EXPLORER ITINERARY
Yep, this is the wild, untamed outback, mate! In fact, it's more than just the outback... it's the lush forests of the Atherton Tablelands, it's the folklore and the character of Australia... all in one itinerary! This itinerary really takes in some of Tropical North Queensland's most historic places, remote towns and wide open spaces in between. It is ideally suited to the history buff, the nature lover and keen outdoors type, and even moreso for the mad fisherman or birdwatcher. It's for someone who enjoys the drive, not just the destination!
TOTAL DISTANCE COVERED ON THIS ROUTE IS ROUGHLY 3000 KILOMETRES. DIVIDE THAT BY NINE DAYS, GIVES YOU ABOUT FOUR HOURS A DAY BEHIND THE WHEEL. IF THAT'S BEYOND YOUR COMFORT ZONE, THEN THINK OF THIS A TEN OR TWELVE DAY ITINERARY.
This self drive itinerary is designed for the adventurous, it's challenging without presenting any real dangers. It does involve a considerable amount of driving, and if you choose to take some of the optional side trips, you could use this itinerary as a framework for a two or three week exploration of the region.

This self drive tour of the region is intended to be an addition to whatever time you have in Cairns itself. For example, if you had ten or twelve days, you could combine this drive with the TWO DAY FLYING STOPOVER ITINERARY, or with two full weeks, you could even fit in the SEVEN DAY NORTHERN WANDERER ITINERARY.

DAY ONE:

Pick a Tablelands town, any town. That's your destination for today. I know, it's only an hour away from Cairns, but we thought we'd get you off to a gentle start. Besides, it would be a crime to drive through this beautiful part of Tropical North Queensland without taking a look around the Atherton Tablelands.

Now, think about what you'd like to see. If it's history and culture you're into, look towards ATHERTON or YUNGABURRA, or if you don't mind driving a little out of your way, historic IRVINEBANK, half an hour past HERBERTON.

Beautiful Millaa Millaa Falls, now a symbol of the Atherton Tablelands.If you love nature, head to Crater Lakes National Park and the amazing giant trees. Wildlife? Well, you can hand feed gorgeous rock wallabies at Granite Gorge near Mareeba, or spot a platypus near Yungaburra or Malanda. Take a nighttime spotlighting tour, and you might catch a glimpse of the rare Lumholtz's Tree Kangaroo. And if you're a keen birdwatcher... well, if you're a keen birdwatcher, you'll need to devote at least a week to the Atherton Tablelands, there's just too much here for one day, as you'll see on our BIRDWATCHING page. Waterfalls? We've got waterfalls! Start at Millaa Millaa, and there's a number of gorgeous waterfalls within a short 17 kilometre circuit.

Or for a real 'down under' experience, head to Undara Volcanic National Park, and tour the world's longest and largest lava tube system, and spend the night in luxuriously renovated railway carriages. Be aware that Undara is a three or four hour drive from Cairns, and their afternoon tours start at 1.00pm. If you're really set on seeing Undara, but you'd rather not rush your first day, why not have a look around the Tablelands during the day, then aim to get to Undara before nightfall? You'll spend the night in luxuriously renovated historic railway carriages, and you'll be there onsite ready for the morning tour of the lava tubes.

If you're having trouble deciding where to start, we suggest you have a browse through our ATHERTON TABLELANDS ITINERARY page.


DAY TWO:

Today, you'll leave the lush coastal highlands behind and emerge into the arid Northern Outback. Tonight's destination? GEORGETOWN, an old mining town with a modern day population of around 300. Along the way, you will pass through... well, not much really, this is the outback remember! No, seriously, you will pass through Mount Surprise, an old railway town on the side of an immense lava flow from an ancient volcano. This signals your arrival in the Gulf Savannah. The historic SAVANNAHLANDER train still passes through Mount Surprise bound for Einasleigh and Forsayth once a week, on Thursdays. The return trip is the following day, and the Savannahlander stops overnight in Mount Surprise before continuing to Cairns on Saturday morning. It's a memorable ride, and we recommend it if you happen to be in Mount Surprise on a Thursday, but of course it would add at least a full day to your itinerary.

The area around Georgetown is a fossicker's dream, rich in topaz, quartz, spinel, garnet, caringorn, aquamarine and sapphires. In town, you can view a collection of over 4500 mineral specimens at TerrEstrial, and around town there are a number fo great spots to try your luck fossicking. You'll find more details of these, and other things to see and do in Georgetown, on our GEORGETOWN page.

Overnight in Georgetown. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Georgetown. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our GEORGETOWN page.


DAY THREE:

Onward today to Croydon, the scene of Australia's last gold rush. Once home to 7000 people, and over 100 pubs, modern day Croydon has a population of just 300. It's no surprise that most of the things to see and do in Croydon revolve around the town's colourful history. There are a number of heritage listed buildings, and museums, enough to keep a history buff fascinated all day. You'll find more details of these, and other things to see and do in Croydon, on our CROYDON page.

Mad keen train buffs might even choose to continue on to Normanton, and double back via the historic Gulflander train. See Normanton, below...

Overnight in Croydon. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Croydon. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our CROYDON page.


DAY FOUR:

Today, we continue west to Normanton, the 'Barramundi Capital of the North'... and also the site of the world's largest ever saltwater crocodile. Besides the terrific fishing and the wonderful outback landscape, Normanton has its own fascinating history, which you will see in some of the town's intersting, even peculiar, buildings.

