Birdsville - The calm before the storm

Submitted: Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 16:29
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Hi all. Just got back from a whirlwind trip up to Birdsville and back. Literally walked in the door back in good old Adelaide less than 2 hours ago.

The crowds are starting to gather for the 2011 Birdsville Races, but here's some interesting information you may want or need to know.

The Birdsville track is in excellent condition with road crews working at various spots along the way. There were only two places the tyres got wet and it was not much more than a puddle. There's a few stones on the track, mostly through the creek crossings but nothing too bad if you keep the speed down. I wouldn't think twice about taking the family sedan up the track in its current condition...just remember that speed can either be your friend or your foe.

Diesel prices at Birdsville are $1.74 per litre at the roadhouse. Having spoken to a few fellow campers, the most expensive commodity is drinking water, so I'd strongly suggest taking as much as you can. I heard one unconfirmed report that water was $5 a litre!!!!!! I wonder what diesel tastes like?

Rats and mice...... I saw two mice about 100kms north of Marree - that was it. A far cry from the plague I was expecting. Having said that, we made a point of not leaving a single crumb outside. A strong recommendation is to get to your spot early enough to let your engine cool down before night fall. The buggers are a sucker for a warm engine and they're not toilet trained either.

The ferry ..... 20 minute wait heading north and about a 3 minute wait heading south. There are a couple of thunder boxes available for use (which weren't there last year). We went up in a Captiva that measures in at 4.5 metres and the ferry operators are currently trying to work out ways to get two mid sized "cars" across in a single trip. This will go a long way to cutting cues. If you have a towbar tongue and don't need it...take it off! This can make the difference between a single car trip or a double. Forget the's just not gonna happen! There are some guide posts which will help you gauge the total length of your rig and if you can get it on, but do your homework before you leave. It may save disappointment. All the info is on the Transport SA website.

The bakery is still pumping out it's usual top quality pies and pastries. Dusty is preparing for the onslaught and Theresa is being helped by the policeman's wife, Sandra to serve up the treats. Sandra is also conducting star gazing evenings...enquire at the bakery.

Big Red...... I did it! This time last year we went up in the Captiva and after much chest beating and hoorays...upon arriving home and checking our data log, I discovered we conquered Little Red and missed the big one by a mere 1km....hence this weeks trip. I just had to do it. There is a 8 km flood detour that will take you over 8 dunes. If you can get over these, you'll breeze Big Red in. We dropped our pressures to 18 and crawled up the dunes with relative ease and about 50% throttle. There's no need for engine screaming, wheel spinning antics. Be mindful of the next person who wants to have a go and minimise the track damage. Clearance between wheel ruts was our biggest issue, but with a predominantly front wheel drive AWD, we were able to steer out of the ruts and travel along the tops of the humps. There was one dune along the detour that took two attempts to crest. We went out and bagged Nemesis dune, then drove down, across the corridor and went straight for Big Red. We fell about 4 metres short of cresting Big Red on the difficult track on the western side. Approach speed was only about 40kmph mind you. The centre track was a breeze and we did that first shot with about a 40kmph approach speed. We then went down the Eastern side and along "Lakeview Drive" to the Little Red track, went up and over that before heading back along the detour track to Birdsville.

Suffer in your jocks to the guy and girl in the pimped out red Jeep that laughed at us when we crossed paths along the detour track saying we wouldn't clear the first dune in "that" car because it took them 3 shots at almost every dune along the way. Did I miss something? It seemed too easy and we were heavily loaded.

Anyway... the town is gathering momentum and by Tuesday most of the pub will be guttered in preparation. The food vans are starting to roll up and the free camping area by the Diamantina bridge is filling fast.

If you are like me and hate crowds.... wait!'s a great time of year to go. The track is excellent, fuel is pretty cheap, the town looks superb and the weather is a treat....t-shirt weather until about 10pm. Any questions.....ask away!

Get out there and do it people. Life is for living, not merely existing.

