Way 2013 Trip Diary - Part Four - Katherine - Mount Isa
DAY 69 20.8.13
We are back on the Savannah Way portion of our journey, and
Edith Falls needed to be included in our look at the Katherine
district. It's a 61 km drive north of Katherine, and the Cruiser
enjoyed having it's head without the constraints of the caravan.
However, I must have typed my speed into the GPS at 110 kph,
because if I exceeded 110, it let me know.... and we were on
a road that allows 130 kph ..... not that I was going anywhere
near that .... we are on a fuel budget, remember.
We arrived at Edith Falls carpark, and wandered down to the
pool. The first note of difference was the devastation around
the area, that was the after effects of Ex Cyclone ......, who
dumped 360mm in 24 hours on the place. The second thing was
the huge dirt bank about 20 metres out into the pool... again
courtesy of the cyclone. The walk to the top of the falls was
closed due to repairs, which upset me no end, and somehow, the
other part of the walk didn't appeal. I had done it before,
and Annette wasn't up to it yet. From a video point of view,
it's a pity, because it really is quite beautiful up there -
I dragged out my old videos and had a look last night - unfortunately,
totally different format, and quite horrible by comparison to
what we can produce today .......
We headed back to Katherine, where I took to the bed to try
and outrun a nagging sinus hassle that I had been having for
the past couple of days, and Annette swiped the car and headed
into town, to relieve Woolies of some of their shelf stock.
Something they have in the East, which doesn't seem to happen
in the West so much, is that the various Sportsman's and RSL
Clubs have a nightly Bistro. I guess the gambling helps as well,
but visitors are able to get a damned good meal at reasonable
prices and have a drink if they wish. We decided to do just
that, and we headed to the Katherine Sportsman's Club for their
special Roast Pork at just $18 each. And it was NICE. Then Annette
relieved the pokies of a few bucks as well, and we retreated
home, happy little chappies.
DAY 70 21.8.13 I
was awake at 5am, and at 6am, realised that I wasn't going back
to sleep, and so crawled out of bed to attend to some more editing,
whilst a gentle buzz emanated from the bedroom.
We finally got ourselves organised and packed up, and out of
the park and into town to attend to some business before leaving
A word about Shady Lane Caravan Park. This place is great, is
run well, has a very personable owner/manager in Marianne, and
they have invested heavily over the years in cabins, the best
ablutions I have come across anywhere, and is 6kms out of town
on the Katherine Gorge Road. They are also a Top Tourist Park.
Back on the road, and we headed for Mataranka, where we spent
some time in the Bitter Springs thermal pool, before heading
back into town and out to the Mataranka Homestead Resort to
sample the Mataranka Thermal Pool. Bitter Springs is in more
natural surroundings, whereas the Mataranka Springs have been
carefully crafted and lined for your comfort. Both are great.
This was my first time in a natural thermal spring and it was
an enjoyable experience ........ except that I felt I weighed
about 50kg heavier when I crawled out.
Oh, forgot to mention ........ I spent 18 months prior to this
trip with one medical holdup after another, and put on 10 kgs.
Yesterday, I dragged the scales out, and I HAVE LOST THAT 10
kgs. Mind you, the amount of walking and climbing and stuff
that we have been doing, I would have been disappointed if that
weight hadn't dissipated.
Now where were we ... oh yes, we hit the road with Gorrie Airfield
as our next target. My dad served there during WW2, and I wanted
to have another look at the place. But about 4.30pm, the 6am
start caught up with me, we found a beautiful gravel/metal dump,
and settled down for the night. Gorrie can wait til the morning
22.8.13 I need to get
this off my chest. I am not a drinker. My Engel wasnít purchased
because it hold 48 cans of beer. And I donít begrudge ANY person
to one, two or fifteen cans of beer at the end of the day if
they wish. That is NONE of my business. I have just pulled in
off the road near a tower, some 300 m from the road, and there
is a nice little spot that has been and is obviously regularly
used by campers. Now someone before me has had a good night,
told a few lies, had a drink or three, and left the next morning.
AND LEFT THEIR SHIT BEHIND. These guys in my mind arenít responsible
campers or travellers. They are Pisstanks, Pigs, call it what
you like. If you have the room to bring it in, you have the
room to take it out. No wonder we are fighting to maintain,
let alone gain more freecamping areas.
Roothy, where are YOU on this?
OK, back off the soapbox.
We had a leisurely wake up and start to the day. We left our
gravel pit just after 10.30, and headed for the Gorrie Airfield.
