Cairns - Cooktown
An alternative to reaching Cooktown
via Cape Tribulation
is the little used CREB track
through the Daintree
rather than via Cape Tribulation
. This is by far more challenging so if you're not up to it the alternative route to Cooktown
is listed at the end of these notes. Do not attempt the CREB if there has been recent rain. This is a very steep and slippery, boggy route through the heart of the Daintree
wilderness, following the line marked out for laying the power poles for the Cairns
Regional Electricity Board and is little used.
Heading North out of Cairns
head towards the Daintree
Village. The first real test of driver and vehicle starts here - crossing the Daintree
River. This river is unpredictable and contains crocodiles but you must walk it to test the depth and current. There are often cattle moving from bank to bank and you get a fair idea from their progress as to the river's suitability for crossing. Most times it should only reach to your knees but be sure to check for deeper holes.
The CREB track
beings on the other side of the river and even in dry times can provide challenging bogs in the first few kilometres. There are many beautiful places
along the CREB to stop for a camp, mostly around river crossings, otherwise the track is mostly tight and dense with jungle crowding in on both sides. For a full day's drive you might like to head all the way through to the south arm of the Bloomfield River otherwise known as Roaring Meg Falls
. (GPS) The track off the main route is unmarked can be difficult to find and can be boggy. Roaring Meg Falls
can also be reached via the alternative route via Cape Tribulation
by detouring from near the Bloomfield River. Roaring Meg Falls
is a sensational sight and there is camping by the banks of calm pools and is a delightful safe place for swimming and walking.
It's only about an hour's drive from Roaring Meg Falls
to the Bloomfield River near Wujal Wujal
on route to Helensvale and the The Lion's Den Hotel, most of the time is spent getting out of the Roaring Meg Falls
track back onto the main CREB track
Once off the CREB track
the road surface improves and you pop out of the dense rainforest into open grazing land. The drive can be dusty and will test your lungs and air cleaner. Most people travel the Cape with the air conditioner turned on to reduce the amount of dust choking their lungs and spreading through their belongings packed in the cabin of the 4WD.
The Lion's den is unbelievable. In the middle of nowhere, other 4WD travellers can't help themselves but to stop and enjoy one of the few cold beers available on the Cape. Camping is available out the back on a quiet stretch of sloping green grass near a stream. But there's meals, a pool table and great atmosphere in the Lion's Den to enjoy.
It's just a 35km trip into Cooktown
on more of the same easy firm but dusty roads. Along the way there's a worthwhile stop at Black Mountain, composed of enormous boulders that are in fact grey but appear black because of a covering of blue-green algae. The boulders are all piled upon one another in some precarious ways with some dauntingly large caves and cracks in between but its a worthwhile climb for great views (but we don't know anyone that's made it to the top).Cooktown
is worthy of a decent stay. Soak up your early Australian history with a visit to the museum, the lighthouse, the cemetery, the beach front, bays and the lookouts. There are many facilities for the traveller in Cooktown
and it is a major centre for booking cruises and tours, hiring 4WDs, or arranging air charters, coaches and boats.
Cooktown - Bathurst Bay
there are a choice of routes. Either north to Hopevale and onto Lakefield NP or taking a detour to the coast at Cape Melville
via Starke. The track beyond Hopevale deteriorates significantly especially beyond Starke Homestead. It takes around 8 - 9 hours to travel to Wakooka and another 3 or so to Cape Melville
. Bathurst Bay
is attractive to those looking for camping and fishing. You can camp along the beach front with water available from a small stream although you may be plagued with sandflies here (as in many other places
on the Cape). The trip out to Bathurst Bay
is a one-way return from Wakooka and as the ruts can make travelling slow and frustrating you may prefer to off-load your trailer at Wakooka and pick it up on the way out. (Chaining it to a tree is probably the safest). There are no facilities at Cape Melville
or Bathurst Bay
and you must be completely self-sufficient, have at least 2 vehicles in your group and at least one HF radio
or sat phone in case of emergency. However this part of the coast will provide keen travellers with remote camping and excellent fishing opportunities, although mosquitos and sandflies are in plague proportions.
Bathurst Bay - Musgrave
Head back to Wakooka and veer west on a faint track alongside the old airstrip
. It will take about 4 hours to get to Lakefield via Kalpower through some deep river crossings and swamp. There is a ranger station, toilets and a camp ground at Kalpower and Musgrave is just 105km north and Laura 85km south.
From Kalpower along Lakefield Road conditions
are generally good, you might even top 80km/hr! If you're heading to Musgrave you can avoid going to Laura and the Development Track by heading north-west via Hann River Crossing and Marina Plains
HS. At Marina Plains
HS you are right near Princess Charlotte Bay. The best camps in the area are at Kalpower Crossing on the Normanby River, Hann Crossing on the Kennedy River, Top Whiphandle and Bottom Whiphandle Waterholes around Bizant.
Musgrave is a major stop on the main Development Road. It is a historic fortress telegraph station built in 1887 but now there's a public phone, airstrip
and complimentary cane toads. Food is available from the restaurant/shop
from 7am – 12 midnight. There's a campground out the back and there are good toilets and showers - camping is free unless you require a shower and then it will cost you $2. ! There are no laundry facilities but there is a bar and pool table and 10 rooms for more civilised accommodation.
