The Savannah Way – Regions, towns and attractions
ATHERTON TABLELANDS REGION
The Atherton Tablelands are a fertile plateau over looking Cairns and the Far North Queensland coast. Its elevated position provides a milder climate than the tropical coast making it suitable for dairy farming and cultivation of more temperate crops. The tablelands support a sizeable population mainly in the towns of Atherton, Mareeba, Malanda, Milla Milla, Yungaburra, Kuranda, Herberton and Ravenshoe. The area is popular with tourists as a short break out of Cairns and is where the Savannah Way really begins.
Kuranda is a picturesque historic village perched high above Cairns and surrounded by World Heritage Rainforest. Once a convalescence area for US servicemen during World War Two, Kuranda developed into a popular tourist attraction. Kuranda is on the historic Cairns to Forsayth Railway which is one of the most spectacular rail journeys in Australia. The development of the Skyrail scenic gondola over the rainforest and the Kuranda Markets have only increased Kuranda’s popularity.
Mareeba is the second largest town on the Tablelands after Atherton. It was established in 1877 and with the construction of a railway in 1893 the town grew steadily. During World War Two, Mareeba was a major staging and R&R point for the US military in the War in the Pacific. Mareeba has a diverse economy which includes tourism, mining, cattle and crops such as cashews, macadamias and coffee. Mareeba’s biggest annual event is the Mareeba Rodeo established in 1949. Visit the Mareeba Heritage Centre
Dimbulah is a small farming town on the Hodgkinson River west of Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands. Dimbulah was once a railway junction between Chillagoe and Cairns and is still served by the Savannahlander tourist train which now runs from Cairns to Forsayth.
Millaa Millaa is an Aboriginal word meaning plenty of water or waterfall. The beautiful Milla Milla Falls are a few minutes from the town centre. Dairy farming is an important activity in the area owing to its high rainfall and cooler temperatures.
Atherton is the largest centre in the Tablelands and is an ideal base from which to explore the area. There are many natural and historic points of interest within a short drive of the town centre. Atherton is the main service centre for a thriving agricultural sector. The high rainfall, rich volcanic soil and tropical climate produces a variety of crops, including sugar cane, peanuts, mangoes, maize, potatoes, avocados and macadamia nuts. Dairy and beef cattle are also reared in the area.
Yungaburra is a charming little town near Atherton. It was established in 1910 and has been beautifully preserved. Yungaburra’s many heritage listed buildings gives it a special character that has made it popular as a short break destination out of Cairns. The town has several bed & breakfasts and an array of arts and crafts outlets catering to visitors.
GULF SAVANNAH REGION
The Gulf Savannah region of Tropical North Queensland covers a vast area offering spectacular flora and fauna, abundant and accessible wildlife, changing landscapes, World Heritage fossil fields, historic towns, aboriginal rock art, gemstones and fossicking opportunities. Add to this mix some of the best fishing in the world and the natural phenomena of meandering river systems, world-class wetlands, lava tubes and ancient gorges, and you have a special destination for those looking for out-of-the-ordinary experiences.
Mount Surprise is a small railway town on the Cairns to Forsayth line and is the first the Gulf Savannah towns heading west on the Savannah Way. It Mount Surprise is a popular area for for gem fossicking, yielding quantities of topaz, quartz, spinel, garnet, cairngorm and aquamarine. Nearby Undara Volcanic National Park is a key visitor attraction.
Undara Volcanic National Park
The Undara Volcanic National Park is one of Australia's greatest geological wonders. It contains the world’s largest and best preserved lava tube system www.undara.com.au
Einasleigh is a tiny community that was once a busy copper mining centre. The township today is centred on the pub which has a caravan park and also provides fuel and meals. Nearby Copperfield Gorge has deep, cool chasms and quiet beaches
Forsayth is another of the towns created out of the North Queensland gold rush of the late 1800s. The Savannahlander tourist train from Cairns terminates in Forsayth.
Services in Forsayth include a pub with accommodation, caravan park with cabins, post office, police station, clinic and fuel stop. You can depart the Savannah Way alternate route to Cobbold Gorge and Agate Creek Mineral Reserve
Chillagoe, west of Mareeba is a former mining town dating back to the 1870s. The town is a mix of outback landscape, mining heritage, aboriginal art sites and limestone caves. It was once thought that Chillagoe would be the next Broken Hill and many speculators flocked to the area swelling the population to 10,000. They built a railway and a large smelter which still dominates the town. Chillagoe declined steadily since the closure of the smelter and now depends on tourism.
