Cape York Peninsula, one of the world’s last accessible wilderness areas, remains a land of few people and prolific wildlife living in rugged mountains, woodlands, grasslands, swamps and mighty rivers. Its 11 million hectares extends 1000 kilometres north of Cairns to the tip of the peninsula. Beyond Cooktown, most residents live in Aboriginal and cattle station communities and in small mining towns dotted along borders of large national parks. Care must be taken when planning how to get there as road access is limited at certain times of the year.
The Cape begins at Cooktown, which is easily accessible by air, sea or road from Cairns. The route from Port Douglas climbs the range through Julatten’s farmlets to Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine. The peninsula’s huge cattle stations start here and the panoramic views on the Desailly Range take on the aspect of the true outback with eucalypt forests and sandstone escarpments.
The Cooktown Development Road leads down to Black Mountain, named by the local indigenous people ‘Place of Spears’. This mysterious pyramid of stones is a natural geological formation thought to be 150 million years old. The ‘black’ colouring comes from the lichen that covers the thousands of stones making up the mountain. Cooktown, undoubtedly Australia’s most historic town, sits on the Endeavour River between the outback and the sea. Early pioneering history is reflected in the Cooktown Cemetery and Chinese Shrine on McIvor Road, and the James Cook Museum, which features the original anchor and a cannon from the ‘Endeavour’, Captain Cook’s famous barque. There are many walking trails around Cooktown’s scenic rim, one of the most popular is the road to Grassy Hill, a popular spot for shutterbugs because of its 360 degree views. A coastal road (four wheel drive only) links Cape Tribulation to Cooktown, presenting a highly scenic alternate route for this section. Just before Cooktown is the well known ‘watering hole’ of the Lion’s Den Hotel. A relic of gold mining days when pubs mushroomed in the town, the Lion’s Den is over 100 years old. You can enter the vast Lakefield National Park by continuing north from Cooktown past the Endeavour Falls on Battle Camp Road.
Lakefield is Queensland’s second largest national park and includes a vast wetlands area. Barramundi fishing is permitted and the maze of creeks and rivers that drain into nearby Princess Charlotte Bay is a fishing paradise. There is a fishing-closure from November to February each year, but for the rest of the year the limit is five barramundi per person. Lotus Bird Lodge is midway towards Musgrave Station, and perches on a lagoon where birds of a feather are known to gather nightly. Musgrave is the site of the old Telegraph Station, which still stands today as a historic building. An alternative route, (instead of bisecting the Lakefield National Park), is to go from Lakeland to Laura, home of many famous Aboriginal rock sites. Laura has accommodation, camping, postal services, meals, and a ranger station.
The ancient rock art near Laura is a highlight of Cape York. Known as ‘Quinkan’ rock art, there are literally hundreds of galleries hidden in the sandstone escarpment of the Great Dividing Range. The collection is held to be one of the largest bodies of primitive art in the world which depict the activities and culture of the Australian Aborigine in bygone years.
From Laura, the highway continues to the town of Coen, a regional centre for the cattle industry. There are camping grounds in town and on the Coen River two kilometres further north. If you’re hungry, stop for an ‘Archerburger’ at the Archer River Roadhouse. The next fork in the road is a key one, west takes you to Weipa, the biggest town in the Cape, and north continues along the Old Telegraph Road to the tip.
At Weipa, take a tour through the town’s mainstay, the bauxite mine, and enjoy a long overdue sight of the ocean. Inland, the Wenlock River crossing heralds true Cape adventure. The Telegraph Track continues to the Jardine River vehicular ferry, however a popular detour (and an extremely rewarding one) is to the delightful swimming spots of Fruit Bat Falls and further on to Eliot Falls, which is in fact two waterfalls; one on Eliot Creek and one on Canal Creek. The ferry charge includes a camping access fee for the surrounding Injinoo lands. On the eastern side of Telegraph Road, guarding the pristine wetlands of the Jardine River system is the Jardine River National Park.
