Tom & Matt’s Four-State Road Trip
Day 6 — Monday, 1st August, 2011 — Mount Isa, Qld, to Pamayu, NT


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How many States?

OK, let’s make it clear that the Northern Territory is not actually a State — at least not yet. But “Three States and One Territory Road Trip” doesn’t have the same ring to is, somehow. In any case, Sean (who lives in the Northern Territory and is part of the reason for this whole thing) keeps saying that the Northern Territory is “The best of all of Australia’s territories”. Since that includes the Australiam Capital Territory, Norfolk Island and the Australian Antarctic Territy, maybe he has a point.

Although I have written this on Sunday night, 1st August, you won’t read it until some time later because there is absolutely no access to the internet at our place of lodging. Probably it won’t happen until we get to Darwin. [Yep, that’s when it happened!]

Today we left Mount Isa in Queensland and, at journey’s end, were well within the Northern Territory at Renner Springs. Quite What the difference is between Renner Springs and Pamayu, I haven’t yet worked out. Most maps show Renner Springs as the location but my SatNav doesn’t know of any such location. Punch in “Pamayu”, however, and it is happy to guide us to the place we are hoping to find.

We had an early start and, having paid our exorbitant motel bill, we were on the road by 8:30am.





Mount Isa is definitely a city. It has 24-hour life (the noise of traffic disturbed us right through the night) and its streets look like city or suburban streets in Sydney (or any other city).

Here we stopped at traffic lights (not unusual in any city) but the difference here is that the vehicle coming in from the steet on the left is a road train with a prime mover, a semi-trailer and two following trailers. You wouldn’t see that in Sydney!


Mine at Mount Isa 




One can never forget that Mount Isa is a mining town. The smell of smelting pervades the atmosphere and the evidence of mining activity is everywhere. Somehow I neglected to get a photo of them, but the tall, smoke-belching chimneys of the smelter dominate the city.


Rocky hillocks 



Mount Isa is in interesting territory geologically. The road in and the road out both feature these rocky hillocks and, of course, the reddish soil. That suggests the presence of iron in the soil but Mount Isa is known more for lead and zinc. Not being a geologist, nor a miner, I don’t feel competent to comment on all of that.

But it does make for an interesting landscape.


Endless horizon 



Once we were away from Mount Isa, the road settled down to the familiar “endless journey” mode. The horizon seemed an eternity away and, even when we reached it, it was then even further away in the distance.

Welcome to travel in the outback!


Further endless horizon 




It just keeps on going . . .


Yet another endless horizon 




. . . and going.


Termite mounds 


I mentioned yesterday that the presence of termite mounds was one of the factors that assured us that we were (at last) in the genuine outback.

Here are a few termite mounds beside the road (the little red pyramids). They are not very big, admittedly, but there are many, many of them. You can see at least seven or eight of them in this picture, if you look closely. In some places we have seen 50 or 60 of them scattered across an area of grassland or in amongst little eucalyptus trees.





We stopped at Camooweal, the last town on the Barclay Highway before the Northern Territory Border, for morning tea. The town only has a population of 300-and-something and this is its exciting main street.

While we sipped our coffee, an elderly lady from an Op Shop (a shop selling goods, often second-hand, to raise money for a charity) across the road from the picnic area trotted over and attempted to sell us on the idea of going back on our tracks to visit a local tourist attraction called the Drovers Camp. Maybe we will visit it next time but, since it was out of town on the Mount Isa side, we were not going back.


Territory Border sign

Just 13 km* from Camooweal, we saw a warning sign that the 110 kph* limit was about to end. We had seen this sign a few times in Queensland and it always meant we were about to enter a 100 kph* zone. But next we saw this sign (complete with bullet holes and the patching of them) that indicated we were entering the Northern Territory. The next sign indicated that the speed limit was now 130 mph*, a limit which, so far as we know, only applies in the Northern Territory and nowhere else in Australia.

Matt was driving at the time and felt a tad nervous about driving that fast, feeling that he needed to keep his wits about him. Within a relatively short time, however, both of us had acclimatised to the faster speed limit and, when we were required to slow to 100 kph at one point, it seemed painfully slow.

But now we were, at last, in the Northern Territory — our third area of the second tier of Australian government, whether it is a State or not. We also entered a new time zone, though it took us a while to realise why Matt’s SatNav was showing a different time to my watch. Back half an hour.

