Birdsville is as outback as it gets. It’s a fair distance from anywhere, it’s got an iconic Australian pub and about the only thing that’s cold in Birdsville is the beer.
By Nick Stobie, Kirkhope Aviation
Located in far south-western Queensland, Birdsville sits on the Diamantina River, one of the main waterways in the Lake Eyre basin. The town is best known for the annual Birdsville Races, an outback race meet that attracts between 6,000 and 8,000 people to the town of usually 110 residents.
Just west of Birdsville is the edge of the Simpson Desert, and visitors to Birdsville can venture out into the almost to find stunning colours and scenery in one of the most arid parts of the country.
- The Birdsville Hotel, the only place to get a beer in town
- The Birdsville Races, held on the first weekend in September each year
- The Birdsville Bakery, home to the famous curried camel pie
Top things to do in Birdsville
Visit The Birdsville Hotel
As far as outback pubs go, the Birdsville Hotel is about iconic as they get. The place is over 130 years old and has endured floods, cyclones and fires (the place burned down in 1979) to become a bucket-list destination for visitors.
Stepping through the front door you’ll be met with a ‘G’day’ from both the bartender and fellow travellers alike. The front bar carries a decent range of beers (particularly considering how remote the place is), and they’re quite literally the only thing in town that’s ice cold. Take your beer out onto the porch to enjoy the sunset before tucking into dinner.
Behind the pub are 27 motel style rooms, providing welcome creature comfort for those who might have been camping on the drive to Birdsville.
Big Red Sunset Tour
A stunning place in its own right, Big Red is the first major dune you’ll cross as you head west into the Simpson Desert from Birdsville. As the lights get low and the temperatures start dropping, it’s the perfect backdrop for sunset drinks and nibbles.
Kylie from Desert Edge Tours offers Big Red tours departing from the Birdsville Hotel. The tour kicks off with a quick lap of town before heading out to Big Red itself. The approach and ascent to the 30 metre (98 foot) tall dune can be challenging at the best of times, so when there’s been rain or lots of visitors it’s quite the show.
A cold beer or wine atop the dune with your fellow travellers is the highlight of visits to Birdsville.
Birdsville Geothermal Power Station
Even the water in Birdsville is hot, with the town supplied by a 1280 metre deep (4,200 feet) bore that delivers water at approximately 98°C (208°F). Geothermal has been used on and off in Birdsville since the 1960s, however it wasn’t until 2005 that the 80kW plant came into full operation. The plant supplies approximately 30% of the town’s power needs.
Visit the information area next to the plant, where excess hot water from the bore flows into a lagoon. Keep your distance though, the water arriving in the lagoon is still scalding hot and takes considerable time to cool.
Tip: visit the plant and bore in the cool mornings– the steam rising from the ponds at dawn is beautiful!
The Birdsville Bakery is a must visit, whether it’s for a coffee before hitting the road again or for their famous pies and pastries featuring some of the local fauna. The bakery is hard to miss, situated just opposite the Birdsville oval, and in viewing distance from the pub.
The interiors are full of history and character, including the many celebrities that have visited over the years. The place is also rumoured to bring great fortune to visitors - Malcolm Turnbull visited Birdsville and ate a Curried Camel Pie only two weeks before becoming Prime Minister of Australia.
The Birdsville Races
An iconic Australian event, the Birdsville Races is held on the first weekend of September each year. Often dubbed the Melbourne Cup of the Outback, more than 6,000 punters make the journey to Birdsville each year to try their luck and enjoy the spectacle.
The horse races themselves are only one aspect of the weekend, with plenty of other activities (of both a competitive and non-competitive nature) on offer in the town. The Birdsville Hotel becomes the centre of attention after the sun goes down, with festivities continuing well into the night.
How to get there
The two nearest major centres are Mt Isa and Windorah, both more than 11 hours’ drive by road. You will need a four-wheel or all-wheel drive. Airline flights are also available through Regional Express, with charter flights available from most major centres for those with groups
Various air tour companies also feature Birdsville, and Kirkhope Aviation’s Taste of the Outback Tour includes flights and an overnight stop there. Wrightsair based at William Creek also offers overnight trips from the Lake Eyre region for those wanting to add Birdsville to a South Australian adventure.
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