For three years I’ve been itching to explore Sandy Blight Junction Track and finally, the permits were approved, and I was ready to go. Departing early from Ayers Rock Campground, there was very little traffic going my way but plenty coming returning from sunrise viewings of Uluru.
Turning west at Kata Tjuta, the bitumen continued more than I’d expected. The Great Central Road is part of The Outback Way, Australia’s longest shortcut that runs from Winton, Queensland to Laverton, Western Australia and its entire length has been earmarked for bitumen.
The road passes the Petermann Ranges near Puta Puta and then the Curdie Range where you’ll find Lasseters Cave. It was here that Harold Lasseter’s diary was found several months after he’d passed away nearby in 1930. Harold has been out searching for his lost fabled gold reef again, having first discovered it in 1897. Included in one of the last posts in his diary were the words “What good a reef worth millions? I would give it all for a loaf of bread.” Lasseter’s reef is still yet to be found.
Approaching Kaltukatjara (Docker River), my phone started pinging with missed calls, emails and messages, Telstra is the only carrier with decent coverage throughout Oz. I must say, that one of the reasons why I enjoy remote travel so much, is escaping our 24-hour cycle lives and getting back to what matters, freedom and peace.
Upon checking out the Docker River campground, it turned out to be a little overgrown, but this would certainly be due to the lack of travellers passing this way with the WA being closed for so long. Now, having crossed the border, it wasn’t long before the turn off onto the Sandy Blight Junction Track was reached. A couple who were travelling the Great Central Road were enjoying some lunch when I interrupted them to ask where they’d come from, in case they’d just completed the track I was about to tackle.
After approximately 26.5km is the turn off to the stunning Bungabiddy Rockhole. If you’re towing a camper, there is a turnaround about halfway in, leaving a fair walk to the rockhole, otherwise take care through the creek bed to the end of the track before a short walk to this special place. The birds are a giveaway to where you need to head.
Take time to take in the spirituality of the Bungabiddy waterhole, it is a harsh climate out here and this water could be a lifesaver for humans and animals alike. Please respect this place, leave only footprints, take only photos and if needed, make it a better place than before you arrived by picking up any rubbish that may be there.
Returning to the main track, the going is good with a few heavily corrugated sections and some momentum zapping sand in places up until the turnoff to Tjukurla. You can purchase fuel from here, if required, during specified times that are listed in detail in the Travel Planner section below.
From this turnoff, the Sandy Blight becomes a typical Len Beadell and the Gunbarrel Road Construction Party (GRCP) track, narrow, single lane and straight, until he reached the taller dunes. Over the years tjanpi (spinifex) has grown in the middle between the wheel ruts and traveller numbers keep the trackside shrubbery from encroaching too far.
Desert oaks or Kukara dominate the sandy plains, a mix of mature and juvenile trees. Traditionally the dense wood was used as firesticks and for constructing wiltjas (shade shelters). Len would blaze desert oaks or sink a trunk, paint it white and nail an engraved plaque with the details and location. Most, if not all have now been replaced with a replica as many were removed by travellers.
As the track wound its way in the swales of the dunes, I came across my first of many herds of wild camels that enjoy the remoteness of the Gibson Desert. There are so many wild camels roaming the deserts of Australia that they are now classified as feral, with many that are caught being shipped to the Middle East. In Birdsville, you can smash a camel pie and Uluru Camel Farm also takes in several beasts each year to use as either racing camels or for rides on tours.
The going slowed right down as the track continued north, with many washouts and track diversions through the spinifex. I was surprised at the rounded river rocks, that I associate more with the Upper Murray River, covering the track in places. Over thousands of years, they must have been washed down from the nearby Sir Fredrick Range. Reaching the blaze tree signifying the halfway mark of the track, it was getting late in the afternoon and time to find a place to camp.
There aren’t any designated campsites along the Sandy Blight, so it’s just a matter of finding a place beside the track that suits your set-up. I eventually found a flat open section between the wanari (mulga) and spinifex that the Prado would slot right into. A herd of grazing camels arrived as camp was being set up, and I watched them quietly for a time until the sun began to drop behind the dunes, time for dinner.
This is the type of camping I enjoy most, solo, remote and peaceful. It makes me feel like I’m the only person within hundreds of kilometres, one with nature and where I am. Don’t be scared to try this yourself, it is a magical and unforgettable experience.
