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
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
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.
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
- 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.
Owen Springs Reserve - Attractions
• 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.
• 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
- 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
- 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
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).