Dalhousie Springs and Simpson Desert

After a lonesome night at Foggarty’s Claypan we pushed north to Dalhousie Springs in Witjira National Park.  These are the largest complex of natural springs on the great artesian basin and it is estimated that 43% of the naturally flowing waters of the whole basin emerge here.   Today there are also many artificial bores mining the waters of the great artesian basin. As this happens faster than it recharges, flow rates are dropping and several natural springs have dried up however, however there are steps being taken to reduce the wastage and the flow from man made has reduced about 25% since it’s peak of 2000 megalitres per day (ref Wikipedia)

witjira sign

After many dusty kilometers, arriving at Dalhousie Springs is truly remarkable – with trees, reeds and general greenery emerging from the bright white desert sands.   To cap it off, it is possible to swim in one of the spring fed lakes in water that varies between 34 and 39 degrees C.   For the first 2 days we were there, the air temperature reached the low 30s and with the sun baking the surface of the already hot pool, it was probably near the top of its range.    So while it was very welcome to wash off the dust and get away from the flies, which don’t seem to like venturing out over water, it was not at all refreshing and one soon overheated and had to get out.    However for night time dips and on our third day there, which was significantly cooler, the pool was lovely.

dalhousie springs main pool
The main swimming pool at Dalhousie Springs
dalhousie spring
Heaven – a lake in the middle of the desert
dalhousie camp from the air
A view of Dalhousie Springs from the air. The main pool is in the middle with the camping area to the right.    There are about 60 springs in the area a few of which can be seen behind
dalhousie outflow
A view of some of the greenery stretching into the distance resulting from the outflow of some of the larger springs

On the road into Dalhousie Springs we stopped off at the old Dalhousie Station homestead ruins.   These were established near some of the southern most springs of the Dalhousie complex in the late 1800s and operated as a cattle and sheep station, but eventually abandoned – first by the European settlers, then later by the aboriginal workers who remained behind for several years and continued to run it as a cattle farm.  The date palms that were planted around the springs have become a bit of a problem, crowding out other species and altering the nature of the banks of the springs and propagating themselves to other springs in the area.   Eradication programs are underway, but a couple of male trees have been left at the homestead ruins for historical reasons.

On our first full day at Dalhousie Springs we went for a walk to another set of springs about 3km away called kingfisher springs.   These did not have good swimming access and if it were not for some feral cows which had trampled down an access route to the biggest pool it may not have even been possible to see it because of the dense surrounding vegetation.   However, apart from this benefit, it’s sad to see cows in National Parks as they damage the ground and vegetation and foul up waterholes.    We seem to be seeing cows in National Parks all over the country, it’s surprising that one does not hear about this issue more.


Views from around Kingfisher Springs.   There are also some date palms infesting these springs.   Although some of the larger ones have been removed, there are already many smaller ones growing back.

Some interesting vegetation and dingo footprints on the walk.   The night before we had heard dingos howling, and even on the walk we heard a few in the distance.  The following night we caught a brief glimpse of one walking past our campsite, but by the time we got the torch out, it had disappeared.

Dalhousie Springs lies on the western edge of the Simpson Desert. As it isn’t feasible to take a caravan across the the Simpson Desert we decided to take a day trip into the western edge of the desert to Purni Bore.   This was a bore drilled in the 1960’s in a search for oil, but instead it struck artesian water.   Although the oil company capped the bore before leaving, after a few years, it corroded and water started flowing out freely at 18 litres per second creating a permanent lake between two dunes and an oasis for birds, animals and travellers.  However in recent years, the bore has been recapped and now only a trickle has been left which still attracts some wildlife.