Awaking just before dawn after a restful sleep, the camp was soon packed down and it was time to hit the track. Driving into the sun that had now risen was a challenge and a startled bull camel stumbled out in front of me at one stage before ducking back into the bush to get away from me. There was also plenty of animal skat and footprints on the track, but camels were the only creatures I encountered as well as flocks of small birds and spectacular green budgerigars. I watched as the carrion birds; hawks and wedge-tailed eagles circled overhead, searching for little critters scurrying between the spinifex.
There were more washouts, and the going was slow, and I came across another couple of camel herds walking along the track with both lots thankfully heading into the mulga straight away. There is nothing worse than chasing camels along a remote bush track. I rounded a corner to see a termite nest wearing a shirt and nearly had another heart attack because I thought it was a person! The mind works in mysterious ways when you are travelling solo.
Upon reaching the border, the Northern Territory side was less demanding and in much better condition, allowing the speed to be picked up a little. Len was forced by the taller dunes to survey his tracks along the swales between the dunes until he found a simpler crossing. The Sandy Blight headed due east for a good distance before turning north towards Walungurru (Kintore).
Along its entirety, burnt-out vehicles litter the sides of the track, but they are old fords and holdens, Fairmont’s and Kingswood’s. I then came across a burnt-out 40-seater bus! This was a real head-scratcher.
The track turns and heads towards the Davenport Hills, a standout on the Sandy Blight and one of the reasons why Len Beadell considered this track one of the most scenic and I couldn’t agree more. There is a shortcut across the dune, however, you miss out on getting close to the base of this scenic range.
The track turns north again and you’ll soon encounter a large rock painted white with “200 Mile Rock” in black paint, a joke played by Len on the GRCP.
Not far from here are a white post and a post with a plaque signifying the Tropic of Capricorn. I understand that the line of the Tropic moves further north over time, however, these markers are more than a few kilometres south and I now knew why I couldn’t find these markers when I spent two months following the Tropic of Capricorn from the east coast to the west coast in 2018.
As the Sandy Blight closes in on Mount Leisler, just as the track veers to the northeast, you’ll find Tietkens Tree lying on the ground and a Len Beadell plaque opposite. In June 1960, Len could clearly see the blaze when the road construction passed this point. The blaze no longer exists, and the tree is slowly rotting away.
The phone blew up as I passed Kintore and Sandy Blight soon reaches the junction with the Gary Junction Road. It was disappointing to find the white tree stump and plaque lying on the ground on the northern side of the junction on the Emu Bore Road.
Turning onto the Gary Junction Road and heading towards Alice Springs, the going got rough on either side of Papunya, with big corrugations. I’d thrown a boneless lamb into the Travel Buddy a couple of hours previous, and the aroma was divine. As the sun began to drop, I stumbled across Mt. Zeil Wilderness Camp and what a great find. The campsites are well separated, and you get a complimentary crate of gidgee firewood on arrival. I was guided to a stunning campsite at the base of the Mt. Zeil range where I enjoyed a roast lamb dinner by a warm fire on my final night in the bush.
So how was this track named? While surveying the track poor Len suffered an eye condition known as Trachoma or sandy blight. He named the junction with the Great Central Road Sandy Blight and the newly finished track took on the same name.
I was excited to have finally been able to explore Sandy Blight Junction Track and it didn’t let me down. The remoteness, the landscapes, the challenges, the camels, the colours. Would I tow a camper? It would be a challenge, especially on the diversion tracks due to the tight cornering and deep sand, but otherwise, it is certainly possible. Len Beadell and the GRCP created a next-level desert track that any overlander will love, when are you going to give it a crack?
Region: Sandy Blight Junction Track is located 27km west of Kaltukatjara (Docker River) and 77km east of Warakurna (Giles) and runs for 321km to the Gary Junction Track near Kintore.
Camping: There are no designated campsites along the track however there are a good number of spots available for single vehicles, especially near the blaze trees and larger areas near the Bungabiddy Rockhole in the south and the granite boulders in the north. Firewood is hard to find near common campsites, so it’s best to bring your milled wood or collect it on your way.
Best time of year: From April to September as the weather is generally cooler and reduced chance of rain.
Fuel: Tjukurla (29km off the track) and Walungurru/Kintore (6kkm off the track)
Two permits are required and can be obtained online from the following websites:
Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage WA for Sandy Blight Junction Track and Great Central Road. (Allow for at least 5 business days for approval)
What to bring: Paper maps, with the Hema Great Desert Tracks providing excellent coverage and some form of electronic navigation/mapping hardware/software such as the Hema 4x4 Explorer app or the HX-2 are recommended also.