Australia's longest shortcut

The Outback Way is the quickest way – by road –  to get from Cairns to Perth or vice versa although officially it stretches from Winton in outback Queensland to Laverton in the WA goldfields. Cutting around 1000km or so off the journey when compared with driving Highway 1 and other main roads, it’s not so much one road as a network of well-maintained dirt roads, such as the Great Central Road and the Plenty Highway.

Photo: Lee Atkinson 

One of the world’s truly great transcontinental journeys, it’s off the radar for most Australian road trippers. You don’t need a 4WD (although an SUV will probably be more comfortable); you don’t have to camp because there’s plenty of motel accommodation and lots of places to fuel up along the way; and, as long as it hasn’t been raining, it’s fine for caravans, if that’s what you want to take.

At the time of going to press around a third of the trip – 1100km – has been sealed, but a new round of government funding was announced in late 2017, and the whole thing should be bitumen by 2025.

Photo: Lee Atkinson

It might be the granddaddy of shortcuts, but with so many of the great Australian icons (Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon), and some of our most fascinating outback towns including Longreach, Winton, Alice Springs and Kalgoorlie on the route, this is not a road trip to do in a hurry.

Photo: Lee Atkinson

Allow yourself at least a couple of weeks, more if you have the luxury of time on your side, because there are plenty of places you just don’t want to miss.

Places like the Min Min Encounter Centre in Boulia, where an entertaining animatronics theatre show will introduce you to the mysteries of the floating balls of light that are often sighted in the middle of the night.

Photo: Lee Atkinson

And, of course, there’s Longreach with its collection of fascinating museums – the Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum where you can tour a fully-equipped jumbo jet and take a walk out on the wing of a 747. There are memorable experiences from riding a replica Cobb & Co coach at full gallop to a sunset cruise on the Thomson River.

Winton’s famous for its dinosaurs – Lark Quarry, the only known site of a dinosaur stampede in the world – is an hour’s drive out of town. If you have an interest in palaeontology you can help out the scientists preparing dinosaur bones in the fossil lab at the Age of Dinosaurs Museum. Winton is also where our most famous song, Waltzing Matilda, was written and performed for the very first time in 1895. The new Waltzing Matilda Centre (set to re-open in April 2018) is currently being rebuilt after a devastating fire almost destroyed it in 2015.

Photo: Lee Atkinson 

You could easily spend a week just in Alice Springs, visiting museums, Indigenous art galleries and exploring the gorges, sacred sites and rock holes in the East and West MacDonnell Ranges. Allow at least two days in Kings Canyon and three in Uluru. West of Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort) you’re in the heart of the western deserts, and each of the roadhouse stops have fabulous collections of Aboriginal art that you can buy.

Photo: Lee Atkinson

Don’t miss the Tjulyuru Gallery in Warburton – it has one of the world’s largest collections of community-controlled Aboriginal art – and drop in to see the Giles Weather Station at Warakurna.

Spend some time at the museum in Laverton and explore the unrestored historic heart of the old mining town. Head out to Lake Ballard to see artist Antony Gormley’s extraordinary sculptures shimmering in the salt lake; wander around beautifully-preserved ghost towns such as Gwalia – you can even stay in US President Hoover’s old house – and peer into the depths of Australia’s largest open pit gold mine in Kalgoorlie. Australia’s longest shortcut really is the ultimate Australian road trip.

Photo: Lee Atkinson

Driving on unsealed roads is tiring – don’t overestimate how far you can travel in a day (six hours per day is ideal) and avoid travelling at night as your chances of colliding with a camel, kangaroo or wandering stock is very high. Watch out for bulldust and always give trucks and road-trains plenty of space.

How far? It’s 2800km from Winton to Laverton, or 4615km if you go all the way from Cairns to Perth.

Aboriginal community permits: you need two permits – one to travel between Laverton to WA/NT Border from the Department of Indigenous Affairs (08 6551 8024) and another from the Central Land Council to travel the NT section of the road from the border to Yulara (08 8951 6320).

Related articles:
Ten tips for happy road trips
Top tips for solo women on the road
Road tripping: what a way to see Australia!

Written by Lee Atkinson


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