BINNS TRACK: GEMTREE TO DAVENPORT NATIONAL PARK
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Binns Track is a touring route of over 2000km from Mt Dare in South Australia to Timber Creek in the Northern Territory. Named after ranger Bill Binns, the track traverses a variety of terrain and offers a range of driving experiences.
Four-wheel drive tourers often use the section from Mt Dare to Alice Springs, travelling through the bulldust beside the Finke River, visiting the Old Andado homestead and the Mac Clark Conservation Reserve, heading north beside red dunes and into the colourful Rodinga and Allambarinja Ranges and Train Hills, and finally the MacDonnell Ranges and “The Alice”.
Less travelled is the section between Gemtree on the Plenty Highway and the Davenport Ranges southeast of Tennant Creek. Although it crosses several cattle stations and passes Ampilatwatji and Elkedra Communities, this leg seems more remote and travellers need to be experienced and self-sufficient.
Gemtree is a fascinating place; a well-appointed camping ground with the bonus of being able to fossick for garnets and zircons in the nearby gem fields. Driving along the Plenty Highway to Harts Range (Atitjere) provides views of the rugged range dominating the skyline to the south of the often corrugated road. Approximately 20km east of Harts Range, Binns Track leaves the Plenty Highway and starts to wind its way north.
A worthwhile detour and highlight of the trip is to drive to the Mac and Rose Chalmers Conservation Reserve (Tower Rock). Paying a fee of $10 per vehicle at the Mount Swan Station store allows unlimited camping. From Mount Swan it is another 27km through pastoral country to Tower Rock.
The stunning rounded granite boulder outcrops come as a surprise after the flat land.
The Mac and Rose Chalmers Conservation Reserve is the Northern Territory’s newest reserve, created in 2011 when the Chalmers family signed the first voluntary conservation covenant on pastoral land in the Northern Territory.
Charles Chalmers took up the lease in the early 1920s and named it MacDonald Downs, originally running sheep. The Chalmers were well respected by the traditional owners of the land and had a great love of the country. Within the reserve, at their favourite picnic spot, are the graves of Charles’s son Mac, who died in 2004, and Mac’s wife Rose, who died in 1999.
The 470 hectare reserve has a wide variety of plants and wildlife. Tower Rock is a great place to spend a couple of days watching the changing colours and the birds and wallabies. The clamber to the highest point is rewarded with spectacular views of the granite outcrops and surrounding country. There is a large designated camping area. Firewood should be collected before entering the reserve. The two long drop toilets are rustic, with the seats placed on half oil drums and thin hessian walls that wave about in the breeze and won’t suit the modest toilet goer.
The route back to Binns Track is well signposted and the track heads north at “the old truck”.
The slowest and roughest section of track is near Derry Downs Homestead. Several arms of the sandy Bundey River are crossed and make shady spots for a cuppa. After the river section there is a narrow rocky length of track before returning to gravel road and eventually onto the Sandover Highway. At Amaroo Homestead the track leaves the Sandover and winds its way to Hatches Creek and the ruins of the wolfram mines and into the Davenport Ranges National Park.
The jewel in the crown of the Davenports is Old Police Station Waterhole, a long, almost permanent waterhole on the Frew River. The self-registration camping area has toilets, tables, wood barbeques and shady trees. It’s a fine place to have a swim and wash off the travel dust. Wild donkeys inhabit the area and can be noisy at night. There is plenty of other wildlife with water birds, parrots, bee-eaters, western bowerbirds, wood swallows, corellas, the occasional eagle, and the ever watchful whistling kites.
The Frew River 4WD Track cuts through rocky country offering an alternative route for experienced drivers in high clearance vehicles.
Binns Track to the Stuart Highway passes Epenarra before turning west. A worthwhile side trip in this section is the short, loose track to the top of Cloughs Bluff. Binns Track meets the highway just north of the Devils Marbles and it is worth the detour south to spend some time in rock formations that will remind you of the Tower Rock area. You will probably wish you were back there and away from the bitumen road tourers.
The alternatives once reaching the highway are to continue on the Binns Track route up the highway, onto the Buchanan Highway, Gregory National Park and Timber Creek, or to travel to Darwin, Mt Isa or Alice Springs.
No matter which route you select you will not have the sense of remoteness that the middle leg
of Binns Track offers.
Words and Photography By Greg Rose