The Anne Beadell Highway is a dirt track running from the underground town of Coober Pedy in South Australia to Laverton in Western Australia. It was named by surveyor Len Beadell after his wife. The road runs approximately 400 km north of the Eyre Highway through the Great Victoria Desert and is the only direct link from Coober Pedy to Western Australia. The highway is approximately 1,340 km (830 mi) long and runs through the Goldfields-Esperance region in Western Australia and the Outback in South Australia.
The Anne Beadell Highway is one of the so-called Bomb Roads. Len Beadell laid the road runway in the desert areas straddling the Western/South Australian border with the Gunbarrel Construction Party in the 1950s and 1960s. They served to develop the areas for building an infrastructure for nuclear weapons tests in the Woomera area but today it is just a dirt track only for the adventurous.
The Anne Beadell Highway runs through the outback of the Great Victoria Desert. There are no towns between Coober Pedy and Laverton but there is a roadhouse on the slope that also operates a service station (gas/petrol station). The recommended travel time is April to October as Australian summers are extremely hot, with night-time temperatures dropping well below freezing.
A well-maintained and equipped all-terrain vehicle (4WD) is required for the drive. Since you can only shop for small things at the Ilkurlka Roadhouse, you will need to be completely self-sufficient of everything. For the journey, which lasts at least four to six days, you will need plenty of water - approximately 6 litres per day and person - and food including a three to four-day reserve, at least one spare wheel - two are recommended - as well as tools and small spare parts. A HiJack jack and air compressor to regulate tyre (tire) pressure may also be helpful. A first-aid kit is a must (in Australia, it is not usually part of the equipment that comes with a rental vehicle). If you don't have a satellite phone or don't want to rent one or don't have a radio with you, you should at least have an emergency radio beacon with you.
You should be familiar with how to use a map and compass and a GPS is not essential. The Great Desert Tracks Central Sheet Map Hema published by Hema-Verlag can be used as a map for guidance while The Flinders Ranges & Outback map published by the RAA (Royal Automobile Association of South Australia) in Port Augusta Office is free to ADAC members and covers the South Australian portion of the Anne Beadell Highway while the Atlas Roads & Outback published by Quality Publishing Australia Tracks covers the Western Australian part.
The slope is often sandy. West of the Western Australian border, it crosses some low dune crests; otherwise it runs in the dune valleys, which mostly extend in an east-west direction. Corrugated sections (corrugations) alternate with a few soft sand passages and washouts. On both sides of the border, the highway is very narrow in places.
You will need five permits to drive on the track and overnight stays along the highway:
- Woomera Prohibited Area – You will need the tourist permit when planning a crossing of the Great Victoria Desert, it is advisable to check the Department of Defence website early on when the Woomera area is closed to non-members of the armed forces.
- Tallaringa Conservation Park (costs: entry and camping) or the Desert Park Pass from the South Australian National Parks Administration: Park administration DEWNRCustomerServiceCentre@sa.gov.au
- Mamungari Conservation Park, formerly Unnamed Conservation Park and Unnamed National Park (which is free to enter, but you need permits listed here): Email email@example.com or call ☏ +61 8 8625 2946 on the permits.
- Maralinga-Tjarutja Council – Homepage of the Aboriginal Community.
- Department of Indigenous Affairs application form[dead link]
The permits can be easily applied for by email and are issued within a few days.
Road conditions should be checked with the relevant police stations and local authorities in Coober Pedy or Laverton before departing.
Coober Pedy can be reached from the north and south via the A87 Stuart Highway, from the east from William Creek via William Creek and from Oodnadatta via the Kempe Road. It is also possible to travel by the Ghan (though the train stops about 40 km west of the city) or plane from Adelaide.
Coober Pedy has all the facilities needed to prepare for crossing the Great Victoria Desert - service stations, supermarkets, doctors, pharmacies and two rental car companies.
Coober Pedy has a population of approximately 3500 and is often referred to as the opal capital of Australia. What's mostly known in Coober Pedy is the underground churches, mines and dwellings. The stay should be used to visit an opal mine; recommended are Tom's Working Opal Mine (German owner) and the Old Timers Mine. It is also possible to spend the night underground.
