Off Grid & Out Back: my top five desert tracks
April 14, 2019 • Glenn Marshall
7 min read
The thing I love the most is being remote, just me, the land and local inhabitants.
It’s an invigorating challenge driving Australia’s deserts. They are covered in often inhospitable tracks that criss-cross the country, several of which were created by Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party between 1947 and 1963 for the purpose of rocket testing by the British and Australian defence forces.
These single lane tracks are rarely, if ever, maintained, and can be a massive test for vehicle and driver. But this is part of the challenge that fellow 4WD adventurers and I relish. On all these tracks you will need to be self-reliant with food, water and fuel and have a well-maintained low range high clearance 4WD. Here are my current top five.
Googs Track is the perfect way to get a feel for what you’d experience in the Simpson Desert. Beginning at Lone Oak Station near Ceduna, the track makes its way north through the Yellabinna Regional Reserve to the Trans Australian Railway near Tarcoola. From there follow the line east to Glendambo on the Stuart Highway.
The sandy track can be completed in a couple of days as it is only 320km between Ceduna and Glendambo. The track was cut by SGJ ‘Goog’ Denton and his son Martin ‘Dinger’ as he thought it’d be useful for reaching the railway and expanding the markets for local produce.
There are over 300 sand dunes to conquer on Googs Track
Camping is available at Googs Lake, amongst the black oaks and beside the expansive salt lake. You’ll also pass the memorials to Goog and Dinger who both died in tragic accidents. The second designated camping area is at Mt Finke a further 74km up the track.
Permit required: Yumbarra Conservation Park
Googs Lake is an ideal spot to camp
Anne Beadell Highway
I first travelled this track in 2006 and it certainly tested me and my 4WD. It seemed that a grader blade hadn’t touched the track since Len Beadell and his road crew created the track in 1953 for the purpose of atomic testing at Emu.
Besides the plaques that dot all of Len’s “highways”, there’s plenty to enjoy on the Anne Beadell. Ilkurlka Roadhouse is approximately halfway along the 1324km track from Laverton WA to Coober Pedy SA, and here you can buy fuel, limited supplies, local artworks and enjoy a hot donkey shower at the campground. Optus mobile coverage is also now available. The cultural tour run by school children from the Tjuntjuntjara community is an absolute blast.
The Cultural Tour was an amazing learning experience for me
There’s a plane wreck to explore, great campsites along the way, especially the abandoned Yeo Station and of course the Emu Ground Zero atomic blast sites. Enjoy the sand dune driving, the salt lakes, flora and fauna – it’s stunning country. Allow seven days to complete the journey.
A landscape photographer's paradise
Hema Maps once rated this as the “most corrugated track in Australia”. Those words caught my eye and I couldn’t wait to tackle the Talawana, finally getting the chance in 2018 and what an adventure it was. The scenery was spectacular and there are several campsites available along its length.
The 596km track needs to be driven with extreme caution, especially when driving through the spinifex grass that grows high in the middle of the track. Check for grass caught up under your vehicle regularly. There are several burnt out 4WDs along the track already, please don’t add to them.
Beware the spinifex, it can destroy your adventure
As you track through the Gibson and Little Sandy deserts you will encounter stones, sand, corrugations, washouts and even mud. You can obtain drinking water at Georgia Bore on the CSR and fuel and limited supplies from Parnngurr. Once past here, the track widens to a maintained red earth road all the way to Newman. This was Len Beadell’s last track so allow at least four days to soak it all in.
Permits required: None
It is a strange feeling being so isolated
Connie Sue Highway
While I’ve only experienced the Connie Sue north from the junction of the Anne Beadell Highway, this was the most difficult of all the tracks. It was closed in, corrugated and slow going to the point of frustration at times. However, the amazing landscapes easily made up for this. Another of Len Beadell’s Tracks, this one was named after his daughter and runs from Rawlinna in the south to Warburton in the north.
It is 330km from Neale Junction to Warburton. The track is mostly gravel but is not maintained and sees very little water. Point Lillian is a culturally significant Aboriginal art site, with a variety of artworks to be found in the caves.
While there aren’t many points of interest, the scenery is spectacular
The Connie Sue is an exciting challenge in a remote section of Western Australia – don’t expect to see anyone else on your travels. There are a few sites suitable for bush camping however for an automatically approved permit, you have only three days to complete the Connie Sue Highway and the Grand Central Road in WA.
Permits required: Ngaanyatjarra Council
Feral camels roam freely out here
Wow! That is what I thought every day, wow! The only track that I didn’t want to travel solo, the Madigan crosses a remote section of the Simpson Desert and I preferred a second vehicle with me. In the end it wasn’t necessary, but to enjoy this track with someone else made the adventure better.
Following in the footsteps of Cecil Madigan was outstanding. The dunes, the colours, the isolation, the wildlife, the camping, the track. It is obvious that the Madigan Line is attracting more traffic and unfortunately too many are not reducing their tyre pressures enough and are cutting up the track.
This section of the Simpson Desert is stunning
We saw dingoes, camels, hawks, falcons, crows and lizards plus evidence of feral cats, and then with the spinifex, wildflowers, desert oaks, Mulga and Gidgee, Grevilleas and Coolibah trees, there sure is a lot to see. This has certainly been the best of all the desert tracks I have ever travelled, and I look forward to returning soon.
- Central Land Council
- Munga-Thirri National Park – Wirrarri Information Centre Birdsville (07) 4564 2000
- Camps 20 & 21 – Adria Downs Pastoral Station [email protected]
Camping in the desert is just the best
Check out more of Glenn’s adventures at 4wdadventureoz.com