The Birdsville Track:

In some ways, this has been expected to be the high point of this trip, so we set out with some excitement. Will it be as good as the Tanami?  We are to pass through a number of deserts, the Tirari Desert, the Strzelecki Desert, then the Simpson and the Great Stony Desert. Where is Scott, our old truckie friend who changed our busted tyre in the middle of the Tanami Desert Track with the greatest of ease?  I suggest to Ted that we could call him and ask which part of Australia he is in in case we need him? Ted merely stares at me quizzically. Mmmm… we have our Epirb from the boat, and a sat phone. The van is full of water, 1300 km of fuel, and over-chocked with food.  What if a sudden flood closes the Track while we in the middle? – so I have a month’s food… What if the water tank is holed at the same time? – so we have many bottles of emergency water.  The ‘wot-ifs’ go on and on, so we’re prepared – we think.

Good news is that it’s open!

We leave the Marree Hotel full of joy down past the road sign which states, humbly, ‘Birdsville Track’. It begins as a wide gravel road, hardly a track.

Here’s the last of the bitumen
Unexpectedly green

First surprise is that, instead of desert dirt, we travel in an ocean of green.  Recent floods have turned the desert into wondrous lush plains and valleys of tiny shrubs and marvellous wildflowers.

Blooming wildflowers

As the morning goes on the road gets narrower, but it’s still good gravel, sometimes with teeth-shuddering corrugations. There are still signs of the recent flood, with unmarked flood lakes on both sides. We stop for coffee at the Clayton River, where the Clayton River Station owners have kindly erected Artesian bore water toilets for passers-by – then on to Cooper Creek, a vast and intricate set of waterways, none of them still flowing, more than 10 km wide. We camp under the shade of a Coolibah Tree, or rather a great forest of Coolibah trees. The sky is vast, the moon comes up at 2100 and who would want to be anywhere else?

‘Under the shade of a coolibah tree’ – these amazing trees can grow to 1,000 years old.

18th May, 2022:

The road is deteriorating, but not by much. There are areas of slippery sand, more unwelcome corrugations, bogs which still haven’t dried out and cracked breakaways if one strays too close to the edge of the track.  Still, it’s interesting rather than worrying.  We’re amazingly still in the Cooper Creek – many kilometres of Coolibah trees and ragged roads through bogs and not a sign of water, but the sight of a magnificent dingo casually watching us pass shows just what handsome creatures these are when healthy. 

Elegant canine – healthy and beautiful
A stop for coffee – but Charlie can’t quite make out why we are here…

We reach Mungerannie Hotel, a solitary hotel in the middle of nowhere, and decide to stay the night to sample the local cuisine.  A hot spa pool, with broken timber sides and clay floor has not been filled for many years, even though the signs all still promise a warming bath.  Bikers start arriving on dirt bikes by the dozen.  It must be an organised motorbike tour.  They stand around watching the kites above swoop on Charlie as he chases his ball in the afternoon. I can’t decide if the kites are threatening Charlie or the ball he is chasing… after the dead prey if he catches and eats the orange bird? Dingoes howl at sunset

Mungerannie Hotel – oasis in the deserts

19th May, 2022, Birdsville:

There’s nothing to stay for, so we’re off again, one more stop before Birdsville itself.  The countryside gets sparser – shining gibber plains, dusky red on one side, like densely spread black pearls on the other, depending on sun reflection, and faded saltbush, trees only in dips which are optimistically called creeks at times.

Getting drier all the time

Wonderful flocks of budgerigars fly across our path in the dozens, not as many as in Central Queensland, where one measures by the 100’s, but the flashing green wings of these tiny jet planes are a joy to witness.  Finally even the saltbush ends and the track is hard and stony.  We find a recommended parking spot with toilets, it proudly boasts.  However, it must be years since the bore that services the toilets has worked – the flies are terrible, there are a few stored earthmoving trucks and nothing else but wide dirt plain.

We decide to press on, even though we’ve done plenty of miles today already.

We arrive Birdsville near dark, having rushed up the Track faster than intended.  Ah for a few days R&R, wandering the almost deserted town, enjoying the famous Pub. 

Birdsville Pub with iconic plane parked just a few metres away
Cafes in Birdsville don’t need a roof to run a successful business (Ted and Charlie in the distance)

Birdsville seems like a theatre with the stage at the ready for just one performance of the year, the Birdsville Races.  It’s almost ghostly with its spread of showers and toilets, vast expanses for parking, a hotel expanded into a huge roofed beer garden, all empty.  Tag Along 4X4 tours are there, and motorbike guided tours, with their support trucks, and over 70 vehicles in the caravan park, but it hardly fills a tiny part of the spaces available.

20th May, 2022

But the news is immediately slightly alarming.  The rivers are flooding all around us, and those that aren’t yet are on the rise.   We can go west, across the French Line – a tough gig, even for our valiant van, or north to Mt Isa and then back west to Tennant Creek – not in our plans at all.   We can’t go east as the road near Windorah is closed, and we can’t get down to the Strzelecki Track as the road to Innamincka is closed to all but light 4×4 vehicles.  

22nd May, 2022

There’s nothing for it – we must go back down the Birdsville Track and leave tomorrow before bridge across the Diamantina River, on Birdsville’s doorstep, also goes under, as the floods are on their way towards Lake Eyre and the local policeman is checking the levels at the bridge twice a day!  It’s hard to imagine so much flooding when we live in such a dusty world – dust on the windows, dust on the floor, dust on the cutlery!

Yes, I’d figured it would be a good adventure to drive up the famed Birdsville Track, but there was never an intention to do it TWICE.

The day after we took this photo, the bridge went under and the Birdsville Track, from Mungerannie to Birdsville, was closed.

But here we go!

Back south again… no more Queensland for us this year – it’s all flooded.
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