We had enjoyed a much-needed break in Alice Springs before continuing our journey along the longest shortcut in Australia.
Our plan was to head north from Alice Springs along the Stuart Highway until we reached the Plenty Highway, which would eventually lead us to the Urandangi Road. From there, we would make our final stretch to Mount Isa.
Preparations for another dirt road
In the morning, we refueled our car and also filled up four diesel canisters – two on the roof and two more on the trailer. With a total of 200 liters of diesel, we estimated that we could cover a distance of around 1200 km without having to stop for fuel.
Since the distance between Alice Springs and Mount Isa was “only” 840 km, we were confident that we would not need to make any additional fuel stops along the way.
After our previous experience with contaminated fuel (which you can read about in our post from Perth), we had learned our lesson and did not want to risk using unreliable fuel again. Therefore, we made sure to be well-prepared for our journey and took all necessary precautions to avoid any fuel-related issues.
Driving on Plenty Highway
The start of the Plenty Highway was quite narrow and covered in gravel, but after around 120 km, the road began to improve, and even the corrugations disappeared.
We were able to maintain a speed of about 80 km per hour, which was fantastic. However, we had to keep an eye out for wandering cows, as there were often no fences separating the road from the surrounding pastures.
No fences – stock wandering on road
Cows may seem silly at times. It’s not uncommon to see them standing at the edge of the road, looking indecisive about whether to cross or not. And when they finally do decide to cross, it’s usually when they are just a few meters away from the car’s hood, causing a sudden halt.
Stopping our car and trailer, which weighed a total of 4 tons, wasn’t an easy task when a cow suddenly appeared on the edge of the road. To avoid any accidents, we made it a habit to slow down or stop at the first sign of a wandering cow.
As summer approached, temperatures began to rise, and the average temperature in the car reached a scorching 42 degrees. To cope with the heat, we often had to drive with the windows down on dirt roads to allow for some much-needed airflow.
Driving through burnt outback
On a few occasions, we drove through areas that had been devastated by bushfires. The landscape was moon-like, with all the bushes burnt down and the soil black and red. The trees had a black bark due to the fire damage.
We were aware that some burnouts were controlled, as we had learned from visiting Darwin and Kakadu National Park. However, in these areas, we weren’t entirely sure if the fires were the result of controlled burns or natural wildfires. It was a stark reminder of the unpredictable and sometimes dangerous nature of the Australian landscape.
As we continued our journey, we encountered the devastating aftermath of bushfires. The landscape was eerily quiet and barren, with all bushes burnt down and the trees blackened with soot. It was hard to imagine that this desolate scene would eventually be transformed into a vibrant, green landscape once again. However, we knew that nature has a way of healing itself over time.
As we drove deeper into the affected areas, we came across the remains of burnt cattle. The sight was heartbreaking and a reminder of the devastation caused by the fires.
We could feel the terror and helplessness that these animals must have experienced during the fire.
We planned to stay at Jervois Homestead for the night, but when we arrived, there was nobody there. The campsites were located in the middle of nowhere and completely exposed to the sun.
Arthur River Free Camping on Plenty Highway
We decided to drive further and stay by the river. The place was called Arthur River Camping and it was perfect as it was beautiful and covered with trees. We were located near a cattle yard, so cows were grazing near us.
This was the time of the year when Arthur River did not have any water, but at least we had a nice walk with Nell to gather some firewood for the evening.
The evening fell slowly. The shapes of the trees lengthened in the setting sun and the hawks went hunting. In the distance we watched a hawk eating a lizard in a hurry on the top of a dry tree.
The evening slowly descended upon us. The shadows of the trees grew longer in the setting sun, and hawks went hunting in the distance.
We watched as a hawk devoured a lizard sitting on top of a dry tree. Arthur River Camping was truly peaceful place. We jokingly told Nell to go and wash herself in the river, but she was not impressed with our sense of humor.
As we drifted off to sleep, the calls of the hawks echoed in our ears.
Final stretch to Mount Isa
The morning woke us up with a cacophony of singing birds. We quickly packed up, had breakfast, and since we didn’t unhitch the car for the night, we were able to hit the Plenty Highway again by around 8 am.
The temperature reached already 35 degrees in the morning. We drove another 400 km through dry spaces. Sometimes we saw some hills, but they were basically empty fields, sometimes overgrown with bushes, but mostly dry grass.
The temperature had already reached 35 degrees and it was early morning. We drove another 400 km through arid terrain. Occasionally, we caught glimpses of hills, but they were mostly empty fields, sometimes overgrown with bushes or dry grass.
The only recurring landmarks were the narrow gates with grids between pasture boundaries. Cows were walking around all the time, and I had to be vigilant and keep my foot ready to brake at any moment.
