Barkly Roadhouse and Mount Isa Underground Hospital

Crossing NT/QLD border - on the way to Mount Isa Underground Hospital

In the first part of our trip, after visiting Lawn Hill National Park, Seven Emu Station and Lorella Springs we were ready to go back, but this time we took a different route. Our plan was to visit Heartbreak Hotel, Barkly Roadhouse, Lake Moondarra and Mount Isa Underground Hospital.

Funny driving after rain

The morning of our departure from Lorella Springs was quite surprising. We had a big storm during the night (it was the end of September), and it rained for a few hours. When we woke up, it was still showering.

In general, dirt roads in the outback can turn into mud after rain, and depending on the surface, they can become impassable.

We did not wait and packed all our equipment to drive back. The part from Lorella Springs to the intersection of Nathan River Road was corrugated, but we did not have any problems in terms of it being too wet.

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The real challenge started on Nathan River Road, right in the middle of the way to the Heartbreak Hotel. The red dust on this road turned into sticky clay, making driving very difficult.

Nathan River Road after rain - we almost got stuck
Nathan River Road after rain – we almost got stuck

It was twice that I almost slid off the road, but with some maneuvering, I was able to get back on track.

Unfortunately, not everyone was as lucky. One driver towing a trailer got really stuck as the weight they were towing was too much for the slippery road.

Luckily, they were traveling with another car and we were able to help each other out and eventually leave the area.

Nathan River Road after rain - others were not that lucky
Nathan River Road after rain – others were not that lucky

Given my experience, I anticipated that the clay would have gotten stuck inside the rims, so I promptly removed as much of it as I could before continuing to drive. When we arrived at Heartbreak Hotel, there was still an abundance of clay, but it was necessary to remove as much of it as possible before we continued on our journey.

Travel Spiced Life

If you feel your car is leaning left or right considerably, stop and check if there is no clay inside the rims.

Heartbreak Hotel

Heartbreak Hotel is a great stop for any camper in this remote area, and for us, it was the perfect place to grab some breakfast.

The hotel is situated at the intersection of the Carpentaria Highway and Tablelands Highway. Any tourists driving from the south towards Darwin (left turn) or Borroloola (right turn) will pass the Heartbreak Hotel on the left-hand side.

The caravan park is pet-friendly, with 20 powered and unpowered sites, and a number of rooms available. They offer breakfast and hot meals for guests.

While Kasha and Nell were ordering breakfast, I was busy removing the rest of the clay from the rims. At least someone did a good job!

Breakfast at Heartbreak Hotel
Breakfast at Heartbreak Hotel

On the way to Barkly Roadhouse

The Tablelands Highway that led us from the Heartbreak Hotel, through huge pastoral lease properties, to Barkly Homestead was empty. We saw maybe 5 cars on this road. 

Initially, after we left the hotel, we could see some hills in the distance, but later on, the landscape was flat as a table.

Emptiness on Tablelands Highway
Emptiness on Tablelands Highway
Travel Spiced Life

If you drive Tablelands Highway from the north and you are heading to Mount Isa you can take Ranken Road which is party dirt but you save a lot of kilometres.

There are a few dedicated picnic spots on the Tablelands Highway. We used one for our break and Kasha cooked lunch right there, in the middle of nowhere.

Landscape between Heartbreak Hotel and Barkly Roadhouse
The landscape between Heartbreak Hotel and Barkly Roadhouse

Barkly Roadhouse

We arrived at Barkly Roadhouse – a famous stop for any camper as it is located 450 km from Mount Isa and 190 km from Threeways Roadhouse (on Stuart Highway).

Travel Spiced Life

When driving from Mount Isa, you really have to stop to fuel up as the next petrol station is at the Threeways Roadhouse. However, the fuel may be 30 to 40 cents dearer than in Mount Isa.

Barkly Roadhouse inside
Barkly Roadhouse inside

The Barkly Roadhouse is not only a great place to stay but also a popular stop for travelers to refuel and rest. The roadhouse offers a variety of accommodations, including camping sites, motel rooms, cabins, and budget cabins.

