Mataranka to Borroloola
Via Roper Highway and Nathan River
south of Mataranka we set off to the east on the Roper Highway.
This road, which is single lane bitumen nearly all the way to Roper
Bar, basically parallels the mighty Roper River. The river was named
by Leichardt in honor of James Roper, who was arguably the first
European to see the river (on his, Roper's, birthday) when he accompanied
Leichardt on his 1844-45 expedition from Brisbane to Port Essington.
If you'd like to know more about this expedition, just click here
and you can read actual transcripts of Leichardt's journals (chapter
Xlll, Oct 19 refers to the naming of the Roper). Roper eventually
settled in Merriwa NSW where he became
government stock inspector in 1868. He was prominent in local affairs
until his death in 1895; well outliving
his expedition leader, who disappeared, presumed perished, forty-seven
years earlier in 1848, whilst on a trek from Brisbane to Perth.
The Roper was most certainly identified,
but not named, about 200 years earlier by Abel Tasman in 1644 as he
explored the coasts of the Gulf aboard his boat the Limmen; but that's
another story, click here
if you'd like to know more.
A few kilometres along the Roper Highway, after driving past Elsey Creek
with its thick Pandanas scrub, there's a signpost marking the turn-off
to Jilkminngan, sometimes known as Duck Creek. Surprisingly, this
peaceful community nestled alongside the Roper is the home to a
small hybrid solar power station research programme that may well
be a model for the future of power generation in isolated areas
world wide; click here if you would
like to read more. This friendly community is, however, private
property and should be respected as such. Click here
to read of another traveler's adventures in this area, or here for tour information.
This is a spectacular drive through
a region rich in the history of both aboriginal and white settlement.
After the exploits of Leichardt and co, the next major influence
of recent times was the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line.
Only by travelling here yourself can you begin to appreciate the
struggles that went into the building of what was an epic project
even by today's standards.
The Centenary of Federation - Connecting
the Continent web site has a wealth of information about the project and area; click here
to start you off (if you need QuickTime or Flash plug-ins, they
are available at the bottom of the new page that will open for the
link). As you pan around this tranquil scene, think about where
the massive sandbank may have come from, and try to imagine the
roaring torrent when the water spills over the sandbank and halfway
up the trees!! (Check out the gallery for some photos I took in
the big floods of wet season season 1992-93). Click here
to go to a brief summary of the desperate efforts of Todd's men
to overcome the wet season storms of 1871-72. Click here
to see a photo gallery including Todd's merry crew assembled at
the jetty in more pleasant times; the arrival of a boat with mail
and supplies must have been cause for great celebration.
Todd's faithful steamer,
the "Omeo", an iron hulled barque of 789 tonnes and 65
metres long, is shown here
at anchor in the Roper with two other supply ships; a strange site
indeed some hundred and fifty kilometres from the ocean!! As you
can see from the photo on the left, the remains of the "Young
Australian", a wooden paddle tug of 93 tonnes, are still in
the Roper River. She ran aground the following wet season (Dec 1872)
travelling downstream (always difficult), on what was supposed to
be anyway her last trip back to sea after the line was completed.
Rumor has it that the festivities celebrating a job well done played
some part!! The "Omeo" went on to provide sterling service
all around the Australian coastline, and internationally, until
she sank in a fierce storm in 1905 at Coogee Beach, just south of
Fremantle in WA. Click here
if you'd like to know a little more, plus a lovely photo of the
"Omeo" under full sail.
The rocky ledge (now a concrete causeway) across the Roper River here
is where Leichardt, and countless thousands of aboriginals before
him, crossed into what we now call Arnhem Land. It forms the tidal
limit of the salt water in the Roper River and except under severe
flood conditions is the navigable limit of the river barring trailer
boats launched on the upstream side. As in all northern river systems,
great care should be taken to ensure you don't join William Read,
Mariner of South Australia, who on 25 March, 1871 had the dubious
distinction of being the number 1 entry in what is now the Northern
Territory Register of Deaths: "17 December 1870 at Roper River.
Cause of death: Drowning, dragged overboard from a boat by an alligator."
The Roper Bar Store (Phone 08 8975 4636)
and associated campground is the last opportunity to fuel up etc before
setting off east, then south, to Limmen Bight and Borroloola.
It's a popular area for people to set up for a serious fishing trip; click
here for an index of current fishing reports for the NT. You can
narrow your search by clicking on the Territory map in the right hand
column, or expand it to any area of Australia using the drop down
index below the map.
Just behind where the Leichardt
Memorial now stands overlooking the crossing, was Roper Bar Police
Station. For decades it stood, a lonely outpost responsible for
applying the law as decreed from southern capitols, over a vast
area with very limited resources. The police station was washed
away and rebuilt on several occasions, with floodwaters
regularly rising to the eaves of the high set Queenslander style
building. (Check out the gallery again for some photos I took in
the big floods of wet season 1992-93). It was finally relocated
about 30km away to Ngukurr in 1982, from where I can assure you
it will never wash away again; the view from the police station
over the river and flood plain is the stuff of tour brochures! The
old station was a popular fishing base for serving and retired police
until it burnt down in late 1982. There was quite some animosity
at the time, but it's probably fair to say that over the many years
that police had to enforce the whims of their far away masters,
there were more than a few people who quite rightly felt that the
law was pretty one-sided. Click here
for an intriguing story about an incident on the Wilton River (which
spills into the Roper just downstream from Roper Bar), and ask yourself
if you would have been quite so helpful!
