Saturday, 14 March 2015

West of Atherton Tableland, Undara Lava tubes, Cobold Gorge to Karumba

We say farewell to the Tablelands & begin the next part of our journey towards The Gulf of Carpentaria.
As we leave the Tableland, we have to meander ourselves around the higher parts on the western parts of the Great Dividing Range.
Ravenshoe is the highest town of Qld @ 930 m. As we drive along towards the township, our GPS takes us to even higher altitudes......I loved the drive through beautiful World Heritage Rainforest which quickly changed to rolling mountain pastures where our fore bears were required to make a living from the land.
The Tully Gorge Lookout is near by, but we decide we've seen plenty of gorges & waterfalls for now.

On the western side of Ravenshoe, we drive past a few dozen wind turbines located in many of the paddocks. The wind turbines are generating enough electricity for the regions needs.

Our destination for the day is Undara Lava Tubes, situated south of Mount Surprise.
Situated on a working cattle station, this is a must add to your list of outback experiences which was opened to visitors in 1990.

The Undara Lava Tubes are in fact 1 of the longest lava tube systems in the world.
She was created 190,000 years ago when mother nature set to work creating 1 of the rarest  & most fascinating phenomena on Earth. The Undara shield  volcano erupted, sending molten lava through the landscape for 190 kms. While the surface of the lava cooled & hardened, hot lava continued to race through the centre of the flows, eventually leaving the world's longest continuous (though fragmented ) lava tube. Only a fraction can be visited.

It is estimated that 23 cubic kms of lava, at a temperature of 1,200 * C flowed from the volcano. a lava flow this large would fill the Sydney Harbour in 6 days.

The only way to visit the lava tubes was by guided group walks. The tubes are a short bus ride away from the camp ground environs.
To protect the area, boardwalks have been built for the visitors.
This tube meanders in & around through some darkness for approx 100 m, with this part of the tube probably 1 km long.

This was a 2nd tube we visited. The tubes are home to a couple of species of micro bats.

The family who started the Undara Experience had several old railway carriages trucked from Mareeba into the property & were beautifully restored. They have used the turn of the century carriages for the entry office, accommodation, an information centre & restaurant & bar.

This is the restaurant & bar area, where behind me is the bar. Inside the carriages is also seating for diners. All meals are catered for for the guests if they desire.

The open dining area has had a huge purpose built corrugated roof to completely cover the area between the carriages.

Other accommodation on offer are Swag Tents. Some are doubles, most singles.
The caravan camping area is behind the tent village.

On offer for guests is a Bush breakfast, an Outback Rock & Blues festival in April & Opera in the Outback in October each year.

Adding to our outback experience here was to include dinner....mine Macadamia nut crusted Barramundi & his special Georgetown sausages with Smokey bbq sauce.

 Followed up with Undara lava Chocolate Volcano......yum

 The surrounding landscape is mostly flat apart from the occasional once volcanic hill. It's hard to imagine these little mounds of earth were once volcanic as well.

There's also a crater to be visited in 1 of those "little hills"
Our early morning visit gave us some visitors in the crater.

Our next night was to here......situated on another cattle station south of Georgetown.

Our drive to this cattle property was memorable.......about 90 kms of corrugations along a public road that was to be 1 of the worst roads we experienced during this 4 month tour.

The gorge is situated on Robin Hood Station, a 1,284 square km cattle station.
Robin Hood was aptly named because the station adjoined the Sherwood Mining Lease.

The gorge has only been opened to the public a couple of decades with the only way to visit the gorge is by guide.
The facilities at the accommodation area is a work in progress......Motel style rooms, a new caravan & camping ground upgrade with sites that are drive through on tiered levels - a concept that we loved as it was on a sloping block.
There's a bar & restaurant, an information centre that takes tour bookings & has small grocery items & souvenirs.
The bar & restaurant adjoins a deck that over looks a beautiful swimming pool with a lagoon below.

The water level in the lagoon below is quite low due to a drier wet season earlier in the year.

Perhaps the water in the swimming pool tasted better than that in the lagoon below for this Pale-headed Rosella.

Sometimes it's better to leave info boards do the talking :-)

We took an afternoon nature tour around the top of the gorge before returning to the creek & gorge below.

The narrow flat  bottomed boats have been purpose built due to the narrow gorge.

Several large freshwater crocs sunned themselves on any ledge they could find.
Many species of native fish call this place home.....more croc food.......

