Driving from Cairns to the Gulf of Carpentaria

From lush tropical rainforests to the sparse, desolate, dusty outback, this journey took us through very contrasting landscapes. The buzzy tourist filled city of Cairns to the small fishing town of Karumba, and a number of interesting stops in between.

Cairns is one of the best cities in Australia in the cold months of the year (in my opinion). The weather in July is perfection! The roads around Cairns is flat with plenty of infrastructure to make cycling very safe. There are free Zumba classes around town paid for by the Cairns council. The lagoon(free beachside public swimming pool) is gorgeous and there are lots of restaurants reflecting the multicultural communities that call Cairns home. Around Cairns is the Great Barrier Reef and a whole bunch of waterfalls and other verdant natural sights.

Not far outside of Cairns is the Atherton tableland regions. This is considered tropical dairy country. The countryside is fertile and lush. There are plenty of waterfalls, waterholes and walks to visit. Only two waterfalls are mentioned here but there are plenty more! We camped beside Lake Tinnaroo and beside a pretty creek out the back of the Tall Timbers Caravan Park near Ravenshoe. Ravenshoe is the highest town in Queensland so the overnight temperature was much cooler than in Cairns!

Lake Tinnaroo, near Yungaburra. This picture only shows a tiny fraction of the lake.
Creek behind Tall Timbers Caravan Park – the unpowered sites are amongst the trees and you can park right by the creek!
Dinner Falls in Mount Hypipamee National Park
Dinner Falls
Windy Hill Wind Farm near Ravenshoe, Queensland, commissioned in 2000
Mungalli Falls
Mungalli Falls

From the Atherton tablelands, we headed to the Undara Volcanic National Park. A “must-do” on the way there is to stop at a town called Innot Hot Springs. You can either experience the hot springs at the natural creek outside the caravan park or you can pay $10 per person to enjoy the hot mineral waters inside the park where it is directed into 6 different temperature controlled pools. We found the natural creek to be very shallow, muddy and mossy. The water can be scalding in areas so be careful! People get their shovel and make pools which mix some hot and cooler water to get a place to soak at the right temperature.

Innot Hot Springs – hot mineral water in Nettle Creek.

We headed inside the caravan park and found a good facility with pools ranging in temperatures up to 45C. You can soak outdoors or indoors and it was incredibly relaxing. It’s also a good place for a chat with other travelers.

Feeling relaxed, we continued our journey to the Undara Experience Caravan Park. The scenery is now much more dusty and sandy. The lava tube tour at Undara Experience was interesting and there are some underwhelming walks nearby to do.

Undara Volcanic Lava Tubes
Undara Lava Tubes
Dining Facilities at Undara Experience – they use railway carriages here and for guest accomodation.
Landscape around Undara Experience Caravan Park
Sunset over Undara Experience Caravan Park

Driving to Croydon from Undara, feels like we are truly in the outback. There is not even a sniff of mobile signal and the major highway often annoying reduces to a single lane.

Single lane highway to Croydon – very annoying when there is a car coming the other way flinging up dust and stones onto our vehicle!
The road to Croydon alternates between double lane and single lane sealed road. The lush rainforests of Cairns are well behind us!

Croydon is an interesting tiny town of 250 with an interesting gold rush history. Gold was discovered in the later 1800s causing the town to boom as people rushed to mine the gold. There is an informative video at the information centre which details the history. Amongst the people who rushed to find wealth were Chinese people. Due to racism, the Chinese were unable to mine for gold till the lease had been mined for 3 years. Instead, many of the Chinese people started market gardens. Nurturing a profitable market garden in this inhospitable climate which is either desperately bone dry or much too wet is no easy feat. The Chinese supplied the town with their fresh fruit and vegetables but it was due to much hard work hand carrying water and hand watering their plants with just the most meagre ration of water required to survive.

Old Gold Mining Equipment, Croydon

Onwards to Karumba, the town on the Gulf of Carpentaria. This is a sleepy, fishing obsessed town. There were a lot of locusts about when we visited so correspondingly, there were a number of birds enjoying a feast! There is absolutely no Optus network signal in Karumba but in Normanton, an hour inland, there is a mobile tower and super strong Optus mobile signal!

Gulf of Carpentaria, Karumba – stunning blue water but as usual, a croc warning sign!

Don’t forget to visit Krys the 8.6m crocodile replica in Normanton. This is supposed to be a replica of the largest crocodile shot in the area by a Polish lady named Krys in 1957. Unfortunately, the measurement was not verified. The largest officially verified crocodile (as per the Guinness Book of Records) is 6.17m.

Krys, a replica of an 8.6m crocodile shot in 1957.
Norman River

The Norman River runs past the town of Normanton. There is a double lane vehicle bridge that spans the river. There is also a separate bridge specifically for fishing!! It comes with many useful things for an enjoyable fishing day like rod holders, shade structures, BBQs, picnic tables and running water!! What an amazing piece of infrastructure for this tiny town of 1200 people!

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