Australian desert deemed too dangerous for visitors
For the first time, Australia's vast Simpson Desert Conservation Park will be closed during the fierce heat of summer to protect unwary tourists.
Wildlife officials say the park — straddling parts of South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland — is too dangerous for visitors to explore and will be shut from the beginning of December to mid-March.
With temperatures that often reach 50 C, wildlife rangers believe the Simpson Desert is no place for tourists during the scorching summer. The vast wilderness is one of the most inhospitable parts of Australia's arid interior.
The desert covers 3.6 million hectares and its extensive sand dunes have become a popular attraction for intrepid travellers. There are no roads across this barren landscape, only rough tracks that were made by engineers searching for oil during the 1960s and 1970s.
Trevor Naismith of the South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage says the perilous conditions can be too much for some ill-prepared tourists.
"There's every possibility that they could find themselves in real strife, or even worse, perishing, and we'd like our visitors to our parks to have a positive experience," Naismith said. "And by visiting the Simpson Desert at the cooler months of the year, you can have a safe and rewarding experience and not a life-threatening one."
A small number of visitors have died in the region over years. It's not uncommon for off-road vehicles to become stuck in the soft sand or have their engines overheat.
Officials have warned that inexperienced drivers are often simply unaware of the harsh realities of this remote and uncompromising part of the Australian outback.
Tourists who breach the Simpson Desert ban will face fines of up to $650 US.