Birdsville Track Roadtrip 2011

By Andrew

We left home on Monday the 29th August. Me, my three kids plus my oldest sons mate. A Patrol, a camper trailer, three swags and four kids under 15. This could be interesting! Plan was to meet some friends at Cooper Creek on Monday afternoon. They had left the week before and had been touring around the Oodnadatta Track and Lake Eyre. We were unable to leave on Saturday as number two son had to play in his under 12s footy grand final on Sunday. Happily they won so it was worth hanging around for.
After an uneventful run up past the Flinders we had lunch at Leigh Creek, topped up the fuel at Lyndhurst, let down the tyres (30psi front, 33psi rear and 26psi on the trailer) and hit the dirt.

Past Farina, Marree and Clayton we arrived at the detour track at Etadunna at about 4pm. The bypass road was in good condition and we soon arrived at the Cooper. Andrew & Julie had already set up their Adventure Camper on the Southside of the Cooper about 500m upstream of the ferry and Andrew came over to meet us and show us the way. He then told us that the long line up was due to a motorhome getting stuck while leaving the ferry and it had taken about three hours to get it off. This would cause us, and many others, big issues the next day.

We set up our camper near theirs, gathered some wood for a fire and then cooked dinner. Surprisingly there were no flies or mozzies around but the long-tailed short haired guinea pigs were everywhere. My nine year old daughter wasn’t falling for that description – “Oh dad, I know what rats look like” followed by a look of disgust. A few sunset pics were taken then it was time to have a few beers around the fire.

In the morning we noticed two things – Firstly all of our footprints around the camper and under the awning had been obliterated by a complete canvas of little rat footprints. Good thing we had taken the precaution of putting EVERYTHING away in the camper or car. We also left both car bonnets open overnight. Apparently the little buggers like the dark warm space and will chew on anything under there. One of the nearby campers had his bottom radiator hose chewed through which is more than inconvenient, it could have been worse if it had only chewed part way through and the hose burst under pressure somewhere down the road. Second thing we noticed was that the ferry queue had rapidly grown before dawn. Apparently the message had got down to Marree that the ferry would have big queues so the big number of travellers for the Birdsville Races rushed up to get in line. We had breakfast, packed up and then joined the line at about 9am. With a large number of motorhomes ahead of us the queue moved very slowly. The ferry can only move 3 or 4 motorhomes per hour versus 7 or 8 cars/4WDs as they are slow to load and unload.

Story in Saturdays Adelaide Advertiser

We ended up spending most of the day in the line and only got across the creek at about 5:00pm. We were still luckier than a lot of other who were looking at waiting there for another day or two to get across! For those that have been there, we joined the line on the downhill section heading towards the ferry. Late in the day the line was all the way to the top of the hill, past the roadgang camp and about 100m down the other side.

Despite it being an inconvenience it ended up being a really good social day chatting to lots of other travellers, swimming in the Cooper, and playing Bocce and footy with the kids. We kept them amused and kept us sane.

Our plan for the day had been Mungerannie for lunch and a swim and on to Birdsville for two nights. We ended up doing a quick drive up the Track and staying the night at Mungerannie. Pam & Phil were great hosts, as always, and we had dinner at the pub before a quiet night around the campfire interspersed with a few swims in the thermal pool.

Photos from around the Mungerannie Wetlands

Wednesday morning we packed up early to beat the traffic that would come from the ferry and headed up the road.

The track is in good condition and we cruised at 90km/h with the trailers on. After nearly four hours we arrived in Birdsville.

First up we had a look around town. Lots of new buildings and houses since I was last up here (2004 I think). As you would expect, a few days before the races, the town was crazy busy. Lots of stalls, sideshows, Brophys boxing tent and big marquees everywhere.

Andrew found a broken rear window while fuelling up at Birdsville. It was the glass in the small rear door. He has the same type of trampoline style stone guard as me so we’re not sure how it got past. Just bad luck I guess but I also have two 35” tyres on the back of the wagon which provide extra protection. The impact point was right at the top of the window. He and Julie covered it with some cardboard and duct tape. I reckon every fifth car in Birdsville had cardboard on the back window but most would have been for protection.

We headed about a kilometre out of town and set up camp amid about a thousand others. Surprising was the number of on road caravans there. Either they travelled very slowly or the roads in from the Queensland side are much better. Damned if I’d take my Windsor up there.

Thursday morning the campsite was buzzing with new arrivals. We headed into town, had an early lunch at the Birdsville Bakery and then drove West towards the Simpson Desert and Big Red. We were heading out to Eyre Creek for a day trip but after being held up by countless people getting bogged or taking multiple attempts to get over small dunes, it was after 1pm when we arrived at the Big Red sand dune that marks the start or end of a Simpson Desert crossing. Not sure why so many were having trouble as we drove through easily with 17psi in our tyres.

There was a large group of 4WDs at the base either lined up to have a go at climbing it or simply watching the action. Several took the easier right hand track while most were trying the straight up track. We took our place in the queue and then attacked the dune in second gear high range. I obviously didn’t give it enough right foot and made it the crest but stopped in the soft sand. After the humiliating reverse down I tried again with a lot more revs and speed at the base of the dune and climbed over easily. Parked on top with quite a few others we were soon joined by Andrew and Julie. They had tried a couple of times in high second and failed and then tried low third which got them up and over.

