Normanton is a small Outback town in the Gulf country of northwest Queensland. It only has a population of around 1,200 people with over half being indigenous Australians. Normanton was a fun town to explore with a few interesting things to do.
Take a wander around the town and have a look at the quirky and colourful buildings. Have a chat to the locals at the Information Centre about the crocodiles, flooding and history. Have a $10 lunch at the Purple Pub, then head to the bridge to see if you can spot any crocodiles. If you’re a train-buff, then taking the Gulflander express to Croydon is a ‘must.’
I really didn’t know what to expect of Normanton, but managed to find quite a few interesting things to do, making our stay all the more unique to that town.
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Things to do in Normanton
|NORMANTON QUICK STATS
|1,257 (as at 2016 census)
– 60% Aboriginal and/ or Torres Straight Islander
– 40% other
|678 km west of Cairns
|Average Summer Temperatures
|Low 25ºC – High 36ºC
|Average Winter Temperatures
|Low 16ºC – High 31ºC
Burns Philp Building & Info Centre
The heritage listed Burns Philp Warehouse was built in 1884 and served as a general mercantile store.
The building itself was strategically placed close to the former town wharves along the Norman River, where all of the towns goods and services were transported. With the discovery of gold at Croydon, some 155 kilometres south-east, Normanton’s growth really blossomed.
The building is now used partly as the local Visitor Information Centre and Library. The third bay of the building is sometimes hired out as an event and wedding venue, giving guests a true blue Aussie outback experience.
I recommend making the Burns Philp building your first port of call when you head into Normaton and have a chat to one of the knowledgable staff members. Find out about the important crocodile safety info while in the area and grab your camping permit if you plan on staying at the Free Camp on the river.
|BURNS PHILP BUILDING
|Corner Landsborough Street & Caroline Street, Normanton QLD 4890
The Purple Pub
The former National Hotel is a good old fashioned country pub, which has undergone a colourful revamp. You can’t miss The Purple Pub as you drive down the main street of town, which is popularly famous for… being purple!
Apparently the owner order the wrong colour, but was too much of a tightass to buy some more, hence the purple.
It holds the record of the ‘most photographed building in Normanton,’ which is enough to bring in the tourists.
Inside you’ll find a friendly bar with a Pokie room, TAB and Keno, with a nice outdoor Bistro at the back. We took full advantage of the $10 lunches on offer during our stay in town, which was definitely a lunch-sized meal, but very nice.
Throughout the week you can also enjoy Karaoke nights and Pool competitions. The Pub also boasts a drive through Bottle Shop, plus 17 motel accommodation units, each offering an in-room bathroom, TV and fridge.
|THE PURPLE PUB
|92 Landsborough Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Mutton Hole Wetlands
We were chatting to a guy on the bridge the night before who recommended taking a drive through the Mutton Hole Wetlands, as we were in search of crocs. Apparently they’re often spotted in there, basking in the sun.
So, the next day, we stopped in at the wetlands to take a look.
The wetlands are mostly dry during the winter months, but swell and expand during the wet season (November – April). You will find the wetlands on both sides of the road as you’re leaving Normanton along the Burke Developmental Road, heading north towards Karumba.
Things to see in Mutton Hole Wetlands:
- 9,000 hectares of wetlands stretching between Normanton and Karumba
- See the wetlands come alive from November – April (monsoon season)
- Birdlife – whistling-ducks, brolgas, sarus cranes, pelicans and jabirus
- Largest continuous estuarine wetland aggregation in North Qld
- Crocodile breeding habitat
A word of advice…
Do yourself a favour, if you’ve got a trailer or caravan on the back, unhitch it before heading into the wetlands. That was what my gut instinct was telling me before we headed in with a 23 ft caravan, but my partner at the time was more of the opinion of, “she’ll be right.”
