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WORDS AND IMAGES GREG CARTAN

The Birdsville Track poses these questions: can I or can’t I … will I or won’t I? If you’ve ever thought about having a crack at one of our most iconic desert tracks with your caravan, it might not be as risky as you think … maybe!

If you’re a keen RVer then you’ll always be on the lookout for new destinations. Ever thought of doing the Birdsville Track? There are two questions you need to consider. Firstly, is it possible with the rig that you have? Secondly, should you give it a go? I’ll give you some info that might help answer these two baseline questions. Firstly though, I must put my hand up and declare that I am biased. I’ve driven the track many times over my 35 years of four-wheel driving (Pajeros, Nissans, Toyotas, roof-top campers, trailers, and several caravans) and I love it. But I’ll try to keep my bias in check.

BIRDSVILLE OR BUST!

Caravan your way to

ABOVE Marree is the southernmost point of the Birdsville track and it’s well worth a stopover and a look around. Of course a beer and maybe a meal at the pub is mandatory.

TRAVEL Birdsville Track

ABOVE The improvised hot tub and spa, outback style, at Clayton.

The Track
The southern point of the Birdsville Track starts about 670 kilometres north of Adelaide in the Flinders ranges at Marree. The track wanders (roughly) north for about 530km on gravel roads to Birdsville in Queensland. There’s not much in between except a few bush campgrounds, a pub and the imposing Sturt Stony Desert. What this Track does offer is the pleasure of remote travelling, a genuine outback experience, bush camping with some basic facilities, and a few driving challenges. So, what about the track itself and what does it mean for you?

CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED
CRAFTSMANSHIP
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Track conditions: is it possible for you?
Let’s start with a caveat! If it’s been raining or looks like rain, don’t go. While plenty of vehicles do take on the track when it’s wet, I certainly wouldn’t advise it with a caravan. Especially if you are not overly familiar with this type of driving. Also, when it’s very damp a bypass ferry operates, and it won’t take caravans. So let’s talk about dry conditions.

It’s not sealed, but the Birdsville track is maintained in pretty good condition. It is even okay for conventional vehicles most of the time. The vast majority of it is a comfortable, easy, flat surface. Lots of four-wheel-drivers scoot along at 80km/h, which I think is too fast, but is quite doable without a load behind.

But you do need to be careful because the surface is also patchy in places. A lot of the surface is covered with small rocks called 'gibbers' that can cause some sliding and movement of your vehicle, especially when braking or on corners. These little suckers also spit out of the back of your rear tyres and ping off the trailer or van right back into the rear of your vehicle (think smashed glass).

You might also strike the occasional patch of soft-ish sand and while it’s often not enough to pull you up, it could flick the rig around, especially at speed. Finally, there are a few mild ruts across the Track, or along it where some idiot has ploughed through mud. These things mean you've got to be cautious, however, they’re all manageable if you keep your speed in-check and remain attentive at the wheel.

Fuel (unleaded and diesel) is available at Mungerannie Hotel, about 315km south of Birdsville. Even though the track is good, I still suggest factoring in a safety margin when calculating your fuel needs. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to give the hotel a call before you depart to check availability; after all it is the bush. I’ve never had any problems with contaminated fuel from here.

ABOVE The Track! Flat and a pretty reasonable surface except for the gibbers.

ABOVE The Mungerannie Hotel is the real deal; time your run so you can drop in for a toasted sandwich, a beer and a chat. // BELOW Mungerannie campground is near the wetlands (when there is water), has facilities and is a comfortable place to stop. Cost is $10 per night per person.

“There’s not much in between except a few bush campgrounds, a pub and the imposing Sturt Stony Desert”

ABOVE Campground at Clayton, with pretty good facilities really. There is also hot tub and spa // BELOW What is a huge bakery doing out here? Well, it’s makes lots of really good stuff (especially pies) for hungry travellers

ABOVE The Birdsville caravan park; you see a variety of caravans here but not all come up the Birdsville track. You can also access Birdsville on a gravel road from the east through Windorah and from the north from Bedourie on mostly sealed sections. Spend a couple of days here; take a run out to ‘big red’ and maybe try your driving skills.

