Talawana Track

Is this the deserts toughest track?

WORDS & IMAGES BY GLENN MARSHALL

The final track built by Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party in 1963 and ranked in Hema’s Top 5 of Australia’s Toughest 4WD Tracks, the Talawana Track should never be underestimated, you could lose your life. The number of burnt-out vehicles along the track is a testament to the challenges faced by those attempting this track. Bring it on, oh and I’m doing it solo.

My jump-off point was Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route, a mighty challenging track on its own. There are two options to reach the Gary Highway. Jump on Jenkins Track and travel 65km to Gary Junction in about an hour, before turning right. The second option is slower, gnarlier and angrier and takes a minimum of two hours to travel 65km to the Gary Highway. Of course, I chose this option, and I have never felt so alone.

The vastness of the Gibson Desert and spinifex plains, the washouts and corrugations, it felt amazing. I followed camel footprints for most of the way, but all I saw were handfuls of geese  – weird. Sections of this track reminded me of the Connie Sue Highway. Tight track, pin-striping, changing speeds, it was just missing the Golden Orb spiders.

The Gary Highway is typical Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party. You follow the swales amongst the dunes, and where you cross the dunes, they’re capped with local stone. The Ghost Gums stand out amongst the spinifex and burnt orange dunes, gorgeous.

TRAVEL Talawana Track

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The track becomes extremely closed in before a burnt-out section from a recent cold fire, in the same place as an old burnt out G60 Patrol. It then deteriorates, the spinifex gets higher and the trees more violent. If you don’t have pinstripes on your vehicle, you will have plenty by the time you reached Windy Corner. Ironically Windy Corner was hardly blowing a breeze; it was the calmest spot of all.

Turning onto the Talawana Track, there was a good camp spot not too far along amongst a copse of trees. Continuing for another 20 clicks, enjoying an open track with manageable corrugations, I stopped at a great campsite marked on my Hema X-1. Ample space, off the road, a bit of wood and some shade. It wasn’t very private, but I don’t think that is a problem out here. A couple of small kangaroos came out to graze at dusk, the first I’d seen in over one thousand kilometres.

Wormy Whau Whau Well, strange name and Harry and I argued about the meaning behind it, or whether it was a native well. Both of us were wrong. It turns out Wormy was the driller, and Whau Whau was the motorman. The well was sunk on 20th April 1970 but has since been capped. It’s a decent place to camp amongst the ghost gums with enough space for a large group.

Next day, the centre of the track is spinifex, in some places higher than the bullbar. As a precaution, I stop every hour or so, crawl underneath the vehicle and check for any grass stuck in any nooks or crannies, especially near the exhaust. I also clear any spinifex from my radiator. If you don’t have a brush, a stick works well, just be careful of the radiator fins. A tarp is handy for these jobs too.

BELOW I have never felt so alone as I did today

BELOW A perfect place to kick off another adventure

BELOW Harry stretches at Wormy Whau Whau

ABOVE The Gary Highway is one big hazard

“The golden hour was in full swing as I passed through the range, the lighting perfect.”

In situations like this, a Grab Bag like this is a critical piece of kit. It must be kept in a position that you can get to it within seconds and it contains gear that will keep you alive until help arrives.

Once past the wrecks, the woodlands and gibbers gave way to the sand country. My speed was able to be increased to better cope with the corrugations and for once I was making good headway. One large burnt out section provided great views of the Gibson Desert and the conditions eased. A lone bull camel the only animal I saw. A burnt-out FJ40 sat sadly beside the track in what looked to be a recent incident. There was debris spread over a wide area, molten aluminium pooled in the sand.

Upon reaching the junction with Eagle Track I had achieved a goal of 45km unscathed on the Talawana. Not too far up the track, a couple of vehicles were not so lucky, and it goes to show how dangerous spinifex is. A burnt-out Land Rover was the first vehicle and soon after a Pajero. The speed at which a vehicle can catch alight and then burn to the ground is scary. Don’t be blasé, check regularly and your trip won’t be cut short by a tragedy.

A couple of great detours off the main track are out to Midway Bore and Windmill and then Midway Well. The turnoff to the windmill is marked by a 44-gallon drum and the 7km track twists and winds its way through the sand and spinifex. The track isn’t maintained, merely tyre tracks out to the old site. The windmill and tank are no longer operable, but there is a handpump on the bore head for what looked like good water. Retracing your steps to the Talawana, the turnoff to the Midway well is 500m up the track. The wheel tracks end at the well that had plenty of water in it, lots of ducks and other birds enjoying the peaceful surrounds.