I had been there 8 years ago, and had a couple of maps of the
area that I had videoíd at the Larrimah Museum at that time.
Last night, I managed to copy the maps from the video, and had
printed them out. Altho fuzzy quality, I hoped that we would
get some use out of them. I know nothing of my fathers involvement
in the war, other than he served in stores at Gorrie and Merredin
in the airforce. I was ill prepared last time, this time I knew
what I wanted to do. And so we found the airfield, dropped the
van, and went exploring. The maps were super useful, and we
were able to put a very hazy picture to what happened 70 years
ago. We spent 2 1/2 hours doing about 20 kms around the area,
before deciding that we had seen as much as we could. And so
then it was off to Larrimah.
We got to the pub 5 minutes after they shut the kitchen, but
they did relent and made us a couple of Ham Salad sandwiches.
Thanks guys. The pub has a free zoo with a heap of birds, a
salty, some freshies, a couple of emus .... great for the kids,
and the bus load of older tourists who arrived while we were
there. But really, do we need to cage these animals for our
Larrimah was a major centre for military operations during WW2,
with Gorrie Airfield to the north, Birdum Airfield to the south,
and the military hospital a few kms south of the town. The pub
was originally an Officers mess, before being transformed after
the war. Before the advent of the Ghan from Alice Springs, the
railway network in the northern territory passed through centres
such as Pine Creek and Larrimah, and was a major part of their
economy. During the war, something like 140 odd trains passed
through the town each week. The 8th Australian Staging Camp,
built by the Australian Army was set up in Larrimah for troops
making the journey by road from Adelaide before transferring
onto rail at Larrimah siding for the rest of the journey to
Darwin. As the Stuart Hwy developed, reliance on rail declined,
until eventually, the network was closed.
It was getting on for 3 pm as we left Larrimah, and discovered
that we had done about 60 kms in all, including 20 driving around
the old airbase. We decided to start looking for a camp spot,
and were finding nothing. Not impressed with Hemaís Australia
Topo 250 maps which havenít been updated for years - most of
the scrapes and some tracks are no longer, or have never been.
And being a topo map, I would have thought that a lot of the
hills that have been named would be shown as such for example.
Many of the ranges are not named, and so it goes on. Makes it
hard at times.
And then we found our spot for the night, and settled down with
a drink and the pile of empty cans from our previous travellers........
23.8.13 Our rest stop last night was under a communications
tower just a few kms from Daly Waters. As usual, we took our
time getting organisded to leave, packed all the crap from our
previous campers into a rubbisg bag, and made our way to Daly
Waters. When I was here last time, I completely missed this
place. I had got bored with the Stuart Hwy, had remembered learning
about the Barkly Tablelands in Geography at school, and so had
turned off near Three Ways to head across to the Barkly Roadhouse.
Then I had gone north , found myself at Limmen Bight, then Mataranka,
and I had completely bypassed the one place I had wanted to
see, and I hadnít realised it.
We drove down the main street ..... well THE street to the pub,
parked the van, and then had a look around to get a feel for
the place. As we had approached the town, I had seen a vintage
car in the distance entering the road from the airport. It was
one of two 1929 Rileys that were part of a National Riley Rally,
that had started freom Port Augusta, and were doing a run to
Darwin. There were about 25 of these old girls doing the run,
one from as far away as England. During the day, a couple more
of these beautiful vintage cars arrived in town.
I approached the bar and told them what I was doing, and asked
if I could film the place, and was given the green light.
We made a few phone calls, checked emails, and had a Barra Wrap
for lunch, before heading out to have a look at Stuarts Tree
(or was it?) and the Airport. The tree has an ďSĒ cut into it,
and it is assumed that John McDouall Stuart blazed it, although
no mention was ever made of it in his diaries.
The airport was our first International Airport, being a refuelling
stop for planes travelling overseas in the early days. It was
also a Major strategic airfield during the war. The history
of the place was displayed on the walls of the hangar. We attacked
the place with the viseo camera, before returning to the pub
to refuel the car, and replenish our water supply, before leaving
this quirky little town.
We were a bit tired by the time we hit the road, and had only
done about 37 kms, when we found a gravel dump hidden off the
road, where we parked up, and both of us hit the sack for a
couple of hours.
This travelling is a hard life, but somebody has to do it ......
