THE SAVANNAH WAY
The Savannah Way is one of Australia's ultimate self drive Adventure, linking Cairns with Broome, in the Northern Territory. A good 3699 kilometres of natural wonders through the top of the country, including four World Heritage areas and more than 15 National Parks. The Savannah Way covers a wide area of Tropical North Queensland, from the tropical city of Cairns to the isolted Gulf town of Karumba.
The 'Savannah Way' is considered of one the world's greatest cross-continental road trips, connecting the tropical city of Cairns with the remote coastal city of Broome, in Western Australia. Along the Savannah Way, visitors will discover a whole universe of breathtaking and varied scenery, from ancient gorges to wide horizons, from stunning waterfalls to crystal clear crater lakes.
The drive from Cairns to Karumba can be done in seven days, allowing sufficient time to visit the major points of interest along the way. Here you have a possible example of how those seven days and approximately 1100 kilometres could pan out. Of course you can drive more or less each day, and this part of Tropical North Queensland could easily captivate you to spend weeks, rather than days.
Day One: Cairns to Atherton
Atherton is located only an hour away from the city of Cairns, in the Atherton Tablelands, but it can seem like a world away from the hustle and bustle of the coastal city. Away from the tropical humidity and heat of Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands, also known as the Cairns Highlands, are a treat for the visitor.
The first point of interest between Cairns and Atherton is Kuranda, just atop the range, and shrouded in rainforest. Kuranda is located only a few kilometres north of Cairns and the drive is very enjoyable. In Kuranda you can visit any of the numerous zoos and wildlife parks or find a bargain in the many markets in the town. Between Kuranda and Atherton you will also find Mareeba, famous for the many wineries and coffee and fruit plantations. You can see them all in our ATHERTON TABLELANDS FOOD TRAIL.. And, of course, visit the Cathedral Fig, one of the most beautiful sights of the Tablelands. Atherton and Yungaburra both offer a range of accommodation options for your overnight stay.
Day Two: Southern Atherton Tablelands
Atherton has some very interesting sights for the visitor, including an old Chinese Temple and a fascinating crystal collection featuring the largest (three tonnes!) Amethyst geode in the world. It is really worth a visit. It is in nearby Millaa Millaa where the famous Waterfall Circuit begins, with sensational waterfalls that will really impress the visitor. If you have seen photos of the Tablelands featuring a waterfall, it is the Millaa Millaa Falls, that have become synonymous of the Cairns Highlands. South of Atherton you will find Mount Hypipamee National Park. Make it to the viewing platform and enjoy the sight of its huge deep crater filled with deep still water. When night approaches, choose from Yungaburra, Malanda, Millaa Millaa or Ravenshoe for your accommodation. Although each quite different in style and character, they are all within a 35 kilometre radius.
Day Three: Ravenshoe to Georgetown
Ravenshoe, at 930 metres above sea level, is the highest town in Queensland. The town nestles in a region of mountain pastures and lush World Heritage listed rainforest. The road north of the town, leading to Herberton, is the highest declared road in Queensland at 1,143 metres. Ravenshoe is at the crossroads of the Atherton Tablelands and the Savannah lands of the Northern Outback, and is a significant stopover for travellers, either passing through by road or hiking the Misty Mountain Trails.
On the way to Georgetown, located 257km southwest, you will find Millstream Falls, Australia's widest waterfalls, and Innot Hot Springs, famous for its unique natural thermal mineral springs. Legend has it that the water from the source of the natural mineral springs have beneficial effects on the weary traveller.
The Savannah Way passes also through Mount Garnet, an old mining town. The area around Mount Garnet is still renowned as a worthwhile location for gold prospectors and gem collectors. Continuing west from Mount Garnet for approximately 1.5 hours, the Kennedy Highway will bring you to the amazing Undara Lava tubes, near Mount Surprise. This is truly one of the region's prehistoric treasures, the largest and longest lava tube system on the planet, with a lava field that extended up to 160 kilometres from the crater.
Next stop is Mount Surprise, an old railway town on the Cairns to Forsayth line. It sits aside an immense lava flow from an ancient volcano, and signals the beginning of the Gulf Savannah. The historic Savannahlander train still passes through Mount Surprise bound for Einasleigh and Forsayth once a week. If you happen to be in the area at that time, don't miss it.
