Croydon to Karumba, Northern Queensland

We farewelled friends in Cairns on Friday last week (Hi P and G) who hosted us, providing a much needed respite from the caravan. The men installed a DC/DC charging unit to improve communication between the truck and Coddiwomple battery systems. The solar panels take care of charging needs when we’re free camping or on unpowered sites in caravan parks. The three-way fridge needs to maintain fresh fruit and veggies although the M.O.T.H. would say it is to keep the ice cream well frozen.

As we caught up with each other’s travels and family news it gave pause and reflect on the time since leaving home. We realised how relaxed we were and how different our lives have become over the last four months. No more stress of work. No hustle of routine. We are relaxed. Now it is leisure and adventure as we wine camp our way around Australia.

Typical vegetation along the Savannah Way

The Savannah Way

Out of Cairns we headed south until we connected with the Savannah Way which links east and west coasts, from Cairns in the east to Broome in the west. Our first night out of Cairns, we booked in to a caravan park at Mt Surprise and we travelled this road as far west as Normanton which is pretty much where the road peters out and becomes a four-wheel drive of the extreme-sport-adventure type. While there are graded roads called Development Roads which are reasonably well maintained, the road west beyond Normanton is not for the feint-hearted; and definitely not for casual older travellers who are stoically hanging onto the bits of us that haven’t yet headed south or seized up. The warning signs are everywhere: you cannot be over-prepared, referring to the roads, not our bits and pieces. However, our main concern is that we have sufficient fuel to get from point to point as it can be 250 kms between fuel stops.

As the name suggests it is a landscape of long golden grasses, savannah woodlands, historic mining towns and wildlife. We didn’t see much wildlife as we travelled through the heat of the day and animals prefer to be out and about at dusk and early morning which is precisely why road travellers are advised to avoid these times of day. An encounter with wandering cattle or kangaroo is most likely to happen during those times. If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you’ll know I am a middle-of-the-day person, so getting away before the sun rises is not something we ever worry about; and we try to be wherever we’re headed before dusk.

The landscape changes little in this vast area of the outback. Perhaps the most noticeable difference in the 186, 000 sq kms of savannah grasslands are the termite mounds that go from grey-coloured dome structures to red minaret-shaped spires.

Burke Development Road links Karumba to Cloncurry

As the season moves forward temperatures creep up and the day we travelled the car dashboard registered an outside temperature of 36C. It’s hot and any winds warm, offering scant reprieve from the intense heat.

Talking Books

Before we left ‘home’ I loaded our listening device with a selection of audiobooks (Audible on a monthly subscription). This is Outback Queensland and towns are more spaced out with a lot of driving to do. We both enjoy the writing of Ken Follett and currently we’re on a binge. While we listen to Fall of Giants, the first in his Centenary Trilogy, the M.O.T.H is reading the final Follett book in the Kingsbridge Trilogy while I am listening to the same book on Audible. Follett’s extensive historical research woven into the narrative has kept us hooked and more importantly alert while driving. I like to listen to my book while bird-watching or laying under the Milky Way scanning the night skies.

But back to our travelling entertainment Fall of Giants:

The novel begins with the thirteen-year-old Billy Williams, nicknamed Billy With Jesus going to work his first day in the coal mine underneath the fictional Welsh town of Aberowen in 1911.

Normanton

Apart from The Gulflander train terminating at Normanton there isn’t much happening here unless you include the town’s main tourist attraction, Kris the Crocodile – The Savannah King (who’s going to argue). The 8.63 meter (28ft 4 inches) life-size replica of the monster inhabited the Norman River but shot in 1957 by a female crocodile shooter. Croc culling has since ceased and numbers have increased dramatically and now crocs found near frequently used boat ramps and wharves are relocated by wildlife rangers.

Kris – The Savannah King, Normanton

We stopped for lunch at Normanton wharf which played a significant role in the history of the Gulf region.  Having refuelled  –  diesel ($1.732/litre)  – we  continued 78 kms to Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Flock of Brolgas in Wetland area approaching Karumba

Sunset at Karumba

Karumba

We drove into Karumba late afternoon and booked in to the Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park. This is the northern most point on this leg of our journey, before heading south towards a cooler climate and more water/swimming holes.

Unless you’re into fishing and sunsets Karumba has little to offer … just saying. It really is the end of the road. Yes the sunsets were beautiful but with cloudless skies the sun dipped into the red horizon across Gulf waters with little fanfare. Maybe it’s the lack of anything to do that brings people up here in winter months, not having to justify sitting in the shade of a coolabah tree and reading, but then whoever needed an excuse to do just that.

Little Eagle at our campsite in Karumba

(Black water) Dump Station at Karumba Caravan Park

How fabulous are these pedestal handbasins in the amenity blocks at the caravan park?

While we were there we did check out the new Les Wilson Discovery Centre and spent an interactive hour with displays, videos and information panels learning about the breeding and lifecycle of Barramundi.  This is the only hatchery in the world that breeds the Southern Gulf strain of barramundi.  The Centre includes a hatchery which runs breeding programmes producing fingerlings, which are released into rivers and stocked impoundments throughout the Gulf (of Carpentaria). Fishing is big here both as the backbone to the economy and for recreation.

I caught a Barramundi

For some reason I feel ‘disloyal’ having said there’s not much to do about Karumba maybe it’s because the little town has a history of struggle. I think our disappointment stems from the fact we are water people and we don’t fish. In northern Queensland the gorges and some rivers offer safe – croc free – swimming as swimming in the sea is a no-no as estuarine crocodiles inhabit the coastline as well.  

While little evidence remains of the importance of Karumba during WWII the boatramp, across from the campground, was built by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) as a slipway in the early 1940s to get Catalina and the Short Sunderland aircraft in and out of the water.  

We spent two days in Karumba and caught up with the laundry, tidied The Coddiwomple, cleaned the bathroom and did odd jobs. Rearranging the pantry and bathroom cupboards is a semi-regular event as we shake, rattle and roll our way across stretches of gravel and dirt on our way to that perfect campsite.

On our last night we went out for tea at Ash’s Seafood Restaurant,  and ordered the Barramundi and chips which had been recommended. If anything is going to redeem Karumba in our opinion it is Ash’s fish and chips. We had the thickest and best crumbed Barramundi evah! The chips weren’t too shabby either. So if you get to Karumba do make sure you pop in to Ash’s for the best fish and chips.


Gratitude Moments:

  • Good weather for laundry drying
  • Time to tidy the Coddiwomple
  • The Little Eagle who visited our campsite
  • Ash’s Barramundi and chips and something fabulous to remember Karumba for
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