BELOW Views from atop a Gibson Desert dune

BELOW Spinifex and exhausts don’t mix

BELOW An oasis in the desert at Midway Well

BELOW I didn’t want to tackle this on my own

The final one had a deepish water crossing with nowhere else to go. I walked the long crossing but couldn’t check the actual depth of the water or the softness of the base. I locked into four low and eased my way across the pan, slipping in a couple of wet spots before I reached the water. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I hit it a bit fast so got covered in salt water, not a good thing out here.

The beauty of driving through another burnt patch is that you can see the orange sand dunes in their naked glory, devoid of the spinifex wrap they usually wear. The track closed in for the next 60km then some soft sand was thrown in before I reached the salt pans. There was a diversion through the dunes at the first lot of water, the track submerged by salty, gooey water for a distance not worth attempting. Once past this first section, I stuck to the wheel tracks when crossing the remaining pans.

BELOW What a difference half a grader blade makes

BELOW The wildflowers were out in some areas

Reaching the Canning Stock Route, I headed to Georgia Bore. The golden hour was in full swing as I passed through the range, the lighting perfect. I came across a cyclist heading north and had a good chat about the difficulty of what he was doing. He wasn’t even concerned about the water across the CSR that was keeping a section closed, determined to complete his adventure. We parted ways, him pushing his bike at 4km/h, me reaching 60km/h as I closed in on the camp.

The native bees weren’t happy that I moved their drinking bowl as I filled the bucket a few times with the bore water to wash the salt from the Prado, the 12V shower came in handy for this. Finding a nice flat spot amongst the coolabahs to roll out the swag, I listened to the dingoes sing as I cooked dinner, another day is done, damage-free.

BELOW I never got tired of the ranges

ABOVE The final marker on the Talawana and the final marker ever

The western section of the Talawana is similar scenically, but different driving conditions. Wider by half a grader blade, it wasn’t as closed in. The corrugations were worse, but it was possible to get up to speed to float over them. Closing in on the Parnngurr turnoff you’re flanked by the Harbutt and McKay Ranges; Ghost Gums show the watercourses and more scrub than spinifex.

Parnngurr is accessible without needing to contact them first; fuel and store are open Monday to Friday plus Saturday morning. The store has a good range of supplies at a premium rate as is to be expected out here and fuel came in at $3.20 per litre. From here, the end is in sight, so I pushed on.

The dingoes sang most of the night, but I didn’t get a visit. It was Sunday, so a lay day, I couldn’t buy fuel today anyway. I was able to give the vehicle a good going over, enjoy a shower using my Quick Pitch Ensuite for the first time and appreciate some chill time. A group from Victor Harbour pulled into camp and set up nearby, and we spent a happy hour as one, then a good night around the fire as they cooked their camp oven roasts.

BELOW The final salt pan wasn’t going to stop me

BELOW And in the middle of nowhere, a rough leafed Ghost Gum

ABOVE The boys were having roasts; I had leftover paella 😟 

As the Talawana passes through Wells Range, you’ll climb some blind crests on dunes, and there are a few tight bends that can catch you out, be alert if towing. Desert Oaks are in abundance as you approach the Poisonbush Range then it’s Ghost Gums and Gidgee with a few termite mounds in between the dunes.

The final Len Beadell and Gunbarrel Road Construction Party marker ever imprinted is just behind Old Mia Well, the original barrel still stands. From here, I only have 36km to the finish. The final POI is a large rough leafed Ghost Gum. Standing tall, alone but happy, just like me. I reach the junction at Balfour Downs and Harry, and I throw a big high five. We did it.

BELOW Tackling the Talawana solo is a major risk

DESTINATION DETAILS
WHERE: East Pilbara. The track runs from Windy Corner on the Gary Highway to Newman a distance of around 635km; allow and extra 100km.

SUPPLIES & FACILITIES: Fuel and limited supplies are available at Kunawarritji and Parnngurr. Times are generally Monday to Friday daylight hours and Saturday morning.

CAMPING: There’s camping at Well 33 and Georgia Bore on the CSR as well as many bush camps along the Gary Highway and Talawana Track. The Hema HX-1, Hema apps and Hema maps all have suitable camp spots marked.

BEST TIME: Milder months from May to September

TRIP STANDARD: This track is extremely remote, has severe corrugations, washouts, soft sand and salt pans. You will need to be self-reliant, have suitable recovery gear, satellite phone/HF Radio, EPIRB, Remote First Aid Kit, Extra food and water. Your vehicle will be severely scratched by the end of the track. Travelling solo is not recommended.