Coober Pedy to Mabel Creek StationEdit
From the town centre of Coober Pedy, the path leads to the Stuart Highway, which is followed north past the airport. After about 5 km at the sign for Mabel Creek, a gravel road branches off to the left and you follow it. First, the road leads through the scree hills of the opal seekers. These become fewer and fewer until finally a flat, sparsely overgrown desert landscape begins on both sides of the road. After 40 km (25 mi) the highway crosses the route of the Ghan. Behind the track, the road describes a 90-degree right turn and you can see Manguri station on the right of the road, which represents the station of Coober Pedy.
After another 7 km (4.3 mi) the road to 1 Mabel Creek Homestead branches off to the left. The Homestead may only be entered with the permission of the owners or in an emergency. However, transit through the land belonging to the homestead is permitted without a permit, provided the instructions on the signs posted along the road are followed. Up to this point, the Anne Beadell Highway is a well-developed gravel road that is easy to drive on.
Mabel Creek Station to Tallaringa WellEdit
From the sign, drive 1.7 km (1.1 mi) to an intersection - left for Mabel Creek Homestead, right for Mt. Clearance Homestead - cross and after another 700 m turn left. After 2 km you will come to the original route of the Anne Beadell Highway and turn right onto it. The mostly dead straight road reaches an airfield after another 17 km. Now it's 56 km (35 mi) to the dingo fence.
Along the route you will repeatedly come across gates that should be left in the condition in which you found them – if you open them, you should close them, if they remain open, then leave it open. The road condition deteriorates dramatically after leaving the Mabel Creek Homestead. The corrugations are probably the most violent in Australia. Up to the dingo fence, the land belongs to Mabel Creek Station. At the dingo fence, the Anne Beadell Highway turns left and heads south 4.2 km. Then the dingo fence is crossed and it goes back three kilometres. These six kilometres are excellent to drive on; unfortunately there is a signposted speed limit.
Tallaringa Conservation Park begins right at the dingo fence. The highway now runs in a west-southwest directions mostly through dune valleys and is poorly maintained. The low dunes are covered with desert karrajong, acacia and desert eucalyptus. Desert grass and scrub spread between the trees. When the desert floor is not overgrown, you can see the "red earth" of Australia and you will see overgrown sections of terrain alternate with stone deserts again and again. After approximately 59 km (37 mi) you will reach the Tallaringa borehole (Tallaringa Well). Camping is allowed in the park in free places on both sides of the road, no more than 50 metres from the trail. There are good overnight accommodation options in the vicinity of the borehole. However, the actual borehole is 500 m to the left of the track.
Tallaringa Well to Emu JunctionEdit
The Tallaringa Conservation Park aims to protect the arid zone typical of inner-Australian deserts. In addition to the plants mentioned above, the animal world is also interesting: kangaroos and dromedaries are often seen, but dingoes are rarely encountered. You rarely see reptiles, sometimes a monitor lizard or a snake. Among the birds, gloss and Alexandra parakeets predominate, and several types of bustards feel at home in the dense undergrowth.
After exiting the Tallaringa well, the Anne Beadell Highway turns in a west-northwesterly direction. The journey continues to be determined by very large corrugations, which there is no suitable (gentle) speed for crossing. The shaking is equally violent at any speed. After 46 km (29 mi), you will reach marker 654 and after another 15 km you will reach marker 653. These markers were set up by the Gunbarrel Construction Party and contain information about directions and distances. After a total of 108 km (67 mi), the Anne Beadell Highway reaches the place where British forces detonated two nuclear weapons in 1962.
Detour Ground ZeroEdit
The path on the right leads to two obelisks - Totem 1 and 2, which mark the zero points. The zero points can also be recognised by the slight depressions that were created by the detonations. Here and there you can see some molten steel but apparently the area no longer shines. The path to the left leads to a small hill from which the detonations were observed.
From there, it is 17 km (11 mi) to Emu Junction though the no longer existant Emu settlement. At the junction, a track branches off south to the Eyre Highway; however, transit is prohibited. To the right is Emu Junction Airfield, which is used by mining companies. There are some good places to stay around Emu Junction.
Emu Junction to South Australia/Western Australia borderEdit
After exiting Emu Junction, the Anne Beadell Highway starts to narrow down and curves are a common sight. Because of the branches that often protrude far into the road, scratches can easily occur in the car paint. The road initially continues in a west-northwest direction, later in a westerly direction. Extreme corrugated sections alternate with sandy sections. There are rarely stony or rocky sections. After about 52 km you will come to a fork in the road, Anne's Corner. The highway follows the track leading to the left. The path to the right is called Mt. Davies Road and leads to Warburton Road via the Pipalyatjara Community (520 km). Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Construction Party levelled this portion of the Anne Beadell Highway from Mabel Creek Station to Anne's Corner in two months in early 1953 and November 1957.
