great central and gunbarrel

Submitted: Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 at 20:09
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We are planning to take our BT across great central then up gunbarrel from east to west, given favourable weather in June/ July. Is this road quite suitable to tow, DavidnPam.
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Reply By: Spydor - Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 at 21:53

Saturday, Mar 15, 2014 at 21:53
We did the great central from Laverton through Warburton "etc" and on to the Olga's and Alice springs. The trip was "a walk in the park". We met a couple that had been down the Gunbarrel from where the great central road meets it. They travelled west to the coast with a camper trailer in tow. They said that even with a light camper trailer, the track was difficult in places. As we were on our way to QLD at the time. I did not ask them to elaborate on what they meant by difficult. It might be a challenge with a B/T behind you. If you do the track, It may be prudent to ream up with at least one other traveller!!
Spydor & Robyn
Everybody makes me happy! Some when they arrive, Some when they leave !!

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Follow Up By: Emu 65 - Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 at 04:38

Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 at 04:38
When did you do it Spydor?

We're planning it July/August this year with a 19' and 200 series


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Reply By: Spydor - Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 at 17:45

Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 at 17:45
Emu, In answer to your question. We did the trip in September, with our 18 ft B/T & 200 series. The only downside, was the fact that although there was unlimited firewood lying around. It was so hot that we did not feel like having a fire!!! My wife could not believe it, as I am the original Pyromaniac.
Cheers, Have a great trip.
Spydor & Robyn
Everybody makes me happy! Some when they arrive, Some when they leave !!

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Follow Up By: Emu 65 - Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 at 18:10

Sunday, Mar 16, 2014 at 18:10
Bugger! We're pyromaniac's too.

Just love the camp oven roast and wine by the fire.

Maybe July/August will be colder.

Thanks for getting back Spydor
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Follow Up By: David n Pam - Monday, Mar 17, 2014 at 16:32

Monday, Mar 17, 2014 at 16:32
thank you spydor, am interested if anyone has done that section of the gunbarrel, sounds like the rest of our trip proposed for june/july along the great central will be a piece of cake with our 20' and a 200 series, may see you on the track emu.
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Reply By: Grumblebum & Dragon - Monday, Mar 17, 2014 at 21:57

Monday, Mar 17, 2014 at 21:57
We did the Gunbarrel from Wiluna to Carnegie Station via Glen Ayle Station which is a northern route to Carnegie and then on the Gunbarrel and finally the Heather Highway down to Warburton and on through the border to NT.

Fantastic trip with magic scenery - if you like deserts and we do. It has an almost spiritual feel in places as we followed Len Beadell's route. Yes the route was heavily corrugated, the worst I have travelled anywhere but manageable with reduced speed any tyre pressure. Speeds of 40+ were rare achieved as the corros which vary in pitch from about 1.2m to 600 mm are covered with small round laterite pebbles in places and any increase in speed just results in wheel slip. There were four bores with handpump and three were working with very good water.

I have copied my drafts for an article published in Caravan World - the paste just buggers up all the formatting.

Published in CW as Outback Odyssey Aug 2010
In the footsteps of Len Beadell
The Gunbarrel Highway

The late afternoon sun tinted the western face of Mt Everard deep red, the shadows lengthened and a cooling breeze warned of a chilly evening. The silence was broken only by the soft clink of ice in our drinks and the muted sizzle of meat grilling on the coals. We were parked-up in Len Beadell country on the Gunbarrel Highway east of Carnegie Station and enjoying the beauty and solitude of the Gibson Desert.

After five years of touring the more remote spots in Western Australia, it was time for us to turn east and start looking at what the rest of Australia has to offer. We decided to cross more or less in the middle via the Gunbarrel and Great Central Highways. We have previously travelled extensively around the top end of Western Australia and the Nullarbor Plain sounded a bit boring and cold.

The Gunbarrel Highway pioneered by the famous surveyor, explorer, artist and author Len Beadell starts its journey at Wiluna in northern Goldfields of WA. It heads in an easterly direction for over a 1000 kilometres before eventually turning south close to the WA/NT border and heading down into South Australia.

From Wiluna, we chose a more scenic northerly route on the Granite Peak Road that loops up through the Sydney Head Pass and past the Kaljahr Pinnacles before rejoining the Gunbarrel close to Carnegie Station. Both this route and the more direct Gunbarrel route to Carnegie are usually in good condition and suitable for most caravans.

