The childhood road trip I remember best ended in Karumba with a dozen kids sleeping under the stars on old-school camp stretchers, frogs jumping over us in the middle of the night, our bellies full of crabs boiled in a 40-gallon drum over the campfire.
Since that adventure I’ve always had a thing about Karumba, the only seafront town on the Queensland side of the Gulf of Carpentaria that’s accessible to every kind of traveller. Perhaps it’s the good crabbing, the big catches of barramundi or the enormous fun to be had swapping tall fishing tales at Happy Hour.
Whatever it is, Karumba has enormous pulling power for such a humble holiday destination. For anglers, boaties, snowbirds and just about everyone who dreams of reaching the end of the road and finding a super friendly, seafront pub, Karumba really is the real deal.
That Karumba is a long way from just about everywhere is surely part of its immense, faraway appeal. For much of the year wet season rains fall hard, cutting access and isolating the town from the rest of Queensland.
It’s during the wet that resourceful locals dip into their freezers, start their generators and get back to their fishing, awaiting the tourists who arrive in droves with fishing gear and tinnies in tow from May to June.
Plenty of snowbirds arrive with no other destination in their sights, setting up elaborate camps, putting out the pot plants and settling in for the season. There are lively fish barbecues at day’s end and all the talk over sundowners is about who caught what, where and how.
The influx of out-of-towners kick-starts the boom time for local businesses – holiday parks, cafes, fishing tours and stores – with long-term travellers bringing the town, and its laidback Sunday market, to life.
The town’s three big caravan parks are packed tight at this time, full of travellers who desert at dawn for boat ramps and the beach, and return with smiling faces and full eskies. Whether you are into fishing or not, there’s a lot of fun to be had in Karumba, and despite its remote location, the town supplies all the essentials – fuel, groceries, pharmaceuticals and freshly baked bread – including a couple of laidback places to eat.
The favourite of course is the Sunset Tavern for its unbeatable location, chilled ales from every corner of the country and good meals served on the shady lawn overlooking the sea.
Winding Down & Getting Busy
The tavern also hosts the town’s Sunday markets, luring travellers out of their camps to snap up much sought-after local produce, homemade cakes, fishing lures, pre-loved books, clothes and more.
More than a few entrepreneurial travellers drive vanloads of goods to Karumba to sell throughout the season, tempting locals and visitors alike with products difficult to obtain in this remote part of the north. The markets run from April to early September, with stalls operating from 8am until noon.
One of my favourite things to do in Karumba is to walk to the point at dawn and stroll the boardwalk behind the river mouth to surprise agile wallabies grazing amongst the mangroves. There’s often water birds feeding on the banks and crabs digging across the mudflats, but watch where you step should you leave the trail for a closer view and cross the soft, sticky mud.
Karumba’s tidal estuaries and wetlands extend for 30 kilometres inland, luring vast numbers of brolgas that stalk elegantly across the plains. The lagoons that flank the bitumen on the way out of town host a roadside cavalcade of waterbirds at dusk or dawn – jabirus and brolgas, spoonbills, white-necked herons, pelicans and more.
Photographers will capture stunning silhouettes here as the sun goes down of brolgas performing their hypnotic mating dances in unison. To be honest, there’s no end of fascinating things to do and see around Karumba, and then there’s the fishing!
Pity the poor traveller who arrives in Karumba without a tinny in tow, for he or she will need to find a floating friend fast! Most travellers bring their own boats to these watery hunting grounds, but if you linger for a few days you are bound to score an invite aboard someone’s boat for the day to get upriver and further across the gulf.
Taking its name from a local Aboriginal tribe, Karumba is home to a large prawning and fishing fleet, which is a very good sign for avid anglers who rarely leave town disappointed. Take a tinny up the Norman River where barramundi lurk under the overhanging banks, or head out onto the coast’s shallow waters for catches of blue and king salmon, mackerel and barramundi too, reeled in off the mangrove-fringed shallows around Karumba Point.
