Any time of year is perfect for a dip at Dalhousie.
Anne would not get in the water. We drifted chin-deep in it, looking up at her shivering in the bitter westerly in her togs.
We encouraged, cajoled, threatened and teased, but she refused to believe us when we said the water was hot. She grew bluer and bluer as the wind sapped her core temperature.
I had already slid in quicker than a croc down its slide. The August chill bit into the desert experience as the wind picked up that afternoon, and for the past few hours I’d anticipated the joy of Dalhousie’s main spring, which is 38 degrees Celsius at its hottest point.
Anne, though, is cold-blooded – even more so than most women – and she regards any supposed miracles, like hot springs on cold days, with suspicion. Every one of her instincts told her not to enter the water before her.
It took forever to persuade her to climb part-way down the old steel ladder that was there before the new steps where installed. So slowly it was frustrating to watch, she reached out with a big toe, hovered it sceptically above the water and then dipped its very tip into the spring.
The rest was a blur – she dropped into the liquid bliss faster than gravity could drag her and bobbed up with an enormous grin beneath amazed eyes. The next problem would be getting her out.
I love Dalhousie Springs and go out of my way to have a dip whenever I’m heading through northern South Australia. The warm water is incredibly revitalising and even refreshing, which may sound odd in the warmer months, but it is!
On the western side of the Simpson Desert in Witjira National Park, they’re part of the chain of springs running through this arid part of the outback and fed by the Great Artesian Basin.
The main spring – the only one you can swim in – has a campground with facilities, but go for a walk and you’ll find many more pools scattered around the area.
The signposted walk that heads out along the main spring’s outflow takes you through varied terrain and areas rich with Aboriginal artefacts. This was once a major centre for them, and the walk provides you with enough insight into their huge gatherings to realise what a pity it is that that culture and way of life has virtually gone.
There’s also the odd relic of the time when whitefellas briefly tried to harness the place’s limited resources.
Drive south to the ruins of the homestead and you’ll see much more of it: numerous buildings, cattle yards, pieces of machinery. It was a tough life out there, no doubt about it.
The birds and animals here are great to watch. The springs are home to a number of unique species – some of them will tickle your flesh as they nibble at you in the water, an unnerving feeling for many of us!
For me, the real magic of Dalhousie Springs happens late in the evening, when everything’s quiet and, if I’m lucky, I’ve got the pool to myself or with just the girlfriend. I lay back in the hot water as eddies of water vapour scoot around in the breeze, and when the last of the ripples has settled down the stars are reflected so clearly on the surface that they plays tricks on me. I can watch shooting stars streak across the pool.
The peace and tranquillity here are complete. Dalhousie is an amazing place, a genuine oasis in the otherwise remote and inhospitable outback.
If you’ve come through the Simpson from Queensland, you can’t miss the springs. From the north, come through Mt Dare and keep going south; it’s signposted in the important places. The route in from Hamilton station in the south was closed for a long time while owners and authorities bickered over liability and responsibility (how can government expect a private owner to cover the costs of public access?!), but it’s now open again. A good alternative is to head in along the Blood Creek Track from the west, via Eringa waterhole, an interesting route in itself.
WHEN TO VISIT
Dalhousie is not included in the Simpson’s summer closure, so you can go all year round. The water’s so warm it’s good for a dip even on a sub-zero winter’s morning (it’s one of the best times).
Naturally, the road conditions vary for many reasons. Dalhousie’s tracks are usually in good nick, but the roads in have their share of washouts, corrugations and those evil rocks where the graders have churned up the gibber. The Hamilton-Dalhousie road is typically the roughest way and extra care is recommended, especially with a trailer. Wet weather may close the roads.
The campground has toilets, showers, fireplaces, sheltered picnic tables, water and a public phone. There’s also a ranger stationed there. The airport is not for public use.
FEES AND PERMITS
Use your Desert Parks Pass or pay $8 a night to camp and a vehicle entry fee of $8.50
It’s remote, so bring everything with you. Mt Dare has fuel, food, alcohol and all the rest of the basics. Oodnadatta is the nearest town to the south. It’s a long trip to the Birdsville shops…
Desert Parks Hotline, 1800 816 078 SA Department of the Environment, environment.sa.gov.au Mt Dare, 08 8670 7835, mtdare.com.au Oodnadatta Pink Roadhouse, 1800 802 074, pinkroadhouse.com.au