Eastwards from Carnegie on Len Beadell’s original survey line the track deteriorates and is really only suitable for people who are experienced in remote travel and well equipped. It is not a place for ‘soft road’ 4WD vehicles, and only well maintained and robustly engineered caravans or camper trailers should attempt to travel this section, the track is littered with the wrecks of the unprepared. HF radio or a satellite phone should be essential equipment along with a good first aid kit. If you get stuck out here it may be some days before someone else passes.

The track is narrow, mostly heavily corrugated with many rough sections and wash-outs. Trees and shrubs that had overgrown onto track were our biggest problem, however these were mainly soft Mulga and pushing through at a walking place does no damage. Our 19’ Bushtracker caravan handled the rough conditions on the ground very well - but it was still an interesting drive in places!

The 360km stretch of the Gunbarrel from Carnegie to the north end of the Heather Highway took us 4 days driving, they were not particularly long days, being retired we tend to start late after a leisurely breakfast, usually enjoy a long lunch and are parked well before dusk. They were however slow days that were hard on the not-so-young body due to the constant bouncing from the corrugations combined with stop start of manoeuvring through the wash-outs.

Most of the driving was just poking along in 2nd gear and we probably only averaged 15-20 kph on most sections. This is not a place for people in a hurry! Traction, even in 4WD, was poor due to the steep corrugations with a loose pebbly surface; however proper tyre pressures and speeds makes a considerable improvement to the comfort levels. Tyre pressures on the caravan were reduced to 22 psi all round and the Landcruiser was running at 24 front and 28 psi rear. These tyres pressures are always measured cold and are checked daily as part of the morning’s pre-departure checks. We had no tyre problems at all – even running five year old Bridgestone D693 tread patterns. One great benefit of the lower speeds is that you get to get to see the natural world in close focus.

The country is mainly rolling savannah interspersed with patches of open Mulga woodlands and Spinifex, on the ground the surface of the track is mainly sand and lateritic gravels. The gently undulating terrain weaves its way through hundreds of sand dunes and the distant ranges, blue coloured in the haze, delineate the horizon. Periodically small ranges interrupt the road and most high points have large stone cairns. These cairns established by Len Beadell were the essential aiming points for his Gunbarrel Construction Party who followed in his wake establishing the road.

Water for travellers is well supplied with four bores equipped with hand pumps; the only one not working was at Camp Beadell a few kilometres east of Mt Beadell. They all produced sweet water. There is a plentiful supply of dead Mulga and Gidgee that makes superb firewood for the camp - but please ensure you leave no trace on departure.

The highlights for our trip were many and each day there were new and interesting places to explore. Catching up with Josh and Elaine at Carnegie Station was important to get the latest local knowledge of the track conditions. This energetic young couple are not only managing this remote station, bringing up two very young children but also supply fuel and accommodation.
The first 30km east from the station was sandy channel country still wet from recent rain; this actually firmed-up the sandy bits and apart from several bog holes we had to navigate it was straightforward driving. The track continues north-east past Mt. Archer and enters the myriad of sand dunes that average 12 m in height.

Just west of the Mangkili Claypan we passed through what is possibly the most remote footy ground in Australia. This pitch was established in the early eighties to facilitate sports meetings between the aboriginal communities at Warburton 250 km to the east and Wiluna, some 500 km to the west. One set of goal posts still survive and at the far end the remains of an old high-sided trailer has painted graffiti proudly proclaiming “MCG –WA”. Unsurprisingly, it has not seen a fixture for many years!

A Nature Reserve was established in 1977 to protect the unique freshwater wetlands around the Mangkili Claypan. Whilst usually dry, these clay pans flood during the occasional rain events stimulating the desert to bloom. If there has been recent rainfall, care will need to be taken as the track crosses the southern end of the clay pan.

Mount Everard is a very pretty spot to take time out to explore. The light in the late afternoon is perfect for photographers as the changing light creates a wonderful colour display along the north-western face of the hill. Climbing to the top you get a real sense of your own insignificance as the country stretches out to infinity in all directions, the track quickly vanishes into the mulga leaving no other sign of mans intrusion.

Further down the track you arrive at Mount Beadell which has an almost spiritual feel about it. At the base of the hill the information board records Len Beadell’s life work in creating the vast network of inland roads including the Gunbarrel Highway. This was the first and is still the only 1500 km east-to-west crossing of central Australia. On the top of the hill is a beautiful memorial consisting of an exact copy of his trusty theodolite – all made in stainless steel. It is a sad reflection on today’s society that this has to be enclosed in a strong security cage to prevent theft or damage.

