The Savannah Way is a scenic road trip through, as the name suggests, tropical savannahs. It connects many of Northern Australia’s top destinations such as Borroloola, Katherine, Derby and more.
We originally thought we’d take a few days to drive The Savannah Way in Tropical North Queensland, and it would just be a few days of transit driving, stopping only for food and sleep.
We quickly realized this was no ordinary highway, and we had stumbled across one of Australia’s best kept secrets.
The Savannah Gulf region is a dry and barren place, yet on closer look, a thriving one.
If you’re thinking of driving the Savannah Way Drive, then keep reading to find out which stops you need to know about on this hidden gem road trip.
- How Long Do You Need To Drive The Savannah Way?
- Our Experience On The Savannah Way Drive
- Stops on The Savannah Way
- The Atherton Tablelands
- Undara Lava Tubes
- Mount Surprise & Georgetown
- Cobbold Gorge
- The Gulflander Experience
- Gregory River
- Adels Grove
- Boodjamulla National Park / Lawn Hill Gorge
- Limmen National Park
- Mataranka Springs, Elsey National Park
- Kakadu National Park
- Kununurra & Lake Argyle
- Timber Creek
- Gregory National Park
- The Bungle Bungles & Halls Creek
- Fitzroy Crossing
- Katherine Gorge
- Savannah Way Map
- Final Thoughts
- More Outback Queensland Tips
How Long Do You Need To Drive The Savannah Way?
The entire length of the Savannah Way is 3,700 km, which takes 40 hours without stopping.
Of course, you are going to want to stop and check out the sites, which is why we recommend spending at least two weeks on the Savannah Way road trip.
As well as stopping at the many attractions, it’s also worth spending a few minutes stopping at the many viewpoints to admire the landscape.
The Savannah Way is not short on, dry river banks, which are the perfect place to stop and contemplate what it must look like during the wet season when it’s completely full of water – and then some.
Imagining that water breaking the banks and rising up like the 1974 floods.
It will blow your mind. You just can’t imagine how it can go from bone dry to flooding with enough water to provide the needs of Australia and then some.
But that is this amazing Gulf country in northern Australia.
Our Experience On The Savannah Way Drive
We were kind of chuffed to be travelling along The Savannah Way with our own little Savannah.
We named her Savannah for two reasons: because we love the city in America, and because we love the African Savannah – a wild place.
Now she gets to meet her namesake in Australia, except this Savannah is filled with kangaroos and emus instead of man-eating lions.
There’s plenty of things here that will kill you though, from snakes to salt water crocodiles, and poisonous plants, so keep your wits about yourself.
We decided to drive from East to West, since we were combining it with a road trip up the East Coast.
The majority of the svannah Way is sealed road, but there are sections that turn to gravel and plenty of tributaries offering that wild off-road driving experience.
Our Ford Territory is an all-wheel-drive and not built for the hard-core 4WD section, so we took the alternative routes.
We didn’t complete the entire drive, though we have visited the other landmarks on the drive around Broome and the Top End of Australia on another trip, so in total we have seen most of the drive.
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Stops on The Savannah Way
Below is are some places to visit along the Savannah Way, if you are driving from Cairns to Broome.
Just reverse it if you’re coming from the opposite direction. We have a map at the end of the post with all the Savannah Way places to visit pinned.
The Atherton Tablelands
We stayed for two nights in Atherton, and depending on your interests this is enough time to see the highlights.
It’s a beautiful region that varies from agricultural farmlands, to ancient rainforest with stunning waterfalls and scrub land.
Ravenshoe is the highest town in Queensland and worth a pit stop if having a drink in Queensland’s highest pub is your thing.
Otherwise, there’s not much else to see,
Stop in at the Innot Hot Springs to dip into the thermal pools.
Don’t expect to see any springs on a grand scale like Rotorua in New Zealand.
It’s actually more of a small puddle, lol. But, it’s nice for sitting in, though bear in mind it’s really hot.
