The Savannah Way runs from Cairns in Queensland, through the Northern Territory, all the way to Broome in Western Australia.
source : http://www.savannahway.com.au/
This post is about the section of the Savannah Way from the Lawn Hill side route, through Gregory Downs to Normanton, then along the Gulf Developmental Road to the Tablelands, and eventually Cairns. In the Northern Territory, we drove along the Savannah Way from Katherine to Boorooloola – check out our post here.
When it comes to phone reception, you’ll have more coverage with Telstra. Optus is available in Normanton, and once you reach the Tablelands, Optus coverage is more frequent.
Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park
We approached Lawn Hill from the south and visited the Riversleigh Fossil Fields before refreshing ourselves at Lawn Hill Gorge. The road in was in fairly good condition, but keep your eyes peeled for wandering cattle and roadside wallabies.
Riversleigh Fossil Fields
Riversleigh was World Heritage listed in 1994 and is recognised for showing important evolutionary stages of Australia’s mammals, as well as the diversity of fossils and quality of their preservation. It’s paired with the discoveries in Naracoorte near Mount Gambier, SA.
Fossils were first discovered in Riversleigh in the early 1900s but it wasn’t until the early 1960s that the first exploration took place. Fossils of big birds, enormous wombats, crocodiles and fangaroos (carnivorous kangaroos) were found and date back to the oligo-miocene period, about 15-20 million years ago. In 1992, the Queensland Government took over management of the area and two years later, it was added to the World Heritage List.
The D-site is the only site open to the public. There’s a nifty information hut at the beginning of the loop walk that blends into the surrounding landscape. The walk takes you past rocks that are embedded with real fossils, and leads you atop the rocky outcrop to a great view of the landscape.
If you want to know more about the fossils at Riversleigh, check out the Fossil Centre at the Outback In Isa Information Centre. It’s $12 per adult to get in (discounts apply with your YHA membership card).
Lawn Hill Gorge
This oasis in the middle of a dry and dusty landscape is the perfect place to stop and refresh yourself. Go for a swim in the creek, hire a canoe to explore the gorge, or go for a walk along one of their many tracks.
After a refreshing dip in the water, we followed the walking track out to the Cascades. On the way back, Juz stubbed her toe really badly (there was blood) and she wasn’t able to walk after that. It pretty much ruined the day in terms of activities so we sat in the shade of a tree and read.
The campground nearby is equipped with toilets and cold showers, but sites are limited so make sure you book your spot in advance via Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) by calling 13 QGOV (13 74 68) or going online at http://nprsr.qld.gov.au/experiences/camping/camping_bookings.html
If you’re looking for a free camp not far from Lawn Hill, about 90km east is Gregory. It’s a small community with a pub, playground and picnic area, and public toilets with (cold?) showers. The designated camping area is across the road from the playground but because there are a few humpies erected there and no other shelter, it’s not really attractive for an overnight stay.
The preferred spot is by the river where all the other campers are, despite all the signs forbidding it. The Gregory River is a clear, spring fed river lined with pandanus that provides a beautiful spot to set up camp. We spent the night on the river but packed up fairly early the next day so we could be in Normanton by lunchtime.
The first thing we did when we got to Normanton was have a mini pub crawl – because the brochure told us we had to. There are three pubs in town and we figured this was the best way to get to know the place.
- The Purple Pub – the most colourful pub in town. The veranda is great for people-watching while the beer garden out the back was spacious and had a relaxing vibe. The meals were well priced too.
- The Albion Hotel – it had a great deck with fans that wafted delicious kitchen smells our way.
- The Central Hotel – smelt like piss but the bar staff were friendly and drinks were cheap. We sat on the veranda and enjoyed the view of town, particularly the Big Croc across the road, who was getting mounted by all the visitors.
Normanton is small port town that used to service the Croydon Goldfields. These days, it’s more of a fishing town, or a pass-through town for fishermen who are heading to Karumba. There are a lot of old buildings in town. The Westpac bank has set up shop in an old National Trust Building, and the op shop around the corner is in an old corrugated iron building that was built in the late 1890s. The Visitor Information Centre and library is located in the Burns Philp Building, which dates back to the 1800s.
