Across the Outback: Cairns to Darwin

It's a very long drive to Darwin.

It’s a very long drive to Darwin.

Driving across the Australian outback is not your normal road trip. The outback is so barren that it’s highly recommended to bring emergency drinking water and petrol (we brought 20l of petrol and 40l of water). Breakdowns can be fatal since you could be stranded for days. People literally disappear in the outback. You might be thinking to yourself, “I can just call for help.” If you have a satellite phone, you most certainly can call someone. But with a regular mobile phone, service is usually non-existent. With that in mind, we informed friends of our intended route and let them know that if we didn’t reach Darwin in 7 days then they should call the police.

A typical red dirt road in the Outback

A typical red dirt road in the Outback

Rather than take the main highway all the way to Darwin, we took an alternative route called the “Savannah Way” which took us through some tiny outback towns. We left Cairns in the early afternoon and reached our first stop, Ravenshoe, in the late afternoon. The town is known for some really spectacular waterfalls but when we got there all we found at the viewpoint was a sign describing where the spectacular waterfall used to be before a dam was built upriver.

What a massive disappointment!

What a massive disappointment!

Despite the fact that driving at night is a bit dangerous because of kangaroos crossing the road we pressed on for another hour or so to till we found a clearing on the side of the road to camp at. Armed with head torches, a portable stove, and a wok we made spaghetti for dinner, had some goon (cheap box wine) then retired to our tents. In the morning, we had breakfast at our roadside campsite then went to the Undara Lava Tubes for a quick tour of the huge natural tubes.

Australia - Outback - Undara Lava Tubes

One of the gigantic lava tubes in Undara

From Undara, we pressed on towards Croydon to spend the night, with a quick stop at Innot Hot Springs for a free dip in a natural hot pool. We got there after dark so it wasn’t nearly as good as it would’ve been in the sunshine. In Croydon, we couldn’t find a free campsite so we ended up camping on the side of the road in a clearing about 5 min outside of town. In the morning, we got up bright and early to see the sunrise at the lake in Croydon.

The ‘roo lay on the road in front of me injured and looking up at me.ย His gaze captured me; all I could see was his pain.

On the way to the lake there were loads of kangaroos running across the road so I had to drive quite slowly. At one point a big group hopped across the roadway so I sped up a bit once they cleared but at the last moment one little guy ran out in front of me and I couldn’t avoid him. The car hit him pretty hard but it wasn’t a fatal blow. The ‘roo lay on the road in front of me injured and looking up at me. His gaze captured me; all I could see was his pain. My mates were telling me to carry on but I couldn’t move. Eventually the ‘roo crawled off the road and back into the bush. He probably wouldn’t last more than a day or two.

Australia - Outback - Croydon - Sunrise

Sunrise at Croydon Lake

Luckily for us, there was a public toilet and shower at the lake so we took full advantage of them. After 2 sweaty nights camping in the outback it was well deserved. After breakfast we carried on to Normanton, where we did a bit of sightseeing and found out that we could go no further on the Savannah Way. The rest of the way was 4×4 only and many sections were flooded and impassable at that time since the wet season had just ended. We had no choice but to drive about 380km due south to Cloncurry to get back onto the main highway. There was not a single town or settlement on that stretch, only a very remote rest station.

A statue of one of the biggest crocs ever hunted down (8.63m)...with me in it.

A statue of one of the biggest crocs ever hunted down (8.63m)…with me in it.

A historic pub in Normanton

A historic pub in Normanton

We reached Mount Isa (a massive mining town) around sunset, had a quick dinner at maccers, then drove onward to find a camp site along the highway. As I said before, driving at night is a bit dangerous but we drove carefully and thankfully were on the road for only about an hour before we found a camp site to stay for the night.

Welcome to the Northern Territory!

Welcome to the Northern Territory!

The next day we made for the state border in the morning and drove all day. The speed limit in the Northern Territory is a generous 130km/h compared to 100km/h in QLD and NSW. We put the pedal to the medal ๐Ÿ™‚ After refueling, lunch, and a quick walkabout in Tennant Creek (much cheaper petrol compared to Three Ways), we drove north towards Darwin. Along the way, we stopped at the historic Daly Waters Pub, one of the most remote pubs in Australia, for a cheeky pint.

Australia's loneliest traffic light

Australia’s loneliest traffic lights

The following day we continued north, making only brief stops at Elsey Homestead to soak in a hot spring and in Katherine to refuel and eat. After 4 nights camping in the outback, in the late afternoon of our 5th day on the road we finally reached Darwin! Bring on a hot shower and a bed!

Have you ever done a long road trip? What was the highlight of your drive?

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