Musgrave - Weipa
Whether you are headed to Weipa
or the Overland Telegraph Line continue north along the Development Track past Musgrave to Coen
and Archer River. The track here is stony and corrugated and has a few dips, gullies and dry creek crossings (usually).Coen
has a few stores, the notorious Exchange Hotel, known as the Sexchange Hotel, you'll see why when you get there. Coen
is a small town with a big Gold Mining history. 3km out of town in the dry bed of the Coen
River you can camp for free, but there are no facilities.
DPI&F Coen Information & Inspection Centre
the DPI&F Coen
Information & Inspection Centre is located 22km north of Coen
township it offers free Cape York
information kits & public internet service for all persons heading north, the only item that travellers can’t bring into the Cape York
Pest Quarantine Area from the south is “Sugar Cane”, All fruit & vegetables items carried when travelling south out of the Cape York
Pest Quarantine may require an inspection depends on the condition of items carried, If purchased from Woolworths store please display docket before inspection, Note; Plants & fruits of Mangoes & Banana’s must not be moved out of quarantine without an inspectors approval.
65km further on is Archer River with just one establishment, the roadhouse but oh what great burgers! The camping around Archer River is wonderful and you can go off and wander or camp in the grounds of the Roadhouse, or in one of their rooms. Facilities include washing machines. As for all these major stops, credit cards and Eftpos is accepted and things are not as primitive as you might be imagining. With over 10,000 4WD travellers passing through the Cape each season, these establishments look forward to your custom. If you travel outside the peak season you might find things a little different. Take a look at the photo album of past wet seasons and the incredible transformation of the land at Archer River Roadhouse
. Get stuck during these times and you may find that modern systems don't work too well.
Just out of Archer River you have a choice of routes: West to Weipa
, North along the Overland Telegraph Road or NE through the Iron Range NP.
The Peninsula Development Road out to Weipa
has more of the Cape's notorious corrugations but is effectively a wide, graded dirt freeway and the 190km trip will take about 2 hours driving. Weipa
, is one of the easiest places
to get to one the Cape and is worth the visit. Weipa
began as a tiny mission outpost of the Presbyterian Church in 1989 by later discoveries of bauxite, the raw material for aluminium, saw the town prosper under the ownership of mining giant, Comalco in the 19060s. You can take tours of the bauxite mine, fish or catch up some shopping and laundry. Visitors can use the public swimming pool and there are medical centres, vehicle repairers and all facilities you could ever need. The fishing around Hey, Embley and Mission Rivers are reputed to be very good.
Weipa - Eliot Falls
This route is no longer open to the public and Stones Crossing is only passable to those that make private arrangements with the owners. Sorry, we have no contact details at present.
Dulhunty River - Eliot Falls
The drive to Dulhunty River is fast yet corrugated with just a few dips and creekbeds (usually dry). Dulhunty River is one of our favourite spots on the Cape with running rapids and rockpools.
The exit from Dulhunty River is via one of two often rutted and steep inclines. From here there are a number of creek crossings, most will have decent amounts of water even in a very dry season. The most impressive crossing is Gunshot, 15km from Dulhunty. There are numerous access points into the creek from the steep embankment
and all involve driving through relatively deep water and up another steep incline. Obviously, it is difficult to predict the condition of the crossing and you'll have to make up your own mind on seeing it yourself. The bypass is east towards Heathlands Ranger Station
. This is probably the hardest crossing on the run north.
Eliot Falls - Jardine RiverEliot Falls
to the Jardine River
is just 31km but will take around 2 hours driving. There are 5 main crossings in this section, but you can avoid them if you wish, and you must if you are towing a trailer.
Jardine River - Seisia
Unless you intend to cross the Jardine River
you will need to return 6.2km to the bypass road, which will soon have you at the vehicle barge that crosses the Jardine River
. Note the Jardine River
is usually 10m at the ferry crossing with a fair current. For this reason everyone now crosses the river via the ferry and not by driving across the river as was done in the past. The ferry runs on demand during business hours, but there is a campground facility at the ferry site, right on the river. Fuel (diesel and unleaded - no lpg) is also available.
The Jardine Ferry costs (prices current Dec. 2004):
Per vehicle - $88 return (no one-way ticket option)
Trailers - $11 on the ferry
No specific permits are required to camp or to travel through Aboriginal Land (Injinoo
people), it is included in the Jardine Ferry fee. You will receive an information booklet, a rubbish bag and your receipt, which is required for the return journey (there is no one-way ticket price).
Once your taken the ferry across the Jardine its not far into Bamaga
or further up to Seisa, the most northern town in Australia
. Both towns have all facilities and supplies.
For any trip to Cape York
, if you've made it this far you need to stand at the very tip of the mainland. This is on a rocky headland to the right of Fragipanni Beach. A 10minute walk from the beach and you'll be there. Some people take a bottle of champagne and a camera to mark the occasion and you can cool off in the rock pools, just beware of sharks and saltwater crocs in the channel however.
