The Birdsville Track is arguably the most iconic dirt road in Australia. Whereas once, its reputation as a heavily corrugated rig-wrecker deterred all but the hardiest grey nomad, the track is now far more accessible.
Some even choose to take their caravans along the 517km route, which runs from the tiny South Australian town of Marree to Birdsville in Queensland. It’s true that the road is considered a ‘highway’ by some 4Wders, but this is still remote, desolate country … and should be treated with respect. Road conditions should always be checked before setting off. Anyone taking it on should also ensure their vehicle is in good nick and that they carry adequate supplies of water, food, fuel and spare parts.
Just out of the former rail town of Marree – which lost much of its raison d’etre when the new Ghan line was built – are the remnants of the Lake Harry Homestead, the site of an unlikely date farm experiment a century ago. Soon afterwards, travellers pass the dog fence which separates cattle country to the north and sheep country to the south. Then there’s honesty box camping at Clayton Creek, complete with toilets and a self-serve natural spa.
Bores were drilled in the Great Artesian Basin at 40km intervals all along the Birdsville Track to make the movement of stock easier. Today, these bores create regular mini oases of greenery and birdlife. One of the most accessible is the Cannuwaukaninna Bore, which spews out near-boiling water.
Continuing north, travellers come across the Etadunna Homestead and then the normally dry Cooper Creek. In the past couple of years unusual flooding has meant the long-retired ferry here has been temporarily pressed back into service to get travellers across the creek.
From the Mungeranie Roadhouse, which boasts basic facilities and a campground, the track runs through the Sturt Stony Desert. After passing the Mirra Mitta Bore, the junction with tracks heading off into the Simpson Desert, and the vast Clifton Homestead cattle station, travellers reach a fork in the road.
The Birdsville Outside Track is easier going but well-equipped adventurers sometimes prefer the original Inside Track, which winds through Diamantina River flood plains. It’s 150km or so from here to Birdsville.
Reaching the iconic Outback town is really just the start of the adventure … but boy getting here is quite an introduction!