The Darlot Loop

The Darlot Loop: Much More Than Just Mulga (345.8km, 70% gravel, full day outing)

Take a trip through the many and varied landscapes of the north-east goldfields – from dramatic breakaways to samphire flats and salt lakes, and from vast mulga plains to magnificent marble gum on spinifex sands. This loop is your introduction to a fascinating natural environment, and to the human influences that have shaped it over the last hundred years.

At close to 350km this is a long day’s outing. It is designed to be travelled in a clockwise direction, initially heading north from Leonora on the Goldfields Highway. Note that approximately 70% of the Trail is gravel – this is generally of good quality, but can suffer after rain. Check with the Shire for the latest conditions!

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The Combined Experience: The Best of Both Trails (432.8km, 85% gravel, two days)

Starting from Leonora, you can overnight at Leinster, and drive the 430km "round the outside" of the combined loop in a two-day outing. However, it is important to check accommodation in both places before setting out, as room numbers and public availability are limited. Or you can camp out along the way, and take in the spectacular stars of the outback sky.

To undertake this drive, travel the Agnew Loop section in a clockwise direction until you reach the Darlot-Weebo Road, 15km south of the Lawlers-Darlot Track site. Then join the Darlot Loop section at the same junction midway between Goanna Patch/Thunderbox and the Transition Zone sites. 

Leonora Information Bay
Length: 345.8km(s) (Is Loop)
Time: Full day
Difficulty: Medium
Historical Site
Drive Trail

VITAL INFORMATION

All major junctions and all sites (stopping places) are signposted, but please note: this signposting is only fully functional for travel in a clockwise direction.

Note also that in some cases only the Trail logo appears on signage - so please familiarise yourself with these: the logo for the Darlot Loop is the emu and chicks.

You are strongly urged to carry up-to-date and detailed road and/or topographic mapping to augment the map in this guide, which is symbolic in nature. You will be travelling in remote locations and are responsible for knowing your surrounds - and your options - at all times!

These trails pass through a number of active pastoral properties - please do not travel off-road without the prior permission of the owner of manager.

Please also keep off active mining leases.

Old mine workings can be extremely dangerous. Be very careful, as many shafts are unmarked and unstable. In particular, keep children close to you at all times.

If you're travelling with a pet, never let them roam free. Baits containing 1080 poison have been scattered throughout this region to control wild dogs and foxes.

Points of Interest

Station Creek

Information Bay to Station Creek (14.6km)

Commence at the information bay, then follow the Goldfields Highway north out of town, passing the Sullivan grave on the right and a series of major mines on the left. Beyond Old Agnew Road you will be able to see the town water tanks on Mt George (on your right) quite clearly, before passing the Water Corporation's access track to the main pumping station. Continue north to the tree-lined creek.

Sullivan Creek

Station Creek to Sullivan Creek (29.9km, 44.5km cumulative)

Hills, both natural and man-made, are a prominent feature of this section. Stony ridges run parallel to the road, giving quite a different feel to the more common mulga flats. The dramatic rift in the landscape that is The Terraces is visible on the north-eastern horizon, while the vast pits and dumps of the Tarmoola Mine underline the sheer scale of some modern gold operations. As a general note "road kill" is common on this highway, so please take care to avoid the scavengers it attracts.

Goanna Patch/Thunderbox

Sullivan Creek to Goanna Patch/Thunderbox (54.9km, 99.4km cumulative)

**Please note: Wilson's Patch stop (located between Sullivan Creek and Goanna Patch) is now closed and not accessible due to a minesite in the area, but may still show on some maps. Please do not enter this area as the mine is active and blasting occurs regularly.

The Ford Run Plateau and its associated breakways are the dominant feature of this section. While not of the same magnitude as The Terraces, these ragged and colourful cliffs are nonetheless a highlight of the drive to the Goanna Patch/Thunderbox site. You may catch a glimpse of the Thunderbox mine or accommodation village on your left, but a good - if somewhat distant - view can be had from the site itself.

