Hot springs, vast open plains, and horizons that go on for ever. This is the real remote South Australian Outback experience.
Dalhousie Springs and Mt Dare Hotel are both located within Witjira National Park, South Australia. This NP is bordered by the Simpson Desert to the east, Pedirka Desert to the west, and the Northern Territory border to the north. The town of Oodnadatta lies approximately 230kms south of the springs.
When to visit
Between March/April and October. Outside of this, temperatures can easily reach above 40C. Also, in the rainy season river crossings may be flooded and roads closed. Regularly check for road closures here.
From the Northern Territory, the main access roads are the Kulgera-Finke Road, the Alice Springs-Finke Road, or the Old Andado Track. Allow plenty of time on these roads, particular the last two, as they are slow going and can be very rough. Expect deep corrugations, sand and sections of bull-dust. Both are quite scenic drives.
From the south/south west, access is via the Oodnadatta Track which can also be rough.
Access from the east, requires a Simpson Desert crossing in the more challenging direction (east to west). This route requires a lot of planning and preparation, and is for the more experienced off-roader who is preferably travelling in a convoy. You will also need to allow 4-5 days to cross from Birdsville.
Fuel is available at the following locations:
Alice Springs – Gas, unleaded and diesel (available 24hrs). This is also the closest major town for stocking up supplies, and other goods and services.
Finke – Opal and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)
Kulgera – Gas, unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – not available overnight)
Oodnadatta – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)
Birdsville – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)
Mt Dare Hotel – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)
There is no off-road track per se, unless you’re coming from the east, as the roads to Mt Dare and Dalhousie Springs from all other directions are public access roads, though they are dirt and can be rough. Deflating your tyres can make for a more comfortable ride.
Make sure you take at least one, if not two, spares for this trip. And, I would definitely recommend at least having ATR tyres fitted to your vehicle. The gibber plains are renowned for being pretty merciless. We, unfortunately, got two punctures, with one newish Cooper ATR having to be thrown out ($$ ouch). Luckily, though, the other puncture was repairable.
Given the degree of remoteness, it is also advisable to take other spares such as belts and plugs, as well as some basic tools and a UHF Radio. If you get into trouble, you can radio ahead to either Oodnadatta’s Pink Road House or Mt Dare Hotel – both of which offer vehicle recovery and mechanical assistance. While it is remote, you are still likely to see other vehicles passing by and may be able to flag these down if necessary.
A HEMA Desert Tracks map, as well as the Witjira National Park map (download here), are useful to have. And, if you’ve researched your route, you can’t go wrong. The roads are well signed.
Camping is available at three locations in the park.
Mt Dare Hotel – this is a paid campground connected to the hotel. See here for information. Fires are permitted, though collection of firewood is not permitted within Witjirra (even if you could find some), so bring your own. Mt Dare is around 70km NW of the springs (allow approx. 1hr 20mins).
Dalhousie Springs – this is a paid campground approximately 100 metres from the main spring. Toilets and cold showers are available and there are two rubbish disposals nearby. Be warned – the flies and mozzies are pretty ferocious here. Camp fires are not permitted.
3 O’clock Creek – this is a paid bush-camping spot. You can pick a spot anywhere along the dry creek. Fires are not permitted but there is a water tank. There were hardly any mozzies here when we visited and the flies were nowhere near as intense as at the springs. However on sundown, they became pretty friendly.
These campgrounds are well marked on the Witjira NP and HEMA maps.
Things to see and do
Mt Dare – The hotel is a great place to stop, even if you’re not camping here, and have a meal or a refreshing drink. It’s also a bit of a quirky Aussie Outback pub, well worth a visit to appreciate the atmosphere. Plenty of birdlife are attracted to the grassy surrounds and waterhole at the side of the pub, which makes it a great spot for birdwatching or just relaxing and listening to the sounds of the bush.
Dalhousie Springs – Apparently there are around 120 springs in the park, but access is only provided to the main spring where you can swim. A constant 38-39 celsius, the spring feels like a hot bath– great for a relaxing soak in the winter months but not so much when we visited in September and the outside temperature was 37c. There is also a short walk that loops around the main spring, and a smaller nearby spring.
Witjira National Park – Aside from the springs, which seems to be the most popular attraction, there are other things to see and do in the park:
- Explore heritage-listed Dalhousie ruins and other historical sites.
- See the remnants of old bores sunk to encourage and sustain station life in this harsh environment, long before Witjira became a national park.
- Birdwatching – some rare species can be found within the park, or be entertained by the squabbling and antics of the Corellas.
- Hiking – There are three moderate hikes listed on the park website.
Furiously friendly in September! Take a fly net or plaster yourself with this stuff (Tip: the thicker cream in the jar seems to work best).