The Savannah Way, No.5 of the Great Australian Drives
The Savannah Way
Our other great transcontinental road trip stretches from sea to sea across the top of Australia, a whopping 3,500km from Cairns to Broome. You’ll need at least three weeks to really explore everything, although if you drove flat out you could theoretically do it in 48 hours. But why would you bother? The good news is that you don’t need to be 4WD nut (most of the trip is sealed, apart from the stretch between Normanton and Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria) but it’s a dry season road only, with some of the sections impassable from November to April.
Even though the road may be blacktop almost all the way these days, it’s still a long drive through a remote landscape. You’ll need to be willing to camp most nights, but it’s one of the most beautiful outback drives in the country, through stands of boabs, past remote gorges, cattle stations, waterfalls and the spectacular Bungle Bungles. For an even more scenic and interesting journey, take the Gibb River Rd between Kununurra and Derby (although that one is a 4WD track).
Total distance: Cairns to Broome, 3,500km
Day 1: Cairns to Undara, 285km
Day 2: Undara to Karumba, 507km
Day 3: Karumba to Hells Gate, 473km
Day 4: Hells Gate to Cape Crawford, 400km
Day 5: Cape Crawford to Katherine, 545km
Day 6: Katherine to Kununurra, 515km
Day 7: Kununurra to Fitzroy Crossing, 651km
Day 8: Fitzroy Crossing to Broome, 395km
Slow down for . . .
- Explore some of the world’s largest lava tubes at Undara, west of Cairns.
- Spend a few days paddling through the lush oasis of Lawn Hill National Park. Nearby, one of the world’s richest fossil sites, Riversleigh, is well worth a look for the bone fragments embedded in the limestone hillside.
- Cape Crawford is more than 100km from the coast, but is the closest township to one of the four “Lost Cities” (a large expanse of tall sandstone columns) along the NT section of the drive. It’s only accessible by air, so take a 15min helicopter ride from the Heartbreak Hotel.
- Soak away any road-weariness at Mataranka Hot Springs before spending a night or two in Katherine, then take the sunset cruise through Katherine Gorge. The deck of the visitor centre is also the best place for an ice-cold sundowner.
- Buy some Aboriginal art from the co-op galleries at Halls Creek or Warmun (Turkey Creek), led by Rover Thomas and Queenie McKenzie, both of whom have work hanging in the National Gallery in Canberra.
Best kept secret
The new Limmen National Park, a remote and rugged place steeped in culture and history with spectacular sandstone formations like the pillars of the Lost City, one of the few that are accessible on foot.
Watch the sun sink into the gulf with a beer and tuck into some freshly caught barramundi in the beer garden of the Karumba Sunset Hotel. A million-dollar view at a cheap-as-chips price.
Accommodation pick of the bunch
All Seasons Katherine. Stuart Highway, Katherine.
phone: (08) 8972 1744
More info: www.savannahway.com.au