Logo Go to H&R The CompanyGo to Darwin Ti Tree ApartmentsYou Are HereGo to H&R Civil Contracting
Savannah Way

Go to government Savannah Way web site


Mt Isa to Borroloola

Via Barkly Homestead and Heartbreak Hotel

Our intention is to show you some of what's available outside the larger centres, but if you need a starting point to find some information about "The Isa", click here. From this site you can find out a lot more about the Mt Isa City Council, easily the largest, by area, in the world.

Leaving Mt Isa, past the impressive Hilton Mine, and travelling 117km west, is the newly bitumenised Yelvertoft Road. (This is the best way to get to Riversleigh, Lawn Hill etc, if you decide to go this way, rather than backtrack from Mt Isa to "The Curry" and travel the Matilda Highway; more on that later). Another 71kms driving will bring you to "the 'Weal", otherwise known as Camooweal. To read a little about the history of this place of droving legend, click here. Clicking on the "Maps" selection in the top menu of the site will take you to a neat interactive map of the whole of outback Queensland; just move your mouse over the icons on the map, and click to access details of every outback town and attraction in Queensland and the stories that go with them!!

For the more adventurous, click here for some information about the extensive Camooweal caves system; fantastic, but not for the inexperienced or faint hearted. If you're patient enough for spelunking, then you'll be patient enough to click here, and download this PDF file about the park that includes a layout map.

Georgina River
Leaving Camooweal, it's only 13km to the Northern Territory. In between lies the nemesis of many travelers in the Wet Season, the Georgina River. It mightn't look too threatening in the dry, but the fact that the new high level bridge will be 417m long and require nearly 6km of approach road, will give you some idea of the effort required to confront this mighty river. Only from space, click here, is it possible to gain some idea of the river systems that drain Australia's "dry" heart (click on the numerous active links to see a lot more fascinating satellite photos of climatic extremes on our continent). The water draining from the Barkly Tableland, that crosses the road here, finally reaches Lake Eyre after many months. Click here to read a bit about the bridge project, including a photo with the old bridge in the background (imagine the water more than a metre over the roadway!).

Border to Barkly Homestead
Travelling on into the Territory across the vast Tablelands of the Barkly, it's perhaps a good time to reflect on the travelers of earlier years. Click here to read of those hardy souls sent out to resolve the tedious border arguments of officialdom in years long gone; or here to read of those who came to this area by choice, in more recent times, to carry on that timeless work of the drovers of old. The photos could be as old as the art of photography but are, in fact, fairly recent.

The next evidence of modern man is the Avon Downs Police Station. For a bit of history about the formation of the police station, and the surrounding area, click here. To read a bit about modern day Avon Downs Station life click here, but for an insight into days gone by, click here and here. After travelling on past the Rankin River and Soudan Station with its big steam engine, there is little of note except the solitude and the occasional water tank (beware- not always containing water!) until you reach the "Homestead".

Real old timers will remember the old roadhouse at Barry Caves and the PMG repeater station at Wonarah - all long gone! The buildings that you'll see on the rise near the old Barry Caves are a thriving community, built by yours truly and established by Jack Punch, who has unfortunately joined the ever-increasing crew of old time drovers in that long yard in the sky.

Barkly Homestead to Cape Crawford
Heading north from the "Homestead" takes you, once again, onto the vast Mitchell Grass plains of the Barkly. Out here cattle are king, so drive carefully; there are literally millions of them!

Brunette Downs
If you chance this way around June, it would be a shame to miss the ABC Race Club's Brunette Downs races (Alexandria, Brunette, Creswell). Click here for more info about this great Territory bush race meeting; click the "Races" link for photos and programmes. If the ground you see looks like this (click here) and you suspect it never rains on the black soil, try and visualize water-skiing on the lawn of the station (normally about 500m from the waterhole), or click here. As they say, a picture tells a thousand words (click here).

Click here to read about the famous Captain Starlight, the first to stock what is now some of the finest cattle country in Australia. For a wider look at pastoral days gone by, click here; index here. As you drive away from Brunette, spare a thought for this ex worker (click here).

At nearly 380km it's a fair stretch from Barkly Homestead to the Heartbreak but it's an interesting drive with plenty of places to pull up for a rest. It's bitumen all the way but single lane so please be careful; a lot of the road is unfenced and there are literally millions of cattle walking free.

Cape Crawford
The roadhouse, known to all and sundry as "Heartbreak", is located at the junction of the Carpentaria with the Tablelands Highway. There's plenty of room for caravans and camping, but accommodation is limited, so give them a call on (08) 8975 9928 to check availability; it'll break your heart if you have to sit in the bar all night!

