Right on the western edge of the Simpson Desert Dalhousie Springs is either the first or the last point in a Simpson Crossing. And it was where I was heading from Adelaide to start my desert adventure properly. Straight up the Ooodnadatta Track, past Lake Eyre, and on to the desert. Because of my enforced layover in Adelaide I had no time to stop anywhere. The Ooodnadatta Track would have to wait for another trip.
As its name suggests, Dalhousie is a spring. A hot spring with a very large natural pool, and one of the few that you can swim in. That makes it a very popular place to go. When I pulled into the camping area at 4pm it was crowded. It’s lucky my car & swag don’t take up much room so I could slip into a small vacant space. Others decided to head down the road to 3 Mile Creek to camp there.
This continued for a couple more hours, with cars & trailers driving in, doing a lap or two of the camp ground, finding a spot to slot into if they were lucky, or more likely continuing to the next camping spot.
Then the next morning it almost emptied. Then it refilled again that afternoon, then emptied the following morning. The third night it started to taper off as most people coming over from the Big Red Bash had been and gone.
Most people arrive in Dalhousie in the afternoon, have a swim, camp for one night, then leave again the next morning.
And that’s a shame.
Dalhousie Spring is a perfect place to be still.
Sit on one of the pool noodles supplied and bob down to the eastern edge of the pool. If you sit quietly you might see the birdlife that rings the edge of the pool. I saw four different species of ducks, including a breeding pair of speckled ducks, which my bird book tells me don’t exist in that part of Australia. There were also pink eared ducks, a wader that looked like a mangrove heron though that doesn’t exist in the area either, and some sort of cormorant that I haven’t identified yet.
If you sit still long enough you might even get your toes and legs nibbled by the tiny fish that live in the pool.
Then go for a walk to one of the other springs and sit still and you’ll see an amazing variety of bird life in and around the pool.
The Dalhousie Spring is one of a number of mound springs in a line, formed by water pushing up through the earth from the Great Artesian Basin. It’s an oasis in the middle of very harsh countryside. That’s possibly why early colonisers thought they’d be able to farm the country, though seriously, didn’t they look at the soil??? The ruined buildings and old farm machinery still sit where they were abandoned.
Sitting in the pool at dawn, with mist rising all around you and the sun just appearing through the trees is indescribable. There aren’t many people in the pool at the time so it’s very quiet and peaceful. The mist shrouds anybody else that is there, so you can feel like you’re all alone, with just the birds and fish for company. As the sun rises, the mist can reflect the subtle colours around you, and if there is any cloud the sky streaks with mauve and orange, while the trees on the opposite side start to turn pink from the top down with the morning light.
And it’s very bracing in the cold desert morning when you get out!
As soon as you move beyond the pool the landscape looks alien. Almost bare, with white salt and minerals covering the ground like a layer of snow, and flat open plains across to distant mountains. What does grow here tends to be scrubby, and very hardy. Plants that can hold their own water to survive the tough conditions.
And in the midst of all this is a line of springs with fresh water, ringed by tall reeds, tea tree, and even the odd date palm, about the only thing planted by colonisers that still thrives .
Dalhousie is also an important part of the Thutirla Pula, or Two Boys, dreaming story, which extends across the Simpson Desert to Birdsville. The Two Boys spring is in Dalhousie.
I’d planned to stay in Dalhousie for two nights but the beauty of the place, the easy walks through the countryside, and the relaxation of swimming in the hot pool made me decide to stay for three. That and the number of people coming west across the Simpson from the Big Red Bash. One more night in Dalhousie would give the desert time to empty out a bit more.
On my third night I woke up at 4.30am to a strange sound. It took me a minute to realise that it was raining. At that stage I wasn’t going to get up and pull the awning out to give me cover, so I pulled the cover of the swag right up and lay there listening to the rain. And listening, and listening. At 6.30 I decided I might as well get up and go for a sunrise swim.
Not wanting to pack up the swag while it was so wet, I ummed and aahed about whether to pack up and head to the desert. The rain looked like it was set it so I pulled the awning out, put up the side wall and decided if the swag dried by midday I would head out. Then I went for another dip in the spring.
By 11am the swag was dry, and I was more than ready to head off to the desert. I packed up and headed off for the big adventure – the Simpson Desert.