Covering 170,000 sq km, the Simpson Desert contains 1136 parallel sand dunes, which vary in height from a couple of metres to over 40 metres high in some instances – most predominantly of which is Big Red, the first major dune on the eastern side of the desert.
It was named after a washing machine
Well, not quite. Cecil Madigan, an Australian explorer, coined the name Simpson Desert in 1929, whose namesake was none other than Alfred Allen Simpson: industrialist, philanthropist, geographer, and director of A. Simpson & Sons, which eventually became the Simpson washing machine company.
It’s easier to cross from west to east
While many travellers from eastern states enjoy the journey from Birdsville west to Mt Dare across the Simpson, in actual fact travelling from west to east is easier. This is due to the prevailing wind direction within the desert, which in general makes the eastern dune faces steeper and more difficult to negotiate.
It defeated Charles Sturt’s expedition to find an inland sea
Charles Sturt, a fervent explorer who made it his quest to find Australia’s mystical inland sea, made it through outback New South Wales and Sturt’s Stony Desert (named so on the expedition) before reaching the harshness of the Simpson Desert. Faced with 30-metre high sand dunes which “appeared as if interminable”, Sturt abandoned his expedition and was forced to turn around.
Aboriginal tribes have lived there for thousands of years
While the Simpson is one of Australia’s most inhospitable places to live, Aboriginal tribes have proven it is certainly not impossible to do so. Evidence suggests tribes have thrived in the desert for over 5000 years, using a network of wells (called Mikiri) from which they sourced their water.
Drivers must use sand flags
Traffic runs in both directions in the Simpson Desert, and all the crests are ‘blind, making it essential to have a sand flag while travelling in the Simpson. For this reason, it’s required that all vehicular travellers mount a sand flag (300mmx290mm in size) made of fluorescent materials, and it must be 3.5m above the ground.
Expect to spend up to double on fuel
Considering the sparseness of supply points in the Outback, fuel is a massive consideration in arid Australia. Diesel fuel consumption in soft sand is generally 50-100% higher than normal driving conditions, and for petrol engines consumption is likely to be even higher than that.
The Simpson’s 4WD tracks were created by the French
In the 1960’s, the potential for oil exploration sent the French Petroleum Company into the Simpson with bulldozers and excavation equipment, which is why the Simpson’s most-trafficked routes – the QAA Line, French Line and WAA Line – are almost entirely straight. The lesser-used Madigan Line follows the 1939 trail blazed by explorer Cecil Madigan in the northern Simpson, however this route has only recently become widely recognised as a potential route across this amazing desert.
Hema Maps first crossed the Simpson Desert in 1991, and has since produced 7 editions of its Simpson Desert map, which features GPS field-checked tracks and information captured by its dedicated expedition teams known as the Map Patrol.