2002 Trip - Kimberley & Kakadu. Part 9 – Kakadu to Mt Isa

Tuesday, Dec 17, 2002 at 11:35


We left Kakadu satisfied that we had a least sampled its variety and amazed by the range of experiences we have had so far on this trip. At Pine Creek we pumped up the tyres and proceeded down the highway to Katherine where we emptied out our water bottles and filled up with clean fresh water. We had to pay a $20 deposit at the “I” center for a key to one of the taps there. We did a major food shop, refilled the gas bottles and headed out of town to pack our shopping and have lunch.

Down the road a bit we turned into the limestone caves at Cutta Cutta but decided against a one hour tour for $11 pp. Further on we checked out a large shallow wetland and informal camping area – not on the map. Also an old WWII steam engine bringing home the reality of the war. There are a lot of WWII sites and the recognition of the war is clearly much more active here than in southern Oz.

Arriving at Mataranka our first stop was at Bitter Springs in the Elsey NP where we had a wonderful swim. A walking track leads from the carpark to access points into the water which runs into a deep stream flowing between reed beds and fan palms. There is quite a flow in the water which is very clear and has a bluish tinge and faint sulphur small. It is comfortably warm, maybe 30 degrees. There were quite a lot of other people in the water, and in chatting with them it was interesting to hear the experiences of others who are traveling quite differently to how we are. After we had become suitably wrinkled and soaked we headed back to the highway to the camping area in the Elsey NP a few km down the road. It is a big busy but pleasant place even if we are a bit late to get hot water in the shower.

At night a ranger talk was advertised but either it wasn’t on or we couldn’t find it – so we didn’t go. So we went to bed early which was just as well as the night became quite cold with a heavy dew. In the morning we checked out a couple of places along the Roper R. on the way into the campground. There were the remains of old stockyards near a big deep pool and further up a spot where the river alternated between deep pools and fast flowing narrow cascades – very pretty. Water heavily laced with salts oozes out on the banks above the river. There are big fan palms with red-leaved juveniles, as at Palm Valley, although they are a different species. The rocks are mainly limestone, but of various ages – some very spongy looking full of holes, but are really very hard. The vegetation is very dense here with plentiful water.

Down the highway a few kilometers we came to the Elsey cemetery and site of the original homestead, now marked by a stone cairn. The cemetery was restored during WWII and the remains of people connected with the station and the book were relocated there, although quite a few of the graves are not identified. The grave of the Maluka, Fizzer, Sanguine Scot and Mine Host are there and a monument to Jeannie Gunn. The whole area is in good condition and well maintained. However the homestead site has reverted to bush. It is beside a small waterhole in the Warlock Ponds creek system.

Heading south again we came upon more WWII sites including the Gorrie airfield just north of Larrimah. This site was built about 1942 and had up to 6,500 people living there at one stage. Its main function was the repair and maintenance of planes and vehicles. The strip, built by the Victorian Roads Board is still in good condition so we drove along it and had lunch in some shade beside it. Later in the day we passed another airfield at Daly Waters and a hospital at Larrimah but did not stop. There are monuments to explorers and others along this stretch of road. We passed one to Alexander Forrest, and stopped at Daly Waters to look at the remains of a tree thought to have been marked with an S by Stuart – but we could see no sign of any letter. We also stopped at a granite pillar marking the point 1km west where approaching halves of the overland telegraph line was finally joined so that messages could get through from London to Adelaide. We detoured in to Daly Waters but apart from caravans there was little to see, just a store and garage.

Eventually we approached Elliot and remembered that we had been given directions to Lake Woods. A dirt road, not signposted, turns off just on the northern edge of town over a stock grid. The road in goes through private property for 12 or 13km and is fairly rough. We wondered if it would take us anywhere, and it did – to a well used area with rubbish bins, and very basic BBQs and toilets. There is quite an extensive body of water so after exploring a bit we selected a grassy site close to the water under some river red gums (that sported a big eagle or hawks nest). We had the place to ourselves except for 3 people who apparently came in to watch the sunset.

We had a campfire here – the first time since Litchfield. There were quite a lot of birds on the lake, but spread out. We saw 5 jabiru, the most in one place that we have yet seen, brolgas, numerous pelicans, darters, ducks, terns, stilts etc. There were big flyovers of ducks and cormorants morning and evening. We also saw a feral cat, kangaroos, a dingo and just the reflections of a couple of horses coming in to drink. The sunset was the most colourful we have seen for a while, the sky colours mirrored in the water, along with near perfect reflections. We went for a walk along the edge of the water. There were a few dead birds, and we were amazed by the number of big mussel shells and snail shells up to 3cm across. The water was very muddy so no fish were seen but there seems to be abundant food here for the birds. Altogether a delightful place although the surrounding country is arid looking acacia scrub.

