a camping trip of ridiculous proportions

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Mount Isa, Cloncurry and Walkabout Creek

After a week or so of bush camping on the Savannah Way, we crossed the border into Queensland on the Barkley Hwy and rolled into Mount Isa for some much needed shopping, showering and general clean up. Mt Isa is a mining town. There’s a couple of mining related tourist attractions around town but, being from WA, there was no novelty for us. We walked around town, had a beer at a bar or two, did the shopping, but mostly just chilled out in the caravan park which had a swimming pool. With a population of around 22,000 people, it’s a pretty big town with heaps of shops and places to eat and drink.

After Mount Isa is Cloncurry. We pretty much just drove through. We had a look at the museum but it was closed for the christmas break. From Cloncurry we turn south east onto the Landsborough Hwy on our advance towards Brisbane. We passed the Walkabout Creek Hotel in McKinlay, made famous from the movie Crocodile Dundee. It’s a beautiful old timber building, well maintained and kept super clean and tidy. Good spot for a glass or two of liquid motivation. There’s also accommodation. We grabbed a drink and continued our journey.


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Tablelands Hwy, Northern Territory

Leaving Borroloola, we back tracked to Cape Crawford then headed south on Tablelands Hwy – a single lane sealed road that runs for about 500km, joining up with the Barkley Hwy which is the main thoroughfare connecting northern NT to Queensland. The sealed road is wide enough for one car only. When an oncoming car approaches you need to take to the gravel gutter. This is very flat flood plain country, quite remote just south of the Gulf of Carpenteria. We stopped off on the side of the road for an overnight rest. Across the road there was some recently burnt out scrub, which along with the setting sun and incoming storm clouds created some interesting colours and a nice photo. A few burnt out cars and cattle around the place too. Note how the contrasting images, with the 44 gallon drum and the burnt out car, make a statement about our impact on the earth and the environment.


Borroloola – Barra Time

Borroloola saw the end of our dream to conquer the Savannah Way through the gulf country to Queensland. Continuing was not possible due to heavy rainfall. Nathan River Road was exciting for its mud sliding and near boggings but further east around the Queensland border the creeks were too deep and fast flowing to pass. It was expected – we knew that tackling Savannah Way at the start of the wet season was always going to be touch and go. A week earlier and we would have made it.

Don’t worry, the wrath of the rain gods was offset by the generosity of the barra gods. I landed myself a record breaking 76cm barramundi in the McArthur River at Borroloola. Caught him on a soft plastic lure late in the afternoon. I’m super satisfied at this stroke of luck. Unable to complete the Savannah Way meant after Borroloola we had to head south towards central Queensland to catch the bitumen, leaving barra country and any chance of catching more barra. So it was my last chance which made landing the barra all the more sweeter.

On the way to Borroloola we stopped off at Cape Crawford and the Heartbreak Hotel. This is some pretty remote country so the hotel is a welcome stop. We got there around lunch time and the hotel was closed until evening. We would have loved to grab a beer at Heartbreak Hotel but didn’t want to wait around 6 hours. Instead we hit up a steak sandwich at the restaurant. We also caught a glimpse of a frilled neck lizard. He didn’t want to display his frill for the camera but we still got a couple of shots.

We checked out the fishing village at King Ash Bay, a few km from Borroloola. We were impressed – usually these fishing camps are strewn with debris, abandoned cars, sheet metal, etc. King Ash Bay was clean, neat and well maintained. It was here we discovered the second corrugation failure on this trip – the bonnet latch. It’s held by 3 bolts. One bolt was missing. I believe the missing bolt vibrated loose from corrugations. With only two bolts, the corrugations caused the latch to swing back and forth fatiguing the metal. A few million corrugations later and it sheered off the bolt mounts. The way we noticed the problem was very lucky. A chap had stopped on the side of the road and needed a jump start. We stopped to help. I pulled the hood lever but it didn’t pop. A bit of prodding and poking at the latch and we managed to free the bonnet.  This was lucky – the bonnet becoming free at speed is a costly and dangerous situation. The solution to get us back onto the road – a bit of rope holding down the bonnet. Nothing like a dodgy bush mechanic fix on our fancy new hilux.

