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Savannah Way Top Road motorbike adventure calls for more information on Outback travel safety

June 25, 2012
Savannah Way Top Road motorbike adventure calls for more information on Outback travel safety

Russell Boswell Manager Savannah Way Ltd has helped GoSeeAustralia to provide information for road tourism on the Savannah Way options. A recent question via email to GoSee from GoSeer Brian Dombkins of Wollongong, New South Wales asks for help to plan a motorbike adventure on the Savannah Way 'Top Road'. It reveals a need for additional specific information on Outback travel safety.

Brian's question to GoSeeAustralia is - "I am planning a motorcycle trip across the Savannah Way for late next year, probably around September / October, as part of a trip around Oz.

"Can you give me or point me in the direction of information on fuel availability between Cairns and Daly Waters along the Savannah Way. The bike has a range of about 350klms but I am thinking of either fitting a larger tank or carrying extra fuel, probably around 10 litres?"

"Any help would be appreciated". "We, my son and two other riders, will be taking the Top Road all on adventure tour bikes i.e. BMW 120GS and Triumph Tiger 1050, so the unsealed sections should be okay depending on the rain and road conditions at the time".

Editors Note: The R 1200 GS Adventure, is BMW's ultimate long-distance enduro for the globetrotter and adventurer. The Triumph Tiger 1050 is designed for kilometre-munching ability and dependability. It comes with comfortable, spacious seat and relaxed rider and passenger ergonomics.

"We plan to carry extra fuel in small containers, maybe 5 litres each to be on the safe side. Can we assume that in the event of something going pear shaped that at the time of year we will be travelling, September / October, that we will not be alone on the road?" "Is this a popular time to travel up north?" "Do the road trains use the road often?" Brian Dombkins askes.

The Savannah Way 'Top Road' route is -

Cairns, Ravenshoe, Mt Surprise, Georgetown, Croydon, Normanton, Burketown, Doomadgee (Aboriginal community), Hells Gate, Borroloola, Roper Bar, Mataranka, Katherine.

The free GoSeeAustralia Plan a Trip - says Cairns to Georgetown 390km. Georgetown to Croydon 148km. Croydon to Normanton 155km. Normanton to Burketown 504km, (via Burke and Wills Roadhouse) Burketown to Doomadgee 100km. Doomadgee to Hells Gate 82.8km. After that Google fails (most GPS too) and topographic maps are required.

Hells Gate is between Doomadgee and Borroloola, NRMA says 398km total distance. Borroloola to Roper Bar is 372km. The Roper is a good base to go fishing, and the general store has fuel (leaded, unleaded, diesel and LPG), food and water.

Borroloola to Doomadgee is the real Gulf Savannah. Water crossings are nasty after rain.

GoSeeAustralia says - Brian a happy Savannah Top Road experience via Hells Gate hinges on the skill and planning of all the riders in your group. You will be as strong as your weakest link. Towards Hells Gate and beyond is Adventureland.

If you dont have bush riding experience GoSee suggests training in short sessions now. Sept/Oct is the Storm Season in the North. GoSee recommends that you plan for July August.

Check the weather before you go anywhere with locals and officials along your route.

  • Always ring and check ahead all the way through.
  • Let someone responsible know where you expect to be and when.
  • If it rains you will be in deep shite which makes Sept/October a bad choice.
  • A back-up 4WD (a real one, not a horse shit suburban SUV) would be really good for all concerned.
  • You will need to carry all your own spares, tools and some extra fuel.
  • You are on your own with back-up.
  • Your longest fuel gap is after Hells Gate (about 320km) Leona at Hells Gate says.
  • Sure bikes come through Hells Gate but Leona says misadventures can turn into major issues.
  • One recent group of 27 bike riders was reduced to 26 and presented problems for everyone.
  • Outback people welcome visitors but they have had it up to their eyeballs with the ill-prepared.
  • This is a real adventure and you should have enough self-respect to rely on your own resources.
  • GoSee regards it as thoughtless to involve others in picking up after lack of planning creates a mess.
  • Road trains are frequent and their movements are unpredictable as they move stock off the stations.
  • You are a long way from medical help.
  • Please have a well planned first aid kit and know how to use it.
  • There is no mobile coverage.
  • There are long lonely stretches which mean that road reporting can be behind on what is actually happening. Tight schedules can kill you so dont rush.
  • Never ride at night there are no fences and stock camp on the road.
  • Wandering stock is a constant danger and a heavy beast will stop you dead in every sense.
  • Bright lights will not help much as the terrain can catch you out.
  • The rivers include snapping handbags which is another reason to avoid Storm Season wading.
  • The track section 80km to the east of Hells Gate chops up.
  • Handling bull dust (in this case the choking kind) is a bush riding skill you will need.

