Welcome to this new 8 part series from our Northern Territory expedition earlier this year in 2016. In part 1 we venture west out of Brisbane into outback Queensland and through the stunning Channel Country. Our first nights camp just shy of Roma being Yuleba Camping Area on the banks of Judds Lagoon, a top spot for an overnight camp and not far off the Warrego Highway.
From here we hightailed it deeper into the interior with a night at Blackall then Winton. Enroute to Winton a visit to the Qantas Museum and Stockmans Hall of Fame at Longreach was in order. Both are interesting and worth dropping into whilst you are in the area.
We had also planned on a visit to the Age of Dinosaurs just east of Winton but due to recent wet weather in the region the access road was closed. Putting it off till our return journey along with some other Dinosaur escapades in the Channel Country we were to find out later in our travels that this was not to happen either due to continuing wet weather during their so called dry season. It was however more than needed and the change in the landscape was just incredible to witness. Whilst in Winton a visit to what was left of the Waltzing Matilda Centre following the devastating fire the previous year was a brilliant idea and one we were glad we had.
Leaving Winton we headed further northwest to the mining mecca of Mount Isa. En-route a short detour led us to a little known place called Combo Waterhole Conservation Park for morning tea and to stretch the legs, although the muddy walking track made the going slow and sloppy.
Just out of Cloncurry our lunch stop was at the beautiful Chinamans Creek Dam, not only a top picnic spot but also a top bird watching one as well.
Arriving in Mount Isa we gave ourselves a full day here to check out the local attractions and have a day off the road. Following a hardy breakfast at the Coffee Club it was out to the Lake Moondarra on the outskirts of town. This artificial lake on the Leichhardt River is huge and supplies the water to Mt Isa and the local mines. There are several vantage points around the lake to take in the surrounding countryside with scattered picnic areas, a great spot for a picnic.
From the lake it was back into town where we decided to check out the unique and interesting Underground Hospital and museum. This may not be on top of everyone’s list but we highly recommend a visit here as it gives an amazing insight into the history of the Isa.
Whilst in Mount Isa we even managed to catch a local stage show put on by the local high school, wasn’t that a treat.
After stocking up on supplies and refueling it was time to head into the real outback. About 15km short of the Northern Territory Border the tiny town of Camooweal can be found. South of town and a little off the beaten track is Camooweal Caves National Park. Although you can’t go down into the caves they are an interesting geological formation among the otherwise desolate landscape and well worth the short diversion off the main highway.
Once across the border in the Northern Territory the road becomes that bit straighter, the speed limit picks up to 130km/hr although we did not go anywhere near this our entire trip and you really do get a sense you are in the middle of nowhere, even though you are still on the main highway.
Our first nights camp in the Territory was at the Barkly Homestead Roadhouse, a regular stopover for many travelers as there is a lot of nothingness out here and many hundreds of kilometres between points. Barkly is a pleasant spot even with some nice grassed camping areas, you don’t see a lot of that put this way! Full amenities are provided here with hot showers and if you feel like a night off cooking meals are available at the roadhouse come pub.
A couple hundred kilometres west of Barkly Homestead we hit the Stuart Highway and made a short diversion south. Before Tennant Creek the Pebbles, a striking rock formation and the Old Overland Telegraph Station are signposted off the highway and both worth a visit.
A delightful lunch stop also north of town can be found at Lake Mary Ann.
Heading north once again our overnight stop was at Banka Banka Station with its lovely grassed camping area and nice hot shower.
Along the long journey north there are a many interesting side attractions and diversions to keep you occupied and to break the monotony , some pertaining to the plethora of WWII historic sites up and down the interior and others the legacy left behind of once industrious settlements. The remains of the Sterling Mill can be found just off the highway.
Keep an eye out for the historic town of Newcastle Waters just off the highway. Now nothing more than a ghost town with a functioning school there are a couple historic buildings that include Jones’ Store now a museum of sorts and the Junction Pub that closed in 1960 to check out complete with information signs detailing their history. These buildings are just up the road from the school.
The historic township of Daly Waters with its iconic pub is yet another worthwhile diversion. Make sure you also check out the historic WWII aircraft hangar at the airfield on the way into town.
After many diversions and interesting side trips we pulled into Mataranka Homestead in Elsley National Park and the infamous Mataranka Hot Springs. These are one of those places that you must visit even if its only once. The large camping area here is shady and has both powered and unpowered sites available as well as all amenities. There is even a bar and bistro and at times live music, which we were lucky enough to have been serenaded by in the campground that evening.
From Mataranka Homestead it was a bit further north up the Stuart Highway to the thriving town of Katherine. More side attractions also await along this section of the Stuart Highway including Cutta Cutta Caves which is well worth a visit. The guided tour is a must.
After refueling and picking up supplies at Katherine it was out to the ever popular Katherine Gorge in Nitmiluk National Park. With a full day in the gorge planned there are many options for exploring this picturesque spot. We opted for the Safari Cruise which we cannot recommend highly enough. The guides are local indigenous people and for the next few hours they went out of their way to impart their knowledge and customs from the uses of the local flora to the meanings behind the local rock art, it is one of the most interesting and informative tours we have done.
Nitmiluk campground is a well laid out area with both powered and unpowered sites available, hot showers a pool and poolside kiosk all within walking distance to the gorge.
We trust you have enjoyed part 1 of our Top End Adventure. Stay tuned for part 2 when we head further north and take in the splendor and beauty that is Kakadu National Park and not just those attraction on the main tourist route.