1,099 kms (one way)
Car or Camper
Hell's Gate to Cairns
The legendary Savannah Way is a true-blue beauty of a drive, spanning three Aussie states and territories, twenty national parks and five World Heritage sites. From one side of the continent to the other, it explores 3,699kms of outback, famous fishing hubs, bird-watching hotspots, fossicking sites and cattle stations that welcome visitors on their journey through “gulp country” – a reference to how quickly (and frequently) cold bevvies are consumed in the hottest part of the country.
So prepare your rig and get ready for the Queensland section of the Savannah Way, which takes you from Hells’s Gate east to Cairns.
Hell's Gate to Lawn Hill Gorge
You’ve driven over the Northern Territory border and into the gates of Hell; correction, into Hell’s Gate. Although this spot might not have the prettiest name, Hell’s Gate Roadhouse is a welcome stop as you arrive in outback Queensland. Pull up a pew just 50km east of the border and chow down on a homemade meal.
After you’re fully fuelled, set your sights two and a half hours south to the Lawn Hill Gorge Camping Area, which is a great base to explore the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and Riversleigh Fossil Fields. The road is partially unsealed, so 4WD is recommended.
Stay: Lawn Hill Gorge Camping Area OR Adel’s Grove
Lawn Hill Gorge and Riversleigh Fossil Fields
Enjoy a ripper of a day exploring Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and the Riversleigh Fossil Fields. Hire a canoe at Adel’s Grove and paddle through vibrant green waters surrounded by the 60m high sandstone walls of Lawn Hill Gorge. Half-day tours of the national park and fossil fields are available from Adel’s Grove with qualified Savannah Guides. If you’d rather go it alone, head out on one of the many walking tracks ranging from 600m to 7km.
Spend your arvo exploring Riversleigh World Heritage Site, which is a 40min drive from Adel’s Grove. The Riversleigh Fossil Fields is the richest known fossil mammal deposit in Australia, home to fossils dating back 25 million years.
Lawn Hill Gorge to Burketown
From the Lawn Hill Gorge Camping Area, head 217km north-east to Burketown. Try your hand at catching a barra in Burketown, 2.5hrs down the road, and you’ll soon see why it’s the barra capital of the country. Not packed a rod and reel? Stop by at the local general store and yarn with locals for insider knowledge on the best fishing spots.
Burketown Caravan Park has it’s own fishing tackle store, ice, bait and fish cleaning area, making it a winner.
Although every day on a road trip is a stellar day, if you’re visiting Burketown in September or October you can literally start your day with morning glory. The morning glory clouds are rolling low-lying, cigar-shaped clouds that roll in like waves. Burketown is one of the only places in the world that you can predictably see them.
With wetlands to the north and grasslands to the south, Burketown is a haven for Australian birdlife. Keep your binoculars steady and you might spot one of the 13 endemic, seed-eating birds that Australia’s tropical savannahs are home to. If you’re looking to tick a few finch off your list, this is your spot with 14 of Australia’s 18 species residing here.
Learn the history of Traditional Owners on a memorable stargazing tour over the salt plains, north of Burketown with Yagurli Tours. Dreamtime stories of the Gandalidda People will be interpreted through the stars, in skies completely free from light pollution in this culturally significant place. Or hit the skies in an Aloft Hot Air Balloon to see Australia’s largest salt pans from above.
Burketown to Normanton
When a replica statue of the largest croc ever shot competes with a purple pub as the most photographed thing in Normanton, you know you’re in a bewdy of a place. Jump on a pub-crawl with a dusty twist and visit the Albion Hotel (with its famous murals painted by Aussie painter and explorer, Percy Trezise), the Purple Pub (National Hotel) and the Central Hotel and chat to the locals. Normanton is also rich in exploration history with the last marked campsite of Australian explorers, Burke and Wills nearby.
Throw a line off the banks of the Norman River and rest your head at the nearby Albion Hotel, which offers a pretty good feed.
Optional Detour – Karumba
If you like your sunsets served with a cold one and some boat-fresh prawns, a detour to Karumba is calling. On your way, you’ll pass through the Mutton Hole Wetlands; an internationally-listed wetland habitat that is a twitchers dream. Here, you’ll likely spot brolgas, pelicans and black swans amongst the tidal estuaries that are also habitat to saltwater crocodiles.
