Mataranka to Mt Isa
Change of Plans – OK, we know making plans is a waste of time but we did it again. After our time in Kakadu (see blog post The Time of Mahbilil) we would initially head south to Mataranka. Then our plan was to leave the Stuart Highway and head east to Roper Bar and south through the Limmen National Park and into the Lorella Springs Station for a chance to explore their huge property which extends right to the Gulf of Carpentaria. From there we would follow the road past Borroloola to Hells Gate and on to Normanton and Karumba with a side trip to Lawn Hill along the way. Sounds good but a few things caused us to rethink. First a fellow camper at Gunlom in Kakadu had come up that road and reported enormous corrugations which did serious damage to their vehicle and also Lorella Springs had already closed their camping for the season; second the increasing temperatures and decreasing water levels suggested it would be a hot, dry trip with few chances to have swims along the way; and third and possibly most critically was the realisation that the time we had available before we wanted to reach the south east of Queensland was shrinking rapidly and if we wanted to spend a reasonable time in the Gulf country we would run out of time to enjoy the east coast on our way south. By now we are both eagerly looking forward to a swim in the Pacific Ocean so we decided to leave a thorough exploration of the Gulf country for another time and travel to the east coast via Mt Isa.
Change of Weather – It is pretty hot as we head south from Mataranka after another lovely dip in the crystal clear water of Bitter Springs but as we drive the wind from the south east gets stronger and stronger and the temperature eases. Our late start means we travel later than usual and by the time we stop for the night the wind is extremely strong and the overnight temperature sees us digging out windcheaters and vests. The strong wind and cool overnight temperatures continue for the rest of our journey to Mt Isa and although the days are still sunny they are a warm 30 degrees or so rather than the hot high 30’s and low 40’s we were getting in Kakadu.
Change of Country – Our first day out of Mataranka we travel south along the Stuart Highway to Elliott. Along the way the highway gradually climbs about 100 metres then drops slightly and the country changes dramatically. We’ve left the tropical part of the NT behind and now we are on a very extensive and flat tableland with sparse trees and not much water. We manage to find a very pleasant billabong to camp beside though as we spend the night at Longreach Waterhole on the outskirts of Elliott. It is a lovely spot and while there are quite a few other campers there is loads of room. Pity about the wind but at least we can head inside for cooking and comfort. When we head east off the Stuart Highway we are on the Barkly Tablelands and apart from patches of trees surrounding watercourses (usually dry) our view from horizon to horizon is flat grassland. Some may find this boring but Paul sees the photographic opportunity and our next camp is picked accordingly. No shade or shelter from the wind but once again it is quite late in the day so the heat is no problem and while Paul is perched on top of the Troopie taking photographs at sunset Julie can admire the colours from the inside of the camper. The land changes yet again as we leave the tablelands behind and approach Mt Isa. Now we are surrounded by wonderful rocky hills with rich red colours offering a different type of photographic opportunity but that will have to wait for another trip.
Change of Tyres – We’ve been driving down lots of very rough and rugged roads without any problems but on the stretch of bitumen between Mataranka and Elliott Paul gets a warning beep on his tyre pressure monitor as one of the rear tyres on his Troopie springs a leak. It’s no problem to change it on the side of the road but as the damage is on the side wall it has reached the end of its journey. The other rear tyre on the Troopie is showing wear as well so we change that as well before we leave Elliott. It means a later start to the day’s drive and ends up being a later finish as well. That night we agree that we would like an earlier start the next morning and Paul comments that we won’t need to change any tyres in the morning. He spoke too soon! A short time later he notices the front left tyre on the Hilux has some canvas showing. The road hasn’t been too bad so it seems an old gouge in the tyre might have been torn off as we left the road to set up camp. Another tyre change is made in the morning, hopefully that’s the last until we get to the east coast and buy new tyres.
Change of Road Conditions – We are never keen on spending too much time on highways as we amble along at no more than 80kph and even slower with this type of wind. Cars and caravans can pass us when they want but we always try to get off the road when a road train approaches from behind. We’re much happier driving down our dusty tracks at our own speed with time to look around us and more variety in the road to keep us interested. Instead of following the Stuart Highway right down to Three Ways then taking the Barkly Highway east to Mt Isa we decide to take the Barkly Stock Route across to the Tablelands Highway and then Ranken Road to meet the Barkly Highway less than 100km from the Queensland border. Our travel on the dirt roads is slower than on the highway but it is a shorter distance so it doesn’t add much if any time to our trip and we’ve missed all that boring black stuff and heavy traffic. The roads were in better condition than we expected, the Barkly Stock Route looked to be recently graded and we didn’t see a single vehicle while we were on it.
Change of State – Travelling east on the Barkly Highway we cross the Northern Territory/Queensland border just 13km before Camooweal and with it comes another time change. Clocks on phones and computers are automatically changed but between us we have five cameras to be changed. It has been a relatively short visit to NT, just over two months and almost three weeks of that in Darwin but we have managed to pack in quite a lot. We spend our final night of this section of our travels by a lagoon on the edge of Camooweal and we make it into Mt Isa by lunchtime next day.