The Gulf of Carpentaria track between Roper Bar in the Northern Territory and Karumba in Queensland forms part of the Savannah Way (Broome to Carins route) and is becoming increasingly popular with travelling fishermen and tourists in general looking for a piece of outback action. Remote river systems joining the Gulf seas, such as the Roper, Limmen, McArthur, Bynoe and Norman are drawing more numbers each year seeking the elusive Barramundi.
The Roper Highway begins just 7km south of Mataranka off the Stuart Highway. This 180km stretch of unsealed road to Roper Bar does have some corrugation but could be attempted by two-wheel drive vehicles at the right time of the dry season when rains haven’t created flooded crossings.
Roper Bar consists of a store, camp ground and most importantly the Roper River. The Roper Bar Store sells grocery items, fishing tackle, ice, hot food, cold drinks and both diesel and unleaded fuels. Camping fees of $10 per person per night are payable at the store which is located just 2km from the camp ground. The camp ground is close to the river and boat ramp, is reasonably shady, provides toilet and shower facilities and dogs are permitted.
The Roper River is of course the attraction here. Land based fishing can be done from the bar (crossing) which is a popular spot or anywhere along the river banks. Note the bar is quite slippery and Saltwater Crocodiles inhabit the area, so proceed with caution. Flicking a lure around the bar is great fun in the picturesque surroundings of pandanus and melaluca trees.
Boating is undoubtedly the ideal way to fish from this river in order to fish the holes and snags. Many fishermen were catching Barramundi during our Gulf visit and one lucky angler managed to pull in a one metre specimen, fishing as the tide was coming in.
Cherebin are also plentiful in this river and the size of them is impressive. Using opera-house nets and baiting them with chook pellets (secured in pantyhose) not far from the crossing caught us some beauties. Note the tide can recede a fair way from the bank so the nets need some length in their rope and be thrown out at least 5 metres.
Roper Bar is a great spot to set up camp for a while and fish until your heart’s content. Cheap camping fees, pleasant surroundings and the chance to catch a Barramundi are enticing enough reasons to check it out. If you are continuing along Savannah Way to explore the Gulf note Roper Bar is the last fuel stop for 360km until Borroloola.
The Gulf track (Savannah Way) via Nathan River Road continues south of Roper Bar and from here on in four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. About 43km along is Tomato Island which has a huge bush camping ground by the Roper River and is extremely popular. This cheap camping area has an ablution block, running water, grass area with barbeques and a boat ramp. Boating is the only way to fish this section of the river as the dense mangroves along the bank restrict access to the water.
Further on from Tomato Island the river is accessible at various spots for secluded free camping and a four-wheel drive vehicle is a necessity. The road condition declines gradually and is heavily corrugated in sections with dips, washouts, creek crossings and sharp rocks. The general condition of the road will depend on the time of year you travel the Gulf and whether or not a grader has been through recently.
If the road condition slows you down then the wildflowers will hold you up even further. We found ourselves pulling over frequently to photograph and admire the brilliant array of colours and species along the roadside. It’s amazing what you can find out in the middle of nowhere.
About 74km from Tomato Island is Towns River which has a small camp ground with toilet facilities. The river banks allow good land based fishing with rocky outcrops above the water’s edge.
A further 40km along the track is the turnoff to Limmen Bight and the Limmen River Fishing Camp. 12km in is Maria Lagoon which is a roadside billabong with water lilies just visible through surrounding bushland.
The Limmen River Fishing Camp is 21km in from the main track and is ideal for fishermen travelling with boats. Land based fishing is the other option, inquire at the office for suitable spots. The camp itself is situated by the Limmen River which runs into Gulf waters. Camping fees are $10 per vehicle per night which includes power, running water and use of a pit toilet and cold bush-style shower. Fishing shacks are also available for hire and dogs are permitted here.
Butterfly Springs is 41km from the Limmen River turnoff and only a further 2km off the main track. This oasis in the middle of Gulf country should not be bypassed. This beautiful waterhole stays wet well into the dry season and even through to the following wet season if the annual rainfall reaches the average 800mm. Water accumulates in the rocky crevices above the pool during the wet and slowly trickles into the pool during the dry. Swimming in the clear sandy bottomed pool is fabulous and sun baking is just as good on the bank under the paperbark trees. A small camp area with toilets is located here and the pool is only a 50m walk away.
Continuing 29km further is Southern Lost City which is 4km in. This unusual collection of sandstone pillars and spires are very unique and interesting. A 2.5km walking trail takes you through these amazing structures and up over the escarpment for some rewarding views. This attraction is definitely one for the itinerary.
Another 7km along the main track is the turnoff to Lorella Springs. A 29km drive in finds the heart of this outback cattle station and wilderness park. The homestead and camping area sit on the green grassy banks of hot thermal springs and the setting is delightful. Facilities include licensed bar and bistro, safari tent accommodation by the springs, ablutions, swimming pool (in the springs), barbeques and best of all they are pet friendly.
There are many attractions to explore by four-wheel drive on the large property. Our favourite was the “Waterslide”. About 14km from the camp ground through some reasonably rocky country and slow four-wheel driving is this fantastic waterfall descending down a series of pools to a flat slippery rock surface entering the lower pool. As the name suggests it is a natural waterslide and great fun for “little” and “big” kids (as pictured). The 1km walk to the falls and slide involves plenty of rock hopping and sturdy shoes are advised.
