Exploring the Outback can be dangerous, especially for novice 4WD enthusiasts. But this factor emboldens most experienced off-roaders to push the limits of their vehicles and themselves. As a result, the 4WD tracks that cut through the Australian Outback are some of the most popular ones in the country.
So, why should you explore this track? The Gunbarrel Highway is one of Australia’s most famous and challenging 4WD tracks. It has a length of 1,350 km which links the Carnegie Station, WA and Giles, NT. It’s also one of the best roads to take to reach Uluru.
Are you planning to drive through the Gunbarrel Highway? Read more about it below!
How Do I Get to the Gunbarrel Highway?
From Darwin, you should head to Yulara to start your journey. So, you’ll need to follow this route:
- Follow Tiger Brennan Dr to National Highway 1 in Holtze
- After merging onto National Highway 1, keep right to stay on the road
- Continue onto National Highway 87 after 548 km
- After 910 km, take the 3rd exit at the roundabout to stay on National Highway 87
- Turn right to continue driving on the same road after 8 km
- After 189 km, turn right onto Lasseter Hwy/State Route 4
- Turn left onto Yulara Dr after 244 km
- Turn left onto Kurkara Cres
- After 1.5 km, turn left to stay on the same road and do the same after 77 m
- Turn left onto Gosse Cres after 280 m
- After 300 m, turn right to remain on Gosse Cres
What Should I Know About the Gunbarrel Highway?
The Gunbarrel Highway was the first road completed as part of Australia’s role in the weapons research facility, then known as Woomera. The tract of land designated along Woomera and 80 Mile Beach close to the Port Hedland was picked as the ideal area in the world for a rocket range. Still, it was an uninhabited desert wasteland in the most isolated part of Australia.
This weapons research project didn’t just involve rocket launches into a wasteland. Still, complex missile tracking instruments had to be put in position throughout this expansive region and so a considerable ground survey was needed to determine the shape of the land.
The first task was to build a road running east-west across the middle of Australia to provide significant service access for the completion of all other adjoining roads. The Gunbarrel Highway was the first to be completed among the Len Beadell roads, and so is a very historical path for people making the trip today.
Len Beadell, the lead surveyor of the project, admitted he was “a surveyor who preferred to draw clean lines on maps,” so he set out to place the roads in areas where the long direct path could be built. It was Len himself, who light-heartedly gave his road crew the moniker “Gunbarrel Highway Construction Party”. It was done for distance, fuel, and maintenance efficiencies for both his construction team and future users. This is suitable for us four-wheel drivers because it has meant that with a bit of preparation and excellent vehicle setup, there’s a lot of Outback tracks that, although are no longer well-maintained, are still in good condition for off-road driving.
How Are the 4WD Tracks at Gunbarrel Highway?
You can drive up the Gunbarrel from either Wiluna in the western side or Giles (Warakurna Roadhouse) in the east. So, it is usually included as an extension/start of a Canning Stock Route, West McDonald Ranger, or The Tanami Track trek. But technically, the Gunbarrel Highway is the section right at the east of Carnegie Homestead through to Yulara (by taking the road at Jackie Junction and Docker River).
The full stretch of the is an isolated desert track of 1400km. In general, washaways, dense grooves, stone, sand, and flood plains are all typical elements of the drive. Still, the track is graded on some occasions by the Wiluna Shire Council from Wiluna and ends 180km east of the town of Carnegie. There are great bush camps, and a lot of sites have wells with water.
At the western terminus of the trek, Wiluna is a town that is quite unlike any other in the country. Except for a few people who service the transient 4WD explorers, the town is mostly aboriginal. Also, there’s just a few grimy buildings, a store, a pub, and the campgrounds, which is a far cry from the 1930s as this place was a booming gold mining town of around 9000 people. It also boasts the biggest mine in the southern hemisphere.
