About Simpson Desert


The Simpson Desert is famous for having the longest parallel sand dunes in Australia’s Driest Desert in the world and the highest sand dune in the Southern Hemisphere. The average height of each sand dune is between 10 – 20m high, with the highest approximately 40m which is known as “Big Red” (this will be crossed on day 14). The average length of each sand dune is 200km, which run in a parallel formation from NNE-SSW and are approximately 500m apart.   

Captain Charles Sturt was the first European to see the Simpson Desert (it was originally called the Arunta Desert) in 1845. Sturt attempted to discover whether the interior of Australia was a vast inland sea, as was believed to be at the time, and departed Adelaide with 15 men and a boat! Coming across the Eastern limit of the Simpson Desert, Sturt was unable to penetrate west into the forbidding red sand hills and described it as “a desperate region having no parallel on earth”.

The first person to run accross the Simpson Desert was Ron Grant in 1981 and his time was beaten by Pat Farmer in 1996 covering the 379km route in 3 days, 17 hours, 31 mins.  Our event will be a world first to attempt to run a 640km route from the Geogrpahic Centre of Australia to Birdsville across thefull length of the Simpson Desert. 


   Simpson Desert Run


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Start: Geographical Centre of Mainland Australia (Centre of Gravity / Point of Balance / Lambert Centre / Lambert Gravitational Centre), Northern Territory.

Finish: Birdsville Hotel, Birdsville, Queensland.

Total Distance: 650 km.

Duration: 15 days. 44 km (one marathon plus 2 km) per day. The final day, the 15th, will be 34km only.


The Simpson Desert

Australia’s fourth-largest desert. Area: 176,500 sq. km.

Australia’s driest desert.

World’s largest parallel sandhill desert. (In Australia, desert sand dunes are referred to as sandhills.)

Average height of sandhills: 10-15 m. Some more than 30 m. Highest: Big Red (Nappanerica in the Yarluyandi dialect), at 40 m, and the highest in the southern hemisphere.

Average length of sandhills: 200 km. (The longest in the world.)

Sandhills in parallel formation: NNE-SSW.

Distance apart: 500 m.

The route crosses the sandhills from W to E at 90-degrees. Total number of sandhills crossed from Geographical Centre to Birdsville: 1,315. (The route diverts between some of the larger sandhills instead of going directly over them, and these are not counted.)

The Simpson Desert is best crossed from W-E, as the sandhills, due to the prevailing westerly wind, rise more gently from the western side and drop steeply on the eastern side. The first group of sandhills - approx. 15 - begin from the Geographical Centre (Day 1) for the first five km. The second group of sandhills - approx. 1,300 - begin at 272 km (Day 6) and continue to Birdsville.

The Explorers

Captain Charles Sturt: The first European to see the Simpson Desert, as it is now known  (it was originally called the Arunta Desert), in 1845. Sturt was born in India, and served in the Colony of New South Wales as an army officer. He departed Wellington, NSW, in 1828 and explored the Macquarie, Lachlan, Murrumbidgee, Darling and Murray River System, and showed that these rivers are all tributaries of the Murray, Australia’s longest river. Sturt followed the Murray to its mouth in South Australia. Sturt’s report of the Murray led to the establishment of the Colony of South Australia.

In 1844, Sturt, in his attempt to discover whether the interior of Australia was a vast inland sea, as was widely believed at the time, departed Adelaide with 15 men - and a boat! Sturt explored the Tirari and Strzelecki Deserts east and north of Lake Eyre - an immense white expanse of salt - and the eastern limit of the Arunta Desert. Due to the extreme heat and dryness of the Arunta Desert, Sturt was unable to penetrate west into its forbidding red sandhills, and described it as ‘a desperate region having no parallel on earth’.

Sturt is commemorated by the City of Charles Sturt, in South Australia; the suburb of Sturt, in Adelaide; Charles Sturt University, in New South Wales; the Sturt Highway linking Sydney with Melbourne; the Sturt desert pea; and the Sturt Stony Desert. Sturt was appointed Surveyor General of SA, a position he held only briefly, then Registrar-General and Colonial Treasurer of SA.

         Edmund (Ted) Colson: The first to cross the Arunta Desert. Colson started from Bloods Creek Station on the western edge of the desert, where he held a pastoral lease. He was accompanied by Peter Aims, of the Antakurinya tribe, and five camels. Having reached Birdsville, they then retraced their steps to Bloods Creek.

          Dr. Cecil Madigan: Made the first aerial survey of the Arunta Desert in 1929. Madigan, a geologist with the South Australian Government, studied mining engineering at the University of Adelaide and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He subsequently worked as a meteorologist on the Australasian Antarctic Expedition led by Douglas Mawson.

