Weipa to the Tip:
After reeling in our fishing lines in Weipa we push north across Cape York, discovering windswept beaches and spine-tingling waterfalls en route to Frangipani Bay and a camping spot at the very tip of Australia. We leave Weipa with weighty stocks of cheap fuel and food on board, taking a shortcut through Batavia Downs and woodlands coloured by deep blue waterways to rejoin the Telegraph Road. The 420km run to the tip closely follows the original overland telegraph line scouted out by explorer J.R. Bradford back in 1883. In that year, Bradford and his team blazed a trail from Cooktown to the Tip, paving the way for the first telegraph line to connect Cape York with the rest of Queensland. They blitzed the journey in just three months, a feat impossible to the explorers who went before them.
We meet plenty of followers like us relaxing on the northern bank of the Wenlock River at Moreton Telegraph Station, an original repeater station and now a shady travellers’ rest where you can camp, fish and watch the birds. Up the track, Bramwell Junction Roadhouse provides another popular camp, situated where the road forks and die-hard off-roaders venture onto the now unmaintained Old Telegraph Line to test their mettle on impossibly steep riverbanks. Like most Cape York travellers keen to preserve their vehicles’ paintwork, we bypass the heartache, taking the soft option through Heathlands Resources Reserve in search of a roadside cairn that pays tribute to Edmund Kennedy’s Lost Camp.
About 55km on we find it opposite the turnoff to Heathlands Ranger Base: a small memorial overlooking the rolling, heath-covered dunes that descend to the distant Coral Sea. On the night of November 24th, 1884, somewhere on the Richardson Range at Shelburne Bay, William Costigan accidentally shot himself, irreversibly changing the fortunes of Cape York’s first overland explorers. Unable to go on, Costigan was left in camp with two companions while Edmund Kennedy and guide Jacky Jacky pushed north, a vulnerable duo. When Kennedy was fatally speared close to the Tip, Jacky Jacky walked north to alert the waiting supply ship Ariel and sailed with it in search of Costigan and his companions, who were never seen again. We boil a cuppa and scour the rolling, heath-covered dunes for a glimpse of the distant Coral Sea, then make a break for the coast.
Captain Billy’s Coast
The road bumps and twists towards Captain Billy Landing, a grassy camp spot nestled beneath towering sea cliffs, named for an Aboriginal guide from the 1970s. Beyond the windy camp, a deserted beach stretches endlessly north, peppered with prized shells and the nests of green turtles during the wet season. There are incredible sunrises from the high dunes above camp and inland, dusky honeyeaters, yellow-bellied sunbirds and rainbow bee-eaters thrive in the scrubby woodland, melaleuca forests and stunted coastal heathland. Despite the generous facilities, this camp has a really remote feel to it and is well worth the detour.
After a windy, van-shaking night, we climbed into the dunes with our cuppas to watch sunrise, then fled inland to Twin Falls.
Straddling the 8km-long washed out track into the falls took 25 patient, hair-raising minutes, but all was forgotten once we had thrown ourselves into the clear, spring-fed oasis along Canal Creek. Lounging on sandy banks at day’s end – red, dusty feet dangling in the current – is a truly sublime experience in a region where most waterways are off-limits for swimming. This unexpected, forested oasis provides huge, caravan-friendly sites tucked into bushy nooks, and short walking trails lead to the Saucepan, Eliot Falls and two tiers of irresistible pools beneath my favourite – Twin Falls.
After a quiet night’s camp, we returned to Twin Falls at dawn, surprised by the warmth of the water that seeps year-round through sandstone bedrock into Canal and Eliot Creeks before they join forces to swell the Jardine, Queensland’s largest perennial river. With a rich Indigenous and European history, this string of falls known as Yaranjangu was the last traditional warring place of the Atambaya and Angkamuthi peoples. There are good, wheelchair-accessible facilities including drinking water, and campfires are permitted (no pets and generators), but you’ll need to pre-book because mobiles don’t stand a chance of working. If you don’t like the look of the access track, Fruit Bat Falls is closer and easier to reach, and you can always unhook your van or camper trailer and travel to Eliot and Twin Falls unencumbered.
Two things we’d long anticipated – corrugations and the sting of a pricey ferry crossing – were finally encountered on the Jardine River. Thankfully, the $130 fee handed over for our vehicle and trailer to complete what must be the shortest ferry ride in the country, also buys you free camping on Injinoo land. This includes top spots from the Dulhunty River north to the Jardine River Mouth (Bertie Creek, Gunshot Creek, Cockatoo Creek, Sailor Creek and Vrilya Point), Mutee Head (west of Injinoo township), and camps across the Tip – Pajinka (the Tip), Laradinya at the Punsand Bay turnoff, and Somerset on Albany Passage.
During peak season on Cape York, the Jardine River ferry operates daily from 8am-5pm, but if you arrive late, there’s a cheap bush camp on the southern side with toilets and showers. We took a tip from the ferry operator and spent a fantastic few days at Mutee Head, signposted 27km north of the river and another 20km west. It’s nothing more than a grassy clearing beneath shady she-oaks, but turtles floating in the see-through, sandy cove, great fishing and beachcombing make this a stellar spot to relax. For good fishing and croc-spotting, follow the sandy track past Mutee Head to the Jardine River mouth (a spray painted tree points the way).
