Fossicking and Gold Panning in the Northern Territory

There's something rather special and quite exhilarating about heading into the Outback with family and friends in search of gold, gemstones, crystals and semi precious stones. Fossicking and gold panning are timeless pursuits, evoking the spirit of adventure that inspired Australia's early pioneers and miners from the gold rush era. For modern adventurers of all ages, it offers an invigorating and adventurous journey into some of the earth's most exquisite and mystical natural creations.

Fossicking - Australia's Outback Northern Territory
Fossicking - Australia's Outback Northern Territory
Fossicking - Australia's Outback Northern Territory

Australia's Outback Northern Territory is attracting increasing numbers of first time fossickers as well as seasoned 'rock hounds' who have discovered an unique and fun way to see and explore some of the Territory's most scenic outback landscapes. And what sort of gems and precious stones can be discovered in the Northern Territory? An amazing treasure chest such as alluvial gold including nuggets, agate and jasper quartz, tourmaline, garnets, zircons and muscovite to name but a few.

 

At a number of sites, such as Gemtree north of Alice Springs, you can even get your 'booty' cut and set into a very personal piece of jewellery.

You'll be dazzled by more than just your earthly finds. The fossicking areas are also full of stories and characters from the Territory's colourful pioneering past. Legends live on in the names of former mine sites such as Billy Hughes Mine, Caruso Mine, Spotted Dog Mine and Disputed Mine.

The main gem fossicking areas in the Territory are centred east of Alice Springs in the Harts Range with places like Gemtree providing a dedicated service centre for gem hunters. Key areas for gold panning are around Arltunga east of Alice Springs as well as Tennant Creek, just over 500 km to the north of Alice Springs and in the Top End around the old historic gold mine township of Pine Creek, 224 km south of Darwin.

Visitors have the option of joining one of a number of organised fossicking day trips or go independently and either hire the equipment on site or bring your own. Many of the fossicking areas, even those in remote areas, have nearby camping sites which make fossicking an ideal inclusion on any 4x4 touring adventure or camping holiday with the family. The only thing that is required to be able to fossick for recreation in the Northern Territory is a Fossickers Permit. They are free of charge and readily available along with detailed maps and local information either off the web or from a variety of agents in the local area (see fact file for details). Those who take guided day trips don't require a permit as it is included in the fee along with necessary equipment and the services of a guide.

Central Australia is a natural hub of gem hunters. The mineral rich Harts Range east of Alice Springs includes a fossicking area that encompasses the abandoned mica mines of Mount Palmer. Gemtree, situated 140 km north east of Alice Springs on the sealed section of the Plenty Highway, makes an ideal base for any fossicking expedition into the Harts Range. Go it alone or join in one of the tag along tours that depart daily to the surrounding gem fields. Gemtree also has fuel and camping facilities as well as gem displays and a cutting room. Other activities on offer include a 9 hole par 34 bush golf course, scenic drives, a 2.5 km nature walk and opportunities to try your hand at Paddy Melon bowls, a unique Gemtree sport offered every Saturday night May to September.

Alice Springs based tour operators such as Terri's Outback Tours also offer fossicking day trips with both passenger and tag along tour options to the rich gemfields of the Harts Range or the old goldfields of Arltunga.

Garnets and zircons are the two most collectable gems of the Harts Range region. The blood red garnets of the Centre were often mistaken for rubies when first discovered in the late 1800's, however they still make stunning jewellery pieces when cut and set. Zircons have almost as much brilliance as diamonds and are often confused with the man-made zirconias. The natural Zircons of Central Australia come in a wide variety of colours (similar to Argyle diamonds) and are a thrill to find and own.

If the glint of gold is your passion then you can head out by 4x4 to the Arltunga Historical Reserve, just over 100 km east of Alice Springs off the Ross Highway. While camping is not permitted at the fossicking reserve, the nearby Arltunga Bush Hotel and Camp ground makes an ideal base camp for any expedition in the area and the full details on the area are available from the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission Visitors' Centre at the Reserve.

The main gold prospecting areas in Central Australia are around Tennant Creek, which is known as the Golden Heart of the Territory. Keen fossickers can take a tag along tour with local miner Paul Holewa, or head out to the old Warrego Mine site around 60 km from the town centre where you can dry pan or use metal detectors in the designated public fossicking areas. Tennant Creek has a number of caravan and camping grounds that make for an ideal base camp for any stay in the area and allows visitors to take in the region's other attractions such as the Battery Hill Mining Centre, Mary Ann Dam Recreation Lake, Tennant Creek telegraph station and the famous Devils Marbles.

In the Top End, fossickers and gold panners head for the historic gold mining township of Pine Creek, 224 km south of Darwin, which was the centre of the region's heady 1870's gold rush days. You can tour the many historic mine sites and displays as well as try your hand at gold panning at Gun Alley. Each year in early May, Pine Creek hosts the annual Gold Rush Festival, which includes the popular NT Gold Panning Championships. The nearby Goldfields Loop Heritage Trail will delight history buffs and you can camp overnight at the quirky Grove Hill Heritage Hotel, which includes a fascinating array of gold mining memorabilia and colourful locals.

Fossicking and gold panning are fascinating pastimes and if you and your family and friends want to experience a truly memorable adventure holiday, head to the Northern Territory because you will never never know if you never never go!!

Fact File

www.dbird.nt.gov.au - The official NT Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development website. Find Fossicking under the Minerals and Energy section, then Licences, Titles & Permits sub section. Includes practical information and site maps, exclusion areas, dictionary of gems and minerals and safety tips.

www.gemtree.com.au - Gemtree makes a great base for any fossicking in the Harts Ranges. Camping facilities, tours, cutting room, gear to hire and information are all available.

Tennant Creek Regional Tourist Assoc Inc. Battery Hill Regional Centre, Peko Road, Tel: 08 8962 3388, Email: info@tennantcreektourism.com.au

Katherine Region Tourist Association. Stuart Highway, Katherine. Tel: 08 8972 2650, Email: information@krta.com.au

Outback Gems, Shop 2, Coles Complex, Alice Springs. Tel: 08 8952 9299, Fax: 08 8952 9299.

Department of Mines and Energy: Alice Springs: 58 Hartley Street, Tel: 08 8951 5658 Darwin: Centrepoint Building, Smith Street Mall, Tel: 08 8999 5322 .