Once a perilous stock route, the Birdsville Track is a now a well-maintained yet secluded route.
Australia owes much to the ancient waters running beneath her cracked skin. Pioneers would have been foolhardy to attempt to cross the desert without those hidden wellsprings. Consider the Birdsville Track: it passes through some of Australia’s most arid regions from Marree, SA, to Birdsville, north of the SA-Qld border, receiving an average annual rainfall of just 170mm.
The track began dubiously as a stock route, and despite many government-commissioned bores, cattle frequently perished on the 500km-plus shuffle through the Sturt, Stony, Tirari and Strzelecki deserts.
But camels fared better, and merchants leveraged their resilience, slashing 400km from the alternative Adelaide-Brisbane route before motor transport was viable.
Today, the Birdsville Track is used for transporting cattle by truck, and although well-maintained, the unsealed track passes a few stations and just one hotel, and is subject to bulldust.
When the infrequent rains occur, its clay surface turns to mud, rendering it impassable for days. Plan and pack accordingly, and ensure you have adequate fuel reserves.
Few of the bores flow freely and many are capped, but their remains are abundant, and some still operate with pumps – it’s probably best not to drink from them, though. The most famous is the Mirra Mitta, mid-way along the track.
The Birdsville may be only 500km long, but take your time camping at every site if you can, and reserve your sightseeing for early in the very warm days.
The SA town of Marree, where the track begins, intersects with the famed Oodnadatta Track.
This is the gateway to the spectacular Lake Eyre, and flights available from the Oasis Town Centre Caravan Park or Marree Hotel and Caravan Park are worth the money.
The Lake Harry ruins are the first of many you’ll encounter. The former date plantation is 30km north of Marree and south of the rabbit-proof fence, and is an interesting stop on your way to the nearby cattle farm.
Clayton Station offers a shady camping ground with hot showers, flush toilets with a hot artesian tub, and five-day trails during the mustering season. You’ll pass the Dulkaninna Station, which is closed to tourists, but was the home of the famous outback postman Tom Kruse.
Cooper Creek is fed by Qld’s monsoonal yield. It’s usually dry where it crosses the Birdsville, but is passable only by ferry when waters are high.
After Cooper Creek, you’ll hit Mungerannie Hotel, with a crushed LandCruiser out the front, and camping ground with flushing toilets and hot showers within metres of the Mungerannie Wetlands. The hotel offers bar meals and fuel, but no gas.
Further north, Warburton’s Crossing is a short distance down the Simpson Desert access route, about 11km south of Clifton Hill Station. The station is closed to tourists but the Tippipila riverside bush camp is close by and a good spot for camping.
In its present form, the Birdsville Track is 517km, having been re-routed in the 1960s to bypass the Diamantha River flood plains. The turn-off is close to the Tippipila campsite, 200km south of Birdsville.
Conditions are sandier on the old “inside track”, which is no longer maintained. Experienced 4WDers may relish the thrill, but since you’re unlikely to encounter other vehicles, it’s best to travel in convoy.
Alternatively, the current route takes in the Page Family Grave site, and overlooks Lake Uloowaranie.
- Flight over Lake Eyre
- Varying 4WD terrain
- Friendly service at the Mungerannie Hotel
- The Birdsville Track runs 517km from Marree, SA, to Birdsville, Qld.
- Take ample fuel, water and food.