King Ash Bay fishing camp is located on the McArthur River (more warnings!) and is owned and operated by the McArthur River coal mine with the loading facility at Bing Bong (great name) on the coast. It is quite well organised (rather formal), huge and packed with fisher folk from all around Australia. You need a boat!! We met people who “settle there” for 5-6 months and literally set up house. Luckily we had been forewarned about the lack of fish so we had our sad faces and condolences ready. The MacArthur R is a typical Northern river, very wide – about 200 metres where we were, it would be an incredible sight in the wet. We spent a relaxing time reading and chatting with the “locals”. We fuelled up (195.5c/L) and headed to Borroloola (175/L!!). We finally got our permit for Nhulunbuy here, over the phone, and further west to Limmen NP.
The roads are fair/ good, a bit of dust, and there are a number places along the way where you can camp. Our first stop, “Southern Lost City”, we presumed there was a “Northern” one as well, but did not look for it (how many “lost cities” are there in Australia anyway?). There is a good walk amongst interesting rock formations. A precursor for the Bungles! Our camp was at Butterfly Spring, a delightful 30 degrees and a truly magnificent day, to top it off, only a couple of other campers there, which was a bonus. Saw a few butterflies, the old story – you should have been here yesterday, there were swarms of them!! The spring and creek were flowing into a large waterhole surrounded by enormous melaleucas. It was shady and cool, too cool for Judy when she emerged after a swim. We kept heading west and called into the Ranger Station which is manned by a young guy who was very informative and helpful. Limmen is a relatively new NP, declared in 2011-12 I was informed and the station was originally the old property homestead which had been refurbished. The property received annual supplies by sea via Roper Bar then overlanded. They were tough buggers in the late 1800’s early 1900’s. The Ranger told us of “a really great spot to camp on the river, just down the road, it’s a bit rough to get into but you will be ok”. It’s a pity we couldn’t find the turn off “just down the road”. What we did find after exploring a wheel track off to the side was a road being cut through, possibly to replace the current one which is lower down in a valley and probably flood prone in the wet. We followed it for about 3k’s through the bush to its end (it still has a long way to go) and there were some really good views across the country from on top of the hills. In the distance we could see an open cut mine situated in the middle of nowhere, we later came across the airstrip beside the main road which services it – obviously fly in/fly out.
The road had become extremely dusty but was still in fair/good condition. We detoured to Limmen R fishing camp. If King Ash Bay was a 10, this was negative20!! It is a dump. We found the cleanest spot around for a very quick lunch and pushed on to our next stop, Towns R. This turned out to be our shortest days travel so far, we stopped at 3.00pm. Undertook some running repairs to the vehicles mud flaps – stone damage, and went for a wander. Met a couple camped further along the river-fisher people with the same story. Saw crocs cruising on the other side of the river and were told they arrived at the same place at the same time every day. We walked along the river and saw lots of kangaroo or wallaby tracks heading towards the water, maybe that’s what the crocs were waiting for – tucker by moonlight! We headed towards Roper Bar the next day120k’s and looked over the ruins of the old police depot which closed in 1980 when it was relocated to the community 32k’s on the other side of the river. In its heyday the depot was a substantial settlement as it was the landing place for all of the supplies for properties in the area which had been off loaded from vessels at the mouth of the Roper into smaller boats and taken upstream to the rocky bar across the Roper which stopped them going further.
We visited the small local history museum which is part of the ruins, and got a taste of just how tough the original settlers were. They were virtually hermits, very few people including indigenous, in a vast area, living practically off the land, If you get to Roper Bar have a look, you might recognise some names that have gone down in history. You will certainly be amazed at some of the tales.
The rest of Roper is seen in about 1 minute if you are slow! The community over the river is a restricted area – no alcohol. We were going to support the local economy and fuel up but saw the price and kept going! It is 173 k’s to Mataranka, thick dust for 40k’s then bitumen! Where we stirred up a rather large buff, thankfully we saw it and it headed back into the bush rather than cross in front of us. We stopped at Elsley NP as we wanted to stock up in Mataranka for the run to Nhulunbuy. It was a bit of a shock after being in the bush for a while- lots of caravans because it is on the highway, and a bloody donkey that wanders about making a hell of a racket before day light!!! We hadn’t stopped here for many years, so a visit to the thermal springs was mandatory, as was a dip in them, together with about 100 others! The 8 km walk to the falls is a pleasant stroll giving you an insight into how high the water gets in the wet. The size of the melelucas along the bank is extraordinary, particularly as they have withstood the flood torrent for so many years
3 weeks gone and approx. 5000k’s of some really great parts of Australia covered.
Its back to the bush next and on to Nhulunbuy