Birdsville, Queensland, is a long way from anywwhere. Situated in the far south-western corner of the state on the border of the Simpson Desert, even Mt Isa is a 12 hour drive away, and Brisbane a whopping 25 hours on the road. Despite it’s remote location, it attracts tens of thousands of visitors annual. Here are six of our favourite things to do in Birdsville, Queensland!
1. Big Red
Only recently a popular attraction in Birdsville, Big Red is one of the first sand dunes to the west of Birdsville as you travel into the Simpson Desert. It’s the first (or last if you’re coming the other way!) of many hurdles for those making this trip, and crossing Big Red can be particularly difficult after heavy rainfall.
Despite this, Big Red makes for an absolutely stunning spot to watch the sunset over a glass of bubbly or a (hopefully still cold) beer. It’s only 45 drive minutes west of Birdsville itself, which is relatively close compared to the time it takes to get to Birdsville from most major cities. A must do for those visiting Birdsville, Desert Edge Tours offers a guided tour for those without a suitable vehicle.
2. Birdsville Hotel
If you’re going to Birdsville, you’re going to the Birdsville Hotel. It’s the only pub in town, the only accommodation option (unless you brought a tent) and the only place you can buy a cold beer. And the beer is literally the only thing in the whole town that is cold – the hotel spends a small fortune on keeping their fridges and freezers perfectly tuned to beer drinking temperature, even when the road is starting to melt outside (we’re not even kidding, your shoes will stick to the road).
They do have a few rules though – take a photo in the pub and you owe a donation to the RFDS (which you should do anyway), complain about the heat in the pub and you’ll get laughed out, and it’s probably best to leave your phone in your room because they aren’t welcome in the bar itself. It really is the epitome of an Outback Pub.
3. Geothermal Power Station
Since 2005 the town has been producing approximately 30% of its electricity needs through a 80kW geothermal power station. However, geothermal power in Birdsville dates back to an installation in the 1960s, and there have been several iterations of the plant since then. Pretty environmentally friendly, even if it is only 30% of their power.
Birdsville sits over the Great Artesian Basin, and the town’s water bore produces high pressure water at 98 degrees centigrade. It’s so hot they actually have to cool it down before using it domestically. Despite this, this power station is considered a low-temperature geothermal plant. The bore itself drills down 1300m under the surface, and an outlet of this bore can be viewed entering the cooling ponds next to the station. It’s steamy, even with the mercury nudging 50 during summer.
4. Birdsville Bakery
In August 2015, then communications minister Malcolm Turnbull visited the Birdsville Bakery, purchasing one of their famous curried camel pies. Two weeks later, he deposed Tony Abbott and became prime minister. Locals claim the curried camel pie gave him the courage to challenge for the leadership. If it worked for Malcolm, imagine what it could do for you!?
Jokes aside, the Birdsville Bakery is an institution on par with some of the best bakeries in Australia. Pretty impressive for somewhere as isolated as Birdsville, and definitely worthy of a visit.
5. Birdsville Races
On the first weekend of every September, the barely three digit population of Birdsville grows to almost 10,000 as people from all over the country descend on the small town. It’s a uniquely Australian event, and while there are horse races (and quite a few of them), it’s the atmosphere that most people go to the Birdsville Races for.
The town brings in more than 80,000 cans of beer for the event alone. The local courthouse opens for the only session of the year, with a magistrate being flown in specifically to deal with rowdy race goers. It also has quite the following within the aviation community, and in some years several hundred aircraft fly in for the event, with pilots camping under their aircraft’s wings for the weekend. It’s almost an Australian pilgrimage now, and one that should definitely be on your list.
6. The Diamantina River
One of the main water sources for Lake Eyre, the Diamantina River flows through Birdsville (sometimes cutting the town in half). It brings life to an otherwise desolate and arid area, and in some years carries sufficient water to support cattle on surrounding properties. A short stroll from the hotel and you’ll be down on the banks of the river, with all sorts of plant and bird life adorning the landscape. In flood years, the Diamantina becomes kilometres wide, making air the only way in or out.
Birdsville is one of the overnight destinations on our Taste of the Outback Tour, and a personal favourite destination of our pilots. Visiting by air is by far the easiest way to get to Birdsville, particularly if your vehicle is not a 4WD. Kirkhope Aviation offers 1-14 day air tours departing from Melbourne.