On this page you can follow myRoute to Cape York 2017 with the Landcruiser. This off-road trip was the real reason why we decided to bring the car to Germany later.
Below the map you will find explanations of the places we visited on this trip.
Off-road Trip Australia 2017 (Cape York)
Cairns (starting point and destination of the tour): The first time I was in Cairns in 1986, it was a quiet little town. More like a village. With many old Queensland houses, a shopping street and about 50.000 inhabitants. Today 160,000 people live here. With its international airport, the city is the gateway to the tropical north of Australia and the Great Barrier Reef. With many expensive and cheaper accommodations, it is now occupied by tourists and backpackers alike. One often hears more German, Spanish, French or Chinese than Australian English. If you want a neat city vacation in a beach location, this is definitely the right place for you. Anyway, we didn’t really feel comfortable in the inner city streets that are lined with restaurants, cafés and bars. Of course, whoever lives and works here has won the jackpot. The quality of life and leisure is always higher there than in Hildesheim or Hanau. And in Regensburg or Remscheid. And… 😉 That applies to all of Australia. Life is more pleasant there than in Germany! And in the early morning I like to hear a friendly ‘Hey man, how’re you doing?’in the bus, supermarket or a café. To which I can answer ‘Thanks mate, I’m fine, and you?’ But for us Cairns was only the point of departure and destination of our off-road tour. To cater and to register the car from my son to me, because I wanted to drive it to Germany half a year later.
Port Douglas: 70 km north of Cairns. Much smaller than his big sister. But we also had the impression: much more distinguished. Many villas with park-like grounds, high-priced beach hotels – and all kinds of residential complexes for elderly. Definitely the last bigger place before the Cape York area.
Archer Point: Our first bush campsite, just before Cooktown. We started from Port Douglas in the morning and arrived there in the late afternoon. Because we didn’t take the road for the 260km long route, but drove through the rainforest on the Bloomfield Track. This track was very easy, more of a better dirt road, but we took our time in the beautiful landscape and at the ferry across the Daintree River. And after arrival we didn’t immediately make preparations for dinner and set up our tents. But first we enjoyed the great view to the sea. Our mistake. The proximity to the equator made it quickly dark at half past six. There was no more time to collect wood for a campfire and when I was setting up the tents, one of the fiberglass poles slammed hard on my nose. First learning on this tour: You should have reached your campsite by 5 pm at latest and prepare everything for the evening and the night. By the way, there are many bushcamps in Australia. Simply places for camping, without sanitary and other facilities. And of course also without a kiosk, electricity and toilets. Some cost nothing, others have to be reserved online beforehand for 10 – 20 AUD. You print out the reservation and put it in your car. It’s rare that a ranger checks it, but if – and you can’t show the payment – it can be really expensive.
Cooktown: The next day we quickly reached Cooktown, 30 km away. There we took private accommodation for 2 nights. I was really fed up with camping for the next days. Cooktown (pop. 2.000) in the east is one of the two larger cities on Cape York, the other one is Weipa in the northwest. There is not much to see, except that Cpt. Cook landed there once. But we needed half a day there, because our air condition in the car had failed. The mechanic worked on it for 3 hours only to tell us that he can’t find anything. We should pay first AUD 250 and leave the car there longer. We didn’t want either. Despite fierce discussion, we didn’t get back the car keys until we’d paid. For that he got a bad Google rating…
Cape Flattery: The 130 km to Cape Flattery the next day could have been completely relaxed. If we had found the turnoff from the main road to Cape Flattery right away. But first we ended up on a dirt road that turned into a meadow with all kinds of brushwood. At some point we had to turn back because we realized that we would never get to the sea here. With a little bit of searching we were on the right track at some point. First it led us through a river where the water was flowing over our hood. And then about 5 km through sandy dunes where we had to reduce the air pressure from normal 40 psi (pound-force per square inch) to 10 psi (1 psi = 0.07 bar). By the way, I prefer to calculate with psi rather than with bar, because you can better fine-tune the values. Cape Flattery is a long sandy beach where you are almost alone and can fly drone well. But there is nothing outside apart of nature.