Purni Bore is east of Dalhousie Springs, so to avoid driving into the sun, then spending time there in the heat of the day with no wildlife active then driving back into the setting sun, we decided to set off 2 hours before sunrise to get there shortly after sunrise.    After the initial shock, it was lovely driving first by moonlight, then watching the sun rise as we approached the dunes.   Then after a couple of hours at the bore, we headed back with the sun overhead and returned to Dalhousie for a dust-off in the pool in the early afternoon.

dawn on french line
The first signs of dawn – about an hour after setting off.   Venus heralding the sun.
dune dawn
Crossing one of the last dunes before Purni Bore.   The flag on the car is to signal to possible oncoming cars when cresting the top of the dune.   We never saw another car until much later in the day, but in busy times, head-on collisions can be a problem, so sporting a flag is now mandatory in the Simpson Desert.   We had the option of paying nearly $200 for a flag pole sold in roadhouses for this purpose, but opted to buy a high visibility vest for $8, cut it to the regulation size and cable tie it to a tent pole instead.   Maybe it would not last a full 4 day desert crossing, but it survived our 150km round trip and was a little bit cheaper.
sunrise on the french line
Sunrise on the Simpson Desert Dunes

Flowers on the dunes at first light before they have woken up on the left and on the right: a few hours later after they have had their morning coffee.

simpson desert french line
The French’s line across the Simson Desert – about 400km of crossing dunes and claypans in an almost straight line perpendicular to the dunes – we only had to cross the first 15 or so dunes.
happy spinifex (2)
Although we were officially in one of Australia’s driest deserts, the vegetation looked a lot more vigorous than in other slightly less arid areas.   Either they are better adapted to it, or they caught some recent rains from the edge of cyclone Trevor, which dumped a fair bit on areas a few hundred km. to the north.
red dingo
As we arrived at Purni Bore, a nice tan dingo trotted off.
camel spine
Remnants of a camel skeleton at Purni Bore.

Purni Bore info signs (click on the images to read)


purni bore and steve
The bore itself, now capped and controlled allowing only a small lake and soak for wildlife that has become dependent on it to drink.   Gone are the days of the vast lake with waterbirds etc. Spot the fly trying to take the limelight?
purni dune
Exploring the area around Purni Bore – The former lake bed and dead reeds on its fringe can still be seen.
my shoe treads
Maddy’s shoes have soles that are designed to camouflage one’s tracks to look like dingo tracks!
desert tomato
The flowers of the desert tomato
Common Bronzewing 3
Although there were plenty of birds at Purni Bore, unfortunately I saw no new species.  However I got this nice photo of a common bronzewing showing off its wings.
zebra finch tree
There were thousands of zebra finches, but I am not exaggerating when I say that there were probably a thousand flies for every zebra finch.
galahs purni bore
Also plenty of galahs and the other usual suspects like singing honey-eaters, crows etc.
Eyrean grasswren
Although we saw no new birds at Purni Bore itself, we did spot this Eyrean Grasswren on the drive back.
maddy and dingo
While waiting for birds to come and drink Maddy was treated to a close encounter with a dingo

dingo drinking

white dingo
Dingo’s look thin and scrawny, but apparently they are naturally this way.
purni bore simpson desert
This is the remaining small lake at Purni Bore – the size of a small swimming pool.  Unfortunately trampled and fouled by cattle and feral donkeys, like so many other water holes in outback national parks.   But I guess this one is not natural so I shouldn’t complain.
sand hills and spinifex
The vegetation on the dunes is surprisingly diverse and vibrant

new groth after rain

hot and cold showers in the Simpson desert
If you do camp at Purni Bore, one of the luxuries is a hot shower courtesy of the bore.   The water from Purni Bore comes from an aquifer that is 1200m deep and comes out at 85 deg C
tea and fly net
The best way to enjoy a cup of tea –  Although age is catching up on me,  I haven’t lost a tooth, it’s just a fly on the outside of the net.
red sand track simpson desert
Heading back to Dalhousie Springs
Simpson desert sign
It was dark when we passed this sign on the way in so took this shot on the way back.   By comparison this is a surprisingly unemotional sign with none of the usual big red and yellow Achtung words with forebodings of misery, death and damnation that usually appear at the start of far less serious tracks or routes.





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