Where can you stay?
Both Marree and Birdsville have a caravan park, hotel at cabins; very civilised. Mungerannie has a camping area and dongas for the more adventurous. There are a few designated campsites along the Track with (wait for it…) toilet facilities! One is at Clayton, about 53km north of Marree, another at Tippipilla Creek about 180km south of Birdsville. There is plenty of flat space but not much shade at these two, and no firewood. Then, there is the campsite at Cooper Creek. Here you will get a bit more shade and a better chance of firewood if you work at it. Apart from that, there are heaps of places along the track to camp out. Pick a spot, any spot, but don’t upset the local cockies.

Your vehicle and van
The track would be considered easy by most caravanners. Driven conservatively, a robust vehicle (ideally a four-wheel-drive) with appropriate towing capacity can do the job. A strong van, with adequate off-road features would be more than capable. But there are some risks.

Perhaps the most significant threat is puncturing your tyres. Both caravan and vehicle need to be adequately shod with plenty of spares.

Conventional passenger-spec tyres just won’t cut it. On our last trip, we had to help out a couple in a Subaru Forester with low-profile city tyres. We put some plugs in the sidewall, which gave him a spare to get to Birdsville and some peace of mind. He was lucky.

In these remote areas It is also sometimes difficult to find replacement matching tyres other than the standard A/T.

I also strongly recommend that tyres be deflated by perhaps 10psi (but you need to experiment with this). Lower pressures give a softer ride, better handling and less likelihood of damage from the gibbers.

The other main worry will be from vibrations and pressure on the van from the road surface. While I have described it as a good surface, your suspension will still cop a pounding, and if everything isn’t well packed and the van well constructed you could get some movement and possibly damage. Speed is key to minimising potential damage. There is no need to travel faster than 50 or 60km/h. Relax and enjoy.

ABOVE The caravan park is the place for running repairs; here a spotlight rattled loose and fortunately hung by a thread. // BELOW This is what can happen to a tyre if you don’t catch it early enough; and take spares with some tread!

Do you want to?
Well, as with any travelling decision, there are pros and cons. It really is a lovely 'track'. It’s remote with plenty of bush camping and an opportunity to immerse yourself in classic Australian desert country. If you read up on the history beforehand you’ll also get the opportunity to reflect on aspects of our past: Afghan Cameleers, Tom Kruse and his mail truck, the Page family tragedy and the general challenges faced by our early settlers. This could all come together into a relaxing and rewarding experience stretching over a few days.

On the downside, there is always the possibility of vehicle or van damage due to the general nature of the track, driver error, or the stupidity of other drivers. We had a cracked windscreen last time around caused by vehicle overtaking us at about 90km/h. You will probably get some spotting from rocks tossed around by vehicle movement, you might even get, shock, some dust in your van, and if something more serious does go wrong it could be expensive because you are a long way out in the back of beyond.

BELOW Another reason to enjoy the outback

So what do you reckon?
With a reasonably strong vehicle in good condition with suitable tyres and a few spares you can get up the track pulling a van. The van will be up to the task if it is reasonably solid, has good tyres and spares, and is adequately dust proofed. You can’t be overly precious about things getting dirty and would need to accept the risk of some surface damage (or maybe more). Risk mitigation involves excellent preparation (including tyres, UHF, and thorough van inspection), and defensive driving (slower speeds, maximum space between you and other vehicles, and an awareness of the challenges of driving on unsealed roads). For me, it’s a no-brainer. This is what we look for when we hook-up the caravan. But I am biased as I said. For you – maybe something to think about?

ABOVE Lake Harry ruins; time to reflect on some tough times in the past // BELOW And … when you get to Birdsville a drive into the desert must be on the agenda. This is from the top of Big Red, after a lot of rain. Magnificent.

DESTINATION DETAILS
Marree Hotel: 08 8675 8344
marreehotel.com.au

Marree Drovers Run Tourist Park: 
08 8675 8248

Marree Caravan Park and Roadhouse: 08 8675 8352

Mungerannie Hotel: 08 8675 8317

Birdsville Caravan Park: 07 4656 3214
birdsvillecaravanpark.com

Clayton Station: 08 8675 8311
claytonstation.com.au

Marree Police: 08 8675 8346

Road conditions: 
dpti.sa.gov.au/OutbackRoads

BUSH CAMPS
Tippipilla Creek: 
26.9878° S, 139.0001° E
Clayton (Station): 
29.3108° S, 138.4387° E
Coopers Creek: 
-25° 22' 14.09", 142° 44' 44.18"

TRAVEL Birdsville Track

If you’re a keen RVer then you’ll always be on the lookout for new destinations. Ever thought of doing the Birdsville Track? There are two questions you need to consider. Firstly, is it possible with the rig that you have? Secondly, should you give it a go? I’ll give you some info that might help answer these two baseline questions. Firstly though, I must put my hand up and declare that I am biased. I’ve driven the track many times over my 35 years of four-wheel driving (Pajeros, Nissans, Toyotas, roof-top campers, trailers, and several caravans) and I love it. But I’ll try to keep my bias in check.

