"Cape York Peninsula is located in Far North Queensland and boasts the northern-most tip of the Australian continent."
The Cape adventure is the avid traveller’s and four-wheel drive enthusiast’s dream, exploring the rugged beauty of the remote wilderness. The scenery is superb, the fishing is unbelievable and the journey is amazing.
The Cape York expedition of a lifetime begins at Cooktown, the gateway to the Cape. This charming historical town with its crystal clear waters and million dollar views is just a taste of what the Cape York Peninsula has to offer.
The journey from Cooktown to “The Tip” of Cape York is approximately 700km and the majority of the trip is on unsealed road with corrugations and creek crossings and is suitable for high clearance four-wheel drives only. The keen and experienced four-wheel drivers will be pleased to know there is a challenging route to the tip of Cape York on the Old Telegraph Track in the northern section of the peninsula.
Make no mistake prior to departure, Cape York Peninsula is remote, the roads are rough and roadside assistance is not readily available. Ensure your vehicle is fully serviced, carry adequate spare parts and recovery gear and have a basic understanding of your vehicle’s mechanics. This adventure is not for the faint hearted, you are embarking on a rough journey and will experience extreme conditions.
Cooktown is the last major stop for fuel and supplies before beginning the Cape York adventure, however there are roadhouses along the way selling fuel and basic items and fresh produce is available in the major townships of Coen, Weipa, Bamaga and Seisia. Eftpos and credit card facilities are available in most outlets. So stock up with enough supplies to last the duration until the next town site, make your last phone calls as phone coverage is restricted to certain areas and limited to Telstra Next G only, and start those engines, Cape York here we come!
The scenic drive on unsealed road from Cooktown via Endeavour Falls, Old Laura and Lakefield National Park gets the blood pumping in anticipation of more to come. Endeavour Falls Tourist Park is 37km from Cooktown and is situated in a beautiful setting in the Endeavour Valley, with a shady green camp ground just a minute from the picturesque waterfall. Entry to the falls requires a gold coin donation and owner’s permission if not staying at the park. You can also feed the Barramundi at reception and admire the Texas Longhorns in the paddock. All in all a delightful park with friendly outback service.
Isabella Falls is 10km further on and it’s worth taking a 2 minute walk to the base of the falls to enjoy the view. This is also your first creek crossing, tame as it may be.
Old Laura is 79km on and within the Lakefield National Park boundary. On the historic site still stands Old Laura Homestead, the pioneer cattle station established in the late 1800’s to supply beef to the growing goldfields population. Built from timber and iron the original homestead has been renovated by the National Trust of Queensland.
The 166km drive through Lakefield National Park between Old Laura and the Peninsula Development Rd accesses waterholes galore. Rivers, swamps and lagoons are what this park is all about and there are plenty to fish from, Barramundi and Catfish being the predominant catch.
Camping is permitted at most waterholes however it is bush camping only with no facilities. Kalpowar Crossing Campground, just past Lakefield, on the Normanby River offers designated camp sites, toilets and cold showers. Camping fees apply.
White and Red Lily Lagoons display an abundance of magnificent lilies. The enormous red lilies are particularly remarkable and the lagoons are very scenic. Magpie Geese frequent the lagoons as well as mosquitoes so be sure to wear propellant.
The road conditions in Lakefield National Park vary with corrugated areas, washouts, dips, bulldust and river crossings. Be aware in wet weather conditions that the roads can change quickly and for the worse.
Musgrave Roadhouse marks the junction of the Lakefield Rd and Peninsula Development Rd, the route to reach the next major town site of Weipa. Musgrave has a camp ground and serves meals and cold beer (note that only 6 packs of light beer are available for takeaway purchases).
Coen townsite is 108km north of Musgrave. The small community has a general store, post office, hotel selling takeaways, fuel stop and offers no mechanical repairs. Charlie’s Mine is of interest here. The ancient gold mine is still equipped and ready for demonstration despite the long gone gold. Charlie has lived here for years, building his dwelling from cobblestone and glass bottles, the place and the man both ooze charm. Charlie’s charisma and humour show in his story tales and he offers plenty of local information and insight into the foregone gold rush era. This unique mine is definitely worth a look and camping is available here also. Donations are appreciated.
Coen has a great free camp known as The Bend just 2km north of town. This spacious camp ground is situated beside the Coen River with fresh flowing water ideal for a dip. A toilet is provided here and dogs are permitted.