Well, learn from his mistake… she wasn’t right. There were many narrow sections of track between trees that were fine for a car, but dragging a van through did cause damage. Not to mention some questionable, hidden boggy patches. Considering we were in there in search of crocodiles, I was certainly not walking the track!
|MUTTON HOLE WETLANDS
|Mutton Hole Wetlands, Normanton QLD 4890
If you duck down a side street, you’ll find the Albion Hotel. It’s a lovely little pub with friendly staff and is a popular local waterhole. Enjoy a nice meal or sink into a cold drink on the nice, breezy verandah on a hot, western afternoon.
Funnily enough, the Albion was originally built in Croydon in the late 1800’s, which was then transferred to Normanton in the early twentieth century.
|39 Haig Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Normanton Westpac Bank
The Normanton Westpac Bank is a heritage listed building, built in 1886 by a guy named Richard Gailey.
The building is also known as Bank of New South Wales and was added to the state heritage list in 1992. The construction of banking facilities in Normanton was important for the town to play a pivotal role as a supply centre of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Have a stroll around the building and take a look into days gone by as you imagine ye old Normanton.
|WESTPAC BANK BUILDING
|88 Landsborough Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Bynoe Art Centre
If you’re interested in indigenous art, head to the Bynoe Art Centre on the main street in town.
You’ll find things like hand-painted coffee mugs, oil-on-canvas paintings and hand-crafted indigenous musical instruments. Browse the variety of artworks produced by local artists, who are often busy at work out the back of the shop.
Also found in-store are clothing, jewellery and crafts, all locally made. While you’re there, grab a coffee and a pastry from the cafe.
|BYNOE ART CENTRE
|85 Landsborough Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Shire of Carpentaria Building
Built in 1890, the Shire of Carpentaria Council building was constructed of locally made bricks and cost £1000. Although this unusual style building looks more like an old hotel, it has ironically spent some time as a pub!
What started out as ‘The Carpentaria Divisional Board’ back in 1883, later became known as the ‘Carpentaria Shire Council’ in 1930.
Make sure you check out ‘Krys’ the Savannah King while you’re there (more on that below).
|SHIRE OF CARPENTARIA BUILDING
|LOT 33 Haig Street, Normanton QLD 4890
‘Krys’ the Savannah King
The most iconic of things to do in Normanton is to get a photo with ‘Krys’ the Savannah King – a replica of the biggest crocodile to ever be captured!
This life-sized monument pays tribute to the 8.6m saltwater crocodile that was shot in 1957 by a local crocodile hunter, Krystina Pawlowski. She (the hunter) later went on to regret the capture as the big fella’s skin was too old to use and he was too big to be moved.
You could say that this crocodile has become quite famous in it’s death, which has indirectly resulted in crocodiles becoming a protected species.
To see the original picture in the newspaper, plus find out more info about ‘Krys’ the Savannah King, head to the Normanton Visitor Information Centre.
Read the full story of ‘Krys’ the Savannah King, the largest croc ever shot.
|KRYS THE SAVANNAH KING CROCODILE
|83/ 85 Landsborough Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Behind the Shire of Carpentaria Building sits the old Normanton Gaol.
In the 1890’s, Normanton became the police and court hub for the Queensland Gulf region. Twice per year there would be sittings of the Supreme Court.
The compound was made up of two buildings. One was a cement and corrugated iron cell block, constructed from 1892 – 1899. In addition, there was a small timber and iron building, which was the trackers quarters.
From 1893, the Prison Gaol proclamation was rescinded, meaning that the prisons department had full control (instead of the police department) and were able to hold short-term prisoners, long-term prisoners and anyone who was awaiting a trial.
The gaol started out with four cells (5.5 x 4m), with an extra two being added in 1895 due to overcrowding. There could be up to 24 prisoners in there at any one time! 1899 saw a seventh cell, plus a kitchen and fence around the perimeter.
The Normanton Gaol closed in 1945 as it wasn’t being used enough and was given back to the police department. It was used as a watch house right up until 1992, when it was closed due to not meeting the requirements set by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
It become heritage listed in 1999.
|27 Haig Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Normanton Railway Station
Have a wander around at what was once the bustling Normanton Railway Station, which is also still home to the famous Gulflander. In fact the old Gulflander train still runs between Normanton and Croydon today for tourists to experience.