In 1939, Madigan led a scientific party of nine, including 19 camels, across the northern part of the Arunta Desert. Madigan named the area he crossed after Alfred Simpson, President of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia. The northern part of the Arunta Desert thus became the Simpson Desert, and the southern part the Sturt Stony Desert.

Madigan was subsequently appointed Fellow of the Geological Society of London, President of the Geographical Society of Australia and New Zealand, and Member of the Royal Geographical society of Australasia. In Birdsville, a cairn is erected to his 1939 crossing of the Simpson Desert.

The ‘Two’ Geographical Centres of Mainland Australia

1) Centre of Gravity. Also referred to as the Point of Balance / Lambert Centre / Lambert Gravitational Centre. The site was determined by trigonometry in 1988 by the Royal Geographical Society of Australasia as a Bicentennial of Australia project to mark the ‘Geographical Centre of Australia’, and was named after Dr. Bruce Lambert, former Director of the Division of National Mapping.

                 If, hypothetically, a giant pin were placed under mainland Australia, and assuming that the continent was of equal weight throughout, this is the point at which the continent would balance. Located 200 km SSE of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory, in arid mulga and spinifex sandhill scrub, at the western edge of the Simpson Desert. The site is marked by a miniature version, 10 m high, of the flagpole above Parliament House, Canberra.

2) Furthest Point from the Sea. Located 200 km NW of Alice Springs, in the Northern         Territory, in arid mulga and spinifex scrub, at the eastern edge of the Gibson Desert.                                          There are actually two Furthest Point from the Sea positions, each claiming to be the true FPS. One is that point determined by the circle method, and the other calculated by trigonometry. Both lie 9.75 km apart within Derwent Station.

“On Your Mark…”

Each day will be divided into four stages of 11 km each.

Stage 1: Breakfast to Morning Tea.

Stage 2: Morning Tea to Lunch.

Stage 3: Lunch to Afternoon Tea.

Stage 4: Afternoon Tea to Dinner. 

The Route

Geographical Centre (Lambert Centre) - Finke - New Crown - Mt. Dare - Dalhousie Springs - Poepell Corner - Birdsville.


Geographical Centre (Centre of Gravity / Point of Balance / Lambert Centre / Lambert Gravitational Centre)

The starting point. This is where the continent would balance if a giant pin were placed directly underneath. All runners, support crew, vehicles and equipment are advised to be spaced evenly around the spot in order to prevent the continent from tipping too far to one side. 

The Finke River

The most ancient watercourse on Earth. The antiquity of the Finke is estimated at a conservative 300 million years. Its source lies in the barren West McDonnell Range, and 700 km later the Finke evaporates into the sands of the Simpson Desert. Dry all year, and frequently for several years continuously, the Finke is subject to rare flash flooding, but never for its entire length, after brief but intense summer storms hundreds of kilometres further upstream. Named by explorer John McDouall Stuart in 1860 after William Finke of Adelaide, the financial sponsor of many of Stuart’s expeditions.

          The Finke was originally called Larapinta - meaning ‘permanent water’, due to the presence of sub-surface water - by the Aboriginals. Today, the surrounding country is referred to as the Larapinta Desert, the Larapinta Badlands, or the Painted Desert.



Former siding on the disused Ghan Line (now the Old Ghan Line) between Marree and Alice Springs. The modern Ghan Line, connecting Port Augusta with Alice Springs and Darwin, is relocated several hundred kilometres further west. The Old Ghan Line is now reclaimed by the desert sands of South Australia. On the south bank of the Finke River, Finke is also called Apatula, after the Apatula Aboriginal Community.


New Crown

When Charlotte Waters Repeater Station on the Overland Telegraph Line between Adelaide and Darwin was made obsolete by modern telecommunications, the land, including the Charlotte Waters railway siding on the Old Ghan Line, was sold to the owners of New Crown Station.


Mount Dare

Most isolated population centre (not much more than two) in South Australia. The country consists of the gibber plains (flat, smooth, eroded stones, reflecting a blinding glare to the distant horizon) and sandhills of the Sturt Stony Desert. Operated as a cattle station in 1872, and abandoned in 1925.



Dalhousie Springs

1,000 metres beneath the sands of the Simpson Desert lies the Great Artesian Basin from which water rises to the surface in a number of natural hot springs. The GAB covers an area of 1.7 million sq. km. of inland NE Australia, and is composed of water that seeps from deep below the arid interior, from the Great Dividing Range of Queensland and Papua New Guinea, over a period of 2.5 million years.

