The Gary Junction Road through to Alice Springs

Tuesday, Jun 30, 2009 at 00:00


We left Carawine Gorge to travel on rather muddy roads most of the way to the NT border. The Telfer road was not closed due to this rainfall and was still being used by mining trucks. We got covered in mud. The road deviates to the north around the Telfer mining settlement. Permission must be sought from the mine if visiting Telfer.

See the pictures and read this travelogue in detail on Travelogues for 2009 on Australia So much to See.

Passing through the northern section of the Rudall River National Park, we stopped to photograph Lake Dora; a large salt pan. Punmu community as on the edge of Lake Dora to the east of this point.

We stopped for a late lunch after crossing Lake Auld, near the intersection of the Kidson Track and the Punmu Road; the latter being the name of the road we had travelled on since passing the gold mining area of Telfer.

The tiny desert community of Kunawarritji centres on the store, which supplies fuel at the high price of $3.20 per litre. This was the highest price we paid for diesel that year. Fuel is trucked to Kunawarritji in drums, and most people travelling the Canning Stock Route refuel here.

Kunawarritji is near Well 33 and approximately half way along the Canning Stock Route. We waited in a long queue of vehicles at this busy fuel outlet. A delightful moment was watching a red sedan being driven around, with no windows whatsoever, full of smiling little Aboriginal children lined up through the open front and rear windscreens. They joy on the faces of these children was something to treasure.

After leaving Kunawarritji, we soon reach the Canning Stock Route and turned north for a few kilometres to reach Well 33 for the night. The narrow track was quite corrugated as the track is not graded, and is a very popular four wheel drive adventure.

We shared the camping area with several groups of travellers. In the morning feral camels visited the campground.

The morning was a flurry of activity as the groups packed up their camps, filled their water canisters and headed on their way be it north or south along the Canning Stock Route.

Gary Junction is at the junction of the Jenkins Track from the west, the Gary Highway from the south, the Gary Junction Road from the east and the Callowa Track from the north west.

Jupiter Well is a popular and lovely camp ground amongst a grove of elegant desert oak trees. A bore with a manual pump provides good quality water at the camp. We, and a group of other campers heading in the opposite direction, spent the weekend at Jupiter Well. The original Jupiter Well site is on the opposite side of the road.

Jupiter Well was dug between 20th to 24th August in 1961 by a division of National Mapping Survey Team who were surveying for months in the desert and looking to avoid trucking water 480 km from near Mount Liebig in the Northern Territory. It was named after the planet Jupiter was reflected in the well late on the night of the 22nd.

The well was re-dug in 1985, but now there is little more than a depression in the ground. A plaque placed at that time shows the nearest watering points were at Kiwirrkurra 147 kilometres to the east and Well 35 (on the Canning Stock Route) 205 kilometres to the west.

Near a crest with a communications tower, is the wreck of someone’s dream. The remains of a caravan lies upside down by the road. Some joker has place the toilet on the top. Recovery costs in the event of an accident or breakdown often outweigh the value of the vehicle, so wrecks are regularly seen in the outback.

A little further east of this point is a water tank set back from the road. Other travellers told us the water is very good. We did not investigate, but good to know for anyone who may be stranded in the area and in need of water.

The Pollock Hills marked the approaches to the vicinity of Kiwirrkurra, colourful with the orange sand dunes contrasting with the red rocks of the breakaways.

Two 4wds approached, and one stopped to ask if we wanted fuel at Kiwirrkurra. We said no we had not planned a fuel fill here as it was Sunday. The driver said Sunday was not a problem, but he would not be back for a while if we had wanted fuel, so thought to stop us and ask. He welcomed us to drive into the settlement to see the Len Beadell truck. Fuel is cheaper at Kiwirrkurra than at Kunawarritji.

A loop road goes to the Kiwirrkurra settlement, where the burnt out remains of Len Beadell’s truck is on display. It was burnt out approximately 30 kilometres east of Kiwirrkurra, and was set up as a display at Kiwirrkurra in 2004.

This 4wd truck was the ration truck for Len Beadell’s party for several years. It caught fire during the construction of the Gary Junction Road on 12 November 1960 at the 160 mile point from Sandy Blight Junction. Destroyed were their supplies of food, water, fridge and much camping gear. On 1 July 1963 Len salvaged the tray floor and 6 springs for repairs to their current fridge trailer.

Kiwirrkurra is a small Aboriginal settlement of twenty five homes which was commenced in 1984 for Pintubi people who wanted to return to their lands from Papunya in the Northern Territory where they had been resettled. In 1985 a fountain was built, but the water never flowed. It is signed


From our overnight stop near Dovers Hills, near the Northern Territory border, we enjoyed the perfect silence of the night and the colours of the Gibson Desert, and a glorious desert sunset and sunrise. The stars at night are so bright and clear in remote desert locations. Nights like these have a very special place in Australian outback travel.

At a Len Beadell marker, we crossed from Western Australia into the Northern Territory to continue our adventures. Len Beadell and his team were remarkable in their work surveying and building roads through the inhospitable and generally dry inland Australia. His books tell of their trials and successes with touches of humour, and illustrated by Len’s own delightful cartoons.

Between the scenic Mount Liebig at 901 metres and Mount Strickland, sits Kintore; a settlement with a population of over 500 people. We arrived a few minutes after 11.30 am, just in time for the last of the morning openings of the quaint fuel station – bowsers locked in a colourful painted shed, and joined to queue of cars; mostly locals but some tourists. A few were on foot carrying a jerry can.

A red Landcruiser, with smoke pouring out of the exhaust, was trying to push start a battered white Landcruiser with jerks and crunches. The white Landcruiser started, but soon stopped again. The driver took a jerry can to join the petrol queue, and once he had refuelled the vehicle, he then used it to push start the red Landcruiser, which had by then also stopped. Such was the entertainment in the centre of Kintore as we awaited our turn to fill with diesel.

The Sandy Blight Junction turn-off was a further 17 kilometres east of the Kintore turn-off. This is another of the Len Beadell Roads, which zig zags back into Western Australia to meet the Great Central Road east of Warakurna. It is signed four wheel drive only, and 340 kilometres to Docker River (the settlement on the Northern Territory side of the border. The Len Beadell plaque marking the start of Sandy Blight Junction Road is a little to the north of the present road.

From the orange road, distant hills, rugged in the sunlight to the south, and shades of blue and mauve looking towards the sun in the north.Mount Liebig came into view and is particularly striking. Len Beadell lined up to road to take advantage of the view and described “The whole section of that country was amongst the most picturesque in Central Australia.” 1960

Stopping to check another Len Beadell plaque, we drove in a little way from the road to find a very good place to camp. The bore has been decommissioned and the solar panels from the pump have been removed. There was neither hand pump nor any other way of drawing water from the bore, which was a pity as I found our general water tanks were empty. I believe this bore was named Lizard Bore.

Heading further east the next day, we past Mount Liebig and other ranges in varying colours, shapes and textures. Len certainly captured the beauty of the area in his phrase. As we passed the community at Papunya, Mount Zell came into view. Although 55 kilometres away, this highest point of the West MacDonnell Ranges stood out from the surrounding hills. The brick coloured Haast Bluff dominated as we approached and turned south onto Haast Bluff Road. Near Haast Bluff we passed a memorial to Frederick Blakeley.

This road varied between wide and firm to narrow, winding and sandy. We enjoyed views of Mount Zell, Mount Razorback and Mount Sonder before joining Namatjira Drive to the east of Glen Helen, and on to Alice Springs via the lovely West Macdonnell Ranges.


Red desert dreaming

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