The Birdsville Track poses these questions: can I or can’t I … will I or won’t I? If you’ve ever thought about having a crack at one of our most iconic desert tracks with your caravan, it might not be as risky as you think … maybe!

WORDS AND IMAGES GREG CARTAN

BIRDSVILLE OR BUST!

Caravan your way to

ABOVE Marree is the southernmost point of the Birdsville track and it’s well worth a stopover and a look around. Of course a beer and maybe a meal at the pub is mandatory.

The Track
The southern point of the Birdsville Track starts about 670 kilometres north of Adelaide in the Flinders ranges at Marree. The track wanders (roughly) north for about 530km on gravel roads to Birdsville in Queensland. There’s not much in between except a few bush campgrounds, a pub and the imposing Sturt Stony Desert. What this Track does offer is the pleasure of remote travelling, a genuine outback experience, bush camping with some basic facilities, and a few driving challenges. So, what about the track itself and what does it mean for you?

ABOVE The improvised hot tub and spa, outback style, at Clayton.

FXV 4.7 FAMILY
CARAVAN
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Track conditions: is it possible for you?
Let’s start with a caveat! If it’s been raining or looks like rain, don’t go. While plenty of vehicles do take on the track when it’s wet, I certainly wouldn’t advise it with a caravan. Especially if you are not overly familiar with this type of driving. Also, when it’s very damp a bypass ferry operates, and it won’t take caravans. So let’s talk about dry conditions.

It’s not sealed, but the Birdsville track is maintained in pretty good condition. It is even okay for conventional vehicles most of the time. The vast majority of it is a comfortable, easy, flat surface. Lots of four-wheel-drivers scoot along at 80km/h, which I think is too fast, but is quite doable without a load behind.

But you do need to be careful because the surface is also patchy in places. A lot of the surface is covered with small rocks called 'gibbers' that can cause some sliding and movement of your vehicle, especially when braking or on corners. These little suckers also spit out of the back of your rear tyres and ping off the trailer or van right back into the rear of your vehicle (think smashed glass).

You might also strike the occasional patch of soft-ish sand and while it’s often not enough to pull you up, it could flick the rig around, especially at speed. Finally, there are a few mild ruts across the Track, or along it where some idiot has ploughed through mud. These things mean you've got to be cautious, however, they’re all manageable if you keep your speed in-check and remain attentive at the wheel.

Fuel (unleaded and diesel) is available at Mungerannie Hotel, about 315km south of Birdsville. Even though the track is good, I still suggest factoring in a safety margin when calculating your fuel needs. Also, it wouldn’t hurt to give the hotel a call before you depart to check availability; after all it is the bush. I’ve never had any problems with contaminated fuel from here.

ABOVE The Track! Flat and a pretty reasonable surface except for the gibbers.

ABOVE The Mungerannie Hotel is the real deal; time your run so you can drop in for a toasted sandwich, a beer and a chat. // BELOW Mungerannie campground is near the wetlands (when there is water), has facilities and is a comfortable place to stop. Cost is $10 per night per person.

“There’s not much in between except a few bush campgrounds, a pub and the imposing Sturt Stony Desert”

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SCROLL TO CONTINUE

Where can you stay?
Both Marree and Birdsville have a caravan park, hotel at cabins; very civilised. Mungerannie has a camping area and dongas for the more adventurous. There are a few designated campsites along the Track with (wait for it…) toilet facilities! One is at Clayton, about 53km north of Marree, another at Tippipilla Creek about 180km south of Birdsville. There is plenty of flat space but not much shade at these two, and no firewood. Then, there is the campsite at Cooper Creek. Here you will get a bit more shade and a better chance of firewood if you work at it. Apart from that, there are heaps of places along the track to camp out. Pick a spot, any spot, but don’t upset the local cockies.

