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Cape York Peninsula - Australia

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aerial picture of cape york
Cape York from the air
Cape York Peninsula

The northernmost tip of Australia.

If you don't have a four wheel drive, you don't want to hire one and you don't want to go on an organised tour Cape York might not be the place for you.

Parts of the Cape can be traveled in a conventional vehicle but only in the dry season between August September, and even then you will miss out on most of what there is to be seen.

The best time to visit the Cape York Peninsula is between May and November. There are many beautiful camping areas, some of which require permits for their use.
There are serious alcohol restrictions now in place restricting you to 2 litres of unfortified wine and a case of beer per vehicle. If you are caught with more make sure your bank account is well topped up as the fines can run into the tens of thousands of dollars plus vehicle confiscation, and you won't get it back, plus the possibility of some time in the lock up.

If you are driving up from Cairns, and not detouring to Cooktown, Lakeland will be your last major chance to top up your food and grocery supplies. More are available further north but they get less plentiful, with less choice and much more expensive.

If you are driving up from Cairns, and not detouring to Cooktown, Lakeland will be your last major chance to top up your food and grocery supplies. More are available further north but they get less plentiful, with less choice and much more expensive.
cape york position image

Lakeland to the tip is about 750 km

About 70 km ahead you will arrive at Laura. Here you can head of to the Lakefield National Park. The park stretches from the outskirts of Laura right up to where it meets the Coral Sea at Princess Charlotte Bay. This can be a difficult drive and certainly not one for ill-prepared vehicles.

There are four wheel drive tracks that link Lakefield National Park back to Cooktown. They are sometimes not the best so it may be wise to check with the locals before attempting it. 

If you were not going via Cooktown and Lakefield NP the your next stop would be the Hann River Roadhouse where you are able to camp. North of here is the Musgrave Homestead, where the route from Cooktown and Lakefield NP joins up on the way north.

For my money I would go to Cooktown first and then up through Lakefield National Park. It is a scenic and interesting route.

Cooktown street image Cooktown is a charming town to visit located on the banks of Endeavour River. Founded in 1873 the town was the centre of a thriving gold mining industry at the time. Endeavour River at Cooktown Image

Cooktown has a long history of survival, having almost disappeared at the end of the gold rush it was then evacuated during Word War II and, what was left, was almost totally destroyed in a cyclone in the early 1950's.

Since then it has become a tourists paradise and has been restored to its former glory. There is a lot to see in Cooktown.
Apart from the museums, where you can follow its history it has the Mount Cook National Park, Endeavour National Park and the Black Mountain National Parks right on its doorstep. The river is a beautiful boating destination and there are many places to go for those of you into bush walking and fishing.

Traveling from Cooktown to Coen via the Lakefield National Park means you don't have to double back to Lakeland before you start heading north, simply head out of town on the McIvor River Road. Continue for about 40 km, over the Endeavour River and passed the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park.

You will come to a junction where left goes to the Lakefield National Park and Battle Camp, our next destination. Right takes you to the Hope Vale Aboriginal Community and Cape Bedford.

If you want to camp around here there is a turnoff to the right, about 65km from Cooktown, to the Melsonby Homestead. There are camping facilities here as well as organised tours around the area.

Continuing straight, however, will take you over the Normanby River, which would normally 
sunset over Lakefield National Park Image
Sunset over Lakefield N.P.
present no problem in crossing, and about 20km further on is the turnoff to Battle Camp Station.

Battle Camp Station and the Battle Camp Range just to the south of here were named by a group of gold diggers who were heading west to the Palmer River to seek their fortune when they were set upon by a band of Aboriginals.

About 4km past Battle Camp, and 90 or so kilometers from Cooktown, you will enter the Lakefield National Park. You will need permit to camp here and they are available from the ranger at New Laura. As New Laura is about 50km further on you may be advised to arrange this permit in advance by phoning the ranger on (07)4060 3271.

You are only allowed to be in the park for a maximum number of 21 days. This should be ample time to have a good look around.

There are plenty of good camp spots around here as you head towards Old Laura. Most are a little of the track but any of the following places allow camping, Lake Ema, Horseshoe Lagoon, Welcome Waterhole, Laura River, Six Mile Waterhole and Twelve Mile Waterhole. Of those Lake Ema, Horshoe Lagoon and Laura River are probably closest to the track.

Never hesitate to talk to others you may meet along the way that have just come from where you are going. Often they can give you good information about road conditions, camp sites and so on.

Lakefield National Park gets its name from the fact that they are a lot of lakes in the area as well as the floodplains of the Morehead, Kennedy, Bizant, Normandy and Hahn Rivers.

kite hawk image
A kite Hawk on one of the lakes
Lakefield National Park gets its name from the fact that they are a lot of lakes in the area as well as the floodplains of the Morehead, Kennedy, Bizant, Normandy and Hahn Rivers.

