The Mereenie Loop
Road is an unsealed road and four wheel drive is recommended, but not necessary, with the main emphasis on good ground clearance. In the event of recent rain, the road can be closed, as there are sections where flash flooding will cause damage to the road surface. Most Hire Car Companies will not let their vehicles drive the Mereenie Loop
Road, so if you are planning on hiring a vehicle, be warned that you may not be able to drive this route. With a cooperative agreement between the Traditional Aboriginal owners, the Central Lands Council and the Northern Territory
Government, we all now have the opportunity to see firsthand the spectacular natural beauty that this area has to offer.
Officially starting at Kataputa Pass, and ending at Watarrka National Park, you will be driving through Haasts Bluff Aboriginal Land and if visiting Tnorala (Gosse Bluff), through the Ltalaltuma Aboriginal Lands, the two main language groups of the Luritja and Western Aranda Aboriginal people are spoken. The local Aboriginal people still have strong bonds to this area, with many places
sacred to them and all visitors are asked to respect the natural environment, Aboriginal culture and wishes of the Aboriginal land owners. Some of the conditions of use on the permit is that all visitors must carry the permit with them at all times, no overnight camping and the only authorised roadside stop within the permit area is at Ginty’s Lookout. As this is the only permitted rest area, Ginty’s Lookout is a perfect spot
to breakup your journey and to enjoy the views looking south to Carmichael Crag and Kings Canyon, while north is the sand dune country with Desert Oaks and Kurrajong trees. This rest area is for day use only, with no overnight camping permitted.
After leaving Ginty’s Lookout, you descend to the plains below, travelling through the same type of country already travelled. The closer you get to Kings Canyon; the George Gill Range is now the dominant Range. Once you meet the bitumen it heralds the end of the Mereenie Loop
Road as you now enter the Watarrka National Park and within a very short time enter the Kings Canyon Resort. Once here there are many accommodation options, or you can continue your journey to Yulara.
The major part of this route passes directly through traditional homelands of Aboriginal landowners and a ‘Mereenie Tour Pass’ must be obtained before undertaking this drive. The pass cannot be purchased on line however you can nominate a window of travel. See the Preparation section for details.
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For any first time traveller into Central Australia, the Mereenie Loop Road will give you an insight into the desert flora and fauna that is so typical of Central Australia. From the ancient and majestic West MacDonnell Ranges, with towering River Red Gums and mulga the track enters gibber country, and this giving way to the vibrant rich red dune country that is so typical of the ‘Red Centre’.
The Desert Oak is common in the dune country, as well as Kurrajong trees, mulga, spinifex and many other species of vegetation. Entering the Watarrka National Park, the main vegetation will be mulga with River Red Gums in the Creek beds while the dominant Ranges are the western end on the George Gill Range.
Located within the Amadeus Basin, Exoil’s third well in that area, Mereenie 1 was spudded on the 2nd December 1963. In January 1964, the well had to be abandoned for operational reasons, as there was a well blow out and not even the camps blankets and shredded mattresses could stem the flow. Prior to the capping, the well was producing 136,000 m3 of gas per day, with the indications of possible liquids.
Following subsequent appraisal wells, East Mereenie 1 was drilled, with the gas flow rate of 700,000 m3 per day, which still ranks as one of the highest test rates recorded onshore in Australia
, with this same well still producing gas today. When East Mereenie 2 was drilled, it was the first well in Australia
to be successfully drilled with air, while West Mereenie 2 was the first well in Australia
to be successfully drilled using natural gas as the circulating medium.
Despite a 332 metre gas column and a 98 metre oil leg, the remoteness of the field together with the lack of markets and the prolonged dispute over Aboriginal land rights, development was held up until 1984. The Mereenie oil and gas field and then nearby Palm Valley gas fields were the first petroleum leases and potential developments in Australia
to be the subject of Aboriginal land rights claims and negotiations.
While driving the Mereenie Loop
Track today, Santos will be the only company sign associated with gas and oil production in the area. In the Mereenie area, Santos is the operator with a 65% stake with the remaining 35% owned by Magellan. Paleozoic oil was discovered in 1963 by the West Mereenie 1 exploration well, while gas was discovered in 1965 by the Palm Valley 1 exploration well. The first oil production commenced in 1984 while in 1987, the first gas production took place. The total investment to date for the joint Mereenie venture is approximately Australian $280 million.
There are 2 main fields from which oil and gas are produced and they are West Mereenie and East Mereenie. In these fields, there are approximately 57 wells through which 80 kilometres of pipeline and flow lines via the Eastern Satellite Station and the Central Treatment Plant. Associated gas from oil produced at the Eastern Satellite Station is compressed and reinjected into the main oil reservoir to maintain reservoir pressure, while gas from the Central Treatment Plant is compressed and sent via a 1,628 kilometre pipeline to Darwin. Oil and condensate is transported from the Central Treatment Plant to the Brewer Estate storage facilities, in Alice Springs via 270 kilometres of pipeline. From here it is transported to Port Bonython in South Australia
where it is then on sold to customers.