Spotting Brolgas again
Luckily at one moment, we spotted a group of brolgas. What brolgas were doing in the desert? It was hard to believe, and yet the fact they strolled stately among the herd of cows.
We had tried many times to spot brolgas in Kakadu National Park or any wetlands we had visited, but had no luck. Australia is an amazing and surprising place sometimes.
Urandangi Road – total emptiness
Our final stretch of road began when we turned left from Plenty Highway onto Urandangi Road. Although narrow, the road was flat and free of corrugations. We saw a few cars passing us and had to lean to the left to make way for them.
Eventually, we stopped the car to take in the emptiness of Urandangi Road. The terrain was so flat and treeless that we could see the horizon for around 20 kilometres in every direction. We had not seen a place like this before in Australia.
As we drove through the Aboriginal town of Urandangi, we noticed that it was well-maintained and tidy. The Aboriginal people we passed were friendly and waved to us, which was a welcome change from our experiences in Alice Springs.
There was another 90 km on Urandangi Road before we hit the narrow Diamantina Developmental Road that led us to Mount Isa. While driving, we passed a few big road trains. As usual, we had to slow down and sometimes even stop the car to be safe as the road was really narrow.
Mount Isa – most famous mining town in Australia
At around 4 pm, we arrived at Mount Isa. We were expecting a town similar to Port Hedland, but we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw. Mount Isa is a beautifully located, well-kept town dominated by mining metals like copper, lead, zinc and silver.
Although we had some trouble finding a campground, we eventually found a caravan park on the outskirts of the city, in a quiet corner with a view of nearby mountains. We planned to stay a few days to rest and see some of the local attractions.
Due to its location, Mount Isa is quite hot. Since it was already November, the temperatures were over 35 degrees Celsius.
Outback at Isa Heritage Display
Regardless of the heat, we had to get together and do some sightseeing. We started with Outback at Isa Heritage Display that was located right in the Information Centre.
Despite the hot weather, we were determined to do some sightseeing. We began by visiting the Outback at Isa Heritage Display, which was conveniently located within the Information Centre. The primary focus of the exhibit was the mining industry, specifically the extraction of copper, silver, and uranium.
We learned about the development of the mining industry and the challenges faced by those who worked in it. The display included several stories about the difficulties of life in the early years of the town’s existence, such as the use of camels and struggles with water scarcity.
Mt Isa Underground Mine Tour
In the afternoon, Marius went on the Mt Isa Underground Mine Tour which lasted for three hours. He was outfitted in a stylish orange suit and helmet, making him look like a real miner.
Unfortunately, Nell was too young to join the tour, so she had to stay behind.
Photos were not allowed inside the mine itself, but there was an opportunity to take a staged photo with the guide inside the lift at the end of the tour. Marius described how they descended into the mine using a lift and walked through numerous tunnels while the guide shared stories about the mining industry.
Along the way, they encountered several exhibitions, including a large hand drill that everyone was invited to try. Marius mentioned that the drill was incredibly loud, and it made him appreciate not to work as a miner.
Overall, the Mt Isa Underground Mine Tour is a must-see attraction for anyone interested in the history of Mount Isa’s mining industry. It provides an experience that highlights the challenges and achievements of the people who worked in the mines.
Mount Isa City Lookout
In the evening, we visited the Mount Isa City Lookout to take in the panoramic view of the town illuminated by lanterns. While we were there, we struck up a conversation with a man who had recently moved to Mount Isa and was working in the area.
He spoke highly of the town and shared that he and his wife were planning to settle there permanently.
Interesting facts about Mount Isa:
- The city was founded in 1923 after the discovery of significant mineral deposits in the area, and mining remains a key industry to this day.
- Mount Isa is home to the world’s largest underground zinc-lead mine, which produces over 4 million tonnes of ore annually.
- The town is known for its extreme climate, with temperatures often reaching over 40 degrees Celsius in the summer months.
- Mount Isa hosts the annual Mount Isa Rodeo, which is the largest rodeo in the southern hemisphere and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
- The area surrounding Mount Isa is home to a number of unique and rare wildlife species, including the endangered Julia Creek dunnart and the purple-crowned fairy-wren.
- The city’s name comes from the nearby Mount Isa, which is named after a local Aboriginal woman who helped guide early European explorers through the area.
- Mount Isa is also home to the Outback at Isa complex, which includes a museum, art gallery, and heritage display showcasing the history and culture of the region.
- The town has a rich multicultural community, with a significant population of Indigenous Australians as well as migrants from around the world who have come to work in the mining industry.
- Mount Isa has been the birthplace of several notable Australians, including musician and actor John Williamson and Olympic swimmer Samantha Riley.
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Enjoy outdoors with Tentworld equipment
4WD Equipment Checklist
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