Dalhousie Springs

About the Mound Spring


Witjira National Park, Simpson Desert


108km north of Oodnadatta to Hamilton on the Mount Dare Road, then a further 71km north-east of Hamilton along Public Access Route No. 8

Sunrise over main Dalhousie pool

Early morning mist over main pool

Low level aerial view, Dalhousie main pool

Early morning mist over main pool

Ruins of old Dalhousie Station

Kingfisher Spring, Dalhousie - paperbark tea tree thickets with emergent introduced date palms

Things to do here

Mound spring

Explore the springs on foot in the cooler months, with the springs supporting dense wetland vegetation around the pool margins and along the overflow tails

Observe birds and take in the photogenic scenes on winter mornings. The open water of the larger pools attracts waterfowl and can be particularly photogenic on winter mornings when the relatively warm spring waters interact with the cold surface air to produce condensation and wreathes of fine mist

Look for the small native fish. The spring waters support many endemic species of invertebrates and six species of native fish, five of which are endemic to Dalhousie. Whilst the invertebrates are small and can be hard to find, the small native fish can often be seen in the pools and overflow channels


Take a short walk around the springs and observe the traditional importance to Indigenous people, with dense artifact scatters around the many old campsites

Explore the stabilised ruins of the old Dalhousie Homestead complex, interpretative signage outlines the history

Getting here

Around sixty well-defined flowing springs (along with many minor flows and seepages) make up the Dalhousie Springs cluster. They are particularly fine and active examples of artesian springs and the natural and cultural heritage values are outstanding.

The cluster of mound springs collectively known as Dalhousie Springs is located in the Witjira National Park, approximately one hundred kilometres north east of Oodnadatta in the Far North of South Australia. The Park has an area of 768 853 ha with its northern boundary abutting the Northern Territory border and its eastern boundary abutting the Simpson Desert Regional Reserve. Witjira National Park was proclaimed on 21 November 1985 to protect the internationally significant Dalhousie mound springs and many desert landforms representative of the region.

Access from the south is usually via Oodnadatta and a Public Access Route (PAR) through the old railway siding of Pedirka, but there is a longer alternative route via the ruins of the old store at Bloods Creek and the former pastoral property known as Federal. From the north access is via the Stuart highway and the old railway town of Finke, now known as Aputula.   Some travellers arrive from the Simpson Desert to the east, but most Simpson Desert travellers travel from the west to the east and Dalhousie is a popular overnight campsite before parties enter the Desert. High clearance, well-equipped 4WD vehicles are recommended for all routes.

Driving access to Dalhousie Springs

A place steeped in history

  • Pre history
    The springs were of immense importance to the Lower Southern Arrernte people
  • 1870
    European discovery made by surveyors working on the Overland Telegraph Line
  • mid 1870s
    Businessman and pastoralist EM (Ned) Bagot took up a pastoral lease
  • 1925
    Homestead abandoned in favour of Mt Dare
  • 1985
    The former pastoral property Mt Dare Station was acquired and Witjira National Park established

Self-guided walks

There are two easy walks to take you to points of cultural and natural history interest. Follow the markers.

  • Irrwanyere Nature Walk

    1 hour 700 m return (easy walk)

  • Idnjundura – Kingfisher Springs Walk

    2 hour 6 km return (easy walk)

Irrwanyere Nature Walk

This walk takes you past several features in the area that were utilised by the local people here for the last few thousand years. These include the healing waters of Irrwanyere, local plants used the spiritual areas around this site.

Along this walk there are views of the springs and landscape that were significant to he local Lower Southern Arrente people.

The walk starts by the healing waters of Irrwanyere (Dalhousie Springs) and leads to the forbidden waters of Atyetyarr uthen (Rainbow Serpent Spring), then to the view from Medicine Hill, before returning.

Idnjundura - Kingfisher Springs Walk

The Idnjundura (Kingfisher Spring) Walking trail will take you past several locations associated with Idnjundura Altyerre (mythological story). The trail follows the spring tail of Irrwanyere to the group of springs to the east.

Along the trail there are information signs that tell some of the Altyerre (mythological stories) from this area.

Explore the history and environment

Explore the history and environment aspects of this spring by clicking each image below (extra info appears beneath photos).

