The Crossroads of the Overlander and Explorer’s Way

All roads lead to Tennant Creek.  The highway through the Northern Territory intersects at Tennant Creek, a quirky little town in the midst of the Australian Outback.

The Barkly Tableland is among the most important cattle grazing areas in the Northern Territory.

It’s where the crossroads of the Overlander & Explorer’s Way intersect.

The Overlander’s Way, known as the Barkly Highway was the stock route from Queensland to the grazing lands in the Northern Territory.

The Explorer’s Way is also known as the Stuart Highway which was the overland route the explorers took to travel from Adelaide to Darwin.

The terrain around Tennant Creek

Where on earth is Tennant Creek?

The fifth largest town in the Northern Territory, Tennant Creek is located on the Stuart Highway and just south of the Barkly Highway intersection from Queensland.

Tennant Creek is the hub of the Barkly Tablelands covering over 240,000 square kilometres.

Tennant Creek is in the middle of nowhere and a very long way to everywhere.

Approximately 8 hours drive south from Katherine, 5 hours north of Alice Springs and the western Queensland town of Mt Isa is about 7 hours to the east.

At first glance, Tennant Creek looks deserted like many outback towns.  Your first impression will be ‘red’.  Everything seems to have a light dusting of red, the streets are red, the bitumen road is tainted red and the shop fronts are tinted a very light shade of red!

Its beauty shows when the sun sinks low in the sky and the landscape refracts the vivid rich golden hues of the sun setting on the rocks and surrounding hills.  It’s a unique but strikingly beautiful part of the country.

Read more:  The Best Aussie Road Trip ever – Darwin to Adelaide

Warramungu – the local Aboriginal people of this land

Tennant Creek is in Warramungu country.  Warramungu are the local Aboriginal people of this region.  Nyinkka Nyunyu is an Aboriginal sacred site in Warumungu country.

The town of Tennant Creek arose around the home of the spiky-tailed goanna, a powerful Wirnkarra or ancestral being.

Tennant Creek’s History

There is so much history in Tennant Creek, and no matter where you look you will see historical connections to mining. Although the town is famous for its gold rush, it did start out as an outpost of the Overland Telegraph line, the first communication link between Australia and the rest of the world.

Tennant Creek’s Overland Telegraph Station is located 10 km north of the town. It’s worth visiting this centre just to see what it was like to live in the outback over 100 years ago.

Gold mining, changed everything as it so often does. The town still has working mines today.

What to do in Tennant Creek

What to see in Tennant Creek

As in most small towns, everyone knows everyone else.  There’s always time to chat so take the time to get to know the locals.   Stop in at the local Memo club or wander down the main street.  There are a couple of great cafes in the main street so be sure to stop in, enjoy a cup of coffee and say hi.

Make sure you check out all the local attractions including the Devils Marbles, Mary Ann Dam, Battery Hill Mining Centre and the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre.  Tennant Creek Visitor Information Centre is located at the Battery Hill Mining Centre.

Lake Mary Ann

Mary-Ann Dam at Tennant Creek

Lake Mary Ann is about 5 kilometres north of Tennant Creek, just beyond the Honeymoon Ranges and home to many water birds.  It is a man-made dam where the locals come to go swimming or canoeing or have a picnic.

Battery Hill Mining Centre

On Peko Road, just 1.5 kilometres from the centre of town, Battery Hill Mining Centre is a must-see when you visit Tennant Creek.  Experience life in Tennant Creek’s 1930’s outback gold rush, pan for gold and tour the underground mine to see the machinery in action.  Visit the three museums portraying life on the gold fields:

  • Freedom, Fortitude and Flies: a look at social life on the goldfields during the early formative years and the
  • McLaughlin Minerals Collection:  a spectacular array of mineral samples from around the world, Australia and local.
  • For Valour – Albert Borella VC: A journey from Tennant Creek to Darwin.

Learn about the local Aboriginal Culture

Visit the Nyinkka Nyunyu Culture Centre (pronounced ny-ink-a ny-oo-ny-oo), a unique art and culture centre which offers visitors an opportunity to learn about traditional aboriginal life, history and land in the Tennant Creek region. The cultural centre has a well stocked retail outlet featuring local art and crafts, books and other gifts.

Explore the landscaped garden of indigenous plants and bush tucker.  Stop in at the Jajjikari Cafe coffee shop for a great coffee and watch the birds nesting in the grasses.

Take an Tour

One of the best places in the Outback to learn about Aboriginal life, history and land is to take a tour with trained aboriginal guides to gain insight into the region and local community.  May to September is the best time for these tours.

  • Garden Tour:  Take a guided tour with a local Aboriginal person.
  • Bush Tucker Tour: mGo bush and learn how to find good tucker. Depending on the season you can find Bush Bananas, Bush Potatoes, Bush Sultana, Bush Oranges and many other traditional Aboriginal foods and medicines.
  • Bush Tour:  Take a half-day tour to explore the land surrounding Tennant Creek including Kunjarra – also known as the Devils Pebbles.

Devils Pebbles

A short drive north of town, there’s also the Aboriginal-owned conservation area and sacred site – the Devil’s Pebbles or Kunjarra Conservation Area.

Devils Marbles

The Devils Marbles

An hour’s drive south of Tennant Creek is the world famous Devils Marbles or Karlu Karlu Conservation Area.

It’s a deeply spiritual place.

The Devils Marbles appear along the roadside almost with no introduction.  Take the opportunity to stop for a break.  Wander through this magnificent and ancient landscape.  The rich golden colours of an outback sunrise and sunset are simply magnificent, so make time to experience the serenity of a sunset amongst the Devils Marbles.

Read more:  Devils Marbles the place of the mythical Rainbow Serpent

Inspired to visit?  Why not pin this for later.

All roads lead to Tennant Creek

“Plan to stay a day….or two, and relax. Our air is clean and fresh, our locals are friendly, our wildlife is fascinating, our history is full of strange quirks, and for most of the year our weather ranges from great to fantastic.  We’re sure you’ll enjoy your stay.”

I couldn’t have said it better … Barkley Tourism!

So when you’re passing through Tennant Creek, give a thought to the remoteness of this little outback town and the challenges the locals face.  You will find they love their location and persist to live in this remarkedly beautiful part of the Australian Outback.

Have you been to Tennant Creek yet?  Perhaps you have a tip for others travelling though.  Care to share?

References:  Wikipedia, Tourism NT, NorthernTerritory.com, Barklytourism.com.au