Spending time in the gulf of QLD and looking for a few days to kill before heading further east, I came across a couple of unique towns that are so close yet are so different in what they offer. Situated at the end of the Matilda Way which is a fully sealed 1800 km road from NSW to the bottom of the gulf in QLD, traversing through some pretty iconic towns with incredible attractions with real outback characters.
The drive at the northern end of the Matilda Way crosses through vast open savanna landscapes where hordes of giant termite mounds are scattered through the stubby bush. It's not until you get close to Normanton that the scenery changes to more dense bushland and wetland areas. Established back in 1867 Normanton rivalled Darwin as a major Port in the gulf region when goldfields were booming and trade was at its peak. The second oldest town within the gulf ( the first being Bourketown to the west ), it was originally named Norman River due to the waterway it sits on.
Around town there’s some pretty cool stuff to see and do. Normanton is especially known for having the worlds largest Crocodile on display after it was shot back in 1957 by polish woman Krystina Pawlowski on the banks of the Norman river. Measuring in at a staggering 8 metres long, there’s debate wether the croc was actually this large as only one photograph has been found ( but was lost in the 1974 floods ), but its still bloody huge. Named Krys after his shooter was one of hundreds they shot back in the 50’s when they became professional croc hunters.
Later on both Krystina and her husband from being a hunter to a conservationist. Along with Krys lookout for the big Barramundi and other heritage sites around town that include the cemetery, old gaol, the Normanton railway station, Bourke & Wills campsite plus several buildings.
One building in particular is the Burns Philp Warehouse. Built in 1884 it played a significant role in the towns growth and being close to the river wharfs and gulf port. This warehouse serviced the whole gulf and also ran as a store, sold cars and hardware plus was a transport agency for many years and when legal tender was in short supply ( around 1885 ) the store printed its own money but only to be used within its own store.
Today this magnificent building houses the local info centre and towns library where its been tastefully restored back to its rustic former glory. It's a stunning building that still holds the charm of yesteryear and along with the others around town, its easy to spend a few hours wandering around.
Leaving Normanton and heading to the remote town of Karumba just 70km away its hard to imagine that you're in the lower gulf region of Australia. The low grassy plains don’t give any indication or direction on where you are, only water holes along the way were filled with flocks of Brolga’s digging around for a morsel feed.
It's not until you enter Karumba’s town limits that the site of mangroves give you a hint that salt water is close by. But Karumba’s a bit of a strange town as if you're not a fisherman there’s honestly not a lot to do, tourist wise.
Located right on the banks of the Norman River the waters are apparently rich with Barramundi and Gulf Banana Prawns which are the towns main industry.
After visiting the Barramundi Discovery Centre where you can learn the history and behaviour of the Barra and other aspects of town, eat at the sunset bar which is one of the few places in QLD where you can watch a sunset over the ocean.
Now don’t get me wrong Karumba is a beautiful place where you can stroll along the river precinct area exploring the towns history on the many info boards along the way, or take a boat charter to try your luck around the many rich fish reefs out in the gulf, but that’s it for Karumba. It's a place to unwind and relax.
Karumba is a working town, with an industrial port for the specialised Barra and Prawn fishing boats, for where livestock gets loaded and where MMG Century mines have a loading facility for their 300km underground pipeline to exit from where it conveys zinc slurry from their mine to the west. Just offshore, Sweers Island is a paradise for anglers which is surrounded by reefs and holds a ton of sports-fish, which was named back in 1802 by Matthew Flinders.
One interesting fact about this area is that they only have two tides in most 24 hour periods, not 4 like others. This is due to the narrow water way in the top end where water surges push against each other stopping the flow.
This area needs to be explored just once if your anywhere nearby. The whole gulf region has an array of Australian history scattered throughout the area and has beautiful features within.