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Karumba to Undara

...definitely tropical

sunny 40 °C
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Caramba Karumba, it's hot! It has gradually been getting hotter and at Karumba it was definitely time to slow down. We didn't record any temperatures but they would have been at least upper 30s into the 40s. Oddly, it was not as humid as other coastal areas that we were to experience but it did get a bit sticky! On our first full day, we decided to explore the town, about 2km from the caravan park in which we were staying, and enjoyed reading information boards dotted along the banks of the Norman River. One told us that "When north Australians talk of a 'good wet season' it means they have had a few storms, been cut off for a few days, the creeks have flooded briefly and there might have been a few more snakes around."! No wonder prawns can be expensive (prawn fishing being the main industry here). Another board gave the history of aviation in the area - Qantas operated Sunderland flying boats before WWII and Karumba was an important refuelling stop. Then, during the war,
43 Squadron took over the base and flew Catalinas on offensive missions over Japanese held territory in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
We also enjoyed some good bird watching, including more of the ubiquitous brolgas and a pair of beautiful rainbow bee-eaters. One evening, we had fish & chips, barramundi and king salmon which we shared. Both were freshly caught and tasted magnificent. While we were in the cafe, we chatted with a fellow from the park whose ambition is to visit every town in Australia, over the course of ten years!

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When we returned to the park, the owner asked if we would like to join a bird watching trip on the river the following day - of course! I got lens envy when I saw the gear a couple from New South Wales had! They and a young Indian couple from the cabin next to us made up the entire passenger list so we had very good viewing. Our guides were a husband and wife team who provided amusing and interesting commentary and knew all the best places to find a good selection of birds, not always easy to photograph unfortunately! We were delighted in particular to have good sightings of an osprey eating a fish, a white-breasted sea eagle and some amusing antics from jabirus (storks). In the river we saw many pop-eyed mullet, which looked more like flying fish at times, some semi-amphibious mud hoppers, barramundi and, just, a saltwater crocodile which slid into the water from a spot where we had been watching birds. The croc had been invisible to us and it wasn't that small! The rest of this day was devoted to 'admin' and relaxing.

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Our last full day was really too hot to do much other than relax, take a dip in the pool and generally prepare for the next day's journey. In the afternoon, the clouds built up a bit so we wandered over to the Gulf of Carpentaria and took more sunset photos.

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We rose earlier than usual to catch the sunrise, which was not spectacular. This disappointment was more than compensated by a short repeat stop at the wetlands near Normanton to see more and different waterbirds. In the town, we took photos of their Big Croc and Big Barra (we have missed some of these Australian peculiarities but are collecting as many as we can, together with a good selection of road signs which are 'unique to Australia'). We then joined the Savannah Way for the rest of this journey and, on our way to Georgetown, we took breaks at an old railway siding (Black Bull Siding) and at the Gibson River where we saw more different butterflies in one place than we have seen for a very long time. Australian butterflies we have found to be generally uncooperative in rarely settling and then only briefly! Georgetown was one of few 'unremarkable' towns that we have come across. It was given its name in 1871 to honour an early gold commissioner, Howard St George.

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Before heading off to Undara (a local Aboriginal word meaning 'long way' - this makes as much sense as naming a town after a gold commissioner!), we backtracked to the site of the old Cumberland mine a few kilometres west of Georgetown. All that remains now is the chimney, built by Cornish miners in 1889, and a lake rich with birdlife. Near the chimney was another field of termite mounds, again showing the variation in soil colours.
Most of the rest of the journey was through flat lands but, about half way along, we came across a range through which the road threaded a path up to a point where we had good views over the countryside and also some close up sightings of the fruit of an Australian Native Kapok tree. We had seen one or two of these as we had driven along but had not previously been able to have a close enough look to identify them. Just before reaching Undara, we spotted a couple of red-tailed black-cockatoos (pretending to be mudlarks!) to add to our list.

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On reaching Undara we carried our kit into our railway carriage accommodation and then had a light lunch in the large, covered but open, dining area (complete with begging magpie and observations by cockatoos and kookaburras, among others). After exploring the area a bit more, we returned to get ready for our twilight tour to the mouth of the lava tubes to see bats emerge and be faced by hanging tree snakes! We duly gathered at the appointed spot and the heavens opened - even the roof of the covered dining area sprung a leak! Within a fairly short time, the storm was over but too late for our tour to proceed. The dining area had been dried off so we enjoyed a meal with a pleasant couple from Mackay. It was disappointing to miss out on the main reason for our visit but it is a very interesting area and the railway carriage was a novelty that we enjoyed.

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Posted by SteveJD 03:33 Archived in Australia

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Comments

Brilliant photos, but just love reading your blogs

by Lorraine Wilson

Also enjoy reading your blogs and those stunning photos. Glad you have sampled some barramundi..Did you take a rail trip on the Savannah Train?
Keep up the good work and safe travels..
kev & Jas..

I had hoped to at least see the train but we only passed through Normanton on our way to and from Karumba - all the way along it has been a case of too little time but we're enjoying what we do see!

by Kevin & Jasmine Thompson

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