Cairns to Atherton Tablelands (approx 80km / 1hr 10mins)
Venture south west of Cairns to the fertile green pastures of the Tropical Tablelands. Visit Kuranda, famous for its markets
, and Mareeba, the heart of Australia’s tropical fruit and coffee industry. Visit Mareeba Wetlands
, home to more than 200 bird species, this wonderful 20 square km reserve includes woodlands, grasslands, swamps and the expansive Clancy's Lagoon, a birdwatchers' nirvana. Make your way to Atherton with its wealth of artists, quaint shops and Crystal Caves
attraction. Pick up some local produce including coffee, wine and tea. Drop into the Visitor Information Centres en route to help choose your favourite Tableland experiences and a suitable venue to stay for a night or two.
Day Two / Three
Atherton Tablelands to Undara Lava Tubes (approx 219km / 3hrs 30mins)
Start your day with a coffee sourced from locally grown beans, then follow the Kennedy Highway to Innot Hot Springs
, natural mineral springs located between Ravenshoe and Mount Garnet. Find the perfect spot in the bubbling hot shallows of Nettle Creek and soak your cares away. Here’s an interesting fact – up until the year 1900, the mineral water from these springs was bottled and sent to Europe! As you continue along the Kennedy Highway, pick up supplies at Mount Garnet for a picnic at Forty Mile Scrub National Park
. Follow the short, self-guided walk through this unique forest for a chance to spot native birds and animals. Not long after leaving Forty Mile Scrub, you’ll see the turn-off to a sealed road through the Whitewater Cattle station leading to Undara Experience
– the largest lava tubes system on earth. Fancy a night in a restored railway carriage, then book in at Undara Resort or select from the range of accommodation styles to suit all budgets. Join a guided ‘Wildlife at Sunset’ tour to catch a big sky sunset and to see the insect-eating micro bats. Then at 8pm, pull up a chair at ‘Round the Campfire’ for an evening of bush yarns, guitar music and talks about the environment. There’s plenty to see and do at Undara Experience, with a mix of self-guided and organised tours to suit all levels of fitness, so we recommend that you stay a minimum of two nights.
Undara to Georgetown (approx 138km / 1hr 30mins)
Drive 30 minutes along the Gulf Development Road to Mount Surprise, best known for its gemstones. Gem fossicking can be great fun and many travellers have been lucky to find some valuable semi-precious gems in the region. If you feel you are up for the challenge, call into Mount Surprise Gems
to obtain a fossicking license, equipment and directions to the nearby O’Brien’s Creek fossicking site where topaz, quartz and garnet can be discovered. If you are in Mount Surprise on a Thursday or Friday between March and December – make sure to see the historic Savannahlander Train
at Mount Surprise Railway Station. This beautifully restored silver 1960’s train will take you on a nostalgic journey back to simpler times. Next stop is Georgetown on the Etheridge River, site of a gold rush in the 1870s. In its heyday, Georgetown attracted nearly 3000 prospectors all keen to make it rich. While in town, visit the TerrEstrial Centre
containing the Ted Elliott Mineral Collection, a mind-boggling display of over 4500 specimens of all shapes, structures and colour from all over the world.
Side Trip: Cobbold Gorge
Drive 42 km south from Georgetown to Cobbold Gorge
hidden away within a spectacularly rugged sandstone formation on Robin Hood Station. Cruise the silent gorge to explore its ancient geological landforms on a guided tour. Glide on custom-made, electric powered boats in almost eerie silence for a chance to spot one of the resident freshwater crocodiles. To fully appreciate the vastness and beauty of the region, book a helicopter flight from the resort. Stay a few nights at Cobbold Gorge Resort to allow plenty of time to enjoy the infinity pool and resort facilities in this incredible outback oasis.
Georgetown to Normanton (approx 303km / 3hrs 30mins)
From Georgetown, it is 147km to Croydon, a town with a big history. A highlight of this part of the Savannah Way is the incredible birdlife, so keep an eye out for flocks of budgies and finches as well as eagles, brown falcons, nankeen kestrels and kites. Just west of Georgetown, you’ll pass the Cumberland Chimney
, a large square brick chimney erected in 1889 to carry smoke from large boilers driving batteries of stampers crushing gold-bearing rock. In Croydon, make sure you visit the Croydon Heritage Precinct
, complete with original kerosene street lamps from the gold rush days. Stock up on supplies at the Croydon General Store
, Australia’s oldest store built in 1894 – it’s like stepping back in time! Your final stop for the day is Normanton, established as a port for the Croydon Gold Rush. Take a ‘selfie’ with Krys, a life-size statue of the largest saltwater crocodile ever caught. Tonight, why not enjoy a counter meal in the eye-catching Purple Pub.
