I think I have just found the Mecca of all parks where history, 4wding, absolute serenity and some pretty wild country all come together. Tucked across near the NT-WA border is the remote yet stunningly beautiful Judbarra National Park. Everything in this park is big, the landscape, its history, the animals, the 4WD challenges and the weather that passes through each year. It’s a big park covering just over 13,000 km’, in fact, it's the second largest in the state after Kakadu.
Judbarra was once named Gregory National Park, but in 2021 it was changed to Judbarra to recognise the traditional owners. Now the Gregory Tree, just off the Victoria Highway is an age-old Boab tree that is an aboriginal sacred site and a registered heritage site.
Way back in 1855, Augustus Charles Gregory led several exploratory parties up the Victoria River and penetrated nearly 500km south towards the Great Sandy Desert on what would become one of the longest overland rides in Australian exploration. Setting up camp near the huge Boab, Gregory instructed artist and storekeeper J Baines to carve the dates of their arrival and departure from the area. Today a boardwalk and signs let modern-day explorers read about the early explorers and view the tree.
Further down the road at Timber Creek, is the last stop for any supplies if heading into Judbarra from the north, and you’ll need all the fuel you can carry as it is over 400km through the park and down to the nearest fuel stop if you're going to attempt the longer 4wd tracks.
Now technically the park has two sections, the east and the west precincts. The east takes in the Victoria River Roadhouse and the Sullivan Creek campground, but the western sector is where the real adventures are.
My journey into Judbarra started about 20km from Timber Creek on the northern side of the park at the Gregory Tree. At the Gregory Tree, there’s absolutely all the info on Judbarra from flora, fauna, history, track directions and more importantly either park or track closures.
Being an absolutely isolated and remote park, it is only open for a few short months of the year. During summer it gets closed due to the heat, during the wet season it's closed for the intense flooding and other parts of the year ( as I found out ) was closed due to either fires or damage from recent rain. I have always had Judbarra on my to-visit list to explore the history and I heard some of the tracks were pretty rough across the Black Range.
Before heading into the park, you need to be absolutely confident with remote travel and have enough supplies for a few days. One sign I found said no fuel for a good 400km and that’s without any exploring on the more remote tracks.
Planning the trip through the park was pretty simple due to Parks NT naming all the tracks and having decent signposted track boards at all the turn-offs.
Heading east out of Timber Creek, I soon found the Bullita Access road that takes you south into the park. Some of the 4WD tracks in Judbarra do loops back to the main road, so this is a great way to explore all the features in the park. My first track was the Bullita Stock Route which is only one way from Bullita Homestead.
Around the turn of the century, two massive cattle stations dominated the area, they were Bullita and Humbert River stations. The stock route was used by the stations when they sent cattle further NW to Wyndham in WA for export and slaughter. Today some of the buildings have been restored and there’s a great camp area on the bank of the East Baines River. Relics, detailed sign boards and the old cattle yards are great for exploring and understanding the good and bad times of the days gone past.
The Stock Route track really only has two obstacles, one being the Baines River when in flood and the Jump up, mid-way along. With spectacular scenery following the rocky track, it's a great way to settle into the park.
Interesting the stock route track was also called The donkey track, as donkeys were used to help move freight through the area, and yep I saw dozens of them along the way. The estimated time to cover the 95km is around 8 hours because of the rough terrain and sights to see along the way.
Midway back to the Bullita Homestead, I was hoping to check out an unusual Limestone gorge, but with the roads still being repaired after a massive dumping of rain all I could do was to find the Tufa Dams. These unusual walls in the creek have been formed by a combination of a limestone deposit and algae growth where water spills over rocks, creating a calcium buildup over time. The Tufa dam walls are estimated to be 1600 years old.
Heading back down past the Homestead ( remember it was a one-way track ), I jumped onto the Humbert Track to head south crossing the Humbert River which I was surprised it still had some flow in it late in the dry season. It was tempting to go in for a dip, but Croc signs had me thinking otherwise.
Across the river, it changes to the Wickham Track for another 30km to the intersection of the Broadarrow and Gibbie Tracks. Just near this major intersection, another track led to some old stone cattle yards, but again with the unusual rain, the track was still closed.
THE BROADARROW TRACK
Now my aim was to explore the very remote Broadarrow track that I heard had just opened up after the unusual wet this area had early in the season. With a total of around 230km, it's best to allow a good two days on this track. The Broadarrow track was also used by packhorses and donkeys to bring supplies up from Victoria Downs station in the south. Word around was that the track was notorious for staking tyres, due to sharp sticks in the long grass and continuous miles of rocks over the rough terrain.
In the scale of things, the Broadarrow Track isn’t overly difficult with a 4wd rating, its just the remoteness and isolation that may be difficult for new travellers. There are plenty of camping opportunities along the way whether to catch a stunning sunset or sunrise along the escarpment section or maybe a riverside camp on Depot Creek, the headwaters of the Baines River or the new Wilingarri remote river camp.
My choice of camps was at Camel Point giving me a high point to spot Camels, and I spotted a few herds of them late in the afternoon. My other camp choice was at the Escarpment lookout where I had absolutely stunning views to the east deep into the valley where I would explore the next day.
The Broadarrow track is something similar to most tracks around the Kimberly area - very Stoney and rough terrain, scattered timber with magnificent Boab trees throughout. There are several large jump-ups on the track but honestly being in low 4WD they aren’t anything to worry about.
Finding your way along the tracks was as easy as following the Blue Boab markers that gave you indications every 10km that you’ve travelled and blue arrows to help guide you through the park.
Most of the tracks I did in high 4WD, just for better traction and a little bit more control on the rough sections. I would say this area across to the Black Range would be the last, or first ( depending on what way your heading ) area where Boab Trees survive. The Track crosses the headwaters of The Wickham River and Depot Creek which really shouldn’t cause any issue as the water flows north towards Victoria River and into the Joseph Gulf.
The last 40km of the Broadarrow track heads pretty much south in a straight line following fence lines all the way down to the Buntine Highway where you have Wave Hill 70km to the east and Halls Creek nearly 300km to the west- so keep these distances in mind when doing fuel calculations.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
So would I spend a few days in Judbarra - Gregory NP again ?
Exploring the early pastoral history, spotting wild camels donkeys and horses, and seeing the magnificent old Boab Trees in the stunning landscape.
This is one National Park I can’t wait to get back to.
Judbarra-Gregory National Park is located over 600km SW from Darwin in the NT. The second largest national park in the NT after Kakadu, it covers over 13,000 square kilometres with plenty to see and do. With its location, it's a very remote and isolated park close to the WA border.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
The sheer ruggedness and isolation is a main draw card for many visitors a year, but there are also some pretty cool 4WD tracks through the park, a huge array of birds and animals to find from wild camels and donkeys through to crocodiles, venomous snakes and countless numbers of northern Australian birds. Indigenous groups, early explorers, pastoralists and drovers have made their mark on Judbarra ( then called the Gregory NP ) for many years.
The park is very isolated and remote so travellers need to be well prepared for their visit. During the warmer months, Judbarra can close due to the excessive heat and during the wet season, there are many rivers and creeks that also close the park. I made my way through the park in spring when the daytime temps were close to 30 but the nights still had a cool chill. For up-to-date conditions, closures and warnings - the NT.GOV.AU/JUDBARRA has everything you need to know.