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Home > Travelogues > 2009 Travelogues Index > Borroloola and the Barkly Tableland
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Our next adventure takes us through the vast Mitchell Grass plains of the Barkly Tablelands as we head towards Queensland. 

360º composite of the treeless Mitchell Grass plains of the Barkly Tablelands

From Douglas Hot Springs we returned to meet the Stuart Highway near Hayes Creek which is little more than a roadhouse/hotel with a caravan park behind it.  At Emerald Springs, the Wayside Inn owner had no knowledge of or interest in the appealing name of his locality.  There is a sping fed lake known as Lake Emerald in the vicinity and the present Inn owners plan to develop an Eco cabin accommodation venture at the lake. 


Heading further south we reached Pine Creek.  What we saw on our second visit here has been combined with the earlier travelogue.


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. 


South of Mataranka, we were back into the temperate rather than tropical zone, as semi tropical woodland soon became temperate woodland.  Our solar power system was achieving excellent results once again. 


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





Reaching Amungee Mungee Station, we were surprised to find much of the area had been cleared of trees and scrub, the timber had been burnt, but far from completely where blackened sticks stood out amongst the re-growth, which appeared to be around three years old and looked rather neglected.  As of 2005, the station was used as an alternative more reliable transit route out of the Gulf region for cattle during and post wet season.  Approval was granted for the owner to commence land clearing for the introduction of improved pasture to increase carrying capacity.  It seems that in the three or four years since the report, little has been done but the initial clearing.  Although we didn't see any cattle grazing, there are cattle in the area, because a recently hit cow lay dead alongside the road near here. 


Cattle were run on the station as it was actively staffed in 2007 when the media reported a tragic story of Filipino worker died when thrown from the back of a swerving utility.  Read news about the tragedy  here and a further report here 

Close by Amungee Mingee, 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 to get away from the main area for private camping, 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.  Bullwaddy Conservation Reserve Plan of Management 2005

We passed Cape Crawford at the junction of the Carpentaria and Tablelands Highways and we would return to this point later. Cape Crawford is basically just a roadhouse/hotel with cabins and camping.  The sandstone mesas of the Abner Range were impressive.  Helicopter flights can be taken from Cape Crawford over the range and to yet another sandstone “Lost City” within the Abner Range that can only be accessed by air. The flight includes landing and an on the ground walk around the pillars. There are optional tours that fly over only, or access other features in the area, including Poppy’s Pool. Poppy’s Pool is seventy kilometres from Cape Crawford on Bauhinia Downs Station, owned by Harry Lansen from the Gudanji tribe. The hot spring water rises under pressure from a large aquifer system five to seven kilometres deep in the earths crust. It emerges and cools as it moves downstream and mixes with the water from the cool spring.  These pools can be included in a helicopter tour, or you can drive there. Fees, including an Aboriginal lands visitor permit apply.  Booking can be made through the Mabunji Centre in Borroloola.   We did not visit either Poppy’s Pool or the Abner Range Lost City. 

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

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 and being unable to stay overnight to walk in the cool of morning. 

Continuing on to Borroloola we found it an unimpressive and mainly Aboriginal 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.


We found the second fuel outlet in Borroloola considerably cheaper than the first; in fact cheaper than we had paid at Hi-Way, but we lost any gain from the saving on the price we paid for icecreams.  Both fuel outlets were considerably cheaper than fuel back at Cape Crawford. 

After a night camped a little way from the road, we continued on and met the Barkly Highway not far from Barkly Homestead Roadhouse. Barkly Homestead Roadhouse offers accommodation including camping, restaurant and has a limited liquor licence.  It is the only service centre on the Barkly Highway between Three Ways on the Stuart Highway and Camooweal in Queensland. 


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.   

In contrast to Amungee Mungee station, the stations from Bullwaddy onwards to Borroloola had large herds of cattle visible from the road. 

We stopped overnight at Cape Crawford “Heartbreak Hotel” which was a not a place I would stop at again.  We paid the premium for power and ran our air conditioner for a while as the weather was quite hot. 

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.  There was 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.  Nearby a very wide road appeared to be more than a station access road, but with no mining activity listed in the area, it was most likely just the access road to Kiana Station.  Kiana cattle station was sold to an Indonesian company in 2005 with the previous owners remaining as managers. See here  

A note on the tank has not been heeded, and there was the usual toileting residue on the tracks behind the rest area – something which can be seen all too often in very popular rest areas. 

Kiana 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. 

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.  Read more about the Barkly from Wikipedia

We met a swarm of huge locusts, something we were to come across a few more times on our travels once we reached Queensland. 

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

The flat grassy terrain continued as we crossed into Queensland.


Water was barely flowing through the long lagoon at Caranbirini Conservation Reserve, but the birdlife didn't mind.
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 to take walks late afternoon and early morning, but found it was now signed No Camping. 
Creek beds were dry with the exception of Surprise Creek. Here at Leila Creek, Cypress Pines lined the dry bed.  These only survive in areas protected from fires. 
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.  Read more about the Barkly

We stopped at the Wonarah Bore Rest Area, forty kilometres east of Barkly Homestead Roadhouse.  Like the other larger rest areas throughout the Barkly, there is a windmill and tank.  Here at Wonarah the water spills onto the ground and is a haven for large flocks of zebra finches. 

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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.  This meant returning to Cape Crawford rather than continuing on to join the Savannah Way.
Click to see distances, features and fuel availability along the Savannah Way.
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Chris and Valdis travelled the Savannah Way in 2011 from Roper Bar in the Northern Territory to Leichhardt Falls south east of Burketown and have shared their trip with us.   
Caranbirini Conservation Reserve
Savannah Way