DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
The great east-west challenge is the Gunbarrel ‘Highway’, but years of neglect make it a severe 4WD vehicle test. The Great Central Road used to be an easier run from Uluru to The West, but the NT section was in very bad shape in 2019.
Now that there’s reliable fuel at Warakurna Roadhouse and Tjukayirla Roadhouse the 1200-kilometre Tjukururu Road and Great Central Road route became quite popular.
Although the WA section of the Great Central Road is reasonably well maintained it’s no super-highway and should be attempted only by high ground clearance vehicles with a touring range of at least 600km.
The NT section was in appalling condition when we drove it in July 2019, with severe corrugations that slowed road trains to 15-20km/h, with low tyre pressures.
The trek from Central Australia to WA starts at the Uluru/ Kata Tjuta resort township of Yulara, where it’s possible to have your vehicle serviced, get the tyres checked over and top up fuel, water and food supply stocks.
The trek proper begins when you turn right out of the Kata Tjuta access road, rather than taking the bitumen run back to relative civilisation at Yulara.
As with any Outback road, the conditions you’ll find depend on how far you are behind the grader, but don’t expect much in the way of smooth dirt sections in the first 200km of the Great Central Road and you won’t be disappointed.
We’ve done this run three times, over the past nine years, and always found the NT section in poor condition. Deep bulldust holes – often on the other side of blind crests – and rough, stony sections are the name of the game and the broke NT Government has no money to maintain it.
The early visual highlights are the Petermann Ranges on the left hand side of the road and Bloods Range in the distance, on the right.
By the time you’re ready for a stroll and a cuppa you’ll be able to pull over into the rubbish-filled parking area that’s close by Lasseter’s Cave. (We think that the locals could use some of the permit money they get to clean the area more frequently.)
From the Cave to Warakurna Roadhouse it’s only a 140-kilometre drive, over a road surface that’s much better maintained. The Roadhouse has fuel, cabin
accommodation and camping facilities, but very limited food supplies.
A visit to the meteorological station at Giles is a must and if you time your visit for 8.30am you should be able to tour the facility and witness a weather balloon launching.
Len Beadell’s famous Gunbarrel Construction Company grader is on display at Giles and there are remnants of rockets that were launched from Woomera and didn’t quite achieve the distance expected of them.
From Warakurna the road conditions are generally quite good, but there are numerous bulldust stretches and stony sections. About 90 kilometres from Warakurna there are some rockholes on the left side of the road, just after a new deviation fork. Some 40km further on there’s a signposted picnic spot, with a toilet and water.
From there, it’s about 220km to some roadside rockholes and then a 120km run into Tjukayirla Roadhouse.
The Roadhouse has water, fuel, cabins, an excellent camping area, toilets and showers and limited food supplies.
The road from Tjukayirla Roadhouse to Leonora is well maintained dirt, with some soft, sandy sections. Highlights are some low, rocky hills about 80km from Tjukayirla Roadhouse and caves at 270km. Make sure you’ve eaten all your fruit and honey before you get to the quarantine bin at 285km.
From this point to Leonora the road runs through progressively changing country, as the desert gives way to scrubby grazing land and then to pastoral and mining leases.
In theory, you could run the great Central Road in a softroader, but tyres and ground clearance are the major weaknesses of these vehicles. We’d recommend using a high ground clearance vehicle – preferably diesel powered – and you should also carry two spare wheels with mounted tyres.
Trailers should be OK on this route, but it’s extremely rough in the northern sections, so a caravan is risky.
Hema’s Great Desert Tracks, South West and South Central Maps are ideal for this trek.
You need a permit to travel the Tjukururu Road and the Great Central Road, available from the Ngaanyatjarra Council (08) 8950 1711.
Late autumn, winter and early spring are the only safe times to travel this route. Summer temperatures regularly exceed 50 degrees, there’s no reliable water and there’s very little traffic on the road.
Camping and supplies
Opal unleaded and diesel are available at Warakurna and Tjukayirla Roadhouses, along with water and limited food supplies. Emergency fuel is available at Docker River and Warburton. Leonora has a motel (expensive), camping and supplies.
You need to be self-sufficient to attempt this trek, so carry reserve food, water and fuel.