Karumba, a far north Queensland fishing hot-spot, was meant to be a stop-over on the Gulf of Carpentaria to fish for an elusive Barramundi. The reality however was this did not happen – not even close. So what did we do in Karumba?
Before the update …perhaps some of you are thinking; Where exactly is Karumba?
Karumba is on the Arafura Sea in the southern most corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria, 71kms from Normanton and 752kms from Cairns. It is the only town located in southern Carpentaria region with sight directly out to the gulf itself and is a a mecca for fishing (Barramundi) and bird watching (various water and sea birds, even Brolgas). What more could you wish for…
Our bad run of gravel road closures continues.
3 days prior to arriving in Karumba when back in Katherine NT after visiting Litchfield National Park, our desired route to Karumba was via the Gulf’s Savannah Way to Borroloola, onto Hells Gate and Burketown, starting from the historic Daly Waters Pub in Northern Territory (See map inset above).
Due to current road closures/restrictions from the recent wet season, specifically road damage, we could not take this preferred many creek and river crossing route along the Savannah Way and had to take the “long way” via the 3-ways, Barkly Highway across to Mt Isa and Cloncurry, then up the Burke Developmental Road to Normanton, and out to Karumba on the Arafura Sea. Originally, back when we wanted to run up the Birdsville Track …at that time, we had planned to do Lawn Hill National Park (Boodjamulla), however we decided by this route change at the last moment to spend a couple more days at Karumba and leave out Lawn Hill for another trip sometime in the future.
It started with a cruzy run down the Stuart Hwy to Daly Waters from Katherine. The pub in town is iconic (and is currently for sale too BTW) which we had heard so much about so we thought we had to stay a night out in the back of the pub in their campground and to enjoy a good pub meal in their restaurant. The place was abuzz with many travellers heading to all corners of the country. It was warm again – mid 30’s and the beer was nice and cold. We were keen on a refreshing swim before dinner and the pub backs onto the Daly River, however the river is full of Crocs, so we opted for the somewhat safer choice and choose to swim in the pub’s own swimming pool, complete with its own adjoined bar area. At dinner, Aidan and I had the pubs signature dish of “Beef and Barra” (NT version of a Surf & Turf), Lochie had a fillet of Barra and Celia had an NT steak. The meal was most enjoyable and whilst we dined, the pub put on some live entertainment with a country and western duo performing some country songs – some we even heard before.
The following day was the drive across to the Barkly Homestead and it was blowing a gale that even Geraldton in Western Australia would have been proud of. Worse still it was a cross wind after turning left onto the Barkly Highway from the 3-ways which made towing all the more interesting for the days long drive. After a pleasant night at the Barkly Homestead, next stop was Cloncurry, 100kms east of Mt Isa. We all rose to a glorious day and got away reasonably early and after refuelling, we drove a short distance west, and turned right onto the Burke Developmental road. Our next stop was a cattle station/homestead/roadhouse 180kms north called “Burke & Wills“. We stopped to stretch the legs and have a quick snack before the next leg northwards to Normanton. The road from this point mainly turns into a narrow sealed single lane and in places was heavily crowned in the middle making our vans wide tyres track everywhere, except straight. We also had another heavy crosswind this day as well but soon enough pulled into Normanton.
It was a Sunday and we had a look through the main street which was pretty much deserted – perhaps everyone had gone fishing? The weather was nice, although a little on the warm side. We pulled up outside the Carpentaria shire building which is a lovely old and well maintained period structure. There is a little park out back where “Krys” the worlds largest known Crocodile (a replica of) sits just right of the building in the photo above. Krys was shot by a tough local woman back in the mid-50s and Krys was said to be well over 6M in length and near on 2 Tonnes in weight. Still to this day, Krys remains the largest crocodile ever caught – rightly or wrongly.
On the way out to Karumba, the last 67Kms, you immediately pass over the bulging Norman River where we saw a couple of people fishing presumably for Barramundi, and the road starts to skirt the Mutton Hole Wetlands – a designated IBA (Important Bird and Biodiversity Area). Half way to Karumba, some parts of the wetlands come right up to the edge of the road and we noticed lots of different species of wading and migratory birds, including a dozen or so Brolgas – one pair no more than 10M off the side of the road. There was nowhere to pull off the road so we (reluctantly) kept on driving thinking there will be other chance(s) to shoot these incredible birds in the coming days. We checked into a van park out at Karumba Point, set up, and headed to the pool for a quick cool-down before walking around to Karumba point for a Barramundi dinner.
Our time in Karumba was meant to be a simple affair centred around another fishing charter – this time we were looking forward to getting into a Barra or two, and if running, some pelagics like Spanish Mackerel et al.
