The Simpson Desert stretches south from Alice Springs towards the South Australia border. Many attractions located on its fringes are an easy day trip from Alice Springs and provide a taste of its fascinating natural, cultural and historical wonders. The Simpson Desert offers some of the best four-wheel driving in Australia. An endless horizon, rolling sand dunes and challenging desert tracks all make for a real frontier experience. Travelling through this desert region means exploring territory very few people have seen.
The Old Ghan Heritage Track passes through the Simpson Desert on its way from Port Augusta in South Australia to Alice Springs. This is one of Australia’s most important heritage trails as it follows the route of the original narrow gauge Ghan line. Interpretive signs on replica railway trolleys are located at 20 key points along the trail and tell the story of an incredible engineering achievement in the outback.
Not far from the Stuart Highway (Explorer’s Way), south of Alice Springs is Rainbow Valley. Nestled in the James Ranges, it is a spectacular sandstone bluff with rainbow like bands, best seen in the late afternoon sun or after heavy rainfall.
An easy stop off on the way to Chambers Pillar is the Ewaninga Rock Carvings Conservation Reserve. These rock carvings and petroglyphs provide a fascinating record of many important beliefs by the local Arrernte people. Chambers Pillar was named after one of the explorer John McDouall Stuart’s sponsors and rises as a solitary beacon out of the rugged landscape. Early pioneers used Chambers Pillar as a navigational landmark. A walk up the hill to this 50 metre sandstone pillar’s base is recommended to see the markings made by nineteenth century explorers who carved their names into the soft sandstone.
After stopping at the Aboriginal community of Finke to refuel and buy refreshments, you may want to head out to Old Andando, a heritage listed station.