They also take pride in being known as “The first & last pub in the Northern Territory.” The pub is an iconic feature of the roadhouse, boasting a unique outback character and delicious meals.

It’s common to see cattle wandering behind the fence at Barkly Roadhouse, and Nell always takes the opportunity to give them a pat.

Nell and cow at Barkly Roadhouse
Nell and cow at Barkly Roadhouse

Refreshment in Camooweal

The 260 km stretch from Mount Isa to Camooweal was uneventful with little to see along the way. The landscape remained flat throughout the journey, without any significant changes or hills to break the monotony.

Travel Spiced Life

When you drive on a boring road for a long time make sure to take a break every two hours.

Camooweal has a population of little more than 200 people, but it is a great stop after a long drive. It is located only 13 km from the Nothern Territory – Queensland border.

It is home to the Dover’s Camp Festival that is held in August. The town offers Barkly Tableland Heritage Centre, Freckleton’s Store and Drovers Camp Information Centre. 

However, the most interesting thing is the Camoweal Caves National Park (Wiliyan-ngurru National Park) which is famous for rare sinkholes and caves. Public entry to caves is not allowed, but there is a safe viewing area at Great Nowranie cave. 

We only stopped at Camoweal for a short break as we were short on time (as always).

Stopping for a break in Camooweal

Lake Moondarra

Lake Moondarra was a place we missed during our lap around Australia, so this time we decided to stop for a picnic before continuing to Mount Isa.

The lake is located only 17 km north of the Mount Isa town centre, making it a popular spot for locals to visit on weekends.

It is a fisherman’s paradise, where you can catch barramundi without needing a fishing permit. However, catch limits do apply.

Lake Madoorra
Lake Madoorra

Apart from fishing, you can go swimming, boating, sailing and canoeing. There is also something for birdwatchers with birds like pelicans, cormorants, galahs and ducks.

The road to get there was picturesque and the scenery of Lake Moondarra was spectacular.

Mount Isa Underground Hospital and Museum

Later on, we paid a visit to another attraction we missed in our first visit to Mount Isa – the Underground Hospital and Museum. The place consists of three sections that can be viewed separately.

Underground Hospital

When the bombing of Darwin occurred in 1942, there was a real fear that Mount Isa would be the next target. After some discussions, a decision was made to build an underground hospital, which would not be visible to planes.

As a result, four tunnels were built, and three were run in parallel, forming an ‘E’ shape of the hospital. There were male, female, and children’s wards, as well as a surgical theater.

Walking through the Underground Hospital, we were amazed at how well-preserved it was, with many artifacts from the war period still present. Fortunately, the bombing never occurred, so the hospital was never fully utilised.

At the front of Mount Isa Underground Hospital
Entering Mount Isa Underground Hospital

Tent House

After the Second World War, the male population in Mount Isa grew rapidly, leading to the creation of tent houses. Initially, the men lived in canvas tents, but these deteriorated over time in the harsh climate.

To address the issue, the mining company provided essential building materials, and the employees helped to build the tent houses.

Today, visitors can see the last remaining Tent House, which has been relocated to the Underground Hospital site for better accessibility to tourists.

Beth Anderson Museum

This historical building started its life in Kuridala, in the Cloncurry Shire. In the early 1900s, Kuridala housed a population of 1500, had six hotels, several stores, a hospital and a primary school.

After mining collapses in 1920, the hospital was dismantled and moved to Mount Isa where it still serves as an attraction for tourists today.

We really admired the great effort of the Mount Isa community to keep so many impressive collections of antique medical equipment, and rare historical items. It is a must-visit when you are in Mount Isa.

Find out more about the Underground Hospital and Museum.

The next day, we left Mount Isa and our next destination was Barcaldine Tree of Knowledge, Alpha Murals,  Capricorn Caves and The Town of 1770.

Read the final part of our September/October trip.


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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters


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