Cairns - Normanton via the Kennedy Highway and
the Gulf Development Road (Hwy 1)
Total distance 700km
All distances measured from Cairns
The Gulf Development Road used to be a dusty unsealed track and not too many tourists used it. Nowadays it is sealed all the way although in parts it is only a single lane and care needs to be taken when you have to put your near side wheels off the bitumen to pass another vehicle. If you meet road trains on one of these narrow stretches it is best to give them right of way and get off the sealed surface completely.
Leaving Cairns you head northwards on Highway 1 and turn left on to the Kennedy Highway (Hwy 1) at Smithfield (13km). From here the road climbs steeply around numerous hairpin bends as you make your way up onto the Atherton Tableland. There are stupendous views as you ascend the range and several bays where you can park and take in the vista that stretches right to the Coral Sea. This is an area of incredible beauty and a few days spent in one of the many towns catering for tourists on the Tableland is worthwhile if you have the time.
At the top of the climb you come to the pretty village of Kuranda with its craft shops and wide choice of eating places. A train runs from Cairns to Kuranda with wide sweeping views as it twists and turns on its way past the Barron Falls - with water released daily from storage especially for passengers to see the falls as they were before the building of a dam. The railway station has won numerous awards for its gardens.
The Atherton Tableland is in the ëCool Tropicsí and in summer its climate provides a sharp contrast to the steamy heat of the coast. Its rich soil and ample rainfall makes the area a fertile producer of many crops including grains, potatoes and peanuts while attractions like the Curtain Fig and volcanic crater lakes bring many tourists to the area each year.
Leaving Kuranda the next place of interest is Mareeba (62km) - the largest town of the Tableland - where tobacco, coffee and fruit among other things, are produced in the surrounding area. People who have approached the Tableland from Port Douglas or Mossman would join Highway 1 here and at Atherton (92km) folk using the Gillies Highway (Hwy 52) from Gordonvale join us.
From the fertile areas surrounding Ravenshoe (149km) we leave the lush Tableland and turn our faces westward towards the dry inland where the main industry is raising beef cattle. The highway passes through Innot Hot Springs on its way to Mount Garnet (196km) where tin mining is still carried on. The area was named after the discovery of a lode of semi-precious garnets near the town.
The road is becoming lonelier now as we travel on to the junction with the Gulf Development Road (Hwy 1) while the Kennedy Development Road (Hwy 62) continues southwards to the Lynd Junction and Charters Towers.
Turning right here at St Ronans Junction, we soon come the Undarra Lava Tubes - it is a few kilometres drive in from the highway but a well set up caravan park and full tourist facilities make a visit to this natural phenomenon worth doing. These tubes are tunnel-like cavities formed by the cooling of the lava flow countless years ago. The outer layers cooled and solidified first leaving the molten rock to flow on for a great distance. Guided tours are provided and as youíve arrived in this remote area, just a few more hours added to the trip is time well spent.
From here on we will be travelling through savanna country - dry and hot for most of the year but very wet during the monsoon season from about December to March. There are not many towns with Georgetown (458km) being the first we come to. In its early days the town was a busy gold mining centre and gold is still being found today at the nearby Kidston open cut mine.
The final township we come to is Croydon (607km) and once again it was gold that brought thousands of people to the district in the late 1800s with the town boasting a population of 35,000 in its heyday. Once a week the well-known ëGulflanderí train makes the journey from Normanton to Croydon with most of the passengers these days being tourists enjoying a ride on the historic rail link. Termites are a problem in the area so the sleepers are made from steel instead of the more usual timber and have stood the test of time.
We come very close to the Gulf of Carpentaria when we reach our destination of Normanton (761km) as the prawning port of Karumba is only about 70km away to our north. There are three hotels and a caravan park in the town and a good sealed road - the Burke Developmental Road (Hwy 83) - leads 200km south to Cloncurry and the Flinders Highway (Hwy 78).