  • Natural features

  • Indigenous connections

  • European exploration

  • Pastoralism

  • Early morning mist over main pool, Dalhousie, August 1983


  • Tourism

Natural features

The sixty or so springs at Dalhousie occur in a 70 square kilometre zone that trends north north east along fractures in the eroded crest of the Dalhousie Anticline. The current springs sit anywhere between 5-25 metres below a dissected limestone plateau which is almost certainly a remnant of earlier (Pleistocene) spring activity.   Spring flow rates vary considerably, the largest springs supporting pools tens of metres in diameter. The strongest flowing spring, adjacent to the main campground, has a daily flow of around 14 million litres and the combined flow from the springs is estimated to be as much as 80-90% of the total discharge of mound springs in South Australia (and over 40% of the total output from all Australian mound springs). There is abundant evidence of springs waxing and waning in what is a highly dynamic hydrological environment.

The character of mound springs in general, being small ‘islands’ of water in an otherwise desert environment, along with their long isolation, have combined to give them distinctive plan and animal communities and the Dalhousie Springs are no exception. At least fourteen species of small animals are endemic, being found nowhere else, and a number of plant species are of conservation significance because of their very restricted distribution in inland Australia. The closed forest community of white tea-tree (Melaleuca glomerata) around a number of the pools and along some of the overflow tails is the only closed forest of any kind at mound springs in Australia. In spite of the permanent water and dense vegetation only two species of mammals have been recorded from the springs, the diminutive Giles planigale (Planigale gilesi) and the long-haired native rat (Rattus villosissimus), a species which can irrupt in huge numbers throughout the region in good rainfall seasons. The low number of mammal species may reflect the past combined grazing pressures from sheep, cattle and feral horses, donkeys and camels.

Low level aerial view, main pool, Dalhousie, July 1986

Indigenous connections

With their assured water supply and great natural beauty the springs were (and continue to be) of immense importance to the Lower Southern Arrernte people and their neighbours, particularly the Wangkangurru to the east. The Wangkangurru people occupied much of the Simpson Desert, relying on freshwater soaks, but in dry times when the soaks failed the Arrernte people allowed access to some of the eastern springs at Dalhousie.

Abundant evidence of the utilitarian importance of the springs can be seen to the present in the extensive scatters of stone material in the form of tools, flakes and grinding implements, with recorded densities of up to 214 items per square metre. Post-European contact historical items such as clay pipes, bottle glass and shards of pottery and china (the latter often displaying worked edges) are also to be found. Equally importantly, the springs were (and still are) a highly important node for tjukurpa, song cycles that in some cases extend in various forms from north to south and east to west across the continent. A number of these have been recorded by researchers such as Australian National University linguist Luise Hercus, but others were mentioned only vaguely in early European accounts and have probably been lost.

In recognition of the continuing importance of Dalhousie to Indigenous people the park is co-managed with traditional owners through the Witjira National Park Co-Management Board set up under the provisions of the South Australian National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

European exploration

The springs at Dalhousie were east of John McDouall Stuart’s line of exploration in the late 1850s and early 1860s and were first sighted by surveyors working on the Overland Telegraph Line in December 1870, the surveyors describing them as ‘an almost illimitable expanse of waving green reeds with large pools of water at intervals’. Named Lady Edith Springs for the wife of the South Australian Governor of the time, the name was changed at her request to Dalhousie, her family name.

David Lindsay was a surveyor and explorer and in January 1886 he used Dalhousie Springs as a base for a foray into the Simpson Desert. Benefiting from the expert guidance of Wangkangurru people, he used their fresh water mikiri soakages to travel north eastwards to the Queensland-Northern Territory border. At this stage he could have continued eastwards to complete the first European crossing of the Simpson Desert, but because he considered that would take him into previously explored and known country he halted his foray at that point and returned to Dalhousie. Lindsay is best-known for his leadership of the Elder Scientific Exploration Expedition of 1891-92, but dissention within the scientific staff of the Expedition and a subsequent enquiry adversely affected his reputation for some time.

David Lindsay, surveyor and explorer who in January 1886 used Dalhousie Springs as a base, B495
David Lindsay, surveyor and explorer


The saline and gypseous soils around the springs do not support good natural pastures, but the lure of permanent water, and large quantities of it, proved irresistible. Within two years of the first European sighting a pastoral lease was taken out over the springs by pastoralist EM Bagot. Sometime between the mid 1870s and mid 1880s the homestead, outbuildings and yards were constructed and there was even a bush racecourse nearby.