Transition Zone

Goanna Patch/Thunderbox to Transition Zone (9.2km, 108.6km cumulative)

Nickel mines sprang up across the Northern Goldfields in the years between 1995 and 2008. However, the volatile price for the metal has meant that many have been stop-start affairs, including the Waterloo Mine, at which production was suspended late in 2008. Prior to that, the mine used some of the Thunderbox infrastructure, and ore was trucks to the BHP Leinster plant for processing. The mine is currently being assessed for future development options.

Turning off the highway onto the Darlot-Weebo Road brings significant change in vegetation types. The north-eastern section of the Darlot Loop (from here around to the vicinity of Big Mill/Nambi) features more "desert-like" landscapes than any other on these trails. Suddenly it is common to see spinifex, and various eucalypts are prominent as well. Mulga is not the dominant species for long stretches, and therefore it pays to slow down and observe the changing environment around you. Note how these changes are driven by soil types - and by the availability of water.

The Granites

Transition Zone to The Granites (24.4km, 133km cumulative)

The sudden appearance of a wild clutter of granite boulders and low rock-strewn hills east of Weebo Station homestead is one of the most startling feature of these trails. This is not breakaway country, and nor is it the more typical domed granite outcrop scattered across the Goldfields. 

In technical terms this the "Challenge" land system, which is described as being "extensive plains with skeletal soils on granite, stony plains, occasional low tors, and breakaways". This is an uncommon type of landscape in these parts - but Indigenous people have long known that, and have therefore accorded this area special significance. The Wanawalpurr Women's Site is registered in the area, so please show respect and do not stray from the designated trail route.

The relatively regular splitting apparent in many of the boulder piles is largely the result of extreme temperature variations, with both icy winter nights and boiling summer days contributing to the process. Euros (hill kangaroos) and feral goats are drawn to the resultant shady nooks, and to the comparative security of these tangled pile of rocks.

Darlot & Darlot Cemetery

The Granites to Darlot (16.4km, 149.4km cumulative)

Darlot to Darlot Cemetery (1.9km, 151.3km cumulative)

Watch for the tell-tale clay pans and samphire flats that mark the southern fringe of the Lake Darlot system. The mulga "groves" on the clay plans mark long-term water-gaining sites. Pay careful attention to directional signs in the vicinity of the two sites at the end of this section.

The salt lakes are part of a vast inland drainage system, but one with a difference: it doesn't actually drain anywhere! The whole of the goldfields region actually drains into these lakes, which once formed part of an ancient palaeodrainage system that led to the southern ocean. But with changes in landforms over time these flows ceased, and these flat expanses became the receptacles of all run-off.

Desert Eucalypts

Darlot Cemetery to Desert Eucalypts (26.9km, 178.2km cumulative)

Beyond the ruins of the Darlot State Battery you will pass through an area rich in plant diversity-though it is easy to see nothing more than mulga. Look for different coloured trees-the black oak and bright green prickly acacia are particularly obvious. Also note the sought-after wanderrie grass, beloved by pastoralists for its value as stock feed. and, of course, the "desert eucalypts" are a feature in themselves!

Big Mill

Desert Eucalypts to Big Mill (20.2km, 198.4km cumulative)

The salt flat that you cross immediately south of Desert Eucalypts is in fact part of a major drainage line feeding into Lake Irwin, to the east - one of the many vast salt lakes in this region. Drainage of an entirely different kind is apparent further south, when you twice cross the massive white pipelines taking water from the Grey Mare Borefields to the Murrin Murrin nickel mine, some 80km south-east. In total over 150km of this pipeline has been laid, with accompanying power transmission lines and all-weather access roads. By contrast, the windmills at Greens and Paul's Wells seem almost archaic - though they retain a satisfying air of functionality, and no small dose of nostalgic romance, either.

Nambi Woolshed

Big Mill to Nambi Woolshed (17.2km, 215.6km cumulative)

Nambi Station came into the Fitzgerald family's ownership in 1931. The development that Irwin Fitzgerald undertook in the following years is quite staggering. 700km of fencing was built (including 220km of boundary fences), to divide the property into 46 paddocks; 54 windmills were erected, along with 24km of pipeline; 30 sets of sheep yards were constructed, and the Little Mill shearing shed was built to augment the main shed a few kilometres north of the homestead.

