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Don't break down here! 10 terrifying Aussie roads
Rugged landscapes, wild critters and utter isolation await unwary travelers
From their bone-shattering corrugations to sordid backdrops for horror movies or backpacker murders, the isolated swathes of Australia's roads aren't the best places to run into car trouble.
Home to little more than shifting sands, perspiration, flies, broken vehicle axles or the remnants of tires, many are in the kinds of locations where you might not see another vehicle in days.
They're also places where both explorers and random travelers have met their doom.
Belanglo State Forest roads and tracks
Where: New South Wales
Granted this isn't a single road -- the Belanglo State Forest features both two- and four-wheel-drive tracks, creek crossings, forest camping and plenty of scope for exploration. However, the forest is unfortunately known for less than its natural beauty.
In 1992, orienteers came across human remains and Belanglo became a crime scene as police scoured the bushland looking for further grisly evidence. In all, seven corpses were found.
The case was finally closed in 1994 when construction worker Ivan Milat confessed to the murders. The case became known as the "Backpacker Murders," with most victims disappearing from areas such as Sydney's King's Cross and their bodies recovered in the forest.
Two questions remain: are there more crimes buried in the forest, and did Milat work alone?
The Tanami Road
Where: Northern Territory, Western Australia
Distance: Halls Creek to Alice Springs (1,053 kilometers)
The Tanami is one of Australia’s most isolated roads, where your only company might be the occasional dingo, kangaroo, snake or road train.
Despite the lack of roadside assistance, probably the real reason you don’t want to get held up here is because it stretches past the infamous Wolfe Creek crater, forever connected to the gut-churner film “Wolf Creek” about a serial killer.
Whatever you do, don’t watch the movie before venturing out on this isolated stretch, particularly if you plan to camp at the crater and have any hint of car trouble.
The Strzelecki Track
Where: South Australia
Distance: Innamincka to Lyndhurst (459 kilometers)
Passing through the Strzelecki Desert and bordering on the wild reaches of the Lake Eyre Basin, this track packs a sandy punch.
Come heavy rains and the area turns into a vast inland sea, while in the dry season extensive dunes give passersby much grief.
There’s more than a hint of notoriety about the Strzelecki.
It claimed the lives of the ill-fated explorers Robert Burke and William Wills in 1861 -- they missed their rendezvous near Innamincka by hours.
Cattle thief Harry Redford had better luck 10 years later when he used the same route to drive 1,000 stolen head of cattle to South Australia, where he sold them for £5,000 (US$7,950).
Canning Stock Route
Where: Western Australia
Distance: Wiluna to Halls Creek (1,900 kilometers)
Most people have a love-hate relationship with the Canning. This is because although it has indigenous connections and is the longest historical stock route in the world, it also features gibbers (pebbles), dust and three deserts.
In fact, there's no water, no fuel, no food nor any services along the way -- factors that make this track more serious than the fact you can’t shower for 1,900 kilometers.
To travel safely, many folk drive in convoy, fit long-range tanks to their vehicles and arrange fuel drops.
Wells were dug along the track in the early 1900s, but they cannot be relied upon, although the odd masochistic cyclist or walker has used them to successfully tackle the track.
Great Central Road
Where: Western Australia and Northern Territory
Distance: Laverton to Yulara (1,126 kilometers)
The appeal of this track is obvious -- the enormous monolith of Uluru and the opportunity to pass through some of Australia’s most remote and scenic country.
However, if you didn’t know dingoes took babies you might want to think twice about covering it.
In 1980, nine-week-old Azaria Chamberlain went missing from her parents’ tent at Uluru. While her mother Lindy insisted a dingo was responsible, she was sentenced to life imprisonment for infanticide.
In 1986, Azaria’s jacket was found near dingo lairs at the rock and Lindy was exonerated.
While you can no longer camp by the rock, dingoes are still seen frolicking nearby and are part of the Great Central Road package.
Barry Way, Snowy River
Where: New South Wales, Victoria
Distance: Jindabyne to Buchan (173 kilometers)
Gravel, single lanes, blind corners, dangerous ice, heavy snowfalls, unsecured cliffs -- the dangerous traits read like a list of credits and indeed the area has been used for filming movies, including the chilling 2006 flick “Jindabyne,” in which an indigenous girl is murdered.
The Barry Way was traditionally used by indigenous people, but today adventurous drivers travel the steep, narrow and winding route instead.
Distance: Cape Tribulation to Cooktown via Wiujal Wujal (96 kilometers)
Revered, hallowed and respected by four-wheel-drivers, visitors to the Cape usually encounter the Bloomfield Track on their journey.
While spectacular, it's more than a little challenging with washouts, steep grades, treacherous creek crossings and even crocodiles presenting themselves before you get to Cooktown.
After rain, the track can be impassable, so always check the conditions before starting out.
Where: South Australia, Western Australia
Distance: Norseman to Port Augusta (1,675 kilometers)
Flat and treeless, this ridiculously long road runs through one of the world's most arid environments, the Nullarbor Plain.
Described by early explorers as "a blot on the face of Nature" and "the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams," the plain is actually the world’s largest piece of limestone.
If you can get your head around that, it can still be dangerous with 200 kilometers between services and the world’s straightest stretch of road -- 146.6 kilometers of mind-numbing boredom.
If you’ve seen the movie “Roadgames” -- another serial-killer movie, but set on the Nullarbor this time -- you’ll know not to linger at the road stops.
Where: South Australia, Northern Territory
Distance: Port Augusta to Darwin (2,834 kilometers)
On first appearance the Stuart Highway seems innocuous -- long, yes, but it’s also paved and passes through numerous towns.
So what’s the problem?
That’s what British backpackers Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio probably thought. But when they were flagged down by another vehicle in 2001, Falconio vanished along with his mystery attacker.
Despite an investigation, his body was never found. Adelaide truck driver Bradley John Murdoch was convicted of his murder in 2005.
The town of Barrow Creek, where Falconio went missing, has often been tied to bloodshed.
It was the location of massacres in the 1870s and 1920s, including the mass slaughter of Aboriginal people.
The other thing to watch on the Stuart Highway is speed -- until 1997 there was no maximum speed limit and limits are now indicated only on some sections, albeit at a rather zippy 130 kph.
Where: Western Australia, Northern Territory, South Australia
Distance: Victory Downs Homestead to Carnegie Homestead (1,400 kilometers)
The Gunbarrel Highway was built in the 1950s and designed to be as straight as its namesake.
But there was little road designers could do about the endless corrugations, flood plains, washouts, stone and sand.
There’s equally little they could do about the gaps between settlements -- 489 kilometers from Warburton to Carnegie station, for example -- so drivers need to be self-sufficient.
The Gunbarrel not only opened up a remote part of the nation to travelers, but was also initiated to provide access to a weapons-research establishment that, among other things, has tested atomic bombs.
Given the isolation and potential danger of fallout, you might not want to stay long out here.