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Australian 4x4 Travel - Buchanan & Duncan Highways

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Buchanan & Duncan Highways - Australia

The Buchanan Highway starts at Dunmarra in the Northern Territory and travels west and then north west until it joins the Victoria Highway east of Timber Creek. The Duncan east from Halls Creek to the Buntine Highway junction and then north to Kununurra.

You should have some decent maps when travelling the Duncan and Buchanan Highways - get yours from our Map Shop

Both tracks give you lots of opportunities to explore. The Buchanan Highway travels north of the Tanami Track and south of the main access road from NT to WA, Victoria Highway, which runs from Katherine to Kununurra.

Allow a distance of at least 800km from Halls Creek to Dunmarra and considerably more if you decide to do the section from Halls Creek up to Kununurra on the Duncan Highway. The trip will take you through some very remote and harsh country.

There are really two trips described on this page. Both begin in Dunmarra and end at Kununurra.

The first option is traveling along the whole length of the Buchanan Highway, or only doing half of the Buchanan Highway and then heading of south west along the Buntine Highway to join up with the Duncan Highway for the trip to Kununurra.

Vehicle preparation is essential as is carrying adequate supplies of fuel water and supplies. Be prepared for long stretches without finding fresh fuel supplies, the longest being from Halls Creek to Kalkarindji, which is a little over 400 km.

The region was first discovered in 1855 when Augustus Gregory landed at the mouth of the Victoria River. Whilst there were other explorers who ventured into the region in the meantime not much happened here until Alexander Forrest started opening up the Kimberley for pastoralists in 1879 and later Nat Buchanan who developed the stock routes from The Kimberley region to The Gulf and Western Queensland that this area began seeing settlers and started to prosper.

The Buchanan Highway starts westward from the Sturt Highway, about 6 kilometers north of Dunmarra Wayside Inn and a little over 40km south of Daly Waters.

The first stretch of the journey is through remote scrub country and is a little dull. Whilst the road is normally in reasonable condition, it is not much used and you may encounter the odd rough patch. Some 185km later the Buchanan Highway reaches Top Springs, which is located on the old Murranji Stock Route, comprises of little more than a roadhouse and motel. Whilst fuel and grog is available here there is little in the way of provisions.

To do the whole of the Buchanan Highway from Top Springs head straight and then north westerly until you reach the Victoria Highway east of Timber Creek. The first major landmark is crossing the Victoria River about 94km from Top Springs. A little over the river and the highway comes to Victoria River Downs Homestead.

In years gone by this was the largest cattle station in the world and today still runs in the region of 100,000 head and covers a comparatively small area by cattle station standards these days of 12,000 kilometers. Still a fairly large area though.

The homestead can supply a wide range of fuel and provisions and the airport is a popular aviation destination.

From Victoria Downs Homestead the road continues north west through the impressive Jasper Gorge, where you are able to camp in some very pleasant surroundings, and through the outskirts of the Gregory National Park to the Victoria Highway. 

West at the junction leads 29 km to Timber Creek, 250 kilometers from Top Springs and a very enjoyable and scenic trip. Right leads to Katherine via the Victoria River Roadhouse.

Heading west from Timber Creek towards Kununurra is a total distance of around 240 km. At the 180 kilometers mark the Duncan Highway joins from the south.

Continuing on takes you past the outskirts of the Keep River National Park to the north and 20 kilometers from the Duncan Highway turnoff is the road leading south to Lake Argyle, the Ord River Dam and the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, as well as the Argyle Down Historic Homestead and the Lake Argyle Resort.

This is a spectacular region and one that can most be appreciated from the air. If you can take a scenic flight when you get to Kununurra. Most of the joyrides also pass over the Bungle Bungles, which add another magnificent dimension to your flight.

There are other options to take when you leave Top Springs though. Instead of going straight along the Buchanan Highway you can head northwards along the main Buntine Highway, past the Old Delamere Homestead and the Victoria Highway junction. Turning left, or west, here also takes you to Timber Creek but through the Gregory National Park and passed the Victoria River Roadhouse.

Alternatively you can swing south at Top Springs onto the Buntine Highway and head for Halls Creek. The first stage of this leg is on bitumen until it reaches Kalkaringi, via Wave Hill Homestead. Here you can top up with fuel, basic provisions and you may decide to stop over at the small camping ground.

From here there is a very long stretch without fuel stops so make sure you take adequate supplies with you.

Leaving Kalkaringi you also leave the bitumen as the road again heads 240 km south west towards the Western Australian border and the junction with the Duncan Highway, passing through some of Australia's prime cattle country.

Once across the border it is about 20 kilometers to the Nicholson Homestead and the Duncan Highway junction.

From here you would be on the Duncan whether you decided to go north to Kununurra or west to Halls Creek. If you were to continue to Halls Creek there is about 180 kilometers to go via some very scenic spots, but this trip heads north to Kununurra. 

North on the Duncan Highway from the Nicholson Homestead is a pleasant trip and the journey is on a reasonable gravel road. There are several creek crossings with very pleasant camp grounds along the way.

At Ord Hill the Duncan Highway starts running more or less in the same direction as the Ord River and the boundary of the Purnululu National Park. The Purnulula National Park is spectacular but, unfortunately there is only one access route and that is off the Great Northern Road to the west of the Park via Spring Creek Track.

A little further is Forrest Creek and the Ord River Homestead and views over the Ord River Valley with glimpses of the Bungle Bungle Range to the west.

Having travelled along the Duncan Highway for about 270km it reaches the junction with Victoria Highway and about 60 kilometers west to Kununurra.

Between the junction and Kununurra is the turn off to Lake Argyle and everything that goes with it as described earlier on this page.

You are in Australia's last frontier up here, allow plenty of time and enjoy it, it is spectacular.
Australian 4x4 Tag Along Tours operates a relaxed and informal 12 day Tag Along that includes the Simpson, North Simpson, Hay River and several other iconic Outback places and regions in NSW, SA, NT, Qld. Further details can be found by following the Tag Alongs link at the top of this page.

If you would like to travel to this area in the company of other people then this trip probably represents the best value available from anyone.


The information provided on this web page is for use as a guide only. If you are planning to undertake this trip you must seek out other authorative advice and information. Desert and Outback travel can be very hazardous and should only be undertaken after lengthy and careful planning. The owners of this website shall not be held responsible for any damage or injury that you may experience during any conventional vehicle or four wheel drive trip, desert or otherwise. Distances between places mentioned on this page are as a guide only. You must verify these details yourself using professional maps and/or mapping equipment before you set out on a the trip. Do not attempt to access desert or other remote regions in an ill-prepared vehicle and without adequate communications equipment. Do not under estimate the
limited supply of fuel, water and provisions in these areas as well as the possibility of encountering extremely harsh elements and conditions.

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