As you continue heading north of Cooktown, you will find yourself in the area known as Cape York Peninsula, and at the very top, you will hit ‘The Tip’ – the northernmost point of the Australian mainland. This is one of those very special ‘bucket-list’ places, and one that we were very keen to explore and show the kids. This is a place where the sun is hot, the sand is soft, and the water is warm. Almost every body of water is idyllic and refreshing, although the persistent warnings of local crocodiles continues.
When embarking on an adventure to ‘The Tip’, you must be prepared though. It is a vast, rugged, and largely untouched piece of Australia, that is beautiful, magical and potentially very dangerous. There are limited fuel and grocery stops, the roads are very rough, and the sun can be very hot. A lot of planning is required, to ensure that your vehicle is up to the challenge, and that you are equipped with everything that you need.
Keep reading on for our top tips for Planning an Adventure to the Cape…
Investigate fuel and overnight stops
Whilst there are quite a few opportunities for road-side stops, there are limited designated camping areas, so it is important to know where they are, and the distances between them. Even moreso, if you are running an unleaded vehicle, as we are, fuel is limited, and only available at certain times of the day in some places.
For us, after leaving Cooktown we chose to stay at Musgrave Roadhouse, which was a 335km drive, via Old Laura Station. It had hot showers, a nice grassy camp area, fuel and a bar. Our next stop was Bramwell Station, a further 300km down the Peninsula Development Road. This is a massive working station that has a long history, and covers a large area of Cape York. In recent years, it has opened its doors to the tourist market, and now has accommodation units, camping, meals and a large undercover bar area. About 10kms further down the road is the Bramwell Roadhouse, another part of the station, that offers fuel, and marks the start of the Old Telegraph Track. We fuelled up here, which happened to be our most expensive fuel stop at $2.05/L!!!
To OTT or not to OTT?
The Old Telegraph Track (affectionately known as the ‘Old Tele Track’, the ‘Tele’ and the ‘OTT’) is a 150km track that winds through the top of the Cape. It is one of Australias’ most iconic 4WD tracks, a favourite amongst off-road adventurers, and was at the top of our must-do list! It has many creek/river/water crossings, with deep ruts, sandy bottoms, and limestone crevices.
A big question when planning a trip to the Cape is whether to take the Old Tele Track, or stick to the Peninsula Development Road (PDR). Whilst the PDR is still quite rough, dusty and very corrugated, it isn’t quite as tricky as the Old Tele Track. The condition of the OTT can vary greatly, depending on the time of year, the amount of recent rainfall, and even the time of day. It should only be tackled by experienced four-wheel drivers, and those that are very familiar with their vehicle and its capabilities. Due to the number of water crossings, and their varying depths, a high-clearance 4WD is an absolute must, as is sufficient recovery equipment (winch, Max Trax etc.)
Whilst we chose to tow our camper trailer through the Old Tele Track, many do not. Towing adds extra weight, length and therefore complications. However, our CUB Camper Trailer was specifically designed and upgraded for these types of off-road adventures, and it handled the tough terrain beautifully!
Click here for an in-depth look at our drive down the Old Tele Track!
Carry cash on you
When travelling to remote areas anywhere in Australia, and in particular, up to the Cape, it is highly recommended that you carry spare cash. Communications and telephone lines are not always reliable, and therefore EFTPOS is not available at times. This is particularly important when crossing the Jardine River Ferry. For our family of five, this cost us $129, and at the time had to be paid by cash.
As I mentioned earlier, the roads up and around the Cape are very dusty, and at times very sandy. The pressure that you run your tyres at is very important for maintaining safe driving, and increasing fuel economy. Ideally, when on sandy and rocky terrain, they should be much lower than compared to ‘normal’ bitumen driving conditions. Again, you should be very familiar with your vehicle and tyres with regards to what tyre pressure is best. Dropping your tyre pressures too low can cause the tyres to roll off the hub. However, keeping them too high can result in punctures, more wear and tear, and also greater fuel costs.
For us, the magic figure for our tyre pressure whilst on the Tele Track and the Cape was 18PSI on the front, 22PSI on the rear, and 22PSI on our CUB Camper Trailer – which proved to be just right.
Swimming Holes (safe ones!)
In our opinion, one of the best places to swim whilst up at the Cape is Eliot Falls, located at the halfway point of the Old Tele Track in the Jardine National Park. The swimming spot itself comprises three different swimming holes – the Saucepan, Twin Falls and Eliot Falls. Each are easily accessible via a short walk down the well-maintained boardwalk. Each area is different, catering for all ages of the family.
Not far from the Eliot Falls Campground is the Fruit Bat Falls. They are more easily accessible (don’t require driving through any water, as you need to do for Eliot), however they are for Day Use only, and camping is not permitted. The Fruit Bat Falls were also very popular, and provided multiple options for the whole family.