Between 1956 and 1996 the average number of sheep shorn was 12,500. The maximum flock size was reached earlier, in 1950, when Nambi ran 19,000 head; the minimum was 6,500 at the end of the five year drought in 1973. David Fitzgerald took over from his father in 1957, and when the station finally passed from the family in 1996 it was considered to be "consistently among the top pastoral wool producers in the region". According to David, the great strength of the property was the variety of country it encompassed, which meant that in most seasons there was at least part of the station that was doing well enough to sustain stock in reasonable condition.

Nambi Station now belongs to Minara Resources, and has run cattle in recent years.

Top of The Terraces

Nambi Woolshed to top of The Terraces (35.3km, 250.9km cumulative)

Though all you will see from the trail is the roof and surrounding trees, the Nambi homestead is nonetheless a feature of this section. The pervading sense of "oasis" that so often surrounds a pastoral home is very evident, even from passing by on the road. As you travel south across the mulga flats try to imagine the delight it must have been to return home a long hot day someplace out on the back blocks of the property.

Mertondale

Top of The Terraces to Mertondale (14.4km, 265.3km cumulative)

The "gum tree" growing in the creek bed at the 2.8km mark is clearly not a rivergum - but it is another eucalypt that enjoys the moisture to be found along these inland creeks, the barlee box (Eucalypus lucasii). This location is close to the southern extremity of its range, but from here it is scattered north to the Pilbara and east all the way to the border and beyond.

Approaching Mertondale one cannot but be aware of the history of the area. Spoil dumps from open cut mining operations loom above the scrub, and then, near to the old townsite, the "smoke stacks" from the old gold treatment plant are visible on the horizon. Mine shafts, like giant ant nests, dot the landscape, and one gets a strong sense of all the activity that has taken place around here since Fred Merton's remarkable find back in 1899.

Please note that the area is the subject of active mining leases - and that dangerous old shafts abound. Take extra care if you explore beyond the road verge. 

The Terraces

Mertondale to The Terraces (18.6km, 283.9km cumulative) 

Please note that access to The Terraces is impassable when wet!

The spur in to the The Terraces is a highlight of the Leonora Loop Trails - providing it has not recently rained! The access road crosses numerous watercourses draining the breakaway to the north, and consequently suffers significantly when wet.

At The Terraces there are many opportunities to explore - 4wd tracks extend some distance either side of the main picnic sites, but please keep to these tracks, as this is an extremely fragile landscape. It is also a very beautiful one - indeed, so much so that you may wish to come back and spend a full day here (or, perhaps, camp overnight and savour the soft morning light on the cliff faces).

Malcolm Dam

The Terraces to Malcolm Dam (47.7km, 331.6km cumulative)

This is one of the longest drives between sites on either of the Loop Trails, and you should take care that you're not tempted to speed up - the track beyond the turn off of the Nambi-Leonora Road (33.5km) demands a slower speed, as it twists and turns frequently, and crosses many potentially rough watercourses. If it is late in the day you may wish to go directly to Leonora at this point, and return the next morning to complete the loop out to Malcolm Dam - which is a truly lovely sight when full, and well worth visiting. 

Leonora

Malcolm Dam to Leonora (14.2km, 345.8km cumulative)

As you leave the dam you will have a clear view of Mt Malcolm to the east, with the communication tower on top. May Vivienne gushed that "a splendid view of the surrounding country for fully 30 miles (45km) is obtained from the Mount", and that her party had a fine lunch on the summit during her 1901 visit. She also reports that road to Leonora passed through "very pleasant country, spread with wildflowers of all colours". While you may not be fortunate enough to travel this section in wildflower season, it is a pleasant enough drive regardless.

As if to typify the whole of the Leonora Loop Trails experience, the view on the approach to town is one that features both natural and man-made features. Mt Leonora rises prominently over the plains - but not far from it are the giant flat-top mine dumps from the Gwalia open-cut. From Ms Vivienne's time (and even earlier) through to today this has been the nature of the Leonora experience - a mighty human effort to extract a living (and to simply stay alive) in a landscape that is both raw and ruggedly beautiful.

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