The train station site housed a goods shed with crane, workshop area and maintenance store, suspense stores, timber shed, tanks, locomotive store, fitting shop, carpenters and blacksmiths shops, gantry and engine shed. You could also find a horse and carriage dock, porters and lamps room, closets and tool shed nearby.
|NORMANTON RAILWAY STATION
|Matilda Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Ride the Gulflander
Why not take a ride on one of Australia’s most iconic old trains, the Gulflander. The train line was originally built in 1889 to connect the once booming river port of Normanton to the bustling gold fields of Croydon (located 155km south-east of Normanton).
The journey will take you through the Gulf Savannah landscape as you ponder what life used to be like in north-west Queensland 100 years ago.
Choose from a variety of different Gulflander experiences:
|One-way ride from Normanton to Croydon (or vice-versa) with morning tea. Return coach transfer available.
|Tour from Normanton to Critters Camp learning the history of the landscape.
|From Croydon to Golden Gate former goldfields. Enjoy a cattle station meal while the sun sets.
|Billy Tea Damper
|Return tour from Normanton to Clarina with morning tea at a waterhole. Billy tea, coffee, damper and scones.
|Take a ride on a vintage railmotor, built in 1931 and restored.
|6 Day Gulf Savannah Experience
|DAY 1 – Cairns to Karumba
DAY 2 – Explore Karumba
DAY 3 – Karumba to Forsayth
DAY 4 – Cobbald Gorge Cruise
DAY 5 – Forsayth to Mount Surprise
DAY 6 – Mount Surprise to Cairns
For locomotive enthusiasts, this is a must! Find out more about the Gulflander packages and book your tickets.
|NORMANTON RAILWAY STATION
|Matilda Street, Normanton QLD 4890
Croc Spotting & Fishing on the Bridge
Normanton… the land of crocodiles, colourful buildings, red dirt and hot temperatures.
One of the best things to do in Normanton is to try your luck at some croc spotting on the bridge!
The original single lane bridge, named The Captain WH Norman Bridge was built in 1966. It replaced the punt (ferry), which was how vehicles used to get across the river. A new bridge was built in 2001 after some faults were detected in the bridge, which effectively reduced the safe load limit.
Some of the biggest saltwater crocodiles in the country can be found in the Norman River, which is why croc safety is absolutely pertinent in this part of Queensland.
While it’s tempting to hang out at the river looking for the elusive reptile, do not be tempted to go anywhere near the water. There are safe viewing platforms along the old bridge that crosses the river – do it there rather than down on the river bank.
CROC SAFETY TIPS:
- DO NOT go near the waters edge!
- If you’re putting a boat in the water, use the raised pontoon.
- If you’re croc-spotting, stand up on the bridge, not along the river bank.
- For campers, set up at least 20 metres away from the river bank.
- Do not leave food scraps laying around that will attract smaller animals (which become crocodile food).
You can find out more about crocodile safety and where to view them (safely) at the Visitor Information Centre.
The old Normanton bridge is also a great fishing platform, being a King Salmon and Barramundi hot spot at night.
|OLD NORMAN RIVER BRIDGE
|Old Norman River Bridge (leaving Normanton, heading towards Karumba)
Normanton Water Park
So, you may be as excited as my kids were to find that there’s a Water Park in Normanton! Okay let’s be honest, it’s more of a Splash Park than a Water Park, but let me tell you, on a stinking hot day, even adults will welcome the cold water.
Just to help paint the picture, we were in Normanton at the end of August, which is still winter in Australia. It was a ‘mild’ 38°C day and I got burnt hanging out the few loads of washing that I was catching up on. So yeah, Normanton gets HOT!
Make use of the undercover seating and BBQ area for lunch, while the kids bounce between the splash park and the playground. The area is fully fenced, making it safe for the littlies and giving Mum and Dad a chance to relax.
