Great Northern Highway

The drive from Perth and Darwin, of which Great Northern Highway forms the major part, is the longest capital city to capital city drive in Australia. At 4,042 km it is 100 km more than Perth to Sydney; 1,200 km more than Melbourne to Cairns; 1,015 km more than Adelaide to Darwin; 1620 km more than Darwin to Brisbane.

It passes through some of the most isolated areas on the Australian continent - if not on the planet - and only two towns along the way have a polulation of over 4,000 people - Newman and Port Hedland. Apart from perhaps the drive from east to west across the Nullarbor Plain, it is without the question Australia's ultimate road trip, taking in every kind of terrain, landscape and vista that Australia has to offer.

Starting from Perth, it traverses the Western Australian Wheatbelt and Mid West agricultural region before entering the Murchison, scene of many a goldrush in years gone by. Next it enters the Pilbara, known for its iron ore mines and the stunning canyons of Karijini National Park. It meets with the coast at Port Hedland, where some of the largest ship in the world load iron ore.

From Port Hedland, the highway treks north to Broome, then inland through the Eastern Kimberley region to Kununurra. Along the way are the spectacular Bungle Bungles, Windjana Gorge and Tunnel Creek, to name but a few of the natural attractions.

From Kunnunura the route changes its name to the Victoria Highway. After crossing the border into the Northern Territory, it meets Stuart Highway at Katherine, home of the stunning Katherine Gorge. From Katherine it is a 300 km drive north along the Stuart Highway to Darwin.

It is a long trip but it is a sealed road all they way, so it is not the sole domain of 4-wheel drive vehicles. Though most of the distance is through country with very limited services, there are roadhouses and small towns and accommodation all the way, so making the journey is by no means out of reach of the average motorist if care is taken.

Coastal Alternative

The highway starts in Perth in the south west as National Highway 95, and passes through the tropic of capricorn somewhere north of Meekatharra, and becomes National Highway 1 after meeting North West Coastal Highway south of Port Hedland. Great Northern Highway terminates in the Kimberley town of Wyndham.

Some people much prefer the coastal route to Port Hedland, closer to the coast, with more facilities and a route not so desolate. This follows the Brand Highway and North West Coastal Highway - aroute that is National Route 1 from Perth - through Geraldton, Carnarvon, and Karratha on the way to Port Hedland.

You can get onto the highway from a number of locations. The connection with Geraldton is a drive across to Mullewa and Yalgoo, or you connect at Mount Magnet. You can also commect from any of the towns on the Pilbara coast, such as Dampier, Karratha, Roebourne and Port Hedland.

Best Time to Go

The area north of the Tropic of Capricorn is best seen between April and October when the weather is cooler and there are no cyclones to leave you stranded or washed out. During those months, the attractions along the way draw in local, interstate and overseas tourists, of which a large number use four wheel drives towing caravans, so if anything happens along the way, you generally won't have to wait long before someone to comes along and offers assistance.

The Kimberley and Pilbara receive periods of torrential rainfall between November and May. At some locations, it is not unusual for the road to be underneath metres of water. However as little as 100mm of water is sufficient to cause a major accident if driven into at high speed.


The Great Northern Highway passes through desert so you should take plenty of water and fuel with you on your trip. It is a good idea to take food with you too, because there are not many stops on the way, though your support of the roadhouses does ensure they stay in business.

Whichever direction you are travelling, it is essential that your vehicle is in good condition, you are stocked up with adequate supplies, at the beginning of these sections.

Taking Care

Traveling this road along its more isolated sections requires planning, and careful preparation. There are sections that have differing hazards, and to be warned of them is well worth taking note. Feral and native animals tend to be near the highway at dawn and sunset. It is a case of if you do not have bull/kangaroo bars and you are driving the length of the highway is to plan your travel around the hazards.

Stray cattle and other grazing animals are particularly dangerous and prevalent throughout the Kimberley and Pilbara as potential roadkill. Kangaroos and wedge-tailed eagles, although smaller, are also very dangerous, with wedge-tailed eagles particularly immobile after gorging on other roadkill. These are most prevelant at dawn and dusk when they come out to roadside puddles and waterholes for a drink.

Driving at night is best avoided; being equipped with a good frontal roo bar and driving spotlights can help slightly, but is still very dangerous.

If you have not experienced being in a car being hit by an emu, camel, goat, kangaroo or other animals, it is well worth considering camping or stopping at night. If you do that, you should utilise allocated parking bays, away from the main traffic.

Mobile phone coverage along the route is varied and also if your have difficulty with a vehicle, recovery costs to the nearest populated centre can be expensive.

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