Normanton to Karumba (approx 70km / 45mins)
Visit the historic Normanton Railway Station where you can board the legendary Gulflander
, or Tin Hare, as it is affectionately known. Join a three-hour return tour on the historic Gulflander from Normanton to Critters Camp, complete with a yummy ‘smoko’ of billy tea, damper and Devonshire tea. Leaving Normanton, follow the double lane bitumen road to Karumba, described by locals as ‘outback by the sea’. Karumba was a base for the famous Empire flying boats on their trek from Australia to England, and it was a base for the RAAF during WWII. Today, Karumba is known for prawning, barramundi fishing, crabbing and live cattle exports – so not a bad spot to spend a few days if you love your seafood! Late afternoon, head to Karumba Point Beach, tuck into a fresh serving of ‘barra and chips’ from Ash’s Takeaway, and take your seat for a magnificent Gulf sunset.
If you are a fan of barramundi, you’ll want to visit the Barramundi Discovery Centre
, started by local commercial fishermen to help restock the waterways. Get ‘hands on’ and try feeding the fish or better still, adopt a Barra! Join a half-day cruise of the Karumba Port, spot crocs and birds, or if you are feeling keen, help out with catching and preparing the crabs for one of the freshest seafood lunches in town. Tonight, enjoy a peaceful and relaxing Croc and Crab Sunset Cruise
to Karumba’s ‘best kept secret,’ the magical Sand Island. Bring your camera because this sunset promises to be awesome!
Karumba to Burketown (approx 535km / 6hrs 10mins)
Travel back through Normanton this morning then follow the Burke Development Road for approximately 200km to the Burke & Wills Roadhouse. You will be travelling through mostly cattle country along this road. See the contrasting colours of this rugged landscape; the black trunks of the gidgee scrub; golden Mitchell grass; and enormous rust red termite mounds. The Burke & Wills Roadhouse offers fuel, meals and basic accommodation (cabins, campsites and powered campsites.) Leaving the roadhouse, take the Wills Development Road northwest for approximately 148km to Gregory Downs before driving north to Burketown. Burketown’s Artesian Bore
is an ideal place to view wildlife, especially birds either early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Drilled in 1897, the bore still issues boiling water, creating a billabong effect which attracts masses of birds. The clear night skies and lack of light pollution in Burketown provide a stargazing opportunity like no other. Join the local Gangalidda-Garawa people as they share their cultural stories of the night skies on the Yagurli Stargazing Tour
Burketown to Gregory Downs (approx 120km / 1hr 50 mins)
Gregory Downs to Cloncurry (approx 332km / 3 hr 30 mins)
Follow the 120km sealed route from Burketown to Gregory Downs, a small town located near the beautiful Gregory River. The hotel motel provides meals and accommodation and has a good story to tell. Gregory Downs is the best access point for Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park
. A visit to this spectacular park is highly recommended. Refer to below Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park optional sidetrip for more information. Make sure you fuel up at the Gregory Downs Hotel and stock up on supplies before the 332km drive to Cloncurry, home to a number of important Australian innovations. According to locals Qantas was conceived in Cloncurry, born in Winton and raised in Longreach, so its pretty exciting for plane buffs to see an original Qantas Hangar still in use at the Cloncurry Airport. Rev John Flynn established the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Cloncurry back in the 1920’s. You can learn all about his legacy and this wonderful outback service when you visit the John Flynn Place Museum
. Enjoy a relaxing lunch in the shaded parklands of Mary Kathleen Park and visit Cloncurry Unearthed
Visitor Information Centre where you’ll find one of Australia’s most comprehensive gem and mineral collections.
Side Trip: Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park Gregory Downs to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park (approx 100km / 3hrs 30mins)
The entire 100 km from Gregory Downs is unsealed. Although a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, this is the only route suitable for conventional vehicles and off-road caravans. Please check road conditions and vehicle suitability at the Burketown Visitor Information Centre before you leave town. A truly impressive visual feast awaits you at Boodjamulla National Park
, one of Queensland's most significant geological parks. This ancient landscape dates back hundreds of millions of years, so there is a story or two to be told here! Choose to visit as a day trip or stay a few days and explore this magnificent National park. The closest accommodation and campsites are at Adels Grove
, just 10km from the National Park. Stay in their furnished river tents and rooms or book a campsite. Follow the Island Stack walk for a birds-eye view of the towering red escarpments reaching into the emerald green waters of this true outback oasis. All aboard the Adels Grove state of the art solar electric powered pontoon boat for the “Cruise Lawn Hill Gorge” sight seeing tour. This one hour guided cruise, along tranquil Lawn Hill Creek, is truly breathtaking. If the cool emerald waters look just too good to resist, take a swim in Lawn Hill Creek, a perennial and spring fed waterway. Feeling a little more active? Then consider hiring a canoe from the resort; it’s a delightful way of experiencing the splendours of the gorge. For a truly memorable sunset, join the Sunset on Harry’s Hill tour where you can finish the day with a lovely platter of nibbles and a nice cold glass of wine or soft drink.
