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Darwin to Adelaide River Rail Trail - Trail Description

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Trail

Darwin to Adelaide River Rail Trail

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Type: Rail trail
Location: Top End of the NT
Start/end: Darwin CBD to Adelaide River
Status: Partially open
Length open: 137km
Surface: Compacted earth, Coarse gravel, Sealed
Terrain: Gently undulating
Best seasons: Dry season (May to September), Wet season can be very hot, and parts of the unmaintained trail can be inundated
Public transport: Bus
Contact Region: Northern Territory
South from Coolalinga makes use of an adjacent utility easement 2021-05
South from Coolalinga makes use of an adjacent utility easement 2021-05
Suitable for walking Suitable for cycling mountain bikes Suitable for cycling touring hybrid bikes
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Details

Features

  • Follows the route of the historic former North Australian Railway (NAR) and many reminders of the railway remain
  • The section from Darwin CBD to Coolalinga is a high standard path that is now part of an extensive network of suburban cycle paths
  • The route includes many listed heritage places relevant to the old railway, as well as culverts, embankments and cuttings and dozens of the original 1880s rail bridges, some still with intact wooden sleepers.
  • The most intact part of the former rail is a 700 m restored section in The Narrows, about 5km from Darwin CBD
  • Beyond Darwin’s rural area, past Coolalinga, the trail winds through mainly rural properties and quiet farming and undeveloped areas, with a mix of Top End savanna and riparian forest
  • Remnants of pre- and WWII history are all along the trail, but many are yet to have comprehensive signage

Description

This page describes the both the formalised and unmaintained parts of the Darwin to Adelaide River Rail Trail, the latter remain in early development stages. The formal parts of the cycle path have retained original railway embankments, hand-excavated cuttings, culverts and many remnant bridges as heritage features, and directional signage was installed in 2015. In contrast, the trail past this has no signage and is currently best for those with a sense of adventure. However, most of the trail described here takes riders on service roads and through Crown land adjacent to the old rail corridor. Where this is not possible, routes on public roads are suggested to enable riders to connect to other sections of the trail allowing a total route of 137km.

The trail winds through Dry savanna and shady riparian habitats at creek crossings, which are traversable all year except the Monsoon season (January-March). The rail trail is popular among local Darwin mountain bike riders and is gaining popularity. The route can be viewed here.

Most of the undeveloped parts of the trail are poorly maintained and requires care with loose gravel or sandy sections. The sections from Darwin River to Adelaide River are in very remote areas with limited services. You should carry sufficient water, bike spares, first aid, food and have studied or downloaded maps. Several river and flooded crossings may be impassable for periods of time in the Wet season so seek local advice from the Friends of Darwin to Adelaide River Rail Trail Facebook page.

Access Points

• Darwin CBD – Daly/McMinns St intersection, or at the rear of No. 1 Harvey St
• Palmerston – over the shared pedestrian/cycle bridge behind Gateway Shopping Centre (off Roystonea Ave)
• Coolalinga – Grice Crescent
• Darwin River – Spencer Road
• Batchelor – Meneling Road
• Adelaide River – Coach Road

Darwin CBD to The Narrows (4km)

The start of the rail trail can be accessed from two points – the original entry at the corner of Daly and McMinn Streets, or via the underpass of the Stuart Highway (opened in 2010) which can be reached via the new Garramilla Boulevard bike path and Harvey Street. This underpass was the only bridge over the original NAR.

In Stuart Park there are two options:
• To take the original rail corridor to The Narrows, Palmerston and beyond, follow the signs to Palmerston by crossing the Stuart Highway at the Westralia Street lights in Stuart Park.
• The other option is to follow the signs to Casuarina keeping on the left of the Stuart Highway. This will take you to a small section of preserved rail in the garden bed at the intersection of Stuart Hwy and Salonika St, which was part of a spur line to Vestey’s Meatworks, and further on, a short (1 km) detour down Parap Road to McDonald Street will take you to the old Qantas Hangar where you can see the restored and heritage listed Sandfly, the original locomotive used during construction of the railway in 1888. Off Parap Road is Somerville Gardens and Railway Street where railway workers lived. While none of the original dwellings remain, the Railway Club is located where the original social and workers club was in this street, which is named after James Somerville, a former manager of the railway in 1909. To re-join the rail corridor, cross the Stuart Highway at Parap Road or Woolner Road lights.

