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Owen Springs Reserve

Northern Territory, Australia Travel

Owen Springs Reserve
Owen Springs Info

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Owen Springs Reserve - Cities, Towns and Localities

Covering an area of 1,780 square km, the Owen Springs Reserve was formerly the Owen Springs Cattle Station. The property was acquired by the Northern Territory Government in the year 2000 and opened to public access and enjoyment in 2003.

Steeped in Territory and pioneering history, the Owen Springs Reserve protects some important historical events. The main access track through the reserve closely follows the route that John McDouall Stuart took through the MacDonnell Ranges. His explorations between 1860 and 1862 help open up Central Australia to white settlement.

Together with William Kekwick and Benjamin Head, John Stuart became the first white men to travel through this region. Whilst making their way northwards along the Hugh River, on 11 April 1860, they discovered a large waterhole that Stuart named Ewart Springs1, later to be renamed Owen Springs2.

One of the immediate results of Stuart's explorations was construction of the Overland Telegraph Line that originally followed the Hugh River through Lawrence Gorge in the Waterhouse Range. Even before the Line was completed in August 1872, cattleman William Gilbert was on his way from South Australia to establish a cattle station here. The Old Owen Springs Homestead was the first station homestead built in Central Australia.

Source: NRETAS - Owen Springs Reserve


Located just a short drive southwest of Alice Springs, the Reserve is a favourite destination for 4WD visitors seeking quiet bush camping without facilities. The Reserve can be accessed via two routes:

  • southward along the Hugh River from Larapinta Drive, 50 km from Alice Springs
  • via the Stuart Highway, 66 km south of Alice Springs.

A four wheel drive is essential as some sections of the track follow the sandy river bed. In these instances, drivers should engage 4WD to minimise the risk of becoming bogged. Some sections of the track follow the sandy bed of the river and may be impassable after rain. Vehicles are required to keep to the main track except to access campsites along the river.

For road conditions and other information visit the NT Parks and Wildlife website or contact the local tourism visitor centre.

Information Centre

Parks and Wildlife Commission of the Northern Territory - Alice Springs Region

Central Australian Visitor Information Centre - Alice Springs

Visit the NRETAS - Owen Springs Reserve to view fact sheets and maps.

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Owen Springs Reserve - Attractions

Hugh River
Joined by Jay Creek in the north of the Owen Springs Reserve, the Hugh River weaves its way south through Owen Springs, through the Waterhouse Range and James Range and beyond. The Hugh River has considerable scenic and recreational appeal, with broad sandy banks along numerous stretches of the river, River Red Gums Eucalyptus camaldulensis, and waterholes that offer great opportunities for camping, picnicking, bird watching and swimming, especially after any significant rain in the region.
Self Drive
A 'Self-drive Information Sheet' is available from the NRETAS Owen Springs Reserve website.

The drive takes in a number of historic points, including:
  • Milners Hut - (now the Ranger Station, emergency contact only), became the site for the new homestead after the old homestead was abandoned in the 1950s. All that stood here in the early days was the hut, a bore and water troughs for the cattle...
  • Aboriginal Stockmens Quarters - the two old tin buildings by the Hugh River were used by the Aboriginal stockmen and their families. The buildings included living quarters, a shower shed and a toilet... Just like old Milners Hut, living conditions for the Aboriginal families were very basic in the early days...
  • The Airstrip - built in 2000, it was used fairly regularly for work on an around the station. The Alice Springs Aero Club also used the airstrip for flying training and make regular landings and take-offs from the airstrip...
  • Down The Road... - All the old yards and fence posts that you can see scattered throughout the Reserve (including the bronco branding yard just north of the old homestead) were made from the hard mulga wood growing around the surrounding country. It was only later that steel yards were built. Much of the vegetation you can see along the roadside was eaten by cattle. In dry times, cattle will often eat bark and leaves off shrubs and trees (known as topfeed). Species of topfeed include Mulgas, Whitewoods and Eremophila species.
  • Old Owen Springs Homestead - in 1873 two log huts were built on this site by William Gilbert... the first homestead to be built in Central Australia. The property changed hands a number of times and the stone building here today are thought to have been built during 1886-1887 just after Sir Thomas Elder purchased the station. Stop and walk around the historic Old Owen Springs Homestead.
  • Redbank Waterhole - one of a number of waterholes in the reserve, that is the last to dry out, the Redbank Waterhole is popular with locals, especially for those wanting an outing with the pet dogs. There is also the opportunity for overnight camping here and within Lawrence Gorge (there are no facilities and visitors should bring their own drinking water and other requirements).

    Dogs are only permitted south of Waterhouse Range.
  • Flora and Fauna - with the Hugh River's usually dry creek bed chiselled through the landscape, the reserve provides a refuge for a range of wildlife and plants. When there is water in the waterholes, and even after bush fires it has been reported an increase in wildlife activity. Some of the birds sighted include Rainbow Bee-eater, Port Lincoln parrots, Kites, Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, Variegated Fairy Wrens, Hooded Robins, Southern Whiteface, Major Mitchell's Cockatoo, Zebra Finches, Masked Woodswallows, Grey-crowned Babblers, Australian Bustard, Black Cormorants, White-faced Heron and Budgies.

    Of the many other wildlife found in the area include Red Kangaroos, Euros, Black-footed Rock Wallaby, Central-netted Dragon, Long-nosed Water Dragon, Sand Goannas, Perentie and the Slater's Skink (a threatened species). Flora include River Red Gums, spinifex grasslands, acacia shrublands, and the Minnie Daisy (a threatened species).
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Owen Springs Reserve Images
Historic remains of the Old Owen Springs Homestead Owen Springs Bronco Branding
White Paper Daisy (Rhodanthe floribunda) Redbank Waterhole Swimming with your dogs at Redbank Waterhole

1 NT Government / NT Place Names Register - Ewarts Springs, Retrieved April 16, 2012
According to Theadgill ( South Australian Land Exploration 1856 to 1880 - Page 56 Footnote 39), Stuart originally named Owen Springs "Ewart's Springs" as Stuart in his original journal wrote "This water I named Ewart's Springs after Ewart for his care and attention to our provisions and the things connected with them." (Journal is held by Royal Geographical Society of SA).

Joseph A Ewart, following John McDouall Stuart Expedition was a member of the Overland Telegraph Line construction teams and an axeman with one of Goyder's 1869 survey parties in the Darwin area.
2 NT Government / NT Place Names Register - Owen Springs, Retrieved April 16, 2012
Owen Springs is reportedly named by John McDould Stuart on 16 March 1861, "after William Owen, Esq, MP". (South Australian Parliamentary Paper 169 of 1861 - Diary of J.M. Stuart's Explorations, 1860-61) .

According to Theadgill ( South Australian Land Exploration 1856 to 1880 - Page 56 Footnote 39) , Stuart originally named the springs "Ewart's Springs" as Stuart in his original journal wrote "This water I named Ewart's Springs after Ewart for his care and attention to our provisions and the things connected with them." (Journal is held by Royal Geographical Society of SA).
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