|Trip Length: 5 days Total Distance: 1138 km Road Conditions: Some unsealed roads|
From the colourful corals of the east to the pristine pearls of the west, The Savannah Way leads you across the vast tropical savannah grasslands of northern Australia on absolutely one of the best adventure drives in the country.
The capital of the Tropics, Cairns with World Heritage-listed reef and rainforest surrounding it is where we begin the 1138 km section of the Savannah Way spanning north Queensland to the Northern Territory border. Relax and explore the wonders of nature's grand underwater exhibition, the Great Barrier Reef then up onto the Atherton Tablelands through lush rainforests where rare and endangered flora and fauna flourish, past plantations bursting with coffee and tropical fruit, sugar cane and diary farms; with every twist and turn in the road the landscape is forever changing. Make sure you have plenty of film in the camera for this trip! Rich with natural wonders of waterfalls, crater lakes, amazing lava tubes, rocky gorges, hot springs and wetlands, the diverse and spectacular scenery will continually astound you as you adventure west.
Find your fortune when you stop and fossick through once bustling mining communities where, with Lady Luck on their side many a traveller returns home well rewarded even to this day.
Then it's into the tropical savannahs, first referred to as 'the plains of promise'. To your north are wetlands, mangroves, and the Gulf of Carpentaria, to your south, wide-open grass plains speckled with trees stretch out to the horizon under a seemingly endless blue sky. Witness the spectacular Morning Glory, which only occurs here in the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Gulf of Mexico!
The tropical savannahs of northern Queensland are internationally recognised as a refuge for hundreds of native animals, many not found anywhere else in the world. One third of Australia's migratory birds use the wetlands in this stunningly beautiful area. It's also prize barramundi country and there is more than one or two great opportunities to bag a big one up here.
However, it's not just the scenery that makes this drive a special one. Say 'gidday' and yarn with the locals. They are sure to tell you some of the hidden secrets, share their experiences of life in the north and you'll be rewarded with friendly smiles and many a story to tell back home. Throughout the top end of Australia, Savannah Guides, professional tour guides, provide access to features on public, private and leased land.
The climate is characterised by two distinct seasons: the wet and the dry. The wet from December to March is hot and humid. The dry in contrast from May to October is generally the preferred time to venture across the Gulf. The road from Cairns to Normanton is fully sealed - fine for the family sedan.
The Savannah Way continues through northern Australia with wonderful attractions linking the east with the west via the Northern Territory and finishes at the pearling town of Broome in Western Australia. There's really no better time than now to venture forth, and discover why this drive is coined one of Australia's ultimate adventure drives!
|Cairns to Atherton||1 hr||83 kms|
|Atherton to Ravenshoe||40 mins||52 kms|
|Ravenshoe to Georgetown||2 hrs 40 mins||257 kms|
|Georgetown to Croydon||1 hr 30 mins||148 kms|
|Croydon to Normanton||1 hr 45 mins||152 kms|
|Normanton to Burketown||4 hrs||221 kms|
|Burketown to Northern Territory Border||4 hrs||225 kms|
Cairns, the heart of Tropical North Queensland, and the starting point for one of the most diverse and rewarding touring routes leading you across northern Queensland - The Savannah Way. Explore the colourful Great Barrier Reef - the longest reef in the world and the only living structure visible from space! World Heritage listed rainforests surround this modern, cosmopolitan city which has definite relaxed atmosphere. Loose yourself on an exotic, tropical island encircled by an aquamarine sea. Sound far fetched? Well you had better believe it; this is paradise! With over 600 tours, departing daily there is something for everyone here, however the adventure hasn't even started yet, there is so much more to come.
Our first town along the Savannah Way is Kuranda, the 'village in the rainforest' known for its vibrant and diverse markets. Wander past the array of stalls and stock up on fresh produce, arts and fashions or maybe even a didgeridoo. There's also a butterfly sanctuary, the Barron River Falls and of course the famous Kuranda Scenic Train to see while in town.
