Savannah Way Drive

It’s been called the ultimate road trip.

From Cairns in the east to Broome in the west, the Savannah Way carves right across the top end of Australia – more than 3 and a half thousand kilometres through remote and remarkable country.

As it heads west, the highway threads through some of the state’s top attractions – like the Undara Lava Tubes; serene Cobbold Gorge; and Croydon to Normanton, where the Gulflander rides the rails from ‘nowhere to nowhere’.

Near Normanton, the Savannah Way skims close to the Gulf of Carpentaria. It’s just a 45 minute detour to Karumba, where the Norman River feeds into Gulf waters.

Plenty of southerners make the pilgrimage to Karumba each winter – staying at Sunset Caravan Park, just steps away from the water.  The park has powered sites and self-contained villas, set in shady gardens.

The best way to get your bearings in Karumba is to take a river cruise. On the Ferryman Croc & Sunset tour, you’ll learn about the town’s history and commercial fishing industry – and spy incredible bird life and, as the name suggests, a crocodile or two basking on the muddy banks. The excursion ends with bubbles, fresh prawns and nibbles while watching the sun go down over the water – a rarity on the eastern seaboard.

Karumba also has an amazing new attraction – the Les Wilson Barra Discovery Centre. Learn all about the mighty fish of the north and the hatchery’s program to support a healthy Barramundi population. There’s also the chance to hand-feed a giant barra – some grow to more than 1 and a half metres in length.

Beyond Normanton and Karumba, the Savannah Way switches between bitumen and bulldust. It’s 4 hours west to Burketown – and 70 kilometres shy of the town, the highway crosses the Leichhardt River. This popular free campsite is worth a whistle-stop, especially when the pretty Leichhardt Falls are running.

Burketown is the Gulf’s oldest settlement – named for Robert O’Hara Burke of the doomed Burke and Wills expedition. If only they’d stumbled across an oasis like Savannah Lodge.

This lush retreat in the heart of harsh country offers modern air-conditioned cabins with all the comforts.  Step outside your room and there’s a cool garden paradise to explore.

Burketown and its shire are home to the Waanyi and Gangalidda-Garawa people. Yagurli Tours is a wholly indigenously owned and run venture – offering incredible adventures in the Burketown region.

One of them is the Salt Pan Stargazing tour. Travel in convoy to Australia’s largest salt pans and peer into an ancient sky through powerful professional telescopes. Indigenous guides share traditional stories relating to the night sky.

Beyond Burketown, there’s the chance to take an alternative Savannah Way route and visit the little town of Gregory, to the south.

Gregory Downs was once one of the Gulf’s biggest cattle stations – and the old Gregory Downs Hotel is a great place to stop for a steak sandwich and coldie.

From Gregory, road signs point due west towards an oasis in the outback.

90 minutes’ drive brings you to Adel’s Grove Camping Park – an unexpected Eden in the wilds of the state’s far north-west.

Lawn Hill Creek is its centre-piece – and you can camp on its shady banks or throw your bags into one of the park’s permanent tents or ensuite rooms. There’s even a bar and restaurant – paradise indeed!

Adel’s Grove is an ideal base for exploring Boodjamulla National Park – which includes the Riversleigh Fossil Fields.  Take a guided tour and discover the land of ancient giants – mega-fauna like wombats the size of a hippopotamus; carnivorous kangaroos; and 3.5 metre high birds.

Boodjamulla also boasts one of the most beautiful scenic sights in Queensland – Lawn Hill Gorge. Take a walk up to the Island Stack Lookout for your first glimpse – then hop on board a solar-powered boat as it cruises this peaceful, perennially flowing waterway flanked by towering red sandstone cliffs.  The Waanyi people believe the gorge was carved by the Rainbow Serpent who promised that the water would always be there, if it was taken care of and not polluted.

Between 17 and 30 thousand years, indigenous Australians lived by the waterway and kept it pristine. Now, it’s enjoyed by countless visitors and remains a truly breath-taking feature of Queensland’s far north-west.

Previous articleWhat’s on in Outback Queensland this August
Next articleQuandamooka Festival – Yura Yalingbila