Savannah Way

The Savannah Way is one of Australia's ultimate adventure drives, traversing the top end of Australia and linking Cairns in Tropical North Queensland with the historic pearling town of Broome in Western Australia, via the natural wonders of Australia's far north. Some sections of the road are suitable for 4-wheel drive vehicles only, but others are sealed, making it possible for anyone with a motor vehicle to complete sections of the drive.

The journey is rich with natural wonders, passing through an amazingly diverse and spectacular landscape of wide horizons, ancient gorges, rock pools, hot springs, and abundant wildlife as well as the endless horizons of the Gulf Savannah and the Northern Territory after which the drive is named.

The route follows a sealed bitumen road on two of its three main sections - between Cairns, Qld and Normanton, Qld, and between Ngukurr, NT and Broome, WA. The road between Normanton and Ngukurr is unsealed and its condition varies with the time of year. On unsealed roads, fine dust can conceal deep potholes and dust reduces visibility. Staying in contact in the outback is vital. While mobile phones will work in many towns, staying in contact by radio, satellite phone or carrying an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is advisable. Always check road conditions prior to travel.

Location: Cairns, Qld to Broome, WA, via Katherine, NT

Length: 3,501 km

Suggested return journey: can be driven clockwise or counter clockwise, and is often completed as part of a round-Australia trek in either direction.

Features/attractions: Atherton Tableland; Undara Lava Tubes; Gregory Ranges; Qld Channel Country; Normanton; Lawn Hill National Park; Riversleigh fossil site; Hells Gate; Borroloola; Roper Valley; tip of western Arnhem Land; Mataranka Hot Springs; Katherine Gorge; Timber Creek; Kununurra; Halls Creek; Bungle Bungle Ranges; Geikie Gorge; Windjana Gorge; Tunnel Creek; Broome.

Minimum duration (one way): total travelling time is around 48 hours in the dry season, so allow a minimum of 5 days to travel from one end to the other.

What You Will See

Travelling from east to west, the Savannah Way begins at Cairns, passing through the Atherton Tableland before reaching the Undara Lava Tubes. The drive continues west along the Gulf Developmental Road, through treeless plains of Mitchell grass to Georgetown (gemstone fossicking), Gilbert River, Croydon (old gold mining town) and on to Normanton and Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria.

The drive then follows the line of the coast, passing the turn-offs to the hidden gorges of Lawn Hill and the fossils at Riversleigh, before reaching Hells Gate Roadhouse, gateway to the Macassan coast, just 50km east of the Northern Territory Border. Rich in flora and fauna this region boasts one of the world's oldest landscapes including the spectacular eastern escarpments of the Barkly Tableland and the rugged beauty of the Gulf of Carpentaria's flood plains.

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Beyond the township of Borroloola the drive passes through western Arnhem Land. Most of this region is not possible to visit, but with a permit, you can visit the north western and north eastern corners of Coburg Peninsula and Gove and Oenpelli near Kakadu's East Alligator River, home to magnificent rock art. This area comprises the biogeographical regions of Pine Creek Arnhem, Daly basin and the western part of Top End Coastal. Beyond the stony escarpment country of Kakadu is Katherine Gorge, and the opportunity to drive north to Darwin.

From Katherine, Savannah Way follows Victoria Highway west through Timber Creek and into the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Fro9m Kununurra, the route follows Great Northern Highway south past Purnululu National Park (Bungle Bungle Ranges) and Wolf Creek National Park, then west through Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing. On the way to Broome the road passes the turn-offs to Windjana Gorge, Tunnel Creek and Geikie Gorge before reaching the white sandy beaches of Broome.

When to go

Australia's tropical savannah is in a climatic zone characterised by two distinct seasons: the 'wet' and the 'dry'. The wet summer months, December to March, are hot and humid, in contrast to the dry winter months of May to October which are cooler and have less rain. Travelling the Savannah Way is easiest during the Dry season (May to October) and only experienced bush travellers should consider making the journey during the wet.

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