Hema in the Top End and Gulf
The Savannah Way is a route that links Cairns and Broome, its cross-section of adventure, history and pristine wilderness making it one of Australia’s greatest touring drives. Our two explorers will begin their journey in Mareeba, inland from the traditional starting point of Cairns, before finishing in Mataranka 16 days later. Along the route, they will encounter the region’s most iconic attractions and discover some of its wilder side trips, all the while gathering and verifying data to update our mapping for the region.
The Savannah Way (Queensland’s Gulf Country and the Northern Territory’s Top End for this trip) cuts through truly wild country, with facilities and supplies few and far between, and largely untouched national parks frequent along the route. While almost 80 per cent of the Savannah Way’s 3700km length is sealed, there are plenty of opportunities to detour along 4WD tracks and unsealed roads. Our Hema explorers will be embracing this from the off, taking the recently opened Burke Developmental Road from Mareeba to Karumba, which currently requires a sturdy vehicle and high clearance to deal with washouts created during the Wet.
From there it will be down to Normanton and west to Burketown, which will include visits to Leichhardt Falls and Burke and Wills’ Camp 119; the northernmost camp on the duo’s fated expedition. The first major detour off the Savannah Way comes when our explorers head south from Tirranna Roadhouse to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park. Boodjamulla is a pristine oasis in the outback, characterised by its red gorges, lush vegetation and cool waters, all of which can be experienced on foot or in a canoe (which can be hired from Adel’s Grove Camping Park).
After spending a few days in Boodjamulla it’s north again up to Hells Gate Roadhouse, before pushing on to Manangoora Station via the Great Top Road. Around 100km east of Borroloola, Manangoora Station has remote bush camping and boat ramp access to the Gulf of Carpentaria, which means it’s a prime destination for anyone who wants to drop a line. After a night there it will be on to Lorella Springs, which is a family-owned one million acre wilderness and adventure hotspot that draws travellers in with its range of 4WD tracks, bush walking trails, places to fish and swim, as well as space to simply relax and experience the Top End. The park has its own bar, accommodation and plenty of facilities, as well as the drawcard of a hot thermal spring and helicopter rides to explore the property.
It’s possible to spend months in Lorella, but after just a couple of nights it is then a short drive into Limmen National Park and Butterfly Springs campground. Butterfly Springs is special because it offers the best access to the Lost Cities, which are ancient weathered sandstone formations that are worth the trip. There is a Southern Lost City and a Western Lost City, with access to the Western Lost City separated by a rough 4WD track and a locked gate, with the key available from the park ranger.
The final leg of the journey is off-road through Limmen National Park and west along the Roper Highway to Mataranka. Close to Mataranka is Elsey National Park and its famous thermal pools, which will perfectly bookmark the end of the Savannah Way for this trip. For travellers completing the entire Savannah Way, the route continues through to Katherine and Kununurra along the Victoria Highway, before wending its way south to Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing and through to Broome along the Great Northern Highway.
Follow our staff explorers on their journey with trip updates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For travellers in the region we will be posting location updates ahead of time, so anyone in the area can meet our explorers, talk travel, or ask about our digital and printed navigation products.