The Birdsville Track is the stuff of legends. Not only is the track itself an amazing destination in its own right, but it will lead you to fabulous little towns like Birdville, Marree, and further afield fantastic spots like Farina and the magical Lake Eyre. And while these days the famous Birdsville Track is more of a dirt highway than a track, it’s still a rite of passage for every off-road tourer, and a journey we thoroughly recommend.
With the Big Red Bash coming up fast we know the track’s going to be a getting a good workout as travellers from all over Australia descend on Outback Queensland for this fantastic event. We were on the track this time last year, so we’ve put together a bunch of tips to help you get the most out of your journey, and arrive safely at the other end.
But first, some background!
Officially the Birdsville Track runs from Marree in South Australia north to Birdsville, QLD (or vice-versa). This section of road comes in at around 517kms, but depending on which way you travel to reach the track in the first place you’ll likely cover at least 800km of dirt road all up by the time you hit the bitumen again. Like all great outback tracks, the Birdsville Track began as a stock route back in the 1860’s, but these days it’s morphed from cattle and camel trains to travelling 4x4 convoys.
Now we usually travel solo, but on this particular leg of our journey we had some company in the form of three car/caravan combos made up of family and friends from home. We travel in a 4x4 and off-road Cub camper trailer so we were well and truly ready for anything the track threw at us, and while our fellow travellers all had great 4x4s, two of them were towing regular on-road caravans, with the third towing a custom build off-road van. So we were curious to see how the different setups would compare on the track!
All up we spent three nights on the track itself, taking our time to travel north as a group. And while we all made it to Birdsville, not all caravans made it there in one piece!
Because it’s such a popular route the road is generally kept in pretty good nick, particularly in the lead up to large events like the Big Red Bash and the Birdsville races. So if you’re heading out there around about now you’ll hopefully find the grader has been just ahead of you and you’ll have a (relatively) smooth ride. You’ll also find that the local councils want to keep it in good nick, meaning that as a protective measure they’ve got a very low threshold for closing the road. If there’s even a hint of rain, expect to be delayed in your travels due to road closures (this goes for nearby tracks like the Strzelecki too).
However, in saying that, this is still without a doubt a remote outback track. So while it’s better than it’s ever been, it’s very important not to underestimate the challenges that you may face, and not to take the journey too lightly. Obviously, local conditions will vary greatly even from day to day so chat to other travellers, check local road reports, and drive accordingly.
The important stuff
- Be prepared. Make sure you have adequate fuel, water and supplies as all of this is scarce (if not non-existent) on the track. There will be nowhere to fill your water tanks on the track, but you can buy drinking water at most fuel stops. Make sure your spare tyre is in good nick as there is every chance you’re going to need it.
- Don’t expect phone reception, even if you’re with Telstra. You’ll have none from Leigh Creek in South Australia until you reach Birdsville. For us, this was a period of around a week where we were out of range.
- Fuel can be found at Marree, The Mungerannie Hotel (around the halfway point) and in Birdsville itself. Brace yourself: it won’t be cheap. We recommend getting the FuelMap app so you can keep an eye on prices and top up at the cheapest spots.
- There are a number of campsites along the track, particularly in the southern half, less so north of Mungerannie.
Camping on the track
As we said we took our time and spent 3 nights on the track.
Night one was at Clayton Bore. Just 50km north of Marree this fantastic campsite costs $10 per car, and has flushing toilets and a hot shower. But the best bit is a big open air hot artesian bore bath that you can laze the day away in (with a few drinks of course).
Night two was at Cooper Creek. This campsite is free but donations are requested. It has flushing toilets, and lots of shady spots.
Night three was at the Mungerannie Hotel which is at roughly the halfway point on the track. This classic outback pub has unpowered sites for $20/night with a decent amenities block. We didn't eat at the pub but we're told they do a good meal. Fuel was $1.90/litre.
Prior to hitting the track we spent the night free camping behind the Marree Hotel. They do a great meal and offer hot showers for $2 a pop. Birdsville itself does a great job of rolling out the red carpet for travellers. There’s tons of free camping on the outskirts of town and although the free camps have no amenities you’ll find drinking water taps, bins & a dump point in town. Both the famous Birdsville Hotel and Birdsville Bakery are well worth a visit.
Also try and get out to Lake Eyre either for a night or as a day trip from Marree. It’s a truly unique and magic place. Farina station south of Marree is also well worth a visit. You can camp for $5 per person per night, check out the old ruins, and if you’re there during the winter months you can grab some delicious baked goods from the volunteer run bakery, all cooked using an original underground bakery that has been discovered in the ruins.
Do’s and Don’ts
Travelling in a convoy with friends and family was a unique experience for us. Here are some of the things we learned: - Don't expect people to know where they are or where they're going. Or to actually carry maps. On that note, it's possible to lose an entire caravan + two grandparents in the middle of the outback.
If you're going to carry a spare jerry can of diesel then make sure to carry a nozzle for said jerry can so as to be able to actually get your diesel from the jerry into the car.
Dirt roads wreak havoc on water lines in caravans. Don't rely on having a full water tank when you arrive as chances are you'll have watered the track the whole way there. Your sullage pipes aren't safe either. Or your fridge. Or your stove.
Don't expect the person travelling behind you to notice if an entire jerry can of fuel goes flying off the back of your caravan.
Do expect your caravan to fill with red dust no matter how well you think you've sealed up all your vents.
Do feel a teeny bit smug that your Cub Campers camper trailer is pretty much dust free, intact & doing a bloody great job.
If you come across someone with a flat tyre on your travels do stop to help. But don't expect him to actually know how to use a jack or to put the handbrake on his vehicle. And watch you don't almost end up with a car rolling on top of you as a result. (Never assume people actually know what they're doing!).
Don't expect a Triton to make it up Big Red on the first go. Or the second… or the fifth…
Do check out this part of the world. The Birdsville Track was tons of fun and we all had a ball. Just not sure we'll be starting a business running tag-along tours any time soon…
Safe travels, and if you’re headed to Birdsville for the Big Red Bash then say hi to Johnny Farnham for us!