Bathurst Head: Instead of going to Bathurst Head, we actually wanted to go to the nearby campsite in Cape Melville Nat’l. Park. But it was fully booked and even more difficult to reach by car. Even so we needed 6 hours for the 300 km. But the sunset by the sea, a campfire right on the beach, kangaroo steaks and sausages and an overwhelming night sky full of stars naturally made up for the tour. Although we (among others) had pitched our tent about 60m from the shore we could still see the green eyes of the saltwater crocodiles in the water at night. And you never know how far the salties will climb up the beach…
Weipa: Instead of staying in the east of the peninsula and to explore Chili Beach we drove from Bathurst Head directly to Weipa in the west (580 km). We finally wanted to have the air conditioning repaired there. Because we had the car windows open all day, the car was just as red inside as it was outside due to the red sand and dust.. The repair took less than half an hour and cost 80 AUD with a spare part. The air conditioning relay was defective. And that is attached a bit hidden behind the 2 batteries of the car. The mechanic told us that this is an old Toyota disease and it happens a lot. Apparently not in Cooktown… Weipa itself (4.000 p.e.) has nothing to offer except some bars. It is a pure mining town, which was built in 1960 by the Comalco company (today: Rio Tinto Alcan). Comalco mines bauxite (aluminium ore) and operates the largest bauxite mine in the world there.
Pennefather River: That’s why after one night we went on to Pennefather River. Google Maps didn’t cover the area, but we quickly found the way using a local map from Hema Maps. First passing the bauxite mining area, then through some tracks in the bush land and finally a bit along the sea. By the way, I can only recommend the special travel guide of Hema for Cape York. It describes each track in detail and explains the difficulties and dangers. The Hema guys are constantly on the road all over Australia and have meanwhile mapped every little dirt road there. In Pennefather River we could camp again under small trees and bushes directly by the sea. In the evening we met the 80-year-old Hubert, who had emigrated from Dusseldorf in the 50s, owns a large farm in Western Australia (they call it a station in Australia) and also camped near us with his son.
Chili Beach: After one night we went from coast to coast. 300 km from Pennefather River in the west to Chili Beach in the east. We had added to our supplies in the small Aboriginal community Lockart River. Important: Like in many Aboriginal communities there is no alcohol. No beer either. And it is forbidden to transport alcohol in the car in this area. The penalties shown on big traffic signs are draconian if you get caught: Up to 75,000 AUD fine, 18 months in prison and confiscation of the car. We didn’t want to risk that. Some say of Chili Beach that it is one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia. Picturesque situated with palm trees up to the water, a long sandy beach and clear turquoise sea. If, yes, if there weren’t two things often: On the one hand, plastic waste is washed up on the beach from Asia. And on the other hand there is often an unpleasantly cold wind from the sea in the evening. But we were lucky twice. The beach was clean and there was only a light breeze in the evening. Great, our campsite between the palm trees near the water.
Frenchmans Track: We had planned the Frenchmans Track for the following day. With 50 km it is actually not long. But it has it all. Sometimes rocky with deep longitudinal grooves that the wheels shouldn’t get into. Sometimes sandy, so you have to be careful not to get stuck. And usually so narrow that it is better not to have oncoming traffic. In that case one of the two must then drive into the bushes. But completely! The most difficult part came right at the beginning. Crossing the Pascoe River. The entrance from the east is narrow, but feasible. But the exit to the west is steep and rocky. And the tires are wet when you come out of the water. We only crossed the river on foot several times to find the best way. One without high boulders under water. And I had advised my son to accelerate at the exit so he wouldn’t slip off the rocks. But Murphy’s Law hit here too. We had oncoming traffic right here and he had to stop at the river bank. The Wenlock River at the other end of the Frenchman’s track was then a piece of cake. But between both rivers there were still a lot of rocks, sand and deep grooves on the track. But pictures are better than many words. Take a look at the photo gallery and the video there.
