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Cairns to Karumba 6-day roadtrip (Savannah Way guide – part 1)

Stretching from Cairns to Broome, the Savannah Way is Australia’s longest and arguably most fascinating driving route, covering 3700km of bitumen. As this journey is long, most travellers tackle it in small bursts. We’ve written a guide to each section of this epic road trip, starting with Cairns to Karumba. As we publish the remainder of this guide, we’ll add links for easy access.

This section of the Savannah Way includes many attractions, gorgeous photo ops and a guaranteed encounter with wildlife. So, what are you waiting for? Pack your bags and hit the road!

Savannah Way Itinerary

Day 1 – Cairns to Undara (261km)

Begin your Savannah Way road trip by heading west from Cairns; make your way up Kuranda range to the tropical Atherton Tablelands. Comprising rainforest and wetlands, this landscape is home to birds and wildlife including unique marsupials like tree kangaroos. Upon arrival, get out, stretch your legs and grab a coffee from a local cafe – we recommend Gallery 5!

Grab supplies for a picnic lunch and begin your drive around the Waterfalls Circuit. This is a 17km scenic loop which includes Millaa Falls, popular with photographers. Stop at a stunning lookout for a bite to eat before making your way to Mareeba.

The Savannah Way - Millaa Falls

Along the way, you’ll pass through macadamia plantations, cane fields and mango orchards. Referred to as ‘coffee country’, Mareeba is the perfect place to stop for a brew! Pop into Queensland’s highest pub, Ravenshoe Hotel and stop for a walk at Millstream Fall, one of the widest single drop waterfalls in Australia.

Your final stop is Undara. Finish your journey with a guided tour of the caves or national park, followed by a glass of bubbles while you watch the sun go down. Although you’re just 261km from Cairns, you will feel like you’ve accomplished a lot already!

Day 2 – Undara to Mount Surprise (182km)

Head east on Undara Road towards Mount Surprise. Here you can try your hand at fossicking for topaz. Upon arrival you can purchase a family fossicking license for $10.45 or take a guided tour, giving you the best chance of finding ‘treasure’.

The friendly staff at Mount Surprise Gems will hook you up with equipment, polish any stones you find and provide directions to the most accessible site, O’Briens Creek, approximately 45km from town. Remember to pack a picnic lunch and spend the day adventuring.

Day 3 – Mount Surprise to Cobbald Gorge (299km)

Wake up bright and early because you’re in for a big day! The next stop is Georgetown. Check out the extensive mineral collection atTerrEstrial museum before heading towards Cobbold Gorge’s sandstone cliffs. Grab coffee and a bite to eat for the two-hour drive ahead. We also suggest stopping for picnic supplies.

Located in the heart of the Gulf Savannah region, Cobbold Gorge is a hidden oasis where you can immerse yourself in the natural wonders of North Queensland. The area offers various caravan friendly camping facilities, plus traditional accommodation for non-campers.

We recommend the ‘Ultimate Outback Adventure’ day tour. You’ll venture into the sandstone escarpment, fossick for agates, view towering sandstone arches, visit the grave of pioneer John Corbett and learn about the area’s history. Finish the day with a relaxing boat cruise through Cobbold Gorge, gliding through an ancient sandstone landscape; you may also spot the occasional freshwater crocodile. ‘Smoko’ and lunch is provided!

Day 4 – Cobbold Gorge to Croydon (232km)

Head to Croydon, a former gold mining town. This journey takes around four hours, so take a break or two and soak up the scenery along the way. Stop for lunch at Croydon Club Hotel, which offers traditional affordable pub grub.

Croydon is renowned for its interesting streetscape, including kangaroo sculptures and ‘true blue’ entrance to the visitor centre. Croydon’s visitor information centre also features heritage items, photographs and a theatrette. The outdoor garden showcases heritage displays, vintage vehicles, and a garden filled with unique sculptures and seating. Drive 4km to Lake Belmore for a refreshing swim to cap off the day.

Day 5 – Croydon to Normanton (155km)

Have breakfast at Croydon’s Poddy Dodger Bar before heading to Normanton, a small town known for its purple pub! Here you can ride the historic ‘Gulflander’ train. The old tin hare railmotor offers half-day trips between Croydon and Normanton, showcasing spectacular countryside along the way.

If you enjoy the water, make your way down to Norman River. Referred to as the ‘Barramundi Capital of the North’, it’s the perfect spot to hook a line. Spend the afternoon at the water’s edge and enjoy the surrounding landscape.

Finish the day with a delicious pub meal at the infamous ‘Purple Pub’.

Day 6 – Normanton to Karumba (71.6km)

Part one of your Savannah Way itinerary is almost over! Karumba is a short side trip from Normanton (approximately 51 minutes) and is the perfect place to soak up natures finest: the beach and local wildlife. Have breakfast at one of Normanton’s cosy and casual cafes; we suggest Gobble N Go, Norman County Snacks and Supplies or Ash’s @ the Point Café, Karumba Point.

If bird-watching or fishing is on your agenda, Karumba is perfect for both! Located on the Gulf of Carpentaria, at Norman River’s mouth, Karumba is surrounded by wetlands and is home to plentiful birdlife. It also harbours huge saltwater crocodiles, so choose your fishing spots carefully.

Have lunch and explore the area before finishing the day with a gorgeous Gulf sunset. The Sunset Tavern is the perfect place to watch the sun go down while enjoying a seafood platter and glass of wine. For an outdoor table, make sure you get there early.

Congratulations, you’ve completed part one of the Savannah Way road trip (Cairns to Karumba). We’ll be publishing the remainder of this itinerary over the next few weeks, so watch this space.

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