Our first day was to get a feel for the town …visit the Barramundi Discovery Centre, find out which fishing charter company to go with, top up on some supplies and hopefully catch the sunset out over the Arafura Sea. All these things were achieved however not long before dinner Lochie fell ill and started vomiting. We were not sure why or from what, and not long after, Aidan came down with the same sickness and all of a sudden we had two sick boys and bed ridden. Celia and I were feeling fine and we couldn’t work out what was happening. Perhaps it was just a bad viral-bug and we thinking something like this was bound to happen sooner or later as both boys have only had the odd cold and nothing too bad on the trip so far. The sickness however went on for a lot longer than we had hoped and for two and a half days the boys laid quietly in bed, watched a little Sat-TV and read books in-between being sick. It was not pleasant for them – nor us feeling a little helpless.
Our van park was nothing special in the sense of grassed-grounds, as there was none, and was not the prettiest park either to spend a couple of days whilst sick. The van park is completely geared up for “fisher people” first and foremost and every day the elaborate fish cleaning station within the park was busy and a good place to be if you were a confident Pied Heron. We saw lots of these divine shore birds all over Karumba, albeit from a distance, however one in particular who acted as though he ‘owned’ the caravan park’s fishing cleaning station and defended it accordingly, did very well from the local fishermen each day. This enabled us to get up reasonably close to him to rattle off a couple of shots as he patrolled the bottoms of the cleaning station tables looking for any left-over fish scraps.
A couple of days later and having achieved none of our set aims in Karumba, the boys were now on the mend and feeling much better. We’d now, however, run out of time and needed to leave the following day continuing our journey towards to east coast. On the afternoon before departing Karumba, not far from our campground, was an old boardwalk through some mangroves along the mouth of the Norman River. I had noticed a few Whistling Kites circling around in that area so I decided to walk over there to see what I could discover – hopefully no crocs in the process.
Whilst I didn’t see any crocs, I did manage to get up close and personal to one particular Kite who perhaps thought I was fisherman and I could be his ticket to a fish. Whatever his reason, I was grateful for his confidence in allowing me to get reasonably close (100M) to roll off a few shots of him perched and in flight too.
8am next morning, we pull out of Karumba with our eyes set on free camping at a well-known bird sanctuary called Cumberland Dam near the township of Croydon. On the way back out to Normanton, we noticed many Brolgas – perhaps as many as 50-60 pairs along the way and not once could we pull over to get a shot of any. What a shame. The trip over to Cumberland Dam was uneventful and we arrived at the site around 1:30pm to find the camp area closed for renovation. Just our luck, again. The dam and swamp areas looked great for shooting birds but was not to be on this occasion, so we headed further east to the township of Mt Surprise.
We arrived around 5pm and by a stroke of luck, were informed the campground we were staying at was mainly full from people travelling on the outback Savannahlander (SL) Train heading east to Cairns that was staying overnight in town. The 2 carriage Savannahlander travels the 850 km return trip between Cairns and Forsayth once a week between March and December. The train stops at the outback towns Almaden, Forsayth and Mt Surprise for the night. There’s no sleeping accommodation on the train so passengers hop off and spend the night in accommodation in these towns while the train sits at the station overnight – one of them, cabins in our campground.
The railway track was no more than 50M from our van and some 300M further down the railway track was a lovely old wooden bridge that crossed a flowing creek – the perfect photo opportunity I thought for the following morning? After a quick coffee, I head down to the railway bridge just after 7am. It was perfect weather, early-mid 20’s in temp and the creek flowing under the trainbridge was crystal clear …even noticed a few jungle perch waiting for their breakfast. I scan the surrounding area of bridge for the best angles and take a few test shots to evaluate what might look best as I have never shot a moving train before. I decide on two positions 15M apart; one directly inline with the track and the other just off the bridge to take in the angle of the sleepers across the bridge. As I wait for 7:30 to tick over, I’m wondering if Celia and the boys were awake – would they get to see the train? At 7:30 sharp; I hear the trains unique horn sound in the distance departing the station and about a minute later I see my first glimpse of train steaming towards me much quicker than I thought it would be travelling. I quickly abandon my straight on inline photo and move off to the side of the bridge where I had pre-focused on a specific point. As the SL approached the bridge, I line it up on my focal point and fire off a several shots. The train was not mucking around and as quickly as it came, I watched it disappear along the lumpy old railway track listening to the burble of its old diesel motor pulling away. I head back across the railway bridge and up to camp where I see Aidan and Lochie waiting with big smiles – they too had awoken in time to see the SL pass our campsite with happy passengers waving at them as they passed by. We missed the Gulflander in Normanton so catching the Savannahlander was nice (Mt) Surprise.
Later that day we had to bypass the Lava Tubes in Undarra as there was a rock concert going on there so we made our way across to Malanda in the Atherton Tablelands where we were to start the next leg to feature no less than 10 different waterfalls throughout the FNQ region.
Well, we didn’t get to wet a line to catch a Barra as the boys had taken ill …however by the time Mt Surprise came around, both boys were back to almost “full-power” again with Aidan non-stop talking and Loch as always, happy to simply gaze out the window (so long as good music in playing) and watch the wonderful outback go by. Maybe that elusive Barra may come a little later in the trip – who knows, but the dream lives on 🙂
Geoff & Celia