Dune Driving Up Big Red, Queensland, Australia
We all know that Australia has plenty of space and remote locations. Therefore, this entices some people to source ones that are harder to get to. One of these areas is in remote Outback Queensland and just outside the small town of Birdsville. Its name; Big Red, the tallest sand dune in the Simpson Desert, and you’re challenged to drive up the Dune.
So how can I experience Big Red and the Simpson Desert?
The Simpson Desert is home to over 1100 sand dunes stretching into the Northern Territory and the Munga-Thirri National Park. Big Red is the first of all these dunes, standing at 40 metres high. The width of these dunes seems to go on forever or as far as the eyes can see. Although you won’t be able to drive or walk too far widthways, you can walk along the edges for hours.
Birdsville has been included on my Bucketlist for some time. Not only for Big Red but also for being one of the most remote towns in Queensland. It’s located very close to the Northern Territory and South Australia border often used as the last stop en route to Poeppel Corner. If you’re really keen, you can drive over the 1100 dunes and then on into Northern Territory. It’s just over 100 kilometres to do this and will take several hours to get there. If you make it to Poeppel Corner, this is where you can stand at the intersection of all three states (Queensland, Northern Territory and South Australia) adding another item to your Australia Bucketlist if you are interested.
Big Red was made famous years ago due to a music festival held on the valley floor in front of the Dune. Every year, about 10 thousand people flock to Birdsville and camp the weekend away listening to Aussie Music Legends at the Big Red Bash. This is normally held around July each year, needs to be booked well in advance, and is a great way to see Big Red and the music festival.
Once you arrive at the top of the dune, there is only a small driving space. Quickly park the car and carry on by foot, where you can explore as much as you like, walking up and down the sand dunes. If you’re lucky enough to be the first person to visit that day, then you will find the most amazing ripples in the sand created by the wind. Furthermore, you will make your mark by creating your own footprints in the soft sand.
The plant life surrounding the dunes is nothing you have ever seen before. It’s incredible to see them growing in soft sand and managing to stay alive through arid conditions. Search around and find many different types of wildflowers, which manage to grow in many desert regions of Australia.
After all the exploration, sit back on one of the dunes and wait for the sun to go down. Due to less pollution, the amazing outback colours will appear and entirely change how the sky looks. The silence and romance are unbelievable and an experience that you’ll never forget.
Useful tips to experience Dune Driving up Big Red
Getting to Birdsville (the biggest and closest town to Big Red) will require a four-wheel-drive vehicle for tackling the corrugated unsealed roads. The town is also the best location for accommodation and any other necessities you might require. It’s also a charming place to spend a few hours in, with an authentic Aussie outback feel to it. Big Red itself is about 30 kilometres west of the town.
The biggest tip I could give you is to make sure you have a fly net. Flies can be annoying, depending on the time of year, and a fly net will make the experience much more tolerable. Additionally, Sand Flags placed on the roof of your four-wheel-drive are recommended for Big Red but not mandatory. If you intend to drive further into the National Park or Simpson Dessert, then it is a great idea to have one.
In the desert, the sand is incredibly soft, it can be easy to get stuck while driving. I’m not a four-wheel drive expert, and I was nervous that we wouldn’t make it to the top of the dune. We lowered our tire pressure down to 25psi, which allows more traction and a bigger footprint on the car. Keeping our 4×4 in a low gear, we gradually made our way to the top in a matter of minutes. To be honest, as long as you have some basic four-wheel driving skills, then it doesn’t seem as challenging as we initially throught, to drive up.
No four-wheel drive, then no worries! Two different companies organise bus tours from the town of Birdsville. These tours are normally held in the afternoons until just after dusk. You’re treated to drinks and snacks while watching the sunset over the horizon.
If you can stay longer or throughout the night, then do it. With the lack of light pollution, the desert is a gret place to watch the sky light up, stargaze, or learn about astrology. Bush camping is allowed in the Simpson Desert and does give you more time to appreciate what Mother Nature has created. If you don’t have a vehicle to take you to the top, and you’re feeling energetic, you can climb up Big Red. It takes about 10 minutes to walk to enjoy the beauty at the top. Alternatively, the Little Red Sand Dune is just down the road, and you could always try that one instead.
Big Red is quintessentally Australian and something any tourist should try to see in their lifetime. It’s not only the Biggest Sand Dune in Australia – it also makes you feel like you’re walking on an alien planet.
While Australia is known for its beautiful coastlines and magnificent beaches, Big Red will amaze your senses and make you want to stay longer.
About the Author
Chris Fry is the writer and photographer behind Aquarius Traveller, where she shares her journeys, provides valuable information and inspiration for your land and underwater travels. She lives in Australia, has travelled extensively across Australia and to 36 other countries.
Save it for later
If you loved this bucket list article about how to experience driving up Big Red, or know someone that will, then please share and pin it for future reference.
If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.