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 could not be more surprising. We had a big storm at night (it was the end of September), and then it rained for a few hours. Even when we woke up it was still showering.

In general, dirt roads in the outback after rain turns to mud and depending on the surface can be 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 being it to wet.

Hema - Northern Territory

Hema’s HX-2 Navigator

Explore Australia with Hema’s HX-2 Navigator, the ultimate GPS system for on and off-road navigation.

Hema HX-2 Navigator

Hema - Queensland

Hema’s HX-2 Navigator

Explore Australia with Hema’s HX-2 Navigator, the ultimate GPS system for on and off-road navigation.

Hema HX-2 Navigator

The real fun started on Nathan River Road, right in the middle way to the Heartbreak Hotel. The red dust on this road turned to some 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 I almost slid off the road and only with some calm maneuvering I was able to bump back on my track.

Others did not have so much luck. There was an unfortunate trailer driver, who got really stuck as the tonnage he towed was too much for this slippery road.

Luckily they drove in another car, so we’re able to help each other and leave.

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

Knowing my experience I knew the clay was probably stuck inside the rims, so I immediately removed any clay I could to drive further. When we arrived at Heartbreak Hotel there was still plenty of it, but removing it before driving further was necessary.

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 time to get some breakfast.

The hotel is located at the intersection of Carpentaria Highway and Tablelands Highway. Any tourists who drive from the south to Darwin (left turn) or Borroloola (right turn) will pass the Heartbreak Hotel on the left.

The caravan park is pet friendly with 20 powered and unpowered sites and many rooms. They offer breakfast and hot meals.

While Kasha and Nell were ordering breakfast I was 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 nothingness.

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

Barkly Roadhouse

Barkly Roadhouse is 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 roadhouse which is also a huge caravan park offers various accommodations including camping sites, motel and cabins rooms and budget cabins.

They call themselves “The first & last pub in the Northern Territory”. Indeed, it is true and I have to admit the pub is awesome as it has this unique outback character accommodated with a tasty meal.

Usually, when we stop at Barkly Roadhouse there are some cattle wandering behind the fence and for Nell, it is always a good opportunity to pat them.

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

Refreshment in Camooweal

The 260 km drive from Mount Isa to Camooweal was one of the most boring so far. There is literally nothing there, and the landscape does not change. There are no hills and the road is flat.

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 stay for a picnic before heading to Mount Isa.

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

It is a fisherman paradise where you can catch barramundi and no fishing permit is required – only catch limits 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 happened in 1942, there was a real fear that Mount Isa would be the next in line. Thus, after some discussions, a decision was made to build an underground hospital, which would not be visible to planes.

As a result, four tunnels had been built, and three were run in parallel making an ‘E’ shape of the hospital. There were male, female, children wards plus a surgical theatre.

When we walked through it, the Underground Hospital was still in very good shape with a lot of artefacts from the war period. Luckily, the bombing never happened so the hospital was not utilised fully.

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

Tent House

Tent houses have been created due to the increased growth of the male population in Mount Isa after the Second World War. In the beginning, they lived in canvas tents that over time deteriorated in this harsh climate.

The employees helped to build the tent houses while the mining company provided the essential building materials.

These days we can see the last remaining Tent House, which was moved to the Underground Hospital site so tourists have it more accessible.

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 has been dismantled and moved to Mount Isa where today it serves as an attraction for tourists.

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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