Leaving the coast and heading inland can be a surreal experience, especially in the Top End. Watching the landscape start to parch as it goes from lush shades of blues and greens to that enticing earthy red is a real eye-opener! This is no more apparent than the trip inland from Cairns along the Savannah Way. It’s around Georgetown in Queensland’s Gulf region where you really leave the greenery behind and start to get a taste of real red-dirt, outback country and it’s a landscape that will leave you breathless.
The Savannah Way is an adventurous alternative to the main linking highways from Cairns in far north Queensland, right through to Broome in Western Australia. It takes in a series of sealed and unsealed roads and tracks, showcasing some of northern Australia’s finest attractions. It’s not just one road, though – there are numerous alternative routes signposted along the way. We decided to tackle the section from Georgetown to Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park (NP), Qld, and found some great little campsites and heaps of things to explore along the route.
Cumberland Chimney historical site
Our first stop was the Cumberland Chimney historical site. This beaut little free camp is located around 21km west of Georgetown and has an interesting gold mining history. Constructed in 1889, the chimney, a few small brick structures and some fenced off mine shafts are all that remain of the once thriving mine and township.
The campsite that now inhabits the area is basic, with no amenities, but is spectacularly rich in flora and fauna, especially bird life, and is an education in historic Australian industry. If you love your bird watching, this place is one to put on your list as the abundancy and variety of species that frequent the site is first rate. You might be lucky enough to see shrike, rainbow bee-eater, stubble quail and emu, just to name a few.
HEART OF THE GULF
Our next stop was the town of Normanton – just under 300km west along the Gulf Developmental Rd, or just down the road, as the locals put it. Perched on the Norman River, this small town is in the heart of Gulf Country. Normanton’s claim to fame is that the biggest saltwater crocodile ever caught once resided in the river here. At 8.64m long, the monster croc was named Krys after Polish crocodile hunter Krystina Pawlowski, who shot the beast dead in 1957. A lifesize statue of the dinosaur-like reptile now stands in the town centre. It’s rumoured that another croc almost as big has been sighted in the river as recently as 2010.
Another attraction this little neck of the woods is famous for is the Gulflander antique railway. This still-functioning diesel locomotive still runs its original route from Normanton to Croydon, running scenic tours and return trips on a regular basis. It was originally built to connect the river port of Normanton to the goldfields of Croydon during the gold rush and was known as the trip from ‘nowhere to nowhere’, as it was segregated from the state rail network.
From Normanton, we travelled south along the Burke Developmental Road and then west again along the Wills Developmental Road, but not before a quick stop at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse. Aptly named, due to its location on the original route of explorers Burke and Wills, the roadhouse offers a small number of powered campsites as well as an excellent feed and basic supplies to keep you topped up on your trip.
Gregory Downs will be your last chance for fuel for the trip out to Lawn Hill, although fuel is available at Adels Grove Camping Park, one of the accommodation options in Lawn Hill. The road out slowly turns from a thin black strip of tarmac through the savannah grasslands, to a red bull dust covered track into the dry plains and red sandstone ranges of Lawn Hill.
Adels Grove is located 10km from Lawn Hill Gorge and there are plenty of unpowered campsites available, suitable for large vans. Although there are no powered sites here, there are cabins and river tents available with power. There are hot showers, a restaurant, bar and a camp kitchen that also serves fish and chips of an evening. There’s a shop that stocks basic supplies, a mechanical workshop and fuel bowser with diesel and unleaded fuel to keep you going, limited Telstra internet service and a public phone.
It’s an incredibly remote part of the country, but there’s enough here to keep you sustained for an extended stay if you choose to take your time to explore the area. Adels Grove is also pet friendly, although your four-legged family member will have to stay behind if you’re planning on visiting the national park.
There’s plenty to do and see inside Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) NP, but our first and foremost activity on the list was to drag the kayak into Lawn Hill Creek to explore the gorge. The water here is a striking, bright green and is safe for swimming. The clear, green waters are ripe with several species of fish – most commonly archerfish and some rather large catfish, although fishing is off-limits in the national park. You can, however, drop a line in back at Adels Grove.
The traditional owners of Boodjamulla – the Waanyi Aboriginal people – believe that Boodjamulla the Rainbow Serpent created the gorge and everything in it, as told in the Dreamtime story. Boodjamulla is said to show himself as the olive python Bububurna and large olive pythons are a common sight in the gorge. The story of Boodjamulla is presented on boards along the Rainbow Serpent Track.
Georgetown is located 380km south-west of Cairns along the Gulf Developmental Rd, which forms part of the Savannah Way. It’s a further 300km north-west to Normanton along the same route and then a further 420km south-west to Lawn Hill along the Burke Developmental Rd and Wills Developmental Rd, via the Four Ways intersection and Gregory Downs.
- Birdwatching and exploring the old mine site at Cumberland Chimney will keep the kids amused.
- Kayaking, swimming and bushwalking is absolutely first-rate at Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park.
- Fishing is plentiful at Adels Grove.
Check out the full feature in issue #98 March 2016 of Camper Trailer Australia magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest camper trailer news, reviews and travel inspiration.