Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
July 2013

Carpentaria Highway Summary
The Carpentaria Highway begins at the Hi-Way Inn on the Stuart Highway near Daly Waters and runs east, initially to Cape Crawford then on to Borroloola. The term Carpentaria Highway is occasionally used for the sections of the gravel Savannah Way running east from Borroloola to Wollogorang near the Queensland border.

Part A, Stuart Highway to Cape Crawford

The road from Hi-way Inn on the Stuart Highway to Cape Crawford is 270 kilometres of mostly single-lane bitumen. The road starts with eight kilometres of two-lane bitumen but then changes to a single lane running most of the way to Cape Crawford. There are four short two-lane sections, all less than five kilometres long; there is also one longer two-lane section of 23 kilometres ending at the Bullwaddy Conservation Area. The single bitumen lane has a fair quality surface with comfortable speed on it varying, apparently without reason, from 60 to 80 kilometres per hour with the higher speed being possible most of the time.

The verges are generally good, at least a metre wide on both sides of the road, and reasonably level with the bitumen for most of the time. Putting the left wheels onto the verge to pass oncoming traffic by sharing the bitumen is usually not difficult provided speed is reduced before leaving the bitumen. The road is mostly in long, straight sections, mostly going up and over hills and across valleys, so oncoming traffic can mostly be seen several kilometres away. Moving completely off the bitumen so oncoming heavy transports can pass requires a bit more time to slow down. Numerous floodways along the road, where the bitumen has been extended to both sides, proved excellent places to pull over out of the way without risking damage to tyres, although floodways were not always suitably located.

The road generally remains between 250 and 300 metres elevation until a few kilometres past the Goanna Creek rest area where the road descends in one stretch from 258 metres elevation down to 198 metres. There are warning signs of the impending descent but it is, nevertheless, a surprise to see the road suddenly drop away. The road surface on the descent is not particularly good; it is a little rough although there are no potholes. After this descent onto the coastal plain the highway is in long straight sections gently descending to 90 metres elevation at Cape Crawford.

Fuel is available at Hi-Way Inn and Cape Crawford. There are no services between these places; indeed, apart from a few pastoral property entrances and cattle handling yards there are no facilities. For those inclined to camp along the way there are four rest areas, each with a shelter, rubbish bins and water tank but no other facilities.

Part B, Cape Crawford to Borroloola

Borroloola to Cape Crawford is a little more than 108 kilometres. The road starts off from Cape Crawford as the same single lane of fair to good quality bitumen which looked as if it would continue all the way to Borroloola. But where the road passes the McArthur River mine the road becomes two lanes of bitumen which continue to Borroloola. The bitumen wasn't a high speed version and parts were uncomfortable at speeds above 60 kilometres an hour, but driving on a two-lane road meant oncoming traffic no longer presented the challenge of deciding when and where to pull over; even the many four trailer mining road-trains using the road did not present any difficulty. This road had been built by McArthur River Mine for their trucks taking processed ore to the coast for loading onto ships. The road is mostly flat.

After 52 kilometres the Carpentaria Highway turned off to the right at a T-junction, leaving mine traffic to go straight on to the Gulf port. Drivers need to pay attention at this intersection since the Highway is the side road and may be missed if road signs are not watched. After eight kilometres (still two-lanes of bitumen) the Highway comes to a junction with Robinson Road (sealed) which is the road to and through Borroloola.

According to one road sign the Carpentaria Highway continues from the Borroloola turn-off to Queensland as a gravel-road. But most maps and descriptions say the Highway ends at Borroloola and the Savannah Way is the gravel road into Queensland.

Carpentaria Highway - page 2
Single bitumen lane The Carpentaria Highway between Cape Crawford and the McArthur River Mine. The single bitumen lane is reasonable if driven at about 75 kilometres. Leaving the bitumen to pass oncoming traffic was not difficult at the time of our visit but, over time, traffic may degrade the road verges.
Road Train The dual-lane section of the Carpentaria Highway north of McArthur River mine made passing oncoming road trains routine.