Talaroo Hot Springs

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland.

When our guide Jimmy calls a halt to our early morning walk while he pays his respects to the “old people”, we know we’re included in something very special. He’s referring to his ancestors, the Ewamian people, whose country we’re learning about at Talaroo Hot Springs.

The land we’re walking on used to be part of Talaroo Station, a 31,500 hectare cattle property in the heart of the Gulf Savannah. In 2012, the property was returned to the Ewamian people and listed as an Indigenous Protected Area and Nature Refuge. The hot springs, prized by countless generations as a spiritual place of healing and relaxation, are now managed by Ewamian rangers like Jimmy, who is passionate about sharing this site and his connection to country with others.

Jimmy leads us on to the boardwalk and up to a shaded platform, from where we look out over the springs and terraces. Over thousands of years, hot mineralised water continually bubbling to the surface and flowing over the ground has built up layers of sedimentary travertine. These mounded terraces are one of just two such formations in the world – the other is in Tasmania. The water rises from reservoirs deep underground, independent of the Great Artesian Basin.

Heated by extreme temperatures underground, the water reaches the earth’s surface at a temperature of up to 68°. Steam from the hot pools hovers in the cool morning air.

Some of the water is channelled into the communal bathing pool, where it’s a more comfortable 34°C. Our walk around the hot springs ends with a swim in the pool and we join our fellow walkers in a long relaxing soak.

Later, taking advantage of one of the four private pools, we sit quietly as the therapeutic water bubbles up around us. Surrounded by Savannah bushland, where the only sounds are those of birds and insects, we’re grateful to Jimmy and his people for sharing this special place.

Joining Jo for Monday Walks

The Last Camp

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland.

On 20th August 1860 an expeditionary party of 19 men set off from Melbourne with the goal of travelling across Australia from south to north. Led by Robert O’Hara Burke and William Wills, their destination was the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

173 days later, on 9th February 1816, four of the original party reached the Little Bynoe River in far north Queensland. Here they set up Camp 119. John King and Charles Gray stayed at the camp while Burke and Wills continued north in an attempt to reach the gulf. With their way ahead blocked by swamps, Burke and Wills turned back after 24 kilometres and the decision was made to return south. 

The expedition ended in disaster, with food supplies running out and illness and exhaustion taking their toll. Gray died in April 1861, while Burke and Wills died in June. John King owed his survival to a group of Aboriginal people who gave him food and shelter. He was found by a search party on 15 September 1861 and eventually returned to Melbourne, but he never fully recovered from the physical effects of the expedition and died in 1872.     

The site of Camp 119, the final camp of the party on their northern route, is located 38 kilometres from the town of Normanton. The explorers and their fateful journey across Australia are commemorated by a set of plaques and information boards. 

While Gray and King waited for Burke and Wills to return from the gulf, they blazed 15 trees at the campsite. A couple of the marked trees are still alive and the location of each of the others is marked with metal poles or plaques. 

The expedition may have ended in failure but the explorers’ efforts left an important legacy. Five further expeditions, all travelling in different directions, were sent to search for the lost men. The knowledge gained during all these journeys contributed to the development of inland Australia. 

The town of Normanton was settled in 1867, just six years after that first exploration. With the discovery of gold in the region, the building of the railway and the development of the fishing industry, Normanton flourished.  

After paying our respects to the Burke and Wills expedition at Camp 119, we made our way to Normanton. Unlike those unfortunate explorers we had no trouble finding lunch, at the iconic Purple Pub on Landsborough Street. 

Gold and Silver

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland.   

Welcome to Karumba! 

Located at the mouth of the Norman River, Karumba is famous for fishing and sunsets. While we were there, the sunsets lived up to their reputation and we got up close to every fisherman’s dream catch, the barramundi. 

We stayed out of town at Karumba Point, where the Norman River flows into the Gulf of Carpentaria. The beach where the river meets the sea is a popular spot for those hoping to catch a barra or a king salmon.

Salt water crocodiles also favour this area. We didn’t see any but we heard stories in town about a very large croc who had recently been coming closer than he should. 

Karumba is one of just a few places in Queensland where the sun sets over the ocean so, on our first night, we joined the crowd on the beach. Staying well away from the water’s edge in case that crocodile was lurking, we watched as the setting sun burnished the sky.

