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Flying over
Ben walking around

Lost City

Thursday, July 25, 2002
Ben takes flight to the Northern Territory and stumbles across the skyscrapers of the outback.

Caranbirini Conservation Reserve is 46km south of Borroloola at the western extremity of the Bukalara Range and protects a sandstone escarpment, a semi-permanent waterhole and the eerie sandstone spires known as the Lost City. The Gadanji people used the waterfall as a source of food — turtles, mussels and water lilies.

There are no facilities and camping is not permitted, but there is a 1.5km trail which takes in the 25m high Lost City. Early morning and evening are particularly good times to be there and many birds gather at the waterhole in the dry months. To the east is the home of the rare Carpentarian grasswren. If you fancy looking for them, take lots of water and a compass as you will be going through rocky spinifex country.

The Lost City is on a plateau amongst surprisingly hilly country. It is spread over about 10 square kilometres and is estimated to be 1.4 billion years old. At 600-700 million years old, Uluru is a relative newcomer!

The whole area was once an inland sea. Water penetrated the rock and eroded it in a process called "pseudokarstic weathering", breaking it into columns up to 25m tall. They resemble skyscrapers which is the reason Lost City was given its name.

As the columns are 97 percent silica with just an outer crust holding them together, it is fortunate that the only way into the area is by helicopter. No doubt the condition of the columns would be in a deteriorated state should a road make them more accessible.

Cape Crawford is at the junction of the Carpentaria and Tablelands Highways, a long way from water despite its name, and has just a roadhouse called the Heartbreak Hotel.

Cape Crawford Tourism has helicopter flights to the Lost City, and it takes around 10 minutes to reach the columns, flying over the Abner Ranges on the way.

The landing point is quite spectacular. It is in the centre of Classroom Rock, a natural amphitheatre, and you then walk around the more eroded part of the city. You enter a cave which goes right through the rock, and when you emerge, you are on higher ground giving excellent views.

You will walk through an area which is a swamp during the wet season, but which was burnt during summer. It is starting to regenerate with grevilleas making a great comeback.

There are two Aboriginal art sites at Lost City and you will see how local tribes used their art to leave messages for each other. Sadly, it is beginning to flake away, and cannot be replaced or touched-up, so it has a limited life.

Your guide has a store of information about the area's history including its botany, mining and Aboriginal history. It seems the Aboriginal people had their own apothecary and two trees are evident. The green plum is an anaesthetic tree, used for everything from toothache to stomach ulcers, and the snotty gobble, also an anaesthetic tree, grows near the green plum and they formed a most useful combination for curing ailments.

Tours last around two hours, and starting at 4.30pm is the time of day the light is at its most spectacular.


Caranbirini Conservation Reserve in the Northern Territory.


Cape Crawford Tours cost $170 per person. They operate from April to October.
Please note prices are valid at time of transmission and to the best of our knowledge are inclusive of GST.

More information

Cape Crawford Tourism
Roper Bar Road
Cape Crawford NT
Ph: (08) 8975 9611

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