It is bird watchers paradise with a multitude of different varieties. Other animals native to the area are wallabies and bats. The area is also infested with estuarine crocodiles so be very careful where you swim.

Fishing is allowed in the park and barramundi are plentiful. Check with the ranger at New Laura on the latest permit requirements as well as
Lily Lake in Lakefield NP image
A lily lake in the Lakefield NP
catches allowed as restrictions do apply.

The Laura River crossing is about 25km into the park and the crossing conditions will vary, depending on how long after the wet season you attempt to cross. You  will need to exercise caution if there appears to be a heavy flow of water.

Once over the river you will see the ruins of the Old Laura Homestead that was once occupied by early settlers into the area, which in those days was a very remote place to settle to say the least.

A short distance from the Old Laura Homestead entrance you will come across a road junction. Left will take you to Laura, about 30km south and on the Peninsula Development Road, the main route from Cairns north.

Turning right sees you head up through the middle of the Lakefield National Park and through Twelve Mile Hut, New Laura
and Lakefield itself where there is a good camping spot at the Normanby River.

It is here that you could head of north east to Cape Melville National Park.

North of Lakefield, at the Hahn Crossing of the North Kennedy River is a very popular camping spot that you could fine is even booked out. If so make for the camp area at the Morehead River Crossing about 15km further on, not as good as Hahn Crossing but not bad.

Just north of here at Saltwater Creek the road starts heading westwards towards the junction with the Peninsula Development Road at Musgrave Roadhouse, having exited the park at Nine Mile Bend and just before Lotus Bird Cottage.

Just north of here, at Saltwater Creek, the road starts heading westwards towards the junction with the Peninsula Development Road at Musgrave Roadhouse, having exited the park at Nine Mile Bend and just before Lotus Bird Cottage.
Lotus Bird Lodge image

Once at the junction turn right and head north for about 110km will arrive at Coen. This is a reasonable place to top up your tanks and replenish food stocks if needed. Some mechanical assistance can be obtained here but be prepared for a wait if you need spare parts.

North of Coen for about 60 km is the Archer River Roadhouse. The road takes you through the Mungkan Kandju National Park on both sides of the road.

If you go of to the right  you will see some spectacular countryside at the foot of the McIlwraith Range.  To the left Geike Ranges. You will need a permit to enter and there are camping facilities available.

About 50 km past the Archer River Roadhouse is the junction between the road of to the right and up to the tip or continue on towards the left to Weipa. Weipa is about 200 km from this point.

Weipa is an interesting place to visit and here you will find the bauxite mines which run tours around the mine for visitors. Weipa is also a top fishing spot and camping facilities here are good.

From Weipa if you want to rejoin the road north you can turn off to the left about 70 km out of town and head about another 45 km until you reach Batavia Downs, which is situated on the road to the tip.

If you decided not to go to Weipa, or went to Weipa and have now rejoined the road north at Batavia Downs you will find that the road north does start to deteriorate a little from here on, especially if there has been rain.

At Batavia Downs you can head on up to The Tip or you can turn off to the right and head up to the Iron Range National Park with its unique rain forests and wildlife unique only to this area. In the park you can visit the town of Portland Roads, further south is Lockhart River. Both are on the coast.

The road north of Batavia Downs takes you over several river crossings, the major ones being the Wenlock River, near the Old Moreton Telegraph Station and further on the Dulhunty River.

Telegrapf Track Bridge Crossing Turtleback Camper on Old Telegraph Rd telegraph Track
The resourceful TurtleBack Camper on the Old Telegraph Track - and yes the camper remained dry inside

There is a choice of roads north of the Wenlock River, the original track and a more recently constructed bypass roads. Check with the locals for up to date conditions if you are not sure.

In simple terms the newer road has less river and creek crossing, and whilst further in kilometers, is shorter in time. It would be a pity if you went both north and south on the newer roads as you will miss a lot of spectacular scenery, plus the need to test your four wheel driving skills.

Having passed the Wenlock you will be heading through the Heathlands Resource Reserve and then through the Jardine River National Park. Here you can see the spectacular Jardine River Falls and you will need to ride the ferry over the Jardine River.

Twin Falls Jardine River Image
Twin Falls - Jardine River
4wd crossing river image
4wd Crossing River
ferry river crossing image
River Crossing By Ferry

Some way further on you will come to the town of Bamaga where you can again replenish your stocks if needed. From Bamaga you can head a short distance west and visit the towns of Seisia and Injinoo.

This will be your last stop before you reach Cape York and the Pajinka Wilderness Lodge. You are now at the most northerly tip of Australia.

North of you are the Tores Straight Islands. If you wish you can take a boat ride over and pay them a visit.

You will now be heading for Cape York, Australia's most northerly tip, accessible only with reliable, well equipped four wheel drives.

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