Epic Cape York

Multiple Locations

Spend a week on an adventurous drive into an untamed wilderness area to stand at the very top of Australia. Epic Cape York is a remarkable journey through Cape York Peninsula taking in memorable pubs, ancient rock art and spectacular natural scenery.

Drive along red outback roads, explore wetlands brimming with birds and fish, discover gold town ruins and try your luck at isolated fishing spots. Be amazed at the diverse birdlife, admire Aboriginal artists at work or enjoy the hospitality of a country race day. Test your four-wheel driving skills tackling treacherous creek crossings on the Old Telegraph Track and cool off in stunning waterfalls.

The adventure doesn't end at the tip of Cape York. Take a ferry to visit Thursday and Horn Islands, two of the 274 islands of the Torres Strait. Discover the diverse history of the Torres Strait Islanders which includes World War 2, the pearling industry, vibrant headdresses, colourful dance, ancient carving and modern printmaking

Journey Details

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Activities

  • Birdwatching
  • Camping
  • Canoeing
  • Hiking/Trekking
  • Off Road Driving
  • Swimming

Other Information

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Family friendly – please refer to operator's website for services and facilities.

Full Itinerary

Start in historic Cooktown where monuments and museums are reminders of the town's rich history. Join the Peninsula Development Road at Lakeland and travel to Laura, where the bitumen ends, to see the Quinkan rock art galleries, one of UNESCO's top 10 rare rock art sites, before heading north past Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, famous for its fishing and wildlife.

Stop at Musgrave Roadhouse which was built as an overland telegraph station in 1887, then discover more about Cape York's history at Coen before driving through Oyala Thumotang National Park past the scenic waterholes of the Archer River. Continue north to Bramwell Junction to access the adventurous Old Telegraph Track. This is where your four-wheel driving skills will be put to the test with steep eroded banks and challenging creek crossings. The hard work is rewarded with beautiful scenery including Fruit Bat, Eliot and Twin Falls.

From the Jardine River ferry head to Bamaga and then it is 32 kilometres and a short walk to the northern most point of Australia. Standing at The Tip you can see the Torres Strait islands which can be accessed by boat from Seisia.

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Drive past the coffee, fruit and sugar farms of Mareeba on the Atherton Tablelands for the drier country of Cape York Peninsula. The Mulligan Highway is an easy drive on a fully sealed road to historic Cooktown.

Stop at Mount Molloy to see the grave of explorer James Venture Mulligan who discovered gold on the Palmer River in 1873, a find that opened up that region and turned Cooktown into a booming gold rush town.

There is fuel and food at Mount Carbine or cool off in the McLeod River, another 13 kilometes north. Next is the Palmer River Roadhouse which has a museum with fascinating relics from the Palmer River goldfields. Lakeland is the last stop for fuel before you reach Cooktown.

The highway crosses the Annan River which has a campsite and toilets as well as a walk to the spectacular gorge. The mysterious Black Mountain looms in the distance and it is not until you get you close that you realise it is a pile of enormous granite boulders precariously stacked on each other. It is another 25 kilometres to Cooktown where you can enjoy museums, monuments and a streetscape rich with pioneering history.

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Lush rainforest, spectacular beaches and mysterious mountains - this is the adventurous coastal Bloomfield Track.

Start at Mossman Gorge in the southern section of Daintree National Park where you can take a bush tucker tour with the area's traditional owners, swim in the icy waters of the Gorge or take a self-guided walk through the rainforest.

Daintree Village is popular for spotting wildlife including crocodiles on a river cruise before your adventure starts at the Daintree River Ferry, an unforgettable river crossing.

Watch for cassowaries as you drive through ancient rainforest with prettty beaches and creek crossings before reaching Cape Tribulation where the two World Heritage areas of the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest meet.

Leave the bitumen for an exciting four-wheel-drive journey crossing the Bloomfield River to the Aboriginal art centre at Wujal Wujal, and the township of Ayton.

For a touch of authentic Australiana stop off at the Lion's Den Hotel at Helensvale, an old Australian pub, and then continue through to majestic Black Mountain. The giant piles of black granite boulders have been the subject of Aboriginal legend over many years.

The quaint and historic township of Cooktown marks the end of your drive.

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Spectacular Roaring Meg Falls is just one of the highlights on the adventurous CREB Track. Lush tropical rainforest, clear flowing streams and spectacular views from ridges, make this an exciting journey.

