From Cooktown and travelling the Savannah Way

We took advantage of an extra day in Cooktown to catch up on what we missed on our first visit, including a walk up to the first lookout on Mt Cook and a visit to Keatings Lagoon – lots of water lilies but no birds to be seen.  Someone had parked in front of the croc warning sign so we inadvertantly got too close to the water!  We had a look at the lichen-blackened slopes at Black Mtn lookout before having lunch at the historic Lions Den Hotel, an iconic pub built in 1875.  The highlight of the day was stopping at Trevethan Falls, which were very hard to find, 12.7km’s in on a dirt road with a 500meter hike/climb/rock scramble to get to the falls. They were stunning and we marvel at how often we find these hard to find, stunning places with no signs, generally no one else there and quite special places to see; like this waterfall.  Back in Cooktown we got fuel and as it happened the car wash was almost next door so we (Dick) gave the van a much needed wash and it looked like new (almost!).  Many of you have commented on the dirty state of our van but we do wash it when we can!

For our drive to Wonga Beach via the Bloomfield Track, Cape Tribulation and the Daintree we left at 8:41(an early start for us). Met an interesting fellow, Ross Franzi – artist, conservationist, builder and engineer; at his Black Cockatoo Gallery, where he is currently building a helicopter and also runs  an animal rescue/refuge.  He was impressive and his art was very good.  We stopped to look at Weary Bay beach before clambering over rocks for 300 meters to see the Bloomfield waterfall.  Also visited the Wugal Wugal Art & Cultural centre who were selling traditional dot painting artworks and nice jewellery made by local aborginals from bush nuts and seeds.  From there we drove the Bloomfield Track (4WD so we aired down) through the Daintree Rainforest to Cape Tribulation.  Road was narrow and windy but not too bad, considering where we had been on the Cape. Managed a walk on Cape Tribulation beach which was nice but too many people!!  Spent an hour at the Daintree Discovery Centre learning about the rainforest flora and fauna and visiting its different levels via aerial walkways.  They even had life size dinosaurs on display to show the link between their decline and climate change.  Took the Daintree River Ferry and ended up at the ‘Wonga Beach Resort’, aka home of our friends Chris and Christine, where we again enjoyed a lovely few days of R&R, plus the mandatory clean up and stock up jobs.  Booked the Lestervan in for a 40,000 km service so enjoyed a day in Cairns and then also had a day in Port Douglas with Chris and Christine.  I hated to leave as we had such a nice time with them in Wonga Beach.

On the way to the Atherton Tableland we stopped at Mossman Gorge, but found it very commercial and crowded so didn’t stay long. At Mareeba we visited the Tourist Info Centre which has an excellant museum and nice coffee shop so we had lunch there and checked out all the displays.  Lots of great fruit and veg stalls in the Atherton Tablelands which looks very green and fertile.  We camped at Lake Tinaroo NP.  The lake was built in the 1950’s by damming the Baron River with a 45 m high dam wall.  It traps enough water to create a lake 3/4’s the size of Sydney Harbor and supplies irrigation and hydro electric power.  The highlight of that stop was watching the live streaming of Amy’s team winning bronze at the Beach Ultimate World Championships in France – very exciting.  They were also awarded the Spirit medal as well so have included their team photo with medals even though its out of context for the blog.

In an attempt to “cover” the rest of the Atherton Tableland in one day we left camp at 9am and stopped at 6pm, so drove 342 km’s in 9 hours and made 13 stops.  Way too full and too ambitious!!  Nothing ever goes according to plan and within the first 20 minutes of driving the planned route we hit a closed road and had to backtrack, so changed the route and visited Hastie Swamp/Nyleta Wetland near Atherton.  It is internationally renowned as a bird habitat with more than 229 recorded species and has a 2-storey bird hide to make watching easier.  We saw thousands of birds and ducks there.  Then we visited the massive ‘Curtain Fig Tree’, where the fig surrounded two trees like a massive curtain.  The volcanic history of the Tablelands is pervasive – we visited Lake Eacham, a superb crater lake and then Mt Hypipamee Crater, which is an unusual volcanic vent hole, 124 m deep. A bonus there was seeing a cassowary in the wild.  We also stopped at Malanda Falls and Bromfield Swamp (both were disappointing), as was the Millaa Millaa Lookout due to rain & fog & cloud everywhere.  Taking the waterfall circuit road  we stopped at Millaa Millaa Falls, Zillie Falls, & Ellinjaa Falls before visiting the Biodynamic Dairy, who advertise “the world’s best cheesecakes!”  Dick loves cheesecake so we got a piece of gf baked chocolate cheesecake and some Gallo cheddar cheese.  No time to eat in as we were on a tight schedule!  Drove to Ravenshoe to use their dump station before visiting Millstream Falls, Australia’s widest falls.  We then drove straight thru to the station (cattle  ranch) that hosts the Undara Experience & arrived just before dark, way too tired to participate in any of their evening activities.

