Lewis' Exploring Oz

On and off the beaten track…………………….

Mataranka to Mt Isa

Posted by lewisfamilyexploringoz on October 2, 2010

Hi Everyone,

Mataranka Thermal Pool

It’s only a short drive today of 255kms from Mary River Roadhouse to Mataranka, with a short stop in Katherine to pick up some fresh supplies, stock the pantry and fuel the car.

Elsey Homestead

There are 3 caravan parks in Mataranka and we stayed at the Mataranka Homestead and Tourist Park.  There was no grassed sites and the toilet blocks were very old and in need of a lot of TLC or need to be torn down but having said that the park itself was quite nice.  At $44 a night I felt it a bit dear for the sort of amenities we had.  We settled in and went down to the Mataranka Thermal springs for a dip.  They are very similar to the Katherine Springs, similar temperature, climate, surrounding landscapes and all.  We stayed for a while then went to explore the Bitter Springs at the other end of town.

Boys out front of Homestead

The Bitter Springs are not thermal springs so they were a little cooler than the other spring, which was more of a swim than a soak. Wade and I put our snorkel and masks on and I’ve gotta say I’ve never seen so much algae on the logs and stones!  It was bright, almost fluorescent green under the water!  We met 2 couples from Melbourne and after talking with them for a little while, realised that they were at Lee Point Caravan Park in Darwin when we were there.  We stayed there for awile chatting, then headed back to camp.

Showing Off

We stopped along the way to see the old Elsey Homestead which has been relocated to the Mataranka Homestead.  It is a replica made for the film “We of the Never Never”. It was interesting to walk through the Homestead and surrounding buildings to read and see the history of Jeanie Gunn, author of the book of the same name.

Kids feeding Wallaby

When we got back to the caravan there were several peacocks and peahens roaming around the park.  There were also some Agile Wallabies and the boys raced inside to cut up some apple and sweet potato to feed them.  The peacock decided to give us a spectacular show of his feathers which was quite magnificent and went on for a good 30-40 mins.  The peahens didn’t seem to think much of it but he kept on trying to get their attention. They are just such colourful creatures, beautiful to watch and so tame.

Daly Waters Pub inside

Our first stop after leaving Mataranka was Daly Waters Pub.

We had read that the pub was a “must see” place so we stopped in here for lunch and a look around.  It certainly is an eclectic collection of stuff – there’s no other way to describe it!  The Daly Waters Pub is the oldest pub in NT.  Every bit of wall and ceiling is covered with some sort of memorabilia from either the district or a record of fellow travellers who have gone before you.  It was quite amazing some of the things that were in there.  We had burgers outside in the beer garden next to the thong tree whilst keeping the birds from trying to steal our lunch.

Daly Waters Pub Bar

We pressed on to Banka Banka Station, which is about 100kms north of Tennant Creek.  It’s a lovely oasis in the middle of nowhere!  It’s a working station that opens up for travellers.  We parked on the grassed area, set up and went over to the “Bar” for a drink and a chat to the Managers and fellow travellers. The chairs and tables were made from old gear cogs, wheel rims and benches, some made from cut up enamel baths (which were very comfortable!) and some old couches. The reception/bar area is the old original 3 room homestead and beautifully kept. We met another family who were also travelling around Oz and we swapped stories of our travels and how we lurve homeschooling – NOT!  We had an  unpowered site, soft grass underfoot, very nice water, excellent showers and toilets and all for $7 per person 12 and over.  The Managers were Fiona and Alex and they were very friendly and helpful and we would thoroughly recommend staying here overnight. It seems to be a very popular place with travellers, as the area fills up pretty quickly. Wade even got to pat the resident donkey who came down to say goodbye in the morning.

Chairs at Banka Banka

More chairs and tables

Banka Banka site

Wade and Donkey

Roast dinner

Camp at Avon Downs

Police Station at Avon Downs

We left the Stuart Highway at Three Ways and started our journey eastward towards the Qld border.  We stopped early in the afternoon at a roadside stop called Avon Downs.  It was close to the road but we parked a little way back and it wasn’t too noisy.  We had a roast to cook and after pulling up and setting up we hunted down some wood and started the fire for coals.  The rest area is opposite the Police Station. Yep, a big Police Station, in the middle of nowhere.  There is a Station (Avon Downs) some way back off the road behind the rest area but there’s nothing except this big Police Station.  We weren’t quite sure what to make of that – is it a high crime rate area????, some sort of detention centre???? or what?  We are still scratching our heads. I read that it is a quarantine area but there are no gates or booths or anything.  Getting in to these stops early lets you pick a good spot, not too close to the toilets and with some shade.  We enjoyed a yummy roast beef and vegies and some rice custard for dessert. Mmmmmm.  I even managed to get some of the blog done too.

