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Getting Dirty Off-Road In Australia

November 26, 2019

Australia is considered to be the biggest island or the smallest continent. Not bad for 7.692 million square kilometres and the world’s sixth biggest country.

What that means is plenty of space to go driving outside of the six mainland coastal capitals and Hobart down in the picturesque isle of Tasmania. And being regarded as one of the flattest places on earth overall, with our highest peak a mere 2,228 metres above sea level, it means long roads, broad horizons, and plenty of red dust. Let’s take a look at five of Australia’s best off-road drives.

The Birdsville Track.

Many of the best off-road....roads...follow former stock routes, forged in the dirt by intrepid settlers. The Birdsville Track is one of those and leads to the remote village just north of the border of South Australia and Queensland. The track itself is a former cattle stock track and still has a number of cattle grids.

One access point is from the south, at Port Augusta via Marree to the south-east of the vast Lake Eyre. Or one can head west from Longreach, the home of QANTAS, or from Charleville, with both meeting at Windorah before heading to Birdsville. Travel time can be upwards of three days. Many make their way to the tiny town for the world famous Birdsville Races, with the next event in September 2020.

The Canning Stock Route.

This is regarded as one of the world’s hardest off-road travels. Spread between Halls Creek and Wiluna in the centre of Western Australia, it spans 1,800km, and can take over two weeks to complete. That timeframe in itself is a great indicator of the toughness of the terrain.

Due to its remoteness and lack of facilities, sole travel is highly NOT recommended. A convoy of at least two, but more is preferred, ups the safety factor. The route itself follows a series of wells dug to water cattle in an effort to provide an alternative to more popular, monopolised by corporate, routes. Some of the wells are in useable condition whilst others may still be in disrepair.

Cape York.

This follows an old telegraph road, with the now unused form of communication the only form of providing messages between Cape York and the southern towns. This covers around 850 kilometres and is best travelled during “the dry”, from May to October. It’s said the timeframe can extend over three weeks.

This track crosses creeks and rivers, and has some exit pints that require severe off-road driving experience and equipment. One section known as Bridge Creek or Nolan’s Brook, has a depth of up to 1.5 metres. This means a lack of experience can lead to genuine problems.

Billy Goats Bluff/Victorian High Country.

This is a superb track for those that like to exercise the eyes. It’s between the historic mining town of Mansfield and runs  through to Harrietville,  and it’s a short one at just over 300 kilometres yet it’s said to take up to three days to complete.

At the height of the Victorian gold rush, many small mining towns were quickly built, and just as quickly abandoned when the shiny metal ran out.

The area itself is northwest of the coastal town of Bairnsdale. Take the road to Cowa and Dargo and it’s a left turn into the wilderness. The Billy Goats Bluff section is regarded as one of the hardest tracks in Australia. It’s a single vehicle width, has sheer cliff edges on one or both sides, requires some proper off-road experience, as it has a vertical difference of 1,200 metres in just 7 horizontal kilometres.

Gunbarrel Highway.

This famous off-roader spans 1,400 kilometres and takes in Western Australia, South Australia, and the Northern Territory. This one is recommended to be driven in spring or autumn due to the sparse availability of water and the northern “wet” making formerly sandy section giant mud traps. It’s also another that has “be an experienced driver” in the checklist, including spare parts for the vehicles. Anyone travelling the Gunbarrel Highway will find their reserves and skills tested as they trek across desert, stone, corrugations, washaways and flood plains. The road started as a piece in the puzzle that was the Woomera weapons research establishment and is now one of the most respected 4WD tracks in the country.

The track starts at Wiluna in central W.A. and heads, almost in a straight line (hence the gunbarrel nickname), east through to Warakurna and the Giles weather stationn, just on the western side of the border, before heading south, paralleling the South Australian/N.T. border before crossing into the Northern Territory just south of Uluru.

A caveat applies here: all of these roads cross the lands of the traditional owners and permits in some areas are a requirement. So do please check with your parks and wildlife or related offices before doing so, plus also do some serious planning.

Have you driven one of these roads, or gone elsewhere for some real dirty driving?

Let us know via the feedback section and tell us why you think it’s a great road.