An outback Queensland touring itinerary that stretches from the Reef to the Gulf and back again
When it comes to ‘big ticket’ 4X4 destinations, there are a few key places that immediately spring to mind for most people. Fraser Island, Cape York, the High Country, The Kimberley … but a less frequented and equally incredible place to get mud under the gills is Queensland’s Gulf Country. Bordered to the north by the Gulf of Carpentaria, the shallow sea that separates Arnhem Land and Cape York, the Gulf Country is a land of dry savannah grasslands punctuated by rivers flowing into the Gulf, where saltwater crocs lurk in mangroves rich in barra.
These rivers burst to life in the monsoon season, and patches of rainforest survive year-round in places with enough water to sustain them. Add to the mix eclectic outback towns, iconic pubs and more classic Aussie characters than you can poke a lagerphone at, and you’ve got a destination that, although less trodden than those ‘big ticket’ places, is well worth a visit. We reckon the best way to explore the Gulf Country is to incorporate it into a touring itinerary that stretches from the East Coast to the Gulf and back again. That way, you get to take in an incredible diversity of landscapes, from grass plains to mountains, rainforest to reef.
BUNDABERG > JULIA CREEK > KARUMBA > UNDARA > TOWNSVILLE
OF RUM AND REEF
Bundaberg is a name everyone will be familiar with, but there’s more to this coastal town than just rum, ya booze hound. That said, you should of course kick off your adventure with a tour of the famous Bundaberg Rum Distillery. Just go easy on the brown gold, okay?
‘Bundy’ is the gateway to the Southern Great Barrier Reef, so those inclined towards all things oceanic should hit up Lady Elliot and Lady Musgrave Islands, both coral cays fringed by their own reefs that are home to hundreds of tropical fish and coral species. Needless to say there is incredible diving and snorkelling on offer within a stone’s throw of Bundaberg, so pack your flippers.
Top 3 in Bundy
Tour the Bundaberg Rum Distillery
Snorkelling or diving at Lady Musgrave or Lady Elliot Islands
Discover Aboriginal free-hand art along towering cliffs in Cania Gorge National Park
THE GATEWAY TO THE GULF
Julia Creek is known as the ‘gateway’ to the Gulf Country, so your Gulf adventure starts in earnest here. Situated between Townsville and Mount Isa on the Overlander’s Way, Julia Creek is the heart of northern outback Queensland. It’s also the region’s oldest European settlement, originally a Cobb and Co exchange point but today is an agricultural hub surrounded by sheep and cattle grazing properties.
Julia Creek is located on the Great Artesian Basin, so primary industries have thrived here. But arguably the best thing about Julia Creek is the endemic Julia Creek dunnart, a tiny native marsupial no bigger than a mouse, but with sharp teeth and a ferocious appetite for insects. I dunnart know what could be cuter!
Top 3 in Julia Creek
Take the self-guided historic walk around northwest Queensland’s oldest town
See the Julia Creek dunnart at the ‘At the Creek’ Visitor Centre (feeding times 10am and 3pm)
Have a beer at the Gannon’s Hotel, which was immortalised in fiction as the Post Office Hotel in the novel (and film), A Town Like Alice
Located on the Norman River, Karumba is an industrial town where the fishing and mining are the name of the game. If you’ve come to the Gulf to catch a barramundi, now’s your best chance – they can be pulled in from the beach here. And speaking of the beach, Karumba enjoys the accolade of being the only town on the southern part of the Gulf of Carpentaria where you can actually see the Gulf itself – extensive tidal flats prevent settlement along its shoreline for the most part.
It’s also one of few places in Queensland you can watch the sunset over water. As you roll into Karumba be sure to crank the song Animal Bar by the Red Hot Chili Peppers; this tune was written about the bar of the same name that still exists in this little outback town. It was once so rough the furniture had to be nailed to the floor!
Top 3 in Karumba
Watch the sunset over water at the Sunset Tavern
Take the famous Crab and Croc Tour to catch crabs and spot crocs
Fishing charter to Sweers Island to chase coral species and pelagics, including Spanish mackerel and tuna
GO WITH THE (LAVA) FLOW
Undara is the next stop on the itinerary, and you’re here for one very worthwhile reason: the Undara Volcanic National Park. Considered the most extensive network of lava tubes in the world, these incredibly beautiful caves and tunnels originated almost 200,000 years when the region was covered in active volcanoes. The tunnels were formed by the lava flow of a single volcano.
These days, the tunnels and caves are home to pockets of rainforest and an abundance of wildlife, and can be explored by joining a guided tour. This is truly one of Queensland’s most unique experiences.
Top 3 in Undara
Join a tour to explore the tunnels and see verdant rainforest stretching towards the sun in open caves
Tour the tunnels after dark to see the nocturnal wildlife that lives within
Walk the 12km Rosella Plains Lookout Trail
MAN ABOUT TOWN-SVILLE
Back on the eastern side of the Great Dividing Range, your final stop is Townsville, a small cosmopolitan city that feels more like a big country town. But like any coastal city, there’s loads to do in Townsville. To the north, the Paluma Range National Park offers lush tropical rainforest and waterfalls to cool off under. To the east, Magnetic and Orpheus Islands are postcard-perfect and provide incredible snorkelling, fishing and hiking opportunities. Townsville itself has loads of great places to eat and drink, plus an awesome aquarium and wildlife park to keep the kids entertained.
Top 3 in Townsville
Learn about the traditional owners of the area at the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Centre
Dive the SS Yongala wreck – a bucket-list item for advanced divers
Swim under a waterfall in Paluma Range National Park
THE GREAT ENDEAVOUR RALLY
If this epic outback Queensland touring route has grabbed your attention, consider joining this year’s Great Endeavour Rally to enjoy these destinations and many more. It’s one of Australia’s longest charity rallies and raises money for the Endeavour Foundation, which supports people living with disability. This year’s event follows the itinerary we’ve outlined here, but it also crosses private property and opens participants to a side of the Gulf they’ve never seen before. Oh, and it’s a whole lot of fun with a few hundred new mates!
We caught up with Nathan Woolhouse from Endeavour to get the low-down on why we should join this year’s trek to the Gulf.
U4X4: What makes the Great Endeavour Rally a unique travel experience?
NW: A few entrants have described the rally as ‘the adventure holiday you could never plan’. We get to see parts of Australia you could only dream of seeing. This is due to the rally being fully supported with mechanical support provided by the Australian Army. You get to see places that aren’t even on the map; little hidden gems you wouldn’t even know were there. A lot of people wouldn’t take on a 3500km trip alone or maybe don’t have friends available to travel with them in support. This is what makes the rally what it is; you get to see places off the beaten track and access private property.
U4X4: What keeps people coming back to do the Great Endeavour Rally?
NW: People keep coming back for both the experience and the mates they have met throughout their rally experience. You may enter as a novice not knowing anyone, but you will finish your first rally with 100-plus new friends that you have shared an adventure of a lifetime with.
U4X4: What do people say is their favourite thing about the Rally?
NW: The places they see and the people they get to do it with. The feeling that you are never doing it on your own. The practical jokes and comradery throughout the trip. Seeing what the money can do for people with disability, as we have three people with disability travel with us through the entirety of the trip.
U4X4: Where do profits from the Rally go?
NW: All profits go to Endeavour Foundation in order give people with an intellectual disability the opportunity to realise their dreams and live an independent, fulfilling life through learning life skills, living independently and finding a job they love, and to being actively involved in their local communities.
The Great Endeavour Rally Gulf Trek goes from July 26 until August 3, 2019. Click here for more information.