Undara is aboriginal for ‘long way’ and The Undara Experience (guided tours) explores the Undara Lava Tubes that were created when volcanic eruptions produced 160 kms of lava flow from the crater.  The geological phenomenon known as lava tubes were formed from lava flowing into low lying areas and acting as a conduit distributing the lava more than 100 kms from the crater. 69 lava tubes have been found from roof collapses; it is possible to go in 9 and we went in 3.  There are 32.5 kms of lava tubes. It was interesting to walk thru these tunnels, access is only via guided tours, and this seems to be one way these stations make an income from the features of their properties, in addition to the camping fees.

After our tour we drove to Georgetown hoping to catch the advertised rodeo, but it wasn’t on so we drove on to Cobbold Gorge and booked in for their 3 hour gorge tour.  The Cobbold Gorge is located on a cattle grazing property called Robin Hood Station (500 sq miles, 1284 sq kms) which has been owned by the Terry family since 1956.  In fact the gorge was only discovered 25 years ago in 1992 as it really is tucked away within rugged sandstone formations.  The tour involved 1.5 hours walking (with some bush tucker {aboriginal bush food} and history asides) to the top of the gorge and then 1.5 hours cruising through the extremely narrow gorge in an electric boat.  The bush tucker demo included Gidgee Gidgee, shiny red seeds, which are extremely poisonous and were used by aboriginies to kill fish and also as an abortion method, according to our guide.  The gorge is only 2 m (6 feet) wide in places with 30 m (100 foot) high cliffs on either side and it’s home to freshwater crocodiles and native fish.  It was nice to see and quite different although both of us prefer exploring on our own rather than in a tour group (two days of tours was a bit much).

With a 6 am alarm we set a new record by leaving at 7:52am and saw lots of cattle everywhere on the road, as there has been most of our travels in northern Australia.  Many of our stops are on stations with a tourist venture included and we have seen thousands of cattle along the road.  Just hoping they stay on the roadside as we’ve also seen lots of dead ones, along with dead kangaroos.  Another long driving day got us to Karumba, where we checked into a CP (caravan park), drove around the town and saw the famous Karumba sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria while having a seafood dinner in the Sunset Pub.

Stopped in Normanton to take pictures of a model of the largest crocodile ever shot.  Quite scary to imagine it!  Then in another long driving day (410 kms)we stopped at the Burke & Wills Roadhouse (named after two early Australian explorers who didn’t make it back) before overnighting in a free camp at Gregory River.  Re-met our Swiss friends here, and stupidly left a front van window open overnight so I was suffering badly from mosquito bites in the morning.

This drive we are doing is along The Savannah Way which goes from Cairns to Broome.  With last years trip and this one we will have covered almost all of this iconic Australian road journey.


Black Mtn, outside of Cooktown


The Lions Den Hotel


Trevathan Falls


Bloomfield Falls, better known but not as special
Cape Tribulation beach


Port Douglas lookout with Chris & Christine
Lake Tinaroo campsite, near Atherton
Amy’s Beach Ultimate team with their medals (Amy is 2nd from the left in the back row)


Hastie Swamp/Nyleta Wetland – internationally renowned bird habitat


Curtain Fig Tree


Mt Hypipamee Crater-volcanic vent hole, 124 m deep


Cassowary in the wild


Ellinjaa Falls
Millstream Falls, the widest one in Australia


Lots of cattle on the road
Inside the lava tubes


A view of Cobbold Gorge from the clifftops


A view of Cobbold Gorge from the water
Brolgas at the side of the road
A Karumba sunset and only the second place where we saw the Gulf of Carpentaria
The colors kept changing in the sunset


Normanton – Model of the largest crocodile ever shot
The story behind the crocodile
Burke & Wills Roadhouse, in the middle of nowhere


The sign we are following
A map showing The Savannah Way


2 thoughts on “From Cooktown and travelling the Savannah Way

  1. You are so lucky to be on the Savannah Way and not here in Sydney – it’s very cold here.
    I love the sound (and photos) of the craters and lava tunes – I’m fascinated by all things volcanic.
    So Beach Ultimate I’m guessing is a form of Ultimate Frisbee. It’s unusual to know two frisbee players but I do. That’s fantastic news – world champs. Wacko and congratulations.
    Glad the van’s been cleaned – hahhah, only joking though. It needs red dust to show you have really been out there doing it.
    Continue to have fun Pat and Dick.

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