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Reply By: Fab72 - Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 16:58

Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 16:58
A short video of our first attempt at Big Red is here..... Big Red first attempt in Holden Captiva

Forgot to video the successful attempt although we did get plenty of still shots.
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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 19:06

Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 19:06
Hi Fab. Did you do this trip in the IO?
It is important to always maintain a sense of proportion

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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 20:26

Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 20:26
Hi Kevin,
Nah. I did it in the wife's Captiva. I don't get the IO for another week, have to pick it up from Horsham. (I'm in Adelaide).

I want to validate the reliability of the IO before I even think about doing any remote area trips. Maybe some local overnighters first.

I'll be sure to post some updates on how the IO goes when it's put to the test but to be honest, I think the IO would have lacked the torque required to get up some of these dunes meaning I would have had the thing screaming to achieve the same outcome. That's not to say I wont be trying it out.

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Follow Up By: BrownyGU - Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 21:36

Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 21:36
Great stuff Fab,

I remember your post about thinking you conquered Big Red, only to get home and realise you hadn't,and really feeling for you, great you have now done it!

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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 22:04

Sunday, Aug 28, 2011 at 22:04
Fab, I enjoyed your post and thought it a bit early for you to be to be off in the IO. My son drives a Captiva. I must tell him what he can do in it.
I'm a bit jealous I suppose. About 6 weeks ago I had to turn back from the south end of the Birdsville Track because of rain. The intension had been to try to get the Jackaroo up Big Red while in Birdsville. Perhaps next year.
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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 06:52

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 06:52
Cheers Browny.
Yeah it was a pretty somber feeling this time last year. It's a long way to go to then find out you fell just a mere 1km short.

It sure was a different feeling this time. The pre plotted GPS co-ordinates, the sign at the base and comparison of other photos has given me a 100% assurance that I got it right this time.

Now I'm thinking bigger plans like a Simpson crossing....but not in the Captiva, probably not in the IO and definitely not on our own.
I've fallen in love with the area and my only disappointment now is not being able to see the desert in a normal dry year. I love the arid lands!!!

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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 07:05

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 07:05
I must say I was very impressed by the Captiva. The bias towards front wheel drive was just enough to be able to steer around the big ruts that a "normal" 4X4 would run into when powering up a dune. The diesel has an incredible amount or torque and it's very fuel efficient. Most of the time I used only 50-75% throttle.

The down sides..... no bash plate. That plastic thing is a throw away or something you keep in the shed until you go to resell the car, and minimal ground clearence. The risk is magnified by the fact that being an east/west mounted engine, it's not only the sump that is at risk, but also the transmission casing. A solid steel or alloy bash plate is a MUST.

King springs make a lift kit for these things...not huge but a couple extra inches will help clear the sump.

Third thing, although it didn't hold us back, is the tyres/rims. The lowish profile tyres don't respond as well as traditional tyres when airing down. This wasn't as big an issues as the bellying out issues we had, but something to consider when shopping for new rubber.

Personally....and I know this may raise some eyebrows....with a decent bash plate, a suspension upgrade and some good friends in 4X4's, I'd consider taking the Captiva across the Simpson. I think the wife might think otherwise though...hehe.

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Reply By: Member - Ruth D (QLD) - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 07:07

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 07:07
Hello Fab - good report BUT!
I cannot understand people who drink PLASTIC water. As a long time Birdsville resident one of the most amazing thngs about living there (and there are many amazing attiributes) is the fact that Birdsville has UNLIMITED WATER and on of the most amazing attributes is that it is beautiful drinking water.
There are very few rain water tanks in Birdsville and as the there is a 5" rainfall - not much chance of them filling or being able to supply the town. The drinking water comes from the main bore right there in town.
There are taps around town - partiuclarly at the ANZAC park as you drive into town with drinking water. All around town there are other taps which supply river water to the gardens - nothing wrong with drinking that water either after all it is sand filtered and comes from the pristine (and not yet wild river) the Diamantina. Just puts you off when you look in the bucket and its coffee coloured.
When I have been away I can't wait to make a big pot of tea and just drink it.
Yes the water is tested all the time and the results make wonderful reading - there is absolutely nothing wrong with drinking Birdsville bore water. I've lived all over Queensland and I would prefer to drink Birdsville water than tap water in most eastern states.
Oh yes, and no water rates!
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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 07:39

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 07:39
Hello Ruth,
Great reply...thanks. I must admit that we filled out water containers from the tap that is in the block next to the roadhouse, across from the old pub ruins. It was some of the best water I have ever tasted.

