Located in the remote Simpson Desert, in central Australia, the French Line is one of the country’s great touring tracks. It’s the most direct track across the desert. There are a number of large dunes to cross and many of the climbs become degraded in the course of any given season. It’s one of the Australia’s best 4WD tracks.
The track, also known as the Shot Line, is 438km long between Oodnadatta and Birdsville. It’s the shortest and most direct route across the Simpson. The route has humbled many egos. It’s not for the sissies and shouldn’t be attempted by novice drivers. The route crosses the dunes at right angles and there's about 1200 of them in all. This is definitely not a Sunday drive. Its large, steep and wombat holed dunes also make it one of the toughest tracks of the country.
It can be difficult to traverse due to traffic volume. The journey offers an exhilarating driving experience, with superb views. Expect to cross over 1200 red sand dunes and to feel as far removed from civilisation as you’re ever likely to. The experience of using this road is very impressive. Most of the dunes are not too difficult to tackle, but there’s just so many of them that you’ll need to be cautious to avoid vehicle damage. There are numerous salt lake crossings. When these are dry they have a very firm base,however when wet they can become very sticky, in some cases impassable, in which case you will have to make numerous detours to the north.
The ride is rather remote, so you need to be prepared. It’s the most demanding track in the Simpson. Trailers of any kind are not recommended on the French Line. In case of a breakdown, there is very little in the way of passing traffic or inhabitants around, and no cell phone service in parts. You need an equipped heavy 4WD with plenty of extra fuel, water and a powerful UHF CB Radio and ideally a satellite phone or emergency GPS rescue beacon. Take emergency supplies and extra parts; make sure you know your route. It’s very important to check your tyre pressure (15 – 20 psi). Due to the remoteness of the area, take special care to ensure that your vehicle is ready for the trip. It has very soft sand and is slow going all the way (15–20 km/h), it has been getting rougher over the years; reduced tyre pressures are essential.
Very hot in summer. Carry plenty of water. Never drive this trail alone. The crossing is closed completely between December 1st and March 15th due to the extreme heat. Proper preparation is essential to having a safe, enjoyable trip on this road. The best time to be in the Simpson Desert is April to October when the daytime temperature will be comfortable. The desert is one of the most arid in the world and the driest place in Australia which can hope for 15cm of rain per year if it’s lucky. Very remote. While the crossing itself takes several days, depending on the pace of your convoy, the location itself is very far removed from all population centres. Carry at least seven litres of water per person per day, and emergency food and water for another 7 days.
Pic&video: Brett Fisher