The stuff of Bucket Lists for many, here’s some insider info of one of Australia’s most famous stretches of road
Originally an aboriginal trade and stock route, the Birdsville Track is a must-do event for riders with a spirit of adventure, and a suitable bike. The road made famous by outback mailman Tom Kruse is still an important link between Marree in South Australia and Birdsville in south eastern Queensland, and can still be a challenge if the weather decides not to play nice.
From Birdsville, you head east over the Diamantina River and past the famous Birdsville Race Track, before riding past the Diamantina Developmental Road and onto the Birdsville Track itself, which spears directly south towards Marree. The landscape opens up and for the next 520km you will face big skies and desert landscapes that can be both awesome and overwhelming as you ride beside the dunes of the Strzelecki, Simpson and Sturt Stony Deserts. The road surface is mainly crushed gibber and is wide enough to support road trains which regularly rumble past at high speed. When dry, the road surface is easy to negotiate but in the wet season the base becomes carved up by heavy vehicles and can be treacherous for motorcycle riders. The best option is to find a decent wheel rut and stick with it, keeping a wary eye out for the cattle, brumbies, camels, and emus that regularly appear along the unfenced road.
The sign for Mungerannie appears 315km from Birdsville, as you approach the southern edge of the Simpson Desert. The pub is a welcome sight and is the only place along the route for fuel and a beer. After turning in from the main track, don’t stop at the traffic lights, or you will have fallen victim to some dry outback humour. We dropped in for a drink and were joined by a local who arrived in his helicopter. Beyond Mungerannie the track continues south and is dotted with outback stations and sheds. The Tirari Desert is on the left and beyond that the famous Lake Eyre. Keep an eye open for changes in the road surface.
Deep wheel ruts can fill with bull-dust and are difficult to see, and are treacherous when hit at speed. Keep a watchful eye on your mirrors, as the road trains can travel faster than you. The best option is to pull over, give them a wave, and let them past. That way you can let the dust settle and be back on your way.
Around 60km from Mungerannie you will cross the Cooper Creek and off to your left is the shimmering vision of Lake Gregory. Wedge tail eagles will often give you a fly by in this area as they try to find an up draft off your bike.
The last section of the Birdsville Track gets you into the small town of Marree, at the northern edge of the Flinders Ranges. It’s a bit like re-entering civilisation after the remote and wide open feel of the corrugated desert track, you’ll be thankful for the smooth surfaces. Not to mention grabbing a cold beer at the only two-storey stone hotel in the Outback.
A satellite phone and EPIRB are essential, as is plenty of water. Check the weather forecast and, when possible, travel in a group of three or more. Make sure you also have an up-to-date first aid kit. If things go really bad, your best bet out here is the Royal Flying Doctor Service, Medical Emergency – Port Augusta.
Mechanical service is available at the Birdsville Roadhouse. The roadhouse acts as the local RACQ agent and is the contact for remote and desert recoveries. (07) 4656 3226. The Mungerannie Roadhouse should be able to hook you up with transport to Maree if required. (08) 8675 8317.
Mungerannie Hotel – (08) 8675 8317. Cabin accommodation is available at the Oasis Motel and Caravan Park, Marree (08) 8675 8352. Pub and motel accommodation can be found at the Marree Hotel. There’s even a pool to wash off the dust. (08) 8675 8344
Birdsville Roadhouse (07) 4656 3226. Mungerannie Hotel (08) 8675 8317. And fuel is available at the Marree Roadhouse and General Store (08) 8675 8352
Marree Hotel has a great cook who will whip you up a monster meal (08) 8675 8344. There’s also food available at the Mungerannie Pub but in off-peak season the menu is extremely limited (08) 8675 8317. And there’s the Birdsville Hotel (07) 4656 3244
There is no simple detour option for the Birdsville Track, but there are several points of interest in the region worth looking at. Lake Eyre is a popular spot at the southern end of this route and there are a couple of access tracks to get you out to the edge of the salt pans, with the easiest being just north of Marree. At Birdsville, on the northern end of this ride, a well-established pastime is the 35km trip out to Big Red to either take a look at the massive sand dune, or have a go at riding over it.
Things to do
There is a hot spring at Mungerannie warmed by an artesian bore. The 50-degree water is a bit hot during summer, but is a fantastic fix for tired muscles in winter. Marree sits at the intersection of the Birdsville Track, the Oodnadatta Track and The Old Ghan Rail Route from Lyndhurst. It is located at the base of Lake Eyre North which is well worth a visit only 90km from town. Halfway along the Oodnadatta Track between Maree and the Borefield Track you will see the Sculptures in the Desert – proof the locals have a lot of time on their hands. The history of the area is often visible with old homesteads and machinery scattered throughout the area, slowly deteriorating under the harsh desert sun.
Story & Photography The Outback Crew