We spent about an hour on top of the dune taking photos and watching others. Instead of doing as other had and driving back down the face and back to Birdsville we noticed a track along the base of the Eastern side of the dune. As this whole area was now a huge flooded lagoon we decided to go and try that track.

The track followed the base of the dune for about four kilometres to join up with the Little Red crossing.

Part way along the track we stopped for photos and this is when I spotted a large Wedge Tail Eagle nest in a tree about 50m offshore. There was a lone eagle guarding the nest and it was being swooped and generally harassed by a couple of dozen Black Kites with another thirty or fourty kites circling over. The eagle didn’t flinch and refused to leave the nest to chase off the kites.

We watched them for about five minutes and then out of nowhere the eagles’ partner arrived with a juvenile eagle in tow.

Within 30 seconds there wasn’t a kite to be seen! After another ten minutes of watching and taking photos while the eagles patrolled the area we were ready to move on. It really was a superb show and I hope the photos do it justice.

Continuing on along the track we arrived at Little Red and promptly deflated the egos of the half dozen 4WDers who thought they had easily conquered the famed Big Red. After that we left them and headed South and then East to another flooded lagoon.

Here we took yet more photos and collected firewood. Back in Birdsville late in the day the pub, fast food vans and souvenir marquees were all doing a booming trade. We spent another hour here before going back to camp to cook dinner and, you guessed it, more beers around a campfire.

Up early on Friday and campers packed we were on the road by 11am….. yeah we were travelling with kids.

First stop was for some souvenir shirts in town then another early lunch from the bakery. A quick stop outside the racetrack for some photos and in no time we were heading South to the border and on to Mungerannie.

About an hour after the border we exited a washaway creekbed and immediately came across three vehicles parked on the side of the road with punctures. I slowed down to see if they were all OK and thought this must be a bad spot for punctures. Sure enough I’d only just sped back up when Julie called on the radio to say they had a puncture. Not wanting to risk a puncture myself we did a seven point turn on the track to avoid the really bad gibbers on the verge. We headed back to help Andrew & Julie change their rear drivers side tyre. It had a 50mm longitudinal split between the tread blocks so is probably a write off. They say bad things happen in threes so Andrew was probably a bit on edge for the rest of the trip but no more dramas were had.

One of the other vehicles with a flat was a Holden Crewman ute with alloys and low profile tyres. He had five punctures already and was setting up camp on the side of the track waiting for more tyres to be sent down from Birdsville. Live and learn I guess.

The rest of the drive down to Mungerannie was uneventful. We arrived there at about 4pm, paid our camping fees and set up camp next to the wetlands and swimming hole.

The kids didn’t need any encouragement for a pub meal so after a swim and walk along the wetlands it was into the bar for drinks, dinner, eight ball and some chat with Phil, Pam and a few locals.

We woke early on the last day of the trip and the kids really did get stuck in this time and we were ready to hit the road at 9am but didn’t actually hit the road until nearly 10am as we all had a last swim and relax in the thermal pool. We probably would have liked to spend all day there but we had a long drive ahead and a big dust storm had blown in without warning.

The short 80km run down to the Cooper Creek was concerning as not a single vehicle came the other way. Either the ferry was broken or had stopped running because of the strong winds. We arrived at the crossing and were relieved to see the ferry heading our way with a 4WD on board. Andrew & Julie went across first and left straight away so we wouldn’t be driving in their dust.

A quick ride and we too were on the South side. The ferry crew told us that I the wind got any stronger they would have to shut down the service.

The last 600km of the run home were easy going. We stopped for fuel and lunch at Marree, pumped the tyres back up to road pressure at Lyndhurst and then made good time on the blacktop to be home by 7pm on Saturday night.

Another successful outback trip completed. The two Patrols performed faultlessly, as expected, the TD42Ts didn’t overheat, 5th gear didn’t break, nothing rattled loose, the Mickey Thompsons didn’t explode at the first sign of gibbers, the home made camper trailer survived and best of all I brought all four kids home safely and with my sanity intact.

To finish on, here’s the last photo I took on this trip. Right on sunset between Quorn and Hawker. Outback serenity…..

Thanks for reading.



Sunday was Fathers Day, when dads get to sleep in, get breakfast in bed and get to relax all day watching footy on the telly.

I wish!

Unpack the car, unpack the trailer, set up the camper, remove all of the bedding, hose the dust off the swags, blow down the chairs, wash the trailer and wash the Patrol. The kids did help though.

So here she is on Sunday night, tucked away in the shed where it will stay until the next adventure.

  1. Warren says:

    Loved the story and the pics mate. this is the 1st of yours i have read well done! Interesting that you were on the birdsville the same time as we were in the Innaminka / Strez track area, although everybody kept talking about the mice & rats we didn’t encounter that many. we spent 5 days at Milparinka a few mice there but not many.
    Cheers Warren

  2. Melissa says:

    Loved reading about your trip and the photos are amazing; thanks for sharing !

  3. Anna says:

    I came, I saw, I read and I’m commenting 🙂

    Love it all’s a great education for us non outback going peeps who stick to suburbia. Keep sharing !!

    Anna (mum2_3)