Cloncurry to Richmond (approx 285km / 2hrs 45mins)
Travel on to Julia Creek, home to the endangered Julia Creek Dunnart, a small carnivorous marsupial, about the size of a large mouse. See cheeky resident dunnarts, Donald and Duncan, during their twice-daily feedings at the Julia Creek Visitor Information Centre
. It’s a far cry from Sydney, but at the Julia Creek Opera House
, you’ll find a gallery of historical photos dating back 100 years. Leaving Julia Creek, its about another 90 minutes drive to Richmond. Richmond is about 500km from the ocean, but did you know it was once the heart of an ancient inland sea? Hard to imagine, isn’t it? Unlock your inner-palaeontologist and explore Australia’s ancient marine past at Richmond’s free fossil hunting sites
. On a visit to Kronosaurus Korner
, you’ll see the most complete marine reptile fossils in the world. These fossils are from the Cretaceous Inland Sea that covered a large section of Queensland 100 million years ago. Uncover one of Richmond’s best-kept secrets on a guided tour to Hampstead Springs
featuring stunning escarpments and views of the Gregory Range. The tour includes a hearty lunch at the heritage homestead, great local stories and endless photo opportunities. Discover early pioneer stories at the Cambridge Downs Heritage Display Centre, a replica of the original homestead built in the late 1860s. Take a picnic out to Lake Fred Tritton
and wander the Bush Tucker Garden, which interprets the story of traditional plant use by the local Indigenous people.
Richmond to Charters Towers (approx 360km / 3hrs 30mins)
Set out this morning bound firstly for Hughenden – you’re going to need some time in town. Make your first stop in Hughenden the Flinders Discovery Centre
, home of ‘Hughie’ the life-size replica of a 7-metre high Muttaburrasaurus, cast from the original bones of a 110 million-year old dinosaur found in the Flinders Shire. To fully appreciate the beauty of this expansive shire, pick up some freshly baked pastries from one of the popular bakeries for a picnic morning tea at Mount Walker Lookout
, just 10 km out of town. Back in town, you can learn about the region’s native plants and animals as you stroll the 1.5km Eco Walk
along the Flinders River. Another point of interest is the historic Coolabah Tree
, which has been linked to two separate Burke & Wills search expeditions. You can still see the expedition team’s tree blaze; it’s purpose, something akin to a modern day GPS! Drive east along the Flinders Highway towards the gold mining city of Charters Towers. The road will take you through the small settlements of Prairie (the Prairie Hotel
is a fantastic old pub filled with antiques and memorabilia from a bygone era), Torrens Creek and Pentland.
Side Trip: Porcupine Gorge
Just 74km north of Hughenden along the Kennedy Development Road is 'Australia's Little Grand Canyon', Porcupine Gorge
. Swim in pristine rock pools and explore the floor of the gorge in the shadow of the Pyramid, an isolated monolith of multi-coloured sandstone. Stay overnight in Hughenden and take a day trip to Porcupine Gorge or you may choose to camp overnight at Pyramid Campsite. Camping permits may be purchased from Flinders Discovery Centre in Hughenden.
Charters Towers to Townsville (approx 144km / 1hr 30mins)
Call in to the Charters Towers Visitor Information Centre and pick up some information on the Ghosts of Gold Heritage Trail
. Hear stories from the ghosts of gold rush days at historic venues included in the trail; Stock Exchange Arcade, Towers Hill Lookout and The Venus Gold Battery. Around 10km from town, Leahton Park is a massive 1100-acre property, home to the legendary Texas Longhorns
! Take a horse drawn wagon ride, enjoy a camp oven billy tea and damper and visit the saddle shop. Leaving the outback behind today for the coast, watch for the prominent Townsville landmark, Castle Hill. This giant granite monolith, rising 286 metres above sea level, appears to be standing watch over this vibrant tropical city. While this is the last day of your drive, there is much to see and do in Townsville, so consider spending a few days here.