Karumba is the centre of Australia’s prawning, crabbing and barramundi fishing industries, so it’s no surprise that the busiest places in town are the boat ramp and the Sunset Tavern, both brimming with stories. To see what all the fuss is about, head out with Kerry D Fishing Charters. They’ll bring the gear, quality bait, tackle and your smoko too.
If you want to crown yourself a barra expert, head to the Les Wilson Barramundi Centre, the only hatchery in the world to breed the Southern Gulf barra.
Normanton to Croydon
Park up at Normanton and jump aboard the Gulflander, the great rail journey famously travelling from nowhere to nowhere. The Tin Hare, as she’s affectionately known, departs each Wednesday and passes through the heart of the Gulf Savannah on a line originally built to service the gold rush of Croydon in the late 1800s. Yarn to the on-board Savannah Guides to learn about the journey’s incredible history. The Gulflander has a number of travel options available, including a one-way trip with a coach return to Normanton or a share ride, where someone travels half-way by train before swapping with their driver who’s followed along by road. You can also opt to enjoy a return trip with a night’s stay in Croydon. Or if you’d like to experience the Gulflander without travelling to Croydon, the Classic RM60 Excursion is a 40 minute experience on a vintage railmotor.
Croydon to Georgetown
Georgetown is the gateway to Etheridge Shire, the “golden heart of the gulf”, which is full of fossicking sites and gem-laden landscapes. A gold mining hub in its heyday, Georgetown attracts fossicking folk hunting for semi-precious stones like topaz, quartz, spinel, garnet, cairngorm, aquamarine and sapphires. If you don’t fancy a treasure hunt, head to the TerrEstrial Centre to see the 4,500 specimens at Ted Elliot Mineral Collection, avid collector, Ted Elliot’s lifetime collection. The centre is also a Visitor Information Centre, Council Library and Internet Cafe, so stay a little while.
Georgetown to Cobbold Gorge
From Georgetown take a detour 145km south to Cobbold Gorge. This rocky gorge carves its way through ancient sandstone cliffs revealing some of the most breathtaking landscapes formed hundreds of millions of years ago. Cobbold Gorge sits within a large nature refuge, which protects vulnerable and rare plant species.
Stay- Cobbold Gorge Village
Cobbold Gorge Village is a one stop shop offering cabin accommodation, camping and a great feed.
With so much to do at Cobbold Gorge, it’s worth dedicating a whole day to explore. Guided tours through the gorge are conducted on custom-made boats with virtually silent, electric motors. Opt for the 3hr tour which includes insights into the formation of the large, sandstone walls, a walk to the grave of pioneer John Corbett and a guided bushwalk to the top of the escarpment.
If you’re feeling adventurous, hop aboard a stand-up paddle board to explore the gorge or take to the skies on a scenic helicopter flight.
Cobbold Gorge to Talaroo Hot Springs
Chuck a north at Forsyth and make way to Talaroo Hot Springs, traditional land of the Ewamian People. Join a guided tour of the hot springs and discover the travertine terraces and their connection to traditional owners. Experience the waters’ healing properties first hand with a dip in the communal bathing pool or up the ante and book a private soaking pool.
Optional Detour – Einsleigh
Take the longer route to Talaroo and stop off at Einasleigh and grab some tucker at the historic Einasleigh Hotel. Walk to Copperfield Gorge for a much-deserved swim.
Talaroo Hot Springs to Undara
Head east to Mount Surprise, a quaint country town, which is great place to refuel and grab a bite to eat. Or stay a little longer and Fossick for gems in O’Briens. If you’re passing through Mount Surprise on a Thursday or Friday, you may cross tracks with the Savannahlander, another iconic train journey.
Stay- Undara Experience
Pull up to Undara Experience and enjoy a yarn with fellow travellers around the fire before hitting the hay in a converted historic train carriage.
Undara Volcanic National Park
Embrace life out bush with Undara Experience’s famous bush brekkie, featuring a billy tea and hot and cold food. Just watch out for the cheeky kookaburras!