At the eastern end of the track, Giles is not a town at all but the native land of the Warakurna people and the site of a remote meteorological weather station, known as Giles. Visitors must spend the night at the Warakurna Roadhouse, where modern campground facilities such as fuel and basic food supplies can be acquired as going into the aboriginal community is not permitted. Also, most people visit the weather station while they are here, which is a little different from any other weather station around Australia. Tours to this place are free, but you should let them know in advance that you’re visiting, particularly if you want to observe the launch of a weather balloon.
In general, heavy grooves, washaways, stone, sand, and flood plains are all typical elements of the terrain. The more troublesome spots are around Mingkili Claypan and along the Heather Highway turnoff and Jackie Junction (where there is extreme wash aways). The “deserted section” from Jackie Junction to Giles is very rutted, and in some places, it is quite sandy. During the peak season (usually from late June to October), many people make the journey across the Gunbarrel Highway. So, diversion tracks around significant obstacles will be in place, and even the abandoned section isn’t usually overgrown unless you are the first group of the season after rains to head here.
Technically the Gunbarrel Highway is not a hard 4WD trip, but you should be very well-prepared and experienced. So, I would not suggest that you embark on a journey across the Gunbarrel Highway as your first outback camping trip.
There are many bores with water along this track, and we strongly advise that you do not use this water unless there is an emergency. Please do not plan to use this water – carry all your drinking and washing water. The impact of increased 4WD tourism on these historical areas needs to be considered to ensure that access for all remains. Note – to obtain water. You will need to carry a narrow water vessel (less than 14cm diameter) and about 45m of the line! Some bores are very deep.
What Are the Other Things That I Can Do in the Gunbarrel Highway?
While driving through this highway, you should also head to:
The Mingol Camp
The Mingol Camp was built-up next to a waterhole and is shaded by giant gums, making it a great resting point for those traversing the Gunbarrel Highway. Here, you will want to keep an eye out for some of the wildlife that frequently flocks the area, including perentie. Also, permission to camp must be sought from the Wongawol Station.
Carnegie Station is a must-visit for those driving through the highway and is run by managers Dusty and Jodie. It is here that you will be able to stock up on fuel and supplies. You should also visit the small museum dedicated to Len Beadell, the chief proponent of the construction of the highway (and many other roads that cut through the Outback). After this stop, the road turns slightly more challenging, becoming one lane and potentially leading travelers to boggier areas, so drivers must keep their wits about them.
As visitors draw closer to Yulara from the southern side, they will approach Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, whose monoliths can be seen from almost 50km away. So, all kinds of travelers – not simply off-roaders – head to the Red Centre, so four-wheel drivers will find as they leave the more isolated regions of the highway, the Outback becomes bustling in comparison. The area is famous for good reason, with many amazing Red Centre views to enjoy.
What Do Other 4WD Enthusiasts Say About the Gunbarrel Highway?
“Did the Gunbarrel from Warburton to Warakurna June last year (2016). From the GCR to Mippiltjarra Junction the road/track was fantastic. From there to the Lake Christopher turn off the track was still pretty good but deteriorating with a few patches of corrugations, small bits and washouts. All easy-going. From Lake Christopher, you need to be on the lookout for washouts as somewhere hidden by overgrown vegetation. The old mantra remains drive to the conditions, and all is sweet.” -Duncan W (ExplorOz)
Where Should I Stay in the Gunbarrel Highway?
Most of the track is too remote to find accommodations (except in some portions), you’ll have to resort to bush camping. You can set up camp at:
- Mingol Camp – Harry Johnson Water
- Carnegie Homestead
- Geraldton Bore
- Camp Beadell
- Thryptomene Hill Bore
- Warakurna Roadhouse
Is the Great Central Road Sealed?
The Great Central Road will eventually be sealed, and small sections of it have been sealed already. The sealed parts are generally located around the communities. There is one long patch of about 60km that is sealed between Tjukayirla and Warburton.
What Is the Best Month to Visit Uluru?
With searing heat in summer and below-freezing overnight temperatures during winter, the weather at Uluru can be extreme. Stone says the best time to visit is during the shoulder seasons – from March to May and from October to the end of November – to avoid these extremes and perhaps pick up a discounted fare.