The main purpose of the Tanami Road for travellers is a short cut from Alice Springs to the Kimberley but is an off-road experience in itself.
Two to three days
|Distance||1055km Halls Creek to Alice Springs|
|597km from Billiluna to Yuendumu|
|Fuel & supplies||Alice Springs, Balgo (permit required) (Diesel and Opal fuel. No alcohol), Billiluna (Opal fuel), Halls Creek, Tilmouth Roadhouse, Yuendumu (Diesel and Opal fuel available. No alcohol)|
|Best time of year||April to November, it is hot to very hot the rest of the year|
There are road closures at short notice after rain, especially at the Kimberley end during wet season; at the Central Australia end it is cold at night in winter.
|Permits and fees||Permits are required when visiting Balgo Art Centre (closed community, contact DAA) and Yuendumu Art Centre if staying overnight.|
|Important contacts||Alice Springs (Tourism Central Australia) Ph (08) 8952 5800, 1800 645 199, www.discovercentralaustralia.com, Billiluna Store Ph (08) 9168 8077, Halls Creek Visitor Centre Ph (08) 9168 6262, Tilmouth Roadhouse Ph (08) 8956 8777, Central Desert Shire Council, Yuendumu Ph (08) 8956 4038
From Halls Creek it is 170km to Wolfe Creek Crater, the first 16km being on the Great Northern Highway. From the Wolfe Creek Crater turnoff it’s another 42km to Billiluna: the northern end of the Canning Stock Route. From Billiluna it’s 72km to the Balgo Aboriginal community turnoff (34km) and another 86km to the WA border: the road really deteriorates in this stretch.
The Northern Territory side of the Tanami Track is used by mining company road trains, so although corrugated it is kept in fairly good condition. The state of the road though obviously depends on when the grader went through last and weather conditions.
No access is allowed to the Tanami Mine, 80km east of the NT border. On the right there is a very short rough track to Tanami Rockhole.
Just 45km further south is the site of the former Rabbit Flat Roadhouse, which closed its doors indefinitely in December 2010.
As with the Tanami Mine, the Granites Mine – 53km south – has no fuel or supplies available to the public. (There is no public access to the mine except in an emergency.)
There’s a bush camping spot at Renahans Bore, and then the abandoned Chilla Well a further 34km south. After rain, the area around the well turns into a shallow waterway attracting many birds.
Yuendumu Aboriginal community has fuel and limited supplies. Entering the community requires a permit, unless you are only buying supplies.
Just over 100km south you come across Tilmouth Roadhouse. Situated near Napperby Creek, the roadhouse has powered sites, a campground, cabins and even a licensed restaurant. The last stretch of the Tanami Track follows the West MacDonnell Ranges and is quite scenic. Then from the turnoff to the Stuart Highway it’s just 20km in to Alice Springs.
Things to do
Besides viewing endless desert vistas, you can visit a couple of artistic Aboriginal communities. Both Yuendumu and Balgo have thriving artistic communities that require permits to visit them. We recommend camping near Chilla Well for birdwatching. Wolfe Creek Crater is a worthy 23km detour at the Kimberley end of the Tanami.
Remote outback travelling
The Tanami Track has a foot in both doors: NT and WA. The name conjures up remote outback travelling, horrible road conditions, camping under desert-night skies and an unforgiving climate. In reality, it is all that, but the road conditions aren’t all that bad. Out of all the great 4WD treks, this one is probably the easiest because much of it is maintained by gold-mine companies. But long unpopulated distances and fierce summer heat make it a journey not to be undertaken lightly. Break down out here in summer without adequate supplies and you could pay the ultimate price. The Tanami is also prone to flood damage during the wet season.
The track runs from near Halls Creek in the Kimberley to the Stuart Highway just north of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. Some travellers use the road as a short cut to the ‘Centre’ from the Kimberley, without paying too much attention to the scenery. True, scenic features can be a little far apart along the 1055km length. But, then again, big skies and vast desert plains stretching to the horizon have a uniquely Australian appeal. Breaking up the endless spinifex vistas are termite mounds, odd rocky outcrops and river gum-lined creeks.