This article is #5 in our series of the best holiday road trips in Australia. AustralianTraveller.com made the list of the top 10 best road trips in Australia; we have outlined the details of each road trip with details and highlights of things to do in each road trip destination.
Savannah Way May Photo Credit: SavannahWay.com.au
#5 The Savannah Way
Savannah Way Road Trip Photo Credit: SavannahWay.com.au
The Savannah Way is a 3700 km road trip across Australia from Cairns in the tropical north of Queensland, through the Northern Territory, and to Broome on the northern coast of Western Australia. It is an iconic road trip that includes the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, the tropical rainforests and mountains west of Cairns, the Top End of the Northern Territory, and the Kimberley Region that includes the mining coastal town of Broome. The road trip connects you to 15 National Parks and 5 World Heritage Sites. The Savannah Way’s two points are Cairns and Broome; you can start your trip in either location. We chose to start out in Cairns. If you choose to make this road trip using rental car services, be sure to content the local car rental locations to make arrangements and discuss any restricted areas with them. Some car rental locations have safety guidelines that prohibit you from driving the hired cars into or out of the Northern Territory or Western Territory. To make sure that your trip goes smoothly, plan ahead and discuss your travel itinerary with each car hire location in Australia along the Savannah Way road trip.
Hiring a Car for the Savannah Way Road Trip
Cairns Car Rental Map Photo Credit: Budget.com.au
Daintree Rainforest Photo Credit: DaintreeRainforest.net.au
Great Barrier Reef Sailing Excursion Photo Credit: great-barrier-reef.com
The city of Cairns is situated in the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef. The diversity of this area of northern Queensland is also rich with tropical rainforests and also the mountains to the west. The City of Cairns is our starting point for the Savannah Way Road Trip. There are two car hire locations in Cairns. You can Hire a car at the Cairns Airport, or you can rent a car in the city of Cairns. While in Cairns, of course, one of the main attractions is the Great Barrier Reef. The northern section of the reef is just off the coast in the beautiful tropical waters of the Coral Sea. There are plenty of amazing things to do on the Great Barrier Reef. While in Cairns, there are a host of places to explore on land including the Kuranda Rainforest, which is on the Savannah Way route, the Cairns Zoo, Aboriginal culture tours, and the Daintree Rainforest, which is a short drive to the north of Cairns.
The Savannah Way Road Trip Cairns to Normanton
Savannah Way Road Trip Photo Credit: SavannahWay.com.au
Cairns to Normanton Map Photo Credit: Google Maps
The drive straight through from Cairns to Normanton (the blue line on the map) is close to 700 kilometres. Of course, if you follow some of the other route options (in green on the map), then you can see more of this region of northern Queensland. Some of the highlights along the way include:
Mareeba Hot Air Ballooning Photo Credit: CairnsUnlimited.com
This town just southwest of Cairns is an agricultural centre. Stop by some of the cafes, markets, tropical fruit wineries, or coffee growers. Mareeba is also a hot air balloon mecca, so if you want an adventure with a view, this would be a great opportunity. Julatten and Mount Molloy are nearby and a must-do for bird lovers, with over 300 species to watch for.
The Ootan/Chillagoe Alternative Route:
Chillagoe Caves Photo Credit: au.totaltravel.yahoo.com
A short drive to the east of Mareeba is Chillagoe and the extraordinary caves of Chillagoe Mungana National Park. Depending on how many excursions you want to take and what type of sights you prefer, this is definitely a great option for anyone interested in geology or cave exploration. Check your map for access via Mareeba and Dimbulah to the east or on the Ootan Road to the south which rejoins The Savannah Way 13 km east of Mount Surprise.
Wongabel State Forest Photo Credit: Queensland Government
Atherton is farming community. Dairy cattle and vegetable grow in the rich volcanic soil. Camping is popular at Lake Tinaroo and here is a list of nearby parks:
- Wongabel State Forest
- Halloran’s Hill Conservation Park
- Hasties Swamp National Park
- Mount Hypipamee Nation Park
Ravenshoe is the highest elevation town in Queensland. There are plenty of accommodations available from Bed & Breakfasts to bush camping. Ravenshoe is a World Heritage Listing because it is home to the largest wind farm in the world with 20 windmills. Millstream Falls National Park is definitely a beautiful spot and you will want to have your camera ready for some postcard worthy photographs. As you head west from Ravenshoe, you will begin to notice the change from rainforest to savannah in the landscape.
Undara Experience and Savannah Way Map Photo Credit: Undara.com.au
Undara Volcanic National Park:
This is definitely one of the most unique and memorable stops along the Savannah Way. Touring the Lava Tubes is just part of the allure of this area. Accommodations are available in antique railway cars. The Undara Experience is definitely a unique holiday adventure with camping options, dining, a pool, and many different events all year long.
Einasleigh and Forsayth Alternative Route:
Cobbold Gorge Photo Credit: CobboldGorge.com.au
If you choose to take this side trip (the green alternative route to the south of the blue main line) you will not be disappointed. The Cobbold Gorge is a hidden treasure and simply stunning. Gorge cruises and walking tours are available. Complete the excursion with a trip to the Flat Creek Station, a family run beef cattle ranch. Visitors are allowed to pan for gold. Even if you don’t find any precious metals, you are likely to find some amazing birds native to this area.
Gulflander Photo Credit: Gulflander.com.au
Normanton is famous for being the home to the historic Gulflander rail way. You can still take a ride on the Gulflander experience and learn about the area and the unique railroad and how it was built. Visit the pubs and other businesses in this quaint town to experience the old world hospitality. The Mutton Hole Wetlands are nearby and bird enthusiasts will want visit since it is an internationally recognised bird watching site. The Norman River is a great spot for fishing.
Normanton to Karumba Map Photo Credit: Google Maps
Karumba Sunset on the Norman River Photo Credit: Karumba.qld.au
Yet another one hour road trip excursion is an option here. Especially if you love to fish and even more so if you love Baramundi. The trip from Normanton to Karumba is a fun highlight for fishermen and is the prawn and barramundi fishing capital of Australia where the mount of the Norman River meets the Gulf of Carpentaria.
One Third of the Way through the Savannah Way
Northern Territory Road Trip Photo Credit: TravelNT.com
This concludes the first of three legs of the journey on the Savannah Way. Stay tuned for the next two instalments on this road trip that is #5 on our list of best road trips in Australia. Next will be the drive from Normanton to Katharine in the Northern Territory. Our 3rd leg of the Savannah Way will be the trip from Katharine to Broome.