Article Comment: Birdsville Track

Hello Everyone,
My wife and I are thinking about taking our two kids on the Birdsville track for an outback adventure. The only time we can get off to do this is in January and we aren’t sure if this is a good idea or not. We recognise it will be HOT but thought if we did most of our travelling in the early morning or late afternoon it would be doable.
Has anyone done the track in January? Is it something that is possible or are we better off waiting until the stars align for some other time off.
Any thoughts are appreciated.
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Reply By: Member - Boobook - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 09:49

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 09:49
Wait Cameron.

It could be unbearable, and there isn't a lot along the track to stop and see. The only oasis would be Mungarannie, which would give little comfort even if it's open.

It will test the car's cooling system and your family's patience. '
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Reply By: Stephen L (Clare) SA - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 09:57

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 09:57

Nothing is impossible, but if it was me, I would not do it, having done it many times in the past, the heat will be usually very hot, you will not want to stop to look at the many interesting things to see along the way and if you do have car trouble, it will put you in a serious situation. You say you will be doing your driving early morning and late in the day.........where are you going to stop during the day? The only real tree coverage is in the Cooper Creek crossing and away from that, open gibber country and no shade or trees.

If you do, you must be FULLY PREPARED for any situation and I would not even think of doing it at that time of the year without new LT tyres on your vehicle, full puncture repair kit, compressor, PLB, sat phone and lots of water, tarps for shade in case of car trouble.

At that time of the year if you break down, you will be all on your own. Recently a friend of mine had car trouble 11 kilometres out from Marree, and only just within phone reception. It took over 3 hours to get a flat top out to get him and not one single vehicle went past him, and that was when it was cool weather.

Station people will only travel on the main road if they have to and usually will do their water runs just before the sun comes up and then late in the day to keep away from that scorching sun. If they leave their station for a long drive, it is never during the day, but at night away from the sun.
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Reply By: bobsabobsa - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 10:07

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 10:07

It can get very hot out there, hard on vehicles , even harder on people , I have work out there and it can get bloody hot , people do die, I would not do it .
AnswerID: 633774

Reply By: Member - peter_mcc - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 10:11

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 10:11
As others have said, I don't think it would be wise. I did it in late September a few years ago and it was hot - we got out at a few spots along the way but didn't want to explore too much because of the heat. Even then it was the sort of hot that dried your sandwich out before you finished it.

Aside from the safety issue if something goes wrong, what are you going to do during the day when you aren't travelling? You could sit in the Mungerannie Hotel one day in air conditioned comfort if they are open but otherwise you'll be in the sun because there isn't much cover.

I'd say wait...

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Reply By: Cameron R3 - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 10:50

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 10:50
Thank you everyone for your honesty and taking the time to reply. It's a lot to think about. Our plan had been to go from Maree to Mungerannie on day 1 and then on to Birdsville day 2. I had thought about doing it as an "Alpine Start" or getting onto the road around 3-4am and driving as the sun came up to get to the next point and avoid the heat. Even then it would probably be quite hot!

It seems the overwhelming opinion is that we should try and find a different time of year.
AnswerID: 633777

Follow Up By: Member - Cuppa - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:01

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:01
"Even then it would probably be quite hot'

Spot on, & no 'probably about it.

A few years back we spent 10 days travelling from Birdsville down to Marree in late November. We had consulted whomever we had been able to talk to around Birdsville as to the wisdom of this, Driving an old Nissan Civilian bus (2wd with dual rears) towing a trailer containing a couple of off road bikes. The concensus was that we were mad, but we felt we had it covered & went anyway.

Up every morning before dawn - it was hot even then. Left at first light - getting hotter by the minute. Drove very slowly to reduce pressure on the motor, & to keep coolant temps down & to treat the tyres nicely. I recollect that our overall average speed was around 20kph, but that we did briefly reach 40kph a couple of times. Low gears & engine revs were needed to keep the radiator fan spinning sufficiently to keep engine temps down. Air conditioner was not working. Each day we would set up the new camp by mid morning to avoid having to do so in the very worst of the heat. During the 10 days we only came across 3 other vehicles, 2 heading north on the road passed us, & one couple towing an ancient Jayco Penguin at Mungerannie. I cannot imagine doing this with young children & enjoying it. Although we too would not choose to do the same again, It was an adventure we will never forget, & to be honest, because at that time the Birdsville Track felt very exciting to us because back then we had not travelled very remote (today we would enjoy it at a cooler time of the year but find it 'just another desert road)it was in fact one of the best things we had ever done. I believe it would be harder still in January & doing it over just two days would put so much pressure on everything I think it would be a recipe for potential disaster. Unlike those who told us we were mad to do it, with 2 kids & a 2 day schedule it would not be madness, it would IMHO be extremely foolish & negligent, & not the sort of journey that experienced outback travellers would take without a great deal of thought. Imagine just one possible scenario among many - tyre blow out. OK you have spares & the means to change it, but add in ground which burns just to touch, winds which feel they are direct from a furnace licking up dust which makes it hard to see what you are doing (as does the constant salty sweat running into your eyes), & to breathe is hard because you have something wrapped around your face to stop sucking the dust in, plus a caustic sun glaring down on you constantly trying to burn any exposed skin, no shade. The effort required is enormous compared to a usual tyre change & the heat sucks that energy away rapidly. A 30 minute job becomes a nightmare lasting hours. It seems that you have got the message from others, but I post this just in case you are still 'wavering'. ;)
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Follow Up By: Member - rocco2010 - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:39

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:39
And when you get to Birdsville? Stay a couple of days and the come home via the same road or travel on to some equally hot place?

Doesn't sound like much like fun for the kids.


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Reply By: Mikee5 - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 11:40

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 11:40
What is your accommodation? Caravan, or cabins? Mungerannie is not exactly 5 star, do you plan to lock your kids in an air conditioned donga all day and half the night to avoid the heat? Most casual staff leave places like that and Birdsville for the summer, service and catering might be an issue too. It won't be a holiday.
AnswerID: 633778

Follow Up By: gke - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:22

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:22
If you do decide to do it work out the most pessimistic amount of water that you need then at least double it plus enough for a radiator fill.
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Reply By: Cameron R3 - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:51

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 12:51
Again, thank you to everyone who took the time to answer, there is a lot of wisdom on this forum!

We want to introduce our kids to the outback in a way that will create a good long term bond to it, not scar them forever.

We will find another activity for our holiday and aim for the Birdsville track another time.
AnswerID: 633779

Follow Up By: Stephen L (Clare) SA - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 15:15

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 15:15
Just another question, where will you be travel from?
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Reply By: Allan B (Sunshine Coast) - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 15:57

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 15:57

You say.... "a lot to think about"
I would say...... "madness to even consider it".

I have lived and worked in northern South Australia and would not even consider it alone, certainly not with children. Sorry mate!

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Reply By: Michael H9 - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 18:33

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 18:33
I reckon a better choice would be the Flinders Ranges. I've camped there in january and it's not ideal but bearable. There's altitude and trees which makes some places a little cooler, there are more accomodation options, yet you can still get a sense of remoteness in many parts of it. The scenery is spectacular.
AnswerID: 633783

Follow Up By: Ozi M - Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 19:31

Monday, Oct 19, 2020 at 19:31
Yes, you could go to Wilpena Pound, they have a shady camping ground or AC accomm

Walk at daybreak, rest under a tree once it hits 40c (most days)
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