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Nathan River rd,
(Roper Bar to Borroloola)

The road between Borroloola and Katherine via Roper Bar doesn't appear on alot of maps. If it does it is usually indicated as a very rough 4x4 road.
Well I am here to let you know that things have changed over the years. (I'm rewriting my once glowing reports of this stretch of road July 2005 & 22 Sept 05) - 
OK this is old & now outdated in 2008.
OK its Feb 2008 and the latest report from the guys at the Limmen River Fishing Camp (half way along road) is that the road is surprisingly good for this time of year, "the wet" but we still have a few months of rain to come yet)

This road is part of the Savannah Way alternate route "Broome to Cairns"

I have road maps ready for download on the LHS.

The "No fuel for 360km" sign near Roper Bar Heading to Borroloola or Cape Crawford

We have just been been over it mid-July 2005 & late Sept05 & the road quality is the worst it has been for years. The grader & work crews have done some nice looking work North of the Limmen River (15 kms worth) (but huge bull dust holes have appeared at various newly finished roadworks, & huge stretches of corrugations & sharp stones in between. So it's Sloppy work! or a piss poor NT Govt road funding deal) This road is chewing up tyres,(4 vehicles did tyres out of the 7 at the Butterfly Springs camp on the same day we did) with bad rocky corrugations, ie 1km stretches. Caravans are sitting on 10-15km hr for long periods. (Actually they are being left at Cape Crawford) So lift your game NT Tourism / Parks! You are promoting this stretch & people on the ground are not happy!

Don't get me wrong, you will get there even towing a van (plenty have), but it is a SLOW going road ie 40-60 km hr if you treasure your tyres. Maybe I just like getting there quick because I've been over it before??

I have just traveled over it again in late Sept05 & grader work has improved the top 100 km from Roper Bar to Port Roper Turn off. plus the 20 km south where grader was at time. Unfortunately the rest of the road is still crap & I did another tyre. Passed 8 vehicles & had only 5 oncoming for the 360 km.

Budget Report for 2006-2007 is that another $150,000 is to be spent on the road improving/grading shoulders etc (But no doubt that will be too late for most of the tourists that trek this way. How far will $150K go???

I first traveled this track in 1995 en-route to Borroloola and it was a fairly rough station road, lonely and slow going road that chewed up tyres. I do recall a hot November afternoon changing a tyre near the Nathan River Station Airstrip (which looked as bad as the road). Over the years you would often travel this road without seeing another vehicle, however the last few years has seen it utilised by more and more tourists.

If we leave the Stuart Highway south of Mataranka , you travel on 130 km of single lane bitumen before you hit the gravel (When I say single lane , I mean it is just big enough for 1 vehicle ) (Built for triple trailer road trains to cart cattle off the stations) (Actually they are in the process of bitumising the last 35 km to Roper Bar in 2004/2005)(or so I thought until my trip in July 2005....bloody political announcements)

So if another vehicle is coming towards you you decide how you are going to tackle the situation, ie both vehicles stradle the road, or stay on while the other goes off.

One thing everyone agrees on is get off the road if a road train or caravan is coming, as less rocks in the air is good for your windscreen.

Single lane Roper Highway 130 km bitumen

There is a wondrous little spot  down on the Roper River known to the local Aboriginals as Snake Dreaming. It is a picturesque little waterlilly filled billabong. There is a sacred site in the area which is off limits to all.

A few easy spots to pull up for a camp as there is a gravel scrape and an old staging post as you get amongst the rock formations that are close to the road. Within a few Kilometres of the Aboriginal Community of Budawarka.

The track down to the Roper River & "Snake Dreaming" (Water Gauge station) is opposite the main gravel scrape.

The Roper Bar crossing used to be the site of an old Police station , the road across the river is just a slab of concrete that can get a bit slippery.

I last went fishing there in April 2004 while it still had a good flow & claimed a few nice Barra. It was refreshing to see some Interstate lads catch a huge Barra, get their photos & drop it back in the river. Either way, when you walk (shuffle) across while it is flowing strongly just over knee deep and it is 4 AM in the morning, you are croc bait. (Never again!)

