We were excited about driving the Birdsville Track after hearing so much praise from other travellers. Unfortunately, our biggest highlight about the track was being pulled over by the police to be breathalysed.
The track was really boring, had minimal scenery, and even though the track changed colour depending on the soil, it was in relatively fair condition from being recently graded.
The end of the Oodnadatta track and the beginning of the Birdsville Track, Maree is a small, friendly town with just over 600 people. There is a general store that sells fantastic, freshly baked bread and deep, meaty pies, and it is also the location of Australia’s oldest mosque, built to cater for the Afghan cameleers.
While you’re here, you have to visit the Maree Hotel, a gorgeous pub with friendly owners, great prices and the Tom Kruse Museum, which commemorate a great Aussie postie who delivered mail along the Birdsville Track.
If you’re low on fuel, fill up here but expect to pay around $2 or more per litre for diesel.
About 200km north of Maree, this is a reasonably good place to spend the night. The fee to camp was $10 per person, and while toilets and showers are available, the water for the showers is taken from a nearby spring, so the water is a little smelly and slippery.
At the hotel, there was lots of chatter about punctures from the rocky track. We had a few drinks and chatted a few other blokes who were heading north towards the Birdsville Races, and left to make camp after Juz was hit was a heavy dose of outback sexism from the owner.
Another 300km along the boring Birdsville Track got us to the Queensland border for a few happy snaps.
Roughly another 13km after that, we were finally delivered to Birdsville, a small dusty town that is incredibly busy during the Birdsville Races – and we were right on time! While there is no camping allowed within the town limits, the 2km of bushlands between town and the Diamantina River was crowded with tents and campervans, with some Birdsville Races enthusiasts arriving weeks in advance to secure the best camping spot.
There are two places that you must visit while in Birdsville – the pub and the bakery.
The bakery was our first stop because it was lunchtime. Juz fell in love with their award-winning curried camel pie while Dave was shocked at how big their sausage rolls were. The Birdsville Bakery is licensed, so if you want to have a beer with your pie, you can!
“The best thing about this pub is that it sells awesome pies!”
The iconic Birdsville Hotel was built in 1884 and is considered to be an authentic outback pub. Because of the high volume of drinkers for Birdsville Races, the sale of alcohol went like this: go to the bar and buy a ticket, then go to the bar and hand over your ticket to get your drink. We thought it was a stupid system if you’re only going to buy one or two beers, but they had 10-drink discounts so we suppose it makes sense if you’re planning to end up in the gutter.
In case you haven’t caught on, we were in Birdsville just in time for the famous Birdsville Races. This outback event was first run in 1882 and occurs on the first Saturday of September each year. The population of Birdsville is normally a touch over 100, but when the races are on some 8000 people descend on the town!
While it’s supposed to be about horse racing, what it’s really about is packing up your 4×4 with booze, making camp along the Diamantina River, and walking to the Birdsville Hotel to get shitfaced and chucking your empty tinnie in the gutter before challenging a semi-professional boxer to a duel at Fred Brophy’s Boxing Tent. In fact, Fred Brophy’s is Australia’s only boxing tent, and quite possibly the last boxing tent in existence in the world. After getting the shit kicked out of you, check out the stalls for pizzas, dagwood dogs, charity sausage sizzles and various race merchandise.
The Birdsville Races is an enormous sausage fest that celebrates male brotherhood and cowboys. Sure, there are a few sexy cowgirls but the rest are old retired ladies tagging along with their old retired sausages.
While we were there, we deliberately bought food from charity stalls such as the Lions Club, Rotary Club and the Royal Flying Doctors, and donated also to the Salvos stall, which just happened to be giving out free coffee and donuts that were deliciously fresh.
About 35km west of town, the Big Red sand dune is the tallest dune in the Simpson Desert at 40 meters high and it also marks the beginning of the desert. You’ll need a Desert Park Pass to go further into the Simpson Desert.
We decided to head out at the break of dawn and had a bit of trouble getting up the sand dune until we lowered our tyre pressure to 20psi. Not sure why it’s called Big Red – it’s not that red.