In the south-west corner of Queensland is one Australia's most remote outposts: Birdsville. As with most Australians, the mention of Birdsville made Dermott Brereton think of the two-day horse races held there each September, but he knew there must be more on the other 363 days.
Birdsville sits on the edge of the Simpson Desert and is as far west as you can go without a four-wheel drive. Its permanent population is 60 and it has two service stations, a pub, museum and busy bakery. More about that later!
Simpson Desert National Park
Covering 550,000 hectares, Queensland's biggest national park is bounded by the Northern Territory and South Australian borders. The entire desert covers more than 17 million hectares of central Australia.
The only access allowed is from Birdsville via the road out to Big Red which is 40km west. A four-wheel drive is essential and permits are necessary. The best time to visit is between April and October other times are far too hot. Temperatures soar to well over 40°C.
Visitors travelling into the desert are strongly advised to contact Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service office, Birdsville police or the Wirrarri Visitor Information Centre before heading off. They have sage advice and the trip requires very careful planning and preparation.
The track is impassable when wet. Even small amounts of rain can make outback roads impassable so always be prepared and have at least a week's worth of extra supplies in case of stranding. Get yourself a satellite phone and its recommended you have at least eight litres of water a day for each and sufficient food for a week.
The first 35km to Big Red is a graded shire road. The remaining 130km to Poppels Corner traverses loose sand dunes and is suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles only. The trip takes five to six hours so allow for an overnight stay.
Parallel windblown sand dunes are enormous. They run south-east to north-west, the dominant wind direction during the Pleistocene epoch, around 80,000 years ago. They can be up to a kilometre apart and extend 200km. Big Red is the most famous and is the first of 1113 dunes.
It's 40m high and it's not as easy to climb as it looks. If you make it to the top you will be rewarded with a spectacular sunset.
Windswept crests top the slopes, secured by spinifex and cane grass. The flat planes between dunes might be wind-polished gibber pebbles or mineral encrusted claypans. Some support open shrublands of acacias, hakeas and grevilleas.
If you intend continuing beyond Queensland and into the South Australian part of the Simpson Desert, you will need to purchase a Desert Parks Pass.
Simpson Desert National Park is one of nine parks in central west Queensland that you can visit. To help you plan your visit to this remote area, read Parks of Central West Queensland.
Birdsville Bakery & Red Centre Recovery
Dusty Miller is the owner of Birdsville Bakery and also runs Red Centre Recovery, where he recovers vehicles that have been bogged or broken down in the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert west of Birdsville. He uses a V8 LandCruiser ute with a 12,000lb (5440kg) winch.
Try some of Dusty's tucker and you will definitely want to stock up for the road. He bakes fresh bread and makes hamburgers, sausage rolls, pizzas and pies. Some pies include bush foods such as quandong or you might like to try chilli, spicy chook, kangaroo and claret or beef and beer. Curried camel pies aren't for everyone, but Dusty believes they are so good he will double your money back if you don't like what you taste. (He hasn't had to do that yet!)
For those not keen on the big desert trip, Skinny Dingo Tours have guided sunset trips to Big Red.
Queensland's Simpson Desert, Australia's driest place.
A permit is required for camping in Simpson Desert National Park. They can be obtained by contacting QPWS Longreach or QPWS Birdsville. Fees apply. They are not available online. Camping is permitted only within 500m of the QAA Line. There are no designated campgrounds.
For further information
QPWS Birdsville and Longreach
Ph: (07) 4652 7333
Birdsville Caravan Park & Skinny Dingo
Ph: (07) 4656 3214
Fax: (07) 4656 3205
Birdsville Bakery & Red Centre Recovery
Ph: (07) 4656 4697
Desert Parks Pass Bulletin
Ph: 1800 816 078
After he experienced this vast and remote part of Australia, Dermott felt he should add a warning to anyone thinking of going there.
"Simpson Desert National Park is vast and remote. Only experienced, self-sufficient visitors should explore it," the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management warns on its website.
"You must be well-equipped to cope with the harsh environment in Australia's driest place. Leave a copy of your travel plans with your family or someone responsible. Travel in two-vehicle parties and stay on the track. Take a two-way radio and plenty of food, water, fuel and spare parts for your vehicle."