The North West Loop

Duration: 12 Days / 11 Nights

Start either Cairns or Townsville.

A ‘must do’ adventure self drive route, the North West Loop features spectacular National Parks, timeless gorges, prehistoric discoveries and welcoming communities. The drive links The Savannah Way with the Overlander’s Way via the northern section of the Matilda Way. Expect to indulge your adventurous spirit; be captivated by the open road; sample delicious Gulf seafood; and to immerse yourself in Australia’s cultural heritage.

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Highlights

Day 1 - Cairns to Atherton Tablelands

Explore Kuranda, famous for its heritage 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.

Day 2 - 3: Atherton Tablelands to Undara

Discover Undara Lava Tubes, the largest lava tubes system on the planet! Undara Experience offers a range of different tours on the park, all hosted by world class Savannah Guides. Each tour has been designed to provide the very best experience for their guests.

Day 4: Undara to Georgetown via Mt Surprise

Ride the beautifully restored Savannahlander train. Highly personalised, you will enjoy the tour alongside their experienced drivers in their 1960’s classic “silver-bullet” rail motors. Rail tours depart from Mount Surprise Railway Station.

Cobbold Gorge Side Trip

Allow time to visit Cobbold Gorge, a true Outback oasis just 42km drive from Georgetown. Cruise the gorge to explore its ancient geological landforms and the savannah wonderland on a guided tour. Go bushwalking, birdwatching, or simply relax and enjoy the modern comforts of Cobbold Village.

Day 5: Georgetown to Normanton

See Australia's oldest general store built in 1894 and wander Croydon's historical precinct complete with original kerosene lamps from the gold rush days.

Day 6: Normanton to Karumba

Visit the historic Normanton Railway Station where you can board the legendary Gulflander, or Tin Hare as it is affectionately known.

Day 7: Karumba

Enjoy a peaceful and relaxing Croc and Crab Sunset Cruise to Karumba's 'best kept secret,' the magical Sand Island. Toast the sunset and savour delicious gulf seafood.

Day 8: Karumba to Burketown

Join the local Gangalidda-Garawa people as they share their cultural stories of the night skies on the Yagurli Stargazing tour or join a tag-a-long 4WD tour to one of Australia’s most culturally significant regions.

Day 9: Burketown to Cloncurry

Make a stop in Cloncurry as you drive east along the Overlander's Way. Learn the story behind the pioneering of Australia's iconic Royal Flying Doctor Service with a visit to John Flynn Place.

Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park Side Trip

A true visual feast, Boodjamulla is one of Queensland's most significant geological parks dating back hundreds of millions of years. Explore the gorge on a guided cruise or hire a canoe. Join a sunset tour or enjoy a refreshing dip in the crystal clear waters.

Day 10: Cloncurry to Richmond

See the most complete marine reptile fossils in the world at Kronosaurus Korner. These fossils are from the Cretaceous Inland Sea that covered a large section of Queensland 100 million years ago.

Day 11: Richmond to Charters Towers

Call in to Hughenden to meet Hughie the star attraction at the Flinders Discovery Centre. A life size skeletal replica, this 7 metre Muttaburrasaurus was cast from the original bones of a 110 million year old dinosaur found in the Flinders Shire.

Porcupine Gorge Side Trip

From Hughenden its just a 74km drive north to Porcupine Gorge National Park, known as Australia's Little Grand Canyon. Swim in the pristine rock pools, explore the floor of the gorge, picnic or camp at Pyramid Campsite.

Day 12: Charters Towers to Townsville

In Charters Towers, take a guided tour of the Venus Gold Battery (Australia's largest surviving battery relic), or pan for gold at the Miners Cottage.

Day One

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.

Day Four

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.

Day Five

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.

Day Six

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.

Day Seven

Karumba

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!

Day Eight

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.

Day Nine

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.

Day Ten

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.

Day Eleven

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.

Day Twelve

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.

Featured Event

The Julia Creek Dirt n Dust Festival is built around one of Australia’s toughest triathlons. Held every April, this wild and wacky festival grows the town population from 400 to 3000.  Popular events include the Artesian Horse Race & PBR Bull Ride.

Fossick for gems

Find your treasure! Join the morning Topaz Tour or purchase a fossicking licence from the Gem Den and visit nearby gem fields in search of Topaz, Smokey Quartz, and Aquamarine. There are a number of gem fossicking sites in Mt Surprise.

Fish the Gulf

Karumba is one of the most bountiful fishing spots Australian and overseas anglers like to visit. Visitors to this region frequently catch barramundi, jewfish and king salmon in the warmer months. Blue salmon, grunter, mud-crabs and bream are caught throughout the year.

See the Morning Glory

These unusual cloud formations called ‘The Morning Glory’ roll in once a year. They can reach up to two kilometres high and stretch from horizon to horizon.  Burketown is the only spot on earth where this natural phenomenon can be seen.

Paddle the gorge

Feel the magnitude of the sandstone cliffs lining the gorge as your canoe glides on sparkling emerald waters. The surrounding lush vegetation creates a visual feast. This is a truly delightful way of viewing Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.

Follow the fossil trail

Follow the Riversleigh Fossil Trail through the richest known fossil mammal deposit in Australia. Experience the record of life following the separation of Australia from the early continent, Gondwana. See limb bones and gizzard stones of towering flightless birds and the remains of the largest known freshwater crocodile.

Meet the Dunnarts

See Julia Creek’s cheeky resident dunnarts during their twice-daily feedings.  These small carnivorous marsupials are about the size of a mouse.The Julia Creek dunnart (Sminthopsis douglasi) is endangered. Find out what role this town has in its conservation.

See the Pyramid

Explore Porcupine Gorge, dubbed Australia’s Little Grand Canyon.  Follow the marked track to the floor of the gorge in the shadow of the Pyramid, an isolated monolith of multi-coloured sandstone. Enquire about camping permits at Flinders Discovery Centre.