The golden glow lingered long after the sun had slipped below the horizon.

The next morning we learned about Karumba’s other claim to fame, at the Les Wilson Barramundi Discovery Centre. Originally established as a venture to restock the waterways around Karumba with barramundi fingerlings, the centre now houses an interactive educational display focussing on the barramundi and its environment. 

Entry to the centre is free but we chose to buy tickets for a behind the scenes tour of the barramundi hatchery. We learned how the breeding stock is kept strong and healthy, and followed the process from gathering fertilised spawn to caring for fingerlings before releasing them into the waterways around Karumba and elsewhere in northern Queensland.

We also had the chance to hand feed the huge silver fish. Glen found out that big fish make a big splash when they’re focussed on snatching their dinner. 

In the afternoon we joined a Ferryman Gulf Sunset and Wildlife Cruise to see Karumba from a different perspective. First we sailed upriver towards the town, passing buildings constructed as part of northern Australia’s defence system during World War Two.  

At the wharf a ship was preparing to carry freight to islands in the Gulf.

Further along lay an another boat, long ago abandoned to the elements.

White egrets perched on overhanging branches, intent on catching a late afternoon snack.

Just before sunset the boat turned, sailing back downstream and into the Gulf of Carpentaria. 

The sun set as quickly as it had the day before, slipping below the horizon in a matter of minutes. 

Everyone sat in silence, watching the play of colour in the west. Behind us in the east, the moon rose in a dusky sky.

Back on land after our cruise, we went in search once more for barramundi – at the local fish and chips shop!

Rain in the Gorge

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

It’s not supposed to rain in May in far north Queensland. Normally the dry season starts in May, with warm sunny days and mild nights right through till November. The exception is when La Niña comes visiting. 

While the weather pattern known as El Niño creates hot dry conditions resulting in prolonged drought, La Niña brings cooler temperatures and increased rainfall. This year Australia’s eastern states experienced their second La Niña in a row, with heavy rain and serious flooding in many areas. 

As we headed west into savannah country it seemed the dry season had finally started. But La Niña had other ideas and delivered another deluge across north Queensland. Luckily we were on the edge of the broad band of rain, so our plans were hardly affected. But we did experience a rare phenomenon – we were rained on in Cobbold Gorge. 

The gorge and nearby Cobbold Village are only open from April to October when the dry season allows access. While the Robertson River shrinks to a small stream, boat tours of the gorge are possible because Cobbold Creek is fed by natural springs. 

Our tour began where a pontoon bridge crosses the creek. After heavy rain the previous afternoon, the water was higher than usual and flowing fast. Flat bottomed boats were tied up alongside the bridge, but we had somewhere else to visit first. We followed our guide over the bridge and up the hill between large sandstone formations.

Our destination was this 11 metre long glass bridge which crosses the gorge at a height of 17 metres. From here we could see the creek and the sheer walls of sandstone up to 30 metres high on either side. 

We looked down through the glass floor onto the sandstone beside the creek, deeply grooved where it had been shaped by the moving water.  

Continuing on past the bridge, we walked back down to the creek and the waiting boats. 

Once we were all safely seated our little boat set off, powered by a silent electric motor. We glided along the widest section of the creek, under the glass bridge and into the gorge. 

The residents of Cobbold Gorge include a population of freshwater Johnstone River crocodiles. With increased storm water in the creek, our guide wasn’t expecting to see any but just as we entered the gorge a single croc was spotted up ahead. The boat slowed and we watched as she drifted ahead of us for several minutes before turning and disappearing beneath the surface. 

Further on the gorge narrowed until the boat was almost touching the sandstone walls. One saw-shelled turtle, no bigger than the palm of a hand, rested on the stone just above the water. 

As we reached the end of the gorge we could hear the sound of running water. Tiny streams fed by yesterday’s storm cascaded over the top of the walls. The water in the creek, usually dammed at this point during the dry season by a natural wall of stone, tumbled over the rocks. And it was here that it started to rain. 

The rain continued unabated on our return journey through the gorge. By the end we were all very wet but our spirits weren’t dampened. Instead we were buoyed by the privilege of visiting this special place in such unusual circumstances. 