24.8.13 Itís funny how things work out sometimes. Sometimes
you drive a lot of kms looking for somewhere to camp, and when
you find it, you quite often find a better site pop up just
down the road the next morning. We drove (only) 38 kms yesterday
before we found our site which was hidden from the road, and
then this morning, within 7 kms, we passed 2 metal dumps and
a gravel pit, all reasonably sized - however in view of the
The first rest stop out along the Capricornia highway is 100
kms from Daly Waters, or about 95 kms from the Stuart Hwy. It
has shade, a table/shelter, tons of room and no ablutions. There
is water, but not recommended that you should drink it.
The road is a mix of double and single lane, and it is wise
to pull to the side and slow down to avoid chucking rocks -
we have seen a number of broken windscreens an the past couple
of days. So imagine my annoyance at the approaching vehicle
who moved onto the edge on a single lane stretch, sending rocks
flying ...... I flashed him furiously, lights and spotties ........
oops, police car ........... Either he got the message or is
still wondering what it was I was warning him about - he didnít
turn and stop me.
From there it was cruising until we reached the Goanna Creek
Rest Area, 40 kms from Cape Crawford. It is a small site, with
a shelter, a couple of tables and a water tank that was empty
..... and a message that it was not advisable to drink the water
......... But elevated, some shade, a nice view, breeze, a very
pleasant spot. We worked out which way the sun was going to
sink, and set the van up accordingly. We had the place to ourselves,
and the amount of traffic along the Capricornia Hwy was minimal.
And so I set up the dish and watched the V8s, whilst Annette
slept and read.
25.8.13 Twenty years ago today, my dad and Grampy to his
grandchildren passed away, and so some thought was given in
his memory, before preparing to get ready for the days activities.
And then a vehicle pulled into our campsite, advising us that
there was a Variety Club Bash coming through from Cape Crawford,
and that there were 85 vehicles in all. Much of the road is
single lane, and not knowing what it was from here, and not
wanting to spend a heap of time getting off the road for oncoming
vehicles, we did the only sensible thing. We stayed put - after
all, I had already set up the dish, no point doing it again
tonight, and we had the place to ourselves ........ well us
and the other van that pulled in about lunch time ....... and
then the next one who came mid afternoon ...... well there was
no more room for anyone else now, itís a small rest area ........
oh yes, and the camper van that pulled in late afternoon ........
However, I watched the NASCAR race, and then tonight the replay
of the V8s. Gotta love Foxtel. It works when you are struggling
to get a picture on the VAST box.
Annette read another fifteen books ....... well one anyway.
And then we played cards.
Let me tell you, I am NOT a card player, and havenít been for
near on 50 years. But it just so happened, that when Annette
asked if I had any cards, I remembered a box of what I thought
was picture cards of the NT given to me by a friend. It was,
AND they were cards ..... damn. Anyhow, I got them out, Annette
reminded me how to play 21, and after I had lost only one game
out of the two times we went thru the pack, she lost interest.
Just think, if we were out playing for money, I could have LOST
THE LOT. Cos thatís the way it works when you have a punt for
real money .......
Tomorrow, we are back on the road ........
26.8.13 Time to leave our little touch of paradise on the
hill at Goanna Creek. We had decided that we would make a run
for Borroloola, where the only dump point in the region resides,
and work our way back to Cape Crawford. Those of you who have
been following this journey of epic proportions ... well our
trip ..... will remember that we had tossed up whether to do
the genuine Savannah Way trip, which included the gravel sections
from Mataranka to Cape Crawford via Roper Bar and The Borroloola
to Burketown road, or take the caravan around the bitumen, and
have a look at a ďsoftĒ alternative route to Cairns from Broome.
Because of the size of our van - 23í6íí, and the steep entry
and exit points of some of the rivers and creeks, and other
factors, the soft approach won, but that didnít mean that we
wouldnít have a look at other places of interest on the way.
And so, Borroloola ........
This is an interesting town. Was it worth the 220 km round trip?
Only you can make up your own mind about that. Letís say that
my curiosity is satisfied, and unless I get the chance to do
that Borroloola - Burketown section again in the future, that
I probably wonít be back. However, having said that, we are
tonight parked outside the Caranbinni Nature Reserve. We had
a look at the Waterhole this morning, and plan to go in and
have a look at the short walk tomorrow. There is no camping
in the Reserve.
