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Fun and 4WDing at Birdsville's Big Red Bash

  • By Tom White
  • 26 July 2019
  • 14 min read
  • 3 Three day trip
    We explore an iconic 4WD destination
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.
  • 3 Three day trip
    We explore an iconic 4WD destination
  • Medium
    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

In the grand hierarchy of off-road adventures, few reach a pinnacle quite like the Big Red Bash.

It’s the “worlds most remote music festival” according to the event organisers, and you'd better believe it. The town of Birdsville, a last pit stop before the expansive Simpson Desert, is more than 1500km from Brisbane to the east, and more than 1800km from Adelaide in the south.

Yet an increasing number of off-road enthusiasts make the pilgrimage to the famed 40-metre-tall dune, the Simpson Desert's tallest dune.

How many days this trip will take you depends on where you’re coming from and how many drivers you have to work in shifts. The festival is three main days, and you’ll need to tack on at least an extra two days if travelling from Brisbane, three days from Adelaide, and four days from Sydney.

Even just planning for a trip to such a remote location can be daunting. Birdsville has a small shop and pub, some running water, a fuel pump, and that’s about it. Anything else you’ll need to bring with you.

The Birdsville Big Red Bash Music Festival brings with it a multitude of food trucks but given that eating only food-truck fare for several days in a row is expensive, slow and not particularly healthy, you should take food with you.

You can make a last-minute stop at a supermarket, but keep in mind the nearest three – Boulia, Longreach, and Quilpie – are six-hour, eight-hour, and seven-hour drives away respectively.

Make sure you're prepared for the variety of conditions you will have to contend with. Make sure you're prepared for the variety of conditions you will have to contend with.

Stock is limited, so take what you can with you. If you’re considering this journey, you’ll already know to bring cooking gear, cleaning gear, campfire supplies (a limited supply of firewood is available to buy on-site), and a large supply of water.

Although I was surprised to spot a few hatchbacks and 2WD SUVs on-site, we strongly recommend vehicles with at least medium 4WD capabilities, not just because it will be easier to get there, but you’ll also be able to take full advantage of the freedom of off-road driving in the desert.

Speaking of which, while there will be plenty of people out there to help you should you get bogged in the dune’s soft red sand, it’s a good idea to invest in an air compressor to drop your tyre pressures, something you can read more about here. Also, don’t be the one in need, be the one who can help, with some essential recovery gear.

Birdsville has a small shop and pub, some running water, a fuel pump, and that’s about it. Anything else you’ll need to bring with you. Birdsville has a small shop and pub, some running water, a fuel pump, and that’s about it. Anything else you’ll need to bring with you.

You’ll also need to consider the variety of conditions you will have to contend with. It’s a desert, so it doesn’t get much rain, but the temperatures range from sub-zero at night to the high 20s during the day.

The Bash has toilets on-site, as well as grey water disposal (water you’ve used to wash dishes etc) but any substantial garbage or black-water waste (toilet water) has to be disposed of at the Birdsville tip, 35km away.

The Birdsville Hotel has toilets, and there are a line of showers in the town available to use for a $5 donation.

Once settled you have the freedom to experience the live music, climb the dunes or simply explore the site. Once settled you have the freedom to experience the live music, climb the dunes or simply explore the site.

Bring cash; the nearest ATM is probably six hours away.

When setting up camp, there are a few rules to adhere to that should be explained to you when you collect your ticket – or, if you're an ordinary listener, check out the Bash’s website. Guidelines include where you should camp and how far to separate your vehicle and tent from boundaries.

Once settled you have the freedom to experience the live music, climb the dunes or simply explore the site.

You have to make a decision early on about whether you want to use your vehicle to explore the region. If you do, you’ll have windows of opportunity every day (between 4pm and 6pm) to move your vehicle to a day-parking zone. You won’t be able to get your vehicle back into the campsite area until Thursday afternoon (the final night of the event), so you’ll have to walk to and from the day parking area to get your vehicle for the better part of the week.

Regardless, if you have a capable vehicle and have bothered to come all this way, you’ll want to explore the dunes and desert beyond the Bash site, and also drive into Birdsville to explore the town and surrounds. If your vehicle is integral to your campsite, the Bash offers daily bus return journeys to town.

On-site, forget your pre-sand life. The fine red sand from the dune gets into everything – your shoes, your food. The colour is stunning, but wreaked havoc with our equipment.

Our VW Amarok V6 test vehicle, which had been provided to us for this trip, had a fine layer of sand and dust throughout its cabin and engine bay. We decided very quickly that there was no point trying to clean it.