So, head in, push the button and enjoy the cool water, it’s FREE.
|NORMANTON WATER PARK
|Landsborough Street, Normanton, QLD 4890
The Buildings of Normanton
One of my favourite things to do in Normanton was to take a self-guided tour around town and see how many unique and colourful buildings I could find!
I was really taken with the unique and quirky character of so many of the buildings as we came through town. All around I could see a mixture of old, heritage constructions, along with brightly coloured, revamped places.
Some are of these buildings are heritage listed from the 1800s and some are more modern with beautiful murals and bright colours. Here are some of the buildings that I really loved.
‘BIG Things’ of Normanton
Getting your selfie with the random and iconic Big Things while travelling is a fun activity for many Aussies.
In Normanton you’ll find the Big Barramundi, located near the front of the Gulfland Motel and Caravan Park. This guy was made in 1995, standing 6 metres tall. The Big Barra lays tribute to the most common fish in the nearby Norman River.
|11 Landsborough Street, Normanton QLD 4890
‘Krys’ the croc is the other Big Thing in Normanton. There are many Big Crocodiles around the country, but this one is particularly special. This Big Thing is exactly the same size (8.6 metres) as the largest croc ever captured, which just so happened to be in the Norman River.
|83/ 85 Landsborough Street, Normanton QLD 4890
See how many BIG Things you can tick off as you travel Australia with the Complete Aussie Big Things List or grab the Queensland one below.
QLD Big Things Checklist
Tick off all the Queensland Big Things as you travel the state!
- 17-page checklist
- Pre-filled with 150+ items
- Categorised into 6 regions
- QLD Regional Map
- Full street addresses
- Record finds & dates
- DIGITAL & PRINTABLE
Burke and Wills Camp 119
Just 37 km south of Normanton is the Burke and Wills Camp 119. There you’ll find a monument commemorating the Burke and Wills campsite 119 which was their most northerly campsite during their expedition in 1861.
The Burke and Wills expedition was an attempt to cross the entire Australian continent from south to north.
On 11 February 1861, four of the expedition members set up their most northerly campsite near the Bynoe River in the Gulf of Carpentaria. Two of the men camped at there for three days and blazed 15 trees to mark their location.
Meanwhile, expedition leader Robert Burke and surveyor William Wills went further north in an attempt to reach the Gulf coast. They never quite made it due to the thick mangroves and boggy terrain.
Take the 30-minute drive south of Normanton to walk around the site, read all of the information and see the 15 blazed trees.
The road is sealed all the way from Normanton with an easy 1.3km unsealed road off the highway. There’s plenty of room for parking with caravans.
|BURKE & WILLS CAMP 119
|Burketown Normanton Road, Normanton QLD 4890
Normanton FREE Camp
We based ourselves at the Normanton FREE Camp for our two-day stay in Normanton. It was right on the outskirts of town, which made things easy for us to get around.
Make sure you get your permit from the Information Centre first as only 10 are given out per day. They will also give you some important information about crocodile safety as the Free Camp is right along the river.
💲 FREE (48 hours)
📶 Telstra reception
🚌 Big Rig access
🚗 2WD access
🐶 Dogs allowed (seasonal – check with Info Centre)
❌ NO amenities, power or water
Flinders River Bush Camp
Before arriving in Normanton from Cloncurry in the south, we camped at the Flinders River Bush Camp. Again, be croc wise and don’t camp near the water. This is a free bush camp, so make sure you’re fully self-contained and have plenty of food and water onboard.
💲 FREE (no time limit)
🔥 Camp fires
🚌 Big Rig access
🚗 2WD access
🐶 Pet friendly (away from river)
❌ NO amenities, power or water – must be self-contained
Here are the 3 free Normanton camps we utilised while travelling through the area.
There are a handful of caravan parks and motels to choose from in Normanton. Have a look on WikiCamps (or other camping app) to find all of the available camps and parks in the area.
Check out this article for more info on how to use WikiCamps.
- Gulfland Motel & Caravan Park
- Normanton Caravan Park
- Normanton Tourist Park
- The Albion
- The Purple Pub