The CREB track is a very steep and rough so driving times vary and it closes during the wet season. Originally the service access track for the old powerline to Cooktown for the Cairns Regional Electricity Board (CREB), the track takes you through the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area from the Daintree River through China Camp to Wujal Wujal.

Your adventure begins when you cross the Daintree River in your four-wheel drive not far from Daintree township. There's some very steep and slippery tracks along the way to challenge your four-wheel driving skills. The track crosses through the Burungu Aboriginal community and at the northern end is Roaring Meg Falls. There is an Indigenous-run campground just north of Wujal Wujal community, before you reach Bloomfield.

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Marvel at one of the world's top rock art sites on this drive from Lakeland to Laura. Start at the small farming centre of Lakeland, a great place to stock up on supplies including local tropical fruit and Laura Valley coffee. It contains a hotel, cafe, roadhouse and a small store. About 50 kilometres from Lakeland is the turn-off to Split Rock (Gugu Yalangi) Galleries. The galleries contain the best surviving examples of Quinkan rock painting, one of the most distinctive styles of Aboriginal art, dating back about 14,000 years. The area is known as Quinkan country after the Aboriginal spirits (Quinkans) depicted at the rock-art sites. A few of the sites are open to the public, including the Split Rock Galleries where you can take a self-guided tour.

At Laura, don't miss the world-class Quinkan and Regional Cultural Centre for more information on the tours available. The Centre is also a world-class Interpretation Centre of Aboriginal Culture and the European heritage of Cape York. Laura boasts only a few buildings, including the quaint old Quinkan Pub nestled in the shade of mango trees.

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This adventure drive from Cooktown will take you to extinct volcanoes, waterfalls, rock art sites, spectacular sand dunes and even coloured sands. Travel north from Cooktown to Barrett's Lagoon with its birdlife and water lilies. Mount Rose, an extinct volcano, can be seen as you approach the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park.

Endeavour Falls is just one waterfall with access through the beautiful parkland. Enjoy a swim in the crocodile-free swimming hole at the base of the Falls. Continue north to Hope Vale and Coloured Sands, one of the most spectacular sand dune environments on Cape York.

The new Hope Vale Arts and Cultural Centre, The Nganthanun Bamawi Bayan Gallery, is a must with its local arts and crafts.

Hidden in the hills surrounding the township are the Nugal rock art sites, set in a beautiful, ancient country with giant rocks and stunning views. Join Nugal-warra Elder and story-keeper, Willie Gordon, on a magical tour of his ancestral rock art sites.

Remote and beautiful Elim Beach, with its white sand and fringing reefs, is about 20 kilometres past Hope Vale. Coloured Sands is along the beach, four-wheel-drive with caution at low tide, or an easy 300 metres walk along the sands.

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Discover the relics of the gold rush of the 1870s as you drive through the Palmer River goldfields to the heritage-listed ghost town of Maytown. The unsealed four-wheel drive track is accessed from the Mulligan Highway, on the Whites Creek Road turnoff, 67 kilometes north of Mount Carbine. Travel is slow and the road cannot be accessed during the wetter months. Stay to the marked track as there are many side tracks which lead to mining leases.

The wide streets of the former township of Maytown can be seen with their deep stone gutters and the remains of the baker's oven is still there. Nearby are tracks to former mines where the enormous machinery has been left behind, including the King of the Ranges Mine, Mabel Louise workings and the Queen of the North Mine. Bush camping is available on the southern side of the North Palmer River and can be booked through National Parks. You will need to bring everything you need with you to this remote area.

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From Cooktown, access to Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park is via the four-wheel drive track of Battle Camp Road. Travel past Endeavour Falls to the start of Battle Camp Road and stop at Isabella Falls to cool off in the water before heading west. Wind around the mountain range to the Normanby River. The river is dry if you are travelling well after the wet season. If it still has water in it do not swim as it is a crocodile habitat. Head past the gate of Battle Camp Station and in to Rinyirru National Park. Cross the Laura River, which usually has some water in it, and then you will arrive at Old Laura Homestead where you can explore the ruins of the former cattle station.

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With its incredible river systems and wetlands, Rinyirru National Park, formerly Lakefield, is the most popular park on Cape York Peninsula for fishing and wildlife spotting. Access is limited to the drier months and exploring this large national park will require extra fuel to be taken.