Our boys loved jumping off the cliff edge into Eliot Falls, whilst Madi loved the shallow, sandy bottomed wading area at the Twin Falls.
There are campgrounds at the Falls themselves, but they must be pre-booked via the Queensland Parks website (http://www.nprsr.qld.gov.au/experiences/camping/camping_bookings.html). [NOTE: With very limited to no telephone coverage up at the Cape, it is important to book this campsite whilst in service. You can’t pay the Ranger upon arrival.] As a heads up too, if you do intend to tow a camper through, we found that Sites 21, 22 & 23 were the best in terms of space and proximity to the Falls.
Accommodation at the Tip
Whilst up at the very Tip, there are a few commercial campgrounds to choose from – Loyalty Beach, Seisia, and Punsand Bay are probably the most popular. We chose to stay at both Loyalty Beach and Punsand Bay, and found them both great in different ways.
- No designated campsites, so find a space and make it yours!
- Plenty of beachfront options, some powered, some unpowered
- Westerly facing beach, providing beautiful sunsets
- Great fishing in a protected bay – which meant that the boys could take our small cartopper tinny out
- Great Beer Garden down on the water serving drinks and meals of an evening
- Required sites to be booked, so you could choose powered, unpowered or beachfront, depending on availability.
- Tasty wood-fired pizzas served daily from the Beer Garden
- Kids movies air each night in the outdoor theatre – still in ear and eye-shot of parents in the Main Bar!
- Beautiful powdery-soft sand creating a gorgeous beach to explore
- Small swimming pool – although when we were there not entirely clean looking or inviting (we didn’t swim in it!)
- Closest campground to the very Tip of the Cape
Throughout the Cape, numerous alcohol restrictions are in place, so you do need to familiarise yourself with these, if planning on drinking or purchasing alcohol whilst up there. A lot of communities are ‘dry-zones’ where consumption and possession of alcohol is not permitted at all. You can find out more information on what is allowed and alcohol possession limits at the Qld Government website https://www.datsip.qld.gov.au/programs-initiatives/community-alcohol-limits/northern-peninsula-area
As a side note, if planning on purchasing alcohol up in the top end, be prepared to pay for it! Take away alcohol can be purchased from the Bamaga Tavern after 12pm daily (closed on Sundays), however compared to the south, it is quite expensive! We paid $82 for a carton of Great Northern beers….!!! Definitely our most expensive alcohol purchase yet! And for you RTD spirit drinkers, a slab of Bundy cans will set you back $135!
Discovering the Tip
Most people who make the trek to the Cape do so to tick off a bucket-list item. At the very end of the Cape, there is a sign letting you know that you’ve made to the ‘Northernmost Point of the Australian Mainland’. From the carpark it is about a 15min walk up over the clifftop, and down to the marker. Considering how far it is from anywhere else in Australia, it is quite a feat to make it to the Sign, and the atmosphere there amongst the visitors is pure relief and joy!
There is an overall sense of achievement, and at times reflection. It is easy to sit and stare off in to the ocean, and get lost in your thoughts at the accomplishment that you’ve made. At the top of the cliff edge, there is also a memorial of lost loved ones, created by many families who visit. It is quite touching to read each of the memorials, and really demonstrates the special place that the Cape is to so many people.
Whilst there, we actually saw a Motorcross rider who rode his bike all the way to the Tip, up and down the rocky cliff – what a feat!
Other things to do at the Tip
- Visit the Croc Tent – This is the place to go for all of your official Cape York merchandise, souvenirs and more importantly, local knowledge. The guys at the Croc Tent are a wealth of information on things to do and see, road closures and conditions, and basically anything else you need to know about the Cape.
- Look for the Hidden Treehouse – Right up the top of the Cape, nestled in the middle of the jungle rainforest is a secret, hidden treehouse. I don’t know a lot about it, but believe that its an old bird-watching tower from the old (now derelict) Cape York Resort. It is very difficult to find, as its location is kept secret, but if you are lucky enough, someone may give you a hint! We were lucky, and after a bit of searching, did eventually find it! As you can see from the photo, it isn’t very structurally sound, so it best not to attempt to climb it!
- Explore the 5 Beaches Loop – A 4WD track on the north-eastern side of the Cape that takes you along 5 different beaches. A 4WD is a must, as you actually drive along the sand in most areas.
- Visit the WWII aircraft sites – Just outside of Bamaga, the central town at the top of the Cape, there are two WWII Aircraft wrecks, that have been preserved. The first that we found was the WWII DC3, which is in surprisingly good condition for its age, and the next was the Bristol Beaufort Bomber. Both have fences around them, and memorials to those who lost their lives.
I’m sure there is plenty more to do and see up at the Cape – this is just a run-down of our trip. I know that we’ll be back again to discover and explore all the rest that we missed!