Bush Camping at Undara Experience

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

While camping is not permitted in Undara Volcanic National Park, there’s a fabulous campsite nearby which had everything we needed and more. 

Undara Experience, just outside the national park, offers a range of options from unpowered bush camping and large powered sites to tents, cabins and luxury converted railway carriages. Our powered site was perfect – shaded in the afternoon, close to the amenities and a short walk to the bistro.   

We visited the bistro at Undara Central every day. It was the ideal location to enjoy an invigorating morning coffee, a tasty lunch or a refreshing ice cream after a long walk. 

Seven bush walks, ranging from 1.5 to 12 kilometres, all begin from Undara Central and there’s plenty of wildlife around the camp ground and on the tracks. While we loved seeing the pretty face wallabies, kookaburras and rainbow lorikeets, I was less than excited when I came face to face with a huge goanna sunning himself outside the toilets one morning!

Even in May the afternoon temperatures rose to the high 20s C. The swimming pool was a popular spot. 

Best of all was the delicious dinner we enjoyed at Undara Experience: macadamia crusted barramundi with chips and salad followed by a chocolate lava cake for dessert. It was bush camping with a touch of luxury!

Learning While Walking

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

After going on two guided walks in Undara National Park, it was nice the next day to head off on our own. Seven bush walking tracks start from Undara Experience and we selected two of medium length with different themes. 

In the morning we walked to Atkinson’s Lookout. For most of the 3.84 kilometre walk there was no formed track; we followed white arrows pointing the way over huge slabs of pink granite. 

This walk focused on our natural surroundings. We found clumps of white paper daisies and wattle trees just coming into bloom.

We were intrigued by these very large ant nests but thankfully we didn’t meet the inhabitants. 

When we reached the lookout on a rounded dome of granite, we found a rather unusual cairn, perhaps a bush version of travellers’ stones. 

The view over the plain was dominated by Undara, the volcano we’d come to know well. 

Our afternoon walk, on a well worn path through the bush, was a history lesson. Watched by a friendly kookaburra, we headed off on the 3.6 kilometre Pioneer Track following the route of the first telegraph line, built in 1872.

Native Cypress pine trees were used for the telegraph poles. The timber’s termite resistant quality means that 150 years later some of the poles still stand beside the track. 

As we neared the end of the track a small timber cabin came into view. Constructed by hand using pioneering techniques, this slab hut is a replica of the first home built when the Collins family moved to this area in the 1870s.

With so many walks to choose from, we covered everything on offer at Undara – geology, geography, nature and history.

Joining Jo for Monday Walks

On the Edge of a Volcano

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

While the lava tubes at Undara are only accessible by guided walks, there is another way to get up close and personal with a volcano on your own. The Kalkani circuit track goes around the rim of a volcano even older than Undara.

Unlike Undara, Kalkani erupted in a violent explosion of magma, gases and volcanic rocks which formed a cone with a deep crater inside. 

The rim of the crater is only a couple of metres wide. This is one of those times when staying on the track is a very good idea.

On the right hand side, the ground drops away into the centre of the crater before rising up again to the opposite edge. 

To the left, the steep outer side of the crater falls away just as sharply. From this elevated spot it’s easy to make out some of the other 163 volcanos in the region. Sections of darker green dry rainforest growing in collapsed lava tubes contrast with the rest of the forest.

A family of pretty face wallabies rests in the shade, surrounded by large volcanic boulders. They watch cautiously as walkers pass by. It’s as if they are surprised to see other living things in this vast landscape. 

Joining Jo for Monday Walks

An Evening To Remember

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

Our second guided walk at Undara Volcanic National Park took place late in the afternoon. The Sunset Wildlife walk promised fabulous sunset views over the park and the chance to see little bent-wing bats emerging from a lava tube ready for a night’s hunting. We weren’t disappointed. 

A short walk uphill ended on a ridge with 360° views of the plains. Most prominent were the volcanos which helped form this landscape. Undara, with Racecourse Knob to its left, were clearly visible on the horizon. 

Eventually we turned our backs on Undara, because it was the sunset we’d come to see. 

With champagne and a little tray of treats in hand, we watched as the setting sun burnished the sky in an ever changing display of colour. 

As nature’s light show ended, we walked back to the bus which took us to Barkers Tube.  Here, on a platform just outside the entrance to the tube, we stood silently in the dark listening as hundreds of bats flew out into the bush. We could also feel the movement of the air as they passed just overhead. 

