Table of Contents Hide
The Hay River Track was blazed by Jol Fleming and the late Lindsay Bookie, the traditional owner of this area of the northern Simpson Desert, in 2000 and has become a popular track for those wanting to experience a different side of the desert.
Jervois Station is the final fuel stop until Birdsville, over 640km away and a nice spot to camp before tackling one of the roughest single-lane tracks in the red centre.
Hell has no fury like the track to Batton Hill
The road out to Batton Hill is 80 km of brutal corrugations that will have more than just your fillings rattling. My tip is to drop plenty of air out of your tyres to try and soak up the savage bumps, remembering to also reduce speed so that the tyres don’t overheat and cause a blowout. If towing don’t forget to deflate the tyres on the trailer too.
The Batton Hill campground is spacious with drop toilets and a donkey shower, bookings need to be made at the time of the permit application. From the campground, there’s a nature trail that leads approximately 2km to the top of Baton Hill where you can experience a 360-degree view of the northern Simpson Desert.
And the Hay River Track adventure begins
The Hay River Track is an unmaintained two-wheel track that closely follows the Hay River down to where the river floods out and onto the junction with the QAA Line. The northern section is corrugated with a few washouts yet often travelled so isn’t overgrown.
As it is a two-way track, always be alert for oncoming traffic and a sand flag is recommended (you’ll need one for the QAA Line anyway). There are several areas where bush camping is good with some even having firewood left by others. The track passes Mount Winnecke rising 240m above the plain, named by Charles Winnecke during his explorations in 1880 and 1882. Charles also named the Hay River and Goyder Pillar which is further north.
Further south you’ll cross the Tropic of Capricorn, with two markings; an official plaque first and then a little further south one left by the cameleer Andrew Harper OAM who in 1999 trekked across the country with his camels via the Tropic from the west to east.
Twenty-two kilometres south of there is Dingo Well a biodiversity program to try and re-introduce dingoes to the Hay River area as the dingo is at the top of the food chain, it would help with ridding the area of feral cats. The disappointing aspect was the state of the well, it was dry and in disrepair so, if there’s no water, how are dingoes going to be attracted?
From here it is twenty-five clicks to the northern track out to Lake Caroline. If travelling solo, take care along this side track as the sand is deep and soft. There are a couple of areas for bush camping around the track junctions, but when I was there, the flies were bloody horrendous.
On maps, the Hay River Track seems to run straight but in reality, it twists and winds its way down the river, around all the creeks, washouts and large trees and is fairly flat with only a few low dune crossings, at least in the northern section.
Keep an eye out for all the different tracks you’ll see in the sand when driving in the morning from the lizards and other reptiles, insects and marsupials and like us, they stick to the track as it is the easy way to traverse the desert.
The colours are just spectacular burnt orange dunes covered in golden spinifex, bright blue sky and green foliage, thanks to recent rains, it was really pretty. Heading further south, I was reminded of sections of the Madigan Line, as you drive across the ridgeline of the dunes in places.
The middle section of the track is very twisty and wind and bumpy as it makes its way through the swales and across the dunes as the Hay River flood plain begins and there are plenty of bush camp opportunities open clearings and lots of firewood.
Just north of the junction with the Madigan Line is a side track to the west and the challenge is to find the Aboriginal midden pile. Dr Cecil Madigan led the first scientific-based expedition across the Simpson Desert in 1939 it took the party some 31 days to complete the journey. After Madigan’s blaze tree, the track follows the edge of a dune and it’s slow going.
Bring on the dunes
Keep an eye out for feral camels as when they are about the ferals dig big holes in the track. Don’t expect to be going much faster than 20km/hr in places. The track follows the dune system for what seems an eternity until suddenly you’re tackling some decent-sized dunes that require low range and a good run over them. The challenge is greater in the late afternoon when they’ve had the sun beating down on them.
As the sun started to wane in the sky, I found a good campsite on the ridgeline of a dune, set up camp and lit a fire before sending the drone up. I noticed some headlights in the distance, heading my way, then the radio crackled, and I recognised the voice of a bloke I’d met at Batton Hill in 2018. It wasn’t long before two vehicles pulled into camp, and we had a bit of a reunion.
The head was a bit scrambled the next morning, after a bit too much red wine around the fire. I decided to tag along with Robert and his mates, taking up the tail-end-charlie position.
Things to see and do
Hang a right at the glove and head west across some big dunes that have been severely chopped up and then suddenly you’re at the intersection with the old Beachcomber No.1 Oil Well. The abandoned well is a short diversion off the main track. The track heads south again, the sand is replaced with a badly corrugated capped road. It’s a change from the sand, the dunes and the ups and downs of wombat holes.
There is an old bore near the abandoned Poeppel Corner Oil Well and from here it is a short drive to Poeppel Lake and then the end of the Hay River Track at the intersection of the QAA and K1 lines. The QAA leads to Birdsville and the K1 leads 18km to Poppel Corner and then concludes at the intersection with the Rig Road and Warburton Track.
Can this be true?
There is a rumour that 2024 will be the final time that the Hay River Track will be accessible, so if you haven’t had a crack yet, next year may be your only chance. If you know more about this potential closure, we’d love to hear from you in the comments section.