RED DIRT OASIS
The last thing you’d expect to find in the middle of QLD’s remote northwest corner is this waterside RV hotspot
WORDS BY TIM FERRIER, PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID WOLTSCHENKO
The majority of my favourite memories when travelling the country involve stumbling across a hidden gem when you least expect it. While it’s great to plan and read up on locations before heading away, in some cases it takes a little bit of the fun and sense of adventure away from it all, which is one of the reasons many of us got into RV travel in the first place. This was the fourth trip into the Gulf of Carpentaria, and the last trips I’ve just kept cruising across the Savannah way from Doomadgee to Burketown and beyond. After hearing whispers of what Lawn Hill National Park had in store for us, we just couldn’t help making the trip. What we found is something that can’t be described. There, in the middle of such arid, dry country, lay what could only be described as a prehistoric water park. Yep – hidden gem discovered!
Lawn Hill National Park and its surrounding rural villages and campsites are in QLD’s most northwestern corner, around 150km from Burketown – one of the main hubs of the region. We came in from Doomadgee, which was a full dirt track winding its way through farmland. While it was a fairly simple track to travel on, the easiest way in is due south to Gregory Downs, which is all bitumen, then due west on a manageable dirt track for 30-40km to Adels Grove.
When it comes to stocking up on supplies, you’re best to do that in Burketown or Normanton when coming from the north, or Mt Isa from the south. Burketown and Normanton have small grocery stores, fuel and mechanics, while Mt Isa has everything you need for your stay.
What caravanners are going to love about this region is the stunning change of scenery as you get closer to Lawn Hill National Park, the unique camping options you can choose from, and, of course, the amazing Indari Falls and Adels Grove.
You’ve probably heard a little bit about Adels Grove in the pages of this magazine before, but it certainly hasn’t been given the love it deserves! You’ll easily be able to tell when Adels Grove Camping Park is close – out of the harsh red and yellow landscape pops an obscure patch of vibrant, exotic green tree canopy – X marks the spot!
The story of Adels Grove is quite a unique one. Way back in 1920, Albert de Lestang bought the acreage this site is on, and planted an experimental botanic garden right on the flat near the crystal blue waters of Lawn Hill Creek. He supplies the seeds from these trees and shrubs to a number of botanic gardens across the country. In the 1950s, a fire swept through and ruined a huge amount of the gardens and a hut full of Albert’s research work. What did survive is now a luscious canopy that we lucky caravanners are fortunate enough to able to camp under.
There are two camping options for you at Adels Grove. For a unique RV experience, camp among the exotic plant life in ‘The Grove’. While it’s beautiful down by the creek here, anybody needing solar power will struggle with the tree canopy above. Luckily it’s just as nice camping above The Grove in the allocated sites provided.
There’s great facilities at Adels Grove, including quality amenities, a full restaurant, and mobile reception at the kiosk, which is run by friendly staff that are always happy to help.
Just a short walk from your caravan is the amazing Lawn Hill Creek. The section of water the campsite is on is as clear I’ve ever seen – the vibrant blue and warm water is a welcome relief from the dry, hot conditions this corner of the country is synonymous for. There are fish in here, so you can wet a line in search for barra, perch, bream and more. There’s also a range of birdlife unique to the Grove and the creek. This unique ecosystem isn’t something you’d expect to see in such harsh country.
To add further to the appeal of this campsite, it’s also the perfect base to explore the incredible Lawn Hill National Park, which is just a short drive down the road.
LAWN HILL NATIONAL PARK
Never before have I seen such a dramatic landscape than the one laid before me at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. Australia’s most arid country gives way to a waterfilled gorge that will take your breath away. This is the hidden gem I was talking about!
You have two options for enjoying Lawn Hill and its gorges. Option one is to stay at Adels Grove and drive in, which is the most popular choice. Your other option is to book one of the 20 sites available at the campsite in the National Park itself. They’re not the largest sites, and there’s not much shade, but it’s cheaper than Adels Grove and closer to the gorge. If you want to take option two, make sure you book ahead online – it gets busy, and the only way to pay is online.
Now to the good stuff, the amazing adventure on offer at Lawn Hill. This prehistoric and ever-changing sandstone and limestone gorge is one of QLD’s most precious and unique geological gems. These huge red cliff faces plummet down into a paradise of crystal blue water, waterfalls, palm trees, fish and freshwater crocs. There aren’t many places in Australia you could call a literal oasis, but this is certainly one.
There are a number of ways to enjoy Lawn Hill Gorge. The most popular is by kayak or canoe. You can bring your own and paddle your way along, or you can hire one from the tour company that sets up here. You’re paddling through rather deep water, looking up at these amazing cliffs, with nothing but a faint rumble of a waterfall and birdsong interrupting the serenity. At each waterfall, there’s a man-made portage on the bank to assist you with getting your kayak up and over, and into the next big pool of water. What an easy and unique way to experience what has to be the best gorge system outside of the Kimberley. Make sure you pack plenty of water and sunscreen for the canoe trip, as the sun reflects off the water dramatically.
Once you’re done paddling, there are six beautiful walking tracks to choose from, ranging from a simple short walk to Indarri Falls, through to a challenging yet rewarding walk to Upper Gorge. Indarri Falls walk is the best for RVers, as it takes you up and over the rugged ridge of the gorge, before dropping you down to a well made swimming platform nearby a pristine waterfall. We spotted countless archer fish, grunter, and a big barramundi right below our feet, before we slipped in for a refreshing swim in the rejuvenating water. Purple-crowned fairy wrens and crimson finches hovered above our heads – early in the morning we had the whole pool to ourselves. This is an experience every RVer should have – it will last with us forever!
AN ICONIC FREE CAMP
No trip to the Gulf of Carpentaria is complete without spending a night or two at QLD’s arguably most-loved free camp – Gregory Downs. The camp is just a short walk out of the small one-pub town of Gregory which is 120km south of Burketown, and is right on the banks of the picture perfect Gregory River. The free camp has no facilities other than a few rubbish bins, but we recommend you take your rubbish out with you as it could be a week or so until the council will come and empty the bins.
Considering the amount of traffic that comes and goes from this camp, it’s great to see we’re looking after it and keeping it clean. The clean camp matches the clean, clear, flowing waters of the Gregory River. Further upstream there’s good fishing, however right at camp it’s all about leisure. A favourite pastime of visitors is to take a noodle or tyre tube and float down the river, enjoying the peace and natural habitat that we are so privileged to camp in.
The crimson finches come out at dusk, and flutter about camp, which is just like the caravanners that stay there. The iconic Gregory Downs Free Camp is alive each afternoon with friendly RVers enjoying these pristine waters. We talked to a number of RVers over a drink here. There’s something about this camp that relaxes and calms people – it’s an RV paradise!
While staying here, make sure you head up to the Gregory Hotel for a drink and a meal. These small pubs have been the lifeblood and social hub of the bush for generations, and it’s important to support the people that support our free camping lifestyle. We had a meal here and it was delicious, and Jo the publican is a character to say the least!
IS THIS QLD’S BEST RV HOTSPOT?
For me, this is the most unique and exciting corner of caravanning attractions the state has to offer. If you love getting away from the crowds, camping in sites unlike any other in Australia, swimming in gorges you never knew existed, and free camping with like-minded travellers full of great stories, the Lawn Hill/Gregory region is your kind of adventure.
Our recommendations? Stay a week at Adels Grove, and travel to Lawn Hill in your tow vehicle as much as you can. Then head east and spend a couple of nights on the banks of the Gregory River – you’ll instantly unwind!