Distance: Around 2000km return, depending on where you stop / detour etc
Drive time: We took 2 weeks.
It’s one of the last great wilderness areas on earth; one of the most remote drives in a country that’s overflowing with off-road adventures; and home to warm-hearted, yet classic Aussie characters normally saved for the movies. I’m talking about a drive that’s ready and waiting for those of us who want to get out and really explore.
Yet, why is that not one person I know has ever bothered to “take on” the Cape York road trip?
I am not sure about you, but I always love to sniff out an epic adventure – one that has a distinct beginning and end – a bit like climbing a mountain. And taking on Far North Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula, felt exactly like that.
Besides, heading to Australia’s northernmost point is pretty obvious. There’s clearly only one way to go.
Every day was literally packed full of adventure.
Like most people, we kicked off our adventure from Cairns, the gateway to tropical Far North Queensland, and headed straight up the Captain Cook Highway via Cape Tribulation, where we eagerly jumped on board the cable ferry, crossing the crocodile infested Daintree River.
Our backyard is full of treasures – stop and explore.
We navigated our way through the Daintree Rainforest, the oldest continually evolving rainforest in the world (wind your windows down and take in the smell of the Aussie bush, it leaves you giddy).
Learn about the regions rich Aboriginal culture.
Hitting proper four-wheel-drive country, we manoeuvred our way along the Bloomfield Track, passing a (friendly?!) black headed python. Before turning off at the Wujal Wujal Falls we stopped at the small Aboriginal community of the same name, where we met with the Walker sisters. As custodians of the land around them including the sacred waterfalls, they have been operating rainforest walking tours since 2003, dedicating their lives to sharing the stories of their ancestors.
We stopped in the middle of the bush as they spoke of their longing to step back in time and be back with their larger family that once lived in these parts. Even for a day, they whispered.
By the time it came to talking about local bush tucker, they had green ants crawling up their arms, and delighted in offering us a taste!
Get out of your comfort zone
I must admit, we were filming for our TV series, so naturally we had to give it a go. I often wonder how daring I’d be if we weren’t. Alas, they tasted like lemons, and apparently have great medicinal properties – safety for the road ahead perhaps?
Looking for a cool drink to wash down the ants, lucky for us Queensland’s oldest pub (in its original form) is still standing. The Lion’s Den Hotel is just as you’d hope – full of every knick-knack you can imagine from the past 100+ years and surrounded by mango trees.
Think about the endeavours of Captain Cook.
It’s poetic that we pulled in for the night in Cooktown, named after the one of the world’s greatest explorers, Captain James Cook, who called the town home for 48 days while his ship the Endeavour was beached and repaired in 1770.
But we didn’t hang around for long. Like a magnet, the journey pulled us north to a little community called Hopevale, about 46 kilometres north of Cooktown. Home to a man named Willie Gordon, a Nugal-warra Elder and indigenous tour guide, who brought the bush alive with his warm welcome, showing off the Aboriginal rock art that had been etched into the landscape by his family thousands of years ago.
“Breakfast anyone?” He turned over a log with a smile, and presented a wiggling witchetty grub for us to toast on a fire and feast on. “You’ve got to be kidding”, I thought to myself. Yet again, that damn camera.
Within seconds, Willie threw our breakfast over his mini bonfire and kindly offered us some tucker. “They’re lovely and plump” he proudly announced. Somehow my mouth opened wide enough for a taste. Eyes closed. “Just chomp”, I told myself. To my surprise, it tasted quite nice; like roasted almonds. “Plenty of protein to ensure we’re strong enough for the road ahead”, I assured myself.
As we moved on, and the red dust kicked up from our tyres on the vibrant, yet sandy road, we followed the Peninsula Development Road towards the tip. A road, so long and straight, it plays tricks with your eyes. We’d only been on the journey for a few days, yet it felt like weeks.
Barely a soul in sight, the sun’s rays were unrelenting on the harsh landscape. As we approached a little town called Laura, a fresh water croc lay on the side of the road on the edge of a nearby creek bed.
