Travelling Australia - Journal 2006
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31 August 2006 - Barkly Roadhouse to Mt Isa

Location map We stayed at Barkly Roadhouse caravan park for the night. Minimum temperature overnight was twelve degrees and we had to dig out blankets buried deeply since entering the Northern Territory. When we left Barkly Roadhouse heading east towards Queensland 250 kilometres away we had the road to ourselves. Weather was pleasant for driving - clear sky, sun shining brightly, a bit windy but not enough to cause concern. The road had a reasonably good surface although a little uneven in parts. The land was fairly flat. Vegetation was scattered trees (too scattered to be called woodland) with lower tiers of some scrub but mostly grass.

Ninety six kilometres from Barkly we entered the catchment of Lake Eyre far away to the south. In practice, the rivers running south usually fade out in the desert as their water drains away and they only reach Lake Eyre after heavy rainfall. Since Newcastle Waters we had been in an area draining into internal temporary lakes when it rained.

We had our morning coffee in the shade of a tree in the Soudan Rest Area; this was the tree that we had stayed under for a night on a previous trip returning from Uluru and Daly Waters pub with our neighbours. Zebra finches were still drinking from the water around the tap from the bore.

The wagtail (with wings spread) has taken exception to the raven's presence for some unknown reason and repeatedly harrassed the larger bird.
Tussock grasses and termite mounds beside the Barkly Highway.
Finches gathered at Soudan rest area on the Barkly Highway. A dripping tap providing a steady supply of water makes the spot attractive to them.
130 kilometres from Barkly Roadhouse we reached Mitchell Grass plains extending until we had crossed the NT/Qld border. Most of the Mitchell Grass Plains are treeless; the fertile black clay of the plains develops deep and wide cracks and one theory is that the cracking breaks horizontal roots, killing most plants; but the grasses flourishing on the plains have vertical root systems and are not killed by the cracking black clay. The Mitchell Grass Plains are favoured for cattle grazing which is the main activity in this region.

Road trains carrying livestock are essential to the cattle industry on the Barkly Tableland.
Between Camooweal and Mt Isa we passed through a major road-building project which has been running for at least three years and is due for completion in 2008-9. The whole length of road (over 170 kilometres) is being replaced; the original bitumen road was built with minimal preparation in the 1960s. No attempt was made to level the roadway; it looks as if bitumen was laid over a shallow foundation directly on the ground without cuttings or embankments and the road goes up and down over any undulating surface. The new road followed a much better route with cuttings, embankments and culverts but the surface was a little bouncy for a new long-distance road.

From Camooweal to Mt Isa the terrain is characterised by undulating valleys between rugged ranges. The region is so rugged that pastoral activity is fairly low. Vegetation is varied; the main grouping is low open woodland over open-hummock spinifex grassland. We stopped at an off-road rest area 50 km from Mt Isa for a break. Vegetation comprised scattered trees with an understory of hummock grass and a dark green acacia. Some of the hummock grass was very nasty to walk on with sharp prickles which easily pierced my sneakers.

Approaching Mt Isa we turned off the highway to go to the Riverview caravan park where we had booked; we had stayed there on our previous visit to Mt Isa. By sunset the caravan park was reasonably full. This was a bit surprising in view of the very light traffic passing us on the road today and yesterday. Today we had counted an average of nine tourist vehicles (caravans, motorhomes, camper trailers or campervans) an hour going in the opposite direction. Although the "season" in the Top End seems to be drawing to a close several vans in the Mt Isa caravan park are going to Tennant Creek or Uluru (i.e. staying in the southern part of the NT, clear of the monsoonal Top End).

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