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Witjira National Park

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Witjira National Park - Cities, Towns and Localities
Witjira National Park is a 780,000 ha park on the western edge of the Simpson Desert, in one of the driest regions in Australia. Visitors to the region are treated to the sight of countless thermal springs, often surrounded by lush greenery. The seemingly lush and thriving habitats, appear like an oasis in the desert, amidst endless sand dunes and gibber plains.

Witjira National Park is part of the traditional country of the Lower Southern Arrernte and Wangkangurru people, holding special cultural significance. The park contains a wide range of important cultural features and evidence of past occupation.

Established in 1985 on land comprising the former Mount Dare pastoral lease, Witjira National Park is spectacular country of gibber plains, sand dunes, stony tablelands, flat-topped mesa hills, salt pans and floodplain country. This vast landscape include many areas of considerable archaeological, biological and geological value. The Witjira Dalhousie Springs were National Heritage Listed in 2009.

Among the many attractions and features include Mount Dare Homestead complex and the Dalhousie Thermal Mound Springs, the largest and most active artesian springs in Australia. The park itself features more than 120 mound springs, with the main Dalhousie Springs being the approved place where you can swim and relax in the ancient warm thermal waters.

The turn off to the park is 17 km north of Oodnadatta and 4WD recommended. Trailers, caravans and motorhomes are not recommended east of Dalhousie Springs.

Always check ahead for weather and road conditions from either Oodnadatta or Mount Dare. Information may also be posted on the official Witjira National Park site.

A Desert Parks Pass is required and the best time to visit is during the winter.

You can access the park from Oodnadatta. Travellers can get to Oodnadatta from Coober Pedy, Marla or William Creek. It is located 887 km north west of Port Augusta.

Check out our listing of Witjira National Park accommodation and Mount Dare accommodation. In addition to our listed online travel guide information, contact the regional / local tourism visitor centre for your destination for more attractions, tours, local maps and other information.

Information Centre icon

Witjira National Park
Desert Parks Hotline: 1800 816 078

DENR Port Augusta Office
Ph: +61 8 8648 5300

Flinders Ranges and Outback Information

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Witjira National Park Attractions

Mound Springs - Thermal Springs
• Australia has the largest artesian system in the world, known as the Great Artesian Basin, covering more than 20 per cent of the Australian continent. There are about 600 artesian spring complexes across 12 major groups. The springs can range in size from a few metres across to a large cluster of freshwater pools known as 'supergroups'.

The Witjira-Dalhousie Springs is a 'supergroup' comprising some 60 springs, the greatest concentration of mound springs in Australia, extending over 50,000 hectares. The Dalhousie Springs are part of a chain of mound springs extending along the outer rim of the Great Artesian Basin. Dalhousie Main Springs, where the springs lie in a broad depression, remain the most popular and most visited.1

The artesian water, that wells up from considerable depths below the earth surface, is millions of year old. The water at Dalhousie Springs approximately 34-38บC, making it a pleasurable bathing and recreational oasis. The water at Purni Bore is a scalding 85บC at the bore head.
Thermal Springs Wildlife
• The warm water springs are home to unique species of aquatic life. In Dalhousie Springs fish species include the Dalhousie hardy-head (Craterocephalus dalhousiensis), the Dalhousie catfish (Neosilurus sp A), Dalhousie goby (Chlamydogobius gloveri), spangled perch (Leiopotherapon unicolor), Dalhousie mogurnda (Mogurnda sp 2).

The springs in the region are home to a range of wildlife and a haven for birdlife. Keep your eyes open for a variety of native mammals and reptiles. Dingos have also been seen in the park.2
European Exploration
• The Dalhousie mound springs were first sighted by Europeans on 10 December 1870. A small party of surveyors working on the Overland Telegraph Line, who in search of water, reported sighting from 50 to 70 foot hight limestone cliffs, a wonderful sight of pools of water and waving green reeds that were ascertained to be 18 feet hight and,

'Far out beyond these were dazzling white lagoons which toward the south east appeared to almost ouch the horizon.'

This appeared to be 'spring country'. They found that within the spring complex there was every kind of water imaginable. For example:

'they contained, salt, magnesia, as well as having hot or cold and fresh water.'

Prior to the surveyors leaving Adelaide, Lady Edith Ferguson, wife of the South, Australian Governor and daughter of the Marquis of Dalhousie presented them with boxes of books. Hence the workers, believing the springs to be their most important find and 'the greatest area of springs in Australia', decided to name them after Lady Edith who requested that they be given her family name.

Source: Witjira National Park signage

Surveyors' camp at Dalhousie Springs, 1900
Surveyors' camp at Dalhousie Springs, 1900. Reproduced with kind permission of
Geoffrey H. Manning from The Romance of Place Names of South Australia.