Undara Lava Tubes
What a fascinating discovery Undara Volcanic National Park was!
Here you will find the world’s longest lava tubes a phenomena I knew nothing about until coming here.
Plan to spend two nights so you can make the most out of what’s on offer.
Do the Archway Explorer Tour and have a bush brekkie. You can set up your caravan or camper trailer, or how about sleeping in an old railway carriage.
Mount Surprise & Georgetown
Stop at Mt Surprise along the way. Grab a burger – like they used to be before they were ruined – at the BP cafe.
You can also take a quick trip to O’Briens Creek to see if you can find some topaz in the dried up river beds there.
Then, fuel up at Georgetown before taking the unsealed 80km road to Cobbold.
Pulling our Jayco Camper Trailer took us about 90 minutes for this section.
The scenery is true outback gorgeousness with the red dirt, blue skies, huge termite mounds and scrub trees. I’d so love to see it in the wet when the greenery comes out.
Yet another special place on the Savannah Gulf. We stayed at Cobbold Gorge for one night, you might like to rest a while – it’s peaceful enough with plenty to keep you entertained, and the infinity pool has amazing views.
The only way to explore this narrow gorge is on a three-hour tour, which takes you on a boat trip through the gorge and a short walk up the escarpment.
Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the area and the Savannah Gulf and so passionate about it. It was easy to fall in love with it too.
She shared many stories about the flora and fauna, took us to some beautiful view points and told stories about the early settlers and the mysterious death of pioneer John Corbett.
There’s not much in between Cobbold Gorge and Normanton so be prepared for a drive of about 4 1/2 hours.
We arrived in the afternoon and stayed for a night at the Albion Hotel so we could arrive early in the morning for our Gulflander experience.
Don’t expect too much comfort here but the barra & chips for dinner in the pub restaurant was enjoyable.
Normanton town is basically a refueling stop, although you can stick your head inside a replica of one of the largest crocs ever caught, Krys the croc, who measured a whopping 8.5 metres.
The Gulflander Experience
Train enthusiasts will love this experience on the historic and legendary Gulflander.
Originally built to connect the once bustling river port of Normanton with the rich gold fields of Croydon, today the Gulflander is a tourism icon and working tribute to the early pioneers of the Gulf of Carpentaria.
We experienced the “Billy tea and damper” excursion to Critters Camp located at the picturesque 11-mile camp.
The three-hour journey is filled with anecdotes, facts, fascinating trivia and information about the history of the Gulflander, the Savannah Gulf landscape and it’s rich past.
It was one of the best billy and damper teas I’ve experienced on the road trip.
If you love fishing or stunning sunsets then Karumba, only an hour’s drive from Normanton, is worth a visit.
It’s a very chilled beach town, but remember no swimming in the beach here – this is croc territory!
Grab a drink, and some takeaway fish and chips from Ash’s across the road and sit on the beach and watch the sky light up in flames as it goes down.
There’s also a sunset tavern should you wish for tables and chairs and a more formal dinner.
Fishing is the thing to do here and many people get stuck here for months spending their mornings bringing in the catch for the day – or perhaps for the week.
Like our friend Emma who returned with six blue salmon and a beaming smile.
There are two ways you can go from Karumba to Gregory River.
The unsealed road via Burketown, or the sealed road via the Burke and Wills Roadhouse.
We found the Burke and Wills disappointing and just a fuel stop and a place to stretch the legs and grab a quick bite to eat.
If you drive through Burketown from September and November, be sure to look up to the sky for the annual Morning Glory cloud formations, which have made this town famous.
The drive on the sealed road takes about four and a half hours and takes you through pretty outback scenery.
This was the first time we’d seen emus in the wild and the Big Red kangaroos.
This is one of those moments where the difference between wet and dry water levels will blow your mind.
You can free camp on the dry river banks of the Gregory River. Look up several metres into the paperback trees and see the debris of branches stuck above so you know how high this river gets.
