The Savannah Way from Cairns to the Northern Territory border is rich with natural wonders and the Top End route is passable to all vehicles including caravans during the dry season, generally late April to early October.
It is also navigable during the storm season from October to January. It is advisable to take a 4WD or high clearance vehicle, but there can be problems for caravans at this time.
The stormy season lives up to its name – roads are often cut for a day or two following torrents of afternoon rain. The Gulf Savannah Tourist Organisation offers advice on road conditions.
It is best not to attempt the route from January to March in any vehicle, because you might get stuck for many days or even weeks
The Queensland end from Cairns to the NT border is just a section or the entire route. It passes through an amazingly diverse and spectacular landscape of wide horizons, ancient gorges, rock pools, hot springs, and abundant wildlife.
From Cairns and the World Heritage Listed reef and rainforest, the Savannah Way winds its way up through the Atherton Tablelands before opening out on the endless horizons of the Gulf Savannah and the Northern Territory.
The Savannah Way may be one of the nation’s ultimate adventure drives, but is suitable for both 4WD and 2WD vehicles depending on the route chosen.
From the Gateway Discovery Centre in Cairns explore the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef and World Heritage Listed rainforest and townships of the Atherton Tablelands, before heading west to the Gulf Savannah. The accredited information centres in Mareeba, Atherton, and Ravenshoe provide expert information on the area, its history and people.
Take a detour along the Wheelbarrow Way from Mareeba and step back in time through Chillagoe’s two-million-year-old limestone caves or the 120-year-old Tyrconnell gold mine and historic cemetery and rejoin the Savannah Way just west of Mt Garnet.
Back on the Savannah Way, stop and revive at the Innot Hot Springs, before arriving at the Undara Lava Tubes. This natural wonder can only be accessed through the Undara Lava Lodge and tours are conducted by highly trained Savannah Guides.
Known as the protectors of the Savannah, the Savannah Guides is a network of professional tour guides with a collective, in-depth knowledge of the natural and cultural assets of the tropical savannahs of northern Australia.
The pioneer towns of the Gulf Savannah are great places to base yourself explore from, and discover the side roads. Indulge in a bit of fossicking for topaz and other gems at O’Brien’s Creek near Mt Surprise.
Visit the Savannah Guide post in town for directions. A visit to the TerrEstrial Centre in Georgetown to view the amazing mineral collections is a must. Yet another geological masterpiece of the Gulf Savannah region is the Cobbold Gorge.
Take the alternative route via the Lynd Junction and you pass through the historic mining towns of Einasleigh and Forsayth. Cobbold Gorge is located just 45 kilometres south of Forsayth. A variety of tours of the Gorge are available with your own Savannah Guide.
Take a walking tour of the historic gold mining town of Croydon before hopping on or following the Gulflander Train to Normanton. Don’t miss Karumba – a great location for fishing and watching sunset steal over the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Further west, stop over at historic Burketown, then visit the ancient relics of the World Heritage Listed Riversleigh Fossil Fields, which are adjacent to the lush Lawn Hill National Park near the Queensland and Northern Territory border.
It is dry most of the year in the Gulf Savannah, but in the wet season, usually from December to March, the countryside is extremely green and alive with prolific bird life.
High rainfall during this time means the conditions of the unsealed roads can change rapidly. Travellers should always ring an accredited information centre first if they are thinking of travelling in the summer or wet season, or visit the RACQ website (www.racq.com.au) for the latest advice on road conditions.
This is a fascinating journey through time. It crosses amazing landscapes formed by unimaginable geological forces, sculptured by wind and water. Aboriginal harvested its natural food sources for thousands of years.
In more contemporary times pastoralists, fishermen and miners harnessed its assets.
The Savannah Way touring experience stretches across northern Australia, from Cairns in Queensland via Borroloola and Katherine in the Northern Territory to Broome in Western Australia.
Highlights include tiny historical townships, cattle stations, gorges, natural springs and waterholes, roadside campsites, fishing hot spots and spectacular national parks.
The route of about 3700km officially opened in May 2004.
It is described as the ultimate, unique self-drive adventure. It is an easy to follow route that includes clear signage, interpretative displays, maps and brochures, as well as a comprehensive visitor information centre network for travellers.
Heading west from Queensland into the NT, the Savannah Way strings the Outback towns of Borroloola, Daly Waters, Larrimah, Mataranka, Katherine and Timber Creek together en route to Western Australia.
The Daly Waters Pub is the perfect place to stop and have a chat with some true Territory characters.
Stay over at Borroloola and Timber Creek for some action fishing.
Explore life on a Territory cattle station at Lorella Springs, north of Cape Crawford and Pungalina Station, west of Borroloola. But ring ahead to Lorella and Pungalina to let them know you are coming.
There are spectacular National Parks along the Savannah Way that warrant at least a few days exploration.
They include Gregory and Keep River National Parks near the WA border in the Northern Territory. Gregory is renowned for its raw beauty and is relatively unexplored with fantastic 4WD tracks. The highlight of Keep River National Park is its gorge and ancient Aboriginal art sites.
In Western Australia, the route follows the sealed Great Northern Highway, but as an alternative why not travel via the Gibb River Road that explores some of the remotest land in Australia.
High clearance vehicles are recommended. Check road conditions at the Kimberley Visitor Centre, as travel is restricted during the tropical summer.
From Kununurra, In WA, the unusual World-Heritage listed sandstone beehives of the Bungle Bungles in the Purnululu National Park are a must-see. Access is via the bitumen of The Great Northern Highway and a 4WD track about 56km from Turkey Creek and 153km north east of Halls Creek. It is not advisable to tow standard trailers into the park. Caravans will not survive the trip.
The magnificent Lake Argyle near Kununurra and the white sandy beaches of Broome are also essential viewing.
The most popular time to do the unique drive is the dry season, between April and September. But, summer (December – March) is a prettier (though hotter) time to experience the wonders of the way, with lush green foliage, clear, full-flowing waterways and even greater numbers of colourful, rare birds in the surrounding wetlands.
One of the challenges of travelling in summer is that some of the main routes will be closed. Alternate routes are available and access is possible throughout the year, although certain areas may be temporarily impassable following prolonged periods of rain.
The RACQ and Tourism Queensland have developed a Savannah Way touring brochure available from the RACQ. It includes a map, distances and times between centres.
1. Tempting as it might be to stop by the side of the road and take a swim in one of the rivers, think otherwise as they are inhabited by both salt water and freshwater crocodiles. Many areas are sign-posted, however, this is not always the case, so don’t rely on that.
2. Whilst most of the road is sealed, Normanton, Qld, to Roper Bar, NT, is unsealed, so check the road reports before taking off during the wet season (December – March).
Phone: 1300 130 595 for a 24-hour road report in Qld or visit www.racq.com.au
Phone: 1800 246 199 for a 24-hour road report in NT or visit www.roadreport.nt.gov.au
Phone: 1800 013 314 for a 24-hour road report in WA or visit www.mainroads.wa.gov.au
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