14 Day - Great Stockroutes of Australia Tour

Tour Dates & Route Map

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Departing 14th April and 10th September 2017 

Join us on our Outback Stock Routes of Australia Tour.  Visit out of the way places so historically important to the opening up of the interior. Stay at famous outback pubs, the Marree Pub, Birdsville Pub on the edge of the Simpson Desert, the Daly Waters pub in the Northern Territory enroute to the northern end of the Canning Stock Route.  We enjoy a break in the old gold mining area of Halls Creek, before flying the iconic Canning Stock Route, dotted with dozens of man-made and native wells, winding its way through 1850km of spinifex covered sand dunes, through stands of beautiful Desert Oaks, Snappy Gums and massive salt lakes.  We have now expanded this fantastic tour to include other early famous and not so well known stock routes, most of which were poineered in the 1870s, passing through some of the most remote and beautiful areas of inland Australia.  We visit remote aboriginal communities, and have the opportunity to see the most amazing artwork, visit the famous opal mining town of Coober Pedy, and complete our trip with a visit to one of South Australia's most picturesque wine growing regions, the Clare Valley.  This is a tour of amazing contrasts which gives you the opportunity to learn about the challenges faced by the early drovers who opened up these stock routes while taking in the beauty and serenity you can only find in the true outback of Australia.

Leaving Stawell we cross northern Victoria where our view is a picture of beautiful greens and browns which can only be appreciated from the air. We cross the Murray River and proceed north over the station country, the Anabranch Lakes to Broken Hill for an early lunch and fuel stop.

Departing Broken Hill we track north west across the sheep station country of northern South Australia passing Lake Frome to overfly Blanchewater Station which is where we cross the first of our stock routes, the Strzelecki Stock route. The Strzelecki Stock route was opened up by cattle thief and drover Harry Redford who stole 1000 head of cattle from north of Longreach in Queensland and drove them down the Barcoo River, then on down the Cooper branching off down the Strzelecki Track at Innamincka. He followed the Strzelecki down to Blanchewater Station where he sold them for 5000 pounds in 1872.

Considering that this was all unchartered country and only a few years after Burke and Wills had perished trying to negotiate this country it was an amazing feat. Because the mob contained a very distinctive white bull they were recognized and Harry Redford was taken back to Roma in Queensland where he was charged with the cattle stealing offences. However the jury was so impressed with his feat of negotiating the drive which had obviously been achieved in a year that floods had gone down the river system that they found him not guilty of cattle stealing and he walked free. No cattle were lost and they arrived in amazingly good condition.

The Strzelecki Track along with the Birdsville Stock route were used for many years to drive cattle down from Queensland until the 1960s when mechanized cattle transport took over from drovers on horseback.

We then track direct to Marree, an historic outback town once an important railhead on the Ghan line from where these cattle were trucked south to Adelaide. We overnight tonight at the historic Marree Hotel in their comfortable modern cabins. This afternoon you may choose to relax on the verandah of the hotel, or take a dip in the hotel pool.

Make sure you also take a bit of time to explore this historic town which has a museum park across the road from the hotel, with remnants of the famous Ghan railway line which passed through Marree on its way to Alice Springs. The line was completed to Alice Springs in 1924 and continued as the main route north until 1980. Extensive cattle yards and trucking facilities were established at Marree, handling cattle from the surrounding areas and from the Birdsville Stock route which runs 555 km from Birdsville to Marree. It developed as a stock route between the Queensland Channel Country and the Adelaide markets. This route was established in 1880 and followed the Warburton River, running between the Sturt Stony Desert and the Simpson Desert. It was very good in flood times although the Cooper Creek on occasions cut the stock route with floodwaters on the way to Lake Eyre. In other years it was very difficult with shortages of permanent water being a major problem. Between the late 1890s and 1920 the SA government sank bores ensuring a regular supply of stock water. On several occasions in the early years there were several large stock losses on this route. In 1901, Drover Jack Clarke left Warenda Station in Queensland with 500 fat bullocks but only had 72 when he reached Marree. 