Mareeba is next, surrounded by thriving tropical primary industries, flourishing on rich volcanic soils. Fruit and nut orchards, coffee plantations, wineries and sugar cane fields grace the countryside. Terrific tours for all tastes can be organised from the Mareeba Heritage Museum and Information Centre like a visit to a coffee plantation or for a once in a lifetime view of this spectacular landscape observe it from above in a hot-air balloon!
The Mareeba Wetlands is a great spot for everyone from bird watchers, walkers, photographers, four-wheel drivers and campers. Another couple of excellent spots are Granite Gorge, Davies Creek, and the Emerald Creek Falls or for a bit more of an adventure venture out 140 km west to the internationally renowned Mungana Limestone Caves in the National Park near Chillagoe.
Atherton, the Queen of the Tablelands and surrounded by cinder cones is next; however, just before you get to Atherton you'll go through an area known as the 'Tolga Scrub'. There's a great little 700 m walking track where you may spot Tree Kangaroos in the rainforest canopy and Red Legged Pademelons hopping around the forest floor. It's particularly good at night as nocturnal Coppery Brushtailed Possums (only found on the Tablelands), Green Possums and a colony of Spectacled Flying Foxes who also call the Tolga home - make a note of it for a drive out from Atherton one evening.
Atherton, the town after which the scenic Tropical Tablelands were named, is the perfect base to explore the enormous array of attractions - amidst rolling hills covered with tropical rainforest are waterfalls, crater lakes, coffee houses, galleries and a host of other charming temptations.
Take a short walk through rainforest and past miniature waterfalls to Halloran's Hill Lookout for a magnificent view across the tablelands. Beside the freshwater stream in Platypus Park, picnic with the resident platypus! The park is also the terminus for a steam train, which can take you on an exciting journey to the once bustling tin mining community of Herberton and Carrington Falls.
Try not to miss the Hou Wang Temple, a 100 year old Joss House and the only one of its kind left outside China. Grab the binoculars and camera when you visit Hasties Swamp with its bird hide, and the Wongable Botanical Walk - both of these are really great!
There are some wonderful drives around Atherton. Danbulla State Forest lets you tour by car through natural rainforest, pine and eucalypt plantations to 'The Chimney's' and Cathedral Fig - it's suitable for conventional vehicles - keep your eyes peeled, there's tree kangaroos to be seen through here. Tinaroo Dam on the Barron River has more than 200 kilometre of shore fringed with sandy beaches and rainforest and is a top spot for barramundi fishing. Hiring a houseboat or dinghy adds another dimension to this already beaut spot.
Visit Malanda, a rich dairying area and see the ancient Bromfield Swamp, the Malanda Falls, and the Malanda Environmental Centre for an educational explanation on how the magnificent Tropical Tablelands were formed so many years ago.
You really can't pass up Hypipamee National Park, 25 km south of Atherton. From the viewing platform look into a huge deep crater filled with deep still water - all sculptured by a restless mother nature when she was more riotous than today.
There are roads leading in all directions to quaint galleries, tropical fruit wineries, pockets of pristine forest and we've only just started the journey along this excellent tourist route. Next stop along the Savannah Way is Ravenshoe - get ready to breathe deep!
If you think you're on top of the world when you arrive in Ravenshoe, you aren't far wrong, after all, Ravenshoe is officially the highest town in Queensland!
With heritage listed rainforest to the south and east and some wonderful drives, you can easily afford a night or two here. Take a drive to Millaa Millaa, just 26 km east and don't miss the scenic Waterfall Circuit which includes a heap of waterfalls all within 10 km of this pretty little town or the Millaa Millaa Lookout with spectacular views - it will have your shutter finger working overtime.
The Tully Falls Road south of Ravenshoe leads to a short walking track and the 293 m Tully Falls at Tully Gorge - just incredible! Koombooloomba Dam is a further 9 km down the Tully Falls Road where you can camp, ski and fish for barramundi all year round - just perfect.
At the Koombooloomba Information Centre see a display about the past timber cutting industry and a brilliant exhibit about the nocturnal animals of this unique area -12 species of native possum have been identified right here!
After leaving Ravenshoe view Millstream Falls, Australia's widest waterfalls and then drop in to Innot Hot Springs for a soothing mineral spa - the water is so good it was sent to Europe for medicinal purposes and many stories about its healing abilities float around the globe - you won't regret it and your body will love you forever!
