Sit around the old bush tele with your mates for long enough, and naturally talk will lead to this year’s big trip. We can already hear the bucket list destinations getting thrown about – Cape York, the Simmo, Vic High Country, the Kimberley – sounds pretty familiar, right? How many of you have considered the mighty Gulf of Carpentaria for your big trip this year? If you haven’t, you’re certainly going to after you read this!
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]”1,000km of red dirt, Australia’s ultimate riverside camp, and the mighty Lorella Springs”[/blockquote]
The adventure for this trip starts as soon as you leave the bitumen and head east from Mataranka, a tick over 400km south of Darwin. On your way out of town, get a final hit of freshness at Bitter Springs – a brilliant hot spring that’s free to swim in. Soak it up, it’s nothing but red dust from here on in!
Your first stop heading east is Roper Bar. The track across here is one of the easier stretches of dirt on the trip, but there’s still plenty of corrugations, and a couple of deep bulldust holes that’ll keep you on your toes. Tyre pressures should be dropped to about 26psi to save your tyre tread on the sharp stones, and help you float along the corrugations. There are a couple of cracker campsites around Roper Bar, the closest to the bar, water crossing and roadhouse is Leichhardt’s Caravan Park. Don’t let the name fool you – it has facilities, but other than that it’s a remote camp just a stone’s throw from one of Australia’s most famous barra fishing hotspots – the mighty Roper River.
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”]1,000km from civilisation – this is remote touring at its best![/blockquote]
Time your trip here with the new moon in September, and you’ll experience a phenomenon you usually only find on David Attenborough. Every year a huge mullet spawn occurs right at the Roper Bar Crossing, bringing with it dozens of crocs, barra and more – what a sight!
LORELLA OR BUST
While Roper Bar is a destination in its own right, the real hotspots of the Gulf are further east. First up is Butterfly Springs. After a decent wet season, you’ll bare witness to a huge amount of water cascading down prehistoric rock-faces into what can only be described as an oasis of a swimming hole below. It’s the perfect spot to wash that red dust out of your ears. Be warned though – it’ll be tough to leave!
[blockquote cite=”” type=”center”] It’s hard to believe lorella springs in just a stepping stone on this top end adventure[/blockquote]
Just another half an hour down the Gulf Track is the Southern Lost City. You’ll see these ancient tower-like rock formations on the drive in, and you won’t believe just how gigantic this ‘city’ is until you park your 4WD right next to it. Spend at least a couple of hours walking around these huge sandstone pillars, or better yet pull up right below them at the campsite overnight. Lorella Springs is your next stop, and if you thought the Gulf Track was bumpy, wait till you point the bullbar north along Lorella’s ‘driveway’. It’s about 30km of rough, rocky corrugations with large washouts, dry creek crossings, and the odd bit of wildlife just for good measure. Oh, and don’t forget the bulldust! Yep – diff deep in red bulldust, 1,000km from civilisation – this is remote touring at its best.
You can simply make camp near the homestead for a couple of days, enjoying the hot springs and a few coldies at the bar, but that’s not why we come to the Gulf. Top up on the essentials and make your way northeast on the infamous track towards Rosie’s Camp and out to the coast. Unfortunately, the lack of rain over the last few years has resulted in a number of Lorella attractions losing their spark, but here’s hoping a big wet this year will once again bring life back into this brilliant northern 4WDer’s paradise. Be sure to check out Blue Lagoon, The Arch and its cave system, and Wuraliwuntya Creek, otherwise known as the ‘secret fishing spot’ — or ask Rhett and the boys to tell you some secret hotspots over a few at the bar.
THE GULF’S BEST CAMPSITE
It’s hard to believe Lorella Springs is just a stepping stone on this Top End adventure. This place has so much to offer the 4WDer – we’re talking enough red dirt, riverside camps and water holes to rival the Cape and the Kimberley! With that in mind, we moved east towards our next corker of a campsite – King Ash Bay. They call it the caravan capital of the north, but what they don’t tell you is just how much riverside camping is on offer here, away from the crowds. Before you head up, grab your supplies at Borroloola – one of the bigger towns up here. They’ve got plenty of fresh food, good drinking water, and TJS One Stop Shop is one of the best remote mechanic and repairers in the north.
King Ash Bay started off as, and still technically is, a fishing club campground. Over the years, more and more travellers make their way along the 30 odd kays of dirt to get there – the open riverside camping, and barra fishing are just too good to avoid! It gets pretty busy here in April to June, but come September, it’s quiet, the fishing is still good and the sunsets are nothing short of spectacular.
Campfire blazing, good mates, and a couple of refreshments as the sun hits the horizon – you just don’t get a better campsite than King Ash Bay. A little bit further up is a cheaper camping option, called Batten Point – it offers just as good a view, and is a little less crowded.
There’s no doubt about it – The run from Roper Bar to King Ash Bay is an epic destination in its own right, and this is only a small snippet of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Croc spotting, riverside campsites, and prehistoric rock formations all joined together by 1,000km of red dirt track – if there’s a better way to spend a few weeks, I’d like to hear it!
This trip starts at Mataranka, 400km south of Darwin, and heads east along the Savannah Way to Borroloola and King Ash Bay, which is about 200km west of the QLD border. Once you leave the bitumen at Mataranka, it’s all red dirt!
The best campsites are Tomato Island, just east of Roper Bar, Lorella’s remote riverside campsites and brilliant King Ash Bay. Facilities are available at most campsites mentioned, so you get the pure remote feeling with a little bit of comfort as well.
WHAT TO TAKE:
You don’t get much more remote than this, so you need to understand your 4WD, and pack the necessary spares. Pack spare hoses, and extra air filter, a fuel filter (dodgy fuel can be a problem), and ensure you have heaps of zip ties etc. to strap back on anything that rattles loose on the corrugations. For camping, don’t just rely on your awning, pack extra shade. Ensure you’re set up to carry at least 80L of water, have a fuel range of at least 600km, and have the necessary emergency essential such as a sat phone etc.
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL:
If you love fishing, head in April. If you want to escape the crowds, head late September. Anywhere in between is still brilliant, and the weather is more forgiving.
FUEL AND SUPPLIES:
The best places to fuel up are Mataranka, and Borroloola. You can get fuel at Roper Bar, Lorella Springs, and King Ash Bay, but it’s best to stick to the big two. Borroloola has all the supplies, spares and mechanical assistance covered too.
Trips are rated A though E, with A meaning only suitable to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modifications and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles. While this is a super remote adventure, you’d still rate this trip as a C, or B straight after the wet.
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