The Road To Mt Isa

Trip Start Apr 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 15, 2012

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Flag of Australia  , Queensland,
Wednesday, October 26, 2011

We have gotten into an unfortunate habit of becoming attached to places and Nitmiluk National Park was one of those places. And so we found ourselves dragging our feet a little on the morning of our departure, we even managed to stretch it out enough to have one last swim in their glorious pool before hitching up and continuing on with our adventure.

We were gradually making our descent out of the Northern Territory and were en-route to Mt Isa with a few little stopovers along the way.  Our first, Mataranka was only an hour or so south of Katherine on the Roper River and home to the Elsey National Park.

Whilst Mataranka is known as the home of the 'never never' after the 1908 book and resulting movie ‘We of the Never Never’, we were visiting to take advantage of the thermal pools in the national park

 It was a short stroll into the Mataranka Thermal Pool, along a boardwalk which wound through a palm forest.  The palm trees provided a canopy of shade and a home to hundreds of flying foxes who were constantly entertaining us with their antics.  As the pool came into sight it was instantly inviting, with the water so translucent we dove straight in.

It was ever so relaxing sitting back and watching the hive of activity above us as the flying foxes moved from tree to tree.  The banks of the pool were lined with Pandanus Palms and whilst the pool was well shaded, sun filtered through, the resultant light gently bouncing off the leaves creating such a soft and soothing ambience.

The pool is said to have been used by officers during the second world war, though it was probably a little more rugged back then.  Today the pool has railings, seating and the surrounds have been landscaped with sandstone, fitting with the natural setting. 

When we could eventually bring ourselves to get out of this sensational water we took a walk further into the park and were thrilled to see a male peacock just strutting around foraging for food.  We couldn’t help but ponder how such an exquisitely beautiful bird could possibly come to survive in this harsh environment.  The stunning cobalt blue of its head and neck, the intricate black and white pattern of its wings and then the magnificent long feathers of its tail which graciously trails behind… What on earth is it doing out here…?!!!

Down at Bitter Springs there was a more rustic setting.  As we stepped into the narrow creek armed with noodles a couple of local girls started to giggle… I asked if we looked silly and they politely said ‘no, not at all’ before telling us to keep floating until we come to a bridge.  As the current slowly swept us along the creek we passed gorgeous lilies of white and purple, long vivid green reeds and Pandanus palms.  Whilst the water was clear when looking straight down, from the angle at which we were floating we couldn’t see what was beneath us, we therefore could not see the snags that lurked along the way.  I took fright once or twice, however as usual Rod saved me! As we were being carried along we swept through a group of people, later we met one of the couples; Keith and Julie, a delightful couple from Sydney whom we enjoyed talking to immensely, the conversation just flowing with ease.

We stayed at a rustic little park near Bitter Springs; the grounds were ablaze with Flame trees, the bright red flowers bringing the park to life.  As night fell and we sat outside admiring the starlit sky we were invaded by Cane Toads… they were everywhere we looked, hundreds of them.  In no time the cement slab under the water taps had become a toad stool!

Continuing our journey south we called in to the Larrimah Pub for lunch.  An Officer’s Mess in World War Two, we had been told not to miss one of their pies, we were however too late; they had sold their last one yesterday and they were now finished for the season!  Whilst it was like pulling teeth to get any information or service we eventually managed to order some lunch.  The food was delicious and while I didn’t really enjoy looking at the pile of sediment in the bottom of my wine glass you’ll be pleased to know I just accepted it as part of the experience.  We were after all in a quirky, unique outback hotel and enjoyed taking in the intriguing memorabilia of this old pub which even included a small zoo!

Our next stop was at Daly Waters; home to the quintessential Aussie Pub. The Daly Waters Pub has become somewhat of an Australian icon and a great stop over for anyone traveling the Stuart Highway.  The atmosphere was friendly and welcoming from the moment we walked in.  The whole pub is loaded with charm and character, the walls and ceiling lined with an array of collectables including: foreign currency, signed t-shirts, ball caps, bras, business cards and id’s.

We set up camp beside the pub and then feeling the need to cool off traipsed through the pub to use the pool.  In the late afternoon as we sat outside the sky darkened, lightening flared and thunder shook the earth below our feet. Big drops of rain started to fall intermittently, with the intensity building it wasn’t long before the heavens opened up and the rain came pouring down.  It was brilliant just sitting outside, watching the drops of rain stream down and drinking in that magnificent smell that fresh rain brings.

The rain had cleared by the time we wondered over to the pub. We enjoyed delicious meals of seriously generous proportions and engaged in stimulating conversation with other patrons throughout the evening.  Before we knew it they had called last drinks and it was time to head back over to our camp.  In line with the true multicultural nature of Australia, in our time there we were served by a lovely French girl, an Irish girl and an English guy!

After two relatively short drives, we had to make up some ground.  We continued south to Threeways and it was here that we turned left and started east towards the Queensland Border.  This was a long and boring drive… not often we say that as we soak up the natural beauty of different landscapes, however this was bland and straight… even a crest would have been nice!

We were so glad when we finally arrived at the Barkly Homestead; a roadhouse with a camp ground hidden away behind it, this was to be our last stopover in the Northern Territory.  We found ourselves once again camped under a stunning Flame tree, a small ginger cat making his way over to welcome us.  As I turned and saw cattle along the fence line, it brought a smile to my face, this was the outback… a land filled to the brim with contrasts.

We had barely even popped the roof on the caravan and we were over at the pool for there was not a breath of wind and we were melting!  We chatted away to Dave, a lovely man who was on his way through to Darwin for a couple of days fishing.  Involved in V8 motor car racing, his conversation had us captivated as he took us into a world we are so very removed from and yet fascinated by.

Back at our van, the ginger cat had taken over one of our chairs and looked far too comfortable to disturb so rather than do battle we retired into the air-conditioning for the evening, keen for an early night.

In no time we had slipped out of the Northern Territory and were in Queensland.   Now if we thought the drive to Barkly Homestead was a little dull… across the Barkly Tablelands was so mundane… The landscape was flat for as far as the eye could see and the road straight.  We were so pleased every time we saw a road train thundering toward us, it broke the monotony.

We arrived in Camooweal with the Navara running merely on fumes after encountering strong headwinds and a gradual incline all the way.  We had never been happier to see a fuel bowser!  Camooweal was a delightful little town chockablock with character.  It looked like a frontier town out of an old western movie.  There was a large stock yard on the edge of town and the main street was lined with livestock road trains adding to the dusty feel of the place.

We were delighted to find the drive from Camooweal to Mt Isa had us back in awe of this great land of ours.  It is not that we do not admire and appreciate vast sweeping plains they just make for a long day of driving as the sameness drags on.  In stark contrast to the grassed level plains of the Barkly Tablelands, the Waggaboonyah Range offered escarpments giving off a pretty purple hue.  We wove through the range appreciating the sweeping bends… all welcome after the straight, flat road we had traveled.  And so we had arrived in Mt Isa, our first Queensland stopover.

Highlights of the Road to Mt Isa:

-          Elsey National Park thermal pools

-          Daly Waters Pub

-          Outback thunderstorm

-          Meeting lovely people including Dave, Julie and Keith
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Kaz on

Say hello to the Isa for me! Just be aware - the earthquake like shaking at 8pm every night is the mine blasting the earth away from under you ...... ahhh memories!

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