Archer River Roadhouse is 66km north of Coen. Fuel, food, ice, refreshments and tyre repairs are available here and a camp ground is located beside the roadhouse, however no dogs allowed. Alternatively there is a free camp on the northern banks of the Archer River nearby.
A further 51km on is the junction of the Peninsula Development Rd which continues on to Weipa and the Telegraph Rd which heads north up to Cape York.
Weipa is located on the west coast of the Cape York Peninsula 146km from the junction. It is the largest town in the region operating the world’s largest bauxite mine. Rio Tinto Alcan has a great presence in the town, employing many people and offering organized mine tours. Weipa provides many services and is a good place to stock up on supplies. A Woolworths shopping centre is located next to the camp ground.
Weipa Camping Ground & Fishing Lodge is on Albatross Bay. The large shady camp ground overlooking the beach is in a lovely location with beautiful sunsets. The park offers beachfront lodges, villas, cabins and dongas as well as hire boats, mine tours, swimming pool and basic supplies on site. Weipa township has a shopping centre and plenty of other services in the area.
Nestled between two rivers, the Embley and Mission, Weipa is in prime fishing territory. Boats can be launched at Evans Landing and Rocky Point and land-based fishing spots are indeed plentiful. Barramundi is highly sought after and certainly obtainable in Weipa’s rivers. Other common catches here are Spanish Mackeral, Mangrove Jack, Fingermark Bream, Giant Trevally, Sooty Grunter and Threadfin Salmon.
Another popular river within reach of Weipa is the Pennefather River, situated some 80km north of town via the Mapoon Rd. About 46km along is the turnoff to Pennefather. The access road is fairly corrugated and eventually turns to soft sand. You reach the coast after about 27km and drive north along the beach for 7km to the river mouth. Deflating your tyres is essential and about 15 psi should do the trick. The rivermouth, lagoon and beaches here are stunning. Camping is permitted however a permit must be obtained as it is aboriginal land. The Pennefather is a peaceful place to set up camp for a while or take a day trip from Weipa to enjoy the scenery and fish the waterways. Take note that this is crocodile country and they do frequent the area and the lagoon.
After stocking up on supplies and wetting a line in Weipa, the Telegraph Rd awaits. 72km back down the Peninsula Development Rd is a shortcut via Batavia Downs Rd 39km across to the Telegraph.
The name given to this track is of great historical significance to Cape York Peninsula. The Telegraph Road, now upgraded from its original state in the 1880’s, was the pathway for JR Bradford and team to construct a telegraph line to facilitate communications between Cooktown and the tip of Cape York. The line and several repeater stations were constructed over a 2 year period and remnants are still evident on route today.
Continuing north along the Telegraph Rd for 72km reaches the Wenlock River and Moreton Telegraph Station, where the final repeater station and connection was made for the telegraph line in 1887. The station offers accommodation, camping, fishing and refreshments.
Bramwell Junction is 42km further on and is where the new Telegraph Rd meets the Old Telegraph Rd, being the remainder of the original track used to construct the telegraph line. This is what the die-hard four-wheel drive enthusiasts are waiting for, an unmaintained track with several creek crossings and the chance to really see what you and your vehicle are capable of.
Travellers not willing to give their vehicles a workout take the Bamaga Rd (bypass road) 172km via Fruitbat Falls towards the Jardine River Ferry. The road can be fairly corrugated depending on the time of year and when it was last graded. The Old Telegraph enthusiasts are recommended to follow the bypass road on the way back down the Cape York Peninsula as it offers different scenery and the Old Telegraph crossings can be more difficult tackling them from the opposite direction.
Bramwell Junction Roadhouse is located at the intersection and offers camping, fuel, cooked food, cold beer and soft drinks. Note that the burgers are delicious and definitely appreciated after a long day of driving.
The serious Cape York four-wheel driving action begins at Palm Creek just 3km north of Bramwell Junction. Huge bulbous bumps descend to a muddy creek crossing and exit on steep angled jump up on the northern side. This crossing is definitely easier heading north due to the steep drop off. Make sure you walk the crossing first and work out the best route to take, engage four-wheel drive and keep momentum up in gear. Don’t despair if you get stuck, the trees are conveniently located here for use of a winch if required.