Normanton is also the terminus of the historic Gulflander train, which still plies the route to Croydon once a week. The Gulflander leaves Normanton every Wednesday and after overnighting in Croydon, returns Thursday morning. For more details about the historic Gulflander, and Normanton in general, please visit our NORMANTON page.

Overnight in Normanton. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Normanton. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our NORMANTON page.


DAY FIVE:

Our itinerary takes us south today, to Cloncurry. But there's the option to add an additional day to your journey, and take the highly recommended side trip to Karumba, on the Gulf of Carpenteria. Because of its strategic location, Karumba was a significant Air Force base during WWII. Today, it is the centre of a $130 million prawning industry. To find out more about Karumba, please visit our KARUMBA page.

Anyway, on to Cloncurry...

Cloncurry has a fascinating history, home of the iconic Royal Flying Doctors Service, the famous 'School of the air', and also boasts Australia's highest ever recorded temperature. I hope you've got an airconditioned vehicle!

Cloncurry is packed with museums that celebrate the town's rich and varied heritage. To find out more about Cloncurry, please visit our CLONCURRY page.

Overnight in Cloncurry. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Cloncurry. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our CLONCURRY page.


DAY SIX:

From Cloncurry, there is also the option of taking a side trip to Mount Isa, one of Australia's most significant mining towns. In fact, nature lovers might want to spend more than a day in and around 'The Isa', with the spectacular Lawn Hill Gorge in Boodjamulla National Park, and its neighbour, the world-heritage listed Riversleigh Fossil Fields, both nearby. You'll find more details of these, and other things to see and do in Mount Isa, on our MOUNT ISA page.

In fact, the road between Cloncurry is quite interesting in itself. This twisting, hilly route passes through the Selwyn Ranges, possibly the oldest exposed land mass on the face of the planet.

If you don't have time to visit Mount Isa, you'll be turning east today, just a short drive to Julia Creek. You are now on the Overlander's Way, which runs west from Townsville all the way to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. There are number of good swimming spots around Julia Creek, and if you're travelling during summer, you'll surely welcome a refreshing dip. Beer lovers and history lovers will come together at Julia Creek's historic pubs; Gannon's Hotel, and the Eddington Arms Hotel. There's a museum with displays relating to the early pioneering days, and the start of the cattle and sheep industry in the area. For more about Julia Creek, plase visit our JULIA CREEK page.

Overnight in Julia Creek. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Julia Creek. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our JULIA CREEK page.


DAY SEVEN:

Today, you'll be entering dinosaur territory. There are none left now, but the area around Richmond has seen the unearthing of numerous prehistoric marine and vertebrate fossils, including a 100 million year old Pliosaur, and their very own Kronosaurus Queenslandicus. Displays of these discoveries can be visited in Richmond's Marine Fossils Museum, the award-winning Kronosaurus Korner.

There are opportunities for fossicking around Richmond, and for history buffs, Richmond has a number of historic sites that are open to visitors. For more about Richmond, plase visit our RICHMOND page.

Overnight in Richmond. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Richmond. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our RICHMOND page.


DAY EIGHT:

If too many dinosaurs is never enough, then you're in luck, because your next stop is Hughenden, famous for the discovery in nearby Muttaburra of the first entire dinosaur skeleton ever found in Australia. But if dinosaurs aren't your bag, you'll be happy to hear that there is plenty of wonderful nature on your doorstep. Hughenden is surrounded by four National Parks, including the dramatic Porcupine Gorge, known as the 'little Grand Canyon'. For more about Hughenden, plase visit our HUGHENDEN page.

Overnight in Hughenden. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Hughenden. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our HUGHENDEN page.


DAY NINE:

Charters Towers is renowned for its historic character and appeal, its sprawling cattle stations, astonishing sunsets, a friendly atmosphere and for its collection of beautifully preserved 19th and early 20th century buildings that are now restored and used for everyday business. This is our destination for today, and there's plenty to see and do here. From the numerous historic buildings, to the museums and the old Venus Gold Battery. Follow the Charters Towers 'Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail' or head to one of the lookouts which offer excellent views over the town and the surrounding area. There's great barramundi fishing in nearby Burdekin Dam, or you can even take a walk through the Pioneer Cemetery. For more about Charters Towers, plase visit our CHARTERS TOWERS page.

This is your last night in Australia's great Northern Outback. Overnight in Charters Towers. We will come back with recommendations as to where to stay in Charters Towers. In the meantime, you can visit all the accommodation available in our CHARTERS TOWERS page.


DAY TEN:

Are you ready for some sand and sea? Well, you've got a choice. If you look at the map, you'll see that it's only 135 kilometres to TOWNSVILLE, the largest city in North Queensland. If you're ready for some metropolitan atmosphere, this might just be the destination for you. If you have time, you might consider heading across to Magnetic Island, just offshore from Townsville. But if you need to get back to Cairns, we recommend stopping halfway at peaceful Mission Beach for the night.

For more information about each of these tempting destinations, please visit the relevant pages below...

Castle Hill, in Townsville, Tropical North Queensland. Could there be anywhere in the world more relaxing than this? Magnetic Island is one of the most popular destinations with holiday makers and locals alike in Tropical North Queensland.

Tropical North Queensland's outback is a land of contrast.
Mining truck in one fo the many mining towns in Tropical North Queensland's outback.
Gold panning, like in the old days, can still be experienced in Tropical North Queensland's outback.
Deserted roads and blue skies make for a very interesting Tropical North Queensland's experience.