We took a month to do this amazing trip. There was a party of eight people in four vehicles (Toyota Safari Landcruisers 4WD rented from Britz).
Itinerary: Cairns to Darwin, Darwin to Kakadu, Kadaku to Katherine, Katherine to Bungle Bungles, Bungle Bungles to Gibb River Road to Broome.
Fly Qantas from Sydney to Cairns and collect a Britz 4WD with rooftop tent – a very well equipped vehicle. We drive to Port Douglas via Palm Cove.
We stay at the Tropic Breeze Caravan Park which although is very crowded has good, clean amenities and is a few minutes walk from 40 Mile Beach. We have a delicious dinner at the Rattle & Hum pub, and next morning a delicious breakfast at Café Fresq. Take a drive to Flagstaff Hill lookout for beautiful views.
We drive to Mossman Gorge – well worth a visit. Visitors can no longer park close to the gorge but must park at the Information Centre and take a shuttle bus to the beginning of the walk to the gorge. The walk is beautiful. The Gorge information centre is also well worth a visit and includes a small indigenous art gallery, café and gift shop.
We take the Cape Tribulation ferry across the Daintree River, about a 5-minute trip. It is $14 one way (cash only). The road then winds through the Daintree National Park. Highlights include:
- Mount Alexandra Lookout – worth a stop for the beautiful view of the Daintree River flowing to the sea.
- The Daintree Discovery Centre – includes guided or self-guided tours along forest boardwalks, the 23m high Canopy Tower and Aerial Walkway Rainforest Skywalk and an interpretive display centre.
- Daintree Ice Cream Co – don’t miss their delicious homemade tropical ice cream.
- Marrdja Boardwalk – an easy way to immerse yourself in the forest.
We stay at the Big 4 Holiday Park – an excellent place to camp and have a delicious dinner at the Bowling Club. Highlights of Cooktown include:
- James Cook Museum – see the original anchor and a cannon from the Endeavour, follow the story of Cook’s visit to the area – housed in a former Sisters of Mercy Convent and school.
- Cook’s Lookout and the lighthouse for fabulous views over Cooktown and the coast.
Cooktown to Cairns
We travel past the sinister-looking black rock mountains of Black Mountain National Park (there are stories of people and animals mysteriously disappearing here), we stop at James Earl Lookout for views of the southern area of Cape York Peninsula and make a quick stop in Kuranda.
In Cairns we stay at the well-located Mantra Esplanade and meet up with the other members of our party.
Cairns is the starting point of our 4-week trip across Australia to Broome.
Undara Lava Tubes
Leaving Cairns we travel through Tolga, Atherton, Ravenshoe (Queensland’s highest town, with an excellent Information Centre) and follow the Savannah Way to Undara.
The fabulous Undara Lava Tubes are some of the longest in the world. This is a unique experience and the only way to see it is to take one of the excellent tours into the Undara Volcanic National Park.
Whilst we camped here there are various forms of accommodation available including pioneer huts, railway carriages and permanent tents. There is an excellent restaurant and bar – enhanced by the clever use of lovely old-fashioned railway carriages for extra seating.
The Undara Experience is a fantastic eco-tourist venture run by the Collins family, who were the first white settlers in this area in the 1860s.
Undara to Karumba
From Undara we set off headed for Karumba Point, stopping briefly at Mt Surprise, then Georgetown (home of the Terrestrial Centre).
We stop in Croydon – an historic town with an excellent Information Centre that includes a wonderful display on the history of the town. You can pick up a guide called “The Incredible Croydon Walking Trail” to explore the town in more detail. We head out to Lake Belmore for a pleasant picnic lunch overlooking the lake.
Next stop is Normanton – another good spot to take a break and top up with fuel. Don’t miss seeing the replica of Krys, the Savannah King – the largest recorded crocodile captured in the world!
We had chosen to stay at Karumba Point to see the famous sunset but weren’t in luck – it was pouring with rain and overcast. Regardless, we stay at the Karumba Point Sunset Caravan Park and have a delicious meal at the Sunset View Tavern – normally a great spot to see the sunset.