Chillagoe-Montana National Park
The Chillagoe-Montana National Park, about one kilometre from town has a substantial systems of limestone caves. The caves feature spectacular formations of stalactites and stalagmites. To explore these caves you must take the tour which is very informative.
Georgetown is located at the junction of the Etheridge River and the Gulf Developmental Road 412km from Cairns. Like most towns in the area it had its beginnings in the gold rush of the late 1800s and went through boom times then eventual decline. Georgetown now has a population of around 250 people and relies on tourism and grazing.
Croydon was born out of a gold rush in the late 1880s and once had a population of 7,000 and 19 hotels. Nowadays Croydon only has around 200 permanent residents and its economy is largely reliant on tourism. Croydon has an attractive historic precinct recalling its glory days. The Gulflander Railway runs between Croydon and Normanton
Normanton near the Gulf of Carpentaria was established as the port for the Croydon Gold Rush in the late 19th Century. A railway was built between the two towns and still operates in the form of the Gulflander. Normanton has a population of around 1,100 and is the largest town in the Gulf Savannah region of Queensland.
Karumba is situated on the mouth of the Norman River and is the centre of the Gulf's prawning industry. Surrounding environ is flat wetlands which extend inland for approximately 30 kilometres. Wetlands are a series of meandering saltwater tidal estuaries, habitat for saltwater crocodiles and vast array of bird species, such as pelicans, cyrus cranes, brolgas and black swans.
Burketown is a small town of 180 people located at the junction of the Savannah Way and Albert River and approximately 30km inland from the Gulf coast. The first European settlers arrived in the region not long after Burke and partner William John Wills' expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria. By the mid 1860s, several cattle stations had been established. Burketown has a pub, store, garage with fuel and campground. There is no fuel between Burketown and Borroloola 580km
Boodjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill)
Boodjamulla National Park was created out of the former Lawn Hill Station. It features a spectacular gorge fed by thermal springs that is popular with swimmers and canoeists. There is a well appointed National Parks run campground at the gorge.
Adels Grove is 200 km southwest of Burketown and situated on Lawn Hill Creek near Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and 50km from the World Heritage listed Riversleigh Fossil deposits. Adel's Grove offers camping and safari tents sited alongside the picturesque, thermal Lawn Hill Creek which feeds the gorge. There is also fuel, a restaurant and an interpretive centre at Adels Grove. Adels Grove website
Doomagee is a large Aboriginal community just off the Burketown to Borroloola Road near Lawn Hill. Fuel and other services are available at Doomagee.
NT GULF REGION
The Northern Territory’s Gulf Region is one of the most remote sparsely populated areas in Australia. This vast region to the southeast of Katherine running to the Gulf of Carpentaria is a patchwork of Aboriginal land, national parks, pastoral leases and mining leases that between contain some spectacular landscapes, rare flora and fauna and fantastic fishing.
Seven Emu Station
Seven Emu Station is located on the Savannah Way in the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria. Seven Emu Station welcomes tourists, campers, birdwatchers, fishermen and four wheel drive explorers. The breathtaking landscape of the station is served by the Robinson and Calvert Rivers as well as 60km of beautiful coastline along the Gulf of Carpentaria. This area is also proctected by teh Australian Wilderness Conservancy. This truly is a spot not to be missed. The Shadforth family will play host to your real cattle station experience. See here for more details.
Borroloola, a remote community on the McArthur River in the Gulf of Carpentaria and once a frontier town, is now the capital of the Gulf region. Home to four main indigenous language groups, the area includes many large cattle stations. Fishing and camping remain a way of life for locals and travellers chasing barramundi. Borroloola offers a range of services including motel accommodation, camping, fuel, restaurants, groceries, hardware, mechanical services, health clinic and police.
King Ash Bay
King Ash Bay is on the McArthur River 50km from Borroloola. It is a popular fishing spot, attracting thousands of visitors each year due to its access to the Gulf of Carpentaria and variety of fishing experiences available. There is a fuel station, licensed club, small grocery store and accommodation and campground at King Ash Bay.
Barranyi National Park
Barranyi (North Island) National Park, located in the Sir Edward Pellew Group of Islands is a wildlife haven, providing a home to nesting turtles and migratory birds and offers excellent reef fishing opportunities. Access to the islands is limited, and visitors must contact Parks and Wildlife NT before making the journey.
SAVANNAH WAY CROSSROADS
At Heartbreak Hotel continue on the Carpentaria Highway to Daly Waters or take the Nathan River Road north and link with the Roper Highway.
