The Tanami Road runs 1,015 km from a turnoff from the Great Northern Highway, 16km west of Halls Creek in the Kimberley region, in a south and south eastern direction to a junction with the Stuart Highway, 19km north of Alice Springs. There is a symmetry in the location of activities along the road. There are cattle stations and tourism features along the initial segments of the road coming both down from the north and coming up from the south. In both cases, there are then relatively large Aboriginal communities. Coming up from the south is Yuendumu. From the north there is the Lake Gregory group of Billiluna, Mulan and Balgo. Next along the road are mines; from the south, the Granites and from the north, Coyote. In the middle is the stretch passing the turnoff to the Lajamanu community and Rabbit Flat Road House. The first section of the road winds south through approximately 35km of low hills. It then flattens out to pass Ruby Plains Station just off the road to the west at 40km from the turnoff.
Road surface in this section is stony and can be very rough. It has a reputation of being one of the worst sections of the road if not graded. The road then travels through flat country. At 71km from Ruby Plains, a turnoff runs east 16km into the old Carranya Station/road house (now in ruins), then turns north 7km to Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater. This is the current major tourist attraction along the road. Apart from being visited by through traffic travelling the Tanami/Canning Stock Route roads, significant numbers of visitors travel out from, and back to Halls Creek to view it.
The next major feature along the road is the group of three Aboriginal communities grouped around the Lake Gregory area at Billiluna, Balgo and Mulan (with Balgo being the largest). Geographically, this area is a key focal point in the region. Sturt Creek flows south east out of the Kimberley area east of Halls Creek but ‘dead ends’ into the Great Sandy Desert area in a series of freshwater lagoons, waterholes and Lake Gregory itself. To the immediate east of Lake Gregory are the Balgo Hills (peak height 358 metre Mt Wilson). Historically, this area was the junction of the stock route coming down Sturt Creek, the Canning Stock Route to the south and Tanami Downs Stock Route to the east. It is believed that these factors have influenced the location of the three Aboriginal communities in the area.
Apart from the population in the communities and the needs to service them, this area is of growing tourism interest. Attractions include extensive birdlife in the lakes and waterholes, outstanding Aboriginal art of Warlayirti Artists at Balgo and availability of Aboriginal cultural experiences in general. The area is at the junction of the current Canning and Tanami 4WD tourism routes.
Balgo Turnoff to Coyote Mine/WA/NT Border (84km)
The road travels across flat terrain with occasional low hills, 64km to the Coyote Gold Mine which is about 20km east of the Western Australia/Northern Territory border.
Border to Granites Mine (181km)
The road continues to be flat with occasional low hills across into the Northern Territory side 79km to the Mt Tanami area (height 489 meters) where there is a turnoff to Lajamanu 238km to the north east. The Tanami Mine nearby was operational until a recent closure. The old mine is of potential tourism interest. The road continues 48km over flat terrain with occasional low hills in the distance to the long established Rabbit Flat Road House. The access road to Tanami Downs runs 52km south west from Rabbit Flat. The major Granites Mine is 54km further on from Rabbit Flat. An access road to Mt Davidson outstation runs east.
Granites Mine to Yuendumu (254km)
The road from the Granites Mine continues over flat country with spinifex the dominant vegetation. About 60km out from Yuendumu, in the Mt Doreen area, ranges come close to the road to the east and to the west. There are various roads and tracks leading off to the west to an old mining area and to Vaughan Springs Station.
Yuendumu to Stuart Highway (272km)
The road from Yuendumu to Tilmouth Road House is flat terrain with substantial presence of mulga forests. Large sections are in the process of being sealed. From Tilmouth Springs the road is sealed to the Stuart Highway with the Macdonnell Ranges coming up as an increasing presence to the south.
2.3 CLASSIFICATION & JURISDICTION
The Northern Territory section is classified as an arterial road under the jurisdiction of the Northern Territory Department of Infrastructure and Planning.
The Western Australia section is classed as a local road under the jurisdiction of the Shire of Halls Creek.
There are no indigenous community or national park constraints to movement along the road.