As you travel the length of the track you will pass several of Len’s blazed trees or navigational benchmarks. On most of these he placed plaques stating the exact latitude and longitude as well as the distances to the nearest outposts. These plaques are exact copies with the originals now on display at the Giles Weather Station along with his original ‘Gunbarrel Construction Party’ grader.
It is well worth reading some of the Len Beadell books before travelling this route, apart from being highly entertaining they will provide a good insight to the difficulties they faced during construction. Today, as we travel in our air-conditioned 4WDs with cold beer and a salad in the fridge and all the other benefits of modern technology, it is worth reflecting on the days when the Beadell’s of this world did the real ‘hard yards’ in creating these great treks that we enjoy today.

Dust, corrugations and wash-outs on a track that has not been graded since 1986! Why travel it you may well ask? Perhaps because it’s there! Besides, it is a great opportunity to see unspoiled desert country and enjoy the true peace and serenity this region offers. It has great historical value having been created Len Beadell whose work took him into the pathways of John Forrest, David Carnegie and Earnest Giles, famous explorers that also traversed this region in earlier times.

Later after turning south onto the Heather Highway we rejoined the Great Central Road just west of Warburton. Continuing east we spent time around the Olga’s, Yulara and Kings Canyon. They are all beautiful spots but the constant flow of coaches, vehicles and people soon had us yearning to get back to the desert solitude.

Word Count: 1508 words.

Top Tips for doing the Gunbarrel Highway:
• Get Permits to travel from: NT side:
WA side:
• Ensure your vehicle and trailers are serviced and reliable
• Drop your tyre pressures and speed
• Schedule plenty of time to explore and enjoy
• Carry long range communications – HF Radio and/or satellite phone
• Carry tools, spares and recovery equipment and comprehensive First Aid kit
• Water – do not assume the bores will be working
• Take your camera and learn how to use it effectively
• Advise responsible people of your travel plans and ETA’s
• Read Len Beadell’s books before departure

Good Map for the trip is:

• ‘The Gunbarrel Highway’ by Westprint Heritage Maps.

As a footnote I would suggest that good comms are essential out there. We have both HF Radio and belong to VKS737 and also have a satphone. We were in contact with VKS every afternoon and they provide a great service.

You also need to make sure the vehicle and van are well prepared as getting 'recovered' from out there starts at about $10,000 plus depending on where you are stuck. We only saw a small tag-along tour and met two other couples travelling together. None were towing anything.

Its a great trip - enjoy.
AnswerID: 587233

Follow Up By: MattandLana - Sunday, Mar 23, 2014 at 05:23

Sunday, Mar 23, 2014 at 05:23
Fantastic write up. Many thanks. We did the trip about 20 years ago and are itching to go back. The itch just got stronger!

The sound of the wind in the desert oaks ...

Did any of the permitting authorities or locals question your taking a caravan on this road? (Disclaimer: I'M not questioning it, because I know what our BTs can do, just wondering if they were reluctant to grant a permit to a van.)
FollowupID: 855752

Reply By: Oldperc - Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 17:05

Friday, Mar 21, 2014 at 17:05
David and Pam
We traveled the Gunbarrel (west to east) with our 20 ft BT and 100 LC last August (2013).
We loaded some pics on the Owners forum. Check posting 9232 03/01/14.
Like Jean and John, we love the deserts. The Gunbarrel is a fantastic trip.
But be prepared. The track is rough (corrugations, washouts and rocky outcrops) and overgrown.With the van on,travelling at 8 to 10 klm is common for hours
The van will need protection along the sides (windows and front corners) and the vehicle will get a few scratches.
Heaps to see and do along the track so take your time (you won't have a choice!!!).Flowers, history and sights.
Go for it
David and Ann
'I'am so proud of you poppa'

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AnswerID: 587234

Reply By: Grumblebum & Dragon - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 06:20

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 06:20
We did have permits, organised on the net if I recall. Not that anyone bother to ask to see them. You will not have a problem - unless something has changed since Jean and I and later David and Ann went through.

John and Jean
AnswerID: 587235

Reply By: David n Pam - Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 14:22

Tuesday, Mar 25, 2014 at 14:22
Many, many thanks to the boggers who have donated a wealth of knowledge to our upcoming trip, regards, davidnpam.
AnswerID: 587236

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