 The complex of over 100 springs, 80 of which are still active, covers an area of 70 sq. km., and the temperature of the water varies from 38 to 43 degrees Centigrade. Dalhousie Springs represents the largest concentration of springs in the GAB. The water is highly mineralised and therapeutic, but drink it only if dying of thirst. Many springs have distinctive mounds and are referred to as mound springs. The pool of the Main Spring is surrounded by trees, and even contains several species of fish. The date palms were planted by Afghan cameleers. A giant perentie lizard (goanna), related to the Komodo dragon of Indonesia, is frequently sighted. Mosquitoes can be a problem at night.

          Dalhousie Ranger Station is located within Witjira National Park, which is managed by the South Australia National Parks and Wildlife Service and the Irrwanyere Aboriginal Community, in conjunction with the South Australian Department of Environment and Heritage.

          The complex of springs was discovered in 1870 by surveyor R. Knuckey, and named Edith Springs, after Lady Edith, wife of Sir James Ferguson, Governor of South Australia. Lady Edith requested that the name be changed to Dalhousie Springs, after her father, the Marquis of Dalhousie.

 John McDouall Stuart, one of Australia’s most famous explorers, passed close to the springs in 1861 but never saw them. Their location was kept secret by the Aboriginals, who feared the water-drinking capacity of his camels.


The French Line

In 1962, Brisbane-based Compagnie Generale de Geophysique, in their search for oil, conducted a seismic survey of the Simpson Desert for the French Petroleum Company, Total. The survey party was led by Dr. Reg Sprigg. It was the first motorised crossing of the Simpson. The route taken by Sprigg became known as the French Line, which is as straight as a ruler for 204 km from Dalhousie Springs to Poepell Corner - except for an almost imperceptible eight-degree change in direction at the 119 km mark - and is the most difficult of all the tracks that cross the Simpson due to the number and height of the sandhills.


Purnie Bore

Drilled by the French Petroleum Company, Total. Only water was discovered. The bore originally discharged water at 18 litres/sec. The water is near boiling when it reaches the surface, and cools to form a wetland. The bore is now capped and the discharge reduced to 5 litres/sec. for environmental reasons. The area is frequented by camels, dingos, wild donkeys, eagles and colourful flocks of parrots.


Poeppel Corner

The meeting of the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland borders. The site was determined by surveyor Augustus Poeppel in 1878. He marked it with a wooden post, a mere one kilometre west of its present true position, due to his chain measure being worn and subject to variations in length caused by the extreme desert temperatures of heat and cold. Modern surveying methods have relocated the position to its present site, marked by a concrete post.



The most isolated town in Queensland, and Australia’s most iconic outback town, Birdsville originated as a depot for surveyors working in the Simpson Desert. The small town is situated on the west bank of the intermittent Diamantina River, which defines the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert.

Originally known as Diamantina Crossing, the settlement was later named Burtsville, after E.A. Burt, who was the first to open a store. However, Burt, being a modest man, politely declined the honour, and it was renamed Birdsville by the owner of Pandie Pandie Station, after the abundant bird life along the banks of the Diamantina.

In 1860, ill-fated explorers Burke and Wills passed through the area on their journey from Melbourne to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Both died of starvation at Cooper Creek on their return south. Explorer Captain Charles Sturt - and his boat - also reached this area in 1884, but could not continue west into the Simpson Desert due to the extreme aridity of the desert.

Birdsville lies at the northern end of the infamous 517 km Birdsville Track, a former stock route, from Marree in South Australia. The track cuts through the Sturt Stony Desert and the Strzelecki Desert. In 1963, the Page family – mum, dad and three kids – died of thirst on the Birdsville Track when their vehicle broke down only100 km from Birdsville.



Kulgera Roadhouse: Fuel, mechanical repairs, bottled gas, payphone, campsite, airstrip.

(Kulgera Roadhouse to Finke: 176 km.)

Finke: Fuel, mechanical repairs, payphone, post office, medical centre, campsite, airstrip.

(Finke to New Crown: 38 km.)

New Crown: Fuel, payphone, campsite, airstrip.

(New Crown to Mt Dare: 136 km.)

Note: Charlotte Waters, between New Crown and Mount Dare, has no facilities and is bypassed.

Mt Dare: Fuel, mechanical repairs, bottled gas, payphone, post office, ranger station campsite, airstrip. Last fuel before Birdsville – 533 km.

(Mt. Dare to Dalhousie Springs: 103 km.)

Dalhousie Springs: Ranger Station, campsite, showers, toilets, airstrip. No fuel.

(Dalhousie Springs to Birdsville: 430 km.)

Birdsville: All facilities


Tony Wade

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