With a permanent population of just over 500, Karumba in Queensland is a very small town but one with a very big reputation among grey nomads … particularly those who love fishing or birdwatching.
Sitting at the mouth of the Norman River on the Gulf of Carpentaria about 70 kilometres from Normanton, Karumba’s Dry Season climate is magnificent and the caravan parks are invariably packed then with very happy travellers.
And there’s a good reason for them to be happy. This feels like paradise!
Just out of town is Karumba Point, which offers staggeringly beautiful views out over the mangroves and the waters of the Gulf. The township of Karumba and Karumba Point are linked by a scenic four-kilometre walking path which takes visitors past the mangroves and their rich variety of fish, plants and birdlife.
Another near-unique attraction in this part of the world are the spectacular Morning Glory clouds which roll through in the early hours of some mornings in September and October. While tourism is now a big contributor, the area’s economy has traditionally revolved around fishing, and the prawn industry … and it still does to a large extent.
Karumba is also the home of the MMG Century Mine Loading Facility from where thousands of tonnes of zinc from a mine at Lawn Hill were once shipped. The mine closed in 2015.
For most grey nomads here though, fishing – and the chase for barramundi – is top of the agenda. The town is home to the Les Wilson Barramundi Discovery Centre, which is reputedly the only hatchery in the world to breed the Southern Gulf strain of this iconic fish. The brand new interpretive centre here also explains the history, lifecycle and habits of the fish in a fascinating way.
Not surprisingly, fishing charters are popular with visiting grey nomads, as are sightseeing cruises, and the highly-regarded Crab and Croc Tour. There are also flights available across to Sweers and Mornington Islands.
For grey nomads eager just to get to grips with the town itself, there is a heritage walk with signage highlighting some of the area’s fascinating history. A telegraph station was built on the site of the present town, initially known as Norman Mouth, back in the 1870s, and Karumba Post Office opened back in 1889.
Other interesting little historical snippets include the fact that, in 1937, Karumba became a refuelling point for Qantas and BOAC flying boats travelling from Australia to London; and that, during the Second World War, it served as an RAAF base for Catalinas flying into New Guinea, Timor and Indonesia.
Another interesting piece of this fishing town’s history is the notorious Animal Bar, which is still there at the Karumba Lodge Hotel Motel. The Animal Bar was apparently once so crazy that the furniture had to be bolted to the floor to stop it being thrown around by unruly customers.
These days though things are rather more sedate and serene. And that suits most grey nomads just fine.