We drove the legendary Birdsville Track through the Outback

The Birdsville Track through the Outback

The Birdsville Track through the Outback

The legendary Birdsville Track is one of the famous tracks through the Australian Outback. Every 4WD enthusiast in Australia has to drive this track at least once in his life. It’s not a particular difficult track but it can be a bit rough and you are travelling through a very remote area in the desert.

The Birdsville Track has been established in 1870 as a travelling stock route. For almost a century it has been used by drovers to push cattle from Birdsville to the railhead in Maree. The area north of Birdsville is known as one of the best “fattening up” country for cattle. From the railhead in Maree, the cattle have been transported by train to Adelaide and Melbourne.

The cattle and the drovers needed water, so bores have been sunk into the Great Artesian Basin to provide water. The drovers and their families started to settle along the Birdsville Track. The families needed supplies and Afghan traders leading camel trains started to use the Birdsville Track. As more people settled along the track a mail delivery service has been established and a man named Tom Kruse started to deliver the mail regularly on his long and difficult mail run along the Birdsville Track.

The drovers and the Afghan cameleers are long gone. Big Road Trains are transporting the cattle on sealed highways. The Birdsville Track is now mainly used by a few locals and 4WD enthusiasts. So for sure we had to drive this track as well and experience the Outback of Australia.

The long and lonely journey on the Birdsville Track

The long and lonely journey on the Birdsville Track

Trip Info of the Birdsville Track

  • Distance (Birdsville – Maree): 520 Kilometres
  • Duration: Drivng time 8 – 10 hours, we would recommend 2 – 3 days
  • When to go: April to November (in summer it’s too hot)
  • Road rating: Unsealed two-lane road, 4WD recommended
  • Road conditions: some creek crossings are a bit rough with rocks, the track can be impassable after rain, check with the friendly staff at the Visitor Information Centre or the Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure on www.dpti.sa.gov.au/OutbackRoads before departure.
  • Permits: No permits are required

Route Notes

Birdsville (Start of the Birdsville Track)

The historic Birdsville Hotel is famous for its ice cold beer

The historic Birdsville Hotel is famous for its ice cold beer

Birdsville is well known for its remoteness and its historic Pub. The town lies between the dunes of the Simpson Desert and the Gibber Plaines of Sturts Stony Desert. It is the quintessential outback town and very far away from everywhere. The coast is over 1000 Kilometres away.

The area was first explored around 1845 by Sturt. In the early 1870’s Matthew Flynn built a first depot which was named Diamantina Crossing. Later on in the 1890’s it has been renamed to Birdsville and became a major service centre for the pastoralists with a population of about 270.

Nowadays the population is around 115 and the roads through the town are even paved. It is still a service centre but tourists and 4WD enthusiasts have taken over the place of the drovers. Fuel, tyre repair, drinks and some food is available.

Inside the historic Birdsville Hotel

Inside the historic Birdsville Hotel

The Birdsville Hotel is one of the classical, historic Outback Hotels. It has been built in 1884 and still provides accommodation, food and ice cold beer. The Birdsville Bakery offers snacks, bread, and is one of the few licensed bakeries in Australia with a selection of beer and wine. If you like, you can try a Camel or Kangaroo pie.

Sightseeing in Birdsville

On a stroll through the town we visited the remaining building of the Old Birdsville Hospital. The Old Birdsville Hospital Historic Display gives you a feel for the challenges of medical care in remote areas.

Enjoy a sunset at Pelican Point in the middle of the big billabong while watching the diverse birdlife.

You can stay in a room at the Birdsville Hotel, camp in the caravan park with hot showers and toilets or there is plenty of free camping space just outside of Birdsville along the Diamantina River.

Remember, if you plan to visit Birdsville in September, on the first Saturday in September are the Birdsville races and more than 5’000 people will arrive in this little speck in the middle of the desert. During the Birdsville races, the place feels like a beehive.

Walkers Crossing – Public Access Road (122km)

On the right side of the road the Walkers Crossing PAR leads down towards Innamincka. This track is strictly 4WD only and can be closed due to sand drifts or flooding. It’s more than 200 Kilometres to Innamincka and after 100 Kilometres you have to cross the Cooper Creek. The crossing might be deep and steep and can be impassable. Check for road conditions before travelling on this track.

Inside Track (181km)

On the left side of the road the Inside Track leads towards Birdsville. This track is strictly 4WD only. The track is very often closed due to heavy rains and flooding of the Diamantina River.