At the museum park you will find one of the trucks Tom Cruise used to transport mail and supplies from Marree to Birdsville along the Birdsville Track.  The 1952 documentary Back of Beyond which chronicled the hardships and ingenuity involved in taking mail and supplies across a desert prone to flooding, being bogged in sand dunes and breaking down hundreds of kilometres from any kind of garage service is available to see at the Marree Pub.

Also near the pub is a white plaque commemorating the Simpson Desert Expedition of 1939 in which Cecil T Madigan and his part crossed the harsh dry region to the north of the town.

Departing this morning we retrace this historic stock route tracking via Mungerannie Station following the Warburton River overflying some of the early stations along the track, Clifton Hills, and we will pass over the Goyder Lagoon, a huge floodplain at the junction of the Diamantina River and Eyre Creek. We now proceed northwards along the Diamantina River passing Pandi Pandi Station to land at Birdsville in time for lunch. The Birdsville Bakery offers a great selection of locally baked goods including their famous Camel Pies. Free time this afternoon to explore Birdsville with overnight at the famous Birdsville Pub enjoying a cold drink and a choice from the extensive menu usually including certified Organic Channel Country Beef. The historic Birdsville pub is a destination in itself and boasts a great menu and beautifully appointed motel units. A fabulous optional sunset tour to the top of Big Red prior to dinner may be available with a local guide if numbers sufficient.

Departing Birdsville this morning we track out over Big Red, the largest sandhill on the Simpson Desert track, where we may have been enjoying the sunset last night,  then north westerly across the eastern edge of the Simpson Desert 180 km to the southern end of the Hay River where it disappears into the sands of the desert. We then follow this very remote Hay River Track north to Lucy creek Station. The track is very indistinct with only two wheel tracks for 300 km, the entire trip being between the north/south dunes of the Simpson Desert. This is one of the most remote areas of desert in Australia. Just before landing at Lucy Creek we cross the Plenty Highway, a gravel road which runs north east from Alice Springs to Mt Isa. We sometimes stop at Lucy Creek airstrip for a short break before becoming airborne for our lunch and overnight stop at the Barkly Homestead. On this leg we will pass numerous cattle stations, leaving the sand dune country of the desert behind, crossing the Sandover Highway and overflying the flat topped scrub country of the Barkly Tablelands arriving at the Barkly Homestead for fuel and our overnight stop.

Today we leave Barkly Homestead and travel north across the Barkly Tablelands passing over many well known stations, Alroy Downs, Brunette Downs, and Anthony Lagoon where we cross the Barkly Stock Route which runs from eastern Queensland to Newcastle Waters in the Northern Territory. This route was pioneered by Nat Buchanan who was well known for his epic cattle drives from Queensland to the Kimberley in WA. We will then turn at Anthony Lagoon tracking north west to land at Daly Waters airfield. This airfield was the first International Airport in Australia. Early flights to London stopped here for fuel and food and the airfield was also extensively used during the second world war. We are transferred for a late lunch and there is time to view the extensive memorabilia or taste some of the six varieties of beer on tap. This historic hotel has been the winner of many tourism and hospitality awards over recent years. Dinner tonight is in the Beef and Barra Restaurant at the historic Daly Waters Pub.

Today we will track over part of the Murranji Stock Route south west across the Kimberley to Halls Creek. The Murranji Stock Route was also known as “The Ghost Road of the Drovers” and was pioneered in 1881 by Nat Buchanan. It was used as a short cut which cut 600km off the trip from Queensland to the Kimberley. The Murranji was only 250km in length but one of the most difficult stock routes to negotiate. Heavy reliance was put on the Murranji Waterhole midway along the track. If it was dry the cattle and horses faced 160km dry stage before reaching the next water. On one horrendous trip across this track in 1905 one man died and 800 cattle and 11 horses were lost. Over the years more than 10 drovers died on the track. Apparently a large portion of the track was thick impenetrable scrub which was very difficult to negotiate. Drovers had trouble with many cattle becoming sick and emaciated and many deaths occurred which was found to be due to the long waterless stretches and the cattle eating the leaves of the ironwood tree. Around 1947 veterinarians conducted experiments and found these leaves to be the cause. In 1930 the government installed 13 bores from Anthony Lagoon in the east to Top Springs. These bores were 30 km apart making the crossing much easier. In the early 1940s 50-60,000 head of cattle per year were using the stock route. Today a 4WD track exists along a similar track to the original stock route.

