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30.11.2015
The remote yet accessible outback of the Queensland Gulf Savannah remains one of Far North Queensland’s best kept secrets.
From the time we left Mount Surprise in the east until our departure from Boodjamulla National Park in the west, we were nonplussed as to why so many have yet to discover this most amazing, rewarding, and adventurous trip along the Gulf Development Road. Once you turn your vehicle westward from the Atherton Tablelands you’ll find yourself in a completely different world. Your first experience begins at the Undara Lava Tubes complete with drive-thru sites, clean amenities, Savannah Ranger-guided walks, quaint railway carriages (part of the restaurant) and even a hearty bush cooked breakfast.
I feel that were it not for the need to fuel up, many travellers would scarcely notice this remarkable place. We stopped in a caravan park complete with green grass, shady trees, drive-thru access, running water and 240 volt power.
There was a Saturday morning market across the road and although small, it displayed the freshest fruit and vegetables and some very informative books on the local area and Australia at large. Back at the restaurant for a quick caffeine blast, we met Lester, a miner who has been coming here for some 30 years. A sign outside a nearby shop advertised snake collections and memorabilia from the 1800’s, when the post office was relocated to Mount Surprise. At the entrance to the Township we visited a gem shop that polished the stones villagers had found and browsed through the collection of local gems on display. Georgetown was our next point of call and you shouldn’t miss the TerrEstrial Visitor’s Centre and the superb Ted Elliott mineral collection. A quick fill of diesel and we were off some 85km southwest, heading towards what must be the shining jewel of Gulf Savannah.
A short and easy walk along an aluminium walkway takes you to the start of your savannah guide’s trail. An interpretative guide installs you in a boat and leads you into the wonderland that is the Gorge.
We reluctantly departed and further west, we came upon the Cumberland Chimney free camp site. Our advice is to stop, relax, and enjoy what this once-booming gold town has to offer the traveller. One of the most unique and amazing train trips must be the Gulflander from Normanton to Croydon and back.
Our sights were now set on Adel’s grove and Lauren Hill so it was off to Burke and Will’s Roadhouse and onto Gregory Downs. You can swim or canoe to your heart’s content, or watch the birdlife and variety of fresh water fish. Rangers do an excellent job maintaining this park and you’ll love every second of your time here.


An innovative design awning can be deployed by one person in less than a minute, creating 270 degrees of free standing coverage around your vehicle from a 13 x15 x 230cm PVC case. When deployed, the awning stretches 2m to the side, 2.1m from the corner, and 2m to the back of the vehicle. The Bat Awning features a full aluminum frame construction with beige waterproof rip stop canvas panels and integrated height adjustable legs. An immediate sense of relaxation washes over you as you leave twisty mountain roads and frequent traffic hazards behind, to find plenty of free camping and hidden jewels of the outback just waiting to be explored. After grabbing a torch and exploring the Lava Tubes, you’ll leave this special, ancient place and continue west until you come to Mount Surprise Township. The fact that the owner has a highway-facing restaurant was a real bonus; the meals were great quality and very well priced. The books were written by Richard, a retired local journalist who displayed a keen eye for the most humorous stories and anecdotes from times past. He filled us in on how to look for various minerals and gave advice on the best places to fossick for them – with a license, of course. Having a python around one’s neck isn’t usually a welcome experience but we soon fell in love with this beautiful snake as we learned about its habitat and behaviour. The shop organises bus trips to their claim and permits people to dig and sieve to find attractive gems. Jo was our guide and carefully explained room after room as the history of Georgetown was told through its minerals. A family concern, Cobbold Gorge is part of the larger Robin Hood Station and the owner’s foresight in shaping the property into an eco-friendly attraction provides travellers with a true oasis. These knowledgeable guides are second to none, so don’t be afraid to ask them questions about everything you see.
The huge brick chimney, once part of a crushing plant used by nearby mines, makes this an easy spot to find. With fresh air flowing through the carriages, the ‘Tin Hare’ wobbles its way along steel tracks to an attractive railway station close to the heart of Croyden.
You’ll find a great selection of caravan parks: just be sure you book early, especially in the dry season.
There’s a beaut restaurant with great food and coffee so you’re really spoilt, as are all visitors – there is a variety of accommodation to blend in with the Grove environment. Pat, the owner, has some endangered Gouldian Finches and other rare birds, including a dancing brolga which seemed to be partial to males! Russell, the owner, said they are the most docile of all snakes, which saddened me as I thought many might have been wrongly identified and killed. Allow some time to examine the myriad specimens professionally displayed, complete with facts about them to whet your appetite for fossicking.


After a warm welcome you’ll be eager to set up your RV and begin to uncover the mysteries of the Gorge. For tens of thousands of years, the local Aboriginal tribes welcomed the Gorge’s abundance of food and water.
The nearby lagoon teems with magpie, geese, black cockatoos, white herons and other bird species – bird watchers will be in paradise with everything so close to the camp! It’s the only hatchery in the world to breed the Southern Gulf strain of Barramundi, with an eye on the long term viability of the industry. You’ll love the camping sites at Adel’s Grove, set among trees with your own camp fire, with Lauren Hill Creek just metres behind you. The owners and crew are friendly, helpful, and go out of their way to make your visit more enjoyable.
Please add this to your list of must-do trips because it really is part of living the dream. Most of the shops in this small town sell tea and coffee, snacks and meals, and the locals make visitors feel very welcome. Gold, real gold, and precious minerals abound and I was captivated by a Chinese Jade bunch of grapes and the sheer beauty of the ‘Big Agate’ from Agate Creek.
A giant 4WD passenger vehicle takes you across a wide dry river crossing until you arrive at a large shed, complete with an information board that details how Cobbold Gorge got its name along with some background on the local plant life, animals and birds. The abundance is still there, in a somewhat easier form for you to access – book into the restaurant for a quiet drink and the best T-Bone and rump steaks you’ve ever had. You need to be self-contained – all they provide here are rubbish bins – but big rigs are easily accommodated. Fingerlings are released into lakes at Belmore (Croyden), Mt Isa, and Burketown as well as the Norman River Systems. Not far away is Lawn Hill or Boondjamurra National Park, one of nature’s truly beautiful places: awe-inspiring stuff. There’s also an emu… but he lacked the same finesse and happened to direct his unwelcome affections towards women. Canoeing is an alternative to walking and the Gorge will have you snapping photos everywhere. Mount Surprise has local gem fields like Obrien’s Creek to keep fossickers happy for weeks.



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