Savannah Way Itinerary - from Cairns to Katherine
Savannah Way Map
Tip: Download the Savannah Way map on your smartphone and save it as image. You can always use it offline whenever you need to.
Savannah Way Guide
Australia’s Northern Territory is a breathtaking scenery that stretches along the Western coastline. Gear up for an ultimate driving adventure holiday in Savanna Way, with 5 World Heritage sites and 15 national parks waiting to be explored. Your Savannah travel route can start from Cairns through the deep outback gorges and end in the historic town of Broome or even in Kakadu National Park. Some of the top Savannah Way highlights include the amazing rock formations of the Lost City, the ancient Australian aborigines’ rock art where you can learn more about the Australian aboriginal culture, the impressive waterfalls, and much more. To get a taste of what’s on offer in the outback Savannah, read our Savannah Way review here.
Watch our Savannah Way Video
Your Savannah Experience In The Australian Outback
- Real outback feeling: stay secluded in the bush, the nearest house is 500km away
- Experience wildlife up close, from kangaroos to crocodiles, dingoes, camels, cattle and more
- Cook with a camp-oven on an open fire somewhere in the bush (Link: here you will find our most popular camp-oven recipes)
- Experience real 4WD driving on unpaved roads and cross the 1-metre deep streams and rivers
- Endless and secluded expanses that you will seldom experience
- Crystal-clear waters with impressive plants, birdlife and lurking crocodiles
- North Australia's most spectacular Lost-City rock formations
- Splash in hot, natural hot springs with crystal clear water, surrounded by palm trees and in the middle of the outback
- Impressive waterfalls with splash pools, gorges and caves
Savannah Way - Cairns to Darwin road trip
The Savannah Way is Australia's Adventure Drive and connects Cairns in the tropical North of Queensland with Broome in West Australia, across the country’s tropical Australian savanna and the upper end of the Northern Territory. Overall, the Savannah Way is 3,700 km long so our recommended route starts from Cairns to Katherine for a total of 2130 km. If you wish, you can leave Katherine from Savannah Way and head for Darwin through Kakadu National Park for a total of 2,680 km.
How much time you need to explore the sights depends on which places of interest you want to stop by. Our tour recommendation can be shortened or extended depending on how much time you have available. Also, the travelling time depends heavily on how many miles you want to drive every day.
If you want to start your Savannah Way drive from Cairns and go to Katherine before heading over to Broome or pass the Kakadu National Park to Darwin, then you should allow at least 7-9 days.
The distance from Cairns to Katherine is 2,100 kilometres. If you drive for 400 km every day, Katherine can be reached within 5-6 days (or vice versa). 400 km of driving daily is realistic and feasible, but you should start early in the morning so you can arrive to your destination before it gets dark. If you have time, do not miss going a little further north to the Kakadu National Park and Darwin. (Link: see our Kakadu National Park review here).
Australians avoid driving at night due to the many animals that are on the road at that time. A kangaroo can suddenly come on the road from nowhere and cattle standing in the middle of the road can be poorly visible from the distance at night. While it is sometimes impossible to avoid driving in the dark, it is important to drive slowly (70 km / h) in order to spot the animals on the road ahead.
Tip: When you’re renting a car, check whether the insurance policy covers damages caused by hitting animals during night trips.
Savannah Way Itinerary & Attractions
The route starts from Cairns and leads along the Burke Development Road from Mareeba to Normanton. Alternatively, you can drive through the sealed road. We deliberately chose the Burke Development Road as it gives a unique and memorable outback feeling all secluded in the bush where you can stay overnight. The closest house is 500 km away from you and there is virtually no one in sight. You can camp where you want as no one cares or forbids it.
Tip: Start a fire in the bush and cook with your camp-oven, enjoy the sunset over a glass of wine or beer in front of your campfire somewhere in the middle of nowhere - a priceless experience to remember.
After 756 km you will reach Normanton, where you can stock up with food, water, fuel and even take a shower at one of the campsites. A free shower is also available at the boat ramp.
From Normanton, the distances between places are shorter so you can stock up with food supplies daily.
On the way to Katherine gorge, the Lost-City rock formations are especially worth seeing. They can be reached either on foot or by helicopter. For example, the lost city in Cape Crawford can only be reached by helicopter.
About 65 km from Cape Crawford and 46 km to Borroloola at the Caranbirini Conservation Reserve there are also Lost Cities, which can be explored on foot (about 2 km trail). We recommend a helicopter flight as it is very impressive to get a feel for Australia’s expanses. You will see no roads, people, houses … just pure nature.
Another stop on the way should be at Mataranka, where you can bathe in the 34 ° C warm, natural thermal springs, surrounded by crystal clear waters and tropical plants with palm trees. These hot springs can also be visited in Katherine.
