Tanami Track

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Tanami Track
Be prepared for long stretches of lonely road on the Tanami

Taking the Tanami Track is a lot more than an adventurous way to take a short cut between Central Australia and the coast of Western Australia … it’s an unforgettable experience that is basically a destination in itself.

The route, also known as the Tanami Road or McGuire Road, stretches 1050 kilometres between Alice Springs in the Northern Territory and Halls Creek in the Kimberley. While there are significant stretches of bitumen along the way, the majority of the journey is dirt and gravel.

Its sheer remoteness and unpredictability means it demands respect, but the journey through the vast Tanami Desert is not as knee-tremblingly daunting as it once was. It is recommended nonetheless for 4WD vehicles, and not for onroad caravans or trailers.

The road, which is sometimes closed after rain, can still be rough and corrugated and is generally best travelled between May and October. It is commonly used by large mining industry vehicles and by road trains carrying livestock from the Kimberley to the southern states.

There may also be patches of bulldust and loose sand and, it goes without saying, that driving it requires extreme caution and should be tackled in a reliable, well-maintained vehicle. Similarly, all travellers must carry enough water, food and supplies to be prepared for any misadventure.

There are only limited fuel outlets along the track, especially since the Rabbit Flat Roadhouse closed in 2010. The Tilmouth Well Roadhouse, which lies 180 kilometres west of Alice, is still open. There is also fuel available at a number of Aboriginal settlements but the much higher cost at these persuades most travellers of the need to carry a couple of jerry cans with extra fuel.

The track is certainly no Gibb River Road in terms of the number of attractions that are stopworthy, but there is still more to the journey than endless spinifex, saltbush and termite mounds. Despite the damage caused by feral animals like camels and donkeys, it remains an important area for a range of endangered flora and fauna.

Most travellers take a couple of days to drive the Tanami Track, most of which goes through land belonging to the Warlpiri people.  While travellers don’t need a permit if they stay on the main track and only drive into communities to buy fuel or supplies, they may need a permit if they want to wander or to camp elsewhere. The Aboriginal communities of Yuendumu, Balgo and Billiluna have culture centres, and the community of Mulan offers access to the permanent inland wetlands of Lake Gregory and Lake Stretch, which are internationally renowned for their incredible birdlife. There are also large herds of wild Arabian thoroughbreds wandering in the area.

Another highlight is the fabled Wolfe Creek Crater National Park, which lies about lies 145 kilometres south of Halls Creek and is accessed via a 23-kilometre unsealed road through Carranya Station. The 880-metre wide meteorite crater is reputedly 300,000 years old and is an awesome sight in its own right, although it has now been made notorious by an Australian horror movie of the same name.

There is camping at both Wolfe Creek and at Lake Gregory and, as you might expect, there are numerous bush camping opportunities off the track itself.

While ultimately it may be the prospect of knocking 1,000 kilometres off a journey between Alice Springs and Halls Creek that persuades most grey nomads to tackle the Tanami Track, they very quickly learn to appreciate the trip’s value goes way beyond saving them a bit of time and fuel money.

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