It can be a tough gig planning a Cape York trip, especially when there is so much information out there you don’t know what to do with it. Well, we’re here to help answer all your questions about your upcoming Cape York adventure, right here, in one place. So, let’s get into it!
The deep water crossing at Nolan’s Brook on the Overland Telegraph Track. Credit: All Aussie Misadventures
Above: People helping pull a 4wd out of Nolan’s Brook. Credit: All Aussie Misadventures
Below: People gather at Nolan’s Brook to help others through. There may be a celebration and cheeky coldy afterwards! Credit: All Aussie Misadventures
Cape York Peninsula, is the north eastern peninsula on the mainland of Australia – the ‘pointy triangle’ way above Brisbane, near Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Nolan’s Brook is one of the northernmost crossings on the Old Telegraph Track (OTT), and one of the deeper crossings too – there’s a great guide how to survive Nolan’s Brook here! However, you don’t have to cross it to get to the tip. It is on the OTT, so will only have to cross it if you’re doing that. If you are doing the OTT but don’t want to do Nolan’s, you can take a short track back to the The Peninsula Development Road (PDR) and up to the Jardine Ferry. Check out this video of the crossing here.
To understand which roads are which in Cape York, see this section of article on our post about bitumen’ing Cape York here.
Cape York has a lot of amazing destinations to visit! Check out our other blog post “5 must see Cape York destinations that fall under the radar” which details 5 places that should not be missed. Besides that, there are plenty of websites with detailed information to check such as the Tourism Tropical North Queensland and Cape York Australia web pages. One of the all time favourites however, is Fruit Bat Falls, an amazing place to refresh and safely swim.
The PDR is short for the Peninsula Development Road; the main highway in Cape York. It runs from Laura (2 hours west of Cooktown) to the Rio Tinto boundary east of Weipa. It is part bitumen, part dirt and projects are underway to have it sealed (see by when here). This doesn’t affect the hundreds of kilometres north of the PDR that head towards the tip.
The Overland Telegraph Track (OTT) is a popular, challenging 4WD track in Cape York that many 4wd enthusiasts attempt each year in the dry season. Historically, this track was a service track to maintain the old telegraph line, which helped people communicate via morse code in the 1900s.
There’s is plenty to do up here! The best activity by far is relaxing. Then you can throw in fishing, tours, four wheel driving, sight seeing, museums, Indigenous cultural festivals, visiting Indigenous rock art sites and more!
This is a can of worms kind of questions. There’s plenty of things to take, and your best bet is to find a blog of someone who has been before. The list includes camping gear, recovery gear, food, sunscreen, camera and more! There are shops up there, and plenty of fuel and water so don’t feel like you need to cart loads with you!
This is another rabbit hole kind of question. Personally, I’ve worked in the Cape the past 5 years and driven with Mickey Thompson tyres, clocking up 100,000 bush kilometres, and still have never had a puncture! I’ve seen other tyres last under 1000 kilometres and get staked by a toothpick of a stick! So, ask around and see what’s out there, but quite often, the cheaper isn’t always the cheapest in the long run!
This is a great question! Cape York time, is similar to ‘Vanuatu time’ or ‘Fiji time’. It just means, sometimes things are pretty relaxed, and things will get done, when they get done, not in a rush. Sometimes things don’t happen on the exact minute they’re supposed to…but enjoy this, you’re on holiday!
Cape York weather is amazing! When tourists generally visit Cape York between May and September, the days are warm but not too hot, and the nights are very pleasant, mildly cool. This temperature makes it great for sleeping at night and not getting to burnt in the day! In October it begins to heat up, and by November/December the first storms often hit. January to April is monsoon season and is verrrrry wet, but, no matter what size the monsoon size, Cape York is always accessible the following season, and the bigger wet, the nicer it looks!
Road conditions change throughout the year, but recently, there has been a lot more bitumen laid on the PDR. Overall the road is pretty good, very wide, but can be rough and corrugated. Take your time on corners, and especially be careful on corners with corrugations and any dips. If you see ANY sign that says ‘rough road ahead’ or similar, definitely take it as a hint to slow down!
We have taken the time to do the research and summarise when it will be sealed here: Will the road to The Tip of Cape York be sealed by 2030?
Road conditions can be checked on the Cook Shire Council Cape York road conditions page.
Corrugations. The bigger they get, the more damage they do!
List of fuel prices in Cape York for 2021 & 2022. These are taken from our tour trucks fuelling up throughout the year.
