An east-west journey from Cairns to Karumba reveals volcanoes, vast savannah lands and a dash of gold mining history
The Gulf Savannah is known as the last frontier. We planned to drive from the east coast of Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula to the west, finishing in Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria, taking our time and exploring each area.
There are three main routes to reach Gulf Development Road: departing the coast at Townsville, Innisfail or Cairns. From Townsville, head west to Charters Towers and take the Kennedy Highway 362km until you reach Gulf Development Road. From Innisfail (our recommended route) or Cairns travel to Ravenshoe and the Kennedy Highway, and then travel south-west 114km.
Living the lava life
Our first stop was the Undara Volcanic National Park and the famous lava tubes, covered in a previous issue, about 140km from Ravenshoe.
Mount Surprise was to be our next stop, and was a short 75km drive.
Joe is a savannah guide, and conducts several tours including one to the Undara lava tubes and the extinct Kalkani volcano.
On Joe’s Rad
We chose a tour with Joe, climbing aboard the Savannahlander train for the trip to Einasleigh, where Joe collected us. He gave the group a history of the town, and showed us through the historic hotel with its amazing collection of miniature antique furniture and giving us the opportunity to buy a drink or ice-cream.
After a tour of the town it was off to Copperfield Gorge where the Einasleigh River joins it. This was an impressive sight, and several of our party did not want to leave. But time was marching on and we still had a 90km drive home on interesting dirt roads. Along the way Joe stopped for ‘smoko’, boiling the billy beside a scenic billabong. He also pulled up at various historical sites, as well as pausing when we spotted a dingo, several brolgas and emus.
Joe was brought up in this country and has a great knowledge of the area. He has a very dry sense of humour too, describing bulls as “male bulls”. I enjoyed his tour very much, and for $58 we thought it was good value.
While in Mount Surprise we had 11mm of rain in one evening, which was a record fall for July and the first rainfall in July for 12 years!
It was time to move on, and our next stop was Georgetown, another short hop of only 90km. The road had improved, with more two-lane bitumen. We noticed a lot of caravans coming toward us, doing the same trip but from west to east.
Georgetown has a gold mining history. Discovered in 1870, it is still possible to find gold nuggets lying on the ground, as well as a large selection of interesting semi-precious stones, a lot of mica and ‘fools’ gold’.
Don’t miss the new visitor information centre and the TerrEstrial (yes, it’s spelt correctly) mineral collection. We found several old historic buildings, did the river walk and picked up some interesting stones – but no gold.
About 20km out of Georgetown is the remains of a gold crushing plant. Be sure to stop and read the history of the Cumberland Chimney and dam. The lagoon there is home to various types of birdlife.
Step back in time
Two days later we moved onto Croydon, 150km further west.
Our first stop was at the visitor information centre where we met Chris Weirman, another savannah guide who was born in Croydon and has a wealth of knowledge. Croydon is well worth a stop for a couple of days.
The old Gulflander train runs from Normanton to Croydon and is a trip back in time. The town has many old heritage-listed buildings fronted by the original gas lights, as well as a golf course, bowling greens and a well-stocked lake.
Lake Belmore is only three kilometres from the caravan park and has been stocked with barramundi, so fishing there could be worthwhile. A picnic area lies at the edge of the lake on the bitumen sealed road, and sunrises and sunsets from the hill overlooking the lake are magnificent.
Other places worth a look include the old cemetery, the remains of Chinatown, Federation Park, the many mining shafts and rusting equipment, as well as the oldest continually-operated store in Australia. Croydon offered enough attractions to keep us here for a further two days before continuing on to Normanton and Karumba. Karumba is 78km further on from Normanton, so we decided to travel the 220km to the township, stopping at Normanton on the way back.
We spent just over a week in Karumba. It was a return visit for us, as I had spent some time before this trip.
Karumba is very popular in the winter months and if travelling in an RV you should book your site well in advance. Although we had pre-booked two powered sites at Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park at the beach for seven days.
Take in the breath taking beauty of the Sunset from the grounds of the Sunset Caravan Park. Only two places in the world where you can see them like this!
- En-Suited Cabins, Villas, Campsites (Powered/UN-powered sites).
- Next to the beach & boat ramp. Shady, well grassed sites.
- Free BBQ area. Fish Cleaning Area.
- Swimming Pool with Entertainment area.
- Spit Roast Nights & Entertainment.
- Happy Hours, Disabled Shower/Toilet.
- 2 Spotless Shower/Toilet Blocks, Coin Operated Laundry.
- Mini-Mart / Cafe / Tackle / Souvenirs, Craft days, 3 Public Telephones.
- Fishing Charters / Flights and other Local Tour Bookings, Campers Kitchen.
After one dusty night we were lucky to obtain two sites at Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park, the managers of which went out of their way to fit both vans in. Sites here are shady, have concrete slabs and are quite spacious. Power and water is supplied and most of the grass is still green.
The amenities blocks are clean, the showers are spacious with a shelf for sponge bags and are wheelchair friendly.
There is also a swimming pool, barbecues and fish-cleaning tables. The park is across the road from the beach and launching ramp, and it’s a short walk from shops, restaurants and the hotel. A small supermarket, bakery and butcher are also just across the road.
The main reason people come to Karumba is for the fishing, and tinnies and cartoppers are everywhere. We saw many large barra and salmon being de-scaled at the fish-cleaning tables.
The beach at Karumba is very enjoyable for walks and the sunsets here are lovely. The fishing off the beach was also good.
The Barramundi Discovery Centre offers all types of fishing information, crocodile sightings, sunset cruises to enjoy and popular flights over the surrounding area and to Sweers Island.
The weather in this part of the country is great. For those in the cooler southern States, try to imagine sunny skies with temperatures ranging from a maximum of 32°C to a minimum of 18°C at night – and that’s in the middle of winter.
We had decided to stay overnight at Normanton on the way back, stopping at Normanton Caravan Park, and again we booked ahead. Normanton is also a popular fishing area over the winter months and the park is often full.
Normanton is the only town on this trip that has a hospital with a resident doctor – a handy point to keep in mind. There is a sports complex, three small supermarkets and a one-hour photo processing shop.
Normanton is the second oldest town in the Gulf area and has a heritage walk, a 100-year-old artesian bore and is home to the historical Gulflander train. Visitors can take advantage of several sightseeing and fishing charters. We spent another two days here exploring, but you could easily spend longer.
Our time crossing from east to west was fantastic: we found it to be a very interesting area, with plenty of history, scenery, with very comfortable, good value-for-money caravan parks.
BOOK NOW! for August, September, and October. You may also do advanced booking for November, December and January.
Postal Address: Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park, PO Box 61 Karumba Queensland 4891
Tel: (07) 4745 9277
Fax: (07) 4745 9480