* 13 km is about 8 miles; 110 kph is about 70 mph; 100 kph is about 60 mph; 130 kph is about 81 mph.


Army vehicles 



The Army convoys we saw yesterday are still with us. Some distance into the Northern Territory, we caught up with this group of four Army vehicles (actually six, but you can’t see the others). Since yesterday, one of Matt’s friends has e-mailed to let us know that there has just been a military exercise (Exercise Talisman Sabre at Shoalwater Bay a bit north of Rockhampton, Queensland) and these soldiers are returning from it.


Army convoy 


Some time later we came across this group of eight Army vehicles and, of course, needed to overtake each of them. They seem to travel at a steady 100 kph* whereas we were making the most of the 130 kph* speed limit. Even further on (forgotten where, Barclay Homestead Roadhouse comes to mind) we stopped to top up our petrol and there were Army personnel in the roadhouse. When we asked, they told us they were returning to their base in Darwin but, understandably, were not offering any other information about their movements or how many vehicles were involved.

From our own observations, it was clearly scores of vehicles. When we stopped at the Threeways Roadhouse (see below) there must have been at least a dozen military vehicles there.

* 100 kph is about 60 mph; 130 kph is about 81 mph.


Distance to SH 



Since the introduction of metric measurement in Australia, milestones have been replaced with these romboid signs known officially as “distance indicators” (doesn’t have the same ring as “milestones”, does it?) This one (and the others in its series) had us intrigued. What does SH mean? We looked at the map and it showed a locality called Soudan. Maybe it meant Soudan Homestead? But that was too close. Not 380 km away.

Then it dawned on us. SH refers to the Stuart Highway, the main north-south highway that runs from the top of the continent to its southern shores. When we first saw the signs, we were over 400 km (over 250 miles) from SH. What a journey!


Three Ways Intersection 


Eventually we reached SH at the locality called Three Ways where the Barclay Highway (known officially as Route 66, so Matt found the song on his iTunes list and played it) meets the Stuart Highway.

There’s not much to see when you get there — just a T-junction where one highway butts onto another. But it marked the end of a very lengthy journey with no towns and very few other settlements to break the journey. So we were pleased to see it.

Matt and I agree that the quality of roads (at least on the highways) in the Northern Territory is pretty good. Certainly better than we have experienced in Queensland and New South Wales. They are broad and relatively smooth with gentle curves and well able to accommodate the speed of 130 kph.


Threeways Roadhouse 



500 metres* north of the junction is the Threeways Roadhouse — a petrol station, cheap restaurant (cheap quality, not cheap cost), camping area and not much else.

But stopping is obligatory, if only for a toilet break. And then we were on again, heading north at last, towards Darwin.

* 500 metres is about 600 yards.


Because I was driving in the afternoon, Matt decided to grab my camera and take a few shots. Here they are without any explanation, but they do convey the wideness of this “wide brown land” and the endless nature of the highway.

Matt’s four pictures


Renner Springs Roadhouse 



At last we arrived at Renner Springs (or Pamayu, though I have not seen that name displayed anywhere here).

It is a typical Northern Territory roadhouse with dry stoney red soil and plenty of both four-wheel drive vehicles and grey nomads. But after you have driven nearly 800 km* it looks like a real oasis.

* 800 km is about 500 miles.

Having successfully created a panorama yesterday, I decided to have another go. Here is a wide-angle shot of the Renner Springs complex. To the left is a petrol station and, joined to it, the Renner Springs Desert Inn, which includes a dining room. Behind the large(ish) tree is toilet block and, beyond that, behind the tall signboard, a number of motel units, in two of which we are ensconced. To the right of that is a caravan park.

Renner Springs panorama

The rooms are basic but adequate, with a television (only four channels, one of which is unidentifyable by me as the picture is broken up and there is no sound but Matt tells me it is SCTV, a Northern Territory network). The other three are SBS1, ABC1 and Impago (the Northern Territory channel affiliated with Channel 9). There is NO radio reception, NO mobile telephone reception and therefore (from our point of view) NO internet access. The hotel offered limited internet access for a fee, biut we decided to wait until we got to Darwin. So this day’s page will not be posted until after we arrive in Darwin, possibly not until Wednesday morning. That probably means tomorrow’s page will also be late posted. We will catch up eventually. Stay tuned folks!

Matt’s Video for Day 6



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