In The Narrows there is a restored 700m section of the original track (with a re-sleepered old bridge) between Snell Street and the Winnellie Post Office. This section was heritage listed in 2011 with assistance from Darwin City Council and the Friends of the North Australia Railway (FNAR). A path runs from Snell St to a bus shelter about half way along the track. From here you can easily walk along the verge to view Bridge #4 and an information board. Cross the Stuart Highway at the Post Office lights to re-join the rail corridor and bike path.

The Narrows to Pinelands (10km)

The rail trail and bike path follows the original rail corridor from The Narrows to Pinelands immediately adjacent to the Stuart Highway, past numerous shops, service stations and the Aviation Heritage Centre, and crosses several arterial roads and cycle paths leading to Darwin’s northern suburbs. About 400m before McMillans Road are the remnants of a loading facility on a siding, used to unload cattle for the Angliss Meatworks between the 1960s to 1976.

Pinelands to Coolalinga (14km)

This section of the rail trail deviates away from the Stuart Highway following the original railway corridor, and is surrounded by remnant bushland. There are several path connections to shops and accommodation in Pinelands, Yarrawonga and Palmerston.

• Two interpretative shelters placed at Yarrawonga and Howard Springs have displays of railway history.
• Distance along the railway was measured in miles from the wharf abutment in Darwin Harbour. Several distance markers were installed by FNAR along the section of path opened in 2012 (Yarrawonga to Howard Springs).
• The path from Howard Springs to Coolalinga, opened in 2019, has retained three of the original bridge abutments.

Coolalinga is a rural service centre with a small shopping centre and a few cafes on both sides of the Stuart Highway. The former North Australian Railway corridor is largely retained from Coolalinga to as far south as Adelaide River.

Coolalinga to Arnhem Highway (6.5km)

This section starts at the end of the formalised Darwin cycle path and takes advantage of a gravel track along a power line easement parallel to the Stuart Highway. To see some stunning local wetlands turn left at Sayer Road (at the 5km mark) to the McMinns Lagoon Conservation Reserve (this has bike and pedestrian access about 1km down Sayer Road, just past Pheasant Drive intersection). To continue on the rail trail from Sayer Road, follow the informal track on the Stuart Highway verge to reach the Arnhem Highway.

• Just before the Arnhem Highway is the historic Wishart siding Fettler’s cottage, which is privately owned, but clearly visible from the track. The building shows what life was like for railway workers before electricity and air conditioning. It was heritage listed in 1992 and has recently been restored by the owner. In the early 1990s the cottage was open to the public as a tea room, and the Commonwealth Railways Diesel Locomotive NSU63 was situated on the front verge before it was moved to Adelaide River in the late 1990s, where it is now on public display and fully restored.

Arnhem Highway to Goode Road (5km)

The rail trail along here is overgrown and several bridges still have original 1880s girders across them, including the Elizabeth River, one of the largest along the whole Darwin to Adelaide River former railway. While there is some interest to develop this section for rural commuters, riders need to continue on the dual lane Stuart Highway to continue to the next section of rail trail. Along here the road shoulder varies in width and cyclists who would rather not mix with highway traffic can take back roads through Humpty Doo to Goode Road. Alternatively, the Stuart Highway verge is very wide and can be ridden on with a good mountain bike and with care.

Goode Road to Cox Peninsula Road (7km)

• From the intersection of Goode Road and Stuart Highway, opposite Jenkins Road, head directly south on a dirt track adjacent to the fence of a farm paddock for 2km to Noonamah, past old WWII dumps, entangled railway debris, and some old rail bridges.

• To continue towards Cox Peninsula Road, cross the Stuart Highway at the Noonamah petrol station towards the farm gates on the opposite side, then turn left and travel along the fence for about 1km. From here the rail corridor is on your left and you can ride along a gravel path next to it, with dense stands of Turkey Bush (Calytrix exstipulata) on either side, or continue straight along the water pipeline easement to Cox Peninsula Road.

• About 1km before Cox Peninsula Road is the heritage listed WWII Noonamah Railway Siding and Store Depot, and the Strauss Airstrip. Follow the various tracks in an easterly direction through the bush towards the Stuart Highway to find the various places and signage.