Join the local legends (aka Savannah Guides) to explore the Undara Lava Tubes, which are one of the world’s longest flows of lava and are around 190,000 years old. The Archway Explorer tour, which is on a boardwalk, is great for all fitness levels. Or up the notch on the Windtunnel experience, the more active option.
Fuel up with some lunch at the Fettler’s Iron Pot Bistro and tackle one of the nearby walks. The Kalkani Crater is a stunner and has a 2.4km walking loop around the rim of the crater and is a stellar spot for sunset, as is the Wildlife at Sunset tour, where you can enjoy wine and cheese from an exclusive location, before heading to Barkers Cave to watch the microbats emerge for the evening.
Undara Experience to Innot Hot Springs
Say hooroo to the outback as the red scenery gradually transforms to green as you enter the Atherton Tablelands. Pull up at Mount Garnet for your final outback location and a feed before driving a further 16km to Innot Hot Springs where the natural hot springs are said to have healing properties. If the water there is too hot, Innot Springs Health and Leisure Park has pools filled with the natural mineral water at varying temperatures.
Optional Detour – Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park
If time is no drama, make the well-worth 187km detour to Chillagoe-Mungana Caves National Park. Join a guide three different guided cave tours or live out your Indiana Jones dream and explore a further three on your own. The historic Chillagoe Smelters offer insight into the state’s mining and industrial heritage, whilst a visit to balancing rock is sure to baffle you in all the right ways.
Innot Hot Springs to Atherton Tablelands
As you drive east into the rolling hills of the Atherton Tablelands, keep your eyes peeled for signs for attractions and towns. There’s so much to do up here, that you could easily spend a week exploring. First on the cards is Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town. Pull up a pew in the “Highest pub in Queensland” for a cold one and a feed before you head to Millstream Falls, the widest single-drop waterfall in Aus.
A further 26 km north-east brings you to Millaa Millaa, home to the famous Waterfall Circuit, as well as a stellar lookout over the rolling green hills. Swim in the iconic Millaa Millaa Falls and Ellinjaa Falls and see the staggering Zillie Falls from the Lookout.
Swim in an ancient crater lake at Lake Eacham or relax with a Devonshire Tea with views over Lake Barrine. Drive a few kms to nearby Yungaburra to see the giant curtain fig tree and search for platypus in Peterson Creek.
Foodies can get their fill on the tablelands with local produce in abundance on the Atherton Tablelands food trail. Munch on locally-made cheeses and chocolate at Gallo, sip spirits at Mt Uncle Distillery or get the ultimate coffee buzz at Coffeeworks, Skybury or Jaques.
Stay: The BIG4 Atherton Tablelands Tourist Park welcomes visitors in a range of comfortable accommodation options or campgrounds. Its central location in the Atherton township makes it an easy base to explore and restock.
Atherton Tablelands to Cairns
Time to jump back in the car and track on to Mareeba for a taste of outdoor adventure and rich history. Stop in at the Heritage Museum and Information Centre for an interactive look into the town’s history. Or if your idea of adventure is hiking, camping and the great outdoors – make a splash at Davies Creek Falls or Emerald Creek Falls (don’t forget to stop in for Ice Cream while you’re here!).
Optional: Set up camp at Davies Creek Falls and extend your trip by a few more days!
Continue north to check out the quirky hippy hub of Kuranda and you may find that you feel like you’ve gone back in time! The Original Rainforest markets offer locally made clothing, gifts, jewellery and art, as well as yummy food options for everyone. Get your wildlife fix at one of the Kuranda wildlife parks.
Head “down the hill” to Cairns, the final destination of the Savannah Way. Cairns is the launch-pad to the Great Barrier Reef and there’s plenty of ways to see the big blue. Stay at one of the caravan parks between Cairns and Palm Cove or hit the hay at one of the great hotels in the Cairns CBD.
Day tours to the reef or Green or Fitzroy Island depart within walking distance from most major hotels. If you’re staying over the weekend, make a beeline to Rusty’s Market, where regional fresh produce can be picked up by the box-load. There’s also an exceptional number of restaurants and cafes to choose from, many with Esplanade or water-front locations.