Gibson Desert/Gunbarrel Highway Remote Outback Trip, June/July 2023
Penny and Spence – Toyota Landcruiser 76 (trip leaders)
Alex and Diana – Toyota Landcruiser 79
Sue and Steve (Burgo) – Toyota Landcruiser 200
Keith – Ford Ranger
Day 1 – We all met at the usual meeting point – the Lakes Roadhouse on a very cold morning and had a coffee and brekky while we waited for everyone to arrive. Setting off and heading for Boondi Rock for about a 5 and a half hour drive, stopping at Southern Cross for a bite to eat and refuel. We arrived at Boondi Rock later in the arvo and set up camp while it was still light and walked around the Rock and the rather square lake.
Day 2 – Setting off in the morning was again freezing cold with the temp dropping below zero but blue skies. We were heading to Laverton about 5 hours drive.
On the way we stopped at Coolgardie for Coffee and brekky, past Credo Station and then Menzies and checked out some old machinery and then Gwalia (near Leonora). Gwalia is a great place to visit as we had tea and scones on the balcony of Hoover House overlooking a giant open pit mine. The Museum is great to see and also check out the tiny village of old tin shack houses that the early miners and settlers lived in still perfectly preserved.
Alex’s trailer lights were also not working so we took the opportunity then to fix them. It was found a connector had corroded terminals. We arrived at Laverton some time later in the arvo and checked into the Caravan Park and had dinner at the pub. Note: I had the T-bone Steak this time instead of Chicken Carbonara!
Day 3 – The next day we headed out on the Great Central Road to Tjukayirla Roadhouse, stopping at the ‘White Cross’ on the way and checked out the indigenous cave drawings and looked for Alex’s old battery (that he had left there on a previous trip). That night I started to not feel too good!
Day 4 – We headed to Warakurna Roadhouse, I was still not feeling well so Diana kindly offered to Drive the mighty Blue Ranger for a few hours, so I could have a rest in the passenger seat. By the time we got to Warburton for Fuel I was feeling a bit better and Diana loved driving it compared to the 79! The clouds were looming and after Warburton the rain started coming in, just drizzling at first. This helped keep the dust down so you could now see the car in front of you. We had a quick stop at Yarla Kutjarra rest area where I checked out an old tractor. We stopped at the back of the Warakurna Roadhouse in the camping area for the night. I went to bed early feeling unwell again while Spence struggled to light the fire with all the damp wood as it was still raining by now.
Day 5 – Today we were heading for Curtin Springs in the Northern Territory about a 7 hour drive. It was raining all day and the Great Central Road was getting pretty muddy much to Burgo’s delight. Shortly into the drive Spence unfortunately discovered that he was missing 2 Jerry cans containing diesel off his roof. Had they fallen off or had someone nicked them at Warakurna, probably the latter.
As it was raining we thought it would be great to check out Uluru (Ayers Rock) in the rain and see the water running off the rock as this is quite a rare sight and it was definitely a wise decision.
We then continued onto Curtin Springs Station about an hour past Uluru/Yulara and set up camp and had a hot shower. We also had dinner there at the restaurant accompanied with the odd drink of ‘Fucking Good Port’ (that’s what its called).
Day 6 – Today was a beautiful clear day without a cloud in sight, so we headed back past Uluru to check out the Olgas for a day trip and visited the Cultural Centre and Yulara to get some souvenirs etc.
We then drove back to Curtin Springs Station for another night camping. I was feeling a bit better but was developing spots (small blisters) on my hands and feet which were starting to get very sore. It was likely that I had contracted HFMD (hand foot and mouth disease) as I has just been to Bali the week before we left, so I was quarantined to the end of the table during dinner and didn’t get too close to anyone as it is highly contagious.
Day 7 – We left Curtin Springs early on another freezing cold morning and headed for Docker River (Kaltukatjara) Campground. The plan was to swing by Uluru again and do the 10km walk around the rock which should take an hour or two. My feet now were very painful due to the blisters and I could hardly walk so I elected to drive around the rock stopping at every vantage point and jumping out and taking a few photos. After that we all caught up again and continued to Docker River.
On the way we stopped briefly at Lasseter’s Cave where he had reportedly first discovered a reef of gold in 1897 but unfortunately never found it again and perished a short distance away in 1930 searching for it.
We arrived at Docker River while it was still light and had plenty of time to set up camp. We were even visited by a very friendly dingo who was certainly not afraid of people although we did not encourage him, feed him or leave anything out including rubbish or footwear which they will take!
Day 8 – After leaving Docker River we headed back on the Great Central Road crossing over the border back into WA. We stopped at Warakurna again for fuel, passed the Abandoned Section – Gunbarrel Highway (no access allowed now), passed Yalakutjara Rest Area again, stopping briefly to check out some more caves and then through Warburton again.
We had wanted to go up the Heather Highway to the Gunbarrel but were trying to dodge the bad weather coming so we kept going South on the Great Central Highway eventually stopping for the evening at Desert Surf Central to set up camp for the night.
