Birdsville Track

History, Facts & Track Updates


The Birdsville Track is an icon among Australian Outback routes. Driving this 517 km dirt road from Marree to Birdsville, or the other way, leads you to remote, harsh Outback country. A trip for adventurers!

A spare tyre with a h hole.We had a flat tyre near Mulka - the hole in the tyre held the car key

That's what the Birdsville Track can do to your car...
... or at least to a tyre that's not in the best condition!



It was a hot day, so no fun to replace it on an uneven track.
However, I don't want to blame the conditions alone. Someone scratched the car, and obviously the tyre as well, in a car park a few days before. That was perhaps the reason that the tyre blew off.
You see, it is important to go on the rough Outback tracks with good tyres!
Fortunately, we could replace the damaged thing in Mungeranie.

Advertisement

Birdsville Track - Quick Facts

Length of track: 517 km from Marree to Birdsville
Location: North-east of South Australia into south-west Queensland
Distances from major cities: Marree at the southern end of the road is 650 km north of Adelaide, Birdsville marks the northern end, the town is 1585 km west of Brisbane, or 1167 km north of Adelaide. Both towns offer major facilities for travellers.
Facilities along the track:
Accommodation, fuel, basic supplies are available at the Mungeranie Roadhouse, and in the towns at the start and end of the route. Click here to read more about facilities.
Permits: No permits required
Road conditions:
A stony track covered with large pebbles (gibbers), few dune crossings which don't cause problems. It is essential to drive to conditions. A 4WD is recommended, and much more convenient than a 2WD, managing the rough ride. Please note that most car hire companies won't allow you to drive a conventional vehicle on routes like this.

Read more about conditions further down on this page.
Before you go, check the current road closures and conditions at Outback Roads South Australia, or call Ph: 1300 361 033

A stony road in Outback South AustralaWhen you see a dust cloud, there is a car approaching, or in front of you. Slow down!


Despite the extreme dry and harsh environment, the land along the Birdsville Track is considered good cattle country. Once the rare rain and floods from the north inundate the region, you'll see an amazing transformation of the sunburnt, desolate landscape. Water from the Artesian basin helps that cattle can survive during the drought periods.

The Birdsville Track is surrounded by Australian deserts. The Tiari and Sturt's Stony Desert line the southern and central part, the Strzelecki and Simpson Desert surround the track in the north.

Is it boring? No! Although there are many featureless stretches, old ruins, creek beds (usually dry) and sand dunes provide changes along the way.

Once you leave Marree for the northbound journey, or Birdsville for the southern route, there is only the Mungeranie Roadhouse about halfway that provides provisions like fuel, meals & drinks for travellers.

Join me on a fantastic journey. Read about the history, highlights, track conditions and get facts about the Cooper Creek ferry.

Wetland in a harsh environmentWetlands near the Mungerannie roadhouse - a paradise for birds

Looking back...

The Birdsville Track was established in the 1860s. It once was the main stock route to bring cattle from central Queensland to the railway in Marree. In these days, the trail had a grim reputation, many people and mobs of cattle lost their lives.

Due to the lack of surface water the Australian government sank artesian bores along the way. This made it possible for men and beasts to survive the distances in this remote country.

Crossing the Natterannie sandhills was a challenging task for cars in the early days. The dunes are clay-capped today, and don't cause problems any more.

For the first motorists the Birdsville Track was an adventure that could take a couple of days or weeks. Tom Kruse, the most famous of the mail men, did the mail run from 1936 to 1957. He had to fight many battles with the harsh conditions in these days.

The Birdsville Track is rich in history and tragedy. Unlike the Oodnadatta Track you need to know what to look for to notice the relics of the days gone by.

Here's where Jackie Stallard's video guide to the sights along the track comes in handy. Jackie has lived for seven years in Birdsville, travelled the route back and forth, and compiled heaps of stories and information in her audio guide. 

The Birdsville Track today...

Look at this map of the Birdsville Track - it opens a new window for your convenient reading and planning.

  • The modern track is a wide stony, gravel road that lost the horrors of the early days. Nonetheless, the route crosses dry & desolate country, and it is very remote.

  • Travellers should be well prepared, carry sufficient water, a spare tyre & everything essential for driving in the Outback. Read my driving tips here.

  • Avoid to travel in summer, it gets too hot. You won't meet too many fellow travellers, and probably have to wait a while until help arrives when you break down.

  • After rain, the road will become impassable quickly, so watch out for the weather forecast before you go.

  • The piles of stones and gibber pay toll to your tyres, punctures happen as well as accidents. Drive slowly and stay safe.

  • Watch out for cattle roaming on the track! This is cattle country, after all.