Dalhousie Homestead Ruins
• Here you can see the remains of a number of buildings of the original outback station. Date palms still grow, planted in the early days of the outback station.

Dalhousie Homestead Ruins, Witjira National Park

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• Indigenous Heritage and Culture
Aboriginal Heritage
• Well before the sighting of the Dalhousie mound springs by Europeans, Aboriginal groups had used this site for ceremony and rituals for many generations. This was the area of the Lower Southern Arrente people. However, the Luritja, Arabunna and Wankangurru people gathered here in times of drought and for ceremonial purposes. Evidence of the spring's significance to Aboriginal people has been documented by the large camp sites found at the springs, some of which are thousands of square metres in size, with vast number of stone artefacts found scattered around the area.3 Dreaming trails crisscross the area and there is evidence of bygone habitation. The Aboriginal peoples' strong cultural ties to the land are still evident today in their custodial role and participation in joint management of Witjira National Park. This management agreement was established in October 1995.

Source: Witjira National Park signage

Aboriginal homes. Photograph Thomas Gill c.1918
Aboriginal homes. Photograph Thomas Gill c.1918
courtesy of Royal Geographical Society of South Australia

Indigenous Culture and Tradition
• The Witjira-Dalhousie Mound Springs is rich in Indigenous tradition with an exceptional density of story or song lines, most of which are associated with mound springs (Hercus and Sutton 10985; 64).

Major song lines originate at Witjira-Dalhousie or pass through the place. The incredible linguistic work carried out by Dr. Luise Hercus over 35 years, found that each individual spring at Witjira-Dalhousie had a story associated with it, although some of these stories are now lost. She recorded twenty four song lines that originate or passed through Witjira-Dalhousie Mound Springs that include:
  • the Kestrel Story
  • the Printi and the Goanna Women
  • the Rain Ancestor (Anintjola)
  • the Dog Story
  • the Frill Neck Lizard Story
  • the Boy from Dalhousie
  • the Goanna Party and the Echidna Woman
  • Old Man Kingfisher and Old Woman Kingfisher
  • the Blind Rainbow Snake
  • Old Man Rainbow Snake
  • Perentie and the Boys
  • the Big Boys
  • the Perentie Goanna Camp
  • the Perentie Staked His Foot
  • the Two Boys song line (Kingfisher Dreaming)

Unlike the traditions associated with the mound spring groups at Lake Eyre and Lake Frome, the tradition for Witjira-Dalhousie explains why some of the mound springs at Witjira-Dalhousie produce hot water (Hercus nd.; Hercus and Sutton 1985).

The mound springs in the Witjira-Dalhousie, Lake Eyre and Lake Frome areas play a historical and culturally important place in Aboriginal history and tradition. During the dry seasons and periods of drought, the Aboriginal people would retreat to the mound springs. The mound springs in these areas were associated with and joined to each other by traditional Aboriginal song and story lines and are often associated with rain-making rituals.

One of the most important song lines is the story of the Two Boys (which is a Kingfisher 'Dreaming'). The story tells of the Two Boys crossing the Simpson Desert, through Queensland and back to just north of Witjira-Dalhousie in the Finke River area. The song line contains information on every waterhole or soak that was known in the Simpson Desert. Following this song line meant you could cross the Simpson Desert using available water, along the route.4

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Witjira National Park Local Services
Mt Dare Hotel
• Witjira National Park, SA • Ph: 08 8670 7835 • Email
• Mt Dare Hotel is the most isolated and South Australia’s northern most pub. It does not run as a cattle station, but is a privately owned and operated Lease within the Witjira National Park, servicing travellers of the Simpson Desert. We welcome travellers with outback service and advice — we welcome thirsty travellers to stop for lunch or camp for the night. We have shady bush camping, hot showers, homestead style accommodation, fuel (diesel, ULP and Avgas), mechanical and tyre repairs, hot pies and milkshakes etc, basic supermarket items, satellite phone hire and sales, Dalhousie and Simpson Desert Passes. We also do vehicle recovery.

1 Australian Government: Australia's National Heritage - Witjira-Dalhousie Springs, South Australia. Retrieved July 28, 2012
2 Australia's desert springs. Retrieved July 27, 2012, from
3 Australian Government: Australia's National Heritage - Witjira-Dalhousie Springs, South Australia. Witjira-Dalhousie Springs (PDF 114 Kb). Retrieved July 28, 2012
4 Great Artesian Basin Springs: Witjira-Dalhousie. AHC final assessment report: Witjira-Dalhousie Springs (PDF 104 Kb). Retrieved July 28, 2012
> Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources: Witjira National Park
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