Our top five great desert tracks and what you need to bring

April 03, 2024
Our top five great desert tracks and what you need to bring - A247 Gear
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Taking a 4WD trip through Australia’s arid centre is an incredible experience — so here are some of our favourite tracks and products to make your journey easier and safer.

The desert regions of our country are unique in their landscape and beauty.

 A massive part of Australia is made up of these desert regions, and there’s no better way to experience this part of our country than by 4WD (four-wheel drive). There’s no doubt the easiest way to travel Australia is by air, but when we fly, we miss the parts that truly make this country special. So, if you’ve got the time and the resources, a 4WD tour of these regions is always our number one recommendation.

In celebration of our sister company, Hema Maps, releasing the 6 th edition of its bestselling Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide , we’ve put together a list of our favourite five tracks from the book, plus an indispensable product per track which was designed precisely for the conditions found in our great deserts region.

4WD track grading

Before we get stuck into our favourite desert tracks, we must explain Hema Maps’ 4WD track grading system. Below are the grades and what each one denotes:

E = Easy

All-wheel drive and high range. Novice drivers.

M = Medium

Mainly high range 4WD but low range required. Some 4WD experience or training required.

D = Difficult

Significant low range 4WD with standard ground clearance. Should have 4WD driver training.

X = Very Difficult

Low range 4WD with high ground clearance. Experienced drivers. 

Track 1: Anne Beadell Highway

Grade: M

Driving time: 24 hours (average speed 55km/h)

Distance: 1375km, Laverton to Coober Pedy

Best time of year: May to September. Avoid summer months as temperatures are extremely high.

The Anne Beadell Highway (Western Australia and South Australia) is an extremely remote track that runs from the historic gold mining town of Laverton in the west to the ‘Opal Capital of the World,’ Coober Pedy, in the east.

The track is not maintained and heavily corrugated in sections, with other parts narrow, twisting, sandy and overgrown. We always recommend caution on challenging terrain such as this and advise further research to ensure you are adequately prepared for your epic journey. You will need a transit permit for the Yamarna to Yeo section, which you can obtain here .

WARNING: This is an extremely remote track. Unless you are an experienced desert traveller, solo travel is not recommended.

We recommend: If you’re planning to tackle this challenging track, you’re undoubtedly stopping to stay somewhere along the way (24 hours estimated time of completion). We therefore recommend the revolutionary CGear mats as an essential companion to desert camping, which is an innovative product for camping applications.

The range of mats from CGear are unique in the sense that sand, dirt and dust can pass through them but not come back up. This ensures your camping area is clean and easy to manage and won’t build up with heavy dirt making it impossible to relocate as necessary. To peruse our full range of CGear mats designed in Australia for Aussie conditions, just click here

Track 2: Birdsville Track

Grade: E

Driving time: 10.5 hours (average speed 50km/h)

Distance: 517km, Marree to Birdsville

Best time of year: April to October

The famous Birdsville Track (South Australia) is a stunning outback drive from Marree to Birdsville that will present few problems if you tackle it in the cooler months in a well-maintained vehicle and after the road has been recently graded, however, this is the harsh outback. If you break down, particularly in the northern half and in summer (where there is no shade and no water) it could be fatal. You do not need any permits for this track.

WARNING: This is a remote area with no reliable water supplies. Light truck tyres are required for this route.

We recommend: If tackling this notoriously hot part of our country, it’s possible snakes could be present. Australia has some of the most dangerous — and deadly — species of snake in the world, and we always advise being prepared for running into them, even if it’s unlikely in many scenarios. Our favourite Snake Bite Kit has to be this one from Aussie brand SURVIVAL.

Designed in Australia by leading first aid experts and developed in conjunction with snake safety experts, the SURVIVAL Snake Bite First Aid Kit is built around the success of SURVIVAL’s revolutionary Smart Bandage to effectively manage potentially deadly snake and funnel-web spider bites. This durable and compact kit has been specifically designed for easy attachment to belts, backpacks, hiking and camping gear, mountain bikes and stores easily in caravans and 4WDs. Travel with peace of mind knowing you have protection against our deadliest.

Track 3: Canning Stock Route

Grade: M

Driving time: 59 hours (average speed 24km/h)

Distance: 1575km, Wiluna to Billiluna

Best time of year: May to September. Winter nights can drop below zero and summer can be dangerously hot.

Without a doubt, the Canning Stock Route (Western Australia) is the most demanding 4WD track this country has to offer. And we’re not just talking about the demand on the vehicle. A great deal of physical endurance is also required. There are a lot of kilometres, and even more corrugations, between Wiluna in the south and Billiluna in the north.

