Newhaven

Newhaven

Overview

Covering 262,000 hectares, and located near the intersection of three central Australian bioregions, Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary is one of Australia’s largest non-government protected areas.  

The scenery at Newhaven is spectacular: dramatic quartzite mountains overlook extensive parallel sand dunes and shimmering salt lakes and clay pans.  Decorated by mulga woodlands, rich spinifex sandplains and large areas of bloodwood and desert oak, Newhaven is also a hotspot for the wildlife of central Australia.  Threatened species include the Black-footed Rock-wallaby, the Brush-tailed Mulgara and an important population of the Great Desert Skink. 

Newhaven is renowned as a key arid zone bird watching destination.  Supporting over 165 species of birds, the property was originally purchased by Birdlife Australia before being transferred to AWC in 2006.  Birdlife continue to work in partnership with AWC at Newhaven.  

An historic native title consent determination in 2010 recognised the Ngalia Warlpiri people as the traditional owners of Newhaven and they remain actively involved in its management, participating in AWC’s delivery of major land management and science programs such as fire management, feral animal control and biological surveys.  

Key vitals

Size/area:
261,610 hectares
Mammals:
21
Bioregion:
Great Sandy Desert
Birds:
167
Ecosystems:
23
Reptiles:
75
Plants:
631
Frogs:
6
Threatened plants:
15
Threatened wildlife:
16

Wildlife

The range and quality of habitats across Newhaven protect a stunning diversity of arid zone birdlife.  In the north, the piping calls of Grey Shrike Thrush and Pied Butcher Birds echo in the gorges of Newhaven’s rugged quartzite ranges, while the trill calls of the Dusky Grasswren or the Spinifex Bird are often heard on the edge of the ranges.  Further south, Princess Parrots grace the woodlands on their nomadic desert flights.  Other arid zone specialist species include the Banded Whiteface, Rufus-crowned Emu-wren, Slaty-backed Thornbill, Grey Honeyeater and the Redthroat.

The mammal fauna of Newhaven is also exceptional.  The MacDonnell Ranges race of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale lateralis ssp), which is now absent from Uluru and Kata Tjuta and declining elsewhere, is still present on the Quartzite ranges of Newhaven.  Other threatened mammals include a significant population of the Brush-tailed Mulgara, the Southern Marsupial Mole and a range of native rodents and small marsupials such as the carnivorous Fat-tailed False Antechinus.  The Greater Bilby is possibly still present at Newhaven, which also lies within the former range of at least two other endangered mammals which AWC plans to reintroduce: the Burrowing Bettong and the Mala.

The reptile fauna features Australia’s smallest goanna – the diminutive Short-tailed Pygmy Monitor - and our largest goanna  - the massive Perentie - within a rich reptile fauna of 75 species. Of particular note, Newhaven protects one of the largest known populations of the nationally vulnerable Great Desert Skink.

Populations of many small mammals, particularly the native rodents, will “boom” during the wetter years.  During these wetter seasons, the property is adorned by a network of ephemeral lakes which become breeding sites for migratory birds as well as species such as the burrowing frogs that have been lying dormant under the sand waiting for rain. 

Click below to view the list of wildlife species at Newhaven:
Mammals List  |  Birds List  |  Reptiles List  |  Amphibians List  |  Threatened List

Measures of success: Ecological Health

Great Desert Skink
Great Desert Skink

AWC is the only conservation organisation to measure, in a robust scientific manner, the ecological health of a network of sanctuaries in Australia.  At Newhaven, we undertake more than 8,000 live trap nights, 200 bird surveys and 60 site-based vegetation surveys each year – as well as extensive sandplot surveys for feral predators – to measure a suite of ecological health indicators including:

  • The diversity and abundance of key faunal groups such as small to medium sized mammals, ground-nesting birds and diurnal reptiles, as well as the populations of key species such as Mulgara.
  • The impact of key threats such as fire, feral herbivores, feral predators, and weeds.

Our performance against these indicators provides rigorous scientific data which enables us to track the ecological health of Newhaven.  

Field programs

Newhaven is the only non-government protected area dedicated to biodiversity conservation in central Australia.  