In this area is the Roper Bar Store which has fuel (Not exactly cheap at $1.50 unleaded July2005). By the time most people get to see the bar, there is only a slight flow going over & it is easy to cross

Snake Dreaming

Roper Bar Crossing July 2005 before the wheel went bush

It is also here that you turn off the Roper Highway and enter the Nathan River Road. It is here that the road sometimes changes character and looks like no-one has traveled it in a while.
The road follows the Roper River for another 90 km , with several clear camp spots and a boat ramp along the way before heading due South at the Port Roper intersection (that road had a closed sign across it)
Since it has now been called the Savannah way (or this part of it is) there are noted Information points of interest along the way.

The Limmen River Fishing Camp is about half way along the Nathan River Road. It is about 24 km off the main road and has all the facilities that you would need to have a good bush camp. It is still an untapped resource in the Northern Territory, being isolated from the main North/South Stuart Highway traffic. The Limmen River fishing Camp is one of those locations where you can really experience Territory bush living.

The photo here is of the gates which may still need to be opened as you enter pass through & leave Nathan River Station. Best to travel with passengers :-) so they can do the leg work. Actually nowadays the gates are permanently open.

Two of the Lost City rock formations are here. You can do a chopper flight in from Heartbreak Hotel (Cape Crawford) or see the Southern Lost City about 4 km off the road. The Tourists (4 carloads we spoke to) camping at Butterfly Springs were pissed off at not being able to gain access to the Western Lost City (Key needed?) The Ranger was missing (I suppose it was the Katherine show weekend)(& I can always wander down another time, but they cannot)

Nathan River Station gates on main hwy now permanently open.

Lost City South Walk

After visiting Lawn Hill Gorge in 2005 & going back home to Katherine via the "back way" (Limmen National Park) I feel that this year (2005) this stretch of road lets the NT down. No doubt it will be graded in October/Nov when funding comes through.......but too late, word is out already & the average Tourist is not happy.

(This road is what we get a lot of emails about)

Main Road

Dry season Cox river Crossing

At the River crossings there are a few spots to pitch a tent or park the trailer. But beware of the water. I have had a cautious wash on the crossing above a few times with both eyes on the lookout for crocs, after seeing a big one here a few years back.
It might be the Towns river that has a special marked campsite & fireplaces off the main road. (I was too worried about the non-existent spare tyre at this point)

The most popular campsite along this stretch is the newly opened "Butterfly Springs". An absolutely fantastic spot I want to visit in the late Wet/early dry when a bit more water might be flowing. The Butterflys are wonderous. Unfortunately it has a waft of Pit toilets that nearly every camping spot does at this time of year as facilities are stretched during the Dry Season. (I'm just telling it as it is, and the toilets are new & better than seeing tell tale toilet paper in the scrub)

One thing for certain , if you want to break away from the Stuart Highway and see something a little more entertaining than plain old bitumen, head down the Nathan River Road (Roper to Borroloola rd). You can re-enter the bitumen at Heartbreak (Cape Crawford) and continue on to the Barkley Highway. Or continue your trip via Borroloola and head for Mount Isa via Doomagee QLD.

It only takes 7 hours to travel Borroloola-Katherine via the Nathan River Road in a Govt car (including photo stops) in 2000.(Ahhh the good old days...) But in 2005 it took in our own 4x4 it took 7 hrs just on the dirt part (including flat tyres) & with no spares left you watch for every rock & there are heaps.

I have no first hand reports on its condition for 2006 as it has recently opened after stranding many a fisherman up near St Vidgeons during the late March / April  floods. I believe the Park Rangers have said it is in poor condition. I heard a tourist caught a 140 cm Barra in May06 at Roper Bar area. (It is going with them for mounting back to Victoria. Me... I would of taken many photos & released it. We don't have a law yet on maximum fish size, but I understand it is on its way. But Good luck to you anyway.

Butterfly Springs July2005

Another stretch of the Nathan River Road

July 27th 2006 Road update

I have it on good authority that the Nathan River road is in fairly good condition with the grader having gone from top to bottom. The worse stretch is a 30km segment near the Port Roper Turnoff (this means slowing down to 50-60 km for about half an hour)
2008 - FEB - Its the time when no-one travels this road unless you live along it. But the reports are it is in good condition considering it is the Wet Season. I will have to rewrite the page to keep it current. But we still have many months of the wet to come yet.