Warburton Crossing – Public Access Route (206km)

On the left side of the road the Warburton track leads over the Warburton Crossing through the Simpson Desert and over the K1 Line towards Poeppel Corner or over the Rig Road towards the French Line. This track is strictly for 4WD only. This track should only be attempted if fully prepared for expedition style travel. You need a South Australia Desert Parks Pass to travel and camp in the Simpson Desert.

Mirra Mitta Bore (279km)

The Mirra Mitta Bore is 1076 Metres deep

The Mirra Mitta Bore is 1076 Metres deep

Mirra Mitta Bore was sunk in 1901 and is 1’076 Metres deep. The water is hot and its flow is controlled by a valve.

Mungerannie Hotel (315km)

This stop could be seen as the middle of the trip. The Hotel and Roadhouse provides basic supplies like fuel, tyre repairs, food, drinks and accommodation. You can choose between bush camping and accommodation in the Hotel. Don’t miss the possibility to soak in the artesian spa and take a stroll around the Derwent River wetlands with its many bird species.

Mulka Ruins (357km)

A lonely grave at the Mulka ruins along the Birdsville Track

A lonely grave at the Mulka ruins along the Birdsville Track

These ruins embody a great example of the hard life of the early settlers. The Mulka pastoral lease was first taken up in 1885 by the Cobie family. You can still see the grave of their girl Edith Adeline under a lonely tree.

The lease was purchased by George and Mabel Aiston in 1923. They stocked the property with 1000 cattle and 300 goats and ran a store for drovers and others using the Birdsville Track. In the late 1920s a severe drought hit the area and continued for many years. Mulka station suffered stock losses and it became difficult to maintain the stations in this area. Adjoining neighbours moved off their properties. In 1943, George died but Mabel continued to run the store for a further ten years. There is not much left of the ruins but the grave with its headstone is in immaculate condition. It is a very lonely grave in the middle of the desert.

Cooper Creek floodway (383km)

Cooper Creek is another good spot for a break. Be careful and take it easy when you cross the floodway. Sharp rocks are littering the track and it can be rough at times. If the Cooper Creek is in flood you have to use the detour and the ferry, which operates during daylight hours. At km 388 you can see a monument with the punt that has been provided by Dalgety & Co Ltd during the flood in 1949 to ferry supplies over the Cooper Creek.

Dulkaninna Wetlands (439km)

Brolgas can be seen at the Dulkaninna Wetlands

Brolgas can be seen at the Dulkaninna Wetlands

The flow of artificial artesian bores has created this beautiful oasis in the desert. It’s a good spot for bird watching and a break before hitting the road again.

Clayton Creek (470km)

This is a good spot for camping. You can choose between bush camping in the designated area or stay at Clayton Station in self contained units. The bush camp has toilets, showers and even an artesian spa. Don’t miss the wetland with the beautiful birdlife.

Lake Harry Homestead ruins (491km)

An old car is still rusting at the Lake Harry Ruins

An old car is still rusting at the Lake Harry Ruins

At this place an experimental plantation of date palms has been established in 1897. The project failed because it was too labour-intense and the yield was way lower than expected. The date palms are long gone but you can still see the ruins of the homestead and an old rusty car in the desert.

Maree (521km)

The old locomotives of the Ghan Railway in Maree

The old locomotives of the Ghan Railway in Maree

Maree is a small town with basic infrastructure for travellers. It was the railhead of the Old Ghan Railway that connected Maree with Adelaide. You can still see the old railway station and three of the old diesel locomotives on some bits of old railway tracks. Fuel, accommodation and basic supplies are available. From here you can continue on the Oodnadatta track to Marla and further north to Alice Springs or down south towards Adelaide.

Personal experience

We found the Birdsville Track not a very difficult track. There are a few sections that are a bit rough and especially in the creek crossings, we had to slow down to avoid the sharp rocks littering the track. The condition of the track was very good and there was not a lot of corrugation. That probably also depends on the time of the year you drive this track. We really enjoyed the feel of the Outback. To camp in the middle of nowhere, have a campfire going and look up to the stars is just awesome. There were a few other cars on the road, but there were also times, when we did not see another car for many hours. So it is a very remote area and you might have to wait for a while until the next car is passing by. If you like to experience the Outback and drive an easy track, then the Birdsville track is a good option.

If you can’t get enough of the outback experience we highly recommend to drive the Oodnadatta Track from Marree to Marla too. Another cool outback adventure.

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