The Perfect Route from Cairns to Cape York
Cape York: The northernmost point of continental Australia. Of course you could – for the right budget – fly from Cairns to Bamaga and get on a more or less comfortable bus to get to the tip (as the Australians say). However, you wouldn’t have experienced Cape York in that case. Cape York has miles and miles of corrugated roads, or, if you don’t feel like driving on those, plenty of 4×4 tracks with sand, slopes, and river crossings. On top of that, Cape York offers unique outback landscapes in all colors, jungle, secluded beaches and wide open spaces. There is a lot to see. Hence, your route to the tip and back should be planned carefully. It makes no sense to go back and forth from the East to the West Coast of the peninsula on those corrugated roads. I’d like to share our route with you here. It includes all major highlights on the peninsula. We had lots of fun on the 4×4 tracks and an excellent mix of outback, beaches, waterfalls, jungle, small towns and rivers. In roughly 4 weeks you can get a pretty good impression of the Cape York Peninsula. Here is our (to us) perfect route from Cairns to Cape York:
“You travel a region most Australians have never seen”
I was lucky to be able to go on this trip as my son has lived in Australia for 2 years now. He got the landcruiser ready and took care of all the preparations for this trip. Besides the mentioned day trip tourists, you hardly see any tourists there. Even if you rent a capable vehicle in Cairns, trips to Cape York are usually excluded from the rental agreement. Some Australian guy we met on the road said “You travel a region most Australians have never seen”.
Good equipment is a necessity when traveling to the tip. You’ll need a good 4WD, ideally with a suspension lift, a long range fuel tank, a fridge, dual battery system, a winch, tent, and – very important – a tyre pressure gauge to adjust the tyre pressure as needed.
In complete isolation it can never hurt to have a few basic mechanic skills to fix things on your car. You’ll need some basic tools for that. The axe that’s usually included in a standard tool kit was also quite useful to get fire wood.
Google Maps is Only Semi Helpful
Another important aspect is having good map material. Most areas on the peninsula don’t have cell phne coverage, although Telstra announced all of Australia will have coverage by 2021. Furthermore Cape York is hardly covered by online map services, such as Google. Though Google Maps is still helpful sometimes, we highly recommend using Hema Maps as well(e.g. the app for Australia), which offers a wide coverage of all roads and 4×4 tracks.
A Few Outback Survival Tips
Regarding medication everyone probably knows best what they will need. We had the usual meds with us – something for stomach problems, cold relief, pain killers and so on. In the end we didn’t need anything, though. Our band aid supply was not sufficient, however. All the river crossing involve a terrain check before you drive through it, meaning you have to walk through the river multiple times beforehand to find the best drivable way. Almost all rivers have sharp stones in them, so we usually got out of the rivers with bloody feet. As the stones constantly shift, a map is not really helpful here. Another option would be to bring wet suit shoes 😉
By the way, in Australia it’s forbidden to leave your trash behind on those “camping sites”. That’s why most SUVs there have a big plastic bag attached to one of the spare tyres. These are to collect your trash bags until you find an appropriate trash disposal place. A lot of Australians are mad at those German backpackers who don’t obey these outback rules…
Also very important: carry enough water! About 10l per person per day for about five days. You never know if you’ll get stuck between two rivers and have to wait for weather to pass. We were never in such a situation, but we traveled to the tip during dry season. However, we still stuck to this important rule.
Showers or Toilets? About that…
A note about hygiene: If you go on this trip, don’t expect the usual standards. Unless you are going on one of the organized tours. Out of 28 nights we spent 12 in so-called bush camps. That’s an Australian invention in very remote areas. It’s a spot where it’s officially allowed to camp and sleep but there are little to no facilities that you’d expect on a normal camping ground. No showers, no toilets. Sometimes there are some very rudimentary toilets without flush, but make sure to bring enough toilet paper. It also doesn’t hurt to have a shuffle (a solid one, some grounds are very hard!) to either dig your car out of the sand or to bury your “business”… 🙂
Download your Cape York checklist here and stay tuned for more about our trip here on my blog.