Diesel & Dust…The Birdsville Races.
It’s one of Australia’s most iconic horse races. It’s also the hardest to get to. Hire a 4WD and hit the road to see the remarkable Western Queensland Channel Country…
Way out in the never never of Outback Queensland, straddling the border of the remote Simpson Desert, the Birdsville Races take place to uproarious delight from over 7,000 punters who journey from all parts of Australia to see one solitary, dusty, fly-ridden horse race. This is a serious 4WD Hire expedition – don’t even think of renting a 2WD Campervan for this trip…
Birdsville to Brisbane 1,580kms
Probably the most accessible route to Birdsville, the road is sealed for the first 1,200kms, then it all gets gnarly! The last 300kms of unsealed track will certainly test your 4WD skills and your ability to eat dust! Travel through iconic Outback Queensland towns like Charleville and Windorah where there’s 20 million flies for every finger on your hand. If it’s been raining, be very careful if heading to Birdsville – flash floods are common and can leave you stranded for up to 14 Days!
Drive up through the Flinders Ranges and isolated Maree, then get ready to tackle the infamously rugged Birdsville track. This is a serious 4WD-Only route.
It’s in Mitchell that you’ll truly feel like you’re in Outback Queensland – I guess that’s why they call it ‘The Gateway to Outback Queensland’. Stop in at the local pub for a great meal and a cheap pint. The locals are very friendly around these parts and can offer plenty of tips for the trip west to Birdsville.
If you don’t have supplies, this is your last chance to seriously stock up. Charleville is an iconic Outback Queensland town with enough charm to melt metal. Make sure you have LOTS of water and food before continuing west towards Birdsville and check weather conditions prior to leaving. Heavy (or even light!) rain can cause flash flooding everywhere between Quilpie and Birdsville, which can often leave you and your 4WD stranded.
It’s when you get to Mitchell that you realise how all those ridiculous cartoon stereotypes of Australians with the cork hats came to be. The flies swarm around your face in plague proportions…
Quilpie and Windorah:
This is where the cowboy hats are as common as the flies. If you’re on the way to Birdsville, stop off in the little towns to re-fuel. Although they’re small towns, there’s still plenty to see. The character of these isolated outback communities is fantastic and the locals are as friendly as you will ever meet. Spend a night or 2 Quilpie and have a beer at the local pub. Go for a wander through the town’s streets and soak up the true spirit of Outback Queensland. If you’re in a 4WD or Motorhome, the local caravan park offers great facilities. If you’re looking for free spots to camp, head just outside of the town center and you’ll find plenty of spots to pitch a tent or park the campervan.
In a town with no people, here stands the Betoota Hotel. Now abandoned, the former customs post town of Betoota is about 170 kilometres east of Birdsville. However the pub is soon due to re-open, much to the relief of punters who venture to Birdsville every September for the races. It will provide a much-welcome break from the horrors and shakes of the Birdsville Development track, offering a chance to grab a beer and re-fuel. Be sure to also head up to nearby Deon’s Lookout for breathtaking views of the ‘Channel Country’.
You’re likely to feel more relief than jubilation at this point. The 300kms or so of dirt tracks between Windorah to Birdsville can be rough, at times rough enough to make a grown man cry. Yes, I cried at one point. After dodging wandering bulls and swerving humongous pot holes for 5 hours, you’ll need a beer. And where better, than the iconic Birdsville Hotel!
At this time of year, Birdsville’s population swells from just 115 residents to over 7,000 campers. The local council does a great job providing places to camp (Free!), as the local caravan parks are usually booked out for the races.
If you’re in a 4WD, you can shower at the local service station for a small fee and there are porta-loo’s dotted all around the town for the weekend. It really is a great experience out there in the desert.
If you make it to Birdsville for the races, there’s plenty to see and do. First on the list – get in your 4WD and head our to ‘Big Red’, a 40m high red sand dune, 35kms from Birdsville. In the afternoon, be sure to wander into town to check out ‘Fred Brophy’s Famous Boxing Troupe’ – apparently the last travelling boxing troupe in the world. Banned in almost every state of Australia, old Fred is a real throwback to the old days. Of course, you’ll need to head into the pub as well and check out the nostalgia that lines the walls of the hotel.
Heading Home…Did I tell you about the rain?
Getting to Birdsville is just one part of the journey. You also have to get out of there somehow. Unfortunately we had around 12 hours of heavy rain after arriving in town, which was enough to make a total mess of the roads in and out of Birdsville…and the camping areas!