The alternative route to the Stuart Highway in the NT.
The 2200-kilometre-long Binn's Track runs from Mount Dare in South Australia, to Timber Creek in the Northern Territory sub-tropics.
Bill Binns was a one-time buffalo and crocodile hunter whose 32-year stint with Northern Territory Parks embraced park ranger to executive director. He led countless wildlife rescue missions; was responsible for conservation and management of NT parks and travelled extensively throughout the NT with his work.
As a mark for respect for Bill’s work, the NT’s latest epic journey, the four wheel drive Binns Track, was named after him.
After a slow slog up the Hay River Track an OTA three-D-Max convoy headed along the Plenty Highway to Alice Springs, then north to Kakadu, using as much as possible of the Binns Track along the way
Driving away from Jervois Station we all felt like speedsters, cruising along the gravel at 80+km/h, after four days of driving at little more than walking speed. With tyres pumped up to road pressures, full water and fuel tanks and the lingering taste of the mandatory Jervois ice cream cones still with us, we made good time to our next point of interest, the thriving Aboriginal community at Atitjere. This eco-tourism-conscious community attracts Plenty Highway travellers with a clean campground, credit-card fuel, a general store, a brilliant art gallery with bargain-priced paintings and regular bush-tucker tours led by the local women. It’s a great overnight stop.
From Atitjere our intended drive was via the demanding Cattlewater Pass into the East MacDonnell Ranges, but a raging bush fire made that route dangerous, so we opted for another section of the Binn's Track, via Pinnacle Road, to the excellent home-stay and camping venue at Old Ambalindum Station. (Cattlewater Pass has since been closed to through traffic and there’s a detour via The Gemtree camping area.) From there it was easy to make a day trip to the mining relics at Arltunga. Unfortunately, Ruby Gap was in the path of the fire, so we had to give it a miss.
‘Arltunga’ is thought to be a corruption of the aboriginal ‘Annurra ntinga’ – smelly water - the name for a nearby waterhole. The discovery of alluvial gold at this place in 1887 sparked a rush to the spring-fed town of Stuart (now Alice Springs), which became the supply point for the expanding goldfields and the shipment hub for the processed gold to be railed south.
The later discovery of reef gold prompted building of a Government-owned Battery and Cyanide Works, and a police station and barracks were built, but frequent droughts and dwindling returns saw the Government Works close down in 1913.
The Arltunga area was declared an Historic Reserve in 1977 and since then there has been ongoing research and conservation work done. The old buildings at Arltunga are in good condition, making it easy to relive the past. We parked at the Old Police Station car park and walked, but it’s a three-kilometre return walk, so the less-fit should drive to the Government Works car park, from where it’s an easy stroll around the Works ruins.
Next stop on our route was the shaded camp ground at Ross River Station, which made an ideal base for exploring Trephina Gorge and driving the rocky high-clearance 4WD track into John Hayes Rockhole. These sites have steep, red walls beside deep waterholes, contrasting with white-barked River Red Gums. There’s camping at both sites, but the drop dunny and drinking water facilities are only at Trephina.
Ross River Station sits at the head of N’Dhala Gorge, which is famous for its hundreds of Aboriginal petroglyphs - 'pecked' rock - carvings. The walk through the Gorge is well graded and marked, and features plaques describing the different trees and shrubs along the walk.
The river bed road continues south from N’Dhala Gorge, winding through scrub and under River Red Gums that line dry creek beds. It emerges onto the Todd River road, giving us an alternative route back to The Alice, via the Ross River Highway and Heavitree Gap.
As we headed for the civilisation – clean sheets, running water and shops – of Alice Springs we reflected on how well our convoy was travelling. The crews were well into camping mode and the vehicles and campers were proving to be comfortable homes away from home.
The D-Maxs’ fuel consumption continued to surprise us, putting us well below our budgeted fuel spend. On the mixture of surfaces so far on the Binns Track we were averaging just over 11L/100km for the D-Max towing the very light GT Camper and 11.8L/100km for the unit towing the Cub Brumby and the same for the D-Max with the Carry Me Camper on its back.
With stores replenished the convoy trekked north from Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway, then took the gravel Sandover Highway, as far as Ammaroo Station. We topped up our fuel tanks at the Aboriginal community at Arlparra and then headed on the next stretch of the Binn's Track, making for the Davenport Range National Park.
We chose not to drive the section of the Binn's Track between the Plenty and Sandover Highways, because it’s very sandy along the Bundey River and we all felt we’d had enough of Simpson Desert sand-driving already!
The road soon changed to sharp stones and the previous season’s Big Wet meant that there were still plenty of water holes and shallow creeks to traverse. In the interests of tyre life we dropped pressures and speed, while we kept anxious eyes on yet another fast-travelling bushfire.
However, we judged it safe to spend some time wandering around the historic mine relics at Wolfram Hill, near Hatches Creek. Wolfram – tungsten - mining started at Hatches Creek in 1914 and nearby Wauchope Creek in 1917. By 1937-1938, wolfram from the two fields accounted for about half of the total value of Northern Territory mineral production, but mining declined rapidly from the late 1950s. Abandoned 1960s-vintage cars have been left at this site by the last of the wolfram miners.
Not far from the mine ruins is the turnoff to Old Police Station Waterhole, but this track is a slow, two-hour slog that’s not recommended for trailers. Those facts, plus the approaching fire, saw us take the longer but quicker route on the main track around to the Waterhole. This oasis makes an ideal lunch or overnight camp spot, with shaded grassy banks on the edge of the Frew River.
From the Waterhole it was an easy graded road drive to the Stuart Highway and we intersected the black top just north of the Devils Marbles. Camping at this main road site is always squeezy, so we opted for one of the camp grounds in Tennant Creek and did a restock.
The Binn's Track adopts the Stuart Highway as far as Dunmarra, from where it runs west to Gregory National Park.
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