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4 Wheel Driving

4 Wheel Driving is one of the most exciting ways to see Central Australia. The thrill and the rush of driving at speed down an unsealed road is incredibly exciting and the feeling of driving over rough terrain during a one-day or multi-day trip is exhilarating. There are several noteworthy four-wheel drive tracks around Alice Springs and the surrounding areas which can be accessed within a couple of hours’ drive.

 

Unsealed tracks vs 4WD only tracks in the Red Centre

Travellers will find the roads in Central Australia are sealed, unsealed or four-wheel drive only. Unsealed roads should only be travelled on by four-wheel drives or all-wheel drives. Four-wheel drive only roads can only be travelled on by four-wheel drives, as is indicated by their classification. All roads in the Red Centre should be driven on slowly in dry weather and wet weather alike, however, extra caution should be taken driving when it is wet.

4 wheel drive on dune

4WD dark skies

Unsealed Tracks 

Unsealed tracks across the Red Centre can be explored by anyone with a driver’s licence and a four-wheel or all-wheel drive vehicle. There is nothing quite like the feeling of blazing down a trail with dust billowing out behind your vehicle and the wheels only partially gripping the road. It’s necessary to check road conditions before attempting a four-wheel or all-wheel drive trek in Central Australia, but in good weather, the following trails can make for an explosive adventure:

4WD Only Accessible Areas

Unfortunately, not all tracks in Central Australia are accessible to all-wheel drive vehicles. The following roads are too rough and pot-hole-filled for travel using a two-wheel or all-wheel drive; a four-wheel drive must be employed for the purposes of travel in:

Finke Gorge NP 4WD

Finke Gorge National Park

4WD Owen Springs Reserve

Owen Springs Reserve

4 Wheel Drive Roads into the region

Central Australia is accessible from the surrounding states of Western Australia, South Australia, the Top End of the Northern Territory and Queensland. There are sealed, unsealed and four-wheel drive only roads which snake their way into the Red Centre. The following list of four-wheel drive only roads can make for an excellent road trip given sufficient preparation: 

4WD on rocky river bed

Permits

A permit is required to visit any Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory. The Mereenie Loop is one four-wheel drive track which requires a permit to enter. To drive on this road, you'll need a Mereenie Loop Permit, which can be obtained for $5 from the Alice Springs Visitors Information Centre. 

Other permits for surrounding roads can be purchased from the Central Land Council, here. In some cases, multiple permits are required when travelling one road that passes through more than one council region.

 

Equipment

When four-wheel driving in Central Australia it’s crucial to bring the correct safety equipment and recovery gear, including a satellite phone. A basic knowledge of a car’s mechanical components can also be extremely helpful when traveling by four-wheel drive in the Red Centre. If you can, buy a book which recounts common problems faced by cars in the desert and bring along the components and equipment needed to make repairs if you break down. 

Recovery gear is also recommended if you are travelling long periods on 4 wheel drive tracks. Experience using recovery gear, or a 4 wheel drive course is also crucial to 4 wheel driving in the Red Centre. 

4WD car overlooking ranges

Safety

There are a few safety concerns which must be addressed in order to reduce the danger present when traveling through Central Australia. On some parts of the road there are unfenced areas which can bring the risk of stray wildlife colliding with cars. A keen eye must be kept out for kangaroos, dingoes, horses, eagles, sheep and cows which may stray onto the road.

Speed limits must also be observed and adhered to when traveling in Central Australia. The limit is frequently 110km, sometimes 130km, and travellers should stick to the limit in order to remain safe and avoid receiving a fine from local law enforcement.

In general, drivers should stop every 2 hours for a 15-minute break. Driver’s fatigue is the cause of many accidents - a microsleep can kill in seconds. Be sure to remain alert while driving and take as many stops as you need to to arrive at your destination alive and in one piece.

If your vehicle does break down, stay with your vehicle under all circumstances. It is far easier to spot a car from the sky than a person in the case of an emergency. Always carry plenty of water in case you are stranded for a prolonged period and tell people where you are going so they can alert emergency services in the event you do not arrive at your destination when expected.

Make sure your vehicle is adequately fueled for wherever your adventure takes you, in some cases you may need to carry extra fuel in jerry cans. It is also smart to be prepared and know where your next fuel stop is. See our fuel stops map here.

Frequently Asked Questions

If your hire car is a 4 wheel drive, you can take it on 4 wheel drive tracks. If you hire an all-wheel drive or 2 wheel drive you will not be able to go on the 4 wheel drive tracks.
The Road Report Website provides up-to-date road condition information on all Government controlled roads. Road conditions across the Territory can change rapidly depending on the time of year you travel, particularly after rainfall.
Visit: www.roadreport.nt.gov.au
Mereenie Loop
Connecting Kings Canyon and the West MacDonnell Ranges. $5 per vehicle and valid for three days from the time of purchase.
Buy your Mereenie Loop Permit in person from:
- Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre
- Standley Chasm Shop
- Discovery Parks - Glen Helen Reception
- Hermannsburg General Store
- Discovery - Kings Canyon reception
- Kings Creek Station reception
- Alice Springs Central Lands Council office

Central Land Council (NT)
27 Stuart Highway, Alice Springs | 08 8951 6211 | www.clc.org.au/permits
Contact for transit permits on:
- Tjukaruru Road between Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park and the WA border
- Gary Junction Road between Papunya and WA border
- Sandy Blight Road between Kintore and Kaltukatjara (Docker River), crosses into WA
- Glen Helen–Papunya Road, for individuals only, to Ikuntji (Haasts Bluff)

Ngaanyantjarra Council (WA)
6/58 Head St, Alice Springs | 08 8950 1711 | www.ngaanyatjarra.org.au
Contact for transit permits on:
- Great Central Road (Laverton, WA to Yulara, NT)
- Sandy Blight Road between Kintore and Kaltukatjara (Docker River), start and ends in NT
- Giles Mulga Park Road

Book your Adventure

If you are interested in four-wheel driving during your stay in Central Australia, call Tourism Central Australia to speak to us about your holiday. We can answer all your questions regarding four-wheel driving in the Red Centre and help you to book the holiday of your dreams.

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