There is signal at McArthur River Mine and Borroloola. There
are three stations at Borroloola, and the one at the far end
of town was the cheapest at $1.85 for diesel and ULP. Incidentally,
$2.20 at Cape Crawford
27.8.13 That wasnít easy (getting up and out so early).
We were out of bed and on the trail by 8.30, and into the Caranbinni
Nature Reserve to go walkabout. We decided to have a look at
the lookout first - that was only 300m away .... or so the sign
said. A short walk through Savannah (the sign said one kilometre)
before climbing up to the lookout. The lookout WAS only about
300m away - I have no idea where they got the 1km from. Then,
back down the hill, and then into the 2 km walk around the Towers.
You may have heard about the Lost City at Cape Crawford, which
is accessible only by chopper. This is a similar formation,
and is able to be walked through from the car park. It is quite
an impressive site.
We got back to the car, after Annette saw a group of Brolgas
walking thru the bush, and were pleased that we had done the
walk early. We were both saturated by now, and having learnt
from our Jabiru experience, we downed a bottle of Powerade before
deciding that we werenít in the mood for breakfast, and that
we would head to Cape Crawford for lunch.
We had made the decision yesterday, that I had plenty of fuel
to get to Borroloola (B), and having been warned about Cape
Crawfords (CC) fuel prices, decided that we would refuel at
B, and top up at CC on the way back. That done, it was time
for a Barra Burger, and then back on the trail again. Incidentally,
we stopped beside the road near the McArthur Mine Airstrip to
have a quick look at emails, Facebook, and make a couple of
The country around CC is pretty, hilly, and undulating, with
the McArthur River and itís channels meandering thru the area.
The Tablelands Highway is in the main a bucking bronco type
of track. We have watched a couple of road trains fighting their
3rd and 4th trailers on some of the better roads, and wondered
how they got on with this one. The terrain chopped and changed,
and we travelled at our own pace of 70-75 kph, getting right
off the road for ongoing and overtaking traffic. Itís better
that they have the single bitumen strip and donít throw rocks
in my opinion.
The rest areas in NT are by the standards shown in WA and Qld,
a disgrace. There are big areas between, and apart from a table
and shelter, there are no toilets or dump points in the main.
They really are asking people to take to the bush. And those
that are there, are generally not clean. We did find ourselves
a nice big Gravel pit though, and with another van buried down
the back, we chose to park under a tree closer to the road,
and had a wine or two before settling down for the night.
28.8.13 We rejoined our bucking bronco track about 9.15
this morning, and set a steady pace towards Barkley Homestead,
some 180 odd kms away. We were now getting into the tableland
proper, and were travelling through areas of dead flat land
with just stubble on the ground and no trees. If you saw a cow
in the distance, it looked huge, because there was nothing else.
I travelled this road in 2005 and was enthralled about this
area that I could remember learning something about at school.
Finally, we found ourselves surrounded by trees again, a change
in dirt, and the road became comparatively smooth. And then
the Barkley Highway raced up to greet us, and we were at Barkley
Now BH is a breath of fresh air in this part of the country.
It is tidy, attractive, well maintained, has a caravan park
AND signal. It also has fuel at $2.095 c/litre for diesel. We
gave the old girl a drink, and retired to the dining room for
lunch, and again to do a quick hit on the net and attempted
phone calls ..... where ARE people when you are on the road?
BH has a sign which advises travellers that whilst there prices
may appear to be a little high, please take into consideration
that they supply their own power to provide their service, and
that their generators use 500 litres of diesel per day, EVERY
day. Although we set our budget working on an expected average
of $2 per litre, this is only the second time for the trip so
far, that we have exceeded the $2 mark. Our previous dearest
Lunch finished, and we left BH, now on a 130 kph sign posted
proper highway, and headed for the Queensland border and Camoweal.
We werenít going to make it tonight, but it was a pleasure driving
on a smoothish road for a change. A thought on the speed limit.
Most roads are 110 in NT, with some at 100, and just a few main
highways at 130. I donít believe that we have seen anyone travelling
at that speed. Maybe the WA government should have a look. Many
of our remote roads ARE capable of being driven on at those
We started looking for somewhere to camp for the night, and
were less than impressed with the designated areas being offered,
and a large gravel pit entry had been blocked at one point.
We reached the Soudan Bore Rest Area at 3.45pm, had a look,
and decided that we would take a punt, move on, and if nothing
was found, take whatever spot was available at the next rest
area some 65 kms away. And then, less than a couple of kms down
the road, we spied a track that looked interesting, and found
a lovely clean metal dump to spend the night in. The van can
be seen from the road, but nobody came to join us .... and we
are not unhappy about that.