If you have a capable vehicle and have bothered to come all this way, you’ll want to explore the dunes and desert beyond the Bash site. If you have a capable vehicle and have bothered to come all this way, you’ll want to explore the dunes and desert beyond the Bash site.

Industrial machinery is used to level the ground prior to the arrival of festival goers, so the camping area is more than flat enough for sleeping on in a tent or swag. We recommend bringing extra warmth for sleeping because, as mentioned, the temperature suddenly drops to near-zero the moment the sun disappears behind the dunes.

Climbing the dune to view the sunset is a must. Our guide from VW pointed out that this is one of the few places on earth where you can see so far across terrain so flat that it’s possible to see the curvature of the earth. To the west, there is nothing for hundreds of kilometres until you start to approach Alice Springs or Uluru.

Your daytime off-road driving options are many but you can start by heading west over the dunes. Getting out is easy, as the sheer number of people who have already crested the first dune usually flattens out a path of more firm sand.

Activities around the Bashville campground include helicopter tours of the site and massive group activities. Activities around the Bashville campground include helicopter tours of the site and massive group activities.

Coming back the other way, heading east, you won’t be so lucky. The soft sand require quite a bit of momentum to summit. This is also true for the dunes further beyond the campsite.

No-one we saw get bogged required recovery. As tracks up and over dunes are pretty much straight up and down, you should be able to reverse out of most failed climbs. No shame in that. If you plan on summiting dunes all day, the law requires that your vehicle has a fluorescent coloured sand flag 300mm x 290mm (minimum) at the top of a pole which is 3.5 metres (minimum) from the ground if the flag is mounted to your bullbar.

Keep in mind that the three dunes nearest to Bashville will have significant vehicle and pedestrian activity and, remember, vehicles will be coming over dunes from the opposite direction.

You'll get endless entertainment wandering the grounds to check out what kind of wild off-road set-ups there are. You'll get endless entertainment wandering the grounds to check out what kind of wild off-road set-ups there are.

If you’re truly determined, crossing the desert is possible until early December when recreational touring access is denied, due to the danger of crossing the expansive Mars-scape at the height of summer.

Activities around the Bashville campground include helicopter tours of the site, camel rides across the dunes, massive group activities, and family-friendly entertainment acts throughout the day.

If you're like me though, you'll get endless entertainment wandering the grounds to check out what kind of wild off-road set-ups there are. You might find some surprises – the Big Red Bash certainly attracts characters across all marques!

Although Birdsville is remotely located, your ability to see the stars is limited by the camp’s stadium lighting. You’ll need to travel quite far before the stars become truly stunning.

Leaving is a bit tricky, because for the organisers there is a significant logistical challenge in facilitating the departure of 10,000 people from a large area via a single road.

There are “early exit passes” for those wanting to leave the night before the final Bash day, or there is also the option of staying another night.

The organisers leave the facilities in order until the following Saturday, although there are no food trucks on the Friday night.

Birdsville goes from being essentially a ghost town to a multi-hour traffic jam in a matter of hours once the flood gates open, so don’t expect refuge there. A bold food truck decided to open its doors on the roadside, but it took me about half an hour to get two flat whites thanks to the crowd that popped up.

Birdsville goes from being essentially a ghost town to a multi-hour traffic jam in a matter of hours once the flood gates open. Birdsville goes from being essentially a ghost town to a multi-hour traffic jam in a matter of hours once the flood gates open.

Don’t expect to be able to use any of the town’s facilities. If you want our recommendation? Either stay the extra night (you might even get to see the stars) or eat and use the facilities before making a beeline out of there – it’s six hours (more, when you include the exit traffic) to the nearest substantial towns on most routes.

You’ll also want to dump your waste at the tip, but expect queues in the morning. If you can, dispose of it the night before or take it with you.

Either stay the extra night or eat and use the facilities before making a beeline out of there. Either stay the extra night or eat and use the facilities before making a beeline out of there.

Given that there will be many vehicles out, it’s worth leaving a reminder here about dust and driving in the desert. Vehicles kick up plumes of dry sand and dust which are impossible to see through. Following too close will end poorly, either because you’ll get a rock through your windscreen or you wont be able to see brake lights. It’s also likely you’ll get a rock through your windscreen by passing an oncoming road train. Bash organisers recommend that you pull over and let a road train pass to reduce the chances of your vehicle sustaining any damage.

Are you thinking about going to the Big Red Bash one year? Tell us why or why not in the comments below.

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