Visit a REAL outback oasis
How about a trip to a true oasis in the outback?
Nestled on the edge of the Simpson Desert, Witjira National Park is a surprising mix of adventure, bubbling artesian springs and history.
It’s one of our favourite places in the outback, so we’ve put together a page full of handy tips on what to see, do, and how to get this must-see outback destination.
Why Visit Witjira National Park?
Quite simply, it’s a place you DON’T want to miss.
There’s hot springs to swim in, historic ruins and the Old Ghan Railway to explore, the majesty of the Simpson Desert and a couple of fabulous places to camp and kick back.
What’s more, Witjira is a great place to visit if you’re new to travelling off road in remote areas and want to practice your driving or bush camping.
You’ll get a taste of what it’s like to visit the really, really remote outback and have a huge desert adventure – without needing loads of experience or equipment.
The Park is located in an ideal place: you can drive in from the Stuart Highway or even up from Oodnadatta Track in less than a day.
Then, of course, there’s Dalhousie Springs. This is main reason that many people visit.
Dalhousie Springs are a delicious surprise in the middle of a parched desert landscape.
They’re a series of mound springs where water from deep underground bubbles to the surface and forms pools that you can take swim in. The pools are warm-to hot (around 38 degree Celsius), and there’s a popular campground here, complete with showers and toilets.
It’s a great treat to take a swim in these hot springs after a crisp, chilly winter’s day.
See and Do?
Witjira National Park is big and there’s a lot to see here.
The National Park itself 7,770 square kilometres of gibber, sand dunes, stony tablelands and floodplain country on the western edge of the Simpson Desert. It’s also home to one of Australia’s smallest deserts, the Pedirka Desert.
First off, we recommend that you allow two nights at Witjira if you’re wanting to get the most from your visit.
Two nights will give you time for lots of relaxed swimming in the hot springs, visiting the historic ruins, a trip to Mt Dare for a beer or two, and a chance to visit some of the historic old Ghan Railway sidings – very much worth a visit.
Before you head out, you’ll need to pick up a Desert Parks Pass to stay at Dalhousie Springs.
As of 2017, these cost $160 per annum, and allow you free entry into and paid camping fees in all of South Australia’s magic desert parks.
Get a Desert Parks Pass here.
To visit Witjira, it’s $8.50 park entry, plus $12 per vehicle, per night. Passes are available from Mt Dare and the Pink Roadhouse, Oodnadatta) or to enter the Simpson Desert and visit Purnie Bore.
UPDATE JUNE 2017: South Australian National Parks now require you to book campsites online, in advance.
Click here to go to the SA National Parks website to book a campsite.
Dalhousie Springs is one of those places where a 4WD is recommended, although we’ve seen people who’ve driven a standard cars in and been fine.
If you have an off-road camper trailer or caravan, you’ll easily be able to get to Dalhousie via Mt Dare (provided you don’t mind corrugations!).
We towed our camper trailer in during the record rains of 2010 and had no problems at all, although the road from Mt Dare to Dalhousie is very, very rough.
If you’re planning to cross the Simpson Desert, then Dalhousie is on your way in or out of the desert. Every single Simpson Desert tourist seems to stop and camp overnight at Dalhousie.
There are several options for camping at or near Dalhousie Springs:
- at the springs themselves
- at Three O’Clock Creek (about 15 min drive away)
- Purnie Bore (50km into the Simpson Desert)
Learn more about camping at Dalhousie here.
We will warn you that the campground at the springs gets very crowded during winter, but if you click on the link above, we’ve got a secret tip for avoiding the crazy winter crowds!
So what’s to do at Dalhousie?
Well, there’s swimming in the hot springs of course!
The spring water bubbles up from deep underground. The water temperature varies around the pool, so if you’re getting too hot in one place, you can swim to another.
The water temperature ranges from 38 to 43 degrees Celsius. Although the water is highly mineralised it is drinkable, but it’s not the tastiest water in world!
Even if the carpark is crowded, the main spring is large enough to swim away from other people and find a little bit of desert peace.
One thing to be aware of when you’re swimming at Dalhousie is dehydration headaches and nausea.
These ailments are caused by swimming in very warm water for too long. If it’s a warm day (over 30 degrees C), make sure you get out of the water often and have a cool drink… this is from personal experience, swimming in the hot springs when it was 35 degrees Celsius!
There’s a couple of walking tracks at Dalhousie Springs.
One goes from north of the campground, near where you get into the main spring and travels in a loop around the two main pools. Look to the left and head up the hill (there’s a couple of little sheds).
It won’t take you any longer than about half an hour to do at a slow walk.
The other walk is a little longer (but well worth it) takes you out to Kingfisher Springs. Allow an hour and a half (return) and take water with you.
This walk leaves from the eastern end of the main pool. Head to the right, and look for the signs.
Dalhousie Homestead Ruins
A fifteen minute (12km) drive from Dalhousie Springs through a dramatic desert landscape are the ruins of Dalhousie Homestead.
The ruins are nestled amongst dates palms and small mound springs, and are open to the public to visit.
The Homestead was established in 1872, but was abandoned early in the 20th Century. When you stand and gaze about the stark desert landscape here, it’s hard to imagine living here permanently.
I was really surprised to learn that a number of the pastoralists (farmers) who lived here ran sheep in this harsh country! It’s hard to imagine sheep here at all.
The Old Ghan Railway
Some of the best preserved sidings of the Old Ghan Railway are inside (or very close to) Witjira National Park.
You can make a round trip from Dalhousie Springs, via Dalhousie Homestead Ruins, through the tiny Pedirka Desert. You’ll eventually come to Pedirka Siding.
Continue north once you get to Hamilton Station, following the signs to Mt Dare, and you’ll pass by the gorgeous, shady Eringa Waterhole, also the site of Sir Sidney Kidman’s first homestead.
Keep heading north (don’t take the Mt Dare/Bloods Creek turn off), and you’ll find yourself at Abminga Siding.
Return to Dalhousie Springs via the track (and yes, it’s a tiny station track) to Bloods Creek, the site of another historic but now abandoned homestead.
This round trip is 220km, and can be done in a comfortable day, with plenty of time for swimming at Eringa Waterhole and Dalhousie Springs.
How to get there:
The fantastic news about Witjira National Park is that you can make it a destination in itself or combine it with a longer outback off road tour.
The Park is located 987 km north east of Adelaide and about 500 km south of Alice Springs. Access is via gravel (dirt roads) of varying surfaces. You’ll need a well prepared, reliable vehicle.
View Witjira National Park in a larger map
You can get to the Park a number of ways:
- 4WD only route from the NT is via Andado and into Mt Dare
- From the south, via the Oodnadatta Track through Hamilton Station and Bloods Creek
- From the east, via the French Line/Simpson Desert and Birdsville (note: this route is closed between December 1 and March 15 every year due to summer temperatures)
The quickest way to reach Witjira is via the Stuart Highway. You travel to either Coober Pedy or Marla, and then head west onto the Oodnadatta Track.
Once on the Oodnadatta Track, you head north and follow the signs to Mt Dare or Witjira.
However, because it’s also the gateway to the Simpson Desert, Witjira one of the most popular destinations in Australia for four wheel drive and nature enthusiasts.
Witjira is one of the most special places in the Outback. It’s got such an amazing variety of habitats and scenery, we know you’ll fall in love with it like we have.