Welcome to QLD-yeah

Dan and Wade tree climbers extraordinaire

A good night’s sleep and off to Mt Isa today.  The Qld border was only 57kms away and we stopped for another border crossing photo. We rang Annie (a friend of ours we met on our first days in Karratha who lives back in Mt Isa now) for a caravan park referral and to see when she was coming back from Townsville, which, unfortunately wouldn’t be till we were leaving:( We stayed at Coppercity Riverside Caravan Park which was great.  We had an ensuite site and the park was very clean, ensuite was beautiful and the park had lots of big climbing trees. The kids found a great tree right next to our site in the park and spent hours playing in it, using rope and wood and all sorts of stuff to build a ‘cubbyhouse’.  A couple of times I just had to look away and be content that i knew where the hospital was and any broken bones would heal in time:/ The pool was very cold (brrr) as it has a huge tree covering it with shade all day long but that didn’t stop us having a swim and it certainly was refreshing going for a dip! We met a few people who had driven up from Winton and said there had been a lot of rain and some roads were closed.  We haven’t seen any rain yet, touch wood, so we’ll wait and see.  We did find a really yummy bakery that wasn’t too far away from the park so we had lunch and finished with something sweet, as you do!

Hard Times Mine

Went to the Outback at Isa (tourist information centre) and booked an underground tour for the next day and got more info on things to see and do. It’s a huge info centre and also has an on-site fossil lab, but we were too late for the tour with the resident Palaeontologist.  That would have been very interesting, but we’ll save that for the next lap around. We stopped at the playground and let the kids run feral for a while! What a great park! It’s predominantly for the younger kids but there was enough to keep the boys happy for a while:)

Mt Isa by day

Mt Isa by night

We went to the Outback at Isa for the Hard times Outback Mine tour.  It is a ‘mine’ that was created and built with drives and declines, ‘cribroom’, machinery and everything to replicate what goes on in an underground mine.  We were kitted out with orange overalls, safety gumboots, belts, hard hats and lights and battery packs.  We had a blast stomping around in all the gear but gees it would have been hard work carrying all that gear for 12 hours straight.  (Hey Andy, those orange overalls brought back some great and funny memories of Darlot and all you guys from Peabodys!) Bill was our tour guide and what a character he was.  There were a few other kids on the tour so he made sure to include them in as many aspects of the tour as possible, which they all loved.  Bill took us through from the “cage”, which is like a cargo elevator, down to the mine underground.  He showed us how they create the tunnels and started a few of the machines up as well – thank god for ear muffs! We went to the ‘cribroom’ to get our ‘tags’ and put them on the “IN” board while we were in the mine. When we stopped for a cuppa in the ‘cribroom’ (smoko area) we put our tags over to the “OUT” board and Bill got Wade to flick the switch to set off the blast. It sounds like a real blast and they are working on the whole gammit of special effects, including the whoosh of air from the blast and lots of smoke and dust for the full effect. The tour takes about 1 and a half hours but we loved it and the time just flew by.  We learnt heaps as all the equipment is fairly old and Bill explained just how things were done in “The Olden Days” as Wade likes to call them! Although the “Olden days” to him are when Joel and i were kids, go figure!!  The only bummer was that you couldn’t take any photos down there.  We all had photos taken at the entrance to the mine and they were only $10 so we definitely got ours to keep as a souvenir of the tour.  Even though Joel and I met and worked on a Gold Mine and had been underground before we didn’t work underground. And even though the equipment is all state-of-the-art now, it’s still dangerous work and it was educational for the kids to see how our minerals are mined and how hard miners had it back in “the olden days”.

Underground Hospital beds

Entrance to U-G Hospital

Surgical Bed

After our ‘hard days work’ we had an early dinner then went to watch a movie, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”. It was a good film and a lot more humour in it than i thought.  We went up to the lookout on our way home to see the Mt Isa mine and town all lit up.  It is said to look a little like a cruise liner, with the smoke stacks lit up as well as the mine.  It’s very impressive and colourful too

Next day, after all the ‘housework’, we went to check out the Underground Hospital.  There was a lot of equipment and bits’n’pieces from the old hospital in the entrance area, then a quick tour in the underground hospital.  I loved it but the kids (and Joel) found it a bit boring. The underground hospital was built during WW2, after the Darwin Hospital had been bombed, so there would be a safe place to treat any injured soldiers or miners if there happened to be a direct attack on Mt Isa.  It was never used as a hospital but the nursing staff would come down to sleep as the temperature was far cooler that their quarters would have been (back in the days before air-conditioning). The Nursing staff would still run regular drills just in case.

Lake Moondarra

Picnic at Lake Moondarra

We then headed out to Lake Moondarra about 16kms out of Mt Isa and it is where Annie got married too. It’s a huge, man-made lake where you can picnic, fish, boat, swim, canoe and taking it easy.  We took a picnic lunch and spent a few hours just kicking back.

We headed out of Isa on Monday morning with a resolve to meet up with Annie and Billy along the way as they were returning from Townsville and we were headed to Richmond.  We did keep looking out for them and we eventually we saw them and as we pulled over to chat, wouldn’t ya know it, it started to rain and quite heavy too.  It was brilliant to catch up with Annie and Billy and the new addition to the family, little Luke.  Annie you look just the same, gorgeous as always, Billy has grown so much and is quite handsome and little Luke is quite the cutie.   We got inside the caravan and caught up on some lost time. We waited till the rain passed a bit then said our farewells, with promises to stop and have a better visit next year on our second lap. After we drove away I was spewing we hadn’t taken any photos:( Ah well, always next time.

We’re bound for Richmond, the dinosaur/fossil centre of Queensland next, so look out Richmond!

Catch ya later



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