Cape York road conditions can be notoriously bad, and are said to be similar or worse than the Gibb River Road. There is more bitumen these days, but dirt sections appear to be neglected and corrugations form rapidly. The corrugations in the image to the left appear small but are massive, and have vehicles towing trailers down to 20km/h. Not all stretches are this bad, and some of the dirt is great, but be prepared for a wear and tear bill upon return. You know the road is bad when people start driving in the table drains…and it’s really bad when the table drains have their own corrugations! You can get tips on how to drive on these kind of roads at our article here: How to Drive on Dirt Roads in Cape York.
Fuel prices in the Cape vary and are generally cheapest closer to Cairns. As you head north, generally the prices increase. In 2022, with global fuel price rises, Cape York fuel costs were between $2.11/L and 2.89/L. In 2021, they were between $1.49/L and $2.05/L.
The cheapest fuel in Cape York is generally Palmer River Roadhouse, Cooktown or Weipa. These are generally within a few cents of eachother.
The most expensive fuel in Cape York is Bramwell Junction, followed by Bamaga/Seisia, and surprisingly, Coen.
Our tour trucks don’t fill up at Archer River or the Jardine Ferry, but these are known to be expensive as well.
The costs for the Jardine River ferry vary depending on your vehicle. A motorbike return is $55, a single vehicle return is $121, vehicles with trailer return is $192.50, and large trucks and buses are $242-308.
Cape York is accessible by a few airlines, including Jonathon Thurston’s co-owned SkyTrans airline, QANTAS, and Rex.
I believe this is one of the most fun parts of the trip. The planning stage is awesome! Use this website, the links in this blog, and several other webpages, facebook pages, books and more to build your knowledge. HEMA maps are great too! The website Desination Cape York, is also one of the best resources out there!
You can drive, fly or boat to Cape York. Driving and flying are outlined above. Cape York is also serviced by the sea freight company Sea Swift, which also takes passengers.
The start of Cape York is a mere couple of hours from Cape York you could say. Cairns to Bamaga (the tip) however, is around 1000 kilometres.
2 weeks is a general benchmark to see AND enjoy Cape York. It can be done in 7 days, but it’s very rushed and not very enjoyable. The longer the better, but 2 weeks is a good estimate.
The best time to visit Cape York is between May and September. The monsoon season is December-April and the Cape is mostly cut off by flooded rivers and boggy roads. People tried to get to Pajinka in April, 2022 and were stranded on the north side of the Archer River for days without food. Food had to be helicoptered in. See an update on when the Archer River bridge will be complete here.
Each month from May-September has it’s benefits though. May can still be a little wet and some parks may still be closed, but it is quiet. June is when most start to head up, and is a beautiful cool and green time to go. June/July school holidays tend to be busy, but it is pleasantly cool.
August & September are generally quieter, and wildlife can be more concentrated due to receding waters. It isn’t too hot by then. Once October hits, it really starts to warm up. For those used to the heat, you can certainly travel up here Oct-Dec, but it will be hot, and you will sweat in your tent at night. Check what places are open after October too, as many services shut down.
The wet season in Cape York is December to April each year.
A rough idea of Cape York rainfall and temperature over a year.
A vehicle stranded north of the Archer River in January, 2022. Travellers attempted driving to Cape York in April, 2022 and were cut off on the north side by high water. A helicopter had to drop the vehicles food and supplies as they ran out of food.
Yes, you can fly to Cape York, see the ‘How’ section above.
Yes, you can drive to Cape York, see the ‘What’ section above.
Yes and no. Some creeks in Cape York are far enough from the coast that crocs aren’t present. Some are too small, too cold or too high, although it’s critical that you check with locals and keep an eye out for crocodile signs. If you are not sure, don’t risk it! Crocs can be present in crystal clear water and you wouldn’t know they were there!
Yes, it’s possible, but mostly only locals do it, and only when the roads are good. The PDR can be driven by a 2wd but it could take a beating. Having 4wd engaged is not necessary on the PDR, in fact I prefer to drive 2-wheel drive in my ute, unless it’s boggy. It’s more a matter of whether the car can handle the rough corrugations. Generally 4wd’s are setup with appropriate gear, like good suspension, to handle Cape York.
Yes dogs can go to Cape York! I have had my co-pilot pooch working and travelling with me for years now. It might be tricky on holiday however, as you must abide by National Park laws, which don’t allow dogs in National Parks.
The National Parks (Qld) website states:
“You can travel through a national park with your dog in a vehicle but only on gazetted roads.The dog must stay inside the vehicle and you must stay on the gazetted roads. You can’t travel on any non-gazetted (management) roads in the park and you can’t stop at day-use areas, lookouts or any other sites.”
