Itinerary: Driving the Birdsville Track and back in 8 days
What do technicolour sunsets, CWA slices and 1900 kilometers have in common? You’ll find them all by driving to Birdsville.
Located in Outback Queensland, the Birdsville township is just a stone’s throw from the South Australian border and best known for its annual racing carnival. The Birdsville Races are held on the first Saturday of September every year, and given that this coincides with some of Queensland’s more temperate weather, it’s the perfect time to head west.
Starting in Brisbane, our itinerary covers the eight day journey to the heart of Australia driving the Birdsville track. All you need is eight days, a few friends and a reliable car.
DAY 1: BRISBANE TO BEGONIA (710.6 KM)
6:30AM: Prepare to leave Brisbane
First thing’s first, for any adventure into the outback you need to be prepared. A full breakfast and some practical kit for the car will kick you off on the right note. A jerry can, two spare tyres, and enough drinking water to last a week should do it.
9:30AM: Morning Tea in Toowoomba
First pit stop is a picturesque delight as you roll into Toowoomba for morning tea. The Baker’s Duck offers a daily selection of baked goods from croissants and cronuts to pies and sausage rolls. This will likely be your last encounter with specialty coffee for a while so get that extra shot. Get your snacks to go and enjoy them at Picnic Point Lookout before getting back on the road. There will be plenty of time to get to know the rest of Toowoomba later.
12PM: Lunch in Goondiwindi
While Toowoomba’s green pastures eased you off city living, Goondiwindi throws you right into rural town life. Home to a cotton industry, a legendary horse called Gunsynd, and a tranquil watering hole, travellers have been passing through this patch of earth for thousands of years. Stop by the Victoria Hotel’s mahogany bar for a pub lunch and stretch your legs around the town centre.
4PM: Pit-stop at the Nindigully Pub
A few hundred more clicks on the odometer will deliver you to the Nindigully Pub. Built on the banks of the Moonie River, this is the state’s oldest watering hole, slaking thirsts since 1864. Like all good pubs, Nindigully rolls out the welcome mat for everyone who visits. Late night roll-ins can even camp outside or lay their swag on their verandah free of charge. You might meet a couple of overnighters while you stretch your legs by the river.
5PM: Cruise into St George
Known as a fisherman’s paradise, St George is famous for its daily catch. But when you don’t have the time to wile away in a tinnie, check out the handiwork of Stavros Margaritis. This Greek immigrant carves emu eggs, creating designs by unearthing the different colours in the layers of the shell. His gallery displays over 150 carved eggs, illuminated like desert lanterns, and the man himself is always up for a yarn.
After a full day driving, it’s time to check into the Begonia Station farmstay and tuck into a campfire roast. This fully operational cattle station sits on 14,000-acres next to the Maranoa River. Make like a drover and roll out a swag under the old tin roof in the Ringer’s Quarters for just $40 a night.
DAY TWO: BEGONIA TO CUNNAMULLA (371.4 KM)
10AM: Driving Begonia to Bollon
After a morning collecting breakfast eggs from Begonia’s feathered residents, it’s time to hit the road. From St George to Bollon, you’ll see the landscape start to change from dusty green to the bright red earth of the outback.
12PM: Lunch at Bollon
Wildlife scurries in abundance all over Bollon, and no more so than at the water’s edge of Wallam Creek. This is the town’s main aqueduct and a perfect spot to pull up some grass for a picnic lunch. On your way back out to the road, don’t be surprised if you see an emu walking along main street.
A full day of dusty driving leads to Cunnamulla. With over 1200 residents, Cunnamulla will feel like a big city compared to the rest of the itinerary.
Before the light fades there’s still plenty of time to get acquainted with the local pasttimes like kayaking down the Warrego, sandboarding the dunes or watching some 215 native birds who call this area home.
Overnight: Cunnamulla Boutique Motel
For dinner and a place to sleep, the Club Boutique Hotel is like a second home to all who visit. It has nine rooms to accommodate your stay, each with a fresh feel so you’re guaranteed a good night’s sleep.
DAY THREE: EULO TO INNAMINCKA (595.5 KM)
A couple of days on the road can rough up even the finest polish, but Eulo is where you can feel shiny again. This tiny township that consists of a pub, general store and petrol station also happens to offer a spa treatment like no other – the Eulo Artesian Mud Baths.
