Looking for a cool place to visit over the weekend, or an affordable getaway for a few days in the school holidays? Just a couple of hours drive from Townsville Paluma Dam is well worth a visit. With the option to do everything from water sports and walking to mountain biking and red claw fishing, it can be as relaxing or as energetic as you like.
Paluma Dam (or Lake Paluma) is nestled among world heritage-listed wet tropics rainforest. Heading 61km north from Townsville, there’s a turn-off left just before Frosty Mango onto Barrett Road. The drive up to Paluma’s township (AKA ‘a village in the clouds’ due to its altitude) takes in some spectacular scenery. Go through the town to access the dam via a 12km gravel road. See this map for where to go.
What to do
Paluma Dam itself offers plenty of opportunities to get active and explore. Motorised vessels are not allowed in the water, so it makes for a really safe waterway for kayaking or Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Hans Preuss, from River-Sea Kayaking, is a regular visitor and loves checking out the local wildlife.
“This dam is the perfect place for anyone with a kayak to explore,” he says. “When we first visited, we had no idea how many hidden creeks flowed into the dam: Each reach had at least three or four fingers to it and these all led to creeks. In some of these we saw platypus, a few spangled perch, red claw, and the number of eastern water dragons along the shoreline’s dead trees was quite amazing.”
Rob Hunt, coordinator dams and catchments at Townsville City Council and a keen mountain biker, agrees that it’s the ideal spot to explore on-water with good safety and access; but he adds it’s also worthwhile bringing the bike and walking shoes.
“Being part of the course for the annual Paluma Push mountain bike event, there are some good spots to ride,” Rob says. “For more experienced riders, there’s the loop around the dam; or for those who’d like something a bit steadier there’s Benham’s Track, which veers left after the spillway [turn right for the dam loop], or people also like to do the dam road that leads back to Paluma for fitness.
“There is plenty of bushwalking within the National Park and council reserve, but there are no formal tracks so you really do need to know where you are going and what you are doing to avoid getting disorientated.”
There are some formal and well-marked tracks that are part of Mount Spec National Park that can be accessed from Paluma village itself. These are worth checking out and range in length and difficulty level from 300m return to 4km return. Find out more about the options in page 8 of this Townsville Region National Parks, Conservation Parks and State Forests visitor guide.
Camping is available with a permit. Lock in a site ahead of time via Townsville City Council’s website; especially if it’s a busy period (e.g. Easter weekend and Christmas). At the time of writing this article, fees were $20 for a single site and $35 for a double. There are barbecue facilities, shelters, drop toilets and running water (no shower facilities). Firewood is sold on-site daily, but bring an axe, fire starters etc. Find more information about camping here.
If you’re not much of a camper, then 20km west of Paluma Dam you’ll find Hidden Valley Cabins. They are a family-run business with a great set-up (including super thick doonas and campfires for those cooler months).
You can hire kayaks, SUPs and mountain bikes in Townsville from Outer Limits Adventure Fitness and bring them to Paluma Dam to use (vehicle permitting!). Find out more about equipment hire here. North Queensland Adventure Kayak Tours also offer guided trips for three to 10 people.
- The morning is the best time to paddle around the dam – set aside at least four hours.
- The best chance of finding the elusive platypus is to travel to the backwaters of the lake via kayak or canoe.
- Eastern water dragons will usually drop into the water as soon as they see you so keep an eye out for them.
- Fish will be few and far between: The slightly acidic, low nutrient waters of the lake are not suitable for most fish species. A small population of spangled perch is all that remains of a stocking program, which also included brown trout.
- Peregrine Bay is named after the pair of peregrine falcons that nest in the large dead tree standing in the middle of the bay. Breeding time begins from about August every year.
- There’s no phone or internet so plan accordingly.
- When fishing for red claw, make sure you use only use organic bait (potato and vegetable scraps) and proper red claw pots (normal pots can trap and drown turtles and platypus). Only the introduced red claw species are permitted to be taken – the native ones must be put back. For pictures of them so you can tell them apart see here.
Activities at Paluma Dam
- Canoeing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding (SUP)
- Sailing and windsurfing
- Bird watching
- Bush walking
- Mountain bike riding
- Picnicking and day visits
- Red clawing
- Relaxing and communicating without technology