The Gunbarrel Highway (pronounced Goon-barrel) is without a doubt one of the most famous tracks in Australia. Linking Western Australia to the so-called Red Centre, it passes through some of the remotest areas in the country. The notion that it is "as straight as a gunbarrel" is false: although there are stretches that are pretty straight, other sections are not. The name comes from Len Beadell's Gunbarrel Road Construction Party which opened up a big chunk of Australia's interior during the 1950s and 1960s.
The original Gunbarrel was built in the direction from Victory Downs just north of the Northern Territory/South Australia border to Carnegie Station in Western Australia. This route is almost never used since some parts of it are abandoned or prohibited for tourist vehicles. The Gunbarrel, as it is loosely defined nowadays, runs from Wiluna to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park and includes part of the Great Central Road, the Heather Highway and the connecting road from Wiluna, west of Carnegie Station. This is how it will be described in this article. The trip can be made in both directions, but we will travel from west to east.
By any standard, this is a long and tough haul through very remote territory. Be sure to read the outback section of Driving in Australia. The track varies from stony to sandy with corrugations, ruts, washaways and sometimes mud. Be totally self-sufficient with water, food and fuel (the longest distance between fuel outlets is 489 km., between Carnegie Station and Warburton.)
Sections of the trip pass through Aboriginal Land. You need two separate permits if you follow the route described in this article. They can be obtained locally, through the internet or by mail (allow at least two weeks):
- Central Australia (Warburton) Aboriginal Land (WA) - obtain permit from Aboriginal Lands Trust.
- Petermann Aboriginal Land (NT) - obtain permit from Central Land Council.
Fuel and Supplies
- Carnegie Station, 08 99812 991. Open 7 days including holidays, 8am-6pm. Cash Sales Only - No EFTPOS or credit card facilities available.
- AANT Yulara, 08 8956 2188.
- RACWA Leonora, 08 9037 6711.
- Cultural Centre, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, 08 8956 3138.
Contact the Wiluna or Yulara police stations to check on conditions and to register your intended route and estimated trip length (don't forget to phone them after you've arrived at the other end). Yulara police station does not accept any registering anymore, as too many people forget to unregister after the trip:
- Laverton, 08 9031 1000.
- Wiluna police station, 132 Thompson Street, Wiluna WA 6646, 08 9981 7024.
- Yulara police station, Lasseter Highway, Yulara NT 0872, 08 8956 2166.
- WA, 1800 013 314
- NT, 1800 246 199
- Carnegie Homestead, 08 9981 2991.
- Cosmo Newbery Roadhouse, 08 9037 5969.
- Docker River Store, 08 8956 7373.
- Tjukayirla Roadhouse, 08 9037 1108.
- Warakurna Roadhouse, 08 8956 7344.
- Warburton Roadhouse, 08 8956 7656.
- Central Australian Tourism, 08 8952 580.
Wiluna to Carnegie Station
Although this stretch of 350 kilometres was not part of the old Gunbarrel, it is now generally considered to form an integral part of a Gunbarrel Highway trip. Wiluna is a small settlement with a hotel, a caravan park and a small supermarket. It lies 183 km. east of Meekatharra and the Great Northern Highway. A sign with various distances points you in the right direction.
The Gunbarrel starts as an asphalt road but becomes a maintained gravel road after a few kilometres. It services stations in the area and deteriorates gradually the further you leave Wiluna behind you. However, there should be no problem reaching Carnegie Station after a day's drive. If you don't make it, you can camp at Harry Johnston Water, 283 kilometres from Wiluna.
The homestead at Carnegie Station can offer homestead accommodation in cabins or you can put up your tent. Visitors can use the kitchen and take a hot shower. You can buy limited supplies and fuel. (The next fuel outlet is at Warburton, 489 kilometres away.) If need be, minor mechanical repairs can be done.
Carnegie Station to Everard Junction
East of Carnegie the road gets rougher: it is not maintained and corrugations, stones and eroded sections are quite common on this stretch of 237 kilometres. On particularly bad stretches, you often see tracks on one or both sides of the road which are marginally better. This is also the remotest part of the Gunbarrel Highway as described here.
After 151 kilometres you arrive at the Eagle Highway crossroads, and shortly after that you have to cross the Mungilli Claypan. Normally, there shouldn't be any problem, but after heavy rain you should make a detour around the claypan (beware not to get stuck in the soft ground). Artesian water is available at the Geraldton Historical Society Bore, 205 kilometres from Carnegie. One kilometre further you enter the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve. Another 31 kilometres brings you to Everard Junction where the Gunbarrel and Gary Highways meet. A plaque with distances to various points marks the spot.
There are no established campsites along this stretch but you can camp anywhere along the track.
Everard Junction to Warburton Roadhouse
This stretch of 252 kilometres may contain some very eroded sections, but near the end the worst of the Gunbarrel is behind you. Continue east on the Gunbarrel and after 8 kilometres you see a track on the right that leads to Mount Everard. In reality this is not much more than a rocky outcrop, but if you care to walk a bit uphill you're rewarded with a panoramic view of the Gibson Desert. If you continue on this side track it will take you back to the Gunbarrel. About 33 kilometres further you leave the Gibson Desert Nature Reserve and after another 15 kilometres there is a second track on the right, this one leading to Mount Beadell. At the top there is a memorial for Len Beadell, the so-called last great explorer of Australia, who died in 1995.