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Towns River to Lost City, Limmen River National Park

After an overnight at Towns River, we continued our journey on Savannah Way south on Nathan River Road. This part of the trip got interesting, with some areas having received heavy rainfall making the track pretty wet and slippery. We had to pass through many muddy puddles, including a few long, deep pools that had us holding our breath as the car lost speed and bogged down in the thick mud before barely making it to the other side. We had a look at Maria Lagoon and the Limmen River Fishing Camp on the banks of the lagoon. The track to the fishing camp was pretty bad. The main Nathan River Road is constructed with camber and gutters and gravel to help resist water, whereas the track to Maria Lagoon and the Limmen River Fishing Camp is just pushed straight through the dirt, becoming pretty muddy when wet. We had a look at Butterfly Springs camping area and rock pool but decided to push on as the rock pool had not received enough water to flush out the stagnant water from the end of the dry so wasn’t good for swimming. It’s much better just after the wet. We passed an airstrip with a steel bull mailbox complete with large bull package, stopped for a photo, then continued to the Lost City camping area. Here we walked the trail through the lost city as the sun began to set, bringing out the red colour of the sandstone pillars, then retired for the evening.



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Savannah Way – Nathan River Road

Leaving Roper Bar, the Savannah Way heads into some pretty remote country, through Limmen River National Park and towards the Gulf of Carpentaria on Nathan River Road. This road is all dirt and with the recent rain made it an interesting drive. There were many muddy puddles and flowing creeks to cross and generally the track was rough and slippery, giving us plenty of sideways action. The corrugations managed to break our CB radio antenna. This wouldn’t be the last thing to fall victim to corrugations on our trip across Savannah Way. We checked out the St Vidgeon ruins then headed to Towns River camping area for an overnight stop. There’s a good fishing spot near the campsite off some rocks along the Towns River. The water was very clear and we could see plenty of fish including some pretty big sharks. I hooked up a couple of small barra but they shook off. Then I hooked up something huge, like a truck. It felt like a shark. Whatever it was the fight didn’t last long, breaking off my line in a few seconds and taking away my favourite lucky lure.


Savannah Way – Mataranka to Roper Bar

Our Savannah Way expedition kicked off with the first segment heading east from Stuart Highway – taking the Roper Highway from Mataranka to Roper Bar. This section is mostly sealed road and had not seen much rain so was pretty easy cruising. We camped on the side of the road half way to Roper Bar for a night. Saw plenty of wildlife, many of them feral introduced species and a few natives. Sharni called it Australia’s feral safari trip. The feral species were donkeys, horses, buffalo and pigs. We saw plenty of birds, including one which we mistook for a baby emu until it started flying. From that point we coined it the flying mini emu bird. Please excuse some of the photos – wildlife is hard to photograph as they tend to run away. We made a conscious effort to pull out big bertha, our SLR camera, so hopefully you’ll notice an improvement in some of our photos.  Also we saw abandoned cars in ridiculous proportions. They’re everywhere on the side of the road.

Roper Bar is a very small community. It consists of a general store and a few dongas. We grabbed a coffee at the store where we asked about the road conditions of the road to Borroloola. They said there’s been some rain but should be passable. There’s a historic police station near the Roper Bar crossing which we checked out. The information plaques are completely cactus. Illegible. We crossed Roper Bar river crossing and checked out the Aboriginal community of Ngukurr, then headed off back on Savannah Way towards Borroloola. The Roper Bar river crossing is where Ludwig Leichhardt crossed the Roper River on his way from Morton Bay, near Brisbane, to Port Essington on the northern tip of the Northern Territory in 1844. The bar is a natural shallow rocky shelf that provided a safe route for Liechhardt’s expedition to cross the Roper River.

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Big Barra Caught! Also Merry Christmas.

Fishing from the McArthur River at Borroloola saw a new record sized barra caught: 76cm, 5 kg. It was heavy and pulled hard. Very satisfying to land it.

We’re now in Longreach, Queensland, celebrating Christmas. Will post more details of our trip here in the coming days.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and may the barra gods bask you in the same glory with which I have been basked.