Travelling Australia - Journal 2013
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8 July 2013

Borroloola to Brunette rest area
We left Borroloola on a bright, sunny morning - pretty usual for this time of year. Traffic was very light as we headed south-west on the Carpentaria Highway bound for Cape Crawford about 109 kilometres away. The road was two-lanes of bitumen until we reached the McArthur River Mine 64 kilometres from Booroloola when, not far past the turn-off into the mine, we were on a single-lane road.

With the exception of two short (6 and 4 kilometres respectively) sections of two-lane bitumen the road was one lane all the way to Cape Crawford 48 kilometres further on. The numerous floodways were invaluable as convenient places to pull over for oncoming traffic or to let faster overtaking traffic go past.

At Cape Crawford we topped up with diesel before setting off along the Tableland Highway to the Barkly Roadhouse. A sign beside the road reminds drivers that there is no fuel available for the 375 kilometres to the Barkly; this is further than we usually plan to go on a tankful of fuel so we were carrying diesel fuel in drums to make sure we could reach the next fuelling point at the Barkly Roadhouse.

Cape Crawford is the site for visitors going on helicopter rides to lost cities in Limmen National Park and there were frequent helicopter take-offs. Cape Crawford was fairly busy with half a dozen caravans and camper-trailers stopping as well as one road train; but nearly all these vehicles headed along the Carpentaria Highway towards the Stuart Highway; very few headed south towards the Barkly.

The Tablelands Highway south from Cape Crawford is single-lane; mostly long and straight sections but not level with the road usually going up or down and trending upwards as ground elevation steadily, but slowly, increased (from 90 metres at Cape Crawford) to be about 230 to 240 metres by the time we were 140 kilometres south of Cape Crawford. The road verges were flat and nearly level with the bitumen so pulling off for oncoming traffic was not a problem.

Tree combinations along the road changed drastically. Leaving Cape Crawford we passed through a forest of tall gum trees with gleaming white trunks and no undergrowth; within a few kilometres this was replaced by a less conspicuous tree combination including yellow kapok flowers and bloodwood with copious pale yellow flowers. But this, in turn, was soon replaced.

A striking feature of this days travels of 228 kilometres on the Tablelands Highway was how often and how much the vegetation on the side of the road changed. In that distance we went from a forest of tall trees, through scrubby trees about four metres high, then various other combinations of shape and colour, and several times through open grassland with very few trees or shrubs at all.

eagle One of several juvenile wedge tail eagles which left a road-kill kangaroo as we approached.
Borroloola to Tableland Highway - page 2
Initially the single lane road was good enough for 75 to 80 kilometres an hour without difficulty and this stage of the days' driving was very pleasant with an acceptable road surface, good view of the road ahead, very little other traffic and frequent changes in vegetation along the road.

Unfortunately, this was not to last. For about 40 kilometres before we reached Kiana Turnoff rest area, where we intended to have lunch, the road surface deteriorated markedly. The bitumen remained intact and there were no potholes, but the bitumen was raised unevenly and at random so any vehicle going over it pitched and rolled unpredictably. Movement of the car and caravan got far beyond issues of comfort; concern at the towing gear being damaged by the unpredictable movements of the caravan was more important and speed dropped to about 45 kilometres an hour.

While we were negotiating this slow-speed section we passed a paddock of hay being harvested and baled. This was the only paddock of crops we saw all day and was a striking contrast with the apparently untouched bush or grassland along the rest of the road and with the emphasis on grazing cattle everywhere else on the Barkly Tableland. Near the harvesting a couple of brolgas crossed the road and shortly after we disturbed six juvenile wedge-tailed eagles sharing a road-kill kangaroo on the side of the road. These wedge-tails took off in good time and perched in a nearby tree to watch us, probably hoping we would go away so they could return to the carcasse but we stopped for some photographs so they gave up and resumed soaring.

road Single-lane of the Tablelands Highway passing Kiana Turnoff rest area.
kiana rest area Kiana Turnoff rest area is dominated by this large windmill which frequently made a very loud, high pitched noise.
After about forty kilometres of slow going the surface gradually improved without any obvious reason then we came upon a 2.4 metre section of excellent quality two-lane road described in signage as an "Overtaking Lane". This wasn't really an Overtaking Lane as that term is used elsewhere in Australia but was more akin to what Outback Queensland calls an "Overtaking Opportunity" where a single lane road contains a two-lane section so faster vehicles can, provided oncoming traffic permits, overtake slower ones without spraying stones and pebbles everywhere as they run off the bitumen while going past the slower ones.

109 kilometres from Cape Crawford we stopped at a rest area called Kiana Turnoff rest area because the road to Kiana station leaves the Tableland Highway nearby. This is a large rest area immediately beside the road with a picnic shelter, water tank, rubbish bins and a very large windmill. The windmill squeeked badly every time it turned to face the wind and sleep would have been difficult in that rest area had we chosen to spend the night.

Leaving the Kiana Turnoff rest area we continued south along the Tableland Highway. The road did not revert to the slow-speed section we had earlier experienced but 70 kilometres an hour was as fast as was comfortable. Although the highway appeared to be generally level the road had risen from 90 metres at Cape Crawford to be 246 metres elevation 70 kilometres south of Kiana Turnoff. There wasn't much roadkill along this road but we noted that long-time dead cattle were becoming common; by 'long-time' dead I mean the bones had been picked clean and had dried in the sun, the hide had come away from the bones and dried in the sun, and usually the bones had become separated and spread around the hide. These bone and hide collections were usually a few metres away from the bitumen and we assumed the animals concerned had been hit by road trains but we were unclear how the carcasse always ended up clear of the road.

Just before Brunette rest area we negotiated another 2.2 kilometres of "Overtaking Lane". The rest area was on Brunette Downs pastoral property and cattle were moving in the scrub near the rest area and could be heard further away. The rest area contains a picnic shelter, water tank and rubbish bins, no toilet. Patronage was not heavy with six vehicles staying overnight; at least eight or ten more could have fitted in without difficulty. The rest area is immediately adjacent to the road and a road-train stopped after dark to check wheels and tyres by torchlight.
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