DESTINATIONS - TRAVEL DESTINATIONS
Cape York can be tackled in a variety of ways, from full-on, extreme 4WD tracks to the corrugated main road. This suggested itinerary takes in some demanding off-roading, but not hard-core tracks like the one through Gunshot Creek.
Right from the start of a Cape York odyssey there are route choices: the demanding CREB Track; the easier run around Cape Tribulation, stopping for a mandatory quiet one at the Lions Den Hotel; or the lazy bitumen drive to Cooktown.
Yet another choice is to bypass Cooktown, Old Laura Station and Lakefield National Park altogether and head straight for Musgrave Roadhouse and Coen.
Those who have experience of Cape York road conditions will be amazed by today’s surface, which is good all the way to Weipa. It’s also possible to enjoy ice creams, cappuccinos and other delicacies at Musgrave Station and Archer River.
The formerly rough stony river crossing at Archer River is now a raised causeway.
At Coen you can drop in for a coldie at the sExchange Hotel and camp on the beautiful Coen River. On previous visits we’ve poked around the old Coen goldfields – most memorably in the company of the late Irene Taylor, whose family has handed over operation of the Coen guest house.
Just north of Archer River you can take the Lockhart River turnoff and visit the Batavia Gold Mine ruins. From the mining relic site it’s possible to cross the Pascoe River and swing left onto Frenchmans Track, but the Pascoe River can be difficult to cross after rain.
Most Cape York visitors stock up on fuel and supplies in Weipa and enjoy the excellent camp ground. From there it’s an easy run through Batavia Downs to the Wenlock River crossing.
We know that the new high-level concrete Mulundudji Bridge is a boon for early and late season travellers and for the locals, but the sandy river crossing at The Wenlock used to be one of the highlights of a Cape York trip. Cape York regulars have memories of winching, towing and skull-dragging vehicles through the water flooded back as they drive across the bridge, some four metres above water level. Moreton Station has roadhouse supplies.
The next stop is Bramwell Station, where it’s possible to stay overnight in a cabin. Bramwell’s gigantic Cape Burgers make a filling lunch, before fuelling up at the Station’s service station at the junction of the Telegraph and Bypass roads.
On the Telegraph Road the next destination is the campsite at the Dulhunty River, which offers safe dunking in natural spa baths at rocky overflows, but in the peak season –winter – you need to camp early to enjoy a riverside site.
From the Dulhunty it’s possible to drive over the near-vertical bank drop at Gunshot Creek, but many a vehicle has suffered severe damage at this spot. An alternative route is the Bypass Road, which leads to the turnoff to Captain Billy Landing.
The narrow track to Captain Billy Landing winds through dense woodland and rainforest, in contrast to most of Cape York’s open woodland country. You may see pythons on the road, so take care not to run over these beautiful creatures.
The camp site at Captain Billy once boasted a shed, filled with flotsam and jetsam, along with travellers’ memorabilia, but the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service in its wisdom removed the shed and has replaced it with picnic tables and a shelter. They didn’t put the shelter on top of the original slab the mining company laid, so the concrete is still there – an unused eyesore. Unlike the shed the shelter isn’t wind proof, so you get blasted by the incessant south-east trade winds.
The next stops are the safe swimming holes on Eliot Creek – Fruit Bat Falls and Twin Falls – then a camp at the Champagne Pools on Canal Creek.
Getting out of the clay creeks and ponds will keep you focussed in the morning. The next challenge on the Telegraph Road is Cannibal Creek, where the water crossing is easy enough, but the climb on the northern side is up a steep, slippery clay bank that’s sculpted by water flows every Wet Season.
Teamwork is needed at the next creek crossing: Cypress Creek. This steeply-banked stream is spanned by a makeshift log bridge that needs rebuilding at the start of – and during – every season.
It’s normal to spend half an hour moving logs around before you can get across. Fat tyres with dropped pressures give much more log-gripping ability than skinny ones.
After the bridge rebuilding work at Cypress Creek it’s pleasant to arrive at Nolan’s Brook half an hour later, for a dip in the clear water.
This water crossing is often quite deep, so while you’re enjoying a dip it’s wise to check out the shallowest path to drive through.
Now it’s time to check out the east coast of The Cape, by taking the connecting track between the Telegraph Track and the Bypass Road, just north of Nolan’s Brook, and running south for four kilometres, before swinging right onto the Vrilya Point track.
This track has a log bridge creek crossing, but it’s a lot more user-friendly than the Cypress Creek arrangement.
There’s camping at Vrilya Point, or you can beach drive north and south to campsites that offer great fishing opportunities, but keep a wary eye out for crocs.
Don’t camp near the water for more than a day or two before moving on, so the crocs don’t become too inquisitive.
From Vrilya Point it’s an easy northbound run to the Jardine Ferry and the hot showers in the Seisia Holiday Park camp ground.
(We’ve heard recently that the Vrilya Point track has been closed due to bridge damage and mining lease ownership.)
The historic Somerset Homestead ruins are a must see, followed by the mandatory walk to The Tip of Australia. You can make the Somerset journey more interesting by doing the beachfront run from Nanthau.
Before you head off, remember there are strict grog control laws in force in parts of the Cape York area, so it’s important to be up to date on alcohol-carrying restrictions before you depart Cairns.
The videos below provides some tips for Cape York driving and show what motorcycle racing commentator Daryl Beattie does during the northern hemisphere’s motor sport summer break.
The Top End from Cooktown to the tip of Tip of Queensland
- Time required
Minimum of three weeks
- Best time to go
Dry season: June to September
- Things to do
Fishing, 4WD touring, Aboriginal culture and art tours, camping, extreme 4 wheel driving, photography, historic pursuits
HEMA Maps Cape York map
Jardine River ferry fee includes bush camping fees throughout Cape York. Fees apply at private camping areas. Queensland Parks and Wildlife now requires all camp site bookings to be made in advance.
- Track Closures
During the wet season: More information at http://www.cooktownandcapeyork.com/cook/roads
- Last fuel
Musgrave, Coen, Archer River, Bramwell Station, Jardine River, Bamaga, Seisia
- Alcohol limits
Alcohol restrictions apply in many communities in Queensland – different rules apply for each community.