Although it boasts a population of around 300, the tiny NT town of Pine Creek – located about 90 kilometres northwest of Katherine – has become a virtual must-stop for all grey nomads heading up or down the Stuart Highway.
It was the accidental discovery of gold by workers on the Overland Telegraph line in 1871 that really kick-started the settlement’s rapid growth.
Over the following years, miners flooded into the area – many of them of Singaporean Chinese origin – and soon more than 3,000 people called the township home.
There were pubs, a school, a repeater station, and – soon enough – a railway station. The narrow-gauge North Australia Railway from Port Darwin reached Pine Creek in 1889.
The line eventually closed in 1976 and the disused cutting in the centre of town has been transformed into the Water Gardens, a great place for a picnic. The line’s standard-gauge successor, which carries heavy freight and the Ghan tourist train, now passes about 400 metres east of the town.
History is still everywhere here. Many of the original buildings still stand, and the National Trust Museum building is the oldest prefabricated structure still left in the NT. It was originally located in Burrundie and served as the home of the mining warden, but was moved to Pine Creek in 1913. It is a great place to learn more about the area’s rugged history.
Other fascinating – and atmospheric – buildings include the bakery and the Old Playford Club Hotel, both of which are made out of galvanised iron.
Another unmissable attraction is the Pine Creek Railway Precinct which includes the railway station building itself, as well as the stationmaster’s house. Here also is a steam locomotive, built in 1877, which has been restored to operational condition. And Miners’ Park is home to well-signed old machinery from the area’s mines.
A great stroll from the old railway station is the ‘Walk through Time’ footpath, which is lined with tiles painted by local artists commemorating those who have made a contribution to Pine Creek.
It’s also worth a trip out to the Enterprise Pit Lookout just south of town, which offers spectacular views. The old pit was converted to an open cut mine in 1985 and is now full of water, 135 metres deep at points. In the decade it was open, the mine yielded 764,000 ounces of gold.
Pine Creek holds its annual Gold Rush Festival and local gold-panning championships every June. It’s not just mining history that’s a drawcard here. Pine Creek is apparently home to the largest number of bird species in the Northern Territory, and is a magnet for birdwatchers.
Camping options include the Pine Creek Railway Resort, the Lazy Lizard Caravan Park near Copperfield Dam, and there are also limited sites at the Pine Creek Service Station. Further out of town there is the Harriet Creek Camping area and the campground at Umbrawarra Gorge Nature Park, although towing caravans there is not recommended.
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