Australia’s dangerously hot and dry Simpson Desert will be closed for the first time during the southern hemisphere’s summer to prevent tourists dying in the outback.

Temperatures in the Simpson Desert Conservation Park are forecast to reach between 40 to 50 degrees and authorities have decided the conditions are too harsh to allow visitors in.

The park, which covers 3.6 million hectares in the middle of the country, will be closed from Dec 1 to Mar 15. Anyone caught trespassing will be fined $1000.

Department regional operations director Trevor Naismith said the closure was necessary to prevent deaths and to ensure the health of emergency staff.

“There’s been a number of near misses and we have had deaths in past years in the northern parts of South Australia in relation to overseas tourists who are not experienced and are ill-prepared for the conditions,” he said.

“The Simpson Desert is one of the most fascinating, majestic places in Australia, but in the middle of summer it’s also one of the harshest and the least hospitable areas, and potentially one of the most unforgiving, dangerous places.”

Mr Naismith said many cars broke down in high temperatures, leaving their passengers stuck in the middle of the desert.

“This high risk also extends to emergency personnel who are called out to help stranded visitors.”

Thousands of tourists travel to see the dunes and rock formations of the Simpson Desert each year.

However, there are no maintained roads in the park, only tracks, and it can only be crossed by four wheel drive. All visitors are cautioned to carry extra fuel and water in case of a breakdown.

Average annual rainfall in the region is less than 200mm.