You really start to appreciate the stuff people are made of to endure such a life here, both past and present. The surroundings in this neck of the woods are home to some of the richest Aboriginal rock art in the world; and you see evidence of the pioneering settlers who dared to carve out a life here over a century ago.
These days, just 80 or so people call Laura home. The town is pretty much made up of a general store, a local school AND one of Australia’s oldest surviving homesteads on what was a cattle station. While it’s now open to the public to come and have a look, back in the days of the gold rush in the late 1800’s it was running about eight thousand head of cattle, providing beef for the hungry miners.
I took a moment to stand inside the homestead with my four-month-old daughter on my hip, and as I walked across the creaky floorboards, I considered the true grit of those here before us.
And then back enroute, as though appearing out of nowhere, you’ll find places like Lakefield National Park. A bird watcher’s paradise, the wetlands are compared to the great Kakadu National Park in the NT.
Get up a sunrise with a cup of tea, and go sit by the lake. The symphony of birds singing is deafening. Brolgas; magpie geese; the black neck stalk – the list is endless. The sun reflecting on the water, with the warmth on your back felt timeless, almost prehistoric.
I’m always curious as to who is running these places. Take the trip, and you’ll find out.
I found the locals to be the kind who’ll put the kettle on and pull up a pew, share photos with you about how they survive the wet season when most of this land is under water. Their humour is also evident along the way….
We continued to push on, detouring slightly to the west, and the mining town of Weipa. The sheer size of the tyres on those mining trucks rolling past were terrifying. And again, a world away for us city-dwellers.
We stayed in an old cattle station that had turned its hand to tourism. As we enjoyed their famous corn fritters, we heard about life on the land. While it’s tough, the hardy locals said they would never live anywhere else.
As we kept travelling north, we pulled into one of the original telegraph stations that was built here in the 1880’s, the Moreton Telegraph Station. Spare a thought for the workers who opened up communications through the peninsular. Of course, a hundred years on, progress moved in and the old station shut down; but today it’s still standing for us to all come and see.
Choose your own adventures in life.
The tip is drawing closer. We made it onto the Old Telegraph Track, one of the highlights of the drive, and also the most challenging with 350 kilometres of wild and rugged countryside, and river and creek crossings (and also, crocs). It is simply impassable in the wet, but in the dry, we were up for the test and agape at the stunning scenery we found ourselves passing through. Note, this is 4WD only territory!
Once we crossed over the Jardine River by vehicular ferry, we were in what’s considered the NPA, the Northern Peninsular Area. All of a sudden the red dust ends, and the bitumen welcomes you into the towns – two thousand people make up the entire area of five communities.
Just a few hotels and camping grounds, it’s a place not tarnished by tourism, but just enough infrastructure for us to explore.
By the Coral Sea, the little inlet of Somerset was earmarked to be the capital of north Australia, but due to its poor location, Thursday Island got the gong instead. We spent a couple of nights here, although we could have spent a couple of weeks. It’s the jumping off point for Horn and Thursday Islands which you can easily reach by ferry (and we did, but that’s for another blog) to explore some of Australia’s most significant World War 2 history, and we also spent some time deep sea fishing, which the Top End is naturally known for. There has always been a little rivalry between Clint and myself when it comes to fishing, and when I landed a Spanish Mackerel, naturally the race was on. We had to stay 45 minutes longer on the ocean for Clint to reel in his catch – a black tip reef shark (which we then let go)!
Ready to charge to the tip
But we had one important mission for us all to achieve, and that was to stand right on the tip of Australia, the northernmost point. The tip can only be reached on foot, on a walking track that begins at Pajinka and takes around 15-20 minutes. Finally, we reached our goal.
Surrounded by the Coral Sea and Torres Strait, Mother Nature turned on one of her warmest welcomes. We sat in silence, watching the sun go down. Thinking about those who’d been here before us, and of those who will in turn follow after us.
The Cape York road trip to Australia’s northernmost point is one that you must “take on” with an open heart and mind, following in the footsteps of those who have been here thousands of years before us, and all who have left their trace since.
Have you taken on the Cape York adventure? Or another remote road trip of a similar kind? Tell us in the comments!