91 kilometres from Everard Junction you arrive at Notabilis Bore. This is a well-known camping spot and if you're in need of water you can bring it to the surface by means of a hand pump. Len Beadells Tree, 25 kilometres from this bore is one of the many construction landmarks along this part of the Gunbarrel. The spot is marked by a plaque. Eleven kilometres further the old Gunbarrel continues straight ahead, but from here on it is abandoned. We'll follow the Heather Highway on the right.
For 38 kilometres the Heather Highway runs more or less in a southerly direction, after which you have to turn left. At this point the road surface improves dramatically and follows a straight line southeast. Another 46 kilometres brings you to the Laverton-Warburton Road, which is part of the Great Central Road. Turn left again and after another 41 kilometres you reach Warburton Roadhouse.
At the roadhouse you can pitch a tent or spend the night in simple cabins. Limited supplies are available, as are fuel and simple mechanical repairs, but whatever you pay for will be very expensive. Warburton Community, which is not far from the roadhouse is off-limits to travelers.
Warburton Roadhouse to Warakurna Roadhouse
From Warburton the road becomes more straightforward. On the 230-kilometre stretch to Warakurna you simply have to follow the maintained gravel road that lies before you. Be aware that on leaving Warburton, you'll enter the Central Australia (Warburton) Aboriginal Land, for which you need to have a permit. (See the 'Prepare' section above.)
The road lies more or less on the border of the Gibson Desert to the north and the Great Victoria Desert to the south. 213 kilometres from Warburton a track joins the road from the left. This is where the abandoned section of the Gunbarrel which started at the Heather Highway turnoff ends. For a short distance you'll be driving on the real thing again.
Sixteen kilometres further, you arrive at a T-junction. On the left lies the Giles Meteorological Station, which might be open for visitors and Warakurna Community, which is off-limits. Turn right and after a few hundred meters you arrive at the roadhouse, which again has some basic facilities and supplies, except for mechanical repairs.
Warakurna Roadhouse to Yulara
This last stretch is 332 kilometres long. Continue past Warakurna Roadhouse for 29 kilometres, where you'll have to turn left and leave the real Gunbarrel behind you. After another 36 kilometres you pass the southern end of the Schwerin Mural Crescent. Thirty kilometres further, you arrive at the Western Australia-Northern Territory border. From this point the Great Central Road is known as the Docker River Road. Here you enter the Petermann Aboriginal Land for which you also need a permit. (See the 'Prepare' section above.)
Ten kilometres from the border you pass near Kaltukatjara (Docker River) Community, which is off-limits. A possible camping spot is Lasseters Cave, 38 kilometres further, situated on the eastern bank of the Hull River. In the beginning of the 20th century, Harold Lasseter claimed to have discovered a gold reef in this area, but he couldn't remember its exact location afterwards. In 1931, on one of his searches he sheltered in this cave and died shortly after. Lasseter's gold reef was never found, and now it is one of the many legends circulating in outback Australia.
135 kilometres past Lasseter's Cave you enter Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. If you want to visit Kata Tjuta (formerly known as The Olgas) at this moment, turn left 6 kilometres past the park border. To continue to Yulara, head right. After about 1350 kilometres of gravel, sand and stones, you're back to driving on asphalt. Fifteen kilometres past the intersection you pass the Kata Tjuta viewing area, and another 25 kilometres brings you to another intersection. To visit Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock) you have to turn right, while Yulara is 8 kilometres to the left. You can now rightly say that you've 'done the Gunbarrel.'
The tourist center of Yulara has everything you need with respect to accommodation, shopping, information, etc. Don't forget to call the Wiluna police station to let them know you've safely arrived.
|Gunbarrel Highway distance table|
|West to East||Place||East to West|
|283||283||Harry Johnston Water||67||1118|
|501||151||Eagle Highway crossroads||54||900|
|555||54||Geraldton Historical Society Bore||1||846|
|556||1||Gibson Desert Nature Reserve border||31||845|
|587||31||Everard Junction (Gary Highway turnoff)||8||814|
|595||8||Mount Everard side track||33||806|
|628||33||Gibson Desert Nature Reserve border||15||773|
|643||15||Mount Beadell side track||35||758|
|703||25||Len Beadells Tree||11||698|
|714||11||Gunbarrel/Heather Highway intersection||84||687|
|798||84||Heather Highway/Laverton-Warburton Road intersection||41||603|
Central Australia (Warburton) Aboriginal Land border
|1052||213||Gunbarrel Highway/Laverton-Warburton Road intersection||16||349|
|1068||16||Giles Meteorological Station turnoff||1||333|
|1098||29||Gunbarrel Highway intersection||36||303|
|1134||36||Schwerin Mural Crescent||30||267|
|1164||30||Western Australia/Northern Territory border
Central Australia (Warburton) Aboriginal Land/Petermann Aboriginal Land border
|1174||10||Kaltukatjara (Docker River) Community||38||227|
|1347||135||Petermann Aboriginal Land/Uluru-KataTjuta National Park border||6||54|
|1353||6||Kata Tjuta turnoff||15||48|
|1368||15||Kata Tjuta viewing area||25||33|