The Savannah Way — The Adventure of the Outback

The Savannah Way is one of Australia's most intriguing national drives and that is why The Great Australian Doorstep decided to tackle this national treasure head on with our Isuzu MU‑X locked and loaded. The show's host Peter 'Spida' Everitt shares their adventure…

WORDS: Peter 'Spida' Everitt

An estimated 40,000 travellers hit The Savannah Way each year — many are families like ours with small kids, as well as experienced 4WDers, the seasoned Grey Nomads, country people just doing what comes naturally, backpackers attempting the impossible in two wheel drive vehicles, and those cheeky fisherman on their annual fishing pilgrimage.

The Savannah Way runs from Cairns to Broome and is famous for many aspects. The 3,700 kilometre trip links 15 National Parks and five World Heritage areas. It is recognised as one of Australia's top ten drives and is the ultimate unique self-drive adventure. Often you will find yourself driving on red dirt roads and while they are sturdy tracks, you can never be too sure. We also had two creek crossings to navigate, and can I say, the MU‑X impressed the entire crew — it didn't miss a beat the entire trip!

We began our adventure in Cairns and headed for our first night at Mt Surprise. A tiny town full of surprises, literally! We are warmly welcomed by Joe and his wife Jo, at Bedrock Holiday Village. Joe & Jo have built this park with their own hands, from the ground up and the hospitality is second to none — from the big grins on arrival, right down to the red wine by the campfire listening to Joe sing. The following morning Joe takes us out to the Undara lava tubes. These lava tubes are the longest and largest lava tubes in the world. It is a geological wonder providing insights into the ever-changing climate of the past 200,000 years. The tubes have been perfectly preserved by the local owners and the Bedrock Holiday Village owners. Listening to Joe's facts and figures about this truly amazing place, it's so unique and rich in history, definitely worth checking out.

From Mt Surprise we head to Cobbold Gorge, an ancient sandstone landscape that is home to a working cattle station and Ranger Station with accommodation, as well a very strange and bizarre looking watercourse that runs through ancient weather shaped rocks. From there we made tracks to Normanton and the home of the King of the Savannah — Krys. The statue of Krys in the main street is an accurate artist's impression of the largest recorded saltwater crocodile ever killed. "Krys the Savannah King" was shot in 1957 by Krystina Pawlowski on the banks of the Norman River. He is 8.63m in length and could easily eat the entire family in one bite. No wonder all the farmers were losing cattle at an alarming rate!

With all the roadhouses and little towns we visit along the way, we soon realise that the food is sensational — you can have a great cold drink, meet the friendly camel out the back, watch the plentiful wildlife roam past and listen to some of the most hilarious outback stories ever told.

The next must-see place to visit is the Boodjamulla National Park — the jewel of the Savannah Gulf. Here we enjoyed canoeing in Lawn Hill Gorge and took a relatively easy hike to view the unique Aboriginal rock art. There are some truly amazing things to see in this country and being around Adels Grove is one of them.

From Adels Grove we ventured to Seven Emu Station. We were warmly greeted by Frank, the owner. Seven Emu station was the first Aboriginal owned cattle station in the Territory and it's still to this day is run by its traditional owners. Here you get to camp along the riverside and you will learn the most rich and authentic Aboriginal history ever. You will walk away from Seven Emu, a different person — our kids still talk about their stay here. Frank Shadworth and his family are the most wonderful family you will ever meet in your life. From Seven Emu our next stop was Butterfly Springs. Along the way we made a stopover at Borroloola and visited an old mate who lives right on the banks of the river. We went fishing and caught some of the most amazing seafood that I have ever eaten. All caught, cleaned, cooked and eaten right on the shoreline.

From here it was onto Cape Crawford — where the Lost City helicopter flight is well worth the price tag — I highly recommend splashing out for this experience. It gives you a spectacular view over an ancient rock formation called the Lost City. Once in the air you can get a better idea of just how massive this country is, not to mention the stunning view.

Then it's an overnight stop at Butterfly Springs which is just another 150kms up the Savannah and located in the Limmen National Park. (And time to clean the MU‑X — or should we leave it with all the memories of the red dirt?)

The next morning we set out for the long haul, often on the good old red dirt to Mataranka along the Nathan River Road and on to the Roper River Road. Ensure you stop to visit the St Vidgeons ruins and have a breather at the Wetlands. As you travel the Roper River Rd you are tracking the route of Ludwig Leichhardt, the German Explorer — hence the name the Leichhardt River. Upon arrival into Mataranka we head to the Mataranka Homestead Tourist Resort. A true oasis in the desert. A great bistro and bar, good amenities, fantastic camp sites and then there are the hot springs! Definitely something we were very excited to see, but also something that seems very out of place in the Australian Outback! From Mataranka we headed north to the world famous Katherine Gorge.

It was time to take in the most spectacular scenery of all time at Katherine Gorge. It was coming into summer time, so the waterfalls had all but dried up, waiting for their annual monsoon rains to arrive again. However no matter what time of year you are there, you will agree that Katherine Gorge is like no other.

From Katherine you can continue west through the majestic Kimberley region and out to Broome, or you can head north to Kakadu and Darwin. Whichever adventure you chose, I can assure you (after doing both options) you will not be disappointed… Not one little bit. And as for all Outback travel, remember to have plenty of water and supplies at all times and of course those spare tyres. With the MU‑X though, we never had to worry! Which sadly I cannot say for many of the other travellers we stopped to help along the way.

TRAVEL TIP

  • Take a satellite phone or IPIRB beacon with you and definitely a UHF radio.
  • You can never be too safe, so let someone know what your travel plans are and ring ahead to your next accommodation and give them an approximate arrival time to expect you that day.
  • Always have at least two spare tyres! The outback red dirt roads are great, but the track conditions and weather can change in a heart beat out here.
  • Make sure your Isuzu is up to date with your servicing at an authorised Isuzu UTE dealership.

FAST FACTS

  • The winter months are best to travel (June — October)
  • Make sure you do your research before you go, so you don't miss anything along the way.
  • Don't set yourself a time limit!
  • Enjoy the drive — the MU‑X (or the D‑MAX) are built for this kind of terrain!

Peter 'Spida' Everitt

www.greataustraliandoorstep.com

Listen to The Great Australian Doorstep Radio Show Sundays @ 6am-7am, 48 Triple M Stations Australia wide or watch our TV Show on 7Two, Saturdays @3pm and Sundays @1pm.

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