Cape Crawford - Heartbreak Hotel
Cape Crawford, at the junction of the Carpentaria and Tablelands Highways, is home to the famous Heartbreak Hotel. Cape Crawford is situated approximately 120 kilometres from the ocean and is so named because it is situated at the northern extremity or ‘cape’ of the Abner Ranges, first ‘discovered’ in 1880 by drover Lindsay Crawford. The Abner Ranges are home to an impressive site known as the Lost City covering an area of some 8 square kilometres and dotted with towering sandstone formations. These natural pillars conjure up images of skyscrapers, and are well worth a visit.
Cape Crawford Tourism
This is the gateway into the Lost City, which a unique geological rock formation that is a must see for any traveller to the Gulf of Carpentaria region. Travellers can explore the site on foot or take a breathtaking helicopter tour over the site and its hinterlands. Another must-see destination s Poppy’s Pools located on the Savannah Way near Cape Crawford. See here for more details on all Cape Crawford Tourism tours available.
Lorella Springs Wilderness Park
This million acre cattle station welcomes visitors. There is a pleasant campground located next to a thermal spring. Explore the property yourself or drop a line in one of dozens of billabongs. Relax in one of many thermal springs dotted across the property. Lorella Springs website.
Roper Bar and Ngukurr
Roper Bar Store is located near the Roper River crossing to the Aboriginal community of Ngukurr. The store has everything the visiting fisherman might need from fuel to groceries to fishing equipment. Ngukurr community welcomes day visitors to the art centre during week days.
DALY WATERS – MATARANKA REGION AND SAVANNAH WAY CROSSROADS
At Daly Waters either take the Stuart Highway north to Mataranka and Katherine or head west on the Buchanan Highway to Top Springs and the southern Gregory National Park. Note that this section is best for serious four wheel drives and not recommended for caravans.
Daly Waters - via alternate route Carpentaria Hwy
The small township of Daly Waters has a colourful history. John McDouall Stuart established it as part of his exploration for the Overland Telegraph Line in 1861. There is a tree nearby which bears his initials. Daly Waters Airfield was a centre for the London to Sydney air race of 1926 and a refuelling stop for early Qantas flights to Singapore. The Daly Waters Pub was built to cater to Qantas passengers and is still a popular watering hole to this day. During World War II it served as a key Airforce base. The original Qantas hangar still stands, housing exhibits of photographs and equipment from the area's aviation past.
Larrimah is an historic and quirky little NT town on the Stuart Highway between Daly Waters and Mataranka. John McDouall Stuart explored this area in the late 1800s but the township of Larrimah was only established during the construction of Gorrie Airfield just before World War II. Visit Larrimah Pub which is built using materials from the dismantled Birdum Hotel and is peculiar for having a large Pink Panther sitting outside. For traditional country fare, drop in to Fran’s Devonshire Teahouse.
The small township of Mataranka lies on the Explorers Way and the headwaters of the Roper River, 105km south of Katherine. Mataranka and the adjacent Elsey National Park are renowned for thermal springs and the area’s pioneering pastoral history made famous by the book ‘We of the Never Never’, by Jeannie Gunn. Mataranka has motel accommodation, three service stations, a small supermarket and a pub.
Elsey National Park
Elsey National Park is 138 square kilometres and forms the headwaters of the Roper River. There are two main thermal pools in Elsey National Park; Mataranka and Bitter Springs. The Mataranka thermal pool has been landscaped and rocked in to form a larger swimming pool amongst the lush palm forest. Bitter Springs is more of a natural state featuring a long narrow pool with a very gentle current that allows visitors to drift along in the crystal clear warm water.
Katherine, on the banks of the Katherine River, is the third-largest town in the Northern Territory 320km south of Darwin. Katherine is at the crossroads of the Savannah Way and Explorers Way (Stuart Highway) and is also served by the famous Ghan Railway connecting Adelaide to Darwin. The main attractions in the Katherine area are Katherine Gorge and Edith Falls (Nitmiluk National Park) and the southern part of Kakadu National Park. Katherine is well appointed serving a vast area of cattle stations as well as being home to a large Royal Australian Air Force Base, RAAF Tindal. In January 1998 Katherine was devastated by a major flood, but the town rebounded strongly and continues to be a popular destination.
Victoria River Roadhouse Caravan Park
Located at the intersection of the Victoria Highway and the mighty Victoria River, the Victoria River Roadhouse Caravan Park is 195km from Katherine. The complex includes a Road house with tavern, restaurant, motel rooms and campground.
