Thinking About Road-Tripping? Check Out Australia’s “Longest Shortcut” and Most Remote Road

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Originally Published on Wandering Wolf Child by Ashley Leonard-Jones 

After seven weeks spent in Perth it was time to head back into the desert. The Great Central Road was our road of choice as we had already driven the Nullabor (post to come!), and this road was a shortcut for us at more than 1000km less—no wonder it’s nicknamed Australia’s longest shortcut. This trip is not for the faint-hearted and there are many obstacles along the way.

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The road, for the most part, is dirt and corrugations (pictured above), which are brutal, especially when you get to the northern territory side of the road. My partner compensated by driving fast and trying out different parts of the road along the way. Driving this road will also result in a fine red mist over your car and, of course, your body (who needs a fake tan!)—that is, if you don’t have air conditioning like us (also with limited fuel its a silly idea anyway). It comes off… eventually… kind of.

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Watch out for bugs when camping; each spot seemed to present new ones, whether they were mosquitos, fire ants or beetles. I always wear long trousers in the evenings, and, in this case, boots!

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I can highly recommend wiki campsyou can download the app and it shows you free and priced camping spots throughout Australia, along with reviews, pictures and amenities. On the northern territory side of the track the only legal camping spot is in Docker River until you get to Yulara. You can also camp at the roadhouses along the way, which I would say is a lot safer if you are traveling alone or with just girls, especially closer to the settlements and after seeing bullet marks in one of the roadhouse’s notice boards.

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There is a lot of wildlife along the way, but please be very aware of the camels. They are very well camouflaged and we saw a few dead in the road. Not only are you killing an animal but you have a very good chance of killing yourself and whoever is traveling with you. I toyed with the idea of posting a picture of one of the road kills that we saw, however, I decided it was too graphic and not what you want to be looking at while possibly eating! On a happier note, their dopey faces and hilarious running style will definitely give you a few laughs on the way.

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The bulk of traffic that you will see on these roads will be workmen in four-wheel drive vehicles and road-trains, which leave a sand storm in their wake. We saw only a few tourists on our travels, and I think this may be due to the fact that the roads are suited more to four-wheel drive, even though they are technically open to all vehicles. We stopped at our first roadhouse and met probably the most memorable character on the trip, an ex-con who was a recreational drug-user and not afraid to talk about his life. We listened and made ourselves lunch until his parole officer turned up and we made a swift exit.

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We made it to Warburton, however, camped about 20km out of town on some baron land. That night we slept in the car due to intense electrical storms. Pictured below is a curious dingo who was making his way over while breakfast was unattended. In the morning, we made our way to the roadhouse, however, all roads were closed after this point until Yulara, NT, so we were not expecting to leave for a few days.

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Warburton was quite an eye-opener for us. As we pulled up, the roadhouse was surrounded by flood lights and high metal gates. The fuel bowsers were amongst puddles and red dirt, and all pumps were caged. There were large signs up everywhere reading, “NO PHOTOS,” which made me itch to want to take some, but permits are required just to go into town to see the aboriginal communities and further press permits are required for photos. Two cars of aboriginal people pulled up; one had a head-shaped hole in the windscreen and the other had no windscreen at all. The one car wasn’t actually running, so it was being pushed along, and I found myself watching, fascinated until one of the guys started shouting, “Helllooo,” and waving over at me. No drugs or alcohol are allowed and signs on the way through read, “Secure your fuel or lose it.”

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After spending a few hours at the roadhouse we decided that we would continue driving even though the roads were closed, as we were completely self-sufficient. If we came to a creek blocking the road, we would just set up camp until it was gone. We did hear, however, that, if you get caught, you can get fined $1,000 per tire, which was definitely not within our budget, especially after seven weeks in Perth with very limited work.

Just to remind you, this is one of Australia’s remotest roads, and while you may think it’s all well and good to get petrol at the next roadhouse, this is not always the case and I think we forget that as Europeans. Pictured below is the road leading to Warakurna Roadhouse, where our next fuel stop was. Another stop we were planning to make was in Docker River, however, this fuel station had closed early; some roadhouses even close as early as 5 pm. Jerry cans are very useful and next time I think I will refill a few before leaving, as the fuel prices on this road are understandably high.

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You know when you are getting closer to the settlements as the number of burnt out cars around the roads will increase dramatically. At first this car graveyard felt threatening, especially to our 25-year-old car, but, after a few conversations at the roadhouses, we learned that the cars were purposefully driven into the desert by the locals, crashed and then set on fire. What was more worrying was the amount of shredded tires we were passing on the way; we did have a spare, but just the one…

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As I mentioned earlier, we stopped at Docker River. Docker River is an aboriginal settlement where they speak minimal English. The fuel station had heavy metal doors and, again, caged fuel. The houses were built as if the extra rooms were an afterthought and smashed up cars and wild dogs littered the streets. We spoke to a few locals but they could not understand us so we resorted to waving at the children who watched us from their front yards. People were friendly but we did feel like we might have been intruding. Even so, this was a really special experience for me, too, and was definitely something I would not have seen anywhere else in Australia.

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After driving so far we decided to stop at Kata Tjuta for the night. Please note that camping here is illegal, so do so at your own risk. If you do decide to do it, make sure you bring all your rubbish with you and don’t start a fire as this is a national park. I would also recommended camping far off the road so you are not as noticeable. You will actually come out in Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park so you will not have to pay the entry fee ($50 for two, my money saving tip of the year!). We like to think of it as a well-deserved prize at the end of the road. I can also say waking up to the Olgas is a pretty amazing experience.

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We finally made it! I must say we met some really lovely and helpful people along the way—some who helped us with local tips and some who made us laugh; there are definitely a lot of characters to be met. It took five days in total from Perth to Alice Springs, and each one of those days was such an adventure. Traveling alone is great and a lot of my posts are about solo travel, however, finding someone just as wild with whom to run can be equally special.

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