Bound for Frangipani Bay
Less than 10km along the road to Bamaga, the corrugations end abruptly as you enter a string of small Indigenous communities – Injinoo, Umagico, Bamaga and New Mapoon before reaching the sea at Seisia, 14km on. With a laidback islander feel and just a sprinkling of facilities, Mainland Australia’s most northern community was settled when a family of Saibai islanders sailed two pearling luggers to its shores in 1948. Today, Seisia boasts a supermarket, fuel station and beachfront caravan park, and Friday night fun at the Fishing Club is not to be missed. There’s great fishing off the jetty that overlooks Red Island and the swift-flowing channel in between. Inland, Bamaga offers the widest range of supplies, including restricted buys of alcohol.
From Bamaga the road bumps north through Lockerbie Scrub’s lush monsoonal rainforest to Frangipani Bay, a short stroll from the northern most point of the country. Follow the multitude of cairns up and along Mount Bremer’s low-lying spine of rock to reach a magnificent viewpoint over York and Eborac Islands and that much-photographed sign at the very end of Australia. The leisurely stroll takes around 15-20 minutes and at low tide you can return via the beach, stopping perhaps to cast a line off the rocks for catches of mackerel, queenie, trevally, flathead or threadfin salmon. You can easily visit the Tip as a daytrip out of Seisia, Loyalty Beach or nearby Punsand Bay, or haul your home with you and make use of the free camping permitted with your return ferry ticket.
Watching the sun rise and set over Frangipani Bay is a magical experience that, like us, you might enjoy in fantastic solitude. We parked our small rig right on the edge of this wide, shallow bay, watching Torresian pigeons feeding in the treetops and bright blue solider crabs chasing the retreating tide. There are forested nooks tucked behind Frangipani Bay too, just follow the tracks off the main road that leads towards the beach.
Although a little dilapidated on our visit, Somerset is a spacious, albeit sloping campground with a lovely outlook over Albany Island and great fishing, and nearby beaches around Fly Point are within reach of 4WD vehicles. You’ll find it signposted about 20km from the Tip near the ruins of Somerset Homestead, established as a government outpost in 1864 and overseen by police magistrate John Jardine whose sons Frank and Alexander famously pushed a mob of cattle and horses up the Cape’s western flanks in 1865. While successful, the Jardine Brothers expedition was not without controversy as run-ins with Aborigines left up to 72 dead.
Turning from the Tip to journey back south might feel like the end of the adventure, but regardless of how many magical spots we thought we’d discovered on the run north, there were a dozen more to punctuate the return trip. Be warned: this bucket-list adventure may prove anything but if Cape York gets under your skin and you can’t wait for another winter to head north again.
Cape York Essentials
The Route: From Weipa, take the shortcut via Batavia Downs Station to rejoin the Telegraph Road and continue across the Jardine River to Bamaga and Seisia. The trip covers 427km on unsealed roads, while side trips to Captain Billy Landing, Eliot Falls and Mutee Head add another 120km.
The Peninsula Development Road and Telegraph Track are at their best early in the north’s dry season, once graded. As the May to October dry season progresses, the condition of Cape York roads worsen, and roads out of Bamaga may be corrugated year-round. The depth of river crossings depends on how big and late the wet season was, and the timing of your trip. Get up-to-date information before setting out (www.cook.qld.gov.au).
Camping: Overnight at Moreton Telegraph Station, Bramwell Station, Bramwell Junction Roadhouse, or push north to national park bush camps at Captain Billy Landing and Eliot Falls ($6.15/person). For power and showers around the tip, head for Seisia Holiday Park (www.seisiaholidaypark.com), Loyalty Beach (www.loyaltybeach.com), or Punsand Bay (www.punsand.com.au). Free camp at Pajinka (the Tip), Laradinya at the Punsand Bay turnoff, Somerset on Albany Passage or Mutee Head (highly recommended).
Services: The price of food and fuel increases dramatically beyond Weipa so fill your jerry cans before leaving town. Bramwell Junction provides a top-up on the track and Lockhart River provides fuel for those headed to Iron Range and Portland Roads.
Fishing: You can launch boats off many Cape York beaches and there are ramps at Seisia and Jackey Jackey Creek near Bamaga. Local anglers favour the Jardine River mouth for catches of barramundi, mangrove jack and cod, Possession Island and Albany Passage near Somerset for Spanish mackerel and barracuda, and the Seisia jetty, the Tip and other beaches for mackerel, queenies, trevally, flathead and perhaps a threadfin salmon.
Best time to visit Cape York: Mild, dry season temperatures of 16 to 30˚C continue from May through October.
Don’t Miss: Bramwell Cup Bush Carnival at Bramwell Junction (July). Seisia’s Pirates Regatta (September) and the Seisia Fishing Competition (October).
Quarantine: When returning south, travellers must offer all fruit and vegetables on board for inspection at the Quarantine station just north of Coen.