plenty of extra water for your journey. Due to the remote location, it may be awhile before help can reach you in the event of a breakdown.
Image by David Adamec

Popular Routes for Crossing

One of the Simpson Desert’s biggest attractions is its network of parallel sand dunes, which is the largest in the world. There are over 1100 sand dunes to cross, with many different routes to choose from. One option is to take the Rig Road. Although this is the longest route, it is one of the easiest. Popular routes also include the French and QAA line, but because this route is so popular you may find that it’s harder to cross due to deeper tracks.
Naturally, you can experience the shifting colours and mesmerizing lines of the desert without crossing it on your own. There are organized tours allowing you to leave the driving in the hands of an expert, and many of the desert’s most iconic sights are a relatively short distance from Alice Springs. No matter how you approach the Simpson Desert, it’s sure to enchant you.


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