After exploring the town and making use of phone reception, we drove out to Walker Creek rest area, approximately 30km north of Normanton. The toilets were shoddy, but there was plenty of space, peace and shade. Whatever you do, don’t swim in the river – crocs!
Bourke and Wills Camp 119
Bourke and Wills are the ill-fated explorers who never made it back to Melbourne. Camp 119 was their northernmost camp and erected at the site is a memorial, as well as an information hut that tells their story and provides information about tree blazing. Tree blazing was a way for explorers to mark their path, and it’s where the term ‘trail-blazing’ comes from.
About 70km from Normanton is Karumba, a pretty little fishing and port town. It used to be called Kimberley before adopting its aboriginal name. Nearly every house has a boat in their yard.
Attractions include the Barramundi Discovery Centre, sunsets from Karumba Point Beach and the Morning Glory Clouds, which we were not privy to on that particular morning. Regardless, we were happy to finally see the ocean after nearly four months in the desert.
After a quick stroll on the beach, we popped into the Thrift Shop next to the Artesian Bore before heading back to Normanton and east along the Savannah Way.
Croydon was established by a gold rush in 1885 and it was probably the friendliest town we’d come across since crossing the border into Queensland. Our first stop was the Croydon Central Supermarket, where a woman yelled out, “knackered Australia? You must have come a long way if you’re really that tired?!” The Croydon Central Supermarket was a very useful stop. We filled up on fuel, browsed the grocery aisles and had a cold but refreshing shower in their adjacent toilet block.
Other attractions include the Croydon General Store, the longest continually running general store in Queensland (and possibly Australia). It was built in 1894 and still sells groceries but also has a museum with various memorabilia and artefacts from the area.
The True Blue Visitors Centre has a great historical museum and maps of the Heritage Precinct in town. We had lunch at Anzac Park, which has plenty of seating, free electric BBQs and a playground, before having a look at the War Memorial and Chinese monument.
There really isn’t that much to see in Georgetown, other than the Ted Elliot Mineral collection. This is accessible via the Visitor Centre. Other than that, you can check out Cumberland Chimney just outside of town. The brick chimney and the nearby dam were built in 1889 for a steam powered mill that crushed gold-bearing stone.
They are the remains of the Cumberland Mines of the Etheridge fields, which brought diggers in from around the country, creating a tent city that has a larger population than Georgetown. By 1891, the tent city was a full town with a butcher, police station, school and four pubs! When the gold ran out, so did the diggers and the mine was abandoned in 1897. The town reduced to a single hotel while the school continued to operate until 1915, when pupils ran out too.
If you’re looking for a place to rest and recuperate for a couple of days, stop in at Cobbold Gorge. While the road from Georgetown is a rollercoaster ride of crests and flood ways, once you’re at the resort, you can let your hair down.
Have a drink at the bar, cool off in the infinity pool, have a yummy home-style meal from the restaurant, or go on a tour through the gorge.
Undara Volcanic National Park
You cannot miss the Undara Experience because it has it all! Located about 40km east of Mount Surprise, the resort sports a unique bar and restaurant that features turn-of-the-century train carriages, abundant wildlife, a swimming pool, bush walks, nightly campfire activities and the incredible Bush Breakfast – complete with billy tea, campfire-toasted bread and bacon!
While you’re there, go on a tour to explore the lava tubes, which were created after Undara volcano erupted 190,000 years ago! The tubes extend over 100km from the crater, making it the longest flow from a single volcano in the world.
After an amazing experience at Undara, we moved on towards the Tablelands and spent the night at Archer Creek Rest Area about 16km west of Ravenshoe. There was plenty of space to park the Troopy, with places alongside the highway, or further down next to the creek. Fires are allowed, toilets are available, and you can even swim in the creek.
Once you’ve entered the Tablelands, you know that the outback is behind you. Drive amongst winding green hills, see waterfalls and rainforests. Taste the fruits of the land at the local wineries, dairy farms, coffee plantations and Mount Uncle’s Distillery.
Our Savannah Way journey felt like it ended here. No longer were we surrounded by Savannah bushland with yellow grass and sparse trees – the Tablelands are moist and beautiful and after a few days exploring the area, we headed north towards the Cape.