As we proceed further south west we will cross the headwaters of the Victoria River and pass to the north of Wave Hill Station and Riveren Station, home of Terry Underwood who wrote the book In the Middle of Nowhere. Terry was a Sydney nurse who met her station owner husband in hospital when he came to Sydney for treatment for a back injury. They married and moved to Riveren with only a bough shelter for a home. Terry adapted to the way of life, raised a family and pioneered amazing work helping women of the outback.

Our track in to Halls Creek takes us just to the north of the old gold mining area of Old Halls Creek where gold was first discovered on Christmas Day 1885 when prospector Charlie Hall found a huge 28 ounce (nearly 1 kilogram) gold nugget at a site that would eventually be named after him.

News of the discovery drew more than 15,000 people to what is now Old Halls Creek to try their luck.. The gold rush lasted less than 3 months and Halls Creek became a trading centre for cattle stations, aboriginal communities and miners who stayed in the area. The post office with its telegraph line that terminated here, the police station, government office, racecourse and stores gave the town a purpose. In 1918 the Australian Inland Mission built a hospital and the old town struggled on, short of inhabitants and water. In 1948 an airfield was built near the site of the present town and over the next decade the old town moved nearer to this new site.

After lunch there will be time to relax by the pool at the excellent accommodation at the Kimberley Hotel which is set amongst generous gardens, providing an oasis in the surrounding rugged outback landscape. Rooms are large and very comfortable and meals are excellent. The Kimberley building style of high roofs and wide verandahs is evident as you move into the Kimberley Hotel's spacious interior, with the exposed jarrah timbers salvaged from the old Fremantle Woolstores.

Free day in Halls Creek. Today is free to explore the centre of town which is just a short walk from our very comfortable accommodation, maybe visit the information and craft centre, aboriginal art gallery, bakery, and general stores and learn about the history of this early gold mining area. After five days of outback travel this will give you time to relax and recharge before beginning our exploration of the Canning Stock Route. There is some remarkable history surrounding Halls Creek including the story of Russian Jack who pushed his very sick mate on a homemade wheelbarrow 300 km to Wyndham in 1885. Unfortunately his mate did not survive the journey.

This morning we depart the historic gold mining town of Halls Creek and commence the first day of our two day flight down the Canning Stock Route.   The Canning Stock Route stretches 1800km across the sandhills of the Great Sandy, Gibson and Little Sandy Deserts. This stock route was opened up by Alfred Canning in 1906-07 to provide a route where cattle could be driven from the Kimberley to markets in the south. Canning’s party sank 51 wells to supply water along the route for the cattle. The first of 35 cattle drives took place in 1911 and the last in 1958.

Today the Canning is an 1850km unmaintained track across 2000 sandhills popular with 4WD groups. Our track will take us south via the Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater to the beginning of the stock route at Billiluna (now called Mindibungu). We will then follow the stock route for almost 500km passing approximately 20 of these wells to our overnight stop at Kunawarritji.  We are collected from the airstrip after refuelling and driven the 12 kilometres to the community, passing Well 33 and joining the Canning Stock Route on the ground for a short time.   Our accommodation is in recently constructed units at the Kunawarritji Roadhouse.   You may wish to take a stroll around on the track leading out of the community towards Telfer and enjoy the many varieties of plants growing and sometimes flowering in this sandy country.  The sunset is sure to be spectacular, as are the stars at night away from the illuminated skies of the towns.

Today we will traverse some of the most remote and beautiful areas of Australia. Our track will follow the stock route which is only two wheel tracks in the spinifex passing hundreds of sandhills, colourful claypans, numerous wells and many inland salt lakes such as Lake Auld, the massive Lake Disappointment, a large salt lake situated on the Tropic of Capricorn due east of the mining town of Newman, on the north side of the Little Sandy Desert. Discovered by Frank Hann in 1897 when exploring the east Pilbara he noticed creeks in the area flowed inland, and followed them expecting to find a large fresh water lake. To his disappointment the lake turned out to be salt, and that’s how it got its name.