After 75 km (47 mi) the highway reaches the boundary of Mamungari Conservation Park. The Mamungari CP is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve and consists of red sand dunes and salt lakes - the typical fauna and flora of the Great Victoria Desert is protected. The park is also of great cultural importance for the indigenous people, who look after the park together with the South Australian National Parks Administration. The road condition is still bad due to extreme sections of corrugated iron. The track leads through long dune valleys, whose dunes are covered with spinifex, mulga and acacia bushes. After 17 miles the road reaches 2 Vokes Hill Corner. The left turn leads via Cook, a settlement of the Maralinga Tjarutja people, to the Eyre Highway (370 km). This road may only be used with an additional permit. At the junction there is a visitor's book that the Maralinga Tjarutja Community wants to use to determine the number of travellers.
The landscape changes little; the highway becomes even narrower and curvier. After 170 km (110 mi) you reach the Western Australian border and where the Mamungari Conservation Park ends. Within the park, camping is permitted 100 metres on either side of the Anne Beadell Highway but is totally forbidden between the longitudes of 129.33° and 129.8°E. About a kilometre before entering Western Australia, the highway crosses the mostly dry Serpentine Lakes. There are very good accommodation options on the east bank. The Construction Party completed the section from Vokes Hill to the border in 1962.
South Australia/Western Australia Border to Ilkurlka RoadhouseEdit
After crossing the Serpentine Lakes, the Anne Beadell Highway enters Western Australia. There is a 3 Tjuntjunjara Community sign near the border detailing the distances to the four campsites and their facilities. Accommodation is free for places 1, 3 and 4. The Anne Beadell Highway is also named the Serpentine Lakes Road from the border in Western Australia, passing through the Spinifex Native Title Area to the west of Ilkurlka Roadhouse.
Crossing the border also changes the time zone. You'll need to change your clocks to an hour and a half back. However, South Australia follows daylight saving time, while Western Australia does not, so it's 2.5 hours during daylight savings. Road conditions west of the border are improving dramatically. The slope is getting sandy and the corrugations become smaller. After the shaking in South Australia you think you're floating. However, it remains narrow. The Anne Beadell Highway travels generally west for the next approximately 80 km (50 mi) between the dunes of the great Victoria Desert. It then runs northwest for about 40 km (25 mi), crossing a series of dunes. These are no higher than ten meters. The ascents and descents are sandy, but not deep. Nevertheless, they should be crossed as far to the left as possible in a low gear with high engine speed. After crossing the dunes, the road turns west again.
After a total of 165 km you reach a road junction with the Aboriginal Business Road. This road may only be used with additional permits. To the left west of the intersection is the 4 Ilkurlka Roadhouse. The roadhouse is open Monday through Saturday from 8AM to 5PM. Outside opening hours it is possible to arrange services by telephone (☏ +61 8 9037 1147). Since from the roadhouse the communities of the Indigenous Tjuntjunjara people in the surrounding area are supplied, all goods for daily living are obtained there; the prices are accordingly. A litre of diesel costs $2.70/litre in 2012. Camping is available at the roadhouse. There are showers and toilets too. The overnight charge is $10, while the shower only is $3.
Ilkurlka Roadhouse to Neale JunctionEdit
The Anne Beadell Highway continues west. It can be rocky in some places but it is not so narrow and curvy anymore. There are also no more dunes to cross. In some places it leads straight through the desert for kilometres on end. After about 59 km you will come to a sign pointing to a plane wreck to the right.
Detour Plane WreckageEdit
The runway to the plane wreck has fine sand, while the dunes have deep sand. The dunes are up to six metres high and run in an east-west direction. The descents/ascents on the north slopes are steeper than those on the south side. In total, the length of the detour is just over 8km or 18 dunes. The track is easy to drive, only the ramps are sometimes curvy. The plane belonged to a mining company and crashed here on January 28, 1993. The four occupants were injured, some seriously. The track to the wreck was not laid until 1995. The plane was completely intact after the crash, only the instruments were broken. Over the years vandals stole the engines. More and more parts of the wreck disappeared because many visitors took a single souvenir with them.