The Savannah Way leads you past hidden secrets like Wurruma Swamp just north of Mt Garnet with its amazing mixture of birdlife, through the Forty Mile Scrub with its rare and distinctive vine thicket, giant fig trees and wildlife. The Savannah Way then turns off to the right and you head due west to the access road to Undara Volcanic National Park - now isn't this a sight! Concealed under the grass, is the longest lava tube system in the world! Sorry, there is no camping in the park. From there it's into Mt Surprise, a centre for gem fossickers on the hunt of topaz, quartz, garnets and other semi-precious stones.
Georgetown is the next stop along the Savannah Way, look carefully, is that a tinge of gold on the horizon?
Head into Georgetown - once the centre for the 'poor man's goldfield' - Etheridge Goldfield, so named because fossickers could claim gold nuggets from the surface. The world famous Ted Elliot Mineral Collection with over 3,000 specimens from around the globe is right here in Georgetown.
Areas around Georgetown and Forsayth (south of Georgetown) are very popular with fossickers using modern gadgetry to unearth top quality nuggets. They reckon it's not unheard of for visitors to return home with pockets lined with gold from a day out and about on the fields - remember a fossicking permit is required. There are also plenty of other semi-precious stones to reward your efforts - topaz, sapphires and garnets to name a few.
Pop into the Forsayth Hotel and check out the wonderful collection of thunder eggs and agates on display. From Forsayth you can also access the Agate Creek Mineral Reserve where with license in hand you may fossick for world-renowned agates with superb colours and patterns.
The district of Georgetown possesses an array of birdlife - call into the Information Centre and they will guide you to some fabulous locations. Cobbold Gorge - magnificent sandstone cliffs is also south of Georgetown. You'll need a Savannah Guide as it's on privately owned property.
Around the 20 km mark as you travel west to Croydon, you pass the Cumberland Chimney - all that remains of a giant crushing plant built by Cornish masons during the gold rush across the Savannah. The town was originally quite large and there is a lovely lagoon right next to the chimney teeming with birdlife - what a great spot to pull up.
Built on gleaming gold, Croydon was once a bustling gold mining town boasting 19 hotels. By 1890 it had become Queensland's second largest inland town. Today one hotel remains and the locals here are quick to point out it was the first one built which makes it a beauty! You are sure to get a welcome reception when you drive down the wide street lined with historic buildings, many of them listed by the National Trust. The Croydon Historic Village contains what is left of a much larger gold mining city of the late 1800s including aerated water factories, gas lamps lighting the streets, foundries, and even town criers. If you are into a bit of history take a look at the Croydon Cemetery and in particular, the sandstone headstones with elegant Chinese inscriptions carved into them marking the Chinese graves.
Lake Belmore, about 5 km north is the largest body of fresh water in the central Gulf Savannah, which makes it a top spot for bird watching, a refreshing swim, or a spot of fishing for barramundi (permits are required).
Croydon is also the starting, or finishing point for the historical Gulflander train, which rattles and sways along tracks 110 years old taking passengers into Normanton, just as it did way back in its heyday.
Take a drive out to Golden Gate Mine, 8 km west of town, once the largest of 30 satellite towns surrounding Croydon. Miners became wealthy here in this productive field, delivering more than 40 tons of gold during the boom. The heritage at Golden Gate is being carefully preserved and visitors can almost smell the excitement and sweat that once swept through this bygone township.
The road meanders west alongside the tracks of the Gulflander towards Normanton 151 km and into time honoured barra country.
The hub of the Gulf, Normanton, is the next port of call on the brilliant Savannah Way. Ideally placed high on a ridge with the Savannah grasslands to the west and the wetlands to the north as well as the Norman River there are loads of great bird watching, camping and fishing locations with plenty of barramundi to lure the angler. Grab the camera and have a photo taken with both 'Krys the Savannah King' - an 8.63 m life size replica of the largest crocodile ever captured - and the 'Big Barramundi'. The Penitentiary, where locals reckon the last gulf hanging took place, is one of a few historic buildings well worth visiting. Hop on board the historic 'Gulflander' train (operated by the Savannah Guides) for a journey through the countryside back towards the once thriving mining town of Croydon. There is plenty of good accommodation, fuel, mechanical repairs, banking facilities and of course food is available in The Savannah capital of Normanton.