From here we track over the Harbut and Mackay Ranges and Durba Hills.  Durba Springs is a very popular area with 4WD travellers along the Canning, with its large white gums providing shade, the narrow gorges, and welcoming rock pools. The area also has ancient Aboriginal art sites, and engravings of early explorers and drovers.

We continue along the Canning Stock Route, crossing the Frere Range and on to our lunch and overnight stop Gunbarrel Laager near the historic town of Wiluna.  We may have the option of a trip to Wiluna to view the amazing aboriginal art of this area for those who wish to later in the afternoon.

Today we track north east over very remote cattle stations. After crossing Lake Carnegie mid morning we may land at Carnegie Station strip, depending on the condition of the strip, for a short stop at the strip which varies from year to year (no facilities) on the western end of the  Gunbarrel Highway. We track to the east and follow the famous Gunbarrel Highway which was constructed by Len Beadell in the late 1950s for 200 km to Eagle Junction where the Gunbarrel crosses the Eagle Highway, then direct to the aboriginal community of Warburton. Len Beadell surveyed and opened up thousands of kilometres of outback tracks to access the firing range of the Woomera Rocket Range. He spent many years often alone surveying these tracks which were constructed by his Gunbarrel Construction Company which consisted of a grader and a bulldozer. (This grader is on display at the Giles Weather Station which we see on our Pilbara Tour) Overnight tonight is at the Warburton Roadhouse which provides our accommodation and home cooked meals. Hopefully we will arrive early enough to arrange a tour through the fabulous aboriginal art gallery which houses many large beautiful works of art and glass. You would certainly not expect to find such a wonderful facility this far out in the desert and you will be truly amazed at this world class gallery.

This morning we depart to the east again along the line of the Black Stone Ranges over some very scenic country leaving Western Australia behind, and entering the Northern Territory passing Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) and Uluru (Ayers Rock) before overflying the massive Lake Amadeus, the largest salt lake in NT, 180 km long and 10 km wide, landing at Kings Creek Station, our home for the next two nights, we will be transported to the village for lunch. Accommodation is in their Safari Cabins with a bbq dinner around an open camp fire.

Today is a free day to explore Kings Canyon with an optional transfer by bus this morning after breakfast to the Canyon for a base walk and return or if you prefer you may make this a rest day and spend a quiet day at Kings Creek Station. There are various options of quad bike rides and camel rides or walks around the stunning landscape to choose from with amazing sunsets and beautiful stars at night. 

After breakfast at Kings Creek Station we will transfer to the airstrip and depart for a refuelling stop at Ayers Rock Airport before departing for the opal mining town of Coober Pedy.  Enroute we fly over the Musgrave Ranges and a little west of the opal mining locality of Mintabie on the eastern edge of the Great Victoria Desert flying on over the luna landscape of opal mines surrounding Coober Pedy.   We land, refuel and tie down before being transported to town for lunch for a late lunch.  Later in the afternoon there is an optional tour out to The Breakaways with their colourful flat topped mesas and stony gibber desert areas, the dog fence up close and sunset drinks and nibbles before returning to town for dinner.

This morning we will pass to the west of the Prominent Hill Copper/silver and gold mine on our way to our late morning stop for fuel at Port Pirie.  We take a slight diversion to the west to miss the restricted airspace around the Woomera Rocket range which is active on a regular basis, crossing the Stuart Highway just east of Glendambo, passing Pt Augusta, and crossing Spencer Gulf to land at Port Pirie and top up with fuel before continuing on to Clare. This afternoon we tour this very picturesque part of South Australia with local guide Dave Willson from Clare Valley Tours who brings the history of the area to life. We will visit some of the early stations in the area and some Clare Valley wineries for tastings of the local wines. The Clare Valley is a long established wine grape growing area and has the reputation for producing excellent wines. Dinner and overnight in Clare.

This morning we are transfered back to the airport to return to our various home locations, us to Stawell and other tag along participants to their homes elsewhere.   Once airborne we travel to the south east over grain growing areas, crossing the Murray River, then the Mallee areas of South Australia and Victoria. We then cross the Little Desert on our return journey to Stawell.