In Katherine and the surrounding area there is a lot to discover so it is worth planning an additional day. Katherine Gorge consists of 13 impressive canyons, which can be explored by boat, helicopter or on foot. You can also learn about the Aboriginal culture and Rock Art by visiting the local museums here.
If you do not have much time, we recommend that you take the helicopter flight, with which you can enjoy a unique view of the gorges and Arnhem Land from above. There are also some walking tours and water activity options, such as canoe rides. However, avoid swimming in the gorges because even if saltwater crocodiles have been removed for tourism purposes, there is still the danger of one or two lurking in the gorge. The locals are always on the lookout for them and try to find new crocs via red buoys. For this reason, red buoys are set up in various places in the river where saltwater crocodiles would bite them out of curiosity. Freshwater crocodiles, however, are considered to be "harmless". The bite marks on the buoys would indicate whether a new saltwater crocodile is in the river or not.
On the way to Katherine Gorge, there is the first Overland Telegraph Station (via Knotts crossing, 5 km east of Katherine via Gorge Road).
You can also see Edith Falls (in Leilyn’s Nitmiluk National Park) or swim there. ). Edith Falls is a series of pools and waterfalls that come together and are very beautiful. However, if you’re pressed for time, drive further through the Kakadu National Park and skip the Edith Falls as there are several similar waterfalls on the way. In Cutta Cutta Caves Nature Park, the limestone rock formations are worth a visit.
Some Useful Information About Outback Savannah
- Best time to travel: in the dry season from May to September. The rainy season also has its beautiful side as Katherine and Roper River get filled up with water so you can try water activities, which would not be possible in the dry season.Vehicle: 4WD. You should be traveling with nothing but a good four-wheel drive vehicle. Everything about 4WD driving can be found here: Link Article 4WD
- Rule of thumb: The further out and the more abandoned you drive to, the more expensive is the fuel. Example: during our trip, in the Roper Bar Store Roadhouse, diesel cost about AUD2 per gallon, which at the time was 40% more expensive than in Cairns.
- There is never any wood on campgrounds so it’s best that you collect it on the way before you get there. However, if you camp in the bush and not on the campgrounds you won’t need to worry about wood;)Planning is essential for Outback. The longest distance without a petrol station is 700 km on the Burke Development Road. Here you will have to take an extra fuel canister.
- The Outback has many shops closed on Sundays, as opposed to coastal resorts. This means it is very important to ensure that you do not run out of food.
- In northern Australia, there are more crocodiles than humans, so you should not be their next meal. Keep your distance from the rivers and streams by at least 3-5 metres. Crocodiles are everywhere and just because you cannot see them does not mean they are not there. Just stay as far away from the water as you can when you camp at night, but also avoid taking photos alongside the river or go swimming.
- Fill-up your tank at every petrol station you find in the Outback. Although you will still see petrol stations along the way, during good weather the owners may go fishing. Since the petrol station owners in the Outback don’t really have many customers, it may well be that nobody is there.
What you’ll need:
- Torch / flashlight
- Camp Oven (can be found in Australia’s camping shops)
- Alcohol and barbecue lighter for lighting fire
- Shovel; a must-have tool
- Bushman mosquito spray
- Drinking water bottle
- USB charger for the cigarette lighter to charge smartphone, camera, etc.
- Camping table and camping chairs
- Flannel as the next shower may be a few hundred kilometres away
Distances by Road
- Cairns - Rockwood = 222km
- Rockwood - Dunbar = 276km
- Dunbar- Normanton = 258km
- Normanton- Burketown = 230km
- Savannah Way Borroloola to Burketown = 492km
- Borroloola - Katherine = 655km (Limmen National Park)
- Katherine - Jabiru = 297km (Kakadu National Park)
- Jabiru - Darwin = 256km
- Normanton to Cairns = 679km
- Savanna Way Cairns to Darwin = 2,847km
- Cairns to Broome = 4,087km
- Savannah Way Darwin to Broome = 1,087km
- Savannah Way Normanton to Burketown = 230km
Where is Savannah Way?
The Savannah highway is Australia’s longest and most interesting route that connects to major roads across the northern Australia. The 3700 km route links Queensland’s Cairns with the historic town of Broome as well as to 15 National Parks and 5 World Heritage sites.
Is it possible to explore Savannah Way with caravan?
Yes. There are camping sites along Savannah Way, such as Borroloola Caravan Park and Burketown Caravan Park located at the Gulf of Carpentaria. However, to get a first-hand experience of the Outback, you can park your caravan in a remote area and enjoy the starry skies of Savannah Way at night. However, the roads are not sealed completely so unless your caravan is a 4WD and in top condition, you will face problems on these roads.