PERMITS: No permits are required to travel the Talawana Track

MORE INFO: 
Kunawarritji phone:
(08) 9176 9040
Purnngurr phone: (08) 9176 9051

TRAVEL Talawana Track

Talawana Track

WORDS & IMAGES BY GLENN MARSHALL

The final track built by Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party in 1963 and ranked in Hema’s Top 5 of Australia’s Toughest 4WD Tracks, the Talawana Track should never be underestimated, you could lose your life. The number of burnt-out vehicles along the track is a testament to the challenges faced by those attempting this track. Bring it on, oh and I’m doing it solo.

My jump-off point was Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route, a mighty challenging track on its own. There are two options to reach the Gary Highway. Jump on Jenkins Track and travel 65km to Gary Junction in about an hour, before turning right. The second option is slower, gnarlier and angrier and takes a minimum of two hours to travel 65km to the Gary Highway. Of course, I chose this option, and I have never felt so alone.

The vastness of the Gibson Desert and spinifex plains, the washouts and corrugations, it felt amazing. I followed camel footprints for most of the way, but all I saw were handfuls of geese  – weird. Sections of this track reminded me of the Connie Sue Highway. Tight track, pin-striping, changing speeds, it was just missing the Golden Orb spiders.

The Gary Highway is typical Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party. You follow the swales amongst the dunes, and where you cross the dunes, they’re capped with local stone. The Ghost Gums stand out amongst the spinifex and burnt orange dunes, gorgeous.

Is this the deserts toughest track?

Wormy Whau Whau Well, strange name and Harry and I argued about the meaning behind it, or whether it was a native well. Both of us were wrong. It turns out Wormy was the driller, and Whau Whau was the motorman. The well was sunk on 20th April 1970 but has since been capped. It’s a decent place to camp amongst the ghost gums with enough space for a large group.

ABOVE The Gary Highway is one big hazard

The track becomes extremely closed in before a burnt-out section from a recent cold fire, in the same place as an old burnt out G60 Patrol. It then deteriorates, the spinifex gets higher and the trees more violent. If you don’t have pinstripes on your vehicle, you will have plenty by the time you reached Windy Corner. Ironically Windy Corner was hardly blowing a breeze; it was the calmest spot of all.

Turning onto the Talawana Track, there was a good camp spot not too far along amongst a copse of trees. Continuing for another 20 clicks, enjoying an open track with manageable corrugations, I stopped at a great campsite marked on my Hema X-1. Ample space, off the road, a bit of wood and some shade. It wasn’t very private, but I don’t think that is a problem out here. A couple of small kangaroos came out to graze at dusk, the first I’d seen in over one thousand kilometres.

BELOW I have never felt so alone as I did today

BELOW Harry stretches at Wormy Whau Whau

Next day, the centre of the track is spinifex, in some places higher than the bullbar. As a precaution, I stop every hour or so, crawl underneath the vehicle and check for any grass stuck in any nooks or crannies, especially near the exhaust. I also clear any spinifex from my radiator. If you don’t have a brush, a stick works well, just be careful of the radiator fins. A tarp is handy for these jobs too.

BELOW A perfect place to kick off another adventure

“The golden hour was in full swing as I passed through the range, the lighting perfect.”

ADVERTISEMENT
SCROLL TO CONTINUE

Upon reaching the junction with Eagle Track I had achieved a goal of 45km unscathed on the Talawana. Not too far up the track, a couple of vehicles were not so lucky, and it goes to show how dangerous spinifex is. A burnt-out Land Rover was the first vehicle and soon after a Pajero. The speed at which a vehicle can catch alight and then burn to the ground is scary. Don’t be blasé, check regularly and your trip won’t be cut short by a tragedy.

BELOW I didn’t want to tackle this on my own

In situations like this, a Grab Bag like this is a critical piece of kit. It must be kept in a position that you can get to it within seconds and it contains gear that will keep you alive until help arrives.

Once past the wrecks, the woodlands and gibbers gave way to the sand country. My speed was able to be increased to better cope with the corrugations and for once I was making good headway. One large burnt out section provided great views of the Gibson Desert and the conditions eased. A lone bull camel the only animal I saw. A burnt-out FJ40 sat sadly beside the track in what looked to be a recent incident. There was debris spread over a wide area, molten aluminium pooled in the sand.

BELOW Views from atop a Gibson Desert dune

BELOW An oasis in the desert at Midway Well

A couple of great detours off the main track are out to Midway Bore and Windmill and then Midway Well. The turnoff to the windmill is marked by a 44-gallon drum and the 7km track twists and winds its way through the sand and spinifex. The track isn’t maintained, merely tyre tracks out to the old site. The windmill and tank are no longer operable, but there is a handpump on the bore head for what looked like good water. Retracing your steps to the Talawana, the turnoff to the Midway well is 500m up the track. The wheel tracks end at the well that had plenty of water in it, lots of ducks and other birds enjoying the peaceful surrounds.

