Borroloola and the Barkly Tableland

Saturday, Aug 22, 2009 at 00:00


Our next adventure takes us through the vast Mitchell Grass plains of the Barkly Tablelands as we head towards Queensland.

Heading further south we reached Pine Creek. What we saw on our second visit here has been combined with the earlier travelogue on Pine Creek. We were now back on the road we had taken a few weeks earlier, so did not stop for any further sightseeing, travelling through Katherine and Mataranka. We had already decided that taking the Savannah Way through the Gulf region of the Northern Territory and Queensland would have to wait for another trip. This time we would head into Queensland via the Barkly Tablelands.

At Hi-Way Roadhouse near Daly Waters we re-fuelled and turned east onto the Carpentaria Highway heading towards Borroloola. The Carpentaria Highway, a bitumenised road with a narrow one lane strip, heads towards Borroloola and favourite fishing spots beyond.

Bullwaddy Rest Area was a delightful place to stop overnight where we were able to get away from the Highway via a stretch of old road. We shared our camp with a selection of birds, including a selection of parrots and cockatoos, pigeons, honey eaters, friar birds, bower birds, apostle birds, zebra finches and a lovely little red and black red backed fairy wren. There is a tank providing drinking water and a picnic shelter with bins at the main rest area. There were numerous tracks around a few blue metal piles and a large open Mitchell Grass area. Concrete slabs remain from unknown buildings.

The Bullwaddy Conservation Reserve is not far to the east and protects dense Lancewood/Bullwaddy woodland and is a haven for native animals and reptiles. There are 78 species of birds, 33 reptile, eleven mammal and six frog species known in the Conservation Reserve.

We passed Cape Crawford at the junction of the Carpentaria and Tablelands Highways, although we would return to this point later.Cape Crawford a basically just a roadhouse/hotel with cabins and camping. The sandstone mesas of the Abner Range were impressive.

Mines east of Cape Crawford included the Marlin diamond mine and McArthur mines where a large open cut mined zinc and lead.

Part of the Bukalara Range, the small Caranbirini Conservation Reserve 46 kilometres south west of Borroloola is worthy of a visit.Sandstone here is more colourful than in similar sandstone parks such as the Litchfield Lost City where all is grey. We had intended to stay overnight and take walks late afternoon and early morning, but it was now signed No Camping. The first walk is an easy 150 metre return walk to a bird hide overlooking a small lagoon with blue lilies and bird life. A family of green pygmy geese swam by. The two kilometre Barrawulla loop walk through the layered sandstone pillars in shades of brown, orange and purple was of interest. We did not take the five kilometre Jagududgu spinifex loop walk, which links into the Pillars walk due to the heat in the middle of the day.

Continuing on to Borroloola we found it an unimpressive town, with a number of campers heading to the coast for fishing holidays passing through. King Ash Bay Fishing Club provides serviced camping at King Ash Bay on the McArthur River, 52 kilometres beyond Borroloola, with further unserviced camp sites at nearby Batten Point.

Returning to Cape Crawford we stopped overnight at the basic camping area behind “Heartbreak Hotel”.

Leaving Cape Crawford and heading south along the Tableland Highway, we passed similar mesa formations of the Abner Range to those we had seen from the Carpentaria Highway. The road was single strip bitumen, and in some places it was potholed. We saw a feral pig on the road and some cattle.

At Kiana rest area, a windmill provides water to a tank which travellers can access. There was a large bird nest high in the windmill tower. The nearby Kiana Station is at the transition between the sandstone and gulf country of the north and the fertile grassy plains of the Barkly Tablelands.

As we neared the intersections of the Barkly Stock Route heading west to the Stuart Highway and the Calvert Road heading east, we were in the true treeless plains of the Barkly. At one point, there was nothing but flat land covered in Mitchell Grass with the horizon only broken by an occasional dam and windmill. This completely grassed area lasted for around twenty kilometres. Otherwise the plains are a mixture of vegetation types, including large treeless claypans patches of grass on the black cracking clay of the Barkly Tableland.

The Barkly Plateau, which is principally grasslands with some scrub and trees, extends into western Queensland, and covers 21% of the Northern Territory. It is mostly flat, at around 200 to 300 metres above sea level and in a low rainfall (semi arid) climate. With the rich soil, grasslands, and wells to provide stock water, the Barkly stations carry good numbers of cattle.

Brunette Downs Rest Area also has a windmill and a tank, and was our lunch stop. From Brunette Downs for around ninety kilometres, vegetation was principally Mitchell Grass.

After a night camped a little way from the road, we continued on and met the Barkly Highway not far from Barkly Homestead Roadhouse.

For some time after this, we travelled through a desert environment of spinifex, termite mounds and sparse scrub; much of which is Aboriginal lands with no signs that it had ever run livestock. At Soudan Station we again saw grasslands, cattle and horses.

The flat grassy terrain continued as we crossed into Queensland.

Read more detail about this trip and see all the photos in our 2009 Travelogues

Where to camp between Mount Isa and Darwin?


Red desert dreaming

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