Cairns to Normanton – The Land
Observing the changes in landform and vegetation provides an extra dimension to your journey along The Savannah Way. This is an ancient yet dynamic landscape, washed by monsoonal rains each wet season.
If you are heading to Broome you’ll pass through 19 bioregions comprising Australia’s Tropical Savannahs. Altogether the area is 1.9 million square kilometres, about a quarter of the continent. The Savannah Way is your access to this incredible country.
The Savannah Way starts on the east coast, at Cairns Gateway Discovery Information Centre on the Esplanade to be exact. Cairns sits on a coastal plain formed by sediment from the mountains to its west. Mangrove vegetation is extensive on nearby mudflats.
Travelling to Kuranda involves climbing Australia’s Eastern Uplands, which include the Great Dividing Range. In Tropical North Queensland these mountains are covered in a mosaic of rainforest habitats differing with soil, geology and topography.
The rich volcanic soils of the Tropical Tablelands support agriculture including bananas, coffee, maize, peanuts, potatoes and sugar cane, with remnant eucalypt forests.
The Einasleigh Uplands begin west of Ravenshoe, with ironbark and bloodwood eucalypts and volcanic soil patches. Cattle farming begins to dominate human activity, interspersed with past and present day mining.
The McBride Volcanic Province, defined by its 164 extinct volcanoes, vents and holes, ends at Mount Surprise and the Newcastle Range, folded and rounded low hills of granite and sediments. The vegetation changes with soil types heading west, supporting lancewood patches on hard, shallow soils, river red gum and coolabah trees by the creeks and box species on the deeper red soils.
The Gulf Plains, west of Croydon, were formed by sediment deposition into the vast Carpentaria Basin over the last 150 million years. During this time Australia broke free from Gondwana and became more arid. This gave rise to plant species more tolerant of dry periods, such as acacia, banksia, casuarina and eucalyptus. Ancient rainforests were replaced by grasslands and open woodlands on the Gulf Plains and riparian vegetation along watercourses.
Closer to Normanton melaleuca (paperbark and teatree) vegetation, which is more tolerant of groundwater, becomes more common. You will notice that in many areas this vegetation is thick due to a lack of burning, a practice that has modified the landscape in Australia for 50,000 years. Modern land management techniques are reintroducing mosaic burning and cattle grazing to maintain traditional vegetation patterns.