Packed with minerals like magnesium, zinc and silica, the 40-million-year-old artesian mud tightens and smooths the skin, leaving you refreshed and ready for another day on the road.
Push on a few hundred kilometres down the road and you’ll find yourself in Thargomindah. This outback town has a population of just 240, and yet it was one of the earliest adopters of electric street lights after London and Paris. It’s a great spot to refuel, both the car and yourself at the local cafe, Coffee on Dowling.
4PM: The Dig Tree
Heading 275km west of Thargomindah, you’ll cross briefly into South Australia en route to the Dig Tree. This towering coolibah is one of Australia’s natural icons, the terrain around it as rugged and untouched as the day the explorers Burke and Wills passed it. You can catch a glimpse of what Burke might have looked like in the Face Tree, just 30 metres downstream.
With a population in double digits, Innamincka is one of the smallest towns in South Australia, and easily the smallest on the drive to Birdsville. It’s got everything you need from an outback pitstop including a comfy bed, quality pub grub, and a chance to chew the fat with the locals.
DAY FOUR: INNAMINCKA TO BIRDSVILLE (417 KM)
9AM: Tick off the Birdsville Track
From Innamincka, there’s just 226km of Birdsville Track to reach your destination.
Sandwiched between four deserts the Birdsville Track is Queensland’s ultimate offroad. The track is covered with large pebbles, clouded by dust and dotted with dune crossings. Four-wheel-drive vehicle is vital, desert flags recommended and you’ll want to drive with your lights on just to see through the dust. It’s the most iconic dirt road in Australia and worth the detour into South Australia.
Once you roll into town, your first stop has to be the Birdsville Hotel for an icy cold XXXX to wash down the last 1900 kilometers.
During race week, Birdsville brings in extra suppliers to cope with the thousands of racing punters who roll up, so they’re more than equipped to handle the influx. As the big day approaches, downtown Birdsville thumps as visitors of all ages fill the main street excitedly and the atmosphere buzzes in anticipation of race day.
Overnight: Tent City
To help accommodate racegoers, Rent-a-Tent supplies a pop-up tent city. The set up is comfortable with stretchers, a mattress and bed linen, and enough space in the tent to not feel cramped. There’s even a solar-powered station so you can charge your phone. Just remember to pick up some earplugs before turning in and you’ll be out like a light.
DAY FIVE: A DAY AT THE BIRDSVILLE TRACK
Day: Birdsville Races
The Birdsville Cup is the pinnacle of outback racing calendar and the reason so many people make the 2000km pilgrimage to Queensland’s south-west. The track is dry, sun hot and beers cold, perfect race conditions.
A far cry from when the races started in 1882, the Birdsville Races are big business today, with over $200,000 in prize money up for grabs.
Unlike other race meets, you’ll find more people entered in the novelty category than best-dressed with $5000 going to the wildest clobber. If you are thinking of entering, it’s worth consulting a previous winner for some tips.
DAY SIX: DOWNTOWN BIRDSVILLE
Day: Beyond Birdsville race track
There’s no need to rush home once the dust settles from race day. Take your time to get to know the real Birdsville without the hustle and mayhem of the races.
Sunset: Big Red
The tallest sand dune in the Simpson Desert, Big Red is about 30 kilometers outside of Birdsville. Head out there at the end of the day to watch the red sand reflect the sky.
DAY SEVEN: BIRDSVILLE TO QUILPIE (625 KM)
8AM: Hit the road
After race day, join the exodus of commuters heading back to the coast via Windorah to see why they call this part of Australia channel country.
If you want to break the back of the drive, Quilpie is the best spot to stay overnight on the way home. The Quilpie Heritage Inn will sort you out with a bed for the night, and in the morning head over to the Eromanga Natural History Museum to learn about the largest dinosaur discovery in Australia.
DAY EIGHT: QUILPIE TO BRISBANE (953 KM)
Day: Drive back to the city
Beating a track back from Quilpie, you’ll head through the Maranoa Shire and back into Brisbane. It’s a long drive, so best to break it up with a dip in downtown Mitchell, where you’ll find two pools of artesian water direct from the Great Artesian Basin. It’s guaranteed perfect swimming temperature all year round, and a quick dip will do wonders for the car weary.