Hay River Track

The Hay River Track is a track pioneered by Lindsay Bookie and Jol Flemming. The Hay River Track heads north south through the Simpson Desert. This article is about Your Trip Right’s 2015 Adventure with a convoy of four cars (including our Toyota Prado towing a Tvan, Toyota 100 Series Landcruiser, Toyota Hilux and Landrover Discovery). For information regarding Hay River Track permits, trip preparation and statistical data including fuel use for each car on the Hay River Track please click here.

Our Hay River Track adventure came off the back of crossing the French Line. We crossed the French Line west to east with seven cars however three cars had to go home before taking on the Hay River Track due to time pressures.

Our convoy taking on the Hay River Track included Brett, Jess and Layla in a Toyota Prado 150 series and towing the Tvan, Chris and Bev in a Toyota Hilux 2012, Robert and Gail in a Toyota 100 series Landcruiser and peter and Helen in a Landrover Discovery 1996.


We spent one night in Birdsville prior to attempting the Hay River Track and I would recommend for anyone in the position to do so spend an extra night in Birdsville, there is plenty to check out and a great place to chill out before heading into the Desert.

Our first day on the Hay River Track got away to a sluggish start; we did not get away until 2:00pm from Birdsville. We wanted to see some of the town and one of our convoy members was really unwell. Luckily for him the world became a better place as the day went on.

We hit the Simpson Desert and its biggest dunes first. We were a bit nervous, the Prado towing the Tvan had not made every hill on our way east across the Simpson, to add to this we were taking on the biggest dunes from the steeper approach with cars fully loaded with food, water, fuel and supplies. Our back up plan was if the Prado could not pull the Tvan through the Simpson Desert we would simply hook the Tvan up to some of the bigger Toyota’s to drag it through the desert however the convoy’s two most powerful cars had left us at Birdsville.


We gritted our teeth as we set off across the Simpson, early on we had a couple of attempts at some of the dunes some were quite difficult. Surprisingly though there were no dunes we didn’t conquer in our second attempt.

There are two reasons why we were able to get over all the dunes heading west across the desert.

1. The entry was a lot smoother and the run up the dune was a lot smoother maybe even a little firmer in this direction of travel.
2. We were the weakest link in our convoy with the Tvan in tow. With the absence of our back up plan (the powerful cars) we were willing to push the Prado a bit harder up the dunes than we had been when tackling the French Line. The Prado still had some power in the bank but we were pushing it harder up the dune with faster entry speeds.


We only headed down the track 61km on our first day. When we arrived at camp Chris could not open one of his draws. It turns out the fun he had been having on Big Red the day before had caught up with him
(click here to see what Chris had been up to).

Chris has an interesting winch setup. He carries his winch in his draw system and can put the winch on the front or back of his Hilux. Unfortunately going up Big Red he had bounced a little too much and the winch had broken through the bottom of the draw jamming it closed! This was an issue for Chris as if he wanted dinner he needed to get the draw open. After a bit of fiddling we got it open. Luckily we had a cordless drill and with the right kind of screws we were able to get the draw back in one piece and functioning great again!

The following morning we awoke and were keen to get some kilometres done.

We packed up and were on the road at 9:30am. We enjoyed a bit of a warmer morning as it reached 18 degrees as we set off.


15km into the morning Chris mentioned his un-lifted Hilux was dragging its diff through the sand of the Simpson pretty frequently.

Travel was fast and we were able to cover 130km in 7 hours including an hour stop for lunch and plenty of stops for photos and to check things out. It made for a nice change, as our battle east across the French Line had been very slow. The Hay River Track runs more parallel to the dunes when compared with the French Line, which made for much faster driving.

We camped in the midst of a 17km east west stretch which was lot more like what we had come across on the French Line.


Day three was a warm one. We broke camp just before 10:00am. We enjoyed some decent speeds once again. Some parts of the track were slow, seeing us crawling at 10km an hour as we weaved in and out of a very firm creek bed. As we ducked in and out of the Hay River in the Prado, there were budgies everywhere. It was amazing the amount of budgies we saw. We were almost constantly watching a flock of budgies flying around us as we drove. The track would then open up to allow us to travel faster in some cases up to 50km an hour.

It was not easy to find a place to have lunch, as it was hot and windy. They clay pans of the French Line were gone so getting off the track in a place that was relatively flat was near impossible. The opportunities to get under a tree and shelter from the wind were also few and far between. Needless to say our lunch stop was not particularly long.

After lunch, with the aid of mapping and signage we found Madigan’s blazed tree. It was a good spot to get out and have a look at but nothing that blew my mind.