Either way, make sure your dog doesn’t always run to the water in Cape York…dogs are a favourite food of crocs!
No. As Fruit Bat Falls is within a National Park, dogs are not allowed.
No. Not at all! The ferry operates from 8 am – 5 pm, with a lunch break between 12-1 pm. During the lunch break the ferry doesn’t run. Depending on the time of year, there may be a good wait (generally in the morning). Also, I don’t think you can actually book the ferry!
We honestly believe our tours are some of the best tours in Australia! Our Cape York and Gulf Savannah tours are extensively researched and field tested to bring you the best tours you could imagine! We are adventurers and travellers at heart but also perfectionists, and we want you have to have the holiday of a lifetime! They are relaxed tours, not tick-n-flick! We believe these tours are the most comprehensive, best value tours for all of these regions. I’ll buy you a coldy if I’m wrong!
Our tours are camping orientated to be more authentic and our camp gear is high quality. Our tour trucks, ‘Zeus’ & ‘Herc’, are equipped with comfy seats, fridges and powerful AC! We are super excited with the tours we’ve produced for 2023 & we can’t wait to share the adventure with you! We aim to make our tours senior friendly and we craft each tour with that in mind!
We also run leadership development camps for youth, speak in schools and do photography tours and lessons. Customised bookings, bus hire and bucks & hens parties are also welcome!
Hi- great article.
We intend to use the Jardine ferry late May. Should we expect long wait times in a queue to cross?
Thanks mate! No not at all. May is generally pretty quiet, although it’s hard to predict what might happen this year. Just be aware the ferry is shut at lunch times from 12-1pm.
Hi. We have little to no 4WD skills. Is there a way to bypass the Telgraph and still get to the tip? Thanks
There is a main dirt highway that bypasses the Old Telegraph Track. Check a HEMA map and pick one up from the shops (book stores or camping stores have them locally). It can still be badly corrugated though, so make sure you’re still prepared for that 🙂
I’ve got a Subaru Outback is this suitable fir a cape York trip
It’s possible, but you wouldn’t be doing the Telegraph Track. It could take a bit of a beating if the roads are bad as well. But if the roads are ok it should be fine. Locals do it in all sorts of cars at different times of the year.
Helpful information on this site. We (Wife & I and a dog,) will leave our caravan and use a tent
Are tents ok or not recommended? Where can caravan’s be safely stored?
You’re most welcome mate! Yeah tents are great! We camp in tents all the way up on our tours 🙂 Caravans can be left at many places. Cairns, Mt Carbine Caravan Park (I know they used to), I think Lakeland Downs as well. You can leave them further north, but that defeats the purpose of not taking them on dirt if that is your intention.
Hi Rosy, wondering if it is reasonably safe to swim in the ocean, say at Chili Beach, Captain Billy’s Landing or some other white sand beach with crystal clear water – in winter (June). Can wear a stinger suit anyway, but what about crocs?
Thanks for your useful info!
Absolutely not mate! While there is a chance it might be OK, and locals may do it…there is also a very good chance it isn’t safe. Crocodiles are incredibly difficult to see in water, even when it is clear. If you are in the water, sitting down, just the reflection off the surface of the water alone would reduce your vision in the water to about 5-10 metres. I have been told several stories by rangers of both Chilli Beach AND Captain Billy’s Landing, where crocs have picked up people’s habits when they were going to the water consistently, and then been waiting in ambush.
Hope that helps mate. This is croc country.
Hi, would a GMC denali make it to the Cape? We have 4 wheel drive. And on average how busy would it be in late October early November.
Your GMC would make it to the Cape just fine I’m sure. I have seen quite a few of the American cars have issues though, and getting parts for them isn’t easy I imagine. It will be quiet, but extremely hot, including at night if you’re tenting. A lot of providers will shut down in mid-late October too.
HI Rosy have been up the Cape 2012 planing a trip in 2023 trade winds where strong so stayed on west coast would like to see east coast what would be best time of year for less wind cheers Tony
Between May and September, the Cape gets it’s trade winds. Generally consistently strong winds between 15-30 knots SE. In about October, the duldrums come and it switches to northerlies which are much weaker. If you’re sailing, May to Sept is good. If you’re fishing, after October if you want flat waters. Not to say it’s not doable in May-Sept though.
Cockatours are the best. I have just had a 15 day tour with Roosy team and loved it. It caters for all ages our group was 79 and down and I was 73.I will certainly recommend it to all my friends. Thanks Cocatour tours.
You’re too kind Lois! Haha thanks mate! Love ya work 🙂