If you are driving to ride this section only, park at the Noonamah Tourist Park where a sign next to the bus stop provides details of the history of this area, including the railway.

Cox Peninsula Road to Mulgara Road (6.5km)

Riders who wish to continue on the rail trail will need to take several public roads, and Cox Peninsula Road is the busiest of these. Head in a westerly direction for 3km, crossing the new railway line, then turn left on Mala Plains Road, then left on to Mulgara Road. Continue right to the end, and the rail trail continues on your right.

Mulgara Road to Old Bynoe Road (9.8km)

This section of the rail trail mainly traverses on Crown land between rural farms and mango orchards, making use of a buried water main easement. There are several gates and some fences to negotiate, but this thoroughfare is Crown land.

• The most interesting rail bridge of the seven along this section is the Berry Creek crossing. You will know when you are at Berry Creek by the two large water main pipes that are raised out of the ground to cross the creek and are painted a bright white. The old bridge can be seen by walking a few metres upstream past the pipes. This creek is unpassable in the Monsoon season (January-March).

• This section ends at Old Bynoe Road where the former Southport siding was located. Although not near the former town of Southport (about 10km away) the siding was installed to provide services to it. However, paradoxically, because the railway bypassed the town instead of being part of the route, it led to its demise.

• One of the former water storage dams for steam locomotives is just across Old Bynoe Road. Follow the power lines 150m towards the southeast and you’ll find it on the right. View the dam from the power line easement as the dam is privately owned.

The former rail corridor is unpassable from here and to access the Darwin River to Batchelor trail section use public roads (approx. 16km). From the intersection of Old Bynoe Road and Hopewell/Duddell Roads you can head west along Old Bynoe Road. Services near here include the Tumbling Waters Holiday Park (cabins, camping and restaurant) or the Darwin River Tavern (camping, pub meals and store). At Darwin River Road head south, then turn right at Meade Road, then left at Mira Rd and you’ll find Spencer Road a few kilometres further on your left. Head east on Spencer Road to find the start of the rail trail to Batchelor.

Darwin River to Batchelor (31km)

• The first 14km of this rail trail is a realignment of the original 1887 railway corridor, which was built in the late 1960s due to the construction and filling of Darwin River Dam. This new section has a very wide gravel trail that is also a service road for several rural properties. At the 4.2km mark is a creek and rainforest where bird species such as Rainbow Pitta can be seen.

• The realignment joins the original corridor near the former Kanyaka Station, although no infrastructure remains here. From here, the trail joins a 4WD track which runs parallel to the rail corridor where former rail bridges cannot support vehicles; hence the 4WD track crosses several seasonal creeks. The 1887-built bridges are visible from the track, including a large culvert still in perfect condition that can be walked through. The road eventually crosses the Finniss River (East Branch). These are traversable all year except during the Monsoon season.

• At 19.5km the route diverts from the rail corridor due to recent mining activity that has removed access along a short section of the rail corridor. At this four-way intersection turn right along White Road for 500m, then turn left at Lithgow Road which is now sealed. At Bevan Road turn left, then right at Litchfield Park Road, and rejoin the rail trail at 25.3km on your left. From here the trail follows the rail corridor, passing the ruins of the historic Rum Jungle Siding and Hotel and the heritage listed Flynn’s Farm at 27.7km. The track arrives in Batchelor at Meneling Road, just near three accommodation options and a restaurant/cafe.

Batchelor is known as the gateway to Litchfield National Park. There is a museum and a historic walk around the town, a service station, general store, medical clinic, butterfly farm, tourist flights and skydiving, and a National Park Ranger office. Tours to Litchfield National Park pass through the town frequently. A major detour from Batchelor would be to Litchfield National Park by following Litchfield Park Road, which is best on weekdays to avoid busy weekend traffic.

Batchelor to Adelaide River (28km)

This section traverses through some remote areas with limited services, and a few spots have no mobile reception. You should carry sufficient water, bike spares, first aid, food and have studied or downloaded maps.

