‘Australia’s Highway to Hell’

In this modern age of computers researching a trip or specific part of a trip is easier than ever before, some say it takes away half of the adventure but knowing what you are about to get yourself into could save your life.

I did all of the research on the Tanami, and I researched it many times. I reckon I Googled it more than anything I have ever before. The first time I started looking it up on Google I got this massive list of horror story’s. “Australia’s worst road” was a phrase that frequented, the more I researched however the more I found out that this was fortunately not the case these day’s and luckily with the massive Gold mining operations a long the stretch from just North of Alice Springs to the Eastern edge of the Kimberley, Halls Creek. The road was decently maintained.

I decided after the Plenty that we would spend the extra day in Alice, do some much needed repairs and check over everything else while I had a major town to get the parts. Leaving Alice Springs we drove to the working station of Tilmouth Well, this is just a short stretch of 188km and 100% bitumen! Tilmouth Well is as described on their website “an oasis in the desert”. Green grass, a swimming pool and even a licensed restaurant (I recommend the Parmi). Tilmouth Well also has fuel so we decided to fill up on arrival, ready to get a move on in the morning at first light. We rose at dark ready for a massive drive heading all the way to Wolfe Creek Crater. Just prior to leaving I spoke with a Gentleman who had driven most of his Journey from Broome at night and had come unstuck when a Steer stepped out in front of him. Without any proper frontal protection his 90 series Prado stood no chance an unfortunately neither did the Steer. Seeing the damage the vehicle sustained he should consider himself lucky that it wasn’t a much worse ending. It really goes to show that you should never underestimate what can happen on a trip like this, especially at night. He informed me that the road was shocking and his spotlights rattle to pieces!

We left Tilmouth Well and I felt that feeling you get before any big moment, those nerves in the bottom of your stomach. It is harsh country out here and as previously mentioned anything can and will go wrong! The bitumen continues up the road for roughly another 70km. From here on out it is pretty much all the same, rough, dusty and unforgiving. Even though my TJM suspension was doing an unbelievably good job of taking every last bump and my Stratos Suspension seat taking care of the rest I couldn’t help but think about how hard this drive is on any vehicle, no matter how well built, this is one rough track! As I drove on the edge of my seat with concern my partner, Jenn, somehow found the corrugations and rough conditions therapeutic, and managed to sleep for what I would call the majority of the day!

I began to question if this road was really that much better than it use to be? And if it was what the bloody hell was it like back in the day! As with many of the roads out here, the Tanami was started as a droving route before eventually being used as the shortest route for transport between Alice Springs and The Kimberley. It was for this very reason that we were on it. The Tanami is made up of only 20% bitumen with the rest dirt and gravel at 1035km long that is a lot of off-road Km’s.

Considering the rough conditions we were making good time and everything was holding on tight so far. We arrived at our destination for the day of Wolfe Creek Crater, took some footage and some photos and enjoyed the absolutely spectacular view. It is worth noting that the road in and out of Wolfe Creek Crater is as terrible as the rest of the Tanami. We decided that we could make Halls Creek before nightfall and with the ever looming fear of Mick Taylor arriving we set off again. I was keen to make up for the lost day in Alice! This is where we came a little unstuck. I have never heard of this happening, nor did I ever think it would happen to me but I guess that’s why this road was and still is considered one of the worst. I lost the top bolt out of the Rear Panhard Rod that mounts to the chassis and while moving across some corrugations heard the most odd sound. At first I thought it was a tyre, we looked around the vehicle at the front and couldn’t see anything, it was then we noticed the back! I couldn’t believe my eyes! With night approaching and still over 100km to go I have to admit I panicked a little, I ran up the road 500m in search of the bolt but it could have fallen anywhere. I searched for a bolt in my spares but not surprisingly there was nothing close to being that size! Out comes the wire again, I strapped the Panhard up to the chassis so it couldn’t fall down again. Ran as much wire through and around as I could and with those nerves in my belly again we began to drive. It didn’t get any easier, with the sun behind the hills it was dark, and as we approached one of the largest stations in the area there was cattle every where on the road.

TJM XGS Suspension

Surviving the Corrugations

If the wheels on your 4wd are your feet, then the vehicles suspension are you legs. In this case the Tanami track gave the legs one hell of a workout! Simply put this is the worst road in Australia and on any road it is the tyres and suspension that cops the brunt of it.

In the lead up to this trip we heard whispers that TJM were in the midst of developing a range of Mono Tube and Remote Canister shocks in conjunction with Fox Shocks in the USA. After talking with the TJM Suspension Engineering Team these rumours were confirmed and even better GU Patrol Mono Tubes were one of the first prototypes due to arrive. We were keen to get these under the truck and give them a true test on this trip – and as luck would have it the TJM Suspension Engineering team were just as keen.

The suspension engineering team from TJM borrowed the truck for a day (a big call two weeks out from us leaving) and weighed every corner of the truck. They then manufactured custom 3 inch coils to support the weight and match the valving the prototype Mono Tubes. Talk about cutting it close – the coils and mono tubes arrived two days prior to departure which meant zero testing time before leaving.

Having driven to Sydney from Brisbane to see family before heading north west, we have now clocked up over 5,000km’s on the TJM by Fox Shocks Mono Tubes with zero dramas. All of this was towing with over 2000km’s on dirt road (Half of which I would consider the worst road in Australia). I have to say these are the best shocks I have ever driven on – They have handled everything I have thrown at them without protest.

If this is what the Mono Tubes deliver – I can’t wait to see the new Remote Canister Shocks. Keep an eye out for these coming to a TJM store near you soon.

We eventually met the Great Northern Highway (no beer at the intersection unfortunately) and I felt slightly more relieved, into Halls Creek for the night we would have to wait for the morning.

I managed to fluke a bolt that fit from the guys at Bailey’s Auto Parts. Next issue, there was no matching nut. I searched again through my bolt box and grabbed out an old sand flag mount of which you wouldn’t believe, matched the thread. The guy at the Mechanics said he had never heard of a good story coming from the Tanami, and even with his weapon of an 80 Series even had dramas himself when out there on recovery’s.

I spoke about preparation in my last write up on the Plenty and the same goes for this road. So sorry for repeating myself but- Be prepared for anything, the conditions go from terrible to horrible in a second and vehicle prep, as always is key. Even the best come undone on the outback roads so even if you think you have a mechanically sound vehicle and trailer be prepared for that to change quickly. If I wasn’t carrying the parts to get us going again we could have sat there for the night. Traffic is few and far between and I imagine on some day’s you may not see anyone. This could mean that you may end up stranded, which leads me to my next point. Always be self sufficient, water supply’s are critical because you will have a hell of a time finding anything to drink should you wind up in a situation. Further to this a quality first aid kit should be carried, it shouldn’t have to be said that you should also know how to use it! Finally, emergency communications, whether it is a HF Radio, a Sat Phone or a PLB- you need one out here!

Ive driven some pretty shocking roads. But so far id say the Tanami is the worst of them, its the kind of road where you say ‘been there, done that’ and look for every reason to never drive it again. There may be a worse road out there, but I tell you what I never hope to drive it.

I can’t thank enough the guys at Bailey’s Auto Parts in Halls Creek, if you need anything when in that area they are the place to go!

Have questions about the Plenty Highway? Email to ask!

Written by David Royles

Out & Back Offroad

TJM 4×4 Megastores