The Birdsville Track
is one of the great icons of the Aussie outback. Whilst it is actually the Inside Track
that strictly follows the old stock route established in the 1860s, most travellers today use the "Outside Track", which was created in 60's to avoid the main hazards of the Diamantina floodplain. Recent track maintenance have meant that the track is passable by conventional vehicles most of the year. In fact, many 4WDrivers consider the track more of a "highway" and some will tow caravans. Despite this, track conditions are rough and challenging. The surface is generally extremely dry on a sandy base covered with large pebbles (very large) called "gibbers". Travelling speeds vary depending on conditions and your load. The track will take its toll on tyres and travellers in 4WD vehicles are in a much better position to handle the terrain and minimise breakdowns and tyre punctures.
Unfortunately, many people underestimate outback conditions and there are many serious accidents on this track. The reasons usually come down to driver error, with sudden braking at speed on slippery gibbers playing a big part. The gibbers are piled thick you'll hear them crunch beneath your tyres. They are also prone to be kicked up by rear tyres and flick back to cause stone damage on trailers, rear windows and passing windscreens. The gibbers make for difficult traction if you start to slide around a corner and many cattle grids appear quite unexpectedly so please keep your speed appropriate to what you can handle with your vehicle and load. It is advised by the locals that you keep tyre pressures low to improve traction - don't worry, the gibbers have rounded edges and stone fractures are unlikely.
The unexpected dangers are straying stock (cattle) and crazy emus and kangaroos that will dart out of nowhere. Other less obvious hazards are the cattle grids with mound rises and narrow openings that because of the dusty haze and low contrast surroundings can appear unexpectedly.
The terrain varies considerably along the track from harsh red stones of the Sturt Stony Desert to the yellow dunes of the Natterannie Sandhills. Try starting your trip in the late afternoon to experience the richness of desert colours. Without a field guidebook the trip could be easily done in a full day but you'd just be blasting along the dirt and missing all the history and sights. Little is marked or signed and you really need to know what you're looking for to get the most out of your trip.
Take your time to meet stationowners, storekeepers & pub proprietors in one of Australia
's most remote and lonely regions.
Prepare for this trip by reading the history of the Birdsville Track
and its icons such as Tom Kruse. There are videos and books and some great guidebooks (all available from our Shop
) that will provide you with some background on the region and identify some ruins and their significance. That way, you won't be just another tourist that blasts down "the track" arriving at the end disappointed, saying "the Birdsville Track
is just a highway", because it is so much more than that.
How to Use this Trek Note
Click the "Map" tab below to see the route we've provided. Icons on the map are the POIs you'll need for navigation purposes. Be sure to check the list of Nearby Places
on each POI page.
If you'd like to save this information there are a couple of ways to go about it, depending on what you're actually after:-
- Ideal solution - download the ExplorOz Traveller App from Google Play or the App Store. The app enables you to carry the ExplorOz Places, Treks, & Maps data offline in your mobile device ready for your adventures. It is a complete mapping, navigation and tracking app. For more details, read our ExplorOz Traveller page.
- You can print a paper copy of the text using the print icon button shown above, near the social media buttons. For the best output it is advised to open each tab/section to load all images and artwork. You will still need to click open each Place page (listed in Where to Stay, What to See) to print off all available information.
- If you have a Hema Navigator or use Mapping Software such as OziExplorer, or TrackRanger AND you are an ExplorOz Member, then you can click the Download Trek button at the top of this page to obtain the raw data files (eg. GPX) for this Trek.
- If you're not a Member, or you'd like to batch download the entire Treks database you can obtain this by buying a product called EOTreks Route Files from our online shop.
The Birdsville Track
is surrounded by deserts. Sturt's Stony Desert in the southern and central parts, and the Strzelecki and Simpson Desert
in the north. Despite the apparent barrenness of the region, the Birdsville Track
area is considered good cattle country. In fact organic beef is produced in this area, with lifestock free from ticks and hence no need for chemical treatments.
Surface water is rare unless there's been flooding. However the many artesian bores that were sunk by the Afghan camellers, are still operable and create areas of desert oasis attracting birdlife and interesting stops.
Up until the 1930's only stock and Afghan camel trains would use the Birdsville Track
. The track was first pioneered by the surveyor E. A. Burt in the 1880s. Drovers would take about 5 weeks to move cattle from stations in Queensland
to the railhead at Maree in South Australia
. The journey to market was notorious with the lives of many people and stock lost in some of Australia
's driest country. In an area of extreme summer temperatures, dust storms, and no surface water, they had to cross wide gibber plains, the Natterannie Sandhills, and the few times they saw rain, the Cooper Creek flooded and progress was not possible. Over time, artesian bores were drilled at 40km intervals all along the Birdsville Track
to make the movement of stock easier. The Afghan camel trains were the only means of transporting supplies, and mail was delivered by buggies, drawn by bullocks and horses. Pre-Federation, Birdsville was a major toll collection point for the droves of cattle enroute to market, however tolls were eventually abolished and the town's population
In 1936, the first vehicle-based mail run to the area commenced with Tom Kruse. He became the first person to tackle the journey in his Leyland Badger truck, yet he suffered many hardships on each trip and although the supply run was reduced from five weeks to two weeks, it was still a feat of endurance.
Despite Tom's mail run and the cattle droves, few people outside the area knew of the Birdsville Track
until the 1954 documentary "The Back of Beyond". The film depicts the extreme obstacles faced by Tom Kruise in tackling the arduous journey along the Birdsville Track
, including break-downs, flooding creeks and rivers, and getting bogged in desert dunes but it also shows the strength of the man and the people of the communities in the region. When the treacherous Goyder Lagoon was bulldozed in the 1960's drivers were able to use the new "Outer Track" to avoid the main hazards of the Diamantina floodplain. Following this locals, cattle trucks and tourists began to use the track more regularly and today, due to maintenance, the Birdsville Track
is usable by conventional vehicles for most of the year.
It seems that for most travellers these days a stop at the Mungerannie Pub is all that is left of the "atmosphere" of the track. The sights are mostly bores and hills with occasional grave sites and ruins, but the most notable thing about the Birdsville Track
is imagining what it would have been like for the original mailman and stockmen who travelled the track before the road was at its present state. You can see the actual vehicle used by Tom Kruse the mailman when you get to Maree at the end of the Birdsville Track
displayed opposite the pub.