We were awake before sunrise next morning to watch the colours in the sky and the birds coming and going – which continued all morning. This lake is a big one and we are at one end of it though the map suggests that it is not permanent water. We were on the road about 10am and got petrol at Elliot, which is an aboriginal community. The army (advance guard) is also in town making arrangements for fuel and warning us to avoid the highway tomorrow when a convoy of about 100 vehicles will be traveling south – at 80kph.

The country now is quite arid with only minor changes in vegetation and occasional low hills. In places there are distant horizons that are totally flat. We stop for lunch at a cairn marking the spot at Attack Creek where Stuart turned back on his first attempt to cross the continent. But as there was no shade we continued on until we found some on a side track. As we have plenty of time available we decided to go into Tennant Creek, a 50km detour from the Three Ways turn-off.

It’s as well that we did as we were able to go to a chemist (we were both feeling the effects of Kakadu water) and to get fuel filters, as Troopy wasn’t keen on running from the rear tank. While there we looked in at the Overland Telegraph Cable repeater station. This group of buildings has had a chequered history and is now waiting to be restored. The several buildings are solidly built in stone – the repeater station itself, residence, quarters, smithy, smoke house and a cellar. The cellar is a thick walled, windowless building built over a cellar and was used for storing food.

We headed back up to the Three Ways, turned east and made our stop for the night was at the first designated rest area on the Barkley highway, a big area with a number of vans etc already in residence. There is water so we lit a fire in preparation for a few domestic chores and for an early night.

Wind started just before sunrise and continued all day, strong at times. We pulled into Barkly Homestead and left there just ahead of convoys of army trucks carrying APCs; they are traveling in groups of about 8 vehicles. The rest areas along this road are not as good as the one we used last night – all are smaller with limited shade and shelter. After lunch in one of these areas we pulled back onto the highway between groups of army vehicles only to have Troopy misbehave – either a vapour lock or blocked fuel filter. So we stopped to change the filter and that seemed to fix the problem.

The country is fairly uninteresting – low acacia scrub and small eucalypts. Towards Camoweal it opened out into grassland and more distant horizons. We then began to see cattle and the inevitable road kills of both cattle and kangaroos. We walked around Camoweal although there was not a lot to see. But at least the service stations were open for the army. Then out of town about 25km to Camoweal Caves NP where there was dry woodland and limestone with sink holes going down a long way. The campground is at a dry waterhole lined with coolabahs and River Red gums. We went for a walk and saw many worked stone implements on the ground. An early night was welcome to get out of the persistent wind.

The wind persisted during the night and this continued during the day, giving us quite a headwind at times. John managed to walk into a tree branch this morning so the first aid kit got its first real use. The offending branch at head height beside a picnic table was an accident waiting to happen so we left a note for the ranger, advising removal.

About half the road to Isa is not quite wide enough for 2 vehicles to pass. As there was quite a bit of traffic including road trains we had to pull off the road fairly frequently. We got a couple of stone chips on the windscreen. The country is similar to yesterday, with perhaps a bit more grassland, though not many cattle to be seen. It becomes more rugged and hilly about 30km west of Mt. Isa where we arrived about lunchtime. Our first stop was at the lookout. The town is in a valley and is very green in contrast to the scrub and spinifex covered hills. It is built around the mine and big ore processing plants and tailings dumps which are huge. We intended to go to the Riversleigh display but they close at 2 so we are too late for today. Instead we pent a quiet afternoon in the caravan park.

After a surprisingly cool night – down to 4o – we got away early as we wanted to arrange an oil change for Troopy. Finding a service station was a bit tricky but the first one we asked could do it straight away, and in the process gave us some tips about a few niggling little things in the diff and gearbox – and where to get parts locally. So we went and got one of the parts and in the process passed a windscreen repairer who agreed to fix yesterday’s stone chips straight away. He could also replace the glass in the broken RV mirror, but his charge would be similar to replacement cost. So we went and bought a new one – better than the original as it is slightly larger. Then a fill of the tanks with the cheapest petrol of the trip – 76c/l) and we are set for the run home.

But first a visit to the Riversleigh display, featuring a collection of fossils from the site, dioramas and videos illustrating some of the animals and a tour of the laboratory where the fossils are dissolved out of the rocks. The Riversleigh site contains fossils of mammals from 20million to 15,000 years ago, as well as reptiles, birds, fish and insects. Only some of the 200 species found have so far been identified. The intention of the display is to both raise interest in the past environment, but also to discourage people from going out to the site and possibly disturbing it. All very interesting.

John’s head wound with eye catching dressing is generating quite a bit of amused comment. We removed the dressing later in the day to find that it was healing up remarkably well. We shopped for groceries at a large Coles supermarket and headed back up to the lookout to pack Troopy and have lunch. We had just started when the sprinklers popped up and gave us a good wetting down. Hasty moves were required. After lunch we decided to move on. We are impressed with Mt. Isa, it seems a prosperous town and we have had excellent service from the local businesses we have visited. The Mt. Isa rodeo is on over the weekend and as we drove out of town we passed many big horse floats coming in to town. It is apparently a very big show.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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