The little fast flowing stream next to your campsite leaves no clues.
Except those related to fun.
Grab your tube, or boogie boards and jump in and allow the stream to take you for a ride.
Watch the sharp turning corners – odds are you’ll end up in the pandanus bushes on the other side.
Kick yourself off though, don’t grab them as you could slice up your hands.
This outback oasis is a little piece of serenity and a definite place to kick back for a day or two and converse with the trees.
There’s a small pub a short walk back up the hill that does meals, cold beer and fuel.
Next up was a relatively short drive of 90km from Gregory River to Adels Grove, which feels like it’s just around the corner for Outback standards.
Lots of open road and blue sky to take in here.
For those wanting a little more civilization and facilities, you can either camp at Adels Grove or stay in furnished river tents or rooms.
There is a beautiful creek and natural swimming hole beside the shady camp sites, or a more secluded camping spot out the back.
A two-course meal and buffet breakfast is on offer at the restaurant.
From Adels, you have easy access to the amazing Boodjamulla National Park via a 10km unsealed road.
Boodjamulla National Park / Lawn Hill Gorge
Boodjamulla National Park has been one of the most delightful finds on our Australian road trip so far. How had we never heard of this magical oasis in the middle of the Queensland Outback?
Walt Disney could not have designed it any better.
Emerald colour water so clear you can see the fallen logs and big fish swimming by. If you’re lucky you might even spot a freshwater croc. No salties here, which means swimming is okay.
And what incredible kayaking and swimming there is on offer – gushing waterfalls and overhanging ferns and palm trees.
It offers so much more with beautiful bush and gorge walks to take it all in. Don’t miss the Upper Gorge lookout walk.
From Boodjamulla, we took the drive to the Northern Territory border with a stop off at Camooweal pub for some lunch.
Limmen National Park
Nestled along the Gulf of Carpentaria coastline in Top End Australia is Limmen National Park, a hidden gem that offers a perfect blend of natural beauty and cultural heritage.
With its breathtaking sandstone formations, lush wetlands, and meandering rivers, the park provides a haven for outdoor enthusiasts.
Limmen NP offers a plethora of activities to indulge in, from boating, and fishing to bushwalking, camping, and wildlife spotting, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Discover the Southern Lost Cities, wander through butterfly springs, and immerse yourself in nature. Be sure to stay at The Southern Lost City Campground which is enveloped in jaw-dropping nature.
Mataranka Springs, Elsey National Park
If you want a better hot spring to dive into that’s more than just a pond, head to the breathtaking Mataranka Springs.
These warm thermal springs have long been a place of relaxation and rejuvenation, providing a serene oasis amidst the desert landscape.
But there’s more to Mataranka Springs than just its pools. Explore the walking trails of the nearby Elsey National Park or walk along the Botanic Walk.
Bitter Springs and Mataranka Falls are also popular attractions for those seeking adventure and natural beauty.
Kakadu National Park
Perhaps the most famous national park in Australia is kakadu national park, which is a large expanse of wetlands, grasslands, boab trees and riverways.
It’s best known for its aboriginal rock art sites and large population of salties.
Hop on a boat cruise through the wetlands, hike through ancient landscapes, or spot wildlife in their natural habitat, or take in the expansive scenery in a once in a lifetime helicopter flights.
Established in stages during the 1970s, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is not to be missed. See the rock art that’s more than 5,000 years old, visit some croc-free swimming holes, and be sure to check out the sunsets.
Kakadu NP is the perfect combination of adventure, history, and relaxing nature.
Kununurra & Lake Argyle
There are not many places along The Savannah Way where you can swim safely, but Lake Argyle is one of them since it’s salt water croc free! You may have a few freshies but they aren’t to be scared of.
Located in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, Lake Argyle is a marvel of human engineering paired with natural wonder. This vast man-made reservoir, is Western Australia’s largest and Australia’s second largest lake.
