Driving from Cairns to Darwin, Savannah Way

by Sara Jonsson

We are two backpackers planning to drive from Cairns to Darwin. We are not very experienced in driving long tracks and we are a bit unsure of how "careful" we should be. Do you have any main advice?

I think we are going to go by Savannah Way pretty much all the way to Katherine, is that road usually in good condition?
Thanks in advance /Sara and Sara

Re: Driving from Cairns to Darwin, Savannah Way

Hi Saras,
You don't say what car you will be driving and what time of the year.

If you have a 4WD it should not be a problem in the dry season (say June to October, it may still be bit rough in May).

The section between Normanton and Borroloola is the remotest part and you should take all the usual precautions. Take enough water, make sure your tank is full enough to get you to the next roadhouse, make sure you have a reliable car, a good spare tyre or better two.

The reliable car is the biggest issue, this is a very remote area and there is not much traffic at all! And find out where exactly you can fill up, I think two of the places between Normanton and Borroloola have closed.

The roads aren't usually all that difficult, but they can also be shocking.

The corrugations can be pretty bad at times and there can be bad wash outs just after the wet.

There are also some river and creek crossings. Find out what exactly to expect at the time that you will be travelling, and how much water your car can handle.

I have a page about driving in the outback that covers all the other things that you should generally be careful of. (There is also a general page about driving in Outback Australia)

Take regular breaks. Don't drive around dawn and dusk (too much wildlife on the road).

Take it easy. Even if you have no four wheel driving experience whatsoever, as long as you go slow you can't do much wrong.

The road is usually fairly well maintained, but as with any unsealed roads the conditions vary.

Keep an eye on the road reports and ask people along the way (at the roadhouses) about the state of the part ahead.

It's definitely not a Sunday drive, but as long as you have a reliable and suitable car and a good measure of common sense, you should be ok.

Now, it's hard to judge your capabilities from such a short message, so I say this as well: if you read all of the above and all those thoughts are new to you, if some of it doesn't make sense, if you don't know how to change a tyre or check the oil level in your car, then I suggest you stay on the bitumen.

Most of the Savannah Way is sealed, so just skip that one section and stay south of it on the Flinders and Barkly Highway. It's a detour, but probably quicker anyway, and definitely safer.

Comments for Driving from Cairns to Darwin, Savannah Way

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Wet Season Cairns to Darwin
by: Carey

Hi, i was just wondering your opinion on driving from Cairns to Darwin during the wet season, (say early December forward). I have a more than capable car for handling most situations (though not all can be fortold) and was just seeking some advice on road conditions, rivers and other traps I should be careful of..

cheers carey

by: Birgit

Well, you don't say what route you want to take, what you plan to do, how much time you have or what you expect from the trip.

You can drive from Cairns to Darwin whenever you like. There is a perfectly good highway all the way. It'll be stinking hot and humid, that's the only thing to consider. And depending how late in the wet season it is you can also get stuck if a road floods. (Not in early December though).

Cairns to Darwin
by: Rachael

Hi there,

My partner and I are venturing on a trip from Melbourne to Cairns and then from Cairns to Darwin. I have a 93 Landcruiser and only a snatch strap and shackles for recovery so would rely on another vehicle for recovery. The vehicle is otherwise self sufficient with fridge, rooftop tent, jerry and water cans etc etc. We are planning to take about 10 days (max 2 weeks) for the trip because I want to see as many amazing things as I can along the way.

Is the route Cairns, Georgetown, Croydon, Mt Isa, Camooweal, (Cape Crawford or Tennant Creek?), then up through Katherine to Darwin a good route? What are some must stop places along the way?

What would the trip be like going from Townsville instead of Cairns?


Savannah Way
by: Birgit

I hope you mean 10 days from Cairns to Darwin and not for the whole trip...

You don't say what time of the year you plan to go. If it's just at the end or beginning of the wet it may affect your plans...

The route you propose avoids the roughest stretch, from Normanton to Borroloola. Saves you some rough driving, though the way you are equipped there is no reason to shy away from it, other than personal preference.