Other things I love about Birdsville..... the working museum, the old hospital, the carwash, the power plant and overflow, the close proximity to the Simpson desert, the bakery, the Diamantina and billabong, the caravan park, the weather (yes even during summer), the book Birdsville by Evan McHugh, the sunsets, the community spirit, the tourist information centre, and the Anzac memorial park. About the only thing I don't like is the crowds at race time and the road out which means I'm heading back to population, polution and prix.

No water rates???? OK...that's making the place even more appealing. Does the town need a Toyota trained mechainic?????

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Follow Up By: Member - Kevin S (QLD) - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 08:14

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 08:14
Ruth, tea and water drinkers don't get much of a mention when people discuss Birdsville. All you hear about is the pub and beer. And I don't think a Wild Rivers declaration will improve the quality Diamantina water but it might make it harder to get to.

Fab, with all those Toyotas that cross the Simpson some of them must break down in Birdsville. Might be a good business opportunity. And you might be surprised at how well your IO would handle the Simpson, particularly if you went with a tag along operator. That's my current plan.

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Follow Up By: Member - Ruth D (QLD) - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 19:55

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 19:55
Hi Kevin, I am really worried about the Wild Rivers legislation - and so should everyone else be.

Fab, in 10 years of keeping records in Birdsville you will be pleased to know that Toyota won the brand war. As for mechanical work - give Barnsey a call at the Shell Auto.
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Reply By: Rockape - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 08:02

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 08:02
We had a laugh when coming back from Big Red last week.

Heard some vehicles talking so I got on the radio and said vehicle east bound on bypass dunes, after a short time I get the drift that the group is having trouble working out where they are. So I got on the blower and said stay there and I will give you directions, we are not far away. A lady answers and says how do you know you are close, so I tells her by the uhf signal strength.

Well we see them and I say I will stop and I will give you a map. Reply is "we have one" Ok we stop and I let them know to just keep following the fence line and that the track is pretty good and Big Red not to hard to climb. Lady says been there done that before.

We go one our merry way but on the radio I can here them having trouble on the dunes as they are towing 2 Trackshaks or similar. The banter goes on with mention of tyre pressures being dropped further and winching. Didn't have the heart to tell them we had come back loaded in high range 2wd.

Well this is where it gets even better. Out where the bypass track meets the main track I here the lady again with the statement "It is all the day trippers that have cut up the dunes". Well I couldn't help myself and answers her with "it wouldn't happen to be people pulling trailers that may be causing the dunes to be cut up would it".
They say don't cart campers around on those tracks, I wonder why.

Well isn't it strange that we blame others for the problems we have caused.

Fab,have a good trip,

PS. I shredded a tyre about 17k north of Marree and guess whose fault it was mine. Because I hadn't turned on my tyre monitor.

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Follow Up By: Fab72 - Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 10:12

Monday, Aug 29, 2011 at 10:12
Hello Rockape... I had to have a giggle at your story. It's interesting some of the stuff you hear on the UHF. I think some people forget others can hear them.

We came across a group of 7 vehicles heading out to Big Red as we were heading back to Birdsville along the border track (the flood detour). Because we didn't have a sand flag, we were stopping at the top of every dune, watching for approaching dust and scanning the UHF channels.

We intercepted this convoy on channel 17 and communicated our where abouts and informed them we'd wait between dunes to allow them to pass. The leader of the convoy found us and stopped for a chin wag while the rest of the pack caught up. During our chat, the others radioed through to the leader telling him to wait up because they were having a hard time getting over the dunes.

At that point, the leader radioed back saying he had caught up with us and was waiting with us for the rest of the gang to come through before we would proceed in our "HOLDEN CAPTIVA"....... the radio then went silent.
About 3 minutes passed before someone was game enough to ask the leader "Did you say Captiva or Jackaroo?"

You could have heard a penny drop in the sand when he confirmed it was a Captiva. Priceless.

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