Try just offshore for cobia (black kingfish), fingermark (golden snapper), grunter (javelin) and queen fish. Keen anglers who arrive in April can enter the Karumba Classic for a share of $20,000 in prizes.
The biggest decision you’ll make when planning a Karumban escape is where to stay. There are three choices out at the point and two in the town itself. For location you can’t beat the Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park and a stay here puts you within easy walking distance of the beach and boat ramp, the Sunset Tavern and a few eateries and small stores.
Campsites at the Sunset Caravan Park are the priciest at $44/couple for powered sites and $39/couple unpowered, plus an extra $9 per child aged 3-16 years.
After checking out the competition, we choose to park our rig at Karumba Point Holiday and Tourist Park, also at the Point, tempted by the big pool and talk of a free fish barbecue for all travellers on the first night we arrived. The affordable rates and the fact that my six-year-old stayed for free helped seal the deal, and the friendly staff and clean amenities only bolstered my decision.
The park is about a kilometre back from the beach and rates are an affordable $38/couple for powered sites and $28 unpowered ($10 per child, free for kids under 7 years). By the way, the blue salmon barbecue was to-die-for, and all I had to do was rustle up a salad, grab plates and camp chairs and a few cold drinks and head on down to join the crowd.
Pulling our chairs up at one of the communal tables, we were swiftly served by the park’s staff and entertained by fellow travellers singing and strumming guitar and boot scooting too. It was a fabulous night and it didn’t cost me a cent!
There’s no-frills camping behind Karumba Point Fuels, and two options upriver in Karumba town. At Karumba Lodge and Caravan Park, powered sites cost $39/couple per night or $250 per week. Kids under 12 stay for free and older kids or extra adults pay $7 per night. Nearby Gulf Country Caravan Park is a good deal if you don’t need power: $38 for power and $28 for unpowered sites.
If your budget is really stretched or you have no need for hot showers, power or van park neighbours, there’s a bush camp 40km from town on Walker Creek, en route to Normanton. No facilities are offered here, but that won’t deter solitude seekers with self-sufficient rigs. It’s a good place to overnight en route to Karumba, but a little far from the action if you want to enjoy watching the sunset over the water and early morning fishing trips.
All the adventures you’ll have in Karumba could keep you talking for months, and the good fishing supplies a steady diet of blue salmon and barramundi. Whether you fish or not, Karumba really is all that it’s cracked up to be.
Karumba is located 450km north of Cloncurry and 750km west of Cairns via sealed roads.
Best time to visit
May to September
Peak season rates at Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park (www.sunsetcp.com.au) are $44/couple for powered sites and $39/couple unpowered (kids 3-16 years cost $9 extra). Karumba Point Holiday and Tourist Park (www.karumbapoint.com.au) charges $38/couple for powered sites and $28 unpowered ($10 per child, free for kids under 7 years).
Further upriver in Karumba town, Karumba Lodge and Caravan Park (phone 07 4745 9121) charges $39/couple per night or $250 per week for powered sites. Kids under 12 years stay for free. The Gulf Country Caravan Park (gulfcountrycaravanpark.com.au) charges $38 for powered sites and $28 for unpowered sites.
Halfway between Karumba and Normanton there’s a low-key bush camp on Walker Creek, just south of the Burke Developmental Road turnoff.
Karumba has just one tide a day and although bag limits and sizes do apply, you don’t need a fishing licence in Queensland. If you arrive over summer, be aware that the Gulf of Carpentaria’s annual barramundi fishing closure lasts from midday on October 7th until February 1st (find out more at www.daf.qld.gov.au).
Fill up your fuel tanks in Karumba town because it’s cheaper than in nearby Normanton.
Launch small boats from the Norman River boat ramp in Karumba town or at the point near the Sunset Caravan Park.
The Karumba Community Anglers Classic (April) or the finish of the Cairns to Karumba Bike Ride (June 30).
Phone the Karumba Visitor Information Centre on Ph: (07) 4745 9582 or visit www.carpentaria.qld.gov.au for tourist information and up-to-date road reports. If venturing further west, www.savannahway.com.au is a helpful resource.