It is also a detour and you miss out on some adventure :-).

Other than that, have a look at the links in the answer to this Savannah Way question and dig around on those sites. That might help you decide what you want to see.

(I don't really know that corner of Australia very well. Plan to go there again early 2009 on a longer mission, but until then I am of limited use to you!)

traviling the savanah way
by: Robert

i am thinking of traviling from townsville to darwin around 15th december wanted to take the sinic route have a 4x4 all mods and cons inc winch all recovery gear would like advice on trip best places to go see to get most out of trip going via normanton should hit darwin around 23rd dec.

Best way of getting from Cairns to Darwin
by: Alan & Cheryl


If anybody can advise me here, I would really appreciate it. As this will be our first proper outback/bush drive.

Myself and my wife are in a 1996 Mitsubishi Express 2 litre campervan(2 wheel drive, and not a lot of power), and I will be travelling in a few days(probably leaving 7th June) from Cairns to Darwin.

I would like to see some things, but I have already travelled from Melbourne to Cairns, so I can miss out on a few things also.

I have three options(nb. a few stops on the way, these are just the main towns we will be turning at)...

1. Cairns, Normanton, down to Clonacurry, Darwin. - Seems to be bitumen all the way, plus it has some of the Savannagh Way

2. Cairns, Townsville(bit of a back step, which im reluctant to do), Cloncurry, Darwin. - Again, bitumen all the way, but its a bit of a back step. Seems to be the major highway though, so might be safest.

3. Cairns, Normanton - and follow the Savannagh way to Darwin. Some parts not surfaced, but, its the most direct route, possibly the shortest.

I dont know if my vehicle could handle the Savannagh Way, or even if its a bad experience to be off the tarmac for such a long journey. Also, is your average speed very low, in which case I would be better to stick to the surfaced roads??

I would like to limit myself to 5 hours driving per day, and only stop for 2 nights maximum in any place, preferably 1 night. On the way from Melbourne to Cairns, we usually only stopped for 1 night(unless we wanted to spend a full day somewhere, or just to relax a bit), although the driving times were much shorter.

I only have 1 spare wheel, and I dont have a large water capacity(usually we have about 10 litres at any given time). We only have mobile phones, and RAC breakdown assistance. I have a tow rope, and jump leads, and some tools.

So, is it worth going the Savannagh way at all ?? Would I miss out on anything by going via Townsville ?

I was thinking that I would probably ask local police here what the best route is, but they may just point me to the most popular route.

Any advise is much appreciated, and I hope im not being over cautious.

Also, if anybody would like to email me their response/experiences/advice, please email me at smidsy1979@gmail.com

by: Alan & Cheryl

I should have also mentioned, we are leaving Cairns as we cannot find jobs to finance our travels.

So we are on a very very tight budget, and hoping for free scenic things, and possible fishing (if safe).

Also, if anybody can advise on the job market in Darwin, that would be great !

by: Alan & Cheryl

Well, we made it to Darwin tonight.

If anyone is wondering what way I went...

Went to Normanton, and popped into the Information office.

There is a river between Normanton & Kathrine, which has flooded, and is unpassable by a normal car.

I also spoke to a guy who had driven through it that week...

There's a diversion through the outback, to avoid the flooded section of the river.

The diversion is 200 kms, and you have to drive through two other rivers. In one river, the water was coming over the bonnet of his 4WD.

So forget about going through the savannagh way, unless you have a high clearance 4WD, and are prepared for proper outback driving(ir lots of water & spares).

I plan to buy a camper to drive alone
by: Tony

Hi Everybody
on the 27th October 2010 I will start from Darwin to buy a camper van, and find the best way to spend 6 months around Australia. I am driving on my own: is that risky?
If I prefer to be in Melbourne for Xmas so after less then 2 months should I go strait south and travel up the east coast after January onwards.
If I do the east coast November/December would it be better and enough time to see the basics, and sleeping few nights in interesting places? Or I do need more.
Crossing from Darwin to Alice springs and the south, what do I need to know if I do it Nov /Dec.
I need all the help I can get before I come to Darwin.
If I have time, what is on the west coast.?
Thank You all

by: Anonymous

dont go to darwin not good place

by: Anonymous

Darwin is a great place, has lots of jobs available and it's a very friendly people - not much crime and very pretty, lush and green :) Enjoy

Savannah Way
by: sistercronic

Me, my partner and son did the drive in an 84 corolla at the end of the wet season. Everyone said to turn around but we made it. Though we did get bogged in creeks but there was always someone around to help.

