Weipa to Mount Isa

IMG_0329Well what can I say. When it rains it pours. Everything was going well until I picked up the Mav after getting a service. The Mav had a oil leak from the rear axle. The next day we dropped the car back to the workshop for the repair. Only to find out 1 hour later that there were no parts in town. So parts were ordered with a expected wait of a couple of days. 7 days later the parts arrived. So instead of having 3 1/2 weeks to get to Mount Isa. We now had 8 days.


We filled the time in Weipa by exploring on the bike. I am not sure about the train line being so close to the bike track.


Playing in the local pool. Which was so much better than the caravans parks pool.


Building sand castles on the beach.


And filling up with chino’s.

This was really going to test myself and Alec as some big driving days are going to be required. It was 1650km to Mount Isa and I still wanted to do some exploring.

We set off nice and early from Weipa and made it down to Musgrave station. I didn’t really want to visit Musgrave again but it was the the most convent place for us to stop. We needed to do a couple of big days driving to allow for some exploring. Stopping at Musgrave station gave us a good days drive with out it being to long or to short.


Our lunch spot on the river outside of Coen.

We left Musgrave roadhouse with the plan to camp at the Aboriginal town of Pormpuraaw, 216km away on the west coast. We covered the distant with out a fuss. The road was dirt but very well maintain. We arrived just after lunch to find everything shut including the ranger station. It was Sunday after all. We made our way to the nearest camp site just out of town on the beach. I wasn’t impressed. I got stopped by a guy chasing a lift to Kowanyama 180 km away and there were a some locals that seem to be just hanging around. Now I have camped in some interesting spots before and I am fairly open minded, but this place just didn’t feel right.

So I drove back into town to find another camp. The information I had mentions 2 other camps further away from town. But just as we were about to explore, trouble hit. I lost my clutch. I quickly had a look and found the slave cylinder was leaking, and bad. Nothing I could do unless I was able to get a new slave cylinder. The most likely place that was going to happen was Mount Isa. 1060 km away.

After some thought and a good look at the map I made the decision to keep heading south. The quicker we can get to Mount Isa the better.


The road / track as we left Pormpuraaw. A lot of back burning happens this time of year.


This is what happens to a track after rain then driven on. This was the worse section but all the way down to Normanton there were smaller sections like this.

We drove for another couple of hours and and found ourselves at the Mitchell River which we had to cross.


The Mitchell River. The sand bank you can see is actually in the middle of the river.

The river was wide with a sand bank in the middle. With a quick walk I was able to figure out the first part of the crossing and I could see tracks up on to the sand bank in the middle.

I drove across the first section then on the middle sand bank and got the Mav and camper stuck in the soft sand. I got out a had a look at the next part of the crossing. A causeway of sorts had been put in. The water was flowing over it but wasn’t deep.

The recovery toke some time. It’s hard enough getting a car out of soft sand try and do it without a clutch. Once out of the soft sand we crossed the second section with out a problem and found a camp for the night on the side of the river.


The sand dug out from around the tyres and from under the vehical, Maxtrax’s put under rear wheels and tyres pressures lowered. Ready for a second attempt to break free from the sand. It had to to do this 3 times to break free. Each time moving a metre or so.

The following morning we continued south stopping for fuel and morning tea at the Aboriginal town of Kowanyama. Then making the big drive down to Normanton.


One of the logoons we passed. I would like to go back after a good wet season.

We stayed in Normanton for two nights. Both Alec and myself were in need of a break. I was able to organise parts for the car and camper . Which now also had a repair to be done.


Alec enjoyed patting the big croc in Normanton.


A after dinner stroll down the main street of Normanton. You can’t miss the famous purple pub.

As I said above when it rains it pores. This time it wasn’t the parts or the car giving trouble, it was logistics. The slave cylinder was available in Mount Isa on the Wednesday and the plan was to get to Mount Isa earlier than planed to pick it up and fit it. I was already booked into a caravan park to arrived Saturday. I rang the park to see if we could arrive early. Unfortunately no spaces were available. The rodeo was on. One of the biggest events for the town.

When we left Normanton I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. We continue south down the Burke Development road. Before leaving camp we aired up the tyres to highway pressure for the first time in two months. It’s bitumen all the way from Normanton to Mount Isa.


Back on the bitumen. There were lots of birds on the side of the road taking avantage of the road kill.

We made good time on the bitumen and stopped for lunch at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse. Then finding a road side camp with 20 other caravans 80 km north of Cloncurry.


Lunch stop at the Burke and Wills roadhouse.


It a tough country out here. When a grey nomad drops that’s that is where they are left. There belongings are spilt up among fellow travelles. 

The next day we made our way to Mount Isa. Getting in at midday we picked up our parts and had lunch. We then headed back out of town the way we came in to find a camp.


As we got closer to Mount Isa the country changed. So did the road conditions and traffic.

I had been told about a camp spot by a fellow traveler the night before. The turn off was 30 km out of town and then a further 8 km to the banks of Lake Mary Kathleen. I wasn’t expecting much. Maybe a puddle of water and if lucky some shade. What we found is now in my top 10 camp spots on this trip maybe in the top 5. A gorgeous lake with shady camp spots right on the waters edge. We had a great stay and didn’t want to leave. I would of rather of been relaxing than fixing the car too.


What a spot. Could of stayed longer.


It been a while since we camped on green grass.


Now where did I put that 14mm spanner.


You will need this dad.


Hey dad I think I have found the problem.

After a slow pack up we drove out of this amazing spot. Now with a working clutch to meet up with good friends in Mt Isa.

In 8 days we had traveled 1644 km. 1060 km without a clutch. We got to see some remote and amazing country. We didn’t see another vehicle between Pormpuraaw and Mitchell river. Unfortunately it was a rushed trip. I guess we will just have to go back one day.

To Clutch or not to Clutch that is the question?

Now you might be wondering how do you drive a manual car with out a clutch. Trust me it’s not easy. Below I will try to explain how it is done.

The first problem you encounter when you don’t have a clutch is getting the car in gear while at a stand still. It just not possible with the engine running without doing serious damage to the gearbox.

So to get around this problem you have to turn off the engine then start the car in gear. Of course once you do this you are rolling and the only way to stop the car is turn the engine off or pull the car out of gear. Once stopped you then have to repeat the starting process above to get rolling again. A real problem if in traffic. Luckily I didn’t have that problem.

The other problem you have is changing up and down gears. This requires a bit of skill.

In all modern gearbox’s a component called a synchromesh does the job of matching the speed of the gears to allow for smooth gear change. This process can only happen with the disengagement of the clutch during gear change.

When driving with out a clutch this process has to be done by the driver. When changing up you have to wait for the engine to slow down to match the road speed to the new ratio change before the gear will engage. When going down gear you need to speed the engine up while in neutral to again match the ratio change to the road speed. This process is not all ways easy especially with a gearbox never designed to be driven this way. Unlike some large truck gearbox’s.

3 thoughts on “Weipa to Mount Isa

  1. Karen Mitchell

    Hi Peter and Alec
    Thoroughly enjoying the great photography and stories. Keep them coming. Are you pair contemplating returning to Brisbane in 2016?


      1. Colin and Helen Prestwich

        Peter you and Alec are making some amazing memories!! We are loving following your adventuress. Enjoying the great photo’s and the stories. Peter and Alec we spent time together at Seisia caravan park Alec ( cookie monster ) has grown so much. we will never forget the time we shared Peter and Alec. Take care. Helen, Colin, Pauline and Garry.


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