Cairns - Ravenshoe - Georgetown - Normanton - Katherine
Drive from Cairns, through Queensland's lush Tropical Tablelands and historic goldfields, and across the Northern Territory border to Katherine. Walk through World Heritage-listed rainforest in Kuranda and explore the produce-rich countryside around Mareeba. Visit a century-old Chinese temple in Atherton and spend the night in Ravenshoe, Queensland's highest town. Marvel at Millstream Falls, Australia's widest waterfalls and lose yourself in the caves of Undara Volcanic National Park, the world's longest lava system. Fossick for gold in historic Croydon and Georgetown and spot crocodiles in the wetlands around Normanton. Discover hidden gorges and Aboriginal rock art in Boodjamulla National Park before crossing the Central Gulf into the Northern Territory. From here, the Savannah Way continues across the outback all the way to Western Australia's pearling town of Broome.
At a glance:
- Cairns to Atherton (1.5 hours)
- Atherton to Georgetown (4 hours)
- Georgetown to Normanton (5 hours)
- Normanton to Burketown (3 hours)
- Burketown to Borroloola (7 hours)
- Borroloola to Katherine (9 hours)
Cairns to Atherton
Drive out of tropical Cairns, on the doorstep of north Queensland’s islands, rainforest and reef. Bushwalk, visit Barron Falls and browse the markets in the butterfly-fringed rainforest village of Kuranda. Then continue on to Mareeba, set amidst orchards, coffee plantations and sugar cane fields. Bushwalk and spot rare native birds in the Mareeba Wetlands and explore the volcanic rock formations of Granite Gorge. See Aboriginal rock art galleries in Davies Creek National Park or picnic next to the peaceful pools of Emerald Creek Falls. For an off-the-track adventure, drive 140 kilometres (87 miles) west to the famous Chillagoe-Mungana Caves. Or continue past the wildlife-rich Tolga Scrub into Atherton, in the heart of the scenic Tropical Tablelands. Walk through rainforest and past miniature waterfalls for a top-of-the-tablelands view from Halloran’s Hill. Take a steam train to the old tin mining town of Herberton. Picnic in Platypus Park, visit the century-old Chinese temple and discover a sweet cacophony of birds in Hasties Swamp.
Atherton to Georgetown
Discover more picturesque attractions around Atherton. Hike through rainforest, pine and eucalypt plantations in Danbulla State Forest or fish for barramundi from Barron River. Drive to dairy-rich Malanda to see ancient Bromfield Swamp and walk to Malanda Falls. Or detour south to Hypipamee National Park to see a deep crater filled with water. From Ravenshoe, Queensland’s highest town, it’s just a short bushwalk to Tully Falls, an awe-inspiring torrent after wet season rains. Camp, water ski and fish at Kombooloomba Dam, a little further down. Drive the Waterfall Circuit past picture-perfect waterfalls to quaint Millaa Millaa. Head to Millstream Falls, Australia’s widest waterfalls, and relax in the therapeutic mineral waters of Innot Hot Springs. Make your way through vine thickets and giant fig trees in Wurruma Swamp. From here, its west to the world’s longest lava system in Undara Volcanic National Park. Fossick for gems in Mt Surprise before heading into the old gold centre of Georgetown.
Georgetown to Normanton
Get fossicking in Georgetown, once nicknamed the 'poor man's goldfield', for the nuggets that could be grabbed straight from surface. Today, with the help of a permit and some modern gadgets, you can still haul a respectable loot of gold and semi-precious gems. See thunder eggs and agates in Forsyth, then head to the Agate Creek Mineral Reserve to find your own agate, with its own spectacular swirls and colours. Pass the Cumberland Chimney, all that is left of a giant crushing plant built by Cornish masons during the Savannah gold rush. Stop in the Croydon, where National Trust buildings stand testament to the town’s history as a grand gold-mining hub. Visit Croydon Cemetery and see the elegant Chinese inscriptions carved into Chinese graves. Stop to swim and spot birds in Lake Belmore, the largest body of fresh water in the Savannah. Visit historic Golden Gate Mine, before heading to Normanton on the edge of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Normanton to Burketown
Cast your line for barramundi and spot native birds in Normanton, which sits on a high, sandy ridge, overlooking grasslands to the west and wetlands to the north. Get a photo with Krys the Savannah King. At almost 9 metres (29.5 feet), it’s a life size replica of the largest crocodile ever captured. Visit the historic penitentiary and wind through the countryside on the Gulflander train back to Croydon. Explore the wetlands between Normantown and Karumba, home to saltwater crocodiles and a third of Australia's migratory wading birds. Stop in Karumba for prawns and fish caught fresh from the Norman River. From here, you’ll be driving mostly dirt roads next to thundering road trains. Stop at Burke and Wills Cairn - the most northerly point of the ill-fated explorers' 1861 expedition - or for a picnic beneath Leichhardt Falls. Your day’s destination is Burketown, the Gulf’s oldest town on the banks of the Albert River.
Burketown to Borroloola
Test out the town’s reputation as Australia’s barramundi capital by casting your line on the Albert River. Then head south to the bird-watching paradise of Bluebush Swamp, and Gregory Downs on the tranquil Gregory River. Canoe and bushwalk here or in Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park – an oasis of sandstone cliffs, tropical vegetation, emerald creeks and Waanyi rock art. Follow the Wild Dog Dreaming path, take in panoramic views over the Constance Range and see freshwater crocodiles basking in the sun. Head west through the Aboriginal community of Doomadgee, where you can stay overnight with prior approval. Otherwise, stock up on food and fuel at the general store and continue on your way. Stop at Hells Gate, the gateway to the Northern Territory’s Macassan Coast, for great views over flood plains and the Barkly Tableland escarpments. Catch a fish at Kingfisher Camp waterhole, then drive across the Northern Territory border to the remote fishing community of Borroloola.
Borroloola to Katherine
You can linger an extra day and hire a house boat from King Ash Bay. Or detour south to explore the Caranbirini conservation reserve, home to towering sandstone spires, Aboriginal art sites, a waterhole and many endangered species. Further south you’ll pass Cape Crawford and the sandstone skyscrapers of The Lost City, one of three in the Northern Territory. To reach Katherine in a day, head north from Borroloola. Catch an early-morning barramundi in the McArthur River, then drive to Roper Bar on the Roper River. Stop here to fish, refuel or break up your journey by camping overnight. Then continue on to Mataranka, where you can relax and revive in the palm-fringed thermal pools of Elsey National Park. From here, the sealed Stuart Highway takes you north to bustling Katherine, near Nitmiluk National Park, with its dramatic waterfalls and lush gorges. From Katherine, you can drive the Savannah Way all the way to Broome in Western Australia.