The road conditions change constantly on the Old Telegraph Track with plenty of bumps, water on the road, mad angles where you feel like the car might tip over and just general rough conditions, not to mention the challenging creek crossings. All part of the fun really. Keep your eyes peeled for the old telegraph poles too as you make your way to the tip of Cape York.
The Dulhunty River is the next major crossing 27km past Palm Creek.
This crossing has a rocky bottom with holes in places. The easiest section to cross is on the right hand side driving along the bank first, however conditions change and walking it first is always recommended. You can bush camp here beside the river and swim in the rapids at own risk if clear visibility upstream.
Gunshot Creek is 14km past Dulhunty. This notorious Cape York crossing is known for mishaps by inexperienced drivers attempting the near impossible. There are a few different crossing points here and the conditions have changed dramatically over the years. The old crossings are very steep, potentially damaging to your vehicle and many have failed it. The most manageable route is to the far left and descends on a steep gradient to a slippery, muddy track ending in a hairpin bend. Think strategically before attempting this crossing and don’t lose momentum.
Cockatoo Creek is 10km further along. This crossing has a rocky bottom and holes are the main concern here. Walk the creek first and choose the best pathway for your vehicle. Bush camps are close to the river in a tranquil setting overlooking the crossing.
23km past Cockatoo Creek the Old Telegragh Track briefly intersects with the Bypass Road.
Continue on to Fruitbat, Eliot and Twin Falls just a few km's down the track which are definitely worth visiting. Fruitbat Falls is 3km in and a short walk takes you to these beautiful falls and freshwater swimming hole.
Eliot and Twin Falls are 7km further on and part of the Old Telegraph Track. A short walk leads to Twin Falls which are stunning falls with a gorgeous sandy-bottomed plunge pool and most refreshing. A quick stroll down the creek finds Eliot Falls which are also magnificent. Both falls flow into Eliot Creek which is the next water crossing just 1km down the track.
Eliot Creek crossing has a soft sandy bottom with a jump up exit onto limestone embankment. The entry and exit points aren’t adjacent so you have to drive a short stretch up the creek bed before exiting on the opposite bank. This is a nice place to camp and good swimming too.
Sam Creek is 4km down the track and is a clear creek with sandy bottom, flowing and cascading over a rocky ledge. Beware of deep holes in the creek bed and severely eroded track. Sam Creek is a beautiful spot to camp.
Mistake Creek is 1km further on and is a clear creek crossing with firm base and eroded banks.
Cannibal Creek is 2km on and has steep entry and exit points and a horseshoe bend which can be quite deep.
Cypress Creek is another 2km on and is a narrow log bridge crossing. Line your wheels up correctly on this one and having an observer guiding you over the bridge from outside the vehicle is a good idea.
Deep Creek crossing is 8km on and has a sand and gravel bottom which is quite firm. The creek is very deep and the water level is high so walking across to plot your route is seriously advised. Proceed with caution.
Bridge Creek crossing is 6km on and is crystal clear and waist deep. This creek is a gorgeous swimming hole with camp sites close by. It’s a great spot for cooling off and last swimming before the end of the Old Telegraph Track.
The mighty Jardine River 7km on marks the end of the
Old Telegraph Track. Previously this river was the final vehicular water
crossing but is now hazardous and not recommended. Not many tourists
attempt to cross this river due to the depth and flow and you would
certainly need a winch to get across. This river is now crossed on the
Jardine River Ferry accessible via Bamaga Rd 5km back.
The Jardine River Ferry operates daily between 8am-5pm and breaks for lunch generally between 12pm-1pm. Tickets are available from the service station near the crossing costing about $100 per vehicle return. Note that the shop is also closed for lunch and so are the fuel pumps. Camping is available behind the servo and water supplies can be replenished here.
Alcohol restrictions apply on the Cape York Peninsula, north of the Jardine River in many of the aboriginal communities. The types and quantities allowed per vehicle at any time are strictly stipulated. Possession is limited to 1 carton of mid-strength beer and 2 litres of unfortified wine. Heavy penalties apply.
Bamaga is the major town centre on the northern peninsula and is 45km from the ferry crossing via Bamaga Rd. The community operates a supermarket, bakery, service station, spare parts and repairs and a tavern/bottleshop with purchase limits according to local alcohol restrictions.