Old Telegraph Track: After a night in the Bramwell Junction Roadhouse we went on the Old Telegraph Track which is three times as long as the Frenchmans Track. We did not made it in one day of course, but camped about in the middle. I actually found the track itself easier than the Frenchmans Track, but there were about 25 river crossings here. And at every creek we had to get out, to check the depth and underground before we could pass the creeks carefully. There are 75 km more than enough for one day. The children of our camping neighbours were playing behind our car in the morning when they were suddenly called back by their parents. In the bush behind our car there was a brownsnake. I didn’t see it… Also to the OTT (which got its name from the old telegraph line from the Cape to the south) applies: Better take a look at fotos than to tell a lot.
Mutee Heads: We had to cross the last river on the OTT, the Jardine River, by ferry. It is only about 1m deep and 140m wide. But since 1993 a stuck car driver swam around his vehicle and was eaten by crocodiles, crossing with the car is prohibited. Hema Maps writes succinctly: ‘However, the Injinoo Aboriginal community have requested that travellers do not cross, as a man was killed by a crocodile in 1993 swimming out to the ferry with a replacement part’… Now we had arrived in the northern part of the Cape York Peninsula and on the first evening a small cozy bush campground directly at the sea awaited us in Mutee Heads. Again just for us alone.
Seisia / Bamaga / Cape Area: We stayed at the Seisia campsite for a few nights. It was rated much better than the campsites in the immediate vicinity of the Cape. We were also able to take day trips comfortably from here. To the Cape, to Bamaga (pop. 1.000), on the 5-Beaches-Run in the east, to Roma Flat, to Pajinka Wilderness Lodge, Somerset and on one day to Thursday Island. Another little hint: If you go to the Cape you have to walk 15 minutes from the parking lot over a small hill. We only had flip-flops (in Australia: thongs) with us and the ‘climbing’ was a bit annoying.
Captain Billy’s Landing: Our first campground on the way back from Seisia to Cairns (1.000 km). A huge bay by the sea, which at least 20 campers would have fit on. But you have to book the night online and only one car is accepted for a night. There was even a bush toilet, a toilet that you could flush with a foot lever.
Coen: We drove back from Seisia via Bamaga Road, Northern Bypass Road, Telegraph Road and Peninsula Development Road. Because we couldn’t drive anymore the last track that we had planned. The seal of the differential lock on the front axle of our vehicle had become leaky due to the many kilometres on heavily corrugated roads and oil was dripping out. But we could only have it repaired in Cairns. So we limited ourselves to refilling with oil from time to time because we were told that it was better for the differential gear. And thank God it was just the gasket, a gearbox damage would have been more expensive. But all roads in Cape York north of Laura are unsealed roads. The larger ones mentioned above are very wide and in good condition compared to the tracks. But wind, weather and trucks ensure that they are very uneven. In Coen (400 p.e.) we pitched our tents a bit off in a small forest and tested drone flights between trees in the evening.
Lakeland: Lakeland was our last stop on this trip. Actually only because we didn’t want to drive through to Cairns that evening. In Australia, apart from trucks, hardly anyone drives outside towns after dark. Too dangerous, especially because of the kangaroos. Since Laura, about halfway between Coen and Lakeland, the road was sealed again. But that had a little disadvantage. We didn’t find an acceptable campsite. So for one night we set up our tents on a place with road construction materials. A bit hidden behind gravel hills… The next day there was an accommodation with a good shower in Cairns again.
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Hi there, I’m Ruedi. In 2018 I retired and my first retirement project was to drive a car from Australia to Germany – alone over 25,547 kms. At that time the idea for this blog came up. More details you’ll find here
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