• From the corner of Meneling Road and Rum Jungle Road head south and turn right at the aerodrome roundabout to follow Coach Road. At the intersection of Fowler Road are the remains of the former Batchelor Railway Station and WWII heritage items, each with interpretive signage. From here it is another 2km along Coach Road before rejoining the rail corridor on the left, where a sign declares “Unmaintained road”, which is the start of “Old” Coach Road. At 4km is a cutting, and on the eastern side of this is a large former water storage for steam locomotives, and beyond this the former WWII Gould airfield and camp.

• At about 8km the trail descends to a branch of the Little Finniss River, and passes some rural properties and the intersection of Miles Road. From here the track deviates away from the rail corridor, but crosses it twice just before leaving “Old” Coach Road onto the ‘new’ sealed Coach Road. From here it is another 12km to Adelaide River, along a quiet rural road. On the left at 16.3km is the former Stapleton Siding with relics now scattered among the trees.

• Near Adelaide River is the former siding to the heritage listed WWII Snake Creek Armament Depot. At 24.8km is the siding embankment, rising up to the east. Walking up this takes you to an intact bridge, complete with wooden sleepers and tracks. There is no railing to cross safely to the Depot, however it can be accessed by following the old Stuart Highway. Turn left off Coach Road at 26.5km and follow the signs. The trail ends at the Adelaide River township.

Adelaide River is a popular stop along the Stuart Highway and has Greyhound bus services to and from Darwin (115km to Darwin via the highway). There is a post office, general store, service stations, and a well-known pub and accommodation. Just 3.5km east of the town is Mount Bundey Station which also has accommodation, camping and meals.

On the south side of the river is the heritage listed Adelaide River Railway Heritage Precinct which is managed by the National Trust (NT). The heritage listed Adelaide River Railway Bridge was one of the first large bridges to be constructed on the Palmerston to Pine Creek line in 1887-88. The bridge was first crossed on 3 December 1888 by the Silverton locomotive.

This page describes the both the formalised and unmaintained parts of the Darwin to Adelaide River Rail Trail, the latter remain in early development stages. The formal parts of the cycle path have retained original railway embankments, hand-excavated cuttings, culverts and many remnant bridges as heritage features, and directional signage was installed in 2015. In contrast, the trail past this has no signage and is currently best for those with a sense of adventure. However, most of the trail described here takes riders on service roads and through Crown land adjacent to the old rail corridor. Where this is not possible, routes on public roads are suggested to enable riders to connect to other sections of the trail allowing a total route of 137km.

The trail winds through Dry savanna and shady riparian habitats at creek crossings, which are traversable all year except the Monsoon season (January-March). The rail trail is popular among local Darwin mountain bike riders and is gaining popularity. The route can be viewed here.

Background Information

The narrow-gauge line between Palmerston (the former name of Darwin) and Adelaide River opened for passenger service on 16 July 1888, and the full line from Palmerston to Pine Creek opened in September 1889, mainly to service mines in the area. It was extended south to Katherine (Emungalan) in 1917 to service the cattle industry, and finally to Larrimah and Birdum in 1929, which was as far south as it went, with only road transport to Alice Springs where the Central Australia Railway went to Adelaide. Nevertheless, it played a vital role in the development of the Northern Territory and Australia during the second world war. Following the war, improving roads, the isolation, and finally damage to iron ore loading facilities at Darwin Port from Cyclone Tracy, resulted in the last railway service in 1976.

The new standard gauge Alice Springs to Darwin railway opened in 2004 and only utilised the former rail corridor between Katherine and Adelaide River, bypassing the entire section from Darwin to Adelaide River and Katherine to Birdum. The original Darwin Railway Station has long gone, but was located adjacent to rail yards that remain as vacant land along Frances Bay Drive, adjacent to a bike path. The new Darwin rail terminal is located in the industrial area of East Arm. Many parts of the former railway have been declared heritage places.

Gradient Profile

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Links

The section of formalised cycle path from Darwin CBD to Coolalinga is managed by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics. Please report any issues at transport.cycling@nt.gov.au or phone 8999 5511. Land along the remaining parts of the rail trail is owned by the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Logistics as either Vacant Crown Land or road reserves. Please report any issues to CrownLand.Estate@nt.gov.au or phone 8999 6886.

May 2021

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Contact Us About This Trail

Email or click here: nt@railtrails.org.au.

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