  • As always, road conditions vary depending on the weather, amount of recent traffic, and when the grader went through for the last time.
    Actually, I found conditions on the Birdsville Track rougher compared with the Oodnadatta Track.
Mulka ruins along the Birdsville TrackMulka ruins

The highlights along the Birdsville Track

  • Lake Harry ruins - More than 100 years ago, after a bore had been drilled, a date palm plantation was established here. This is not a joke! Although the date trees grew successfully, up to 2000 date palms stood there in the 1930s, the project failed due to the lack of bees to pollinate the trees. The Outback has reclaimed its land and only the ruins remind of these days.
  • The dingo fence meanders 5400 kilometres from the cliffs of the Great Australian Bight throughout Outback South Australia and NSW to the coast north of Brisbane.
  • Cannuwaukaninna Bore - this is the most accessible bore, only a few metres off the track. Be careful, the artesian water pours out at near-boiling point. It's a good picnic spot, and the small wetland attracts many birds. Take your time, sit down and watch the amazing bird life.
  • In 1926, Betty Broadbent, an English nurse, fell in love with the country, and decided to live by Cannuwaukaninna Bore running a little store on her own. What a tough woman!
  • Cooper creek - crossing the 5 km wide sandy creek bed is no problem if it's dry. Scrubs and low trees indicate the Cooper's channels, and make a difference to the surrounding country. There is a detour to a ferry on Etadunna property, check if the Cooper is in flood before you start your journey.
  • Mulka ruins - not much is left of the former station homestead and store.
  • Mungeranie Gap and roadhouse - the gap is the highest point on the track (150m) and a scenic highlight. The roadhouse is a highlight for all who long for a cold beer and a dip in the nearby wetlands. It is a lovely place to stay a day, or two.
  • Koonchera sand hill - the largest dune on the Diamantina floodplain

Advertisement

A wide empty road in the Australian OutbackNear Pandie Pandie station

About 200 km before you arrive in Birdsville, the newer "outside track" begins. The turnoff is near Clifton Hills station. This part of the road was built in the 1960s to detour Goyder Lagoon and the flood plains of the Diamantina river. It is highly recommended to use the new outside track as the old route is not maintained frequently, and often closed anyway.

When you finally arrive in Birdsville, the tiny town at the end of the route, you are still in the middle of nowhere, but there is so much to explore!

Now you are in the south-western most part of Queensland, a great chance to discover another beautiful region of Outback Australia. I am sure you'll enjoy your travels in this remote area as much as I did.

Need a map for your Outback journey?

Click on the image to find a road atlas, maps, or any other travel gear for your journey!

Partner Link - Read my affiliate policy

Birdsville Track - Cooper Creek Ferry

An outback campervan crossing the dry bed of Cooper CreekCrossing the wide bed of Cooper Creek which is usually dry

It is a rare event when the Cooper Creek floods the Birdsville Track and motorists have to take the detour via Etadunna Station to use the ferry.
After 20 years this rare event happened twice in subsequent years, 2010 & 2011.
Signs at the beginning on either end of the road announce if you need to take the ferry, which is a special attraction for many Outback travellers.
Of course, you can always check here as I am going to update this page when there are changes.

June 2010 - Cooper Creek cut off the Birdsville Track. After heavy rains earlier this year in south west Queensland the Cooper reached the track on 1st June. The punt service over the Cooper started its service on 8th June.

January 2011 - The ferry doesn't operate any more, you can cross the bed of the Cooper on the main route.

June 2011 - The Cooper Creek flood-way on the Birdsville Track is closed to all vehicles. The ferry re-commenced operations on 22nd June 2011.

January 2012 - The Cooper Crossing on the track is open again. The operation of the ferry is discontinued.

If you happen to be out there to watch this rare event, please sent us a photo and your story. Last time the Cooper flooded the track was in 1990, so it is really something special.

An old steel bargeM. V. Tom Brennan - the old barge can be seen along the track

The Tom Brennan was used to ferry people and supplies across the flooded Cooper Creek.

2019 Birdsville flood

Devastating rains and floods in Queensland's north and central west earlier this year (2019) have killed about 500,000 animals. This flood water is now moving south through parts of the channel country, feeding mostly rivers and creeks in  the Diamantina River catchment.

Station owners in the south-western part of Queensland are happy that the flood gives the land the much needed moisture back, after 7 years of drought. Late February, Birdsville looked like a small island in a huge sea. Naturally, all roads leading into town were closed for several weeks.

At the time of writing, the track is closed between Mungeranie and Birdsville. Check road conditions here.

Update end of May 2019 - Finally, the Birdsville track is open for 4WD vehicles, but no towing. The inside track remains closed due to flooding.

As conditions change often, please always check before you go.

Looking for a camper for the big trip?

Discovery Campervans offers the leading brands: Brits, Maui, Kea and many more.
Compare and get rates from one website.

Compare Britz, Maui, Backpacker & Kea on one easy to use website. Save Quotes, look at the layouts and full specifications and compare prices and package inclusions.
Partner Link - Read my affiliate policy

Discover other places in the Birdsville region

Advertisement