  • The level of scientific activity at Newhaven is consistently higher than any other protected area in central Australia including large-scale annual biological surveys to measure ecological health, dedicated research on key species such as the Great Desert Skink and long-term monitoring of bird populations.
  • The effectiveness of our land management program – particularly feral animal control, weed control and fire management – serves as an important model for central Australia.   
  • AWC has developed a strong working relationship with the Nyirripi and Yuendumu Indigenous Ranger groups and in collaboration with the Central Land Council has established a dedicated ranger base on Newhaven which facilitates their involvement in the management of Newhaven. 

General description

Colin Gibson and Duncan Gallagher undertaking a tracking survey
Colin Gibson and Duncan Gallagher undertaking a tracking survey

The rugged ranges, salt lakes and sand plains of Newhaven are the traditional lands of the Ngalia Warlpiri people. Many Aboriginal people still maintain strong cultural links to the area and in 2010 a historic Native Title consent determination was formally approved by the Federal Court in a special sitting at Newhaven.

An enormous wind-driven sand blanket covers much of central Australia, but at Newhaven, shimmering salt lakes, pastel ochre clay pans, vibrant red parallel dunes, undulating calcareous plains, and dramatic purple-red quartzite mountains cut with scarps and gorges punctuate the view.  Each of these landforms supports its own diverse range of plant communities that vary in response to topography, soil, and fire history.  These communities create a scattered patchwork of textured greens yellows and greys, providing stark contrast to the colours of the underlying terrain. 

Parallel sand ridges, described by an explorer as “an ocean of spinifex covered sand waves” characterise the southern-most parts of Newhaven. Further north, an extensive system of salt lakes lay strewn along an ancient calcareous drainage line from east to west across the property, culminating in the 16 kilometre long Lake Bennett. The lakes rarely contain water, filling only after periods of intense rainfall.

A crescent of bluff-edged ranges dominate the north eastern corner of Newhaven, rising to 800 m above the plains. Black-footed rock wallabies survive among the rugged boulder fields and gorges of these mountains.

Newhaven is in the arid zone of central Australia, however the climate of the area is influenced by the tropics to the north. High levels of spatial and temporal variability in rainfall characterise the region, however rainfall is most common within the summer months. Decadal scale cycles, varying greatly in length, of El Niño driven below average rainfall, unpredictably broken by very high rainfall events are the key feature of arid zone ecosystems. This climatic variability has driven the evolution of a suite of fauna and fauna specially adapted to these boom and bust patterns. 

Ecosystems and plants

Wildflowers at Newhaven
Wildflowers at Newhaven

Newhaven Sanctuary sits on the eastern edge of the Great Sandy Desert Bioregion.  Significantly, the property is located in a ‘transition zone’, very close to the boundary of both the Burt Plain and MacDonnell Ranges Bioregions.  

Its location near the confluence of three bioregions is a factor in the property’s overall diversity.  Broad vegetation mapping has identified at least 23 different ecosystems, all of which are either threatened or completely unreserved, or poorly reserved, within the government national park system.  

Spinifex sandplain dominates the landscape. These vast sandplains are broken by a chain of shimmering salt lakes through the centre of the property; the fringes of these lakes are home to unique communities of salt adapted plants.  Elsewhere, the property features large areas of bloodwood sandplains and dunefields dotted with stands of majestic desert oaks.   

A vibrant red parallel dune field in the south of the property merges with calcrete grasslands supporting majestic Ghost gums.  In the north, run-off from the dramatic quartzite ranges support small but significant patches of Mulga woodland. 

Over 650 plant species have been confirmed on Newhaven.  Of these, 51 species are identified by the NT Government as being of conservation significance, including three that are nationally threatened and 15 that are classified as threatened in the NT.  

Staff at Newhaven

Visitor program

Newhaven Sanctuary has a campground which is open to visitors during the cooler winter season (April – September). A series of self-guided tours have been established allowing visitors to independently explore this diverse arid landscape at their own pace. Comprehensive interpretive notes accompany these tours providing an informative background to each journey.

A number of short walks provide an opportunity for bird watching within Mulga woodlands or a brief climb up one of the nearby hills gives a spectacular view of the vastness of the desert.

Unpowered camping sites are available with shower and toilet facilities and drinking water.

Bookings are essential, as there are limited camping facilities. Please click here to make a booking or enquiry.

Click below for information on the self-guided tours at Newhaven: