Plan Your Trip

Cape York

Distance
1,432km (One Way)

How
Car or Camper

Where
Cairns to Cape York

Date
May to October

Got a heightened sense of adventure and want to take it all the way to the top (of Australia)? _Jump into a 4WD and head off on an unforgettable journey from Cairns to Cape York. Along the way, you’ll be challenged with creek crossings and crocs, find culture in Cooktown and Indigenous communities, and come across memorials to terrifying wartime and weather incidents. It’s a journey that will stay with you for a lifetime.

Day

327km 4hrs

DAY ONE

Cairns to Cooktown

Original Rainforest Markets Kuranda

When driving to Cooktown from Cairns, there are two equally alluring options (flip a coin if you can’t decide). The first route travels through scenic Kuranda. Check out the famous markets or have a bite at a cool outdoor cafe. If you’re interested in knowing more about the local Djabugay people, drop into the Visitor Information Centre that holds Indigenous artefacts and sells local artists’ works and books on the region (including some on the Djabugay language).

Skybury Coffee

Mareeba is the largest town on the Atherton Tablelands and boasts that it enjoys 300 sunny days a year. The region grows 70% of Australia’s coffee crop – you can admire coffee and tea antiquities at the Coffee World Experience at Coffee Works. Alternatively, follow the coastal Captain Cook Highway from Cairns to detour into the coastal resort town of Port Douglas and the stunning rainforest-enveloped Mossman Gorge before joining the Mulligan Highway at Mount Molloy and continuing to Cooktown.

327km 4hrs

DAY TWO

Cooktown

National Trust’s James Cook Museum in Cooktown

Spend a day exploring Cooktown’s multitude of charms. The heritage buildings, museums and monuments form a fascinating streetscape that reflects the town’s rich and colourful history. That past includes Captain James Cook’s running aground of the HMB Endeavour on offshore reefs, forcing him and his crew to spend seven weeks in the area. See the cannon and anchor, jettisoned from the ship in 1770 but retrieved from the reef only in the 1970s, at the National Trust’s James Cook Museum.

Then find the Visitor Information Centre at the Nature’s Powerhouse complex within Cooktown Botanic Gardens. It features the Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery, home to a collection of regional botanical illustrations, exhibition spaces and a cafe.

Grassy Hill Cooktown Sunset

Finish the day by watching a Tropical North Queensland sunset (they’re pretty spectacular) from Grassy Hill. You’ll be following in the footsteps of esteemed company: Captain James Cook and crew from the Endeavour climbed the hill in 1770 to assess safe passage through the reef.

Cooktown Holiday Park

STAY
Campers and caravanners might try Cooktown Holiday Park, set on 3ha of lush gardens, and also featuring cabins and motel-style units. Or treat yourself to something a little more luxe at the Sovereign Resort Cooktown, centred around an expansive swimming pool.

197km 7.5hrs

DAY THREE

Cooktown to Cape Melville

4WD at Isabelle Falls Cape York

Conquer rugged tracks, creek crossings and beach driving to reach the spectacularly beautiful coastline of Cape Melville National Park. After leaving Cooktown, pass Endeavour Falls and continue to Isabella Falls, where you can cool off in the inviting water.

After reaching the national park, explore Bathurst Bay: camp at Bathurst Heads and try a spot of fishing for cod, flathead, grunter or barramundi. For all the beauty of the massive tumbled granite boulders of the Melville Range, sandy beaches, sandstone escarpments, endemic foxtail palms and inland dunes, the area’s complex history is never far from the surface. A monument 2km from the rocky headlands of Cape Melville and another 200m inland commemorate the 300-plus lives lost when a cyclone wiped out a pearling fleet in 1899.

197km 7.5hrs
482km 12hrs

DAY FOUR

Cape Melville to Coen

Dirt road Cape York

It’s a big day of driving: so leave nice and early. After reaching the Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR), hang a right and head to Coen, the largest town in the area after Weipa. Stay in town or continue on a few kilometres to reach The Bend, a free bush campsite. There’s also free camping at the Gold Mine on the way into town.

To get rid of the day’s dust, jump into the shallow waters of the Coen River.

482km 12hrs
230km 9hrs

DAY FIVE

Coen to Bramwell Station

Moreton Telegraph Station Campground in Cape York

It’s another long day’s drive on to Bramwell Station, but first head north Archer River. Stop at the roadhouse for a very hearty breakfast. After leaving Archer River, cross the Wenlock River to find the Moreton Telegraph Station. Take a stroll and perhaps spot an agile wallaby, palm cockatoo or magnificent riflebird. Push on to Bramwell Station’s Bramwell Junction Roadhouse, the last fuel stop before reaching Bamaga near The Tip (as Cape York’s pointy end is affectionately known). The property also houses a tourist park with accommodation and camping grounds, as well as a bar with live entertainment during the busy months.

230km 9hrs
238km 9hrs

DAY SIX

Bramwell Station to The Tip

Fruit Bat Falls Cape York

The Old Telegraph Track forms the western boundary of Heathlands Resources Reserve and Jardine River National Park. While you could take the bypass roads that skirt around water crossings between the Junction and the Jardine, why would you? That’s the fun part – even though the Gunshot Creek crossing is considered extremely challenging.

Make a pit-stop at Fruit Bat Falls, a scenic spot for a picnic and refreshing swim. To cross the Jardine, head west and take the vehicular ferry.

The Tip of Cape York Peninsula


Drop in at Seisia (pronounced “say see ya”) near Bamaga to check out what locals reckon is Australia’s best fishing jetty, or continue to Punsand Bay. This spot is just 6km west of The Tip. Still, it can take up to 45 minutes to drive this final stretch to mainland Australia’s northernmost point. Once you’re there, you’ll need to take the iconic photo with the “You Are Standing at the Northernmost Point of the Australian Continent” sign. Try and arrive at low tide, as the walk to the sign only takes 10 minutes across the sand (it’s about 30 minutes over rocks at high tide).

Camping at Punsand Bay Cape York

Stay
The beachside Cape York Camping Punsand Bay offers every level of comfort, from beachfront cabins with ensuites to unpowered bush camping sites.

238km 9hrs

Optional Detour – Jardine River National Park

The Jardine River National Park has some great camping spots if you want to extend your time here. Eliot Falls campground has drinking water, picnic tables and fire-pits, set in pretty woodland between two creeks.

Buckle up

What to expect on your trip to The Tip