This little slice of Queensland is internationally recognised as an important location for a third of Australia's migratory wading birds. Head over to the coast and Karumba, the centre for the Gulf's prawning and fishing industries on the mouth of the Norman River. The wetlands between Normanton and Karumba are as good as anywhere in the country so make sure you've kept the camera out to capture the vast assortment of birdlife and wildlife and a stunning sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria.
From Normanton, Burketown is 221 km up the Savannah track. Most of the road from here on is dirt and you will be sharing it with road trains. You'll come across the Burke and Wills Cairn around 30 km south-west of Normanton marking the most northerly point of the ill fated explorers 1861 expedition.
Around 150 km from Normanton is Leichhardt Falls - after a good wet season, they are magnifico! Nearby on Floraville Station, a monument has been erected near the homestead in memory of Fredrick Walker - a surveyor who succumbed to Gulf Fever way back in 1866. There's a beaut little natural camping site on the Leichhardt River crossing near the falls and have a look at the Aboriginal grinding slits in the riverbed. Just be aware that crocodiles have been spotted further up the river.
Welcome to the oldest town in the Gulf and the barramundi Capital of Australia - Burketown. On the banks of the Albert River Burketown remains a major service centre for the cattle industry and has established itself as a premier fishing and wildlife destination. Via the wetlands to the north, it is a mere 25 km by boat to the Gulf and to the south is the vast savannah grass plains.
This is one of the best areas in the Gulf to witness the rare and stunningly beautiful cloud formation called the Morning Glory from late September to early November. Believed to be a good omen by the local Aboriginal people of abundant wildlife to follow, they have everyone dashing for cameras in the early morning light to capture this awesome phenomena drifting above.
Around 30 km south of Burketown there is an area known as Bluebush Swamp and it's a fantastic paradise for bird watchers. Venture further south of Burketown, to the Gregory Downs community on the picturesque Gregory River. Remnant lush rainforest fringes the wide sandy banks and clear spring-fed water flows along one of the best canoeing venues in Australia. It's also a fabulous area for wildlife photographers, bird watchers and nature lovers in general. From Gregory Downs explore the spectacular Boodjamulla National Park - often referred to as Lawn Hill National Park - it really should not be missed. Sheer sandstone walls towering 60 metres high, lush tropical vegetation surrounds permanent creeks and waterholes, Aboriginal rock art and other numerous features go hand in hand to make this a truly beautiful place within the north west. The park is rich in history. The traditional owners, the Waanyi people - who have occupied this land for 17,000 years - still assist in the management if the park. The Lawn Hill Section was once the largest cattle station in Queensland and the Riversleigh Section is part of the Australian Fossil Mammal Sites World Heritage Area. Public access to the Riversleigh Section is restricted to Riversleigh's D Site from where you can explore along a self-guided trail. Adels Grove - another Savannah Guide Site - is 10 km from Boodjamulla. Moving west from Burketown you pass through Doomadgee - an Aboriginal community involved in the cattle industry. You can access the general store for food and fuel however; access to the village and guesthouse accommodation is at the discretion of the Community Council who must be contacted prior to your arrival. Be aware that travellers along the Savannah Way are excluded from the restrictions on carrying alcohol in vehicles however under no circumstances is alcohol to be taken into the Doomadgee community.
Hells Gate, 145 km west of Burketown, is the gateway to the Macassan coast, boasting an abundance of flora and fauna and has some stunning scenery. The Barkly Tableland escarpments form an impressive backdrop to the flood plains in this part of the Gulf. Kingfisher Camp - a top spot to throw in a fishing line or two - is on a 5 km long waterhole south of Hell's Gate. From Hells Gate the Northern Territory border is just 50 clicks ahead, past the historic Westmoreland Station. This exciting and adventurous drive - The Savannah Way isn't over yet - there is still much to see and do as you pass across the top end of Australia. Have fun!
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