Karumba Point to Burke & Wills Roadhouse
From Karumba we had planned to travel to Adels Grove, Hells Gate and Borroloola up to Roper Bar, however when we reached the Burke & Wills Roadhouse (the turnoff point to Adels Grove), we found that the roads to those places were impassable due to the wet weather. The best way forward was to follow the bitumen to Mt Isa.
At Mt Isa we book into the excellent Discovery Argylla Caravan Park, 3kms out of town.
Highlights of Mt Isa include:
- Mt Isa City Tour (2 hours)
- Hospital and Museum
- Underground Mine Tour, 2.5 hours (advisable to book ahead)
- Visitor Information Centre & Museum (Isa Experience, Riversleigh Fossil Exhibition, Outback Park)
- John Campbell Miles Memorial Lookout
- Lake Moondarra – picnics, barramundi fishing, great sunsets.
Mt Isa to Barkly Homestead
From Mt Isa we drive across the Barkly Tableland, crossing into the Northern Territory. It is about a 450 km drive between Mt Isa and Barkly Homestead. We pass through the small settlement of Camooweal ‘Gateway to the Northern Territory’, then Avon Downs and Soudam Station where there are pullovers.
Barkly Homestead is a welcome site and a little oasis. Services include a bar, restaurant, shop, fuel, motel, cabins, caravan park and campsites.
We have an unpowered campsite – there is plenty of space and the amenities are quite good. We find that many of these more remote campgrounds have only basic camp kitchens (sometimes there is just a washing up basin). This one has an undercover BBQ area with picnic tables.
Barkly Homestead to Cape Crawford (Tableland Highway)
Making our way up to Roper Bar (and the Lost City), we take the Tableland Highway in the direction of Cape Crawford.
This is one of our favourite roads of the trip. We drive for 4 hours without any sign of a building. There are lots of cattle along this road. We love the big skies and the open country.
At Cape Crawford is the Heartbreak Hotel where we have a picnic lunch in the park opposite the hotel. It turns out the park is also a helicopter landing site. It is the beginning of the mustering season and we don’t know if the helicopter is a pilot in training for mustering, or a pilot in training for scenic flights over the Lost City.
After topping up our fuel, we take the dirt road north-west through the Limmen National Park in the direction of Roper Bar. Along this road is the turn off to Lorella Springs, where we decide to camp the night.
It is another 29kms into Lorella Springs (www.lorellasprings.com.au) – well worth the drive – it is an oasis. The property is a family-owned 1 million acre wilderness area (a small section still operates as a cattle station). Self drive 4WD excursions are permitted on the property, together with fishing (Lorella has 20kms of ocean frontage), birdwatching, and walking. There is even a resident helicopter pilot offering tours to remote parts of the property or to the Lost City.
The main campground is extensive and an added attraction is the natural, hot thermal spring pool. There is a donkey to heat the water for the showers and the shower cubicles are open to the sky!
Lorella Springs – Roper Bar
Back on the road towards Roper Bar, there are a couple of stops we can recommend within Limmen National park just beyond Lorella Springs:
- Southern Lost City – there is a 2.5km loop walk through the formations to a ridge with views across a valley to another lost city.
- Butterfly Springs – another little oasis with camping spots, picnic areas and a swimming hole. Very pretty place.
We arrive in Roper Bar at about 6pm and it feels a long way from anywhere! We meet our friends and camp at the Leichhardt Camping Ground. The facilities are fairly basic but it has hot water, there are flushing toilets and beautiful plump green frogs in the showers at night! This campground appears popular with fishermen who come to catch barramundi in the Roper River (the boat launch area is close by).
After a visit to the very well stocked Roper Bar Store (everything from fuel to food to clothing to hardware – there is also a motel and restaurant out the back) we set off towards Mataranka, on the Savannah Way.
Mataranka Springs & Bitter Springs, Elsey National Park
At Mataranka we stop at Mataranka Springs where one of the main attractions is swimming in the Thermal Pool – a 200m walk from the car park through cabbage palms. The pools are fed by natural thermal springs. During our visit many of the swimming holes are closed due to crocodiles.
Our favourite pools are Bitter Springs (at the northern end of Mataranka).
After a picnic lunch at Bitter Springs we set off again on the Stuart Highway in the direction of Katherine. Running out of daylight, we drive through Katherine and Pine Creek to spend the night at Adelaide River.
At Adelaide River we stop to camp for the night – apparently the same person owns the BP service station, the campground, the cabins, motel rooms and the pub. We have an unpowered site and encounter the most mosquitos so far on the trip. We have a delicious meal from the Digger’s Bistro and sit in the pretty beer garden of the pub. The place is crowded.
Adelaide River was an important town during World War II with Australian and US military units based here. We visit the Adelaide River War Cemetery – a sad but beautiful place.
There is a small Saturday morning market here selling local produce and crafts.
We are heading to Darwin via Litchfield National Park.
Litchfield National Park
At the small settlement of Batchelor, there is an unmanned Tourist Information Office for the Litchfield National Park with lots of invaluable information on what to see and do, road closures, etc. For us, highlights of the park are:
- Termite Mounds – a short boardwalk to see Cathedral and Magnetic Termite mounds plus an excellent information board display.
- Florence Falls – view the falls from the top or take a long walk down to swim
- Wangi Falls – easily accessible, large swimming hole and shady picnic spots, plus a café.
Time permitting, once out of the park on the way to Darwin, places worth stopping are:
- Territory Wildlife Park at Berry Springs
- Berry Springs Nature Park – shady picnic/BBQ area with three swimming holes.
It is about a one-hour drive to Darwin from Berry Springs.
After camping for a week we book into the Quality Advance Apartments, conveniently located on Cavenagh Street near Darwin city pedestrian mall.
Highlights in Darwin:
- Darwin Military Museum – don’t miss the video in the Sydney Williams Hut about the bombing of Darwin during WWII.
- Mindi Markets and sunset on beach.
- Stokes Hill Wharf – popular for views and takeaway meals.
- Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory – indigenous art, maritime museum and Cyclone Katrina exhibition.
- Sailing Boat Club – for dinner and sunset.
- Myilly Point Heritage Precinct – Burnett House plus 3 others are examples of Darwin’s pre-WWII architecture and are the last of their kind in their original locations. Burnett Point is open to the public.
Darwin to Kakadu
Leaving Darwin, we take the Arnhem Highway heading towards Kakadu. There are a number of highlights on the trip out to Kakadu National Park:
- the Spectacular Jumping Crocodile Tour – one of three jumping crocodile tours – on the Adelaide River.
- Window to the Wetlands Visitor Information Centre where we enjoy the displays on the wetlands and pick up an excellent little Kakadu booklet.
- Bark Hut – a good place to break the trip for a drink or lunch
- Mamukala Wetlands – a peaceful bird hide with beautiful views over the wetlands – a highlight.
The Bowali Park Visitor Centre is a good first stop in the Kakadu National Park. Here we pay our Park entry fee. There is also an excellent gift shop and a little café. The guides here are most helpful with information on what to see and do in the Park. For us the highlights of Kakadu are:
- Ubirr – an easy walk in to see rock art and spectacular views from Nadab Lookout
- Yellow Waters Cruise – we took the Sunrise Cruise which was spectacular. It is recommended to book in advance.
We stay in a powered site at Cooinda Camp in Kakadu. There is a shuttle bus from Cooinda to the jetty for the Yellow Waters Cruise. Although the mosquitoes are shocking and it is unseasonably hot, this camp has excellent facilities and a very good bar and restaurant.
During our visit to Kakadu, Jim Jim Falls road is closed.
Katherine & Nitmiluk Gorge
It is about a 3-hour drive from Cooinda Camp to Katherine, where we stay at the Ibis Styles Hotel (a break from the heat and the mosquitoes). The highlight in Katherine is the Nitmiluk Gorge cruise. It is a 30-minute drive out to the Nitmiluk Visitors Centre where we begin our 2 hour Nit Nit Dreaming Cruise (booked in advance). Don’t miss it – we love the commentary and the views.
Back in Katherine we can recommend a couple of places for meals:
- Galloping Jacks Steak House & Bar – part of the Ibis Styles Hotel.
- The Finch Café – for breakfast, lunch, coffee and cake
Katherine to Timber Creek
After our morning Nitmiluk Gorge cruise we leave Katherine on the Victoria Highway, and plan to break our trip to Lake Argyle with an overnight stay at Timber Creek. This is a beautiful drive. About an hour before reaching Timber Creek we pass the Victoria River Roadhouse – what a beautiful location – in a valley surrounded by a red rock escarpment.
Timber Creek is a small settlement in the heart of the Victoria River Region and on the doorstep of the Gregory National Park. Facilities include a hotel, a couple of caravan/camping parks, motel rooms, cabins, an IGA store, fuel and police station.
We book at the IGA for the Wirib Tourism Park – lovely campsites and clean facilities. The IGA is very well stocked with groceries, fruit and vegetables, take-away food including sandwiches and salads, camping items, etc.
The information boards near the IGA are of interest with details of what to see and do in the area, including:
- Timber Creek Heritage Trail
- Victoria River Cruises
- Escarpment Lookout
- Old Police Museum
- Gregory’s Tree Reserve (boab tree)
Bullo River Station
About an hour out of Timber Creek we pass the turnoff to Bullo River Station –made famous in Sara Henderson’s autobiography ‘From Strength to Strength’.
It is beautiful scenery and there are lots of boab trees along this road.
WA Border Crossing
We had been warned about the strict rules at the border crossing – no honey, nuts, fruit, vegetables – and even cardboard boxes that had been used to store fruit were a no no.
We stop at the border and a friendly fellow takes our rego details, we declare items we are not sure of (fortunately we have used most suspect food) and we lose our honey and cardboard boxes.
There is a time change at the border and we turn our clocks back 1.5 hours.
Shortly after the border we take the turnoff to Lake Argyle – a very scenic road.
Lake Argyle is a highlight of our trip – we didn’t expect it to be so beautiful.
The campground is very attractive with an amazing infinity pool perched high above the lake. We take a Sunset Magic cruise (there are two operators to choose from) and it is magic! Take your swimmers as there is an opportunity to swim in the lake.
Argyle Downs Homestead is another highlight of our visit here. Before the dam was built, and Argyle Downs station was flooded, the homestead was dismantled stone by stone and rebuilt on higher ground many years later. It is a charming building and exhibits in the homestead tell the story of the Durack family.
Don’t miss the view of the lake from the lookout and the drive across the dam to a very pretty picnic area.
Kununurra is where we intend to do a big food shop (at the local Coles supermarket) for the trip ahead, but before we do we call into the excellent Visitor Information Centre to check what there is to see in the town and for information on the Bungle Bungles.
- Sandalwood Factory
- Hoochery Rum Distillery
- Kelly’s Knob Lookout
- Art galleries including Waringarri, Warmun and Artlandish
Purnulu National Park (Bungle Bungles)
It is just over a 5-hour drive from Kununurra to the Purnulu National Park Visitor Centre. We stop at the Doon Doon Roadhouse on the way.
The road into the National Park from the National Highway 1 turnoff is in good condition – it appears newly graded. The first part of the road takes us through Mabel Downs Station.
There are two campsites within the national park – Walardi and Kurrajong. It is recommended by the staff at Kununurra Visitor Centre to book in advance (only via the internet) for those camp grounds as it can get crowded in peak season.
We camp at Walardi on arrival and next morning take the beautiful Piccaninny walk to the Domes and the Cathedral.
Then we drive 30kms to take the Echidna Chasm walk – a wonderful experience and highly recommended.
Bungle Bungle Caravan Park
Because we have a long drive the next day (to El Questro), we drive back out to the highway (National Hwy 1) and book into the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park.
We leave the Bungle Bungle Caravan Park at 8am heading for El Questro, stopping at Warmun Roadhouse (Turkey Creek) for diesel. This roadhouse has a good supply of groceries, fruit and vegetables, frozen meat, meals (eat in or takeaway). There is also a motel attached to the roadhouse and Bungle Bungle Scenic Flights have an ‘office’ (shed) here. About an hour later we stop at Doon Doon Roadhouse for a quick break – it also has a good selection of food supplies, souvenirs and fuel.
Gibb River Road
We see a turnoff to El Questro and Mt Barnett – we have reached the start of the Gibb River Road – still bitumen at this stage.
After a short time we take the turn off into El Questro – it is 16km of good gravel road into the El Questro Station. On arrival we book into our pre-booked Garden View room. It is very hot and the air-conditioned rooms are very much appreciated. Reception has automatically made a reservation for us at the Steakhouse Restaurant for dinner (we had a delicious meal). During the afternoon we take a 4WD trip out to Branco’s Lookout for wonderful views.
Highlights of our stay at El Questro:
- Branco’s Crossing and Lookout
- Explosion Gorge
- Chamberlain Gorge
- Zebedee Springs
- Emma Gorge walk
There are many walks, 4WD tracks and tours to take at El Questro. We stay for two days and don’t have time to do everything – it would be easy to stay longer.
Pentecost River Crossing
Continuing along the Gibb River road (it becomes gravel just beyond the El Questro turnoff) we soon come to one of the most photographed river crossings on the Gibb – the Pentecost River crossing.
Shortly afterwards we pass the turnoff into Home Valley Station and just beyond stop at a lookout with fabulous views.
We arrive late at Ellenbrae Station and receive a warm welcome. There are a couple of camping areas at Ellenbrae (Jackeroo and Ringers). We camp at Jackeroo – lovely campsites with clean, quirky amenities. Next morning we enjoy tea and scones on the veranda at Ellenbrae homestead.
Ellenbrae to Mt Barnett
Leaving Ellenbrae, the next gorge we intend to visit is Manning Gorge. Our original plan had been to go to Drysdale Station and Mitchell Falls however travellers along the way have advised that the road into Mitchell Falls is very bad and there is not much water over the falls – it is little reward for a lot of effort. So when we come to the T-Junction of the Gibb River Road and Kalumburu Road (Derby to the left and Kalumburu to the right) we continue on the Gibb in the direction of Derby.
Mt Barnett Roadhouse
The Roadhouse is a very busy place. There is a good selection of groceries, fresh fruit and veg, camping accessories, takeaway food and souvenirs. We top up with fuel, have a picnic lunch and pay for our Manning Gorge campsite.
Manning Gorge Campground
It is about a 7km drive from the roadhouse to the campground and the road is quite good. The best thing about the campground is the beautiful swimming area in the river.
Manning Gorge Walk
To walk to Manning Gorge, we firstly cross the river in a little dinghy that has a rope attached to either side of the river and we pull ourselves across. It is a lovely walk. The gorge and the size of the waterfall are a surprise – bigger than we expected.
Mt Barnett to Charnley River
Continuing along the Gibb River Road, we pass the turnoff to Galvans Gorge, then to Adcock Gorge. It is a short drive today to Charnley River Wilderness Camp.
Charnley River Wilderness Camp
Charnley River Wilderness Camp (formerly Charnley River Station) is managed by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy – the same group who manage the more well-known Mornington Wilderness Camp. It is a smaller operation at Charnley with a swimming hole at Donkey Springs, an attractive campground with good amenities, a communal camp fire and self drives to Grevillea Gorge and Dillie Gorge.
Charnley River to Bell Gorge
After leaving Charnley River (it is 43kms back to the Gibb River Road) we continue on the Gibb, stopping at Imintji Store.
Imintji Store & Campground
Imintji Store has just re-opened 4 weeks ago (on 11 May 2016) plus a new campground nearby has opened and is run by the manager of the Store. Also of interest is the Imintji Art Centre. See website – http://imintji.com.au – for more details. On our visit to the store there are a few groceries, drinks, ice creams, coffee, toilets, diesel and a pleasant outdoor area to sit under the trees.
Silent Grove King Leopold Range Conservation Park
We soon arrive at Silent Grove Campground where we self-register and pay for a camp site. It is a small campground with shady trees and good amenities.
Bell Gorge walk, waterfall and pool
It is about a 10km drive from the campground to the beginning of the Bell Gorge walk. It is well worth the 2km return walk to the beautiful swimming hole and falls (a steep climb down and up again to the swimming hole).
Silent Grove (Bell Gorge) – King Leopold Range – Queen Victoria Head
Today it is a scenic drive along the Gibb. Just after the Bell Creek crossing there is a lookout. We are passing through the King Leopold Range and the Napier Range. We pass turnoffs to Lennard Gorge and Mount Hart. Just before the Napier Downs sign is Queen Victoria Head – a great place for a photo.
Windjana Gorge National Park
Shortly we turn off to Windjana Gorge (23kms off the Gibb). “The Time Walk” into Windjana Gorge is beautiful and follows the Lennard River. We see many freshwater crocodiles sunning themselves on the sandy banks.
Tunnel Creek National Park
It is about a 30-minute drive further on to Tunnel Creek. We take an easy stroll to the Tunnel entrance. From that spot there is a Subterranean Trail through the tunnel, wading through water (2km return). A strong torch is required. There is a nice shady spot at the car park to have a picnic.
Tunnel Creek to Derby
We head off to Derby and about 3kms from Derby we come to the end of the Gibb River Road and we turn right onto the Derby Highway.
We drive to Derby Wharf to see the sunset and celebrate the end of our trip on the Gibb River Road. There is still much to look forward to – the Dampier Peninsula and Broome. We book into the excellent Kimberley Entrance Caravan Park – shady camping spots and very good amenities.
Highlights of Derby include:
- Sunset at the wharf
- Norval Gallery
- Mowanjum Gallery
- Boab Prison Tree
- Myall’s Bore and 120m Cattle Trough
Derby to Whalesong on the Dampier Peninsula
Leaving Derby it seems a long and uninteresting drive on the road towards Broome. We stop at the Nilibuc Rest Stop for a picnic lunch.
Finally we turn right onto the Cape Leveque Road (about 10km before Broome) – our destination is the Whalesong Café and Campground. When the 14kms of bitumen comes to an end, this is the worst road we have encountered on our trip – it is corrugated and sandy with steep sides – like driving in a canal! There is 83kms of dirt road before we hit bitumen again however this is short-lived as we follow the signs to Whalesong along another dirt road.
Whalesong Café and Campground
We receive a very warm welcome from Jacinta at the Whalesong Café & Campground and our campsite is fabulous – perched above the beautiful Pender Bay. The sunrise next day is gorgeous. We love it here and stay for two nights. The camp facilities are charming and the café has great food and wonderful views. It’s a very special place and we forego the temptation to keep driving on to Cape Leveque – that will be another trip!
Whalesong to Beagle Bay
On the way to Broome we stop at Beagle Bay to see the beautiful Sacred Heart Church. It is a gorgeous church with an alter decorated in Mother of Pearl.
Beagle Bay to Cable Beach, Broome
It takes a couple of hours to drive from Beagle Bay to Cable Beach and we are excited to arrive at the Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa – our final stop on the trip and a bit of luxury!
Cable Beach & Broome
The Cable Beach Club Resort & Spa is an excellent place to stay – friendly staff, beautiful rooms, good restaurants and great facilities.
At Cable Beach we take the 4WDs on one last spin – along the long stretch of sand of Cable Beach. Then it’s time to return our ‘home’ for the last 4 weeks back to Britz. These vehicles have never let us down on the trip – they have been very comfortable and well equipped.
As the sites of Broome are quite spread out we hire a small car from Budget (located at the airport) for a couple of days. We book a Hyundai i20 online but are upgraded to a Mitsubishi Outlander.
Highlights of Broome include:
- Cable Beach – the sunsets are incredible
- Pearl Luggers Museum
- Broome Historical Museum
- Town Beach (markets)
- Matso’s Brewery
- Court House Market
- Jetty to Jetty Trail – self guided heritage walk along Roebuck Bay
- Sun Pictures open air movie theatre
- Japanese Cemetery
- Short Street Gallery (indigenous art)
- Entrance Point and the Port of Broome (Wharf Restaurant very good)
- Johnny Chi Lane historic walk
- Sisters of St John of God Heritage Centre – Relationships Exhibition
- Enjoy views from the outdoor bar/café of the newly renovated Mangrove Hotel
- Mural of the Bungle Bungles at the Lovell Gallery (ART)
There are many excellent cafes and restaurants in Broome including:
- Sunset Bar & Grill at Cable Beach Resort
- Azuki Japanese Fusion
- Zookeeper’s Store
Broome – Sydney
We fly out of Broome on a Qantas flight to Sydney. It is a four-hour flight with excellent inflight entertainment and meals.