Cape Crawford Tourism
Sandra runs very popular helicopter tours into the Lost City and to the hot springs at Bauhinia from near here. They might at first seem expensive but overall it's a cost effective way to see view/photograph these spectacular places; it's not a cheap place to park a helicopter on the off-chance. Ground tours can also be arranged into both locations during the dry season. All the details are on their website or just phone Sandra Schleter on (08) 8975 9611.

After leaving "Heartbreak", it's a captivating drive to Borroloola, vastly different country from the Barkly Tableland! There are many interesting things to know even about this short 110km section of the trip.

Driving along looking at the towering escarpments after Heartbreak, there is little to suggest that, not far off the road is a gas pipeline that supplies the powerhouse at McArthur River Mine, unlocking the vast mineral riches of the area. Laid close by is the latest in fibre optic cable, which enables the bush to be just a click away from the city in many ways. Although Flynn's pedal radio led to great steps forward in rural health, computers have revolutionised life in the outback.

As you pass McArthur River Station, with its beautiful Bessie Spring spilling through the escarpment all year round, you'll cross what are normally the dry channels of Leila Creek. Imagine the volume of water when even road trains can't make the journey!

A little further on is the turn off to Merlin Mine. This road is open to public access as far as the mine gate, some 60+km; don't even think about entry, it's a diamond mine! The road crosses through the McArthur River and then traverses some spectacular rocky ranges along the way. It's not for the casual traveller and certainly not caravans, but if you love the bush and the solitude as we do, it's a beautiful area!

Merlin Mine
As you can imagine there's not all that much publicity about this mine, but it's yet another example of the vast, largely untapped, mineral resources of this area that have tantalized people for so long. Clicking here will access an archived News Ltd article to give you some ideas for your next ring!

Not much further on, about 65km before Borroloola, you will come onto dual lane bitumen. From here on you need to be aware that you are sharing the highway with the largest, road-registered trucks in Australia! The drivers are extremely courteous and safety conscious and if you can't get past them, rest assured there will be a very good reason why. Please extend them the same courtesy but remember; they can't save you from yourself!

McArthur River Mine
Also called the HYC Mine, this site will take you to MIM's site relating to McArthur River Mining; scroll down the page to read about its operations and interesting beginnings. It also has a section about Bing Bong, the port facility north of Borroloola (more on this later). The mine, nowadays owned and operated by Xstrata, ceased underground mining towards the end of 2005, and a trial open cut operation is proposed in 2006; click here for more information.

Caranbirini Reserve
One of the many places of interest, and a good spot for a picnic after strolling through the fascinating rock formations, is Caranbirini Waterhole. This Conservation Reserve is managed by the NT Parks and Wildlife Commission and purposely has a minimum of infrastructure; camping is strictly prohibited. Click here for some beautiful photos (click on photos to enlarge), or here to download a PDF "Fact Sheet" and map.

About 21km west of Borroloola you will pass a well sign posted gravel road going north; this is the turn off to Nathan River, Roper Bar, etc (more on this later). As you wind through the creeks and ranges, think of the people who have lived here for a long time. Click here to read a little about one of them, our friend Gordon Landsen; you may well recognize the landscape as you drive past one of his favorite spots. Along with others, this is his area, and he seeks to instill in his children a respect for themselves and the land, that can be readily traced back into the mists of time. His brother Harry is the elder with the responsibility of looking after the lands and beautiful hot springs at Balbirini (cf Cape Crawford).

As you crest the last jump up (down), you will see spread before you the ancient alluvial flats of the McArthur flood plains. The extent of those prehistoric floods becomes obvious when you realize that you are still 60km inland from the shallow waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The road is in fact named after the Gulf, which in turn is named after the Dutchman Pieter de Carpentier. In case you wanted to know, and I'm sure you do, he was the Governor-General of Batavia in 1623. When Captain Jan Carstensz sailed his good ship, the Pera, past what we now call Cape York, and into the Gulf, he named it in honor of the "good", but mostly long forgotten, Governor!

Just off to the north of the road you will see, below the escarpment, a large black rock in the shape of a crouching frog; it's only really obvious when you look from the West. Look all you like, or click here, but please don't go over there. He is Ngangkunani, a guardian for the local people and he's watching out in case any spirit men come from the flat toped hill to the south where they performed ceremonies.

The grass plains that you'll soon pass through were created by brolga's, long ago in the Dreamtime. The brolga's, that still dance there to this very day, are no doubt thankful to their ancient relatives who flattened all the trees with their energetic dancing.

Don't forget to follow the signs and turn off the main concentrate-haulage road that you're on, to get into Borroloola. Many's the local even, that's sailed blissfully past the turn-off; the road used to be straight through and there's only been a bend since 1994!!

Welcome to Borroloola, where "The bitumen stops and the adventure starts".

Clicking here will take you to the section of our Travel Guide about getting to Borroloola via Riversleigh Fossil Fields and Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.

Back To The Top