Just as she had in Wind Tunnel earlier in the day, our guide turned on her torch for a few seconds. It was long enough for us to see the bats without disturbing them or sending them back inside the lava tube. The privilege of being able to see these tiny creatures in their natural habitat wasn’t lost on any of us. 

It was truly an evening to remember.

Joining Jo for Monday Walks

The Story of a Volcano

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

Around 190,000 years ago a giant shield volcano on the McBride Plateau erupted, forcing 23 cubic kilometres of lava to the earth’s surface. The fast moving lava flowed into a river bed and continued across the plain for 160 kilometres. While the outer layers cooled quickly and solidified, the molten lava inside continued to flow away, leaving huge basalt tunnels behind. The volcano is now known as Undara, which means long way in the local Ewamian language – the lava flow is the longest in the world.

Over time some of the tunnels collapsed, forming sheltering spaces for dry rainforests. The intact lava tubes provide the perfect habitat for dark-dwelling fauna like microbats, insects and small amphibians.

Undara and the lava tubes are now part of Undara Volcanic National Park and the wider McBride Volcanic Province, which contains 164 volcanos. Safety issues mean the lava tubes are only accessible on guided walking tours. Some contain high levels of carbon dioxide and many are difficult to negotiate.

Our guided walk started at Mikoshi Lava Tube, 46 metres long, 14 metres wide and 11 metres high. With a sturdy cable in hand for safety, we clambered down a jumble of fallen rocks to the floor of the tube.

Sunlight streaming in from each end shone across the walls of the tube, highlighting the layers of solidified lava.

At 293 metres, Wind Tunnel was much longer and the light only penetrated a few metres at either end. 

We made our way into the tube by torchlight, carefully following in our guide’s footsteps. 

She explained the geology of the tube system, her torch showing where the lava had moved and settled. In some places streaks of red iron oxide and white silica created beautiful marbling on the walls while elsewhere the stone was pockmarked with burst air bubbles.

A colony of little bent-wing bats lives in the darkest part of Wind Tunnel. We could hear them all the time, rustling and moving about on the ceiling eight metres above, but we only saw them for the briefest of moments. The guide lit up the roof for just three seconds; enough for us to see them but not enough to disturb their daytime rest. 

As we left Wind Tunnel there was time for one last glance back into this natural wonder. It was hard to imagine that not so long ago, in geological terms, this was filled with a river of molten rock. 

Joining Jo for Monday Walks

Up The Hill

Queensland Road Trip, May 2022

Let’s go on a road trip! Come with us to Townsville and west on the Savannah Way to Karumba on an adventure in far north Queensland. 

When is a mountain not a mountain? 

When it falls short of the required 300 metres in elevation by a mere 14 metres.

Castle Hill might just miss out on mountain status but at 286 metres it dominates the city of Townsville. The pink granite monolith, also known by its indigenous name of Cootharinga, is popular with both locals and visitors who can either walk up the famous Goat Track with its 758 stairs or drive up the 2.6 kilometre sealed road to the top. On a steamy 33° afternoon we did not walk up the Goat Track. 

Once at the summit we could easily have just stayed at the car park lookout which has spectacular 360° views – Townsville’s sprawling suburbs spread across the coastal plain, Hervey Range in the distance and Magnetic Island 10 kilometres off the coast.

But after avoiding the long walk up the hill we had energy reserved for the short walks at the top. The Radar Hill walk was closed for renovations so we set off on the Summit Walk to Hynes Lookout. 

From here we could see the CBD, where we’d walked the Street Art Trail in the morning, the busy Port of Townsville and Cape Cleveland far away on the horizon. 

Closer to the coast, Magnetic Island was veiled by a humid haze. 

Further round to the north east the Pill Box Walking Trail, which leads to a relic of World War Two, was our next destination.  

This track and lookout gave us a slightly different perspective on the same views. But it was the history connected to the site which made it interesting. 

A 1942 Observation Bunker, once an important part of Australia’s wartime defence system, now stands disused, a silent reminder of a time when the country was under threat of invasion. 

The people who worked here had huge responsibilities. They also had the best view in town!

Joining Jo for Monday Walks