The Cars were preforming really well. The 100 series Land Cruiser was eating the track up the same way it handled the French Line. The Toyota Hilux was crawling through the Hay River Track with no problems at all. The Prado towing the Tvan on the Hay River Track was also doing it easy. We found using Low range critical to keep transmission temperatures down. The Landrover Discovery was also doing it easy on the Hay River Track.

The Hay River track is a bit of a ‘choose your own adventure’ with many side tacks to choose from as people make alternate tracks around bad sections. Sometimes it was hard to tell if you were on the good track or bad track until it was too late.

We made camp about 15mins beyond Madigan’s camp 15. We were meeting Rebecca (my mum) at Batton Hill and we knew she was due to arrive at Batton Hill that night.


Day four and with a deadline to meet mum we knew we had a big day in front of us so we broke camp at 9:00am. We were a little unsure of the exact location of Batton Hill as it was not clearly marked on our HEMA maps. There was a camp icon on the North end of the track, which looked in a likely position of where Batton Hill maybe. Helen another member of our party was sure it was further north from the icon on our map and she was 100% correct.

The track moved away form the windy Hay River, which allowed us to travel a bit faster than the days previous. Although we moved away from the creek beds bull dust holes became more and more constant. These sometimes took you by surprise and its not unthinkable that you could get bogged in one of these.

We crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, which was marked by a small handmade sign.

Throughout the day were three car convoys. We checked in with each car to see if they had noticed Mum at Batton Hill. It was not until we passed the third convoy did we find out she had made Batton Hill. They also had some exciting news for us. They told us she was cooking us a big roast dinner for our arrival into Batton Hill.


After lunch we came across Lake Caroline. We were in a rush to get to Batton Hill and the day was running out. We were not sure what to expect there and assumed it would just be a dry lake like the many we had seen on the French Line. Chris and Bev took the Hilux and snuck into Lake Caroline. They had decided that they would camp on the road and meet up with us the following day at Batton Hill. We were disappointed but keen to meet up with my Mum at Batton Hill.

After the Lake Caroline road we came across Dingo Well. It is a well in disrepair with a bit of livestock infrastructure around it. It was interesting to have a look at and a good chance to get out and stretch your legs. We found a large burrow under a 44-gallon drum, which looked like it may have been home to a dingo. We wondered if that is where Dingo Well got its name from…

We pulled into Batton Hill at 5:10pm after a fairly long hard day of driving. We had covered 222km and met up with Mum, which made it all worthwhile.


As we were setting up camp we heard some crackling on the radio. Soon we realised it was Chris and Bev they were trying to get hold of us in order to figure out how much further they had to come. They eventually made camp just as the sun was setting. As for their adventure to Lake Caroline they said it was worth the side trip and the road in was in really good condition.

Batton Hill was great. We loved it so much that we decided to stay two nights. Batton Hill is an article in itself so I wont go into detail here.

After our extended stay at Batton Hill with Tanya and James we headed out to round off our Hay River Track adventure.

We thought from here it was going to be all smooth sailing however not long after we left camp we hit a dry river bed. It looked fine and I went through at 50km an hour. I have never hit anything so hard in my life. It had a big drop away followed by some gnarly bumps. I was not sure what had broken but I thought there was no way I could hit anything that hard and drive away unaffected.


I crawled out of the creek and everything seemed to be okay. I pulled up on the other side of the creek to do a visual inspection. I got under the car everything looked good. I got under the Tvan and again everything looked good. I jumped on the Tvan and car and it seemed as though I had got away with it.

As I turned to get back in the car I decided to pull on the wheels of the Tvan. Unfortunately there was massive sideway movement. It felt too big to be simply a loose wheel bearing.

We pulled the wheel off and quickly got into the bearings. The first good news was the grease looked immaculate. No signs of any metal of anything foul. We pulled the bearings out and again good news, the bearings were all moving fine and there were no issues there. On the stub-axle everything was fine, no marks, no damage.


We decided against changing the bearings and put it back together and tightened it up. We jacked up the other side of the camper and adjusted that wheel bearing before we got on the road again.

This lead to an anxious morning for me. We had everything we needed to change the wheel bearings but I just hate doing the job and I hoped that we would be able to get away with it. We stopped every 40km for the rest of the morning and checked the temperature and play. Everything was in order and no further work required.

At the top of the Hay River Track we all headed in our different directions. Some were heading to Alice, some headed over to the Binns Track and we made our way north.

The Hay River track was very different to the French Line. Not as challenging but really worth doing as it gives you another unique perspective to the Simpson Desert.

Brett Toll


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  • Birdsville QLD5:28
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