SAVANNAH WAY ALTERNATE ROUTE
Top Springs - Alternate Route Junction of Buchanan and Buntine Highways
Gregory National Park
Gregory National Park is accessible from Timber Creek or from Top Springs to the south. Covering an area of approximately 13,000 square kilometres, the Park is home to red-rimmed escarpment ranges, plunging gorges and ancient boab trees. Take the Humbert Track. dry season and high clearance 4WD only, to meet up with the Victoria Highway and Timber Creek.
Timber Creek is 285 kilometres west of Katherine, is the gateway to Gregory National Park and home to about 70 people. A police station was first established in Timber Creek in 1898 to service pastoral activity in the area. The structure has been reopened as the Timber Creek Police Station Museum.
EAST KIMBERLEY REGION
Kununurra is located just inside the Western Australia border and has a population of just under 4,000. It is the key centre for the East Kimberleys and was developed to support the Ord River Irrigation Scheme and the Argyle Diamond Mine. Kununurra is a popular tourism stopover at the junction of the Great Northern Highway and the Gibb River Road. It has a good range of amenities including an airport, shopping centre fuel and accommodation.
Lake Argyle near Kununurra is Australia's second largest artificial lake by volume with a surface area of 703 square kilometres. It was constructed in the early 1970s as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme.
El Questro Wilderness Park is a privately owned Wilderness park that was previously a cattle station located 110 kilometres west of Kununurra on the Gibb River Road.
The park which, covers approximately 10,000 square kilometres is a popular tourist resort and was developed by English aristocrat, Will Burrell throughout the 1990s. El Questro offers a variety of experiences and accommodation styles.
Home Valley Station
Home Valley Station is a working cattle station located on the Gibb River Road in the East Kimberley about 120km from Kununurra. The Cattle Station also has tourist accommodation for self drive travellers. Home Valley’s big claim to fame is that it was a key location for Baz Luhrmann’s movie Australia. Home Valley Station website
Turkey Creek or Warmun is a tiny settlement on the Great Northern Highway section of the Savannah Way near the turn off to Purnululu National Park. There is a roadhouse, a campground and an Aboriginal art centre in Turkey Creek.
Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungles)
Purnululu National Park features a maze of enormous and curious orange and black striped beehive shaped domes. These unusual and fascinating landforms known to many as the Bungle Bungles have only recently been made accessible to travellers. Purnululu National Park was established in 1987 and became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2007.
Halls Creek is a small service town for surrounding cattle stations, Aboriginal communities and Savannah Way travellers. Halls Creek is the gateway to the World Heritage listed Purnululu National Park or Bungle Bungles.
Wolfe Creek Meteorite Crater
A short drive from Halls Creek, you'll also find Wolfe Creek Crater - the second largest meteorite crater (880 metres) in the world.
Fitzroy Crossing is a small settlement that services local stations and acts as a stopover destination for those exploring the rugged Kimberley and its nearby attractions of Geikie Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Windjana Gorge, or those en route to the Bungle Bungles Purnululu National Park. Fitzroy Crossing has a range of services including accommodation, fuel, groceries, medical clinic, mechanical repairs and police.
Geikie Gorge National Park
Geikie Gorge National Park is 20km from Fitzroy Crossing and is situated at the junction of the Oscar and the Geikie Ranges. The mighty Fitzroy River has carved a 30 metre deep gorge into the remains of the ancient limestone barrier reef. Boat tours of Geikie Gorge are available and there are several short walks.
WEST KIMBERLEY REGION
Derby is located on the tidal mud flats on the edge of the King Sound 220km east of Broome. Derby is a service town for the surrounding area and has a population of around 4500. The town grew up around cattle and pearling which are still significant industries today. Derby serves the surrounding cattle stations and the cultured pearl farms that dot the Buccaneer Archipelago. There is a range of services and facilities for visitors. The boab tree is a major feature of Derby. It has been used as a street tree and many of the larger growing natural specimens have been preserved. The famous Boab Prison Tree is located 7 kilometres from the town.
Broome is a pearling and tourism town and is the western gateway to the Kimberley Region and the endpoint of the Savannah Way. With a population of around 15,000, Broome is the largest town in the Kimberleys. It has some interesting influences including Japanese from the early pearling days which, is reflected in some of the architecture of the town. The wide, white sand of Cable Beach is a major tourist attraction and the development of significant resorts such as the Cable Beach Club in the 1980s cemented Broome’s position as a tourist town. Broome Airport has regular flights to Sydney, Melbourne Adelaide, Perth, Darwin and Kununurra.