Seisia is another community just 6km northwest of Bamaga. The beachside township operates a great supermarket open 7 days and a meatworks with the option to have your meats vacuum sealed. Seisia offers beautiful ocean views, good fishing from the local jetty and a camp ground in town.
Loyalty Beach is 2km north of Seisia and is a lovely beach with a shady camp ground and 500 metres of waterfront grassy camp sites. There are also air-conditioned lodges, a two-story beach house and a licensed outdoor dining area. Tours to Thursday Island and fishing charters can be booked here at the kiosk and pets are welcome. Loyalty Beach is just 45 minutes from "the tip" of the peninsula and a beautiful location to set up camp.
About 14km past Loyalty is the Croc Tent, Cape York’s official souvenir shop and information centre. Free mud maps and advice are available here as well as a big selection of assorted souvenirs and clothing. The Croc Tent is located at the turnoff to Punsand Bay and is just 18km from the tip of Cape York.
Punsand Bay is 11km in and is a beautiful beach just 15km from the tip. The Punsand Bay Camping Resort offers cabin accommodation, beachside and bush camp sites, tavern, restaurant, swimming pool and pets are welcome. Thursday Island tours and fishing charters can be booked and depart from here. Punsand Bay is another great spot to base camp while exploring the tip of Cape York.
The tip can be reached by a four-wheel drive track from Punsand Bay, which can be impassable when wet, or via the Croc Tent. The shortcut is a soft sandy track requiring reduced tyre pressure and is 15km to the tip.
The tip of Cape York is very scenic and what an achievement it feels to stand at the northern most point of the Australian continent. The easy 15 minute walk over rocks to get there is beautiful with some remarkable views of the ocean and beach below. Wetting a line at the tip is a must for the keen fisherman. The deep waters off the tip are a haven for Snapper and Coral Trout and what better setting to enjoy fishing from than the tip of Australia.
It’s also worth exploring Mullholland Drive west of Punsand Bay, the Lockabie River area and many creeks between Loyalty Beach and the tip. These waterways bordered by mangroves are ideal spots to fish, crab and collect oysters from the coastal rocks. But don’t forget to pack the insect repellant, the sandflies and mosquitoes are friendly in these areas.
Offshore fishing on a charter boat is also great fun up Cape York. There are plenty of tour operators in the area with local knowledge, experience and best of all you’re practically guaranteed to catch something. Tours depart from directly in front of the camp ground off the Punsand Bay beach, Loyalty Beach and Seisia.
The Thursday Island tour is another experience worth considering whilst up Cape York. Travelling 19 nautical miles across the Torres Strait to this magnificent little island inhabited by delightful people is a great day out. The scenery is amazing, the guided bus tour is comically informative and the insight into the Torres Strait Islanders’ history and culture is valuable. Take note that Sunday is a religious day on the island and not much is open except for the hotel.
Somerset is another historic location of the Cape York Peninsula. 7km north of the Croc Tent turn right and 11km along is the original settlement of the Cape in the 1800’s. There are ruins remaining in the area as well as a small freshwater spring past the mangroves at the southern end of the beach. The northern end of the beach bears the graves of the pioneers and pearl divers. Further along around the rocks, accessible during low tide, is an intriguing cave with aboriginal paintings inside. Bush camping is permitted at Somerset and a toilet is located here.
Fly Point is just 3km east of Somerset and offers views from the rugged cliff top across to Albany Island. This is also a great place to wet a line and chase Mackeral, Snapper and Coral Trout. An alternate route from here takes you along the scenic coastline and rejoins the Somerset Road 7km on. The Beaches Loop Track is quite rough with rocky areas, washouts and soft sand.
The scenery and seafood are the essence of Cape York and unfortunately the time eventually comes on this adventure when you have to head south. The Bamaga Road offers a change of scenery for the Old Telegraph Track enthusiasts as well as access to more fabulous Cape York locations, so the fun isn’t quite over yet.
A few km west of Bamaga is the Umagico aboriginal community and beachfront camp ground. The shady coastal camp offers a peaceful setting and beach fishing with the option to launch a tinny from camp. Amenities are provided here and camping fees are payable at the Umagico Supermarket. Please note that alcohol is prohibited in this community.
Muttee Head and the Jardine River mouth are the next Cape York attractions accessible via Bamaga Rd. 12km from Umagico is the turnoff to Muttee Head. Follow the track 20km to the coast and the beautiful Muttee Head beach and camp area.