There are many other swimming holes, gorges and billabongs to explore at Lorella and a detailed map is available upon arrival. We also swam at Wildfire Gorge and Emerald Pool, admired many stunning wildflowers in bloom and were in awe over a massive eagle’s nest. You could spend days exploring the area, it just depends how much time you have on your hands! For the keen fishermen access to the Gulf coast and Rosie Creek Fishing Camp is an 80km drive from Lorella Springs on a slow going four-wheel drive track.
Back on the Gulf track, 133km reaches the remote town of Borroloola, best known for its McArthur River and fishing opportunities. Try your luck for a Barramundi on the McArthur, live bait seems to do well here. Note due to the remote location of this town grocery items are very expensive so stock up before you arrive!
Another popular fishing location 44km northeast of Borroloola, via 21km of unsealed road, is King Ash Bay. Located on the MacArthur River is a popular and very reasonably priced camp ground. Facilities include boat ramp, toilets, showers and unpowered camp sites by the river. Powered sites are available in a designated area close to the fishing club. Camping areas are shady and dogs are permitted.
Bing Bong is 57km north of King Ash Bay and is basically a loading facility on the Gulf however fishing is permitted here and there is a boat ramp. Mule Creek is a top spot to drop in some crab nets as we caught some nice sized mud crabs here.
Heading east of Borroloola back on the Gulf track (Carpentaria Highway) finds more river crossings, some requiring more attention than others. The Calvert River, approximately 170km southeast of Borroloola, is one to be noted as the crossing is particularly rough with plenty of boulders and deep in the centre. We can’t emphasize enough to get out of your vehicle and investigate the best route to take. The sides of the crossing are generally the best pathway as visibility is better and the water is shallower and easier to walk through prior to attempting it in your vehicle. Take it easy on these deep, rocky crossings as you definitely don’t want your vehicle anchored in the river or severely damaged.
Wollogorang Station is about 80km further on and just 5km west of the NT/QLD border. The station once offered camping and supplies, however take note it has ceased trading.
Hell’s Gate Roadhouse is 59km over the NT/QLD border. Accommodation and camping is available here. Facilities include licensed bar, food and fuel.
Veering off the Gulf track to explore Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park is an option and well worth it. There are 2 access roads off Savannah Way, 51km east of Hells Gate via Kingfisher Camp (178km) and 88km east of Hells Gate via Domadgee (124km). Both tracks are four-wheel drive only and are corrugated with patches of bulldust and numerous creek crossings. It is not recommended attempting these tracks with conventional vehicles or towing caravans. The park boasts some magnificent falls, stunning views, picturesque walks and brilliant wildflowers.
If you do decide to venture off the Gulf track and explore Lawn Hill then continue 96km east of the park to Gregory Downs before proceeding back to the Savannah Way towards Burketown. This popular free camp on the banks of the Gregory River is an absolutely beautiful location to set up camp and relax. The clear fresh water is suitable for swimming in and you can float downstream with the current which is great fun. No facilities are provided at this camp however fuel and basic supplies are available across the river in the small township.
Burketown is 119km north of Gregory Downs and back on the Gulf track or 177km east of Hells Gate if you bypass Lawn Hill National Park and Gregory Downs. This small outback town prides itself on its fishing potential, being nicknamed “Barra Capital of Australia”. At the end of the main street (Beames Street) is access to the coast and the Albert River via unsealed road. Coastal access is over tidal flats on low tide so extreme caution must be taken and local advice should be sought. Burketown Caravan Park can supply mud maps to suit your needs and is very knowledgeable about the area and tidal activity. The Albert River boat ramp and jetty are about 6km from town and the perfect spot to chase Barramundi, Mangrove Jack and Salmon. Boat hire and charters are available in town, inquiries to be made at the pub.
Leichhardt Falls is 77km from Burketown and it is definitely worth pulling over and taking a short walk to see if they are running. At the Leichhardt River stop at the rocky banks and walk in a northerly direction about 200 metres and you’ll find the main falls. Continuing past the main falls along the eastern side is another series of falls and rapids. Swimming is not advisable at Leichhardt due to Saltwater Crocodiles inhabiting the river which feeds the falls. Free camping is permitted by the river.
Normanton is a further 153km along the Savannah Way and the roads are suddenly bitumen again (after a few sections around Burketown and beyond). Normanton is home to the historical Gulflander Train, the Purple Pub, the Big Barramundi and life-size replica of “Krys the Savannah King” – the largest recorded Saltwater Crocodile shot by crocodile hunters in the world.
Karumba is 70km northwest of Normanton and finds the Gulf Track complete. Recreational fishing for Barramundi is the main activity here and the small town is flooded with tourists during the dry season (May to September). There are 3 caravan parks in the area and most sites are booked well in advance as many tourists travel here annually and stay for long periods, so try and book ahead if possible. Due to the significant number of fishermen visiting the area and catching Barramundi a barramundi hatchery has been established to restock the Gulf waterways. The Barramundi Discovery Centre in Karumba is very informative, interesting and worth visiting to learn about these elusive fish so adored in the north.
Exploring the Gulf of Carpentaria region is an exciting and varying experience perfect for the four-wheel drive enthusiast and outback adventurer. If you enjoy fishing and crabbing rivers and creeks, exploring springs, gorges and waterfalls and of course being on a Barramundi high, then this track will not disappoint…just make sure you catch at least one Barra!
(Note distances may not be exact to the km)
|The Gulf - Destinations||Distance (Km) West to East||Distance (Km) East to West|
|Southern Lost City||414||931|
|Lorella Springs (turnoff)||421||924|
|Lawn Hill turnoff (via Kingfisher)||919||426|
|Lawn Hill turnoff (via Domadgee)||956||389|
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Destinations in the Northern Territory
Elsey National Park
Return from The Gulf to Northern Territory