The Great Central road is a dirt road that runs for 1126km from Laverton in Western Australia to Yulara in the Northern Territory. The road passes through few small communities and Aboriginal reserves.
In December 2012 after a five month stint of regional work in Laverton in the Goldfields (known as the gateway to Alice Springs), Dan and I decided we wanted to take our 1997 Nissan Pathfinder on the trip of a lifetime down the Great Central Road to Ayres Rock in the Centre of Australia and eventually on to Sydney. The locals thought we were mad and filled us with stories of how isolated the Great Central road was and how dangerous it would be if we broke down. A road train driver who often stopped iver in Laverton even offered to take us on his truck, naively misunderstanding that the self-drive was half the fun! We were given the low down on all the do’s and don’t’s and everyone ensured we were more than prepared for any unfortunate events. After informing the local police officer of our intended journey we waved goodbye to Laverton town, armed with two transit permits, two jerry cans of fuel, several tanks of water, 2 extra spare tyres and our whole lives in a few bags.
As the tarmac turned into rich, red sand, road condition warning signs littered the banks of the road. Sheer excitement rushed through my body as we drove into the unknown. The never-ending, straight road cut its way through vast open spaces of scorched red sand and parched bush land. Within minutes we were witnessing the Australian outback at its best as kangaroo’s leaped across the road, wild dingoes sneaked through the bushes and horses roamed freely. Driving on such an isolated road meant plenty of photo stops! The Tjukayirla Roadhouse was the first roadhouse we encountered which just seemed like it was dropped in the middle of nowhere, we stopped here for some water and to use the ‘last dunny’ for a while! On leaving the roadhouse a very small section of the dirt road was tarmacked because it is used as an emergency airstrip. You really got a taste of quite how huge Australia really is and I felt very insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
We continued driving for hours, passing through the very small aboriginal community of Warburton and seeing one or two other Vehicles for the first time since entering the Great Central Road, although none of the vehicles were occupying tourists. This offered some relief as most of the land surrounding the road so far seemed to be a grave yard for burnt out and abandoned cars. As you stared down the long, red strip of road in the midday heat it rippled with the illusion of water. You couldn’t help but wonder “what if we did break down?”.
Pulling over to boil water on the side of the road so we could have noodles for dinner was fun, but what was even more fun was scouting out a spot to have take a pee and doing so with utter haste as to not get bitten by a snake or spider, knowing that if you did the hospital was a long way away. We had hoped to drive the full 1126km of dirt road in one day but as we reached the next roadhouse of Warakurna where we had planned to fill up with fuel, light began to fade and the petrol pumps were closed. The area was on an aboriginal reserve and had warning signs everywhere to ‘keep out’, information signs advised to keep all fuel cans locked away as petty crimes in the area increase due to aboriginal people trying to access petrol sniffing resources. The area left us feeling slighty uneasy and almost unwelcome. All the horror stories the locals had shared about vulnerable travelers came flooding back. Two or three very small pre-fabricated buildings surrounded the roadhouse and we called out for someone to assist us. A man came outside and took $20 from us and pointed in the general direction of a small amenities block in the middle of the bush. We had a tent but had been so unnerved by all the signs we decided to sleep in the back of the car with the Jerry cans of fuel. Cars, with every seat occupied with aboriginal people, drove up and down through the bush throughout the night. The petrol fumes were getting a bit much in the back of the car so I opened the car window just a bit. However, I was too afraid to fall asleep with it even slightly open in case we got broken into or some killer spider crawled into the car, it was the worst night’s sleep ever!
The next morning with a splitting headache, high on petrol fumes we woke to find the petrol station still wasn’t open so we used some of our own to keep us going for a while. As the landscape changed to a more hilly backdrop, several camels crossed the road. I screeched with excitement to see them so wild and free, I couldn’t believe my eyes! I immediately grabbed my camera thinking I was so lucky to see them. Several camels soon turned into 30 or 40 however and they ran through the bushland, bottom lip flapping away with each stride. It was such an incredible sight, it felt like our very own safari! We even encountered one or two road trains on this stretch of the journey.
The final community to pass through was Docker River, where we needed to fill up again. This community was the first one we actually drove into. There were signs everywhere informing that the use of camera’s was prohibited, pre-fabricated homes and a small kindergarten were surrounded by high rise metal gates. The whole area felt like it was protecting it’s self from something. The roadhouse was busy with 20 or 30 aboriginal men and women loitering out the front and several stray looking dogs scrounging for food. The stench of body odour in the sweltering heat was overpowering. A seasonal worker came and unlocked the cage to the petrol pumps and filled us up, the petrol cost was more than twice the price of that at Laverton. There was something about that place that left me wanting to know more, I was intrigued about what life was like in Docker River.
Next, was the final leg of the journey. The road conditions began to worsen and the landscape became more and more rugged. After the realisation of quite how alone on the Great Central Road we had been and out of fear of breaking down, these road conditions took all of our concentration and patience to navigate, we were quite on edge at this point. Finally, at the top of a hill we caught site of Kata Tjuta (The Olga’s). The huge, red dome shaped rock formations protruded proudly from the vast open spaces. Slamming my foot on the break just over the top of the steep hill, we took in the view. I snapped away on my camera, realising shortly afterwards our fate may have been quite on a much busier road!
As we apprpached the Olga’s the road turned to tarmac once again and the all mighty, majestic, Ayers Rock grew larger and more prominent towards the end of the road, in the heart of the red centre. This was the end of our once in a lifetime journey down the Great Central Road and what a truly rewarding view it was! All the warnings, all the worrying and all the people who thought we were crazy didn’t stop us and still to this day it’s one of the best road trip experiences i have had. From start to finish you are captivated by the scenery, the wildlife and the cultures of the unknown communities you pass through. The pure isolation of this stretch of road and the risks of driving it make the whole experience that bit more exciting!
For a real taste of Australia, hit the Great Central Road!