Queensland Police have warned of an alarming trend in which unprepared travellers are driving the unsealed, 500km Birdsville Track in dangerous summer heat to circumvent NSW due to COVID-19.
The Birdsville Track has been nicknamed Australia’s “COVID Highway” recently – due to an influx of people driving between QLD and SA on the dirt road to avoid virus hot spots in NSW.
The Birdsville Track stretches 517 km, from QLD’s southwest to Marree in northeastern SA. It takes about two days to complete and has become a renowned tourism experience for holiday-makers seeking an outback thrill.
But it’s far from a holiday in January, according to Birdsville Police senior constable Stephan Pursell.
The track lies on the east side of the Simpson Desert and has an average maximum temperature of 40.7C in January.
“For those driving the track at this time of year, I can’t stress enough that you need to prepare,” sen const Pursell told NCA NewsWire.
“It’s just a dirt track, basically. You need the right vehicle, adequate water, food and a plan to not rely on communication because there’s no phone reception.
“A one or two-day trip can turn into a week if you don’t prepare properly and you break down or get stuck. In January, temperatures can get really high.”
Sen const Pursell noted there are no facilities for 314 km between Birdsville and the Mungerannie roadhouse. After that, it is a 205km journey until drivers reach Marree.
“I’ve had at least five or six calls vehicles that have been bogged because it’s either muddy after rain or because they’re not using the right vehicle,” sen const Pursell said.
Birdsville Hotel has benefited from the increase in visitors with a surge in accommodation bookings compared to January 2020, general manager Ben Fullagar told NCA NewsWire.
“We’ve had about 80 bookings between January 1 and now, whereas we’d usually only get one a week for a pilot who delivers mail and three bookings a fortnight for rural doctors,” Mr Fullagar said.
“It’s fantastic for us and the visitors have been great.”
Mr Fullagar also warned travellers to research and prepare before driving the Birdsville Track.
“A large part of the track is for 4WDs only and we have seen some families attempting it in small cars or 2WDs,” he said.
“Please, do your research and be prepared.”