29.8.13 We left our metal dump, and found a number of other
spots in the next few kms. It is amazing that you can travel
for so long, and see nothing to camp in, and then find a bundle
all at once.
We spoke to a couple at one rest stop, who had stayed at the
Soudan Site last night, and they told of a group who pulled
up, claimed to be on the run and described some of their misdemeanors.
I wonder whether it was maybe just someone having fun trying
to put the wind up them, or were they genuine? We really liked
OUR camp spot.
We stopped at the border, and then ........
Camooweal, and itís a neat little town. We had lunch at the
Post Office Pub. It is really clean, neat, and great staff.
We had been told about the Billabong Free Camp spots. Take no
notice of your Hema HN6, the road is between the bridges. There
were a number of people camped along the river, and apparently
the billabongs stretch for some distance. There are apparently
a lot of wild cats in the area, and the locals have managed
to do away with a large number. But of those that remain, there
is one that is described as being HUGE (from witnesses that
we spoke to). We went looking for the Dump Point, ( and again
it is not where Wanda insisted it was). It is in fact on the
main road outside the council depot.
Back on the road, and as we approached Mount Isa, the Paroo
Range surrounded us, and the drive reminded us of the Victoria
River area, and the Carr Boyd range area in WA. It was gorgeous
after the flat grasslands we had been travelling through for
the past couple of days.
We found ourselves booking into the Mount Isa Caravan Park -
new managers who had been here only a few weeks. They had moved
across from Tully, which has the reputation of being the wettest
town in Australia. We settled in, and threw a load in the washing
machine. After tea, we headed up to the lookout to have a look
at the town under lights. The mine is right in town, and the
light show is excellent. back to the van, and a washing machine
that had decided to give up the ghost, and was advising by a
double beep, that it didnít want to drain water. It wasnít what
we wanted to hear, but thereís not much you can do about that.
Tomorrow is another day. Weíll check it out then.
30.8.13 My goodness, is that the date already? I tried the
two local Dometic agents in town, and no, they didnít do the
washing machines. And so an email to Dometic telling them of
our predicament, and our intended travel schedule. The automatic
reply came back telling us that their representative would contact
us shortly ........ needless to say, nothing heard so far.
I rang the Toyota Service Dept, and was advised that a simple
Oil Change, Filter, Grease and Air Filter would set me back
$500. Shades of Port Hedland. I went to Repco to buy an air
filter ($53 against Toyota $130), asked about reasonable cost
service, waited whilst a phone call to an auto technician was
effected, and was sent to Bears Mechanical and Electrical 0411
647 166, who quoted $180 including oil (I supplied the filters)
and despite a number of vehicles awaiting service, was attended
to almost immediately. Total cost of service, $260.
There is an election in the offing, and so we found a polling
Place, and after perusing the list of candidates including Sex
Party, Climate Change Sceptics, and a dozen other parties of
dubious promise, we cast our votes and went shopping. Finally
a Grampy Nap for this old bugger - towns of any sort are tiring
affairs. We are camped just over the road from a pub, and the
meals are reputed to die for - as opposed to die from at Timber
Creek LOL - and so we decided to check it out for ourselves.
We have threatened to return tomorrow night.
We didnít get any sight seeing in today, but we covered a whole
heap of necessary stuff that needed to be done. Tomorrow is
going to be fun..........
We decided that we would start the day by visiting the Underground
Hospital. It was originally built in 1942 after the bombing
of Darwin as an air raid shelter, and then set up as a hospital
in case of air attack. It is amazing that it was closed up after
the war and forgotten about. And then it was another 50 years
(30 years to be found, closed up for safety reasons for another
20 years,) before some miners got permission to restore the
place in their own time - It took four years. Everything that
was set up during the War was still in there. Itís a brilliant
story, and is one of only two places that remain from the old
Mount Isa. The Tent House has recently been moved from itís
old resting place, to now sit beside the Underground Hospital
and Museum. There was no solid infrastructure in the past, because
there were no bricks for housing and white ants ate anything
that was used timber wise. And so, tent housing was the answer.
We then went to the information centre, had a look at the gallery,
had lunch, and then up to the lookout to have a look by daylight.
Annette was having trouble with her neck, and that was causing
a headache, and so we decided to abandon our plans for the rest
of the day, and took her back to the van to rest up.
I decided to just cruise the town and soak in what it is all
about, before getting back home in time for a refreshed Annette
to wake up, and another night at our pub over the road for dinner.
Tonight, Roast Pork ........ beautiful.