TRAVEL: KARUMBA, QUEENSLAND
Take your caravan to Karumba, Qld, and you’ll find there’s more to it than mere barra and prawns.
Words and pics: Tony and Denyse Allsop
• Fishing and crabbing
• Beach walks
• Barramundi Discovery Centre
• Sunset cruise
• Charter fishing and croc spotting
We left Croydon, Qld, after an early breakfast and made it to Normanton for a late morning tea. After a quick look around, we drove on through the wetlands to Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Our destination was the Gulf Country Caravan Park in the heart of Karumba.
HISTORY OF KARUMBA
Although it’s only 71km from Normanton, on a double lane bitumen road, Karumba has a small population and a frontier atmosphere. The locals describe it as ‘outback by the sea’.
In 1872, a telegraph line was established between Karumba and Cardwell. Karumba was a base for the famous Empire flying boats on their trek from Australia to England and during World War II it was a base for the RAAF.
Later, it became the centre of a large prawning fleet and processing factory. Commercial barramundi fishing, crabbing and live cattle exports are important industries today.
The port is also home to Century Mine’s huge dewatering plant and shipping facilities. Zinc and lead are mined near Lawn Hill and pumped through a 304km pipeline to Karumba where they are processed. The MV Wunma, a self- discharging transfer barge, carries 5000t loads out to the bulk carriers anchored about 20 nautical miles offshore. The lead and zinc are shipped to Port Pirie and Hobart as well as Asia and America.
Tourism has played a large part in Karumba since the road into town was sealed. Many caravanners stay for the winter to catch barra, grunter and salmon, and mud cabs are also on the menu. Large crocs are part of the river system here, and you can almost always spot a few if you travel up the Norman River in a tinnie or on a croc spotting charter.
The whole area is a joy for birdwatchers with large waterbirds such as sarus cranes, brolgas, jabirus, magpie geese and burdekin ducks a familiar sight around Karumba and on the local waterways.
The Barramundi Discovery Centre in Karumba was started by local commercial fishermen to help restock the waterways. They saw their livelihood shrinking as large numbers of recreational fishermen started arriving when the road was sealed. Big local barra are caught and used for breeding at the centre. The process is very complex and labour intensive and volunteers do all the work. The hatchlings are put into the local waterways and Croydon’s Lake Belmore.
There are 16 different types of barra, but only five are found in Australia and the local species is only found in this area. A tour of the centre is very informative and interactive, as you can feed the fish.
The last time we were in Karumba I caught several nice fish including grunter and cod from the banks of the Norman River, right opposite the caravan park. This time, I caught two large silver bream within 15 minutes from the same spot. At the Gulf Country Van Park, there is always freshly-caught mud crabs, local prawns, barra and salmon fillets for sale at a very good price, so if you don’t go fishing or crabbing, you don’t have to miss out.
A drive to Karumba Point Beach to enjoy barra and chips from Ash’s takeaway at sunset is an absolute must. While there, we were also lucky enough to see the Wunma come in to collect ore.
If you take a walk along Karumba Point beach and you keep going along the road beside the beach, you’ll reach the site of the old home of legendary croc shooters Ron and Krystina Pawlowski.
The dirt roads running off Allan Howie Way and Henry Street lead to several swamps where you should find waterbirds and wallabies.
There are a number of tours and cruises available now. You can choose from sunset cruises, croc and crab pot cruises, fishing or croc spotting.
CROC AND CRAB SUNSET CRUISE
This cruise is owned and operated by professional crabbers Mark and Julianne Grunske. On all their cruises you are served fresh local prawns, a fruit platter and cold drinks and the half-day cruise features fresh cooked mud crab as well.
The boat left at 5pm and took 30 minutes to cruise out to Sand Island. Mark gave a very informative talk about Karumba and the gulf fishing and crabbing industries on the way out. We were left to walk around Sand Island and given bags to collect shells, while Julianne and Mark set up the drinks and food.
Just before sunset we were offered sundowners including white and red wine, beer or soft drinks. There seemed to be an endless supply of local fresh banana prawns and Mark’s delicious marinated fish, followed by fruit platters and marshmallows. Everyone was given their choice of a stubby cooler or embossed wine glass to take home as a memento of the trip.
We were lucky enough to be there for the sunset and to see the full moon rise at the same time. It was an occasion not to forget. We returned to the beach at 7pm.
Denyse and I felt the cruise was a spectacular experience and Denyse even returned with a few perfect pencil shells.
On our last visit in 2005, Denyse and I stayed at the Gulf Country Van Park and had a great time. This park is located only 100m from shops, and 200m from the launching ramp and across the road from the Norman River. It is very central to everything and has a great atmosphere.
We decided to stay there again, and were pleased we did. The same owners, Ray and Salme Atherinos, were still there and made us feel welcome when we arrived. We had been allocated a large site with a slab, but were given a choice of available sites, some on grass, many shaded by large mahogany trees.
The park has a modern, shaded swimming pool and barbecue facilities. The amenities and laundry have been refurbished since our last visit and were cleaned twice a day. There is also a dump point.
New air-conditioned besser block cabins were being built while we were there. We had good analogue TV reception on four channels and full five-bar reception on Telstra NextG mobile phone and wireless broadband.
As well as buying seafood, you can make bookings for fishing, cruising and scenic flights at the office.
When we had set up, our neighbours introduced themselves and invited us over for happy hour. This is an institution here, and it was great for Denyse and I to be invited to join this group of friendly travellers.
Karumba township consists of a small supermarket, pub, butcher, baker, post office, police station and pharmacy – all within easy walking distance of the caravan park. There is also mechanical and marine workshops, a fuel outlet, a library, and the bowls and golf club is close by.
The weather was quite changeable while we were there in June. There were hot days up to 34°, while some mornings were cold. Fishing was always good (by our standard) but Karumba is not only about fishing. So be sure to put it on your itinerary if you are travelling the Savannah Way.
- Karumba is 71km north-west of Normanton in far north-west Queensland, in the south-east corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
- Tourist information: Karumba Library, (07) 4745 9582.
- Gulf Country Caravan Park: (07) 4745 9148, email@example.com, www.karumbavanparks.com.au
- Barramundi Discovery Centre: (07) 4745 9359.
- Croc and Crab Tours: www.crocandcrab.com.au or 0428 496 026. Alternatively, at Gulf Country Van Park.
- For mud crab sales, delivered all over Australia, contact Mark and Julianne Grunske, 0488 998 489 or www.mudcrabsdirect.com.au
Originally published in Caravan World #507, October 2012