After visiting Bedrock Village at Mt Surprise, Qld, with its volcanic lava tubes and gem fields (mainly topaz, including some rare green topaz), we headed west for gold country – specifically, Georgetown and Croydon.
The distance to Georgetown from Mt Surprise is only 93km, so don’t bother filling the thermos. On the way there, you traverse the Newcastle Range, which has a good viewing area near the top looking back over the volcano province.
In Georgetown, we stayed at the popular, but quiet, Goldfields Caravan Park. The park is located just past the town’s new swimming pool, to which park guests have free entry. Beside the pool is the well-tended Greens Park with plenty of room to park your van for a cuppa or a rest if you’re not intending to stop overnight. The park has some interesting history – just read the park signs.
The powered sites at Goldfields Caravan Park are well-shaded under large trees. Our tree was home to a family of tawny frogmouth owls. They are very hard to spot, as they blend with the tree bark so well. We also had galahs and blue-faced honeyeaters come to visit. But don’t feed them, or they will not leave.
The park is quite basic, but the amenities are clean and consist of unisex toilets and showers. We found the water quite good and fine for drinking. There is also a free barbecue and a large camping area.
We had four analogue TV channels and good Telstra Next G reception on wireless broadband and mobile phone.
The van park backs onto a nine-hole golf course, which also has a licensed bar.
Many travellers leave their van in town to do the tour of Cobbold Gorge, out of Forsayth and about 40km south of Georgetown. The road is unsealed for some of the way and is not always suitable for caravans.
The TerrEstrial Centre in the centre of Georgetown contains one of the most comprehensive collections of minerals and stones in Australia, and is certainly worth a look. The centre also is home to the visitor information centre, where manager Jo is a mine of information.
Georgetown is the service centre for the Etheridge Shire and there are two small supermarkets in the two service stations, but be prepared to pay ‘outback prices’. There is also a post office, butcher, police station, hospital, pub and several other services.
If you feel like stretching the legs, you can take a 6km walk beside the (often dry) river, which circles the town, and the old cemetery is also worth a visit.
Gold is still found here, and I was told a local found a 17 ounce nugget two weeks before we arrived. There are several public fossicking areas close to Georgetown, including Flat Creek station, which has a camping area. Other property owners may also allow you to detect on their property. Enquire at the visitor information centre.
From Georgetown, it is 147km to Croydon. There is still some single-lane bitumen, but the sides are good gravel. We saw many small wallabies on the road, so be aware when you’re driving.
A feature of this part of the Savannah Way is the prolific birdlife. Apart from large flocks of budgies and finches, we saw many eagles, brown falcons, nankeen kestrels, kites, apostle birds and honeyeaters.
About 20km west of Georgetown, you’ll pass the Cumberland chimney, which was built in 1889 to disperse smoke from the steam-driven ore batteries. You can camp overnight beside the nearby lake, which attracts many birds.
You pass two offroad camping areas beside the Gilbert River and the western side gives direct access to the river. We had smoko there, and enjoyed watching the antics of the whistling and black kites.
Arriving at Croydon before lunch, we booked into the pleasant Croydon Caravan Park. It is council owned, managed by Rob Noordijk, who is very friendly and helpful. The park has a new amenities block, swimming pool and free washing machines and barbecues.
You can choose between a concrete slab or grass for your site, and many have shade. We found three greater bowerbird bowers under trees on the van park boundary and one was still in use.
The van park is within easy walking distance to the True Blue Tourist Information Centre and historic precinct, and is opposite the supermarket and petrol station.
Croydon has quite a history, mainly involving gold mining. The 15-minute historical audio-visual presentation at True Blue is certainly one of the more informative and entertaining that we have seen. The most striking thing about Croydon is its historical precinct. Make sure you check out the old jail and play the short tape at the courthouse. Buildings are left as they were in the late 1800s and many have historical displays. We were struck by the heritage gas lanterns around the streets. They have electric bulbs now, but they take you back to the early days. Even the stone-pitched gutters are still there.
A little further on is the old Club hotel, built in 1887 and still operating. Almost opposite is the Croydon General Store. This store, built in 1894, is the oldest continually operating store in Queensland. You are taken back to those early days when the shelves were high and full of stock. No self-service here. Part of the store is now a museum of ‘everything’. Entry is free, but hopefully you will purchase something from the shop.
Head out to the Chinese temple dig site on the way to Lake Belmore. You will also pass Diehms Lookout, which gives a good view over the town and countryside. This is a great place for a sunset photo, only a couple of kilometres from the van park. Lake Belmore is about 4km from the van park and has a picnic and barbecue area where you can swim and launch a boat, but keep a lookout for the freshwater crocs. There is good barramundi and sooty grunter fishing here.
About 1km west of town is the old Iguana Console mine containing the original ore battery in operating order and other mining equipment. You will also find the historic Bing Chew family home there. It is not well-signposted, but is listed on the town map, available at the information centre and the van park.
The historic Gulflander rail motor runs from Normanton to Croydon, arriving around 1.30pm on Wednesdays. It stays overnight in Croydon before returning to Normanton on Thursday morning. The town cemetery is also interesting to visit with graves going back to 1885. I am always saddened by the hardships these early settlers suffered and the young age at which many died.
We managed to see the town in two days, but if you want to fish or explore old gold mines outside town, allow more time. So that you don’t miss anything, make sure the first place you visit is the wonderful True Blue Tourist Information Centre. Talk to historian Chris or manager Birgit, both of whom have a great knowledge of Croydon.
- Mt Surprise to Georgetown is 93km; Georgetown to Croydon is 147km; Croydon to Karumba is 225km – all on the Gulf Developmental Road.
- Cobbold Gorge. It is a 40km drive south of Georgetown, out of Forsayth, www.cobboldgorge.com.au.
- For fishing, boating and croc-spotting, be sure to visit Lake Belmore.
- While you are in Croydon, check out the historical precinct’s old jail, hotel and courthouse.
- TerrEstrial Centre and Visitor Information Centre, Low Street, Georgetown, (07) 4062 1485, firstname.lastname@example.org.
- True Blue Visitor Centre, 51-59 Samwell Street, Croydon, (07) 4748 7152, email@example.com.
Originally published in Caravan World #515, June/July 2013.