The Plenty Highway — Driving from Boulia to Alice Springs
Plenty Highway is a partly sealed outback highway that pumps travellers to and from the beating heart of the red centre through Queensland and the Northern Territory's shifting outback landscapes.
Before you head off, here are some handy items to add to your four-wheel driving kit:
Essential route information
Grading: May need high ground clearance
Time: Minimum two days, three to allow more time for detours or stops
Distance: 811km, Boulia to Alice Springs via the Plenty and Donoghue highways
Longest drive without fuel: 248km, Boulia to Tobermorey Station
Facilities: Boulia, Tobermorey Homestead, Jervois Station, Atitjere, Gemtree, Alice Springs
Best time of year: May to October — avoid summer months
Warnings: Stony road surfaces. Flood risk on the Queensland section (Donohue Highway)
Permits and fees: Camping fees apply
Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre (Tourism Central Australia)
41 Todd Mall, Alice Springs NT 0870
P: 1800 645 199 / 08 8952 5800
Min Min Encounter Visitor Information Centre
25 Herbert Street, Boulia Qld 4829
P: 07 4746 3386
Harts Range Police Station
P: 08 8956 9772
What to expect
Departing from Boulia, travellers follow the Donohue Highway until it becomes the Plenty Highway at the Queensland’s western edge. The Plenty Highway then runs all the way from the Qld/NT border to Alice Springs.
This road offers travellers the chance to traverse a partly sealed track right through to the heart of Australia’s Red Centre, while taking in the shifting landscape as scenes from the outback flit past their window.
The road was originally used as a cattle property access road and over the years it has been upgraded, although many areas continue to be prone to floods, particularly in the eastern areas of the highway.
The 498km track contains large portions of unsealed roads and it’s important that travellers take note of road conditions before starting out on the track. This information can be obtained from the Harts Range police station, which is situated along the Plenty Highway about 112km from the Stuart Highway.
The road quickly deteriorates to earth, bulldust and rock once four-wheel drivers are past the Jervois Station in the NT, and potholes become a frequent obstruction on the track. The track requires at least two or three days in order for visitors to really be able to appreciate everything that it has to offer.
Ensure you have all the necessary safety gear for driving on outback roads, including a sand flag and a UHF radio so that you can communicate with other 4WDs and the road trains that can kick up just a bit of dust on their way past.
Camping on the Plenty Highway
There are plenty of good camping opportunities along the Plenty Highway, ranging from bush camping to more formal campgrounds.
Gemtree Roadhouse happens to be one of the most popular destinations. Located about 720km west of Boulia, the camping grounds offer travellers the chance to stock up on groceries and fuel. The site also boasts a caravan park with powered and unpowered sites as well as cabins.
There’s a campground at Jervois Station (no booking necessary, pay on arrival). The sites are undesignated and unpowered, but there are bathroom facilities and fuel pumps next to the homestead.
The Tobermory Station Roadhouse and Caravan Park and Spotted Tiger Campground both require payment, but fuel facilities are available nearby.
Things to do
Harts Range and the nearby Atitjere community is situated about 215km from Alice Springs. One of the most popular activities taking place in Harts Range is the Harts Range Races, which has been held yearly since 1947 and has since expanded to a three-day festival that is now called Harts Range Bush Sports Weekend. Anyone visiting the area might find this festival to be an exciting distraction and opportunity to immerse themselves into the local culture of the area.
Min Min Lights
The Min Min lights are a highly unusual outback light phenomenon that have reportedly been seen for more than a century, although it's an event that is still not entirely understood. The existence, appearance and frequency of the light remain a veritable mystery, however stories of the lights within the region have consistently arisen since their initial sighting. The lights derive their name from the place they were originally seen — in the small Min Min locality between Boulia and Winton.
If you’re in the area, a visit to the Min Min Hotel ruins is worth a visit, or head to the Min Min Encounter in Boulia to find out more about these unexplained balls of light.
Fossicking for gemstones
The areas to the east of Gemtree are well-known for fossicking, and visitors who are lucky enough to get their hands on gemstones can have them evaluated by a local gem cutter. Some of the most popular finds are red garnets, as well as the rarer zircon.
The Plenty Highway continues to draw in four-wheel drivers, and it happens to be one of the most popular destinations for travellers to the Northern Territory. As the highway continues to be upgraded, it will continue to open up the road to more visitors, but for now it is important that travellers are well prepared for the journey.
If you're heading back to Queensland after completing the Plenty Highway route, consider using the Sandover Highway for your return journey. It's another great and challenging 4WD track that will let you explore Australia the true outback way.
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