Is Savannah Way reachable by train?
Yes. The train journey starts from the town of Cairns and goes through the village of Kuranda and further on through the Savannah country. You can have a unique rail experience in the Outback by catching the famous Kuranda Scenic train that departs Cairns weekly.
Are there any Savannah Way tours on offer?
Yes there are car and motorbike tours on offer, especially between Darwin and Cairns. Why not participate in a 3-week guided motorbike riding tour from Cairns to Broome along some of the most secluded tracks in Australia, where you can experience the most scenic Outback. There is also the 8-day personalised car driving tour as a fully accommodated trip in a group of no more than six people. On this expedition, you will enjoy the true Outback of the Northern Territory and Queensland along the way. A 10-day 4WD safari tour will take you and your friends (maximum 4 people) through East Darwin, Litchfield National Park, Mataranka, the Lost City, and all the way to Cairns with meals included as well as overnight stays in Savannah Way motel accommodations.
Any additional tours along the Savannah Way?
Yes, there are helicopter rides and boat cruises that will take you along the Savannah Way, the Lost City, Hell's Gate Roadhouse. and all the way to Katherine Gorge and beyond. On the 45-Minute guided helicopter ride, you will tour the breathtaking Tybee Lighthouse and the Old Fort Jackson before the sun sets.
A sightseeing boat cruise is another exciting way to tour Savannah Way, with food and drinks included. These tours will take you through Cape Crawford, Lost City, Hell’s Gate QLD, and Caranbirini Nature Reserve, just to name a few places.
What are the Savannah Way road conditions like and are the roads sealed?
The roads are partly sealed. However, the Burke Development road is unsealed so you will need a 4x4 car. When driving on unsealed roads, fine dust particles can conceal the deep potholes so it is imperative to drive a 4x4 vehicle. Some roads are also narrow and have soft edges, hence the reason a 2WD will not be safe for driving on such roads. Be sure to have good tires and drive below the speed limit during the wet conditions.
Any suggestions on the best savannah way accommodation?
There are accommodations along the road in most villages as well as in Cape Crawford, 100 kilometres South-West of Borroloola. However, for the best Outback experience, we recommend camping along the road, where you can watch the passing kangaroos at night, drink a beer or two, and enjoy cooking from your own camp oven.
Is Savannah Way self drive recommended?
For the ultimate adventurous experience, we highly recommend that you drive through the Savannah Way by hiring a 4x4.
Savannah Way how long do I need to explore it?
You should spend 7 days from Cairns to Katherine and another 7 days from Katherine to Broome. Alternatively: around 10 days from Cairns to Katherine and from Katherine to Darwin via Kakadu.
In total = 3,700 km
From Cairns to Katherine= 2,130 km.
From Cairns to Darwin drive via Kakadu = 2,680 km
The best Savannah Way roadhouse?
See roadhouses on our Savannah Way detailed map.
Any tips on Savannah Way river crossings?
Even during the dry season, you may need to cross some rivers using your 4x4 vehicle. During Savannah Way wet season, you will definitely need your 4x4 car to cross the river. However, don’t attempt to cross if the water is fast-flowing or at a greater depth than the height of your car’s middle wheel. Beware of crocodiles as they lurk into waterholes and creeks in northern Australia.
Is a Savannah Way free camping worth it?
Yes, definitely! You will have the best experience if you camp in a remote location in the middle of nowhere. Just make sure you look for a suitable place to camp before sunset so that you have enough time to assemble your tent, collect wood, etc. There are lots of Savannah Way camping spots but make sure you camp near a river in case you need to put out your fire. However, never go into the water as there are crocodiles everywhere. Just get a bucket and attach a string to it for throwing in the water.
Where are the best Savannah Way fishing spots?
You can fish almost anywhere along Savannah Way, but the following are the best spots for fishing:
Borroloola is best known for its barra fishing.
The waters around Barranayi National Park are also excellent for fishing. Limmen National Park has excellent estuary and river fishing locations.
Another popular stop for canoeing and fishing is the Elsey Cemetery in Mataranka.
Katherine Low Level National Park is great for fishing.
And finally, Mary River National Park provides excellent opportunities for bushwalking and fishing.
Where are Savannah Way fuel stops?
You can stop for fuel in Jabiru, Mataranka, Borroloola, Cape Crawford, Burketown, Dumadgee, Normanton, Katherine, Cairns, Mareeba, Chillagoe, and Darwin.
Is Leichhardt Falls worth a visit?
Yes. Leichhardt Falls comprise of a series of plunge waterfalls in Northwest Queensland and 70 km South of Burketown. There are plenty of free camping sites nearby, where you can enjoy the scenery during the wet season when the falls are running. Just beware of the saltwater crocodiles and do not get too close to the water.