The Simpson Desert via the Madigan Line

The Madigan Line

Cecil T Madigan, heroic explorer

Cecil T Madigan was born in Renmark SA in 1889. In 1911 he went as a Rhodes Scholar to Oxford, but deferred when he was selected by Douglas Mawson as meteorologist for the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, and received the Kings Polar Medal in 1914.

He served in France during WW1 and later returned to Magdalen College at Oxford gaining a doctorate in Science in 1933. He won blues in rowing and boxing. Like Mawson he was a heroic exploration geologist. Whilst introduced to deserts in the Sudan, he adopted Mawson’s interest in the arid zone and made endless surveys of Central Australia and northern South Australia. Madigan died in 1947 in Adelaide.

As far as deserts go - Its a pup.

Spectral analysis of sand particles in the Simpson Desert show that it is geologically 19-24,000 years old, only dating back to the last interglacial. Before that it was grassland and shallow lakes.

This would suggest that the Wangkangurru people who lived in the Simpson, also lived there when it was a much wetter place and adapted as the desert dried out. The desert is now a vast sand ridge desert. The longitudinal sand hills are up to 40 metres in height and can run unbroken for one hundred and twenty kilometres. The colour of the sand runs from almost white through to a deep red depending on the age and oxidisation of the sand.


  • 1

    The journey begins

    We pick up at all Alice Springs Hotels and head south to Santa Theresa Mission. The church here has stunning murals painted by Indiginous artists. We will also visit the art centre and the craft centre before heading south to singular Rodinga Range. Through a cleft in the range the road heads out into a vast frozen sea which is the Simpson Desert. We camp in Sandhills.

    santa theresa mission
  • 2

    Old Andado

    Awake to birdsong and fresh brewed coffee. We break camp and travel south to the fascinating Old Andado Homestead, for many years the home of outback icons Mac and Molly Clarke. The house has been lovingly preserved and we will spend a fascinating couple of hours discovering the rigours of outback life in days gone by. Further south we cross the Finke River into South Australia. We travel on to Mt Dare Station Homestead which now lies in Witjira National Park to refuel for our desert crossing, We recross the Fine and camp on the Finke floodplain surrounds by huge coolabah trees at Mayfield Swamp.

    old andado
  • 3

    We start on the line

    From Old Andado we head east to the Mac Clarke Acacia Peuce Reserve. The reserve protects one of only three copses of these rare and unique trees. We are now on the path less travelled as we wend our way to Camp 1a. There are some spectacular jump ups in the area. We camp on the floodplain of the Hale River, which rises two hundred kilometres to our north in the Eastern Macdonnell Ranges.

    waddy trees
  • 4

    The Allitra Tablelands

    Our day is taken up with dramatic scenery changes. Fletcher Hill, an ascent of the Twins, a crossing of Allitra Tableland and the Colson Track before our camp among the Coolabahs at Illogwa creek

  • 5-6

    The Deep Desert

    We are now deep into the sandhills. Our days will involve some challenging driving as the vehicles best some reasonably steep and sandy dunes. We will camp amongst Gidgee trees near Camps 8 and 12.

  • 7

    The Hay River

    We arrive at the Hay River, made obvious by the coolabah trees. We head south along the river bed soon turning eastward again. We are back in the sandhills again, and eventually camp in a gidgee grove

  • 8

    Eyre Creek Annandale Ruins

    We arrive at Eyre Creek, which depending on the season can be an oasis of greenery or a barren parched riverbed of cracked grey clay. Both are beautiful. We will explore the ruins of Annandale Station. Annandale was taken up in 1876, and from 1896 until 1918 it was owned by the Cattle Baron Sidney Kidman. It is now part of Adria Downs, owned by the Brook family. David Brook’s grandfather managed Annandale. We will head south along Eyre Creek to our camp on the QAA line.

  • 9

    Big Red Birdsville

    We cross Big Red and arrive in Birdsville. After a well earned shower there is the option of exploring Birdsville including the Bakery, visitors centre and the famous Pub. We travel south along the Birdsville Track to camp near the lonely grave of the Page Family in Sturts Stony Desert.

    • 10

      Sturts Stony Desert

      We visit Mirra Mitta bore, where the water exits the bore at almost boiling temperature, we travel through Mungerannie Gap for lunch at the Mungerannie Pub. After lunch we head south through Mulka Station, site of the driest recorded rainfall in Australia, and on the Etadunna Station. By arrangement with the owners of Etadunna we drive on station tracks out to the lonely ruins of the Bethesda Lutheran Mission on the banks of Coopers Creek. Here we will look at one of the most extraordinary stories of European/Aboriginal contact. We camp in the bed of the Cooper Creek.

      • 11

        Arrive in the Flinders Ranges

        We head south to the town of Marree, where there is an optional chance to fly over Lake Eyre. Marree was a “Ghan” town, home to the Afghan Cameleers, and we look at some of the historic houses, including that of the famous Bejah Dervish. We continue south to Copley, with a shower at Lyndhurst. Tonight we camp on private property near a little known Aboriginal art site displaying thousands of stone carvings on the red walls of a spectacular gorge.

        • 12

          The Gammon Ranges

          Our morning is spent travelling via Nepabunna through the spectacular Gammon Ranges. Further south we arrive at Chambers Gorge. There is the option of climbing to the summit for some awe inspiring views, or wandering down the gorge amongst spectacular river red gums. If you want, do both.

          • 13

            Brachina Gorge, Warren Gorge

            We cross the Flinders Ranges from the east to the west, stopping at Blinman, South Australia's highest town. We then experience the incredible Brachina Gorge interpretive drive. We follow the award winning self interpretive geological trail tracing 200 million years of geological history as we wind beneath the native pines and red quartzite ridges. We head further south taking station tracks to our camp at Warren Gorge, where it is possible to view a colony of yellow footed rock wallabys.

            • 14

              Our Last Day

              We depart Warren Gorge and head via historic Qorn through the Pitchi Ritchi Pass to Port Augusta. We lunch at the docks at Port Wakefield and arrive in Adelaide early afternoon and the end of an incredible adventure.