When Will the Road to the Tip of Cape York be Sealed: Finally Explained!

Will the road to the tip of Cape York be sealed by 2020?

Well, I thought I would clear up a little confusion about this as I’ve seen quite a few questions about it lately.  Admittedly, even I was a little confused about how much would be sealed and by when.  It’s harder again for non-locals, as it’s easy to assume that the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) goes all the way to the tip of Cape York.  I finally have a summary for you all after a little research on the Transport & Main Roads government website, Regional Development Australia website and phone calls with locals that are working on the road project.

The road names
map of cape york
Map of the PDR showing finished and proposed sealed sections. Source: TMR

Firstly, it’s important to understand the road names.  The PDR runs from Lakeland Downs (southwest of Cooktown) to Weipa…NOT to Bamaga or the tip.  The road from Cairns to Lakeland Downs is fully sealed, and recently bitumen has been extended to 20km north of Laura.  This makes the first dirt you hit, about 15 minutes north of Laura.  The road to the tip/Bamaga, branches off the PDR and continues for another 330 km, which is mostly dirt with some bitumen stretches in between.  This is called the Bamaga Road or sometimes the Northern Peninsula Road.

  • Cairns to Lakeland Downs: 250 km – part of the ‘Mulligan Highway, sealed
  • Lakeland Downs to Weipa: 530 km – ‘Peninsula Development Road‘, half sealed
  • PDR to the tip/Bamaga: 330 km – ‘Bamaga Road‘, mostly unsealed
  • The Overland Telegraph Track (OTT): 116 km – 4WD only, unsealed and never will be sealed.  The Bamaga Road bypasses the OTT if you don’t want to do it.
Fully sealed by 2020?  No, sorry.

The common belief is that the PDR would be FULLY sealed by 2020, however, this isn’t the case.  In 2014 funding was announced under the “Cape York Regions Package” which included $215 million to “to progressively seal sections of the Peninsula Developmental Road between Laura and the Rio Tinto boundary, south of Weipa”. The completion date was due for late 2019.  To clarify this, it meant that by late 2019, there would just be MORE sections of bitumen in between the dirt, not that the whole PDR would be sealed, and certainly not including the Bamaga Road to the tip as well.  This means by 2020 there would be 200 km of dirt remaining on the PDR, plus the 330 km of dirt/sealed Bamaga Road.  According to one of the road project managers, the goal on the PDR was that there would be no dirt sections longer than 15 km.

So when will it be complete?
tour bus next to red dirt road.
These long straight sections make for some easier driving. These corrugations are quite smooth and easy to drive over.

In the 6 years of road upgrade ending in 2019, 173 km of sealed sections will be added to the PDR, leaving 200 km of dirt remaining.  Local councils are now awaiting the next funding announcement to start making plans for the rest of the PDR.  Given that it has taken 6 years to do 173 km, it may take another 6 to complete the remaining 200 km of dirt.  As for the 330 km of Bamaga Road…I don’t know.  Maybe another 10-15 years?  I do know that the dirt sections around the Jardine River ferry are some of the worst on the Cape and it certainly needs it!  If only it were graded more often!

What does this mean for caravans and 2WD’s hoping to get to the tip by 2020?

Well, those that tow 4WD caravans can still do it as many have done before.  It’ll be rough and slow, but at least there will be more bitumen.  You’d be VERY game to take a motorhome all the way up!  Many locals drive their 2WD’s down to Cairns, but not often!  And not without substantial risk of damage, but it is possible.

An important note to consider is that whilst the north/south main highway may be eventually sealed, the side tracks and most roads in National Parks are still dirt.  And that’s largely what makes it the outback.  That difficult, challenging and arduous outback that we all love and cherish.  The one we seek to feel adventurous and get a taste of what pioneering must’ve once been like.  Historically, Cape York was Australia’s last frontier, the last place explored succesfully.  To this day, it still remains our last frontier.

Finally, if you’d like some often overlooked & very basic tips on driving on dirt roads (anywhere) and staying safe, see our post here: How to Drive on Dirt Roads in Cape York. You’d be surprised what the #1 tip is!

I hope this has been helpful!  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us via email or phone.  We’re always happy to help!  If you found this helpful, leave a comment and let us know what you think, and sign up to our blog mailing list (by clicking here).  We post some great stories and media on Facebook & Instagram too, and it’s worth a look!

13 Responses
    1. Ian Wright

      Hi Rossy, thanks for current info. Have driven OTL since 1970 in HD Holden. Have dome pics you may be interested in. Can drip feed them to you by email or mms.

  1. Eugene

    Thanks for the article – just the info I was looking for!
    One question, in late December, would the tip still be likely cut off due to the weather if I’m skipping the OTT and taking Bamaga Road instead?


    1. Cockatours (Rossy)

      Hi Eugene,
      Cape York will be VERY hot in December and it’s also very risky going that late as early storms can make the road a mess or cut the roads off with high rivers. It’s unlikely, but December isn’t an ideal time to do Cape York unfortunately. Camping won’t be pleasant due to the heat, sweating in your tent at night isn’t great fun and many camp grounds and other providers are likely to be shut.

  2. Eric

    Even if the PDR is completely sealed every causeway needs to have either pipes or box culverts placed in them to eliminate flood water during the wet season because u can’t cross them because they are flooded.

  3. Annette

    Waiting desperately to go back to the tip and experience all there is to offer along the way…however hubby says that won’t happen again for us until the road is sealed….all the way.

  4. Hi,

    I have read something that i need some confirmation on. Doing my planning to make sure we know what we are doing and what we need.
    Planning to drive to the tip, next week, vehicle is a 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, no lift fitted.
    I read that the road from to Bamaga, the road is only for vehicles that high lift kit fitted.
    Can you confirm this please


    1. Cockatours (Rossy)

      Hi Geoff,
      I’m not particularly familiar with that vehicle but have seen it around. There is a ‘bypass’ highway around the Telegraph track. This is all dirt, but can at times have bad corrugations. Clearance isn’t super necessary on this road, but it helpful for the corrugations. I would say that suggestion for a lift kit is more so for the Telegraph Track. Check the HEMA map and you’ll see the highway around the OTT.

  5. Tony Roberts

    Hi I was very fortunate to do the trip to the tip way back in the late 80s in a Toyota Troopcarrier and because I was working for Crossland Toyota in Cairns, the vehicle I took was a company demo. At that time I was a hard working fleet salesman and amazingly was the number one Toyota salesperson in Australia. My brother came with me and we had a fantastic time but coming home I tried to cross some flooded road just out of Bamaga. I walked across the flooded part and the water was just up to my knees so I got back into the troopie and away we went. Unfortunately I had moved a little to the right and the vehicle dropped into a deep hole and without a snorkel it sucked in a good gulp of water. That was as far as we were going and slowly there were lots of people backing up behind me and that made my embarrassment even worse. There were quite a few people that I knew so we were helped to get out of the bog and got the engine firing but loads of smoke due to bent conrods etc. we eventually got the vehicle back to Bamaga and we flew home but said vehicle came back by barge. Two weeks after we got back to Cairns and everything inside was covered in slimy green stuff. At least we saw what we wanted to see on the way up and more whilst up there. On my bar in my home I have the piston with the bent conrod mounted on timber with a plaque that says, “Swamprat” ha ha

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