Gulf Savannah

The Gulf Savannah covers an area of 186,000 square kilometres from the Great Dividing Range, just west of Cairns, to the Gulf of Carpentaria and on to the Northern Territory border and contrasts starkly with the coral reefs, bright lights and lushness of the eastern coast.  A vast exanse of tree studded grasslands, meandering rivers, waterfalls and remote salt pans merging with wetlands, the Gulf Savannah's wildly dramatic landscape is steeped in history and culture.

It truly represents the 'real' Australia with mile upon mile of untouched bushland and wide open spaces, spectacular flora, dramatic sunsets, kangaroos, crocodiles and a myriad of birdlife, World Heritage fossil fields, aboriginal rock art, gemstones, gold, some of the best fishing in the world and the natural phenomena of meandering river systems, hot springs, deep gorges full of wildlife and the once in a lifetime experience, the Undara Lava Tubes.

More than 190,000 years ago, the volcano Undara erupted. As lava spilled over the countryside and into the dry river beds, the surface solidified leaving the molten lava inside still flowing. This molten lava continued to flow through the solidified lava like a snake through a hollow log until the tubes were drained out, leaving empty tunnels behind. The largest of these flows travelled some 160km leaving what is now the longest lava tube in the world.

Over thousands of years, portions of the tunnels collapsed making sheltered depressions which in turn supported pockets of rainforest. These pockets of rainforest are now home to insects and animals which are unique to this environment.  Among the newer discoveries are two species of insect eating bats, two varieties of snails never seen before, as well as many insects that have lost their pigmentation and sometimes sight, due to the unusual environment in which they live.  Many of the plants found in these rainforest pockets have evolved from hundreds of millions of years ago, and contrast sharply with the surrounding wooded savannah land.

For many, the path across the Gulf Savannah is a path of self discovery. The niches and beauty of this land encourage contemplation, the clear night skies are perfect for stargazing, the wildlife is enchanting and the people of the Gulf are touched by the quintessential spirit of Australia that is impossible to analyse yet so simple to define.

To get there, take the Savannah Way; the great top road linking Cairns with Georgetown, Croydon, Normanton and Karumba, before it continues across the Northern Territory to end in Broome on the northwest coast of Western Australia.

Into the heart of the Gulf Savannah region running from Cairns to Forsayth, the Savannahlander train gives new meaning to the expression 'getting away from it all'. This is an outback adventure, running from March to December, which gives the visitor to the region a first-hand encounter with uncanny geological formations, wildlife, history and legends. It is a region laced with deep river pools and gorges, historic bush tracks used by the cattlemen, pioneers and Afghan cameleers, thousands of butterflies, birds and the most beautiful coloured agates in the world.

Further west, Croydon is history still alive. Surrounded by savannah grassland and rolling hills, this was once a thriving gold mining town. From Croydon the historic Gulflander Train operates a weekly link with Normanton, the major business and service centre of the Gulf, and providing access to Karumba on the coast. Affectionately said to go from "nowhere to nowhere", the Normanton to Croydon line was never connected to the state rail network. This isolated railway is heritage listed and the only line in Queensland still measured in miles.

Known world wide for its fishing, Karumba is the centre of the Gulf's prawning industry and boasts the most awe inspiring sunsets as regular occurrences especially from the beach at Karumba Point. The amazing wetlands which extend 30 km inland from Karumba are home to cranes and brolgas, and of course do watch out for the saltwater crocodiles!

South of Normanton, in the region where the ill-fated Burke and Wills explorers passed through on their search for the Gulf of Carpentaria, the cool waters of Lawn Hill Gorge beckon. Part of the Lawn Hill National Park, this area has been inhabited by aborigines for over 35,000 years, due to the abundance of wildlife and the never-ending supply of crystal clear water from the springs at the base of the majestic sandstone cliffs.  Evidence of this culture is clear in the art, painted and etched on rock shelters within the park.  Of great significance and recently included in the Lawn Hill National Park are the Riversleigh Fossil fields, now classified as a World Heritage region.  At this stage the fossil deposits are not open to the public and there are no camping facilities in the immediate area.

The Great Top Road takes in Burketown, the barramundi capital of Australia, situated on the meandering Albert River. Further west is the Aboriginal settlement of Doomadgee and then on to Hell's Gate which is as far as the Mounted Native Police would guarantee safety for early settlers heading to the Northern Territory.

Even today, this is a remote part of Australia with spectacular Gulf Savannah scenery and the best time to rediscover the legendary Australia in the accessible outback of the Gulf Savannah is from April to November.

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