The tour down the gorge only took about 30 mins, but the cliffs around us were quite stunning, carved by the water over millions of years when seasons were much much wetter than they are now.
We were only taken a short distance of approx 500m as the gorge then is too narrow to go any further.
We passed through a few sections of the gorge that were just a little over the width of the boat we were in.

Cobbold Gorge is fed by several springs keeping the water level constant, allowing boat access all year round.

The 90 km drive back to Georgetown was just as rough as 2 days earlier :-(
We were armed with an email address to complain to the Department of Transport to complain about the road as it is supposed to be graded more regularly than it had been.
Acknowledgement from said department hopefully helped the cause.

Cumberland Chimney is just 10 kms west of Georgetown. It's a Free Camp for travellers & well worth a stop over for the night.

The Chimney was built by Cornish masons. It is all that remains of a crushing plant for the surrounding gold mines.
The nearby water hole is home to abundant birdlife.

We camped beside the dam for the night & would have stayed longer if we had more time.

This rather large goanna walks around camp sites scavenging for any food it can find.

I spent the afternoon walking around the lagoon which rewarded me with 58 different species of birds.
Walking amongst free ranging cattle in the other entry paddock was a little nerve racking as I didn't know how they would behave  - (I'm used to walking amongst cattle belonging to my family,)

I found this pair of the Black-throated Finch building a nest in between the 2 sides of the entry road sign.

I have a feeling that this bush is actually an introduced "weed" - seeds dropped by travelling Afghans on their camels in the 19th century. The flower is pretty at least.

We cross the Gilbert River further west. I took this photo whilst we were driving, but I wanted to show an example of just how huge these rivers are up  here in far north Qld as these now dry rivers will be swollen with flood waters during the "wet" season. This river is probably 200 m wide.

We arrive in Croyden mid morning & get ourselves a camp spot at the local van park for the night.

We walk around the streets of historic Croyden to take in some of her history.
Croyden in the heart of the Gulf Savannah is just 562 kms west of Cairns, & gets her history from the 1880's gold rush days.
The town swelled to around 7,000 people during the peak of the gold rush.

Today the township & district has a population of around 300 people.

The local historical society has done a wonderful job in preserving many of the old buildings.

With lots of people, there comes plenty of pubs like this one. If only these walls could talk :-)

2 of the 4 wall murals.

The old Court House.

This explains it all for the need of a Court House, Police Station & Jail

The Police Station

The jail out the back had just 2 cells

A small section of some of the gold mining machinery that was transported to Croyden district.

We also took a 10 km drive out to the local water supply "lake" errr dam  errr pond - named Lake Belmore.
The previous "wet" season was lousy, so the water levels in the lake were fairly low.
We got some good views of the township & flat district from a lookout on the road out to the Lake.
Kopok trees were in flower everywhere were in stark contrast to the dry landscape.

Of course I did a couple of hrs of birding to check out the bird life around Croyden.
Further south this bird looks like the Restless Flycatcher, but in the Top End it's called Paperbark Flycatcher as its call is slightly different to it's close cousin.

The Red-browed Pardolote can be hard to find as it's less than 11 cms in length.

Leichhardt Lagoon was our next place to stay a night. This natural wetland is a mecca for water fowl & bush birds....& campers wanting to soak up the relaxing atmosphere. It's one of those places to "must stop" at along the Savannah Way & most travellers choose to stay here for a few weeks, with Normanton just 20 kms to the west.

The township of Normanton sits on the Norman River - a wide sandy river in the wet season.

Muttonhole Wetlands extend 30 kms inland from the Gulf ( 7,860 hectares) & the time to see the teaming bird life is soon after the wet season closes.
The wetlands provide a home to a variety of birdlife such as Jabirus, Brolgas & Herons.
Waterfowl of all description inhabit the area which is of International significance for breeding, feeding, moulting & drought refuge for waterbirds that include Whistling Ducks, Sarus Cranes, Brolgas & waders.

Normanton acted as a port for the Gulf of Carpentaria's cattle industry & grew popular in 1885 with the discovery of gold at Croyden.

Ludwig Leichhardt & later Burke and Wills were early European Explorers through the area.

Normanton is also home to Krys the saltie, shot in 1957 - as per the placard below......

Around town there's a few other iconic this one.

Built in 1884, the Historic Westpac Bank once serviced the wealth of the Croyden Goldfields in the 1880's along with the thriving seaport economy of Normanton. This bank is the sole survivor of 5 banks from the gold rush days.

