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A Guide to Crossing the Madigan Line in a 4WD

This area of outback Australia is remote, and you need to be well equipped and experienced at desert travel. Any recovery from the Madigan Line and surrounding areas is time-consuming and very expensive. 

Hema Maps Crossing the Madigan Line in a 4WD

While the route was easy to follow on our trip, dry and windy conditions may cover the tracks, making good navigation essential. 

Permits required

You require a permit from the Central Lands Council (CLC) to travel the Madigan Line. It is easy to get and free. Go to: 

If you have any queries, contact the CLC:
P: 08 8951 6211
A: 27 Stuart Highway, Alice Springs, Northern Territory 0870

If you're heading east on the Madigan Line from Hay River, you will need permission from Adria Downs Station (email and the Queensland NPWS to cross the Munga-Thirri (Simpson Desert) National Park. The Qld NPWS website will also provide updates on the current track and road conditions, which should be checked prior to departure.

If you continue south through on the Hay River Track to reach the public access routes across Munga-Thirri (Simpson Desert) National Park, you will require a Desert Parks Pass from the South Australia NPWS.

Head here for more information on outback Queensland's national parks.

Distance and fuel

It's about 720km from Birdsville to Mt Dare Hotel via this route.

Fuel usage can be heavy depending on conditions. Both Patrols on our trip and the Hilux consumed between 130–140L of diesel. We each carried 200L, and you'd be advised to carry similar. Petrol vehicles would need more. Driving on sand tracks doubles your fuel consumption due to the reduced tyre pressures and running at low and high ranges, so make sure you have enough fuel.

Other key gear to ensure you have on board is enough water for every person on board (approximately 7L per day per person, but allow extra for hot weather and emergencies), sand flag/s, UHF radio to communicate with any oncoming traffic, a good quality satellite phone, first aid kit, recovery gear and basic spare parts for your tow vehicle.

Our trip following Cecil Madigan's iconic 1939 expedition started in Birdsville, Qld (be sure to check out the iconic Birdsville Hotel while you're there). From Big Red, the famous dune on the eastern edge of the desert, we pushed west along the well-travelled QAA line. After 18km of sand dunes we swung north onto a lesser used track that runs parallel to Eyre Creek.

When Madigan and his men first crossed the Simpson Desert, they filled in one of the last great blanks of the map of Australia. From Bore No1, north of the Old Andado homestead on the desert's western margin, Madigan's men loaded their string of 19 camels and headed first north towards the junction of the Hale and Todd Rivers before striking east across the desert.

Crossing the Madigan Line in a 4WD

Denis Bartell drove the Madigan Line in 1979, when the northern Simpson Desert was largely untracked and laid the way for many 4WDing adventures. The going was a lot tougher for Bartell than it is today and took a hard-pushed seven days for him to cross the desert. It's now an easy five-day run. 

After crossing Eyre creek (which can be either a lush oasis or a dry riverbed depending on the season) we wandered north and then west to camp at the base of a sand dune among a sea of green. The next morning, we pushed north along the western margin of the greenery left behind by the receding flood and made the final trek towards Mt Dare Hotel.

Plan your next adventure 

For more information about the Madigan Line and the many Madigan camps along it, head here.

There are many Madigan Line Tours available to help you undertake your own epic journey through this part of outback Australia. Check out the Madigan Line six-day Hema Maps 4WD Tag Along Tour with Adrenalin Offroad here.

Next steps

At Hema Maps, we strive to provide the most comprehensive and accurate maps and guides for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore Australia's natural wonders.

Did you find this information useful? If so, please share it with your fellow explorers. Whether it's by SMS, social media, or email, your friends and fellow adventurers will appreciate the valuable tips and insights we've shared.

Let's work together to make the most of every adventure. 


  • Michael Hamilton: April 09, 2024

    If you don’t cross into South Australia, then why do you need an SA Desert Parks Pass? You don’[t need one in Queensland or the Northern Territory.

    The Desert Parks Pass includes unlim­it­ed vehi­cle entry and camp­ing in Innam­inc­ka Region­al Reserve; Kati Than­da-Lake Eyre Nation­al Park; Malkum­ba-Coongie Lakes Nation­al Park; Munga-Thirri-Simp­son Desert Con­ser­va­tion Park and Region­al Reserve; Tal­laringa Con­ser­va­tion Park; Wab­ma Kadar­bu Mound Springs Con­ser­va­tion Park (no camp­ing is per­mit­ted in this park) and Witji­ra Nation­al Park.

    The desert in Queensland is the Simpson Desert National Park, in SA it’s the Simpson Desert Conservation Park. Two separate parks under two different jurisdictions. You need camping permits in Queensland but camping is free with the pass in SA.

    Am I wrong about this?

  • Warren Dowdell: January 18, 2024

    You have to travel from west to east from 5 to 15 camp YES"

  • Adrian Foale: November 02, 2023

    Hi, I thought it was mandatory you travel the Madigan line from west (Mt Dare) to east (Birdsville) just saying.

  • Trevor Queale: November 02, 2023

    It should be mentioned that travel on the Madigan Line from Camp 5 to Camp 15 (Colson Track to Hay River Track) is West to East ONLY.

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