The Great Northern Highway in Western Australia is a road between Perth in the south and Wyndham in the north covering an approximate distance of 3200 km. The journey passes through a number of different conditions and its recommended to keep a watch on the weather as conditions will change substantially from start to finish.
Distance, isolation, and dynamic changes are what make this journey one to experience starting from Perth to the end of the highway in Wyndham is 3,223 km. The Great Northern Highway goes through the Swan Valley, Wheatbelt, Mid-West, Murchison, Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia. The Great Northern Highway is one of the main supply routes to the North of Western Australia as such big trucks known as road trains are normal. The trucks aren't the only thing that are larger. The landscapes, the distances between places and even the mining and pastoral activities occur in areas larger than some countries.
The highway starts in Perth, Western Australia - in the south west as National Highway 95, and passes through the Tropic of Capricorn just south of Newman, and becomes National Highway 1 after meeting North West Coastal Highway south of Port Hedland. Great Northern Highway terminates in the Kimberley town of Wyndham. Some people much prefer the longer coastal route to Port Hedland, being closer to the coast with a higher frequency of facilities and not so desolate. That route is the Brand Highway and North West Coastal Highway route that is National Route 1 from Perth, through Geraldton, Carnarvon, and Karratha on the way to Port Hedland.
The Great Northern Highway passes through desert so you should take plenty of water and fuel with you on your trip.
Reading the map - you can see the sections where services/stopping places are minimal. Whichever direction you are travelling, it is essential that your vehicle is in good condition, you are stocked up with adequate supplies, at the beginning of these sections.
Though the whole journey is on a sealed road which can be driven along by all vehicle types, your choice of vehicle will impact on your comfort, travel times and what side journeys you may be able to take. What ever your choice of vehicle ensure that the vehicle carries a full sized spare tyre as you may exceed the capabilities of many of the temporary spares found in newer vehicles, additionally not all centres will have replacement tyres readily available.
You can get onto the highway from a number of locations. Initially at Perth on the south end and from Wyndham on the north end. The connection with Geraldton, is a drive across to Mullewa, and Yalgoo, and you connect at Mount Magnet. From the North West Coastal Highway at Port Hedland.
The main centres along the highway all have their unique features that are worth exploring
- Wubin - small old railway town, and marginal eastern wheatbelt location on the Mullewa railway line
- Mount Magnet - current and historic mining town, former railway junction
- Cue - historic mining town with heritage buildings and streetscapes
- Meekatharra - end of the line of former railway line, and start of a long stretch to Newman across gibber plain
- Newman - current iron ore mining town
- Marble Bar - famous location of high temperatures and also nearby - the earliest known signs of life on the planet in local rock formations
- Port Hedland - important mining export port, and junction of the North West Coastal Highway and the Great Northern Highway
- Broome - Western Australia's northern holiday destination, significant heritage, world war II historical location, beach culture, ethnic melting pot
- Derby - Kimberley town
- Kununurra - Kimberley and Ord River town
- Wyndham - end of the highway
The section of highway immediately north of Perth runs along the eastern Swan Valley, which attracts large numbers of visitors to its numerous wineries, microbreweries and restaurants. Further north are the gorges and related areas around Karijini National Park and the inland Pilbara mines, which are of interest to some, but the alternative North West Coastal Highway between Perth and Port Hedland offers access to the Indian Ocean and its many natural attractions and is hence favoured by tourists.
In the Kimberley, the highway provides access to many off-highway natural attractions such as Eighty Mile Beach, Purnululu National Park (the Bungle Bungles), Wolfe Creek Crater, the Gibb River Road and Broome, as well as being the part of the route into and out of the Northern Territory. Best seen between April and October when the weather is cooler, these attractions draw in local, interstate and overseas tourists, of which a large number use four wheel drives towing caravans.
There are a number of side trips along the way for the more adventurous traveller. These routes will deviate away from the Great Northern Highway, passing by other towns and attractions before rejoining the highway. Be aware that once off the main highway the roads are generally of lower quality – they may be narrower, have sharper turns, or be partly or mostly unsealed.
- Bullsbrook to Upper Chittering via Chittering Road: 40 km (length along highway: 30 km)
In Bullsbrook, turn off at Chittering Road - there is a sign for Chittering Valley Tourist Drive 359. The road winds its way alongside the Brockman River, past orchards and wineries, where you can stop off and enjoy the local produce. Further north there and some brilliant vistas of the valley, but make sure you slow down around the sharp bends - there's little room to recover if you make an error in judgement, and no one want their overturned car to become part of the view.
Side trip to Moora
- Bindoon to Walebing via Bindoon–Moora Road and The Midlands Road: 110 km (length along highway: 80 km)
About four and a half kilometres north of the Bindoon townsite, turn off at Bindoon–Moora Road, signed as State Route 116 (a blue shield shape with 116 in white). Unsurprisingly, this road leads from Bindoon to Moora, passing by farms and paddocks. There aren't many stops along the way - about half way along there's the Mogumber Tavern. After visiting the attractions at Moora, return to the Great Northern Highway via The Midlands Road - follow guide signs towards New Norcia when leaving the townsite.
Road Trains (Big trucks with multiple attachments) are common on the Great Northern Highway. Take care, as it is extremely difficult for them to brake over short distances. Passing a Road Train is not a good idea, ever. Many cautious smaller vehicle drivers simply pull off the road and stop while they are in the vicinity, it can be worth it.
- See main article Driving in Australia
The Great Northern Highway is in Australia so you will be driving on the left, see the Driving in Australia article for more information.
More specifically to travel the road requires planning, and careful preparation. There are sections that have differing hazards, and to be warned of them is well worth taking note. Feral and native animals tend to be near the highway at dawn and sunset. It is a case of if you do not have bull/kangaroo bars and you are driving the length of the highway is to plan your travel around the hazards.
Stray cattle and other grazing animals are particularly dangerous and prevalent throughout the Kimberley and Pilbara as potential roadkill. Kangaroos and wedge-tailed eagles, although smaller, are also very dangerous, with wedge-tailed eagles particularly immobile after gorging on other roadkill.
Driving at night is best avoided; being equipped with a good frontal roo bar and driving spotlights can help slightly, but is still very dangerous.
If you have not experienced being in a car being hit by an emu, camel, goat, kangaroo or other animals, it is well worth considering camping or stopping at night. If you do that, you should utilise allocated parking bays, away from the main traffic.
Mobile phone coverage along the route is varied and also if your have difficulty with a vehicle, recovery costs to the nearest populated centre can be expensive.
Flooding is another hazard, as the Kimberley and Pilbara receive periods of torrential rainfall between November and May. At some locations, it is not unusual for the road to be underneath metres of water. However as little as 100 mm of water is sufficient to cause a major accident if driven into at high speed.
- From the northern end, diversions are possible at:
- Travelling along the highway from the south (and variants of above)