John Lewis held pastoral tenure over the Dalhousie Springs country from 1896-1912, running cattle, horses and angora goats. Lewis was one of a number of larger than life characters produced by colonial South Australia. Born in Adelaide, he ran away from home at the age of 14 and subsequently forged a prosperous career in South Australia and the Northern Territory in pastoralism, stock dealing and mining. A member of the SA Legislative Council from 1898-1923, he was prominent in Adelaide’s social, commercial and political circles and his son Essington (who spent time at Dalhousie) later rose to prominence in the mining and steel manufacturing company BHP.

Cattle, horses and goats were bred on the property and date palms planted, the progeny of the latter now being a troublesome woody weed at many of the springs. Lewis sold to R (Dick) and F Sandford in 1912 and in 1925 the old homestead was abandoned in favour of a more northern site (Mt Dare) on the flood-out course of the Finke River.

The last chapter in European pastoralism came with the arrival of the Lowe family in 1933, overlanding cattle south from Mataranka in the Northern Territory. Edwin Lowe, and later his son Rex, ran cattle on a typical open-range basis until the brucellosis and bovine tuberculosis eradication campaign of the late 1970s and early 1980s ushered in a new era of boundary and internal fencing.

Hon. John Lewis
Hon. John Lewis


While the Dalhousie Springs were remote and difficult of access, their outstanding natural heritage values were known in scientific circles in Adelaide and the first formal proposal to set them aside as a national park came from a group of biologists and botanists in 1970. Similar proposals followed, but on each occasion the Lowes indicated that they were unwilling to sell only the springs, arguing that they were central to the entire station’s operation and that they would only contemplate sale if the entire property was purchased. In the early 1980s a coincidence of circumstances allowed for just such a transaction and in 1984 acquisition of the entire Mt Dare Station was finalised. In the following year (21 November 1985) the former pastoral property was formally constituted and named Witjira National Park.


Until the 1970s, when 4WD vehicles became more widely available, Dalhousie Springs remained remote and little known. Additionally, the pastoral lessees at the time actively discouraged travellers from visiting the springs.

When the property was purchased and constituted a national park all of this changed, the park’s establishment coinciding with a boom in 4WD sales to the general public and a great desire on the part of many outback travellers to cross the Simpson Desert. Witjira National Park very rapidly became not just a favoured destination in its own right, but also the western gateway to the Simpson Desert.

Many thousands of travellers now visit Dalhousie every year and balancing the sometimes conflicting interests and needs of tourism, the natural environment and the rights of the traditional owners requires complex management responses, expressed most recently in the 2009 Witjira National Park Management Plan.

Projects & activities at Dalhousie Springs

Following dedication of Witjira National Park, including Dalhousie Springs, in 1985 there has been a wide range of activities undertaken with the general aim of conserving the natural and cultural features of Dalhousie while also providing for an enjoyable and educational experience for visitors. Informal bush camping arrangements have been transformed to an organised camp-ground with ablution facilities. Interpretive information has been provided. A major program for control of woody weeds has been implemented. Such activities have been the primary responsibility of the State Environment Department, supported by volunteers.

Voluntary work at Witjira has been carried out for some years by FOMS’ sister group, the Friends of the Simpson Desert Parks (FOS). FOS was established in August 1986 and because the most popular route into the Simpson Desert group of parks passes through Dalhousie it was logical that FOS take on the responsibility for helping National Parks’ personnel with the on-ground management of what has become a very popular location, the last campsite for most travellers before entering the Simpson Desert.

Activities undertaken at Dalhousie by FOS have included assistance with woody weed removal (the invasive introduced date palm Phoenix dactylifera and Acacia farnesiana, an aggressive prickly shrub), revegetation of the main campground with both trees and understorey plants naturally occurring at the springs and physical works to improve the amenity of the campground.

To date, FOMS has had limited involvement at Dalhousie Springs. When FOMS was established in 2006 an early decision was taken to focus most of its efforts on the mound springs located along the Oodnadatta Track between Marree and Oodnadatta, thus leaving in place the existing arrangement of FOS providing the voluntary help at Dalhousie. At the same time, FOS and FOMS have overlapping membership and the two groups co-operate closely. In August 2016, FOMS volunteers worked for the first time at Dalhousie, carrying out tree planting, water sampling and vegetation monitoring.

Dalhousie Springs have also been an important location for research projects. Because of the scale of the springs, they have been used to refine technology for remote sensing of wetland communities, and more specific studies of fish and other aquatic biota have also been undertaken.