How to take the ultimate family safari across the Savannah Way
Where can you go on a Savannah-style safari, all without leaving the confines of Queensland?
This road trip connects Cairns on Queensland’s coast with Broome in Western Australia, packing a total of 15 National Parks and five World Heritage-listed areas across a 3700km stretch of tarmac.
Whether you tackle the whole drive or opt for this abridged 10-day version, the Savannah Way promises to obliterate the words “I’m bored” from the backseat forever.
Even social media can’t compete with an itinerary involving lava tubes, dinosaur fossicking and dinner menus that cover everything from reef to beef.
Buckle up the kids and get off the grid, the Savannah Way is calling.
DAY 1: ARRIVE INTO CAIRNS
Your Savannah Way safari starts in the capital of the tropics, Cairns, and you’ll need to pick up a car that grips with all four wheels. This trip is 4WD only.
Make your first stop at the highest town in Queensland, Ravenshoe, a quaint hinterland town who proudly wears its timber heritage on its sleeve.
Break up the 120-kilometre journey from Cairns to the Tablelands with a short walk (suited to little legs) to Millstream Falls, one of the top 10 epic waterfalls near Cairns, or let your tastebuds plan the journey with this culinary guide.
If you opt for waterfall chasing, be sure to pack your wide-angle lens, because Millstream Falls’ big drop is said to be the widest single-drop waterfall in Australia.
Optional Extension: Stay and play among the rainforest a little longer, following this Wet Tropics family-friendly itinerary
DAY 2: SWAP WATERFALLS FOR LAVA TUBES
You might wake up in the World Heritage-listed Wet Tropics, but you won’t be amongst the leaves for long.
Swap the ancient volcanic lakes of the Atherton Tablelands with a volcanic system of another kind, and drive approximately three hours west of Ravenshoe to The Undara Experience.
Proving Mother Nature is the greatest architect of all, dip below the terra firme to get amongst the longest lava tube system in the world, cave-like structures that were formed 190,000 years ago.
For your accommodation tonight choose between the lodge, camping, caravanning, new glamping tents. Or for something your kids will want to take back to show and tell, the converted train carriages.
Overnight: The Undara Experience
DAY 3: FROM NATURE’S LIQUID GOLD TO ACTUAL GOLD
Today it’s about swapping road history for rail history, getting to know Forsayth which in its hay day (1918) was connected by Queensland Rail, when the iconic Savannahlander route was established.
If you’ve got a little one in a train phase, you’ll be happy to know you can spot the classic 1960s train riding the rails weekly, as it connects Cairns with the Gulf.
Overnight: Goldfields Hotel
DAY 4: DISCOVER A GORGE AS OLD AS TIME
Cobbold Gorge might be Queensland’s youngest gorge, but don’t dismiss your next stop as modern history.
Find Cobbold Gorge just 64 kilometres west of Forsayth, promising that you’ll arrive before the kids can ask “are we there yet?”
At 1700 million years old, there’s geological history at every turn of this natural wonder, which will keep the kids entertained long enough to forget there’s no phone signal in this neck of the woods.
When you’re not exploring its emerald waters as a family by guided tour – either a boat cruise, walking tour or SUP – make yourself comfortable back at home base with a choice of cabin accommodation or caravan/camping sites.
Overnight: Cobbold Gorge
Optional Extension: Think you could get used to the swim-up bar and want to extend the itinerary here a few days? Check out this 48 hour guide.
DAY 5: EXPLORE THE BEACH NEAR THE BORDER
Prep your audiobooks, conversation-starters and best road trip games, and buckle up for a long day in the car.
There’s 600-odd kilometres to clock up today as you drive due north for the coast.
Time your visit for September if you can to give the kids a meteorological lesson that goes well beyond the nightly weather report.
Each year the morning glory clouds blanket the gulf in a natural phenomenon, as puffy clouds as we know them combine into one giant barrel that rolls across the sky.
DAY 6: GO FISH
You’ve spent a lot of time this itinerary driving through beef-grazing country.
It’s time to meet the reef.
The coastal town of Karumba is known for fishing. Today, join Kerry D Fishing Charters for a half-day fishing tour to see why thousands of anglers flock to Karumba each year in the hopes of reeling in a barramundi, grunter, salmon, jew, bream or mackerel (to name a few).
If the fish aren’t biting, you can always guarantee a sighting with a visit to the largest Barramundi Centre in the southern hemisphere, the Les Wilson Barramundi Discovery Centre.
Opened in April 2019, this interactive centre is the only place in the world that breeds the Southern Gulf barramundi. Explore the displays, see Flossie the one-metre barramundi and if you’ve got a brave-heart in the family, try and hand feed her if you dare.
DAY 7: DISCOVER A NATIONAL PARK WORTHY OF ATTENBOROUGH’S ATTENTION
They say the journey is all part of the adventure and the road that connects Karumba with Adels Grove proves the point, with 500km of outback scenic driving. You’ll have plenty of scenery to keep the car entertained with a few rounds of I Spy.
You’ll need a couple of days to explore Boodjamulla National Park, if you really want to get to know this World Heritage-listed site which spans 28,200 hectares.
Shift gears into 4WD to explore this national park which also includes Riversleigh, a world-famous fossil deposit, so significant it caught David Attenborough’s attention when he labelled it one of the top four most important deposits in the world.
Overnight: Adels Grove
DAYS 8-10: PUSH ON OR RETURN VIA A NEW ROUTE
When you’re 640 kilometres north-west from Mount Isa, there’s no need to U-turn back to the coast if you don’t want to.
Whether you decide to finish the total 3700km Savannah Way route, return back to Cairns or take the Overlander’s Way back to home base, one thing is for certain: you’ll finish the trip with a camera roll of family adventures and plenty of stories for the kids to share with their friends next big lunch.
Looking for more information and other family road trips to tackle these school holidays?
- Go digging for dinosaur bones in Outback Queensland with this family road trip.
- Experience the reef, the rainforest and the outback with this itinerary.
- Have a turtle-y good time on this family road trip in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.
- Waltz back along the Matilda Way through Outback Queensland