Bamaga, the region’s service town has Injinoo Airport, a hospital, and postal services. From here, camping and fishing at the highly regarded sites of Umagico, Loyalty Beach and Seisia are highly recommended, while Punsand Bay and Pajinka resorts make excellent bases for such activities. The top of Australia beckons. It’s only one hour away, as the cockatoo flies. Punsand Bay Safari and Fishing Lodge is right on the beach and has guided fishing tours, a licensed bar and swimming pool, all day four wheel drive safaris of the region, tented accommodation, camping, air-conditioned cabins and restaurant dining. At the very tip lies Pajinka Wilderness Lodge. From here it’s an easy stroll across the grounds to the short walkway leading to the rocky outcrop where the seaspray touches a sign proclaiming to the unsure ‘You are now standing at the end of the Australian continent’.
The South Sea Islands become part of Australia just kilometres from the tip with the coral cays and atolls of the Torres Strait Islands, scattered like pearls across the water which separates Australia from its continental neighbour, New Guinea. The islands and seas of the Endeavour Strait around Cape York are home to the Kaurareg, a seafaring Aboriginal people and nearest neighbours to the Torres Strait Islanders whose domain extends through to Papua New Guinea. Mother of pearl was the first industry here, and the islands retain a laid back style reminiscent of the South Seas of old. Ferries cross regularly between Cape York and Thursday Island, the Strait’s administrative centre, where you can catch a taste of culture and the Coming of the Light Festivities each July.
Destination: Cape York Australia Duration: Day Tour
In ideal way to see the highlights of Cape York, the northernmost part of Australia. Cape York is considered to be one of the most remote, beautiful and diverse wilderness areas in Australia and is a real must see! Your Cape York Day Tour comes replete with expert pilot guide…
Destination: Cape York, Cooktown, Weipa & Thursday Islands Duration: 3 Days / 2 Nights
An aerial safari that offers participants the opportunity to see and experience select highlights of the Cape York wilderness and outback areas. This 3 Day / 2 Night air safari includes meals, accommodation, an expert local pilot as your guide and landings at Cooktown, Horn Island (with ferry transfer to…
Enjoy a fully accommodated Safari travelling overland from Cairns to Cape York with a flight from Horn Island in the Thursday Island Group back into Cairns. Maximizing your ability to see the highlights of Cairns to Cape York in a shorter styled itinerary,
Experience a 7 Day Drive / Fly Budget Accommodated Safari travelling up to the Cape via 4 Wheel Drive and a flight from Horn Island in the Thursday Island Group back into Cairns. Your Budget Accommodated Safari offers a variety of accommodation each night, with the outdoor camping experience and…
Enjoy select highlights of the Cape York area, this 7 Day Safari will see you camping off the beaten track, surrounded on all sides by the great outdoors, you have the rare opportunity to fully appreciate the many facets of Mother Nature at work.
Destination: Cape York Australia Duration: 10 Days
This safari combines the excitement of a cargo ship voyage between Cairns and Cape York with the adventure of a Cape York Safari. In a style reminiscent of bygone coastal steamers, experience the colour and serenity of a Barrier Reef voyage, the magic of the Daintree, the magnificent isolation of…
Destination: Cape York Australia Duration: 11 Days
An 11 Day Drive & Fly Cape York Safari will see you, camping off the beaten track, surrounded on all sides by the great outdoors, you have the rare opportunity to fully appreciate the many facets of Mother Nature at work.
Destination: Cape York Australia Duration: 12 Days
This tour combines the excitement of a cargo ship voyage between Cairns and Cape York with the adventure of a Cape York Safari. In a style reminiscent of bygone coastal steamers, experience the colour and serenity of a Barrier Reef voyage, the magic of the Daintree, the magnificent isolation of…
Destination: Cape York Australia Duration: 14 Days
A Cape York Safari, combining the excitement of a cargo ship voyage between Cape York and Cairns with the adventure of a Cape York Safari. Visit Australia's largest tropical lowland rainforest, home to rare flora, fauna and remnants of rich mining and wartime history. In a style reminiscent of bygone…