Karumba is in the Gulf of Carpentaria & sits on the mouth of the Norman River.
Originally established as a Telegraph station in the 1870's became a flourishing town after the discovery of prawns in the Gulf in the early 1960's.
Karumba is home to the Barramundi & Prawn fishing industries, but due to a lower rainfall during the previous "wet" season of early 2014, the prawn catches were down.

We stayed at the Sunset Caravan Park in Karumba Point. There was a pub down the road & the ocean across the road.
The caravan park is 1 of 3 caravan parks around Karumba. There are approx 160 caravan sites in each caravan park & the majority of folk had a fishing boat of all sizes.
We were in the minority & felt like it too.......many folk come here every year for several months purely for the fishing pleasures & friendships formed over years of "same same".

If you don't have your own fishing boat, several fishing charters are available for a days' fishing.

We weren't too put off by the click & still managed to enjoy visiting the local on Saturday afternoon when a food fare was on.....tastings of Crocodile, Camel, Beef cooked the Chinese way, Indian flavours or just plain BBQ'd.
A group of cocktail waiters came in from Port Douglas for the w/e food festival......hence my fancy drink...or 2.....

Of course sunset in the Gulf of Carpentaria is also special whilst sipping cold drinks & eating delicious food.

We think the Gulf had been fished out as Rod came up with no fish during his few attempts from the shore line.......we still enjoyed a meal of Barramundi down at the local Fish n Chip shop / take away & also took away a large fillet of freshly caught Barramundi to be enjoyed at later meals.

The Norman River closer to town with 1 of the many jetties where smaller fishing boats pull up to off load their catch.

The Gulf has many endemic bird species......I managed to find just 3 of the 5 endemics amongst the mangroves.
A bird watching cruise wasn't available for me at the time of our stay to search for the other 2.

Yellow-white Eye look very much like the Silvereye.

Mangrove Fantail were a little elusive.

A Brown Falcon - not an endemic.

After leaving Karumba & Normanton, we hit the gravel roads again....with plenty of road kill food (kangaroos hit by vehicles)  for the Black Kites & other raptors.

We headed west again along the Savannah Way towards Burketown.
Leichhardt Falls is on the river of the same name.....another huge river that drains into the Gulf during the wet season. This part of the river is eroded rock with many  pools of water. Salt water crocodiles inhabit this area in the bigger pools, so swimming is for the fool hardy.

The actual falls is currently a stale, green pool of water at the bottom a of a rocky wall.
I rather think that this river would look quite spectacular during a decent wet season.

This section of the river is actually part of the several falls that form when it rains.

The volume of water flowing down this river shifts dead trees.

A raised concrete causeway for vehicles separates the river in the dry season.

Lining the river on several spots are popular free camps, but finding a level spot can be difficult if you get there late.
We had a very peaceful night here with no fear of crocs coming to visit us as the pools of water below had a decent rocky bank.

An abandoned windmill.

It's not often that you find White-bellied Sea-eagles inland, but the fish must be good here to keep this 1 hanging around.

The next day we made a short stop to buy fuel & visit the town bore @ Burketown  -  just 25 kms from the Gulf of Carpentaria, but there are no main roads to the sea here...that we knew of.

Burketown is known as the Barramundi capital of Australia sitting on the Albert River with wetlands to the north & grasslands to the south.
17 kms away to the west, the Nicholson River also delivers perennial fresh water to the wetlands which are breeding grounds for crocodiles, barramundi, prawns & birds.

The Burketown Bore was drilled in 1887. Unfortunately the water was unsuitable for drinking apart from cattle. Piping hot showers are available to the public near by.

The water has continued to flow since 1887, creating a near by wetland.
The mineral rich water has created large mounds of minerals as the heated water evaporates.
Algal slime of all colours can be seen through out the area. Some wetland birds love it.

We left the Savannah Way soon after Burketown & headed south towards Gregory. This very small town which sits on the spring fed Gregory River consists of just a few houses & an iconic pub.
The pub was originally built in the 1900's to accommodate travellers using the coach service to nearby Burketown.
The town itself is built on the homestead site of the historic Gregory Downs Station, one of the 1st pastoral properties to be established in the Gulf Country. In 2013, the Downs was dropped to be now called Gregory.

We stopped for a cool drink - of course - before heading west towards Adels Grove & Lawn Hill NP.

Gregory Downs the cattle station is a vast flat grassy plains.

The 50 km section of road from Gregory is well managed by Century Mines - 10 kms from Boodjamulla NP.
There were some small corrugations, but the "bull dust" was thick & thankfully there were no hidden pot holes.

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