The Ultimate Guide To Tackling The Madigan Line

If you love the adventure of exploring with your 4WD, then the Madigan Line should be one to add to your bucket list.

Michael Ellem from Offroad Images
Michael Ellem
Aug 16 2023

If you love the adventure of exploring with your 4WD, then the Madigan Line should be one to add to your bucket list. It certainly is one of my favourite tracks which is both remote and beautiful.

We planned this location as the very first trip for our new build “the Mighty 79” Cruiser. We specifically built this vehicle to assist us for photography and filming and the plan was to finish the build to coincide with a trip across the Madigan Line with a bunch of ARB store owners from Queensland.

What exactly is the Madigan Line?

It is a 4WD track situated in the northern regions of the Simpson Desert providing a route to cross the desert.

The Madigan Line got its name from an early explorer Cecil Madigan who mapped the region in 1939 with a crew of 9 men and 19 camels loaded for the huge expedition. The trip took them over 5 weeks exploring the land and its geology. If you’re interested, you can find out a little information about Cecil Madigan on the SA History Hub website. I have to say, I really love the effort that some organisations go to in recording history.

Image courtesy SA History Hub

Remote travel preparation

The Madigan Line is extremely remote and rewarding at the same tim

But you must be prepared.

There are a few ways to cross the desert and whilst the usual routes are an amazing experience, sometimes the tracks can be quite rutted out with traffic in both directions effecting these conditions. In saying that, travelling across the Simpson Desert, you still might not see another vehicle in days of driving, but if you are following a group who have run into some issues on the tracks, it will be slow going.

Whilst I love the challenges of the French Line, I think this is really what sends me further north as a preference to travel in areas less travelled. Most of the time you will be driving on formed or faint tracks, but sometimes, especially after a good blow, you cannot see the track at all. However, these days we are travelling with extremely detailed mapping on our GPS units like Hema so it’s extremely difficult to get lost.

Majority of the time, the tracks are slow going and in some areas you will be lucky to average 15-20 km/h. It is hard on the gear and the occupants of the vehicles, so you need to be extremely well prepared andit’s recommended that you plan for being in the desert longer than you think. This means carrying more supplies and especially water. It’s also important to make sure you carry and use sand flags. This will make it easier for oncoming vehicles to see your location and will most likely save may accidents.

The weather can throw issues your way whilst crossing the Simpson Desert. This can make salt lake crossings impassable, extending your trip around the lake systems adding many more kms and using much more fuel than originally anticipated. You will not get great fuel economy when travelling on sand in a 4WD, so be prepared for that. As a shake-down trip idea, it would be worth spending a day just driving on a beach of soft sand to give you an idea of how much fuel you will use when you get out here.

These are all things to take into consideration.

Pre-trip Inspection

A pre-trip inspection is worth the investment. It gives you the opportunity to thoroughly check over your vehicle and replace anything that is worn out. Get your 4X4 specialist mechanic to look at everything underneath, all the running gear, brakes, tyres, filters, belts etc and you might want to check out anything that is attached. Spotlights, roof racks, shovel etc., If it is not bolted down properly when you start the trip, it will likely not be there on the last day.

This is where I believe, you get what you pay for. Invest in good equipment that is built for the purpose. Unfortunately, we have seen items small like spotlights littering the tracks of the Simpson Desert. These are easy to pick up and take out as rubbish, but we have also seen items too big to remove from the desert, like rear bars, roof racks and trailers.

So, how did “The Mighty 79” do on its first 4WD trip?

Now this new build of ours… The Mighty 79… I have to say, it performed amazing everywhere we took it.

There were a bunch of 79 Cruisers on this trip but for a brand-new build, nothing went wrong. I feel that is a credit to all the great people involved in helping create such a formidable 4X4, but I also believe it’s in the planning where so many people worked together to create a strong vehicle built for purpose.

One of my favourite shots was captured along the dunes where we were just so remote. The rest of the crew had headed forward and Gab and I were just cruising along after some drone work. I had Gab drive while I put the drone up and it made us really appreciate how small we are in comparison to the environment out here.

I kept thinking, we are doing this crossing in air-conditioned comfort, with a fridge and heaps of gear, but these early explorers they were doing it tough with camels and minimal gear.

Attractions & Things To See/Do

One of the attractions of the trip is finding the “Madigan Camps”.

It is an awesome feeling to see these markers for yourself and think about what the explorers must have gone through so many years ago.

The wildlife is amazing. If you keep your camera ready, you will be able to capture images of lizards, birdlife, camels etc. Also, if you take a walk around during stops, you will see the various tracks left by beetles or lizards through the beautiful ripples in the sand. The desert can hold many surprises, most seen at low light. The colour changes in the sand and the landscape are the most spectacular in this low light. I would recommend you take note of how much colour develops as the sun is going down and, from first light to just after sunrise. Make the effort to walk from your camp to the top of a dune during this low light and take it all in, as its simply stunning to watch.

Although we have travelled in both directions, we usually travel West to East when crossing the desert, as the going is easier. The dunes have a more gradual slope when approached from the west. If you wanted to head east to west, you will be approaching a steeper angle to climb making the going a little harder.

If you have never camped in the desert, you will love the experience. Amazing skies, great sunsets and sunrises, but remember, it can get extremely cold at night in the desert, so go prepared.

Tackling the final dune “Big Red” and then arriving at the Birdsville Pub is certainly a highlight. You might even grab a photo of your crew in front of the pub.

Permits

You will need permits to travel across the Simpson Desert and the Madigan Line.

  • The Central Lands Council provide the permits and these are free. link
  • Heading on the Madigan Line through the Hay River requires permissions from Adria Downs Station and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife to cross the Simpson Desert.
  • Apply for your Desert Parks Pass here link
  • For more information, check this link
Fuel and Water

When heading east, your last fuel is at Mount Dare, and you will need a lot of fuel to make the trip. When you add a few extra locations to explore along the way, you will add more kms and use more fuel, so you will need to figure out how to carry it. Upgraded fuel tanks like ARBs Frontier Tank, Longranger fuel tanks and Brown Davis fuel tanks are all great products which will assist in providing you a larger fuel capacity for your trips. But it would be wise to carry extra fuel to be sure.

We had two 15L rotopax which we only filled for the first section of the trip, and we moved from the roof into the rear tank as soon as possible. By the time we had arrived in Birdsville, we had 1.19 litres of fuel left in the Frontier Tank. One of the other crew was carrying additional fuel for us but decided to give it to someone else on the second last day, but that happens when you rely on others, I guess. There is a message here… be self-sufficient. The complete trip was just over 1000 kms.

Just like fuel, you will need to carry more water than you think is necessary because you might end up taking longer than anticipated to get through. Its easier to simply carry more than not to have enough.

Oz Explorer has some valuable information which you might find to be helpful.

If you make the plan to drive the Madigan Line, you will enjoy yourself more if you have planned and prepared everything well. Do your research as this is not a simple weekend trip. Everything on your vehicle needs to be right. Go prepared. Take a Sat phone and EPRIB just in case and tell people of your plans so they can keep track of you. This is extremely remote terrain you are heading into and the better prepared you are, the more you will enjoy the experience.

“Cheers”

-Michael Ellem | Offroad Images

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Michael Ellem from Offroad Images
Michael Ellem
Michael Ellem is a long term friend of the Club 4X4 Insurance and voice of The Campfire. He is also an expert adventure, 4X4 photographer from the renowned Offroad Images and has over 20 years experience in the industry.