Fossicking in the NT

Rainbow lattice sunstone is an amazing thing, looking closely at it, you’d swear it was man made, surely such perfect straight lines, all at the same angles, layered on top of each other couldn’t be natural. For those more technically minded, it’s a feldspar called perthite with lamellar and sagentic twinning of thin titanium iron oxide blades, much of this lattice has oxidized to display the iridescence effect.

For me it’s a pretty shiny rock, and I like pretty shiny rocks.

After my time at the big red rock I headed back to Harts Range for some more fossicking. It’s great fossicking out here with many rocks that you can collect though the two main ones are Garnet and Zircon. Public fossicking areas are spread through the Ranges and they are generally well sign posted with details found through the Territory government websites or numerous other sources. However it’s a good idea to research the fossicking area you plan to visit first.

Turn around

A drove quite a distance down gravel roads getting to the spotted tiger campground and fossicking area, only to find that I couldn’t actually get in. It’s in there somewhere, a public fossicking area and known campground, but you need a permit to get to it.

Oh well, back to a fossicking area that I know is accessible to chase some garnet at fossicking areas 3 and 4 according to the maps and signs, though I managed to muck that up as well.

Small piece of Moonstone

I was pretty sure that I was in one of the fossicking areas though I was struggling to find any red garnets, instead I’d picked up a few nice white/clear rocks with an unusual glean to them. While I was wandering around looking another car pulled in near me and a bloke wandered over saying g’day. This was Darren and I was about 50m away from his pegged mining claim where he hand mines rainbow lattice sunstone, he was a little concerned  as people often trespassed on his claim area so he was just checking me out. He told me that what I was finding was Moonstone and suggested that I’d probably find a lot of it around this area and also possibly sunstone and if I was incredibly lucky I may find some rainbow lattice sunstone, who knows when another little deposit near by could show up, after all, the only known deposit was less than a hundred metres away.

Rough piece of rainbow lattice sunstone

I’d heard of the rainbow lattice sunstone and seen pictures online though the information I’d read said that it’s only found at one place in the world and that it was mined out years ago. Partly right. Yes it only comes from one place but it wasn’t all dug out, and I’d just happened across the one place you find it purely by chance. And just happened to run into one of the original people that found the deposit back in 1985.

Shiny rock

I spent quite a while chatting to Darren, he gave me a couple of pieces and I also bought a few bits he had in the car, lovely stuff and photos don’t really do it justice. I ran into Darren back at the Gemtree caravan park and made arrangements to meet him in Alice Springs in a few days to buy some more pieces.

Rough with lattice + triangles + normal sunstone flecks

But enough of that, onto the actual fossicking. After some discussions and looking at the governments fossicking maps Darren admitted that yes it was very confusing, but the best Garnet area was about 4km further down the little track I was on. In fact he was getting a sign made up saying “fossicking area 4km” to help people find it, and stop accidental visits by people at his mining claim.

Real fossicking area

It’s a pretty average track down to the fossicking area with a very rough rocky climb in one section. If you haven’t got to the bit where you think you should put the car in 4×4 and it’s a first gear slow climb up the rocky hill, then you haven’t got to the fossicking area. When you get there the fossicking area is huge, but there are only certain places where you find the good stuff. Look for diggings, but more importantly look for garnet on the ground where people have been digging.

The good stuff

Look closely at the picture above, see the little red bits with light shining through them? This is garnet If you don’t see these little chips of garnet on the ground, don’t bother digging.  I camped right down one end of the track and there were diggings around but no sign of any garnet. I dug there for a while but found nothing. Then the next morning I drove back a kilometre or two stopping along the track checking for signs of garnet before I found the place where everyone had been digging and there was garnet everywhere on the ground.

Old diggings

The old diggings were hard to see from the track but once I stopped and explored, the ground was littered with holes for at least 100m along the track and there was garnet everywhere. I spent a while specking, picking up pieces from the ground before I finally picked a hole that I’d found some nice pieces near, I got in and started digging in earnest.

