The Savannah Way
The 3700km Savannah Way stretches from Cairns on the east coast to Broome on the west coast via Katherine in central Australia. The route traverses some of the country’s most rugged and spectacular scenery, including five World Heritage listed areas and more than 15 national parks. Part of its allure is its remoteness and lack of development, as it passes through savannah woodlands, historic mining towns, Aboriginal communities, cattle stations and ever-changing geological wonders.
The Etheridge region to the west of the Atherton Tablelands still echoes with the romance of the famous gold rush days that drew thousands of miners to try their luck at a series of sites from the mid-1860s. Relics of those days can still be found throughout the district and around the settlements of Mount Surprise, Einasleigh, Forsayth and Georgetown. Several goldfields, base metal fields and gem fields still excite fossickers today. The “poor man’s” Etheridge goldfield, so-called because you don’t need expensive equipment, has never been worked out. Modern day prospectors with metal detectors and hand tools find specimens such as coloured topaz, agates, sapphires, smoky quartz and other precious stones, and gold nuggets. Visitors to the region will enjoy getting off the beaten track, camping in remote locales by waterholes with giant paperbarks, bird watching, visiting historic ghost towns and simply enjoying the tranquillity amid the region’s wooded savannah grasslands.
THE ROUTE The road from Cairns to Karumba is sealed and
suitable for caravan and two-wheel drive touring. Four-wheel drive adventures can be found on side or alternate routes and the largely unsealed roads from Normanton to Burketown and beyond are recommended for 4WDs and off-road equipment. You can visit the Savannah Way all year round – the summer and winter months have their unique aspects. Travel is uncrowded during the summer season from December to March, when the countryside is lush and birdlife prolific. Traversing the six Gulf Savannah shires of Etheridge, Croydon, Carpentaria, Burke, Mornington and Doomadgee, the route features unusual outback attractions and welcoming country towns. Activities include fishing, exploring natural springs, caves, waterfalls and lakes ideal for bird watching. Croydon town was famous for its gold rush, but the port for the gold was Normanton, which is now the major service centre in the Gulf Savannah. Karumba, at the Norman River mouth, is the centre for prawning and barramundi. Don’t miss the Barramundi Discovery Centre or sunset at Karumba Point. Beyond Karumba and Normanton lies Burketown, Gregory, and Boodjamulla National Park’s spectacular Lawn Hill Gorge and the World Heritage listed Riversleigh Fossil Fields. Although much of the stretch from Gregory Downs to Boodjamulla, (formerly Lawn Hill) National Park near the Queensland-Northern Territory border, is unsealed, the destination of Lawn Hill Gorge and the famous Riversleigh Fossil Fields is well-worth a little dust. This area is easily accessible by two-wheel drive vehicles during the dry season. The town of Katherine is renowned for the magnificent 13 gorges in Nitmiluk National Park, where you can canoe, take a boat cruise, swim, walk and enjoy a scenic flight.
MT SURPRISE is the first town encountered within the Gulf Savannah when travelling from the East. This railway town on the old Cairns to Forsayth line is an ideal area to fossick for gemstones, explore the Forty Mile Scrub National Park, cool off at Junction Creek just a few miles west, or swim in the Einasleigh River, especially in the early part of the year after the storms. Here you can see a wide range of gem stones and learn how faceting is done, join a dig at a local claim with expert guides or explore by yourself with hire equipment, mud map, fossicking licence and advice. The O’Brien’s Creek designated fossicking area, 37km north of Mt Surprise, is a well-known topaz area and yields gorgeous stones.