And nearly 100 kilometres from Mount Surprise is Georgetown.
Day Four: Georgetown to Croydon
Georgetown is these days a sleepy village, but it was a flourishing gold mining town in the 1880's. This area is still very popular with gold fossickers. The town's highlight is Terrestrial, which houses a local collection of over 4,500 mineral specimens. This collection is the work of one man, Ted Elliott, a myriad of fascinating colours and shapes from the region and throughout the world.
South of Georgetown lies Cobbold Gorge, a truly amazing experience. Cobbold Gorge is unique, hidden away within the rugged sandstone formations of North Queensland. This gorge is extremely narrow, closing to a mere two meters wide in places, with spectacular 30 meter cliffs on either side. The overall length of the gorge is about six kilometres and consists of a series of water-holes and rock falls, however only the last 500 meters is accessible by flat bottom boat. Although you will have to leave the Savannah Way in order to get to Cobbold Gorge and retrace your way to get to Croydon, you will not regret it.
Day Five: Croydon to Normanton
In 1885, after the other north Queensland goldfields had been exhausted, desperate miners flocked to Croydon. At the height of the gold rush, the town was home to more than 7,000 people - making it the fourth largest town in the colony of Queensland - and according to legend, home to more than a hundred pubs! Nowadays, Croydon's historic Club Hotel is the only remaining licensed establishment. But there are many other historic buildings in this little town, which the history buffer will find very interesting. Croydon is also home to the Gulflander train, also known as the 'old tin hare', which runs the 150 kilometre route to and from Normanton.
Day Six: Normanton to Karumba
Normanton town sits atop a high ironstone ridge, overlooking the Savannah grasslands to the west, and the wetlands to the north. The Norman River is a great spot for fishing. In fact, Normanton is proud to call itself the 'Barramundi Capital of the North', with locals regularly catching fish in excess of five kilos. Just over a kilometre out of Normanton, on the Normanton-Burketown road, you will see signs marking Camp 119, the northernmost point of the ill fated BURKE AND WILLS EXPEDITION from 1860-61. This was the first expedition to cross Australia from south to north, finding a route across the continent from the settled areas of Victoria to the Gulf of Carpentaria, a trek of 2,650 kilometres. At that time, most of the inland of Australia had not been explored and was completely unknown to the European settlers.
Don't leave Normanton without visiting the life size replica of the largest crocodile ever caught. This beast, affectionately nicknamed 'Krys the Savannah King', was shot on the MacArthur Bank of the Norman River in 1857, and measured a staggering 8.63 metres! But if you are still searching for big things, Normanton is also home to the "Big Barramundi", as it couldn't be otherwise.
The town's greatest tourist attraction is undoubtedly 'The Gulflander'. The rail is a masterpiece of adaptive design, utilizing special steel sleepers which allowed the train to resume travel immediately after wet season flood waters receded. Now National Trust listed, it is one of Normanton's most distinctive landmarks, an unusual building with unique decorative patterns on the cross-braces which hold up the corrugated-iron roof.
Karumba is the only town along the southern Gulf of Carpentaria that is actually within sight of the open sea. Karumba is also renowned as the place to see the most spectacular sunsets in all of Australia. If you are visiting between September and November, keep an eye out for the unusual tubular cloud formations known as MORNING GLORIES which roll out from the Gulf in the early morning.
Day Seven: Karumba to Burketown
The next town you will visit is the tiny, isolated township of Burketown. Burketown sits on the Albert River and marks the point where the wetlands to the north fade into the beginning of the savannah grass plains to the south. Today, Burketown is one of Tropical North Queensland's most famed locations for barramundi fishing, and the local population swells every year as keen fishermen from all around the country make their pilgrimage to the town. Another interesting point in Burketown is the artesian bore. It still issues boiling water and has created a billabong where birdlife gathers. The minerals in the water, over the years, have built up, and nowadays the bore looks more like a modern sculpture than a tap to a supply of underground hot water. Also the pond around the bore has been coloured by the minerals.