Driving to Cape York – towing a caravan

Is driving to Cape York an idyllic way to spend a few weeks on the road?

Driving to Cape York – towing a caravan

Cape York, ‘The Tip’, far Far North Queensland: a place most Australians will never get to and perhaps don't even think about visiting. Reaching that northern most point is an adventure. Now I can say we have been there and pulled our Kimberley T3 caravan all the way. And, there is red dust everywhere to prove it.



The trip began on a cold, wet Melbourne morning as we travelled into Central Queensland and up to hot and dry Karumba on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The journey touched outback towns such as Lightning Ridge (no luck fossicking), Bourke (as in ‘the back of’), Winton (with the Tattersalls Hotel – no Lotto win but excellent meals and music), and then to Longreach (the birth of Qantas and the Stockman Hall of Fame ). We saw many towns struggling to survive the harsh Australian conditions and, of course, many bush camps with comforting campfires. Three weeks – and many adventures – later we reached Cooktown.  Here we were welcomed at the Saturday market by an Australian Army band playing music by Jimmy Barnes … Apparently they also do marches!



A highlight tucked away in Cooktown’s Botanic Gardens was Nature’s Powerhouse, a gallery of botanical illustrations by Vera Scarth-Johnson presented alongside those by Joseph Banks, which he produced while waiting for the Endeavour to be repaired.

The James Cook Museum provided tourist information for the 789km journey to Punsand Bay at The Tip.

Dry weather was the general forecast for the trip, which comprised a mix of black top and corrugated roads, and a horrible stretch of corrugations near the Jardine River ferry (‘near’ in local terms is about 40km!). The best advice came from a fellow traveller: “Drive in the gutters.”



We had already planned to bypass the Old Telegraph Track, accurately described as a 4WD ‘adventure’, but for many this was the dream.

As it turned out, the dirt roads in some parts had been recently graded, which lulled you into a sense of relief, but other parts were truly ugly. Wide deep corrugations – too wide for just riding the black tops at speed – and at times, 20km per hour was both too fast and too slow. So, into those gutters we went – they were just wide enough for the car and the T3, with a sandy base, which helped us to bypass some of the worst of it. Steadily the distance dissolved and we emerged intact. They say in a few years it will be all black top to The Tip, but I’m not sure the small towns and roadhouses could handle the traffic, and the adventure and challenge would be diminished.

Pit stops were planned around the roadhouses. They provide fuel, food (if needed), and a few camps had entertainment by bush poets. In these campgrounds, there is always advice and tales from southbound travellers being passed to the newbies heading north. Most sites have cabins for road-trippers who don’t want to camp.



Our next stops included Coen, Hann River, Archer River, Musgrave, Bramwell Station, and finally Bamaga, the main township of the Torres Strait Island region. Each had its own character, and often friendly service from backpackers working in these remote areas. Apart from these main stops, there are about 18 side trips through National Parks and settlements. Plenty to explore for next time.

At Bamaga, we stayed at Loyalty Beach, a rustic and laid-back environment with stunning sea views and a picturesque beach bar serving three meals a day.

To reach The Tip, it was just a short 32km drive and a walk over the headland. Stop at the Croc Tent to collect a local map and maybe a souvenir. It is possible to stay at a lovely campsite, Punsand Bay, but that was a road too far for our van.



We parked among the many other four-wheel drives at Pajinka (The Tip) and were reminded you that you can’t get away from civilisation. The walk over the headland provided views of the Torres Strait Islands – Thursday is the most well known, along with Horn Island, which played a significant role in the Second World War. Finally, we descended to sea level and stood beside a very modest sign proclaiming the northern-most point of the continent. After photos, we reluctantly returned to the car – via a pristine beach – and started planning side trips for our journey south.



    To make a comment, please register or login
    13th Aug 2016
    We also travelled to Cape York in a group including caravans and camper trailers. The excitement was high we were all loving the trip, but as we reached the corrugations some of the "adventurous" side diminished. We were travelling in a new caravan (only 1 month old) and we took it to the top of Cape York. I think I cried as the dust entered through every little nook and crannie it could find. But to day 5 years later, reading your article, I look back and think "wow we did that" it was worth it and our caravan survived. :)
    13th Aug 2016
    My wife went up on a tour with Oztours - liked it but wouldn't do it again. The best beach according to her was right here in Cairns where she lives, Yorkey's Knob! I took note and flew up by small plane recently, just one overnight in Bamaga, trip to the tip, and stops at all the airstrips in between. A great way to go, from the air it looks awesome! Also flew parts over the reef and Shelburne Bay. I wouldn't want to eat dust for days driving it.
    Mrs P
    14th Aug 2016
    We purchased an old Kimberley Kamper and did the trip a couple of years ago. Father, 71 and me 69. It was awesome, there wasn't anything we didn't enjoy - even the dust and corrugation! Most people we met along the way were wonderful; there were a few whingers with more complaints than you could imagine. Yes, it is a long way, yes it is dusty, yes it is pricey to use the ferry, but hey what! You should do your homework before you go and allow for huge price hikes to what you are used to. It is a once in a lifetime event for most people and well worth the journey. This is the most amazing country and we do as much travel as possible because you are a long dead! I would also prefer people to say after I am gone, she wanted to do that and she did and not, she always wanted to do that and never did.
    15th Aug 2016
    I did it many years ago -- what a pain it was -- there were no roads to speak of and no bridges -- and it was a line up to do the river crossings
    double j
    17th Aug 2016
    I also visited cape York but we arrived by boat/yacht, sailing from Darwin on our way to Cairns
    The coast from Darwin to the tip and then down to Cairns is a real adventure,there are no road house stops for fuel ,food or water and you can go for days without seeing another yacht or people. One of the most amazing places we stoped at was 'escape river' which is directly opposite Bamage, on the other coast and believe it or not , with a very high tide you can take a tinny from Escape River to Bamaga [ east to west coast] There are a few obsticals like mud flats ,fallen trees and crocs, big ones. The above was an adventure not a trip !!!!!
    18th Aug 2016
    double j --- I can imagine it would have been a great trip and wonderful to not have seen another person but like you said an

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