Exploring Cape York: 10 places you don’t want to miss
The best off-road destination.
CAPE YORK SHOWCASES Tropical North Queensland at its wild best, its rugged landscapes and natural attractions making it one of Australia’s best off-road destinations.
Just north of Cooktown is Elim Beach, a secluded stretch of concave coastline that is memorable for its beaches and nearby attractions. The beach’s low-key campground is dotted by paper barks to keep you cool, while up the beach is the stunning Coloured Sands. Hooking around to the east is the windswept Cape Bedford, which invites travellers to stand and look out at the beautiful waters of the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park with nary a soul around.
Australia’s largest tract of tropical rainforest, and one of the most complex natural ecosystems on Earth, the Daintree Rainforest is a thriving hum of greenery and wildlife. This dense and largely untouched wilderness runs unimpeded to the bright white shores of Cape Tribulation and its adjoining coastline, which is indicative of the rainforest’s unbridled vitality – a sentiment that’s imbued upon visitors who come to marvel at the rainforest’s collective might.
Chili Beach is well-known for its expansive shoreline and plentiful palm trees, but just north is a more scenic location that’s visited much less. Cape Weymouth may be devoid of facilities and places to stay, but its cloistered beach, rocky headland and nearby reef – along with a perfect view to tiny Restoration Island – makes it an idyllic stopover before heading further north into the Cape’s serious 4WD tracks.
Twin & Eliot Falls
In the middle of one of Australia’s most iconic 4WD tracks are two of the Cape’s most scenic waterfalls: Twin Falls and Eliot Falls. Those traversing the Old Telegraph Track can take the short detour just before the Canal Creek crossing to enjoy these natural wonders, which are spring-fed and clear, making them perfect for both a photo and a swim.
Hidden Waterfall, Sam Creek
Less than 10 kilometres north of Eliot Falls is Sam Creek, one of the track’s famous water crossings that’s also home to a secret glade and a hidden waterfall. Those staying at the nearby campground will tell you they can hear the waterfall through the silence at night, but only those willing to search will spy this gem for themselves.
Those in search of deserted coastline should look no further than Cape Melville, a far-flung headland that’s only accessible by rugged inland and beach 4WD tracks. Along the journey from Cooktown or Laura, travellers encounter everything from rusted-out LandCruisers to the inimitable beauty of the Melville Range before they reach the tip of the cape, which can be enjoyed over multiple days thanks to the many camping areas and bush camps available within Cape Melville National Park.
A fascinating look into Australia’s Indigenous storytelling and ancient history, Split Rock is a globally significant Aboriginal rock art site that is open to the public. Renowned for their depiction of mythical “Quinkans”, the rock art is uniquely well-preserved, with multiple sites throughout the region giving visitors and traditional owners a visceral connection to Australia’s storied history.
Palmer River Goldfields
Memories of Cape York’s nineteenth-century gold rush linger within the dusty highlands of the Palmer River Goldfields region, which straddles the upper reaches of the Great Dividing Range south of Laura. Rusted-out machinery and mine sites dot the hillsides, which travellers can discover by a rough and technical 4WD track that winds its way up and over the range.
Reached near the close of many a journey to the Tip of Cape York, Somerset Beach is a beautiful and historically significant section of the region’s wild coastline. Home to perhaps the first white settlement in the region – a tumultuous time of conflict between white settlers, Aboriginal tribes and Torres Strait Islanders – Somerset still holds many remnants of the past as well as its own fair share of stunning coastline, with the beach at Somerset part of the Five Beaches Track that links some of the Cape’s most magical beaches.
For most Cape York travellers, making it to the northernmost tip of the Australian mainland is a rite of passage. Looking out over Frangipani Beach to the deeper waters beyond is the perfect place to reflect on the journey that led to this emphatic endpoint – a proverbial ‘edge of the world’ moment that’s made all the more special by the adventure that preceded it.
Discover more about what Cape York has to offer by visiting the Cape York Travellers Guide by Hema Maps.