“Are you ready for the Cape?”

Australia has some truly unique landscapes that are both as challenging to the off road explorer as they are spectacular. Queensland’s top end, Cape York, really is one of this continents last frontiers and if you are into 4wding adventures, the Cape will not disappoint with loads of memories for you to share for years to come around the camp fire.

From the lure of the must have photo at the Tip, the tropical rainforests and endless creek crossings and the temptation to drive some of the most iconic tracks like the Tele and Frenchman’s, the Cape will at some point seduce you to load up the family, grab a few mates and steer your 4WD north to feel the buzz for yourself, of this jewel in Australia’s 4WD adventure crown.

But before you turn the key and call the boss to tell him what you think of him, heading off on your epic adventure, you will need to plan out a few things. How long is this trip going to take you? Is your truck ready for the fun ahead? What is the trip going to cost? Yeah, yeah, I know all the boring stuff. But if you don’t get the planning right, you may find yourself up the Cape without enough folding stuff to get you home, as you didn’t realise how much fuel a Cape trip might need.

First thing is to work out where you want to go, how far that is and how long that will take. Here is a basic run down of travel distances to Cape York.

Getting to the start

From To Distance Time/Days
Cairns Cooktown 325km 6 hours
Brisbane Cooktown 2020km 2-3 days
Sydney Cooktown 2750km 3-4 days
Melbourne Cooktown 3160km 4-5 days
Adelaide Cooktown 3330km 5 days
Perth Cooktown 5600km 7-8 days
Darwin Cooktown 2950km 4 days

Around the Cape

Road To/From Distance Time/Days Grade
PDR road Bamaga Rd Cooktown – Bamaga 840km 3-4 days C
Old Telegraph Track Bramwell Junction – Jardine River 150km 1-2 days A (wet) B (dry)
Frenchmans Track Bataiva Downs – Chilli Beach 100km 1-2 day A
The Tip Bamaga – Cape York 34km 1 C

Note: travel times are approx. only. All times are dependent on vehicle type, driver ability and conditions
Grade A – modified vehicles, competent/experienced drivers, more than one vehicle is advised
Grade B – equipped vehicles, capable trailers
Grade C – fine for almost all vehicles and trailers

Cape Locations for Fuel:

Musgrave Roadhouse, Archer River Roadhouse, Weipa, Bramwell Junction, Bamaga, Seisia, Jardine River (at the ferry), Lockhart River

Your Cape trip could include a few different routes which would all be different in terms of conditions and access for your vehicle. And depending on whether your setup includes a trailer or camper, will most likely determine which way you choose to go. The Peninsular Developmental Road (PDR) runs all the way from Mt Molloy, near Mosman south of Cooktown, to the Mining and fishing town of Weipa. Some 720km of graded dirt, corrugations that will test every bolt on your truck and tar sections that are expanding ever longer as each year rolls around. If you stick to the PDR and the similar Bamaga and Telegraph roads, you will get just about any vehicle with trailer or van up to the tip, in the dry season, with little or no hassle. The challenge comes when you want to drive the famous Old Telegraph Track (OTT), or get to Chilli beach, Captain Billy’s Landing, drive the Frenchmans Track, get out to Mutee Head for a spot of fishing or when you want to do the five beaches run. That’s when you need to consider your setup, and assess whether you might want to go with a good offroad trailer, or keep things really simple and just roll out a swag when the sun goes down. What you choose for your setup will entirely depend on what time of year you go, what tracks you want to tackle and how comfortable you need to be.

The Cape for most of us is a long drive away, so you don’t want to get up there and not have enough time or the right gear, to get all the good parts ticked off the bucket list. So take your time researching and getting your truck ready, and you will have a more enjoyable trip.
Hitting the Cape would be madness without a long swim in Twin Falls, Elliot Falls and Fruit Bat Falls. Fishing at Mutee Head and Chilli beