Along the Birdsville Track
The term ‘iconic’ is overused nowadays, but is completely appropriate to the Birdsville Track. The Birdsville Track is probably Australia’s best known and most loved outback track, with a rich history and almost mythic status. The 500km plus track joins the small town of Marree in outback South Australia with the town of Birdsville in outback, south-western Queensland.
In its early days it was a treacherous track leading into Australia’s unforgiving interior, crossing enormous sand-dunes and waterways that were usually dry, but sometimes raging torrents. Conditions along the Birdsville are tough in winter and downright dangerous in summer.
With this in mind we prepared, with a little trepidation, to travel up the Birdsville Track at the start of summer to undertake a stint of caretaking on the Australian Wildlife Conservancy’s Kalamurina Sanctuary. (Our experiences at Kalamurina will be covered in the following blog.) Actually, we weren’t going to travel the full length of the track; we’d travel roughly halfway along it to Mungerannie Pub, then head west to the sanctuary.
About 25mm of rain, roughly an inch in old terms, fell shortly before we were due to embark. ‘Hmm, could make life interesting’ we thought, but we were committed to a 1 December starting date at Kalamurina, so we took the proverbial bit between our teeth and headed north.
What we encountered was a far cry from the stories of old. The unsealed track is wide and relatively smooth, resembling more an outback highway than a rough-as-guts source of adventure. Having said that, the recent rain did create a few challenges, with ponded water in many places along on the track and multiple detours around the deeper bogs. All in all it wasn’t too bad, though towing a camper trailer through the mud made things a little more interesting.
The Cooper Creek was still in flood, so were had to detour around to the ferry. The ferry crossing itself was a great experience. We were spellbound to see such a large expanse of water in what seemed such a dry environment. After all, who expects to see pelicans in the outback?
We continued north of Cooper Creek, along the slightly slippery track, finally reaching Mungerannie Hotel in 43 degree heat. To say the pub was a welcome sight is an understatement. We stayed a night at the pub before heading across to Kalamurina.
During the winter months the pub is a hive of activity, a haven for the convoys of travellers passing along the Birdsville Track. It was a much quieter affair during our stay, just a few stray vehicles calling in. We were spoilt by publican Pam during our stay. She is a cook to be reckoned with, especially given the meagre resources available to her, and I am proud to have risen to the challenge of tackling a Mungerannie Burger with the Lot.
The pub sits within Mungerannie Station, and overflow from the nearby station bore has created the imaginatively named Mungerannie Wetlands. Not surprisingly, the wetlands support an abundance of birdlife, including vast numbers of Black Kites. We enjoyed hours of birdwatching there, only retiring to the comfort of the pub when the oppressive heat overwhelmed us or when we needed liquid refreshment.
The track in to Kalamurina Sanctuary was badly affected by rain, so we decided to leave our camper trailer at the pub for the duration of our stay at the sanctuary. In hindsight, this was a wise move, because the trip in to the sanctuary (covered in the next blog) was pretty wild! Anyway, thank you Pam for allowing us to leave our camper in your safe-keeping.
We left Kalamurina in early January, returning to Mungerannie Hotel along the now dry track in 46 degree heat. We enjoyed meeting Phil (Pam’s worse-half!) and were planning to stay a night at the pub, when storm clouds looming to the north-west and closing fast convinced us to head south while the Birdsville Track was still open. It was not an easy decision. The prospect of being stranded at Mungerannie Hotel for a few days did enter our minds, but our food supplies were very low after our stay at Kalamurina. In the end we opted, with a degree of regret it must be admitted, to head south.
We managed the trip south without incident. Cloud-banks followed ominously behind us, but proved to be benign travel companions; a few scattered raindrops fell but did not interfere with driving conditions. The track was completely dry for our southward journey and we managed to travel straight down the Birdsville Track, not needing to take the much longer detour to the ferry at Cooper Creek. As we relaxed that night in Leigh Creek and the rain started to fall, we breathed a sigh of relief. We’d made it!
Peter & Nirbeeja