Mt Isa to Borroloola
Via Barkly Homestead and Heartbreak
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,
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
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
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
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
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!
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).
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).
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;
As you drive away from Brunette, spare a thought for this ex worker
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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!!
Borroloola, where "The bitumen stops and the adventure starts".
will take you to the section of our Travel Guide about getting to Borroloola
via Riversleigh Fossil Fields and Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.