The weather had been good all day and a lovely clear starry night.
Day 9 – This morning we had a nice little breakfast fire before setting off. After a few hours we stopped at Tjukayirla Roadhouse again for fuel and coffee etc. By now it looked like we had travelled enough in a SW direction to avoid the storm, so we decided to head up the David Carnegie Road which would eventually lead back onto the Gunbarrel Highway.
What a great track this was for some real 4WDing, the best so far. There was a bit of Spinifex grass in the middle of the track but it was quite green and not too tall but we made sure not to stop on it which can cause a catastrophic fire. At some point in the day Burgo had noticed that my trailer lights were not working, so when I stopped to investigate both my trailer plug and Anderson DC plug had come out probably catching on the Spinifex. The Anderson plug shell was completely missing but luckily I found a spare lead and fixed it with that. On the way we stopped at Empress Spring and found a chain ladder descending into an underground cavern. Well my hands and feet were feeling much better now so I couldn’t resist climbing down to check it out. Burgo followed soon after and we both explored the cave.
Luckily for us there was no water down there. After a few more hours driving on David Carnegie we camped in the bush and had a lovely sunset and another awesome fire to end the day.
Day 10 – Another cold night last night so I had my 12V electric blanket on for a while, but when I woke in the morning I had no power at all. My new Lithium battery seemed completely dead. The combination of not being charged fully yesterday due to the lead falling out and the electric blanket must have drained the battery.
We continued our journey North along the David Carnegie Road and eventually hit the Gunbarrel Highway and headed west to Carnegie Station.
This part of the Gunbarrel was a bit disappointing as it had been widened and graded much the same as the Great Central so it could easily be done in 2 wheel drive. It did however mean we made good progress as we could travel quite fast so we continued on and arrived at Carnegie Station while we still had daylight. We set up our campers and were treated to one of the best sunsets I have ever seen.
Day 11 – This was a rest day at Carnegie Station so no driving today.
After another cold night and wondering why my trailer battery had not charged from yesterday’s long drive, I thought maybe it had gone into ‘Safe Mode’ which I had heard Lithium batteries do to prevent going too low and to prevent damage. I had read somewhere that you can jump start them with another battery or even unregulated Solar Panels. I had a portable Lithium battery power bank that can be used to jump start your cranking battery, so I got that out, connected it and pressed the button and hey presto my battery was turned back on and registering some volts although low. As the sun had started to rise, I got my Solar Panels out and connected them to put some more Amps into the battery. It was a lovely sunny day, so I tried out the hot showers, did some washing and hung the clothes out, had a nap and just had a great day walking around the station taking a few photos, even chatting to one of the helicopter pilots as he had just come back from his day out mustering and shooting camels.
Day 12 – We left Carnegie Station in the morning, leaving the Gunbarrel Hwy behind us as the road now becomes Carnegie Road and then Wongawol Road heading into Wiluna where we stopped briefly for Fuel and any supplies we needed. After leaving Wiluna, we went on the Goldfields Highway for a bit and then onto the Sandstone-Wiluna Road, stopping for lunch somewhere on the side of the road next to a lake and eventually getting into Sandstone staying at the ‘Alice Atkinson Caravan Park’. After setting up we headed over to the local Hotel for a drink and dinner by 6pm.
Day 13 – Today was a bit of explore around the area. In the morning we visited The Brewery which was established in 1897 by an Irishman. It was like a cave carved into solid rock to keep the temperature low.
Then we checked out London Bridge being a natural arch of weathered basalt. We then drove to Lake Mason where there is an old abandoned homestead and sheep/cattle station with lots of buildings still quite preserved and even toilets and (cold) showers that work. It is now looked after by DBCA/ Parks and Wildlife Service and you can camp there for free and don’t have to book. This would make a great spot for a weekend trip as there is plenty of space available. After this Spence and Penny found some 4WD tracks close to the Lake. I went down one track very close to the lake but it was very muddy and slippery so I turned around before I got completely stuck in the mud. We stopped for lunch and then continued back in a loop to Sandstone.
In the afternoon I had a walk around the town which was very interesting with lots of old machinery and cars from a by gone era. Later that evening we had dinner again at the pub which was very cold despite them having a fire on. After dinner we somehow ended up finishing the evening having Elderflower liqueur which was very enjoyable and a few laughs despite the strange looks we were getting from the locals.
Day 14 – We decided to head straight home today cutting our original return by 2 days as it was only about 700kms back to home via the blacktop. I had discovered yesterday that one of my leafsprings had broken so I didn’t want to do any more offroad in case it made it worse. We stopped at Paynes Find for fuel and food and stopped again at New Norcia and sampled some of their bakery delights. As we got closer to Perth, we all went our separate ways to home.
I think I can speak for everyone the trip was a great adventure and we all had a fantastic time seeing parts of this great country that not everyone gets to see. Special thanks to Penny and Spence for organizing this trip and keeping us safe and to everyone else for their company and friendship which makes it so much more enjoyable.
Story by Keith