Leaving Roper Bar, and heading east,
you are in fact travelling the same route as Leichardt although in
reverse, he didn't retrace his steps to get home; he took the boat
from Darwin. If you want to, click here to
go into his diary again and you can follow in his footsteps (bearing
in mind he was travelling north the opposite direction to this
Tr@vel Guide). Along here you will pass the fairly large community
of Ngukurr but it's on the north side of the river and not accessible
from here. Ngukurr has a long and interesting history, first as
a mission and then under local government; for some interesting
information click here;
Locals tell of a large aircraft that crashed along the Roper during
WW2, click here,
but despite numerous sightings and expeditions it has never been positively
located; perhaps you'll be the one! (Map link for Peter D)
It was first thought to be the wreck of a missing B24,
"Beautiful Betsy", but she turned up 2,000 miles away, in 1994
in Queensland; you'll find some background and great photos of her here.
As you cruise in air conditioned comfort over the nice new bridge at the
Hodgson River and on past old St Vidgeons station with its beautiful lagoon,
perhaps click here
and stroll a little with this lady who thought nothing of walking
from here to Borroloola and paddling a canoe back! Keep an eye out
about 90km east of Roper Bar; it's time to turn south and head off
along the Nathan River Road for Cape Crawford/Borroloola.
In addition to numerous creeks, you'll
cross the tidal limits of both the Towns and the Cox rivers; all
prized fishing spots. For many years the various road gangs seemed
very reluctant to join this road properly from north to south; no
doubt to stop the Tennant Creek gangs from venturing into the Katherine
area's fishing spots and vice versa! Just north of the Cox is the
turn off east which is the best way to access the bountiful waters
of the famous Limmen Bight.
Limmen Bight River
This large estuary is a paradise for the fishing enthusiast.
It is named after one of the three small ships Abel Tasman used to
survey the Northern Territory coast in 1644 (although some maintain
that it should have been called Heemskerck if that were the case;
a limmen was the type of boat!). There
are a few accommodation alternatives available here.
River Fishing Camp
This site will clue you in on all the options available at this ideal
base for a short stay or an extended fishing expedition. Their site
also has links to Garry and Maria's fabulous Katherine site containing
all manner of information about the surrounding area; or just click
to go straight to the section about the Nathan River Road.
lagoon - Numultja
Along the road to the fishing camp is this placid lagoon. There's a low
key camping ground here with basic facilities which is a simple
and very pleasant alternative to the fishing camp or simply camping
out. The link will tell you a little of the many outstations scattered
throughout this area, both on shore and off shore. This particular
one was the home of a very prominent artist who produced some wonderful
paintings illustrating the features and stories of this spectacular
area. His brother, Roy Hammer, whom you will often meet here, is one of the
custodians of the whole area you are traveling through. Roy is an
accomplished dancer; probably better known overseas than in his own country!
The NT government's purchase of Nathan River and adjoining stations
was intended to lay the foundation for the creation of Limmen National
Park, one of Australia's newest national parks. Its proclamation
is currently (Dec 2005) bogged down in legal negotiations and as
yet it has no legal status. It is however an area of outstanding
beauty that is open to the public and much work has already been
carried out to help visitors enjoy the area. In addition to the
commercial facilities mentioned above, outdoor camping is permitted
in many of the remote areas of the park. Once you open the park
web page, scroll down to the "Fact Sheet" to download a
PDF file with contact details and a park map; or just click here
and you'll have no trouble finding your way around. There's a great
photo of the rock arches in the park here,
taken by a previous visitor on their
travels through the north of Australia; their index is here.
The Four Archers is particularly spectacular rock formation in the park.
About 50km south of Nathan
River is the turn off to Lorella Springs. If Australia's Outback
Survivor programme is your go, pack your parachute, bail out of a
perfectly good aircraft and drop in here!! There's plenty of more
conventional options available on their web site; rest assured. A
top web site and a top spot.
Bauhinia Downs Station
Another 45km south from the Lorella turn off is the turn off 24km in to
what is probably the Northern Territory's finest springs. There
are both hot springs, cascading down from a giant cleft in the ancient
rock wall through a spectacular series of rock pools, and cold springs
mixing into a large thermal lagoon. The whole effect is quite awesome
and really has to be seen to be believed! This area is not open
to the public but Sandra at Cape Crawford Tourism runs very popular
tours into the springs at Bauhinia from near here; her helicopter
tours are a great way to experience this magnificent location. Flights
might at first seem a bit expensive but overall it's a cost effective
way to view and 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 Bauhinia and the Lost City during
the dry season. For further details call into
Cape Crawford Tourism on the Roper Bar Road, follow the signs, or
phone Sandra Schleter on (08) 8975 9611. Click here to go
to her website.
From the Bauhinia turn off, it's only 10km
south to the junction with what was the old road from the Stuart Highway
to Borroloola before the Beef Road programme of the 1960's. This program,
which did so much to open up the outback areas of Australia to reliable
access, was probably the main impetus in opening up the Gulf area since
the droving days and the construction of the Overland Telegraph
Line. From this road junction you have two options; you can turn
west and it's only a short 47km drive to the comforts of the Heartbreak
Hotel before setting off down the bitumen to Borroloola.
Alternatively you can turn east and it's an interesting, and 80km
shorter, drive along the old road for 51km before joining the bitumen
at Ryan's Bend for the final 26km into Borroloola.