The Cape York Peninsula is one of those iconic remote adventures that any self-respecting four-wheel drive enthusiast will have on their bucket list. Imagine snapping a selfie on the far tip of the Cape, next to a sign bearing the words “you are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent”!
River crossings, tough tracks and unspoilt wilderness are just part of the attraction. And like any road trip, half the fun is getting there. Sure, you can mosey up the unsealed Peninsula Developmental Road, but why would you with so many alternative and engaging routes. Here’s a few of our favourites:
RINYIRRU (LAKEFIELD) NATIONAL PARK
Battle Camp Road links Cooktown to Laura. It’s a patchwork of sealed and unsealed surfaces, a few easy creek crossings and passes through the private property of Battle Camp Station before reaching the park boundary.
Old Laura Homestead was one of the first pastoral holdings on the Cape, and has been preserved in largely original condition; a reasonable feat considering its late 1800’s origin. Buildings include the house, workshop, saddle shed, meat house, stockmen’s quarters and stockyards, plus a few large mango trees. It’s worth a stop to explore the relics and appreciate how the early settlers survived.
With flushing toilets and cold showers, Kalpower Crossing boasts the best facilities in Lakefield. Stone steps lead from the campground to the river which is popular for fishing. A concrete causeway across the river provides safe passage and leads to Bathurst Head, Cape Melville or Wakooka ruins.
Further north, the White and Red Lily Lagoons are perfect for bird watching, the latter offering a shelter over the water to spy both land and water based wildlife, including magpie geese, turtles and anything else on show.
Heading west towards Musgrave Station, the reasonable road conditions continue, save for the choking bulldust. Termite mounds of different shapes and sizes again become the vogue.
KUTINI-PAYAMU (IRON RANGE) NATIONAL PARK
Iron Range National Park or Kutini-Payamu as it is now known, is a worthy detour with a pleasant drive through attractive hilly terrain. It passes several wet crossings including the Wenlock and Pascoe Rivers, before reaching the soothing tropical rainforest.
Camping availability is restricted to four tiny camps and a dozen or so sites at Chili Beach. This area suffers from the easterly trade winds that howl across the mainland, with some sites more sheltered than others.
We spent our first night down at Chili Beach, where true to good form, it was blowing a gale, peppering the skin like an industrial exfoliation machine. Despite the conditions, we wandered out onto the beach to admire the flotsam that drifts in from container ships and neighbouring overseas islands. Amongst the plastic rubbish, thongs were a common find, leading to creation of the Thong Tree by some resourceful person.
The howling wind resulted in an early departure the next morning, which fortunately snaffled us a sheltered spot at Gordon Creek camp in the rainforest. We celebrated by cooking lemonade and date scones.
A double excursion to Lockhart River completed our day. It wasn’t until we reached there on the first pass, that we were reminded of the alcohol restricted status. Rather than risk getting pinged $75,000 and possible vehicle confiscation over a few stubbies rolling around in the fridge, we returned to camp to flush out our supplies and returned sometime later.
Down at the beach, the remnants of a WWII B29 bomber can be found a couple of kilometres south; a wing protruding from the sand.
Back in town, a big community store stocks a good range of food and general hardware items.
Another compulsory excursion is to the pretty fishing village of Portland Roads, sheltered from the howling wind. A café near the beach offers home cooked treats and plunger coffee, any day other than Monday. Guess which day we visited? There are a couple of fixed roof accommodation options here but no campground or free camps.
Well, that brings us to the end of our first leg of our Cape York adventure. Check back again next time when we check out Weipa on the west coast and step onto the southern leg of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) where the real off-road adventure starts.