The attraction of the Dalhousie mound springs, combined with some delightful camping spots and upgraded visitor facilities, make Witjira one of the Simpson Desert's most popular national parks, particularly with family groups.
The need to protect and rehabilitate the 70 or so thermal springs in the Dalhousie complex was one of the main reasons for the establishment of Witjira National Park. The springs are home to unique species of fish such as the Lake Eyre hardy-head and other rare aquatic life. They are also a haven for birdlife.
Witjira National Park, established in 1985 on land comprising the former Mount Dare pastoral lease, covers 7,770 square kilometres of gibber, sand dunes, stony tablelands and floodplain country on the western edge of the Simpson Desert in the far north of South Australia. It is truly spectacular country with vast landscapes including many areas of considerable archaeological, biological and geological interest.
The park is part of the lands associated with the Lower Southern Arrernte, Wangkangurru, Arabunna and Luritja people who in 1989 formed the Irrwanyere Aboriginal Corporation which manages the park jointly with the Department for Environment and Heritage. The joint management agreement, the only one of its kind in Australia, provides the advantages of a shared approach to the land which accommodates traditional Aboriginal uses together with environmental management and tourism and recreational activities
To camp in the park you must be in possession of a current Desert Parks Pass.
For thousands of years before Europeans discovered them, Dalhousie Springs provided water, shelter, food and medicines for the desert Aborigines. The park is part of lands still associated with their original owners, the Lower Southern Arrernte, Wangkangurru, Arabunna and Luritja people.
The ancient springs had a mythological significance too for the Aborigines and are featured in many tribal myths and songs. The park gets its name from a Lower Southern Arrernte Aboriginal word referring to the paperbark trees (Melaleuca glomerata) fringing the springs.
The park also has an extensive European history. Dalhousie Springs served as a refuge and base camp for Simpson Desert crossings by early explorers, as well as today's many adventurous 4WD travellers.
The first pastoral lease in the area, which later became part of the Mount Dare property, was taken up by Ned Bagot in 1872 with the Dalhousie Homestead, stockyards and outbuildings constructed in the following decade. Sheep were the initial mainstay of pastoralism, but the focus shifted to cattle by the turn of the century. Although many bores were sunk on Mount Dare station, Dalhousie Springs remained vital for the survival of stock.
The land was marginal pastoral country and, during the brief history of the industry, various leases were abandoned, particularly from the start of the century until just prior to the First World War. Evidence of white habitation remain at the Dalhousie ruins and in the form of old stockyards and agricultural equipment in the area. The origin of the date palms is still being debated. Romantics believe the trees were planted by Afghan cameleers, but there is firm evidence that dates were planted by the Lewis family who took over the lease of Dalhousie in 1896.
More than a century of grazing by sheep and cattle ceased in 1985 with the declaration of the Witjira National Park. Mount Dare Homestead now operates as a park concession providing fuel, meals, supplies and accommodation for visitors.
Before the Mount Dare pastoral lease was purchased from Rex Lowe and family by the National Parks and Wildlife Service (now National Parks and Wildlife SA), recreational use of the springs area was causing widespread degradation and the waterways were in danger of irreparable damage. Dalhousie Springs form the largest complex of artesian springs in Australia and the rehabilitation and protection of this internationally significant area was one of the main reasons for the park's establishment.
Information on Witjira National Park is available from the Desert Parks Information Line at Port Augusta phone 1800 816 078 (within Australia only) and at Mount Dare Homestead, the Pink Roadhouse at Oodnadatta, and Birdsville.
Travelling from Adelaide, Witjira National Park is reached via Port Augusta, Coober Pedy, Marla, Oodnadatta, Hamilton Station and on to Eringa or Dalhousie Springs. Alternatively, come north through Marree, William Creek and Oodnadatta then to Hamilton Station.
Travelling west from the Simpson Desert, go via the French Track to Purni Bore and Dalhousie Springs. If coming south from the Northern Territory, enter via Kulgera, Finke, New Crown and Charlotte Waters or via Old Andado Station.
The Main spring - Dalhousie
Camping and visitor facilities at Dalhousie Springs were recently upgraded and the area in front of the springs revegetated to provide pleasant camping spots. Showers, toilets and a day visitor parking area are included in the improved facilities.
Camping is also available at Mount Dare Homestead, 3 O'Clock Creek and Purni Bore. Mount Dare has a full range of facilities. The bush camping area at 3 O'Clock Creek has drinking water, shady spots and firewood, but you will need to take your own water supplies and pick up firewood on your way to Purni Bore.
Places to Visit:
>> Bloods Creek windmill.
>> Mount Dare Homestead.
>> Dalhousie Ruins.
>> Purni Bore.
Caring for the Park:
>> Obtain a current Desert Parks Pass & Information Pack
>> Always carry sufficient fuel, water and food
>> Travel in convoy with another vehicle if possible
>> Take a portable stove for cooking or keep campfires small to conserve wood
>> Avoid polluting water or disturbing stock
>> Camp away from troughs to allow stock and native animals access to water
>> Respect gates and private roads
>> Leave gates as you found them
Please Do Not:
>> Bury rubbish (instead, bag it and carry it out with you)
>> Carry a firearm unless it is dismantled
>> Carry any equipment or device for taking animals
>> Carry a chainsaw unless it is dismantled
>> Feed native animals
>> Remove or disturb artifacts or remnants of Aboriginal and European occupation
>> Wash close to water supplies (soap or detergent will pollute them)