The process here was simple and straight forward, dig and dry sieve the dirt using only the 6mm (large) sieve to get rid of the sand and small stuff. Pick out and throw away any large rocks before tipping the smaller gravel into your bucket. Keep doing this until your bucket is almost filled with the sieved gravel. Take the bucket back to camp where you have your wash bucket set up with water in it scoop some of the gravel out into the sieve. Another quick dry shake before a few plunges into the water to wash what’s in the sieve. Don’t put too much into the sieve, you just want one very thin layer of gravel in the sieve. Then hold the sieve up to the light and you should be able to see the red shining garnet.

Look for red bits

It’s no so obvious in the picture above but they do stand out quite obviously, and after a while you can spot the garnets without holding the sieve up to the light. In the end you will end up with a lot of bombs, a lot of rubbish and hopefully a few nice clear cutters.


This next stone was my best for the garnet fossicking part of the trip, a lovely big clean stone that in real life has a real pink/plum colour to it, I imagine that it would cut a beautiful stone if I ever want to get it cut.

Nice stone

You’ll also find garnet bombs, big chunks of highly fractured garnet, and every now and then you may find a bomb with some better clean bits of garnet within it. This piece is predominantly just a mess, but there are some nice clean chunks of garnet on the outside, and who knows what might be inside.


Next fossicking was at “Mudtank” for zircon. This is very close to the Gemtree caravan park and for $12 a night I figured I’d stay there and drive to the fossicking area, that way I could have a decent shower each night.

Arriving at the mud tank fossicking area it’s a little daunting, the place is huge and there are tracks off in all directions. I spent a long time driving around looking for diggings and my hint for people here is don’t bother driving right down the back. It seems that the two main areas for fossicking are down near the front, just after you go past the main camping area and in to the actual fossicking area there’s a track off to the right, then shortly after there’s a track to the left. Take either of these and they will lead you off to the main digging areas, well at least the main digging areas I found anyway.

Old diggings

I’m not professing to be an expert, I only spent 2 days out here, but much of what I read about fossicking in the area was little help to me, they talked of things like “specimen hill” and “zircon hill” and the flats between them. That’s all very well but there are no signs out there, so knowing whats what is tricky. Above you will see the typical countryside in the fossicking area at this time of year. Here there were very old diggings from fossickers, there hadn’t been much digging around this immediate area in years and the old mullock heaps were pretty small.

Zircon and Apatite

This is my better stuff, although it may not look like it in the photo, there’s a high percentage of cutters in here. I sent two days just specking all over the old diggings in the area off where you turn to the left. It didn’t take long for me to start finding bits of zircon lying around on the ground. There was also a lot of green rock, you may notice some pale green bits in the picture above, this is called apatite and there’s a lot of it around the area, some of it’s nice and eye clean so worth picking up.

Apatite bomb

Almost all of the zircon I found was clear through to light brown in colour, I’d heard and seen pictures of people getting lots of dark brown through to reds  but I was getting nothing like that here, maybe that’s what you find if you turn right instead of left. There were also a couple of people digging off to the right while no one was digging in the area to the left while I was there.

Clear zircon

This is a random piece of clear zircon from the container, nothing much to look at, but it will cut a lovely stone, like many of the pieces I found. Now although this next stone may not look like much, it’s by far the best stone I found, it’s huge, and although it looks rough on the outside the middle is clean and should cut a stone of perhaps around 4 or 5 carats.

Big zircon

Surprising when you think that this beautiful stone and all the others came from just picking them up from the ground. I didn’t touch my spade or sieves, there was more than enough to keep me going just in the one area for 2 days walking around picking them up. I could have spent another 2 or 3 days walking around specking and still not covered all of the area where people have been digging.


I’ll be back here one day.


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1 Comment

  • Reply Denis Hopking February 1, 2024 at 12:16 pm

    I’m a sculptor of stone and a ceramic artist… so I’m naturally drawn to stone, rocks and boulders. My partner is in hospital with lymphoma and having chemo. A friend visited her and gave her a geode of garnet size about a squash ball PLUS a cut and polished geode of garnet with all types of shapes like pentagrams, triangles, six and seven sides – beautiful and quite heavy as a potter probably weighed 130gms or so. She had found this in Hart National Park. Such a lovely gift and so healing to hold. Really enjoyed reading your fossicking journey in the outback – I love it out there,,, it’s like an infinite ocean bed of mystery!

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