Limmen National Park

The Limmen National Park in the Northern Territory has little other than a few designated camping sites with basic toilet facilities, the park is pristine and unspoilt. Let's hope it stays that way.

It is not necessary to venture from the road to appreciate the grandeur of the park. The scenery is stunning, the rivers magnificent and the many lagoons close to the road are a bird watcher's delight. As you travel through the park, and drive into and out of the cuttings at the river crossings, spare a thought for the pioneers who had to fell trees and cut the ramps to form a passage for their supply wagons and drays. It is little wonder that the old time drovers abandoned drays in favour of pack horses, which could negotiate these hazards as nature made them and allowed more freedom of movement.

Once away from the road, the park is a great opportunity to experience the country as the early explorers and pioneers found it. These excursions should only be undertaken by experienced, fit and well equipped walkers.

We can find lost cities all over the north of Australia. The early settlers must have been very careless with their developments. Two of these spectacular eroded rock formations can be found in the Limmen National Park. The Southern Lost City and The Western (Nathan) Lost City.

The turn off for the Southern Lost City is 35 kilometres south of the ranger station at Nathan River. At the end of a well graded three kilometre track is a small camping and picnic area. From the camping area a marked two kilometre walk leads through the maze of eroded rocks.

Butterfly Springs campsite, about 30 kilometres north from the Southern Lost City, is the only safe swimming in the park. It is an excellent site to relax for a few days.

Access to the Western (Nathan) Lost City is by 4WD only. The 28 km track starts a short distance to the north of the Nathan River ranger station. A locked gate controls access with the key obtained from the Nathan River ranger station. As the ranger is not always in attendance at the station, make arrangements to collect the key in advance of your visit.

About 20 km to the north of the ranger station, is the turn-off to Limmen Bight River fishing camp. This is a private development outside the park, but is a good fishing site on the Limmen Bight River. Limited fuel and basic supplies may be available, but they may not. The national park campsite at Towns River, about 80 km further north, also has a boat launching ramp, but access to the ramp can be rather precipitous. Like all the rivers throughout the park, the Towns River is home to estuarine (salt water) crocodiles. Observe the warning signs. Keep well away from the water's edge and don't go swimming.

Behind the ruins of St. Vidgeon, another 50 km north, Lomapieum Lagoon is an extensive and quiet picnic area. Tomato Island camping grounds, a further 30 km along the road, is a popular fishing location with a good boat ramp into the Roper River.

Fuel and basic supplies are available at the Roper Bar store. The Roper Bar crosses the river a couple of km north of the store, with the ruins of the Roper Bar settlement nearby. The old police camp can be seen on the short walk around the historic settlement reserve. A small private camp site is at the end of the road, with boat access to the river. I was told the fishing is good.

Although the Limmen National Park is the Territory's newest, it is steeped in history that dates back to the beginning of the Territory itself. A memorial to Fredrich William Ludwig Leichhardt is located in the small historic reserve at Roper Bar. Leichhardt was the first white person to travel the Gulf route, in 1845, during his journey from Moreton Bay (Brisbane) to Port Essington which took fourteen months. Although he called himself Doctor, he had never qualified. Some reports praise his resourcefulness and ability in the bush, others damn him as an incompetent leader and poor bushman. We will never know the truth.

One man who definitely was a competent bushman, and one of Australia's unsung explorers, is Nathaniel Buchanan. Nat, known as Old Bluey, opened up more of the Australian Outback than any other man. He pioneered stockroutes from south eastern Queensland, around the north of Australia and down to the Murchison in Western Australia, and was the first white bloke to cross the Tanami Desert. He explored much of northern Queensland, the Territory and the Kimberly.

In 1887, he drove the first mob to stock the north of the Territory, 1,400 head for Travers and Gibson, from Aramac in Queensland to their new lease, Glencoe, a little to the north of Pine Creek. That was a distance of 1,400 miles (2,250 km). Between Borroloola and Roper Bar Nat travelled north west parallel to the shore of the Gulf of Carpentaria. This was approximately the same route that Leichhardt used. The mob of 1,200 head was held up south of the Roper River by the wet and many cows gave birth while they were camped. Usually calves born on the road had to be killed as they couldn't keep up with the mob. Because they were not travelling these calves had time to gain strength and so Nat delivered more cattle than he started the drove with.

Because of the remoteness and lack of supply facilities, Nat was forced to use drays to carry sufficient stores. A dray is a strongly built two wheeled cart, better suited to the rough country he expected to pass through than a four wheeled wagon. Because he had these wheeled vehicles he had to cut the first road through the scrub and carve out the entry and exit ramps at river crossings. This drove established the Old Gulf Track Stock Route, also known as the North Coast Stock Route, which became the main track to the east for Northern Territory cattle until the Barkley Stock Route was established. That is another stock route pioneered by Nat Buchanan. The road through the Limmen National Park follows the Old Gulf Stock Route.

In 1881, Nat undertook his most famous drove, 20,000 head of cattle, mostly from the St George area of south eastern Queensland to Glencoe, which was now owned by Fisher and Lyons. These cattle were to stock several stations that the partners had leased in the Territory. This drove, 1,800 miles (2,900 km), also travelled along the Old Gulf Stock Route and lasted for eighteen months.

So as you drive through the Limmen National Park in air-conditioned comfort, spare a few moments to reflect on the tenacity and courage of the early drovers. Their efforts helped to establish the Australia we know today.


Side bar

The park straddles the Nathan River Road for about 230 kilometres southeast from Roper Bar. From the west access is 180 kilometres from the Stuart Highway along the Roper Highway, turn east about ten kilometres south of Mataranka. From the east travel about 100 kilometres west from Borroloola along Ryans Bend Road. All roads within the park are unsealed, but present no difficulties for conventional vehicles or well set up caravans and camper-vans. However, it is an isolated area and all travellers must be fully self-reliant.

The park can be closed due to flooding during the wet season, usually from November to May. Road conditions can be checked by phone 1800 246 199, or on the web:

Contact the Nathan River ranger station on 08 8975 9940.

For more information

see the web site;
or contact Katherine Visitor Centre on 08 8972 2650.

Fuel, food and accommodation, are available at Roper Bar and Borroloola.


What to do and see

Fishing,—  line only. No nets or traps permitted in the park



Bird watching




Make sure you have ample food and fuel.

Carry a first aid kit.

Observe park safety signs. Remember, salt water crocodiles live in all the rivers. Do not swim anywhere but at Butterfly Springs. Even this swimming hole is unsuitable towards the end of the dry as it becomes stagnant.

Drink plenty of water.

Carry spares and tools for the vehicle and equipment.

Wear appropriate clothing, sunscreen and insect repellent.

Camp only where permitted.

Take your rubbish away.


© Jim Ditchfield 2014

Click on photos to see a full size image