Originally created in the 1970s as part of the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, Lake Argyle now offers a myriad of activities for visitors. Cruise or fish in its expansive waters, teeming with wildlife.
Indulge in the breathtaking views from Discovery Resorts’ famous infinity pool or embark on scenic hikes along its shores. Book your stay in advance at Lake Argyle – it’s a place not to miss!
Located on the banks of the Victoria River is Timber Creek, another hidden gem in Australia’s Northern Territory.
This small town, traditionally known as Makalamayi, is steeped in history. Be sure to learn about the original custodians, the Ngaliwurra Aboriginal people, who have long provided valuable bush knowledge and acted as guides to early European settlers.
Nature lovers can indulge in breathtaking hikes through nearby parks, spot unique wildlife, or take a cruise along the majestic Victoria River.
Gregory National Park
Also in the Top End of the Northern Territory, is Gregory National Park, formerly known as Judbarra National Park.
This expansive park covers a staggering 1.3 million hectares, offering a diverse range of activities for nature enthusiasts.
Delve into the rich history of the region as you uncover ancient Aboriginal rock art sites that tell stories of the traditional custodians.
Embark on exhilarating hikes along the Nawulbinbin Walk, immersing yourself in the park’s breathtaking beauty, and marvel at the rugged gorges, cascading waterfalls, and stunning panoramic views.
The Bungle Bungles & Halls Creek
Nestled within the breathtaking Purnululu National Park in the Kimberley region of Western Australia, you’ll find the captivating Bungle Bungles, a series of sandstone rock formations dating back millions of years.
Embark on guided tours to delve into the area’s ancient Aboriginal heritage and marvel at the intricate rock art.
Immerse yourself in the stunning landscapes as you hike through narrow gorges, discover hidden waterfalls, and witness the rugged grandeur from scenic lookout points.
Afterwards, stay in the town of Halls Creek, a town that transports you back in time. It’s one of the largest predominantly Indigenous communities in Australia.
Immerse yourself in the local culture, visit art galleries showcasing unique Aboriginal artwork, and learn about the ancient traditions that have shaped this land for thousands of years.
Fitzroy Crossing is another small town known for its aboriginal history. Explore the ancient rock art sites of the Gooniyandi people and immerse yourself in their fascinating culture.
Set on the banks of the majestic Fitzroy River, the town serves as a gateway to nearby Devonian National Parks, where you can marvel at stunning landscapes and discover an abundance of wildlife.
Nestled within the magnificent Nitmiluk National Park, Katherine Gorge is another park known for its lush landscapes.
Carved through ancient sandstone by the Katherine River, this deep gorge offers a range of activities for nature enthusiasts.
Canoe, or kayak along the meandering river, marvel at the breathtaking landscapes and immersing yourself in the tranquility of the surroundings.
Take a guided tour to learn about the indigenous Jawoyn people who have called this land home for thousands of years and see ancient rock art sites.
Savannah Way Map
Click here to access the map. You can make a copy of it and then edit to suit your particular itinerary and route.
We drove from Cairns to Boodjamulla along 1,786km of The Savannah Way and enjoyed every minute of it, well almost.
I don’t think you’ll find us back in Normanton anytime soon, but it’s definitely one of our road trip highlights of our trip around Australia so far.
For more information on driving The Savannah Way and other drives in Outback Queensland visit DriveNorthQueensland.com.au.
More Outback Queensland Tips
Thinking of visiting some other parts of Outback Queensland? Here are some other helpful guides…
- Why Outback Queensland is an enriching road trip destination for families
- 2 week Outback Queensland road trip itinerary
- Tips for an Outback Queensland Road Trip with Kids
- Stunning and adventurous things to do in Queensland
- Best Road trips in Australia
- Contemplating the Cosmos at Charleville
- Places to visit in Queensland
- Why Winton is our favourite outback town
- Best things to do in Longreach
- Going underground in Mount Isa
Have you driven The Savannah Way Drive? Please share any thoughts in the comments below!