BELOW Spinifex and exhausts don’t mix

The beauty of driving through another burnt patch is that you can see the orange sand dunes in their naked glory, devoid of the spinifex wrap they usually wear. The track closed in for the next 60km then some soft sand was thrown in before I reached the salt pans. There was a diversion through the dunes at the first lot of water, the track submerged by salty, gooey water for a distance not worth attempting. Once past this first section, I stuck to the wheel tracks when crossing the remaining pans.

BELOW The wildflowers were out in some areas

The final one had a deepish water crossing with nowhere else to go. I walked the long crossing but couldn’t check the actual depth of the water or the softness of the base. I locked into four low and eased my way across the pan, slipping in a couple of wet spots before I reached the water. It wasn’t as bad as I expected, but I hit it a bit fast so got covered in salt water, not a good thing out here.

BELOW What a difference half a grader blade makes

Reaching the Canning Stock Route, I headed to Georgia Bore. The golden hour was in full swing as I passed through the range, the lighting perfect. I came across a cyclist heading north and had a good chat about the difficulty of what he was doing. He wasn’t even concerned about the water across the CSR that was keeping a section closed, determined to complete his adventure. We parted ways, him pushing his bike at 4km/h, me reaching 60km/h as I closed in on the camp.

The native bees weren’t happy that I moved their drinking bowl as I filled the bucket a few times with the bore water to wash the salt from the Prado, the 12V shower came in handy for this. Finding a nice flat spot amongst the coolabahs to roll out the swag, I listened to the dingoes sing as I cooked dinner, another day is done, damage-free.

BELOW I never got tired of the ranges

ABOVE The final marker on the Talawana and the final marker ever

The dingoes sang most of the night, but I didn’t get a visit. It was Sunday, so a lay day, I couldn’t buy fuel today anyway. I was able to give the vehicle a good going over, enjoy a shower using my Quick Pitch Ensuite for the first time and appreciate some chill time. A group from Victor Harbour pulled into camp and set up nearby, and we spent a happy hour as one, then a good night around the fire as they cooked their camp oven roasts.

BELOW And in the middle of nowhere, a rough leafed Ghost Gum

The western section of the Talawana is similar scenically, but different driving conditions. Wider by half a grader blade, it wasn’t as closed in. The corrugations were worse, but it was possible to get up to speed to float over them. Closing in on the Parnngurr turnoff you’re flanked by the Harbutt and McKay Ranges; Ghost Gums show the watercourses and more scrub than spinifex.

Parnngurr is accessible without needing to contact them first; fuel and store are open Monday to Friday plus Saturday morning. The store has a good range of supplies at a premium rate as is to be expected out here and fuel came in at $3.20 per litre. From here, the end is in sight, so I pushed on.

BELOW The final salt pan wasn’t going to stop me

As the Talawana passes through Wells Range, you’ll climb some blind crests on dunes, and there are a few tight bends that can catch you out, be alert if towing. Desert Oaks are in abundance as you approach the Poisonbush Range then it’s Ghost Gums and Gidgee with a few termite mounds in between the dunes.

The final Len Beadell and Gunbarrel Road Construction Party marker ever imprinted is just behind Old Mia Well, the original barrel still stands. From here, I only have 36km to the finish. The final POI is a large rough leafed Ghost Gum. Standing tall, alone but happy, just like me. I reach the junction at Balfour Downs and Harry, and I throw a big high five. We did it.

BELOW Tackling the Talawana solo is a major risk

ABOVE The boys were having roasts; I had leftover paella 😟 

DESTINATION DETAILS
WHERE: East Pilbara. The track runs from Windy Corner on the Gary Highway to Newman a distance of around 635km; allow and extra 100km.

SUPPLIES & FACILITIES: Fuel and limited supplies are available at Kunawarritji and Parnngurr. Times are generally Monday to Friday daylight hours and Saturday morning.

CAMPING: There’s camping at Well 33 and Georgia Bore on the CSR as well as many bush camps along the Gary Highway and Talawana Track. The Hema HX-1, Hema apps and Hema maps all have suitable camp spots marked.

BEST TIME: Milder months from May to September

TRIP STANDARD: This track is extremely remote, has severe corrugations, washouts, soft sand and salt pans. You will need to be self-reliant, have suitable recovery gear, satellite phone/HF Radio, EPIRB, Remote First Aid Kit, Extra food and water. Your vehicle will be severely scratched by the end of the track. Travelling solo is not recommended.

PERMITS: No permits are required to travel the Talawana Track

MORE INFO: 
Kunawarritji phone:
(08) 9176 9040
Purnngurr phone: (08) 9176 9051

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