The Jardine River mouth and bush camping on the riverbank is accessible via Muttee Head. Just 100 metres from the beach the track forks, veer left here and left again at the next fork where the track turns to soft sand. There are plenty of spots on the bank to set up camp, the scenery here is gorgeous and the fishing is spectacular. The mouth of the Jardine River is prime fishing territory and the Barramundi are boofing here. Fishing the river mouth on incoming tide, a persevering fisherman caught his individual record of 96cm Barra on a Popper lure. What a beauty.
Vrilya Point is another beautiful camping area on the western side of the Cape York Peninsula. The turnoff is 28km south of the Jardine River ferry crossing and a further 32km finds the coast (veer right as the road forks some 26km in). The access road is very corrugated and a log bridge must be crossed. Camping is permitted at the point or you can drive about 10km north on the beach for more shady camp sites beside Crystal Creek which is good ground for mudcrabbing and fishing.
The Bamaga Rd briefly intersects the Old Telegraph Track at Fruitbat Falls, which is definitely worth revisiting for a refreshing swim, and continues to bypass it through Heathlands Reserve onto Bramwell Junction and back to the new Telegraph Rd.
64km south of Bramwell is access to Iron Range National Park via the Frenchmans Track. This rough slow-going 52km track requires a high clearance four-wheel drive to tackle the deep water crossings of the Pascoe and Wenlock Rivers. Access via this track ultimately depends on the river levels and weather conditions. Ask around locally to determine whether the track is accessible. Do not attempt to cross these rivers if you are hesitant or if rain is forecast, as consequently you could become landlocked on the opposite side until the waterways recede. If attempting this track proceed with caution, walk the crossings first and enjoy this scenic drive which eventually meets up with Portlands Roads Rd 59km from Chili Beach.
The alternate and more common route taken is the 164km Portlands Roads Rd north of the Archer River Roadhouse. Just 16km in is the Wenlock River crossing with a rocky bottom and varying depths. The sides tend to be shallower and an easier path.
A further 34km through the scenic national park is the Pascoe River crossing. This long wide crossing has a sandy bottom and is fast flowing so keep up momentum and don’t stop for anything. If you’re unsure about the soft bottom let your tyres down to increase traction and use low range 4wd. The depths of this river vary dramatically after rain so avoid getting landlocked and do your research first.
The drive through the ranges is incredibly scenic and 34km on is a lookout platform at Mt Tozer providing stunning views and a great backdrop for photo opportunities.
Chili Beach is 10km on past a couple of shallow creek
crossings. The beautiful beach is fringed with coconut palms and the
scenery is superb, although the weather is generally windy here due to
its location receiving the SE winds. The offshore island is accessible
on low tide and oysters can be pried off the rocks. There are several
camp grounds amongst lush rainforest and a permit is required and can be
obtained at the ranger station or self registration station for $5 per
adult per night. Toilets are located here and pets are prohibited.
Portland Roads is a scenic seaside community on the bay 15km from Chili Beach. The bay is fringed with tropical rainforest and is just gorgeous. The township is very small and no camping or supplies are available here, however there is a café serving morning tea and seafood lunches, a fishing charter and beach shack accommodation permitting pets.
Lockhart River is 40km southwest of Portland Roads on the way back out of the national park. The small aboriginal community has an art gallery displaying their native artwork. Photography is prohibited here.
Iron Range National Park’s beauty is definitely worth exploring
and the creek crossings are a lot of fun providing you are experienced,
well equipped and assess the situation prior to crossing.
The final point of interest of the Cape York adventure is the township of Laura and its Split Rock aboriginal art site at the bottom of the Peninsula Development Rd some 230km from the Iron Range turnoff, via Coen and Hahn River Roadhouse. The picturesque escarpment has many rock shelters with an extensive display of engravings and paintings representing the way of life in Quinkan country and is the most comprehensive in the state. The artwork is impressive however photography is prohibited as requested by the traditional owners.
The Cape York journey of a lifetime is an amazing experience appreciated by the true four-wheel drive adventurers, keen anglers and any outdoor lovers prepared for a rough ride and roughing it out with nature. Of course this remote holiday destination isn’t for everyone, but the enthusiasts out there researching this Cape York trip, you know who you are, and you’re about to embark on something unique and thrilling.
For more details on the Cape York adventure visit Cape York Australia