Traveling the Savannah Way

The Savannah Way is a road journey from the heart of two wilderness wonders – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest through the extraordinary Atherton Tablelands to the Northern Territory’s Top End and ultimately the historic coastal pearl that is Broome.

Image by @lc79_adventures

It’s called Australia’s Adventure Ride and the Atherton Tablelands is at its exciting start…or fascinating finish.

First things first, drivers on the Savannah Way have to know what they are doing. Not all of it is sealed so you will need a decent vehicle. It goes through some very remote country so have a good map, plenty of water, important supplies such as prescription medication and be aware of dangers, such as crocodiles. Respect local culture, check road conditions before you set out and make use of the Savannah Guides along the way.

Now let the 3700km adventure start. 

If you start at its eastern point the route begins in Cairns on the Kennedy Highway and heads up the mighty Macalister Range to Kuranda. This 12km drive itself may be a highlight of the trip. Lush rainforest and a curvaceous road make this ascent memorable. 

Kuranda is a fun first stop on the Savannah Way, an eclectic mix of quirky shops and stalls, wildlife attractions and natural beauty. Mareeba next, the coffee capital of Australia. There are multiple chances to test the brew made on the luxuriant Atherton Tablelands. 

Take the time to go off the beaten track and visit some of the many sights on the Atherton Tablelands including the waterfall and volcanic crater lake circuit, the enormous fig trees, pretty towns such as Yungaburra and Millaa Millaa, foodie heaven including several cheesemaking dairies, tropical fruit orchards and a distillery and many, many opportunities to interactive with wildlife not seen anywhere else in Australia.

Historic Village Herberton is also worth a side trip to walk through an authentic pioneer town. Back on the route, Ravenshoe is the highest town in Queensland at 930m and has one of Queensland’s largest wind farms with more than 20 turbines.

The Undara Experience is a golden opportunity for the budding Indiana Jones in the family and anyone who likes something unique. Visit the lava tubes and follow the trail of an ancient volcano, watch micro bats head out to feed and stay in a railway carriage at this gateway to the Savannah Gulf Country.

This section of the Savannah Way will take you through to Normanton, home of Krys the Croc, an 8.5 metre marvel. You can also hop on the Gulflander here for a three-hour Billy tea and damper excursion into the savannah landscape. Near Normanton is Burke and Wills Camp CXIX, the most northern known campsite of the pair. They stopped here on 11 February 1861 near Bynoe Creek.

It’s worth hopping off the route to visit Karumba, population 531 and barramundi capital of the world. This port town on the banks of the Norman River in the heart of the Gulf of Carpentaria and is loved by Barra fishermen in the winter. It does a great sunset or you can do its famous croc and mud crab tour.  

Now comes the unsealed bit though to Katherine. 

This is where the four-wheel drive enthusiasts will come into their own. There are lovely riverside camping spots along this part of the Way and the fishing remains excellent. You may want to do a loop detour here to take in Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill National Park) and the Riversleigh fossil fields.

Borroloola is one of Australia’s most remote spots and there is plenty of fishing to be had here as well.  Hell’s Gate as the name suggests has had a wild past and is a legendary drovers landmark. It’s now an essential fuel stop on the road. 

Katherine is the big smoke on the journey.  You can rest and relax, especially its hot springs very close to town. There are also lots of galleries around town and an opportunity to experience local Indigenous culture from the making of digeridoos and boomerangs to weaving and carving.

Cruises are available on the Katherine River and there is barramundi in the multiple rivers. Nitmiluk National Park (Katherine Gorge) is a must do with its rugged scenery, towering cliff faces and refreshing swimming holes. 

Purnululu National Park is home to the remarkable Bungle Bungle Range and is about 250km west of Kununurra and 108km east of Halls Creek. You are now at the top of the Great Sandy Desert which may be an opportunity to consider how far you have come from Tropical North Queensland.

Broome is the end – or start of the Savannah Way. It’s a coastal gem with its pearl fishing heritage and Cable Beach. Leave your vehicle, hop on a camel and ride off into the sunset.