The ruins of the Old Laura Homestead can be seen as you enter the park from Laura and then it is a short drive past the camping spot of Twelve Mile Waterhole to the New Laura Ranger Station. It is worth stopping at Catfish Waterhole, about halfway between New Laura and Lakefield Ranger Station, to see the variety of wildlife including crocodiles, waterbirds and turtles in the permanent waterhole.

Near Lakefield Ranger Station is Kalpowar Crossing on the Normanby River which has the most developed camp sites with toilets and fireplaces and is close to deep stretches of the river. About eight kilometres north of the Lakefield ranger base are the spectacular Red and White Lilly Lagoons. The Hann Crossing on the Kennedy River is a pretty and popular camping spot with good fishing downstream. The tracks then winds back to the Peninsula Development Road, rejoining it at Musgrave Roadhouse.

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This four-wheel drive adventure involves rough tracks, creek crossings and beach driving to the spectacular coastline of Cape Melville National Park. Travel north from Cooktown past Endeavour Falls to Battle Camp Road and on to Isabella Falls where you can cool off in the water.

From Battle Camp Road it is a 30-kilometre drive before you veer right. Continue for three-kilometres past the Morgan Junction turn-off and veer left to Starke Homestead, travelling past Mount Webb National Park. The road to the right takes you to Cape Flattery. The track deteriorates to a rough four-wheel-drive route where you will pass through a number of gates and creek crossings which may be washed away.

The Starke River has a number of good camp spots after the crossing or head for Cape Melville National Park, near the Jeannie River.

Bathurst Bay is a great place to camp on the beach with fresh water springing from a stream at the base of the range of granite boulders. A monument can be found two-kilometres from the top of Cape Melville and another 200-metres inland. It commemorates the more than 300 lives lost when a cyclone wiped out the pearling fleet there in 1899.

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This trail is suited to those with limited four-wheel driving experience, taking in open woodlands, melaleuca swamps and rainforest between the Archer and Coen rivers. It tends to be less crowded than other National Parks and is excellent for bird watching, but cannot be accessed in the wetter months.

The Oyala Thumotang National Park turnoff is 25 kilometres north of Coen, and then 60 kilometres to the next turnoff where you can head to 10 Mile Junction Camp or continue on another four kilometres to Rockeby Station and on to Mango Lagoon.

A number of picturesque camp sites can be found along the Coen River until you reach Horsetailer Waterhole on the Archer River. The national park is rich with bird species including the palm cockatoo, Australian bustard and a variety of water birds. Crocodiles inhabit the lagoons and you may see a spotted cuscus in rainforest bordering a waterhole. Fishing is allowed in all creeks and rivers within the park, except Peach Creek. Camping must be booked in advance with National Parks.

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Cape York Peninsula boasts great fishing with mighty rivers, secret waterholes and secluded beaches among the spots favoured by anglers.

Cooktown is where you can head to the Great Barrier Reef to target prized reef fish like coral trout and red emperor, fight a Spanish mackerel or try the ultimate in fishing - the giant black marlin during the season. Barramundi is another exciting species to catch and the Endeavour River offers plenty of great spots to choose from.

Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park is very popular with anglers, especially those with their own tinnie. From Cooktown you travel via Battle Camp Road with a four-wheel drive. Barramundi is the most popular species with three major river systems and plenty of waterholes to choose from.

From Kalpower Crossing you can head into Cape Melville National Park on Wakooka Road to fish the pristine waters of Bathurst Bay. Fishing off the beach may snare you cod, flathead, queenfish, grunter or a barra. Heading back towards Cooktown stop at the Starke River to try for mangrove jack and barra with a fly or lure. There is an all-weather boat ramp there and the tidal inlets offer great mud crabbing.

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With a number of geographical regions merging in Cape York Peninsula there are incredible birdwatching opportunities. Wet Tropics rainforest, dry woodlands, coastal wetlands, mangroves as well as the Great Barrier Reef and its islands all have an array of birds. Migrant species arrive from October to early December.

In Cooktown cruise the Endeavour River to see black-necked storks and mangrove robins, listen to the yellow oriole and varied triller at the botanic gardens or discover barred cuckoo-shrike on the Mount Cook walking path. Head north to Endeavour River Valley where red goshawk inhabit the riverine forest and bustards can be seen on farms.

Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park is renowned for birds including white bellied sea eagle, great egret and little pied cormorant. Its Red and White Lilly Lagoons and Low Lake are where you will see waterbirds. Artemis Station is home to the rare golden-shouldered parrot or stay at Lotusbird Lodge, named after the jacana.

Nearby Laura has dry country species such as the diamond dove, while Lakeland is where you will find sarus cranes and square-tailed kites before observing honeyeaters at Annan River. On your return to Cooktown visit the bird hide at Keatings Lagoon to see pygmy-geese.

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The tip of Cape York has a rich heritage marked by explorers and war. Muttee Heads was an important landing point for military supplies during World War 2. The remains of the jetty and gun pits can be seen and there is a radar tower and gun emplacements on the hill.

Near the beach is a cemetery and monument for the people of Saibai Island who landed there in 1948 after their Torres Strait home was swamped by a king tide. More World War 2 history can be seen near Bamaga Airport where there are the remains of a Kittyhawk fighter and a Beaufort Bomber. Established in 1864, the northern settlement of Somerset was abandoned in 1942 for the war.

The ruins include monuments, stone walls and cannons. The grave of Frank Jardine, the former Magistrate of the Territory and Chief Police Inspector, can be seen near the beach. Around Punsand Bay are the remains of a wartime camp, army communication station and fuel dump. Offshore is Possession Island where Captain James Cook raised the English flag on August 22, 1770. The site is marked with a small monument and can be visited with a local boat charter.

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Start at Bloomfield Falls with a Walker Family tour learning about the significance of the rainforest and its resources to the Kuku Yalanyi people. Visit the Bana Yirriji Art and Cultural Centre at the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal.

In Cooktown, the James Cook Museum is where you can discover the Aboriginal perspective of the arrival of Captain James Cook and hear the stories of the people who lived at the Cape Bedford Mission.

Take a Guurrbi Tour with Nugal-warra elder Willie Gordon to learn about the rock art around Hope Vale. The Hope Vale Arts and Cultural Centre is where the Guugu Yimithirr is still spoken by the local people who are passing on their cultural traditions. The Quinkan rock art galleries at Laura are the world's largest body of prehistoric rock art and one of UNESCO's top 10 rare rock art sites in the world.

Take a self-guided tour or book a guided tour with an Aboriginal elder at the Quinkan and Regional Cultural Centre to gain a better insight into the mysterious Quinkan creatures.

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The Old Telegraph Track is an adventure through the scenic heart of Cape York Peninsula to the Jardine River. The track follows the original telegraph line and provides some challenging creek crossings to test your four-wheel driving skills.

Start at Bramwell Junction with the first difficult crossing at the steep banks of Palm Creek. Dulhunty River is a good place to camp before you tackle Gunshot Creek where many a driver needs to pull out the winch.

Walk Cockatoo Creek first to find the best way across the uneven rocky bottom. Follow the track to the Northern Bypass Road and turn left, then nine kilometres later turn right to rejoin the Old Telegraph Track.

Turn off to Fruit Bat Falls for a swim on the way to the campground at Eliot Falls National Park where you can enjoy Eliot Falls and Twin Falls. Back on the track you will cross eroded creeks and deep water crossings before the track becomes sandy and you reach the Jardine River.

Backtrack to the turn-off north of Nolan's Brook to access the cable ferry to cross the river and head to the northernmost tip of Australia.

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Travel through the ruins of the Old Batavia Goldfield to Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, where you can see heath-covered ranges, tropical lowland rainforest and long sweeping beaches.

Turn off the Peninsula Development Road 36 kilometres north of the Archer River and drive through the Wenlock River crossing to reach the Old Batavia Goldfield. Here you will find old mining machinery, mullock heaps and the grave of William Stanley, the field's last inhabitant who died in 1957.

To the north of Pascoe River, the track skirts the mountain range before taking you in to the National Park and to Mount Tozer Lookout. From there it is a short drive to a T-junction where you turn left to reach Portland Roads and Chili Beach. The track on the right leads to the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River where you can tour its art gallery, the home of the internationally acclaimed Lockhart River Art Gang.

The 45 minute drive to Chili Beach takes you past a number of camp sites and the turnoff to Portland Roads. Camping at the palm-fringed Chili Beach can be booked through the National Parks' website.

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