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THE DUNCAN ROAD.... WA-NT

After a big stint in WA I was hesitant to leave the amazing Kimberley region after exploring so much of the North West, I knew I had to leave soon as daily temperatures were climbing daily. Crossing the border into the Northern Territory and watching the edge of the Kimberly's fade away in my mirror, I was really hoping something would draw me back.

I was about 10 mins into the Northern Territory when I saw a sign south to Halls Creek and the Buntine Highway. Now always looking for an adventure, and with a quick map scope to see what was south and it all looked good to explore. The leading signs said that Halls Creek was nearly 450km away but this was a remote and isolated area where travellers proceed at their own risk.

In the big scheme of things, I found Duncan Road just like another outback road, in pretty good condition, easy to drive after dropping some air out of my tyres and with the most stunning scenery to pass the miles away. The Duncan Road was originally cut through in 1949 to service remote cattle stations and for the transportation of cattle out of the area.

An interesting road where it starts in the NT and crosses into WA back out into the NT and crosses back into WA where it meets the Buntine Highway. Along the way I was just expecting a nice drive through savannah type country but honesty this blew my mind. I was travelling on the eastern edge of the Kimberley region the whole way down, intersecting stunning mountains with million year old rock formations covered with spinifex.

Heading down Duncan Road there are several rivers and creeks that are safe for swimming, and some really nice rock pools and gorges where you can setup camp for a night, just respect where you stop and it won’t get shut, all along the Duncan Road is private property.


Half way down a huge rock cairn caught my eye and found out it was a memorial for the Old River Regeneration Reserve. The project was to regenerate and stabilise some severely eroded sections of the Old River catchment which covered nearly 10,000 sq km. They fenced the area, removed feral donkeys and cattle and reseeded the damaged and barren areas.

I was a bit bemused seeing potential flood warning signs along the way, but after seeing some river and creeks and just how wide they get in flood season it blew me away just how much water must flow through this area. Duncan Road ends at Nicholson Station at the Buntine Highway, where my journey would keep going west towards Halls Creek.

Heading west and on the southern side of Purnululu NP, the scenery is just as good where mountains glisten in the sun covered with golden spinifex grass under huge white gums, strangely I saw no Kimberley Boab trees along the way.


HISTORY

It’s only 170km to Halls Creek, but my camp for the night was Sawpit Gorge just 50km before Halls. A narrow and slow track into the gorge, where there are two camping areas near the Black Elvire River.

A towering rock wall on one side and sandy shaded banks on the other where raging flood waters have cut a path over time, its a secluded and beautiful location to stop. Free camping is allowed with an Eco toilet and rubbish bins at the top camp. The lower camp is 4wd only where camping is 10 fold beside the pools of water set amongst gums and the massive rock wall. At different times of the day the sun lights up the wall with a stunning red show.

There are several walking trails along the creek to spot wildlife for nature hunters or just to find a private swimming hole, this place is beautiful and quiet on all levels. Back out on Duncan Road, a popular local swimming hole is Palm Springs. Also on the Black Elvire River, this palm fringed spring fed pool also allows free camping.

With permanent water its called ‘an oasis in the desert’ where palms and soft grasses line the waterhole. Its thought that Afghan teamsters planted the original date palms found here. One Afghan man Sam Hazlett and his Aboriginal wife Duddru lived at Palm Springs for many years, where they used the springs for drinking water and to grow vegetables, which he sold locally.


OLD HALLS CREEK

Not far down the road is Old Halls Creek, where the first gold was discovered in Western Australia and where the WA gold rushes began, it was in 1885 that Charles Hall found a 28-ounce nugget. This area was known as the Golden West. Old Halls Creek was the site of the original gold mining community where prospectors followed the gold up the creeks and gullies from Brockman to Old Halls Creek. Today, some of the original mud built buildings are protected under a huge shed, from the belting sun and weather.

The 1885 gold rush was short and sharp here, but it bought people from the coast and as far away as California, at its peak the town had stores for commercial and private trade.

Out the back of the old town there’s a memorial for the RFDS that was erected for the 90th anniversary, as this is the location where the idea for a remote doctor service originated. A chain of events in July 1917 with the accident of stockman Jim Darcy, eventually lead to the founding of the Flying Doctor Service in Australia.


LEAVING OLD HALLS CREEK

Further towards Halls Creek a natural phenomenon has occurred where softer rock has weathered away leaving a striking pure white quartz wall rising up to 6 metres out of the ground. Called China Wall, the white quartz stands out as it carries on into the distance over several mountains and into the gullies. It's said that this wall of quartz can be led all the north to Kununurra.

With nearly 500 km under my belt I needed to head into Halls Creek to fuel up, but not before finding a couple of old stone huts on nearby Sophie Downs Station.

A horse track back in the late 1800’s up to Wyndham, to where the main port was, the track followed creeks for watering points, and huts were built as rest stops or hotels. These have significant historical value to the area and local people.


MY FINAL SAY

If you are in no big rush and like getting off the main roads, driving through stunning scenery, setting up at amazing camp sites, then this explore is a no brainer. With amazing history and dramatic landscapes following the Old River, I personally consider the Duncan Road one of the most scenic roads in the whole Kimberley.


WHERE

Duncan Road is a 445km drive north-south on the eastern side of the WA border along the NT, from the Savannah way to Halls Creek and with another 100km of side diversions this is one great adventure drive. I found it full of amazing scenery, structures and with the added explore into Old Halls Creek and the stunning Sawpit Gorge, it's well worth the 3 day detour.


WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Stunning landscapes on the eastern side of the amazing Bungle Bungle Ranges right down into the southern end with camping in at Sawpit Gorge and exploring the old mud hut ruins of Old Halls Creek, plus the story behind the start of the RFDS.


MORE INFO

Most relevant information can be sought on the WA’s Kimberley map or atlas. A remote yet straight forward drive, its about the history and natural wonders to explore. Road conditions can be found on both the WA and NT shire sites as Duncan Road wanders down through both states on its path.


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