The piste usually runs in a generally westerly direction, often dead straight for several kilometres. The vegetation on the sides is receding, so that the path appears wider. The ground is firm and allows higher speeds than before; Corrugated iron routes are short and only have low waves. After about 44 km the Anne Beadell Highway reaches the border of the Neally Junction Nature Reserve and after another 47 km a former airstrip, at the northern end of which the traveler can see Aboriginal rock paintings. There is overnight accommodation near the runway.
After another 25 km you reach Neale Junction, the intersection with the Connie Sue Highway. This track runs from Rawlinna (330 km) on the Indian-Pacific Railway in the south to Warburton (330 km) on the Great Central Road in the north. About 500 m further to the west there is a place to stay with simple sanitary facilities.
Neale Junction to LavertonEdit
The Anne Beadell Highway widens from this point. The subsoil consists of solid sand - rocky or stony sections are rare but every now and then, washouts force you to drive slowly. After rain the track turns into a slippery mud track. If the heavy rains make the road undrivable, you should stop to prevent any damage to your vehicle and wait until the road dries up. The slope is usually dry after a day at the latest and it is possible to continue driving safely.
The track now heads generally west for the next approximately 47 km (29 mi) and for more than 1000 km straight through the desert. Then you reach a junction to the left. This is the Ranson Lake Road, which runs along the lakes of the same name to Laverton (375 km), but is even less frequented than the Anne Beadell Highway. The Anne Beadell Highway turns north-northwest and reaches another fork approximately 65 km before the Norton Craig Range. The track continues to the right, now in a northwesterly direction, and after 19 km reaches an intersection where you can turn right to the mostly dry Yeo Lake. The Anne Beadell Highway crosses the junction and after a further 31 km you reach the ruins of the Yeo Homestead.
The ruins are now managed by the national park administration after the owner of the cattle and sheep station had to abandon them due to lack of water in the early 1960s. The ruins are well preserved and offer very good accommodation.
The track now turns west again. The track gets narrower and a bit confusing for the next 65 km to Yamarna Homestead. Many trails intersect or veer off the Anne Beadell Highway. The site belongs to a mining company that digs here for mineral resources and has laid countless routes that lead in all directions. It is important here to always keep in a general westerly direction and stay on the main path. Overnight accommodation is available again at the Yamarna Homestead.
The Anne Beadell Highway goes straight west of Yamarna Homestead onto White Cliffs Yamarna Road. The road is wide and a well-developed, paved and regularly maintained gravel road. After about 145 km you will reach the entrance to Laverton and is the western end of Anne Bedeall Highway.
- driving style:
- Even if the vehicle density only increases in the high season - in the Australian winter - up to eight vehicles per day, the speed should be reduced in blind spots in order to be able to evade or stop in good time in the event of oncoming traffic.
- When driving on corrugated iron, where waves are very pronounced for kilometres between Mabel Creek Station and the South Australian border, it is recommended that you deflate your tyres (tires) for a more comfortable ride.
- When encountering wild animals, drive with increased caution:
- Kangaroos and emus often walk alongside the vehicle at the same height and then cross the road directly in front of the vehicle in a suicidal manner.
- Camels often use the track and don't leave the track even after honking or jostling. Your only solution is patience.
- Snakes and lizards like to heat up on the slopes. When a vehicle approaches, they flee in any direction, including in front of the vehicle. If sighted, slow down and allow the reptiles to escape.
- If you are caught up in an accident, remain with your vehicle. Someone from the air is much more likely to see a car than an individual person.
- With a satellite phone, the problem can be described in detail and help can be provided in a targeted manner.
Laverton is a small outback town in Western Australia on the edge of the Great Victoria Desert. After 1350 km of mostly bad tracks, driving on asphalt feels like gliding on calm water. Laverton has service stations, a hotel and motel, and a campground. A supermarket is also available. There is a small hospital for medical emergencies.
From Laverton, two roads lead in different directions: before reaching the city, the Great Central Road turns right, which leads via Warburton (565 km) and Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park (1167 km) to the Red Centre and Alice Springs.
At the western end of the village, the paved Laverton-Leonora Road leads to Leonora (125 km) and the Goldfields Highway via Menzies (230 km) to Kalgoorlie (362 km).