There are lots of activities to do while at the Tip ranging from a flight to Thursday Island, fishing charters around the Torres Strait Islands or estuary fishing charters. Of course, if you've got your own boat then you have plenty of other options too as there are countless top fishing spots for barramundi
, mangrove jack
, mud crab, freshwater crays and prawns, sootey grunters, catfish, longtom, mullet
, stripies, tarpon and threadfin salmon. Reef fish include spanish makeral, coral trout
, queenfish, trevally, sweetlip, emperor, bream, salmon, whiting, tuna, estuary rock cod and potato cod, groper, snapper and probably many more. These waters are just teaming with fish. Be sure to check out the ruins of the Somerset
homestead north of Seisa, the beach run south of Somerset
and check out the camps at Sheridan Point. Don't forget to see the ruins of WWII planes in Bamaga
(via Captain Billy's Landing, Wenlock River, Chilli Beach, Archer River, Musgrave, Laura, Maytown
, Lakeland, Cape Tribulation
, Port Douglas, Cairns
If you've taken our suggested route north to Cape York
you'll be pleased to know that we ensure you get another dip in the Eliot and Fruit Bat Falls
and then heads out across the Great Dividing Range on Frenchmans Road, through the Iron Range NP out to Chilli Beach and Captain Billy's Landing then along the southern bypass road to the Wenlock River, rejoin the Development Road just north of Archer River.
South of Bamaga
, on your way back to the ferry, take a trip out to Muttee Heads, which was an army radio base during the war because of the deep water for landing. There is an interesting gravesite here of the pioneers of Saibai Island who formed the exodus to the Australian mainland and established a temporary settlement in 1947 before moving to the present site of Bamaga
Captain Billy's Landing - Chilli Beach
Captain Billy's Landing on the east coast of the Heathlands Reserve is accessed about 15km south of Fruit Bat Falls
along the Southern Bypass Road. After 44km at the main junction turn left and its just 27km to Captain Billy's. This last 30km or so takes about 45mins. Try to time a low tide on your visit here. The caves to the right are flooded at high tide but when the water is low you can walk right into them, watch your heads and hold your nose as they are filled with bats. Note - the old shed has been recently removed by authorities so there is no longer a camping option down by the beach. It is almost always windy here, so there is a lovely campsite back up the road and behind the bushes above the cliffs.
Backtrack 20km to the junction of the Southern Bypass Road which rejoins the main north-south Telegraph Road. After 27km you cross the Wenlock River, and then 22km south turn onto Frenchmans Road (not marked). Heading east along Frenchmans Road it is a relatively easy run to another crossing of the Wenlock and the Pascoe River. The crossing of Frenchmans Road over the Pascoe can be deep and fast flowing. 11km past the Pascoe turn left onto main track to Portlands Road and Chilli Beach. Chilli Beach is located within the Iron Range National Park
and is renowned for its windy conditions but is certainly not "chilly" during the dry season. The beach is beautiful however its unfortunate that the currents wash up the rubbish of the shipping trade. The campsites are excellent and there are many to choose from amongst rainforest.
The return to the Development Track is fairly straightforward and when you meet the track its just 20km south to Archer River and a relatively easy, but corrugated and dusty run to Coen
Musgrave and Laura.
Laura - Maytown
Laura is a great place to stop for a good feed at the pub and to prepare for the gruelling drive to Maytown
and the Palmerville Goldfields ruins and reserve. It's a fabulous place and the trip is just as rewarding for avid 4WDrivers that like a bit of a challenge.
The first part of this trek is alongside the little Laura River, which is one of the very few that has water due to the dry season. This is bulldust country, with dry creek crossings, scrub country and still more bull dust. You'll cross some small rock steps before the Logan Jack Memorial at the site of his North Trig Point which he surveyed during 1895.
Past the memorial you'll encounter some more challenging rock steps, known as Hellfire Pass, and onto the Old Range Descent Hotel site. After crossing the North Palmer River
you head onto Maytown
is the site of an old gold mining town with interesting history. For more about the history you can read "The River of Gold" by Hector Holthouse that describes the wild days of the Palmer River
This 80km one way trip may take up to 5-6 hours. It is a full day's return trip so leave as early as possible in the morning so you are not caught driving back in the dark. The other choice if you don't need to return to Laura is to head from Maytown
to Palmerville. You will need to contact the owner of Palmerville Station to gain permission to access his property as he has erected gates where the road crosses his property.
Laura - Cairns (via Cape Tribulation)
If you return to Laura, the drive to Lakeland is a comfortable run along good wide open dirt tracks. From Lakeland you could choose to head south along the Peninsula Development Road but you would miss the return through the Daintree
so we suggest heading back to the Lion's Den where you can have a good shower, a beer and a feed and then elect to return via the CREB Track
again or alternatively cross the Bloomfield River and head to Cape Tribulation
on the Bloomfield Track
. There is no need to drive through the Daintree
River coming from this direction as a vehicular ferry transports travellers across. It's then an enjoyable run back south through Port Douglas towards Cairns
and hopefully, the end of a very eventful and enjoyable Cape York