DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
The main purpose of the Tanami Road for 4WD travellers is a short cut between Alice Springs and The Kimberley, but there’s plenty to see along the way.
The Tanami Desert is flat region, in contrast to the hilly MacDonnell Ranges to the south and The Kimberley to the north. It’s possible that the Tanami region remained stable during periods when the northern and southern areas buckled into hills and troughs.
Wolfe Creek Crater was formed some 300,000 years ago, when a meteor with an estimated mass of 50,000 tonnes slammed to earth.
Aboriginal Dreamtime legend has it that the crater marks the emergence of a rainbow snake out of the earth, or the site where the evening star crashed to earth after passing too close to the crescent moon.
Today, Aboriginal people from the Warlpiri, Arrente, Luritja and Pintubi groups have land ownership rights along the Tanami Road.
The area has a strong missionary history, with Hermannsburg being the first mission established in 1877. Without missions to provide refuge, Aboriginal people would have been oppressed as the pastoral industry moved into the NT.
However, a consequence of missionary activity was that different tribal groups were settled in other groups’ country – a development which many see as the root cause of governance problems today.
Maintaining the Tanami Road is the shared responsibility of WA and the NT. Severe corrugations are normal, so strong tyres and suspension are essential.
With The Granites gold mine in the middle of the Tanami Desert you’d expect the road to be kept in tip-top condition, but it’s not. Fuel road trains from Alice Springs bring vital liquid to The Granites, but poor road maintenance forces them to travel at very low speeds.
The ‘sweet spot’ for 4WD driving over most of the Tanami corrugations is between 60km/h and 80km/h, but some severely cut-up sections will see you back to 15-20km/h.
The road is bitumen south of Yuendumu and the black top is being extended gradually northward.
The Tanami Road measures 1060km in length and the longest stretch without fuel is 600km beween Billiluna and Yuendumu. It’s a remote-travel area with limited services and supplies.
Halls Creek is principally a fuel and supply point, but Old Halls Creek has many relics of the goldrush days.
Unfortunately the old mud-walled bank building deteriorated badly before it was protected by a roof and wire fence. Now it’s protected from further erosion, but you can’t wander around inside like you used to.
However the Old Halls Creek graveyard is worth a stroll around.
Wolfe Creek Crater is a must-visit site, although the 25km entry road is in atrocious condition. It’s possible to walk around and into the Crater and there’s a bush campsite with pit toilet. National Parks camping fees apply at Wolfe Creek Crater NP.
There’s designated camping at Halls Creek, Old Halls Creek, Wolfe Creek Crater, Billiluna, Tilmouth Well and Alice Springs. There’s bush camping at Renahans Bore.
It used to be possible to fuel up and break your drive at Rabbit Flat Roadhouse, but this facility is now closed. There’s fuel at Halls Creek, Billiluna, Yuendumu and Tilmouth Well.
Yuendumu has an Aboriginal art gallery that’s well worth a visit.
Tilmouth Roadhouse has fuel, motel-style accommodation, a restaurant and lawn camping.
Some useful phone numbers are: Halls Creek Information Centre (08) 9168 6262; Billiluna Store (08) 9168 8988; Yuendumu Council (08) 8956 4000 and Alice Springs Tourism (08) 8952 5800.