Australia // South Australia //

The Birdsville Track

If there’s been no rain, the 520km Birdsville Track is no obstacle to careful drivers during the winter: the biggest problem is getting caught in dried wheel ruts and being pulled off the road. Sections can be closed after rain. Check conditions before travelling. Tearing north from Marree, the distant tips of the Flinders Ranges dip below the horizon behind, leaving you on a bare plain with the road as the only feature. Look for the MV Tom Brennan, a vessel donated to the area in 1949 to ferry stock around during floods, but now bearing an absurd resemblance to a large grey bathtub. Before the halfway house at Mungerannie Gap, a scenic variation is offered by the Natterannie Sandhills (150km). The Mungerannie Hotel (t08/8675 8317, w provides the only services on the track (fuel, beds and snacks). In a 4WD you can head west from the roadhouse to Kalamurina campsite near Cowarie Homestead (58km) for the thrill of desert fishing on Warburton Creek.

Back on the track, a windmill at Mirra Mitta bore (37km from the roadhouse) draws piping-hot water out of the ground beside long-abandoned buildings; the water smells of tar and drains into cooler pools, providing somewhere to camp. By now you’re crossing the polished gibber lands of the Sturt Stony Desert, and it’s worth going for a walk to feel the cool wind and watch the dunes dancing in the heat haze away to the west. The low edge of Coonchera Dune to the right of the track (190km from the roadhouse) marks the start of a run along the mudpans between the sandhills; look for desert plants and dingoes. In two more hours you should be pulling up outside the Birdsville pub.