Hell's Gate Roadhouse Leona and Bill. They built the roadhouse in 1985-86.

PMB 45, Mt. Isa Phone: (07) 4745 8258 FREE (07) 4745 8258 Fax: (07) 4745 8225

Facilities: Camping grounds (no power), toilets and showers, fuel available.

Fuel is available from Tirranna Roadhouse (30kms west of Burketown/ 60kms east of Doomadgee or at the Doomadgee Roadhouse.

Russell Boswell says mobile phone coverage maps are available through Savannah Way. Sep-Oct are generally still pretty dry storms coming in late November and serious rain mid December till April (see charts on Savannah Way website).

In the longer unsealed sections such as between Burketown and Borroloola the road is usually cut in at least one spot from December or January with intermittent openings in May as creeks are receding and roadwork catches up. Of course every year is different, so checking is always imperative.

Serious  Off-road caravan and tow tug.
Serious Off-road caravan and tow tug.

From the Savannah Way website courtesy of Russell Boswell -

While driving in Northern Australia offers a unique experience, it also presents unique driving conditions that should be considered:

Road conditions regularly vary from multi-lane bitumen and single lane bitumen to gravel and dirt. Some unsealed creek crossings take months to recover from a big wet. Be careful of soft edges and narrow roads.

On unsealed roads fine dust (bulldust) can conceal deep potholes and reduce visibility, so slow down and keep your headlights on.

Staying in contact in the outback is vital. While mobile phones will work in many towns, staying in contact by radio, satellite phone or carrying an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is advisable.


Animals often feed beside outback roads, be especially careful at night, sunrise and sunset.

Emus will often run beside a vehicle and swerve at the last minute. Kangaroos are unpredictable, if one does jump in front of you, dont over-react. An animal impact may be less harmful than attempting to swerve.

Driving in Wet Conditions

Be sure you have good tyres and drive below the speed limit in the wet. Check road conditions with the appropriate body and postpone your trip on unsealed roads if required.

Localised rain can make rivers rise and fall rapidly. Dont attempt to cross flooded bridges or causeways unless you are sure of the depth and the roads condition.

Crossing should not be attempted if the water is fast-flowing or at a greater depth than the height of the middle of the wheel. Beware, crocodiles inhabit waterholes and creeks across Northern Australia.

Large Vehicles

Huge trucks, known as road trains, traverse Northern Australia. These can be up to the length of 10 cars.

Allow plenty of room before you overtake these vehicles - be prepared for them to sway as you overtake.

If a large vehicle is approaching you, make sure you allow plenty of room to pass. This will also help to avoid windscreen damage.

Driving conditions

When the sun is low on the horizon it makes clear vision impossible. If you are driving west plan to reach your destination by 4pm.

Avoid night driving as this is the time when most accidents occur. Animals, especially cattle, are difficult to see at night even in the middle of the road.


Towing requires more skills and effort than normal driving. Schedule extra rest stops and shorter travelling days to avoid fatigue.

Remember the extra length, width and stopping distance required and apply the accelerator and brakes smoothly to avoid trailer sway. If the trailer begins to sway, dont brake quickly. If the trailer is fitted with brakes apply them gently and continue at a steady speed or accelerate slightly until the swaying stops.

GoSee thanks Russell Boswell and Savannah Way for supplying the words and pictures which appear with this Information Feature.

Savannah Way Ltd contact details E: T: 0408 772 513 F: 07 4031 3340 W:

Typical campers Savannah Way.
Typical campers Savannah Way.

Editors Note:

Distance between centres mentioned in this Savannah Information Article are the best GoSee has been able to determine from a variety of sources including the NRMA and RACQ. There are contradictions.

GoSee recommends extra fuel be carried. Travellers should factor in realistic fuel use taking into account load and road conditions at the time. Sustained heavy work in lower gears can double fuel consumption.

Bitter bike experience: In October 2010 the GoSeeAustralia Toyota Sahara Land Cruiser 100 series TD auto covered 3200km in a two day return dash from Banks ACT to near Quilpie in Queensland.

Even with three drivers it was a tiring long-haul compounded by rising waterways, wandering livestock and the threat of more rain.

We had a little accident on a long-haul Outback trail bike adventure. It was really quite serious, when a friends trail bike trangled with a council truck near Quilpie. He was badly hurt and wound up in Toowoomba Hospital after the Flying Doctor landed on the road to retrieve him.

Editors Note: Also see-

Pentecost River Cockburn Range.
Pentecost River Cockburn Range.