Along the Canning Stock Route, track conditions vary from soft sand, dunes and corrugated dirt to gibber plains. One thing that doesn’t change is the constant corrugations, so ensure you have quality suspension. Please be advised that permits are required for this track, which you can obtain here.

WARNING: The trip requires in-depth research and careful planning. Be self-sufficient with all emergency equipment and ensure your vehicle is in good condition. Take plenty of water.

We recommend: Considering the remoteness and difficultly this track presents, we highly recommend the ZOLEO Global Satellite Communicator to ensure you can always reach help should something go wrong while on the Canning Stock Route.

The ZOLEO allows you to keep connected to the outside world when you travel beyond mobile phone coverage. The IP68 rating also means the ZOLEO device is shock proof, dust proof and waterproof and compact enough to take with you when you go 4WDing, hiking, camping, skiing and more. Knowing you can reach help at anytime allows your mind to rest in difficult situations.

Track 4: Madigan Line

Grade: M

Driving time: 32 hours (average speed 15km/h)

Distance: 716km, Mount Dare to Birdsville

Best time of year: April to October

The Madigan Line — a remote northern crossing of the Simpson Desert mostly in the Northern Territory — is definitely the ‘track less travelled,’ and is not for the faint-hearted or the ill-prepared. As you head east across the Northern Simpson Desert there is little to interrupt your views of the red desert sands. The track becomes more defined as you hit the eastern end, particularly where it joins the Hay River Track.

The major appeal of the track is the chance to really escape from it all and explore the largely untouched desert. Please be advised that a permit is required for this track from the Central Land Council.

WARNING: Crossing from west to east is advised due to the steep eastern sides of the dunes. Only very experienced desert travellers, who are prepared for a long trip and have a well set-up and maintained vehicles, should attempt this track.

We recommend: For this trip and others that are off the beaten track we must recommend the newly updated HX-2+ GPS Navigator from Hema Maps. Whether you’re navigating through dense urban streets or exploring offroad locations, this navigator is your perfect travelling companion to ensure you know where you’re going and can track where you have been.

Experience unparalleled offroad access with Offroad Mode, which allows you to navigate rugged terrain, conquer challenging trails and explore the wild with confidence — not to mention giving you access to thousands of POI (Points of Interest). Embark on the Madigan Track and others with assurance, knowing you have one of the most advanced navigators on board your vehicle.

Track 5: Oodnadatta Track

Grade: M

Driving time: 9.5 hours (average speed 67km/h)

Distance: 613km, Marla to Marree

Best time of year: April to October

The famous Oodnadatta Track (South Australia), which follows a traditional Aboriginal trading route, is known as being one of the most scenic and interesting drives in Australia. For the most part, the country is flat to gently undulating and the gravel road is generally kept in a good condition.

Remember to always exercise caution and drive to the conditions — the Oodnadatta is not a track to play around on and you don’t want to find out the hard way, especially not in Australia’s deserts. You do not need any permits for this track.

WARNING: The Oodnadatta Track is renowned for being hard on tyres, so take more than one spare. Driving on the lake surface is illegal and dangerous. The track to Halligan Bay is very sandy.

We recommend: There is no doubt the Oodnadatta Track is in a hot and arid location, and when you’ve got about 10 hours of driving ahead of you in the stinking hot desert, it’s important to stop once in a while to rest, recuperate and just take in the stunning, unique views. Once you’ve stopped for that rest, you’ll see it’s quite difficult to find shade in this part of our country. We therefore recommend the incredibly versatile Eclipse 180° Awning from Darche.

This second-generation awning can be mounted to either side of your vehicle and is ideal for dual, single and space cabs as well as general canopy and wagon setups. This awning can be configured in many ways, providing just the right amount of UV protection for your touring needs. With a heavy-duty steel and alloy swivel hinge system on both ends, the awning spans 6m along the vehicle, creating ample space for you and your fellow travellers. It makes a world of difference being able to create your own shade in the desert — the comfort cannot be understated.

Get a copy of Great Desert Tracks

The new edition (6th) of Hema Maps’ Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide is now available for purchase from the A247 website, Hema website and leading retailers. So, whether you’re a ‘desert lover’ or just want to tackle some of Australia’s greatest 4WD destinations, this informative guide is an indispensable companion for you.

Most of the above information was derived from the Hema Great Desert Tracks Atlas & Guide. If you would like additional information on any of the tracks and their conditions, including plenty of essential pre-trip reading, you can find that and much more in the bestselling guide.

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