ABOVE Campground at Clayton, with pretty good facilities really. There is also hot tub and spa // BELOW What is a huge bakery doing out here? Well, it’s makes lots of really good stuff (especially pies) for hungry travellers

ABOVE The Birdsville caravan park; you see a variety of caravans here but not all come up the Birdsville track. You can also access Birdsville on a gravel road from the east through Windorah and from the north from Bedourie on mostly sealed sections. Spend a couple of days here; take a run out to ‘big red’ and maybe try your driving skills.

Your vehicle and van
The track would be considered easy by most caravanners. Driven conservatively, a robust vehicle (ideally a four-wheel-drive) with appropriate towing capacity can do the job. A strong van, with adequate off-road features would be more than capable. But there are some risks.

Perhaps the most significant threat is puncturing your tyres. Both caravan and vehicle need to be adequately shod with plenty of spares.

Conventional passenger-spec tyres just won’t cut it. On our last trip, we had to help out a couple in a Subaru Forester with low-profile city tyres. We put some plugs in the sidewall, which gave him a spare to get to Birdsville and some peace of mind. He was lucky.

In these remote areas It is also sometimes difficult to find replacement matching tyres other than the standard A/T.

I also strongly recommend that tyres be deflated by perhaps 10psi (but you need to experiment with this). Lower pressures give a softer ride, better handling and less likelihood of damage from the gibbers.

The other main worry will be from vibrations and pressure on the van from the road surface. While I have described it as a good surface, your suspension will still cop a pounding, and if everything isn’t well packed and the van well constructed you could get some movement and possibly damage. Speed is key to minimising potential damage. There is no need to travel faster than 50 or 60km/h. Relax and enjoy.

ABOVE The caravan park is the place for running repairs; here a spotlight rattled loose and fortunately hung by a thread. // BELOW This is what can happen to a tyre if you don’t catch it early enough; and take spares with some tread!

Do you want to?
Well, as with any travelling decision, there are pros and cons. It really is a lovely 'track'. It’s remote with plenty of bush camping and an opportunity to immerse yourself in classic Australian desert country. If you read up on the history beforehand you’ll also get the opportunity to reflect on aspects of our past: Afghan Cameleers, Tom Kruse and his mail truck, the Page family tragedy and the general challenges faced by our early settlers. This could all come together into a relaxing and rewarding experience stretching over a few days.

On the downside, there is always the possibility of vehicle or van damage due to the general nature of the track, driver error, or the stupidity of other drivers. We had a cracked windscreen last time around caused by vehicle overtaking us at about 90km/h. You will probably get some spotting from rocks tossed around by vehicle movement, you might even get, shock, some dust in your van, and if something more serious does go wrong it could be expensive because you are a long way out in the back of beyond.

BELOW Another reason to enjoy the outback

So what do you reckon?
With a reasonably strong vehicle in good condition with suitable tyres and a few spares you can get up the track pulling a van. The van will be up to the task if it is reasonably solid, has good tyres and spares, and is adequately dust proofed. You can’t be overly precious about things getting dirty and would need to accept the risk of some surface damage (or maybe more). Risk mitigation involves excellent preparation (including tyres, UHF, and thorough van inspection), and defensive driving (slower speeds, maximum space between you and other vehicles, and an awareness of the challenges of driving on unsealed roads). For me, it’s a no-brainer. This is what we look for when we hook-up the caravan. But I am biased as I said. For you – maybe something to think about?

ABOVE Lake Harry ruins; time to reflect on some tough times in the past // BELOW And … when you get to Birdsville a drive into the desert must be on the agenda. This is from the top of Big Red, after a lot of rain. Magnificent.

BUSH CAMPS
Tippipilla Creek: 
26.9878° S, 139.0001° E
Clayton (Station): 
29.3108° S, 138.4387° E
Coopers Creek: 
-25° 22' 14.09", 142° 44' 44.18"

DESTINATION DETAILS
Marree Hotel: 08 8675 8344
marreehotel.com.au

Marree Drovers Run Tourist Park: 
08 8675 8248

Marree Caravan Park and Roadhouse: 08 8675 8352

Mungerannie Hotel: 08 8675 8317

Birdsville Caravan Park: 07 4656 3214
birdsvillecaravanpark.com

Clayton Station: 08 8675 8311
claytonstation.com.au

Marree Police: 08 8675 8346

Road conditions: 
dpti.sa.gov.au/OutbackRoads