Driving from Cairns to Kununurra
by: Tns


We are relocating to Kununurra from Cairns and plan to drive across leaving on or about 10 January 2012. We will have a 4WD (but not experienced 4WDrivers) and will have our 4 & 8 year olds with us.

Could we please get some advise on the best route to take, what the roads are like, time frames and where to stop overnight along the way.

We need to be arriving in Kununurra by 19th January.

Thanks and any advice is appreciated.


Driving from Cairns to Darwin via Savannha
by: Jack Leiden

Hi, I just bought a Toyota FJ and plan to drive from Cairns to Darwin via Savannah Way. FJ has very good off-roading capacity, but it has a relatively petrol tank,with only 72 litrs. Is it enough to drive through Savannah?

driving Cairns to Darwin, Darwin to Broome in September
by: Anonymous

We are thinking of driving Cairns to Darwin, Darwin to Broome in September. Do we need a 4wd? Have been getting conflicting info. Any safety tips? How is the phone coverage? Cheers

Darwin to Cairns via Savannah way via Roper
by: Gav and Janine

Just completed trip in 4x4 ranger, no trailer. Take extra fuel and water. Road from roper to Borroloola was a 6/10 and Borroloola to Normanton a 7/10. The QLDers complain about the road but I have driven on much worse. Drive to the conditions and take your time. Most of the roads can be traversed at speeds around 80-100 kph. Some areas will be down to 40. but easily done. 28/06/2015. Sometimes talking to others only hinders your adventure, my advice is take it on and enjoy our country.

Savannah by station wagon
by: Fede

Hello guys, someone can tell me if it is possible cross from Cairns to Darwin with the rental Ford Falcon station wagon 4.1lt 2005?? The plan is from Brisbane to Darwin in 26 days starting 3rd Aug 15. Cheers, and thanks in advance

Advice!? Driving Honda Civic, Townsville to Darwin in Jan
by: Elly

Hi All,
I'm planning to drive from Townsville to Darwin in January 2016 (coming up from Melbourne) but need some advice about the weather, if it's a good or silly idea to do the drive, and if my car could handle it. Not planning any off road, it is a 2005 car and has been very reliable and i'd plan to get it serviced just before the trip to make sure.

Also after any advice about where best and cheapest to stay because I assume camping is totally out. We want to stop as little as possible along this route because we want to use most of our holiday time along the east coast.

Any advice or help would be much appreciated! Thanks guys :)

Cairns to Katherine
by: Anonymous

Hi all - Im thinking of driving over from Cairns to Katherine around January 2016 - I have an Audi 2008 - I'm worried about the possibility of flooded roads. Are there alternatives routes if any roads are flooded? Thanx

Driving From Cairns To Darwin, NH1
by: Prabh

Hi, I am planning to go from Cairns to Darwin around the second week of April 2018 on Discovery Sports and very much interested in going from Burketown - Hell's Gate Road house - Borroloola - Daly Water route of NH1. Can you suggest if it's doable on Discovery Sports around that time of the year? I am planning to reach Darwin in 5-6 days.

Broome - Darwin - Cairns via sealed roads?
by: Roz

We are currently in Broome and are driving over to Cairns via Darwin. We are in a 2002 Honda CRV Sport. We're concerned about driving in the wet season, please can anyone give us advice of a rough route that would follow main, sealed roads.
Thanks in advance,

Savannah Way road conditions
by: Sandy

Hi, just wondering what the road conditions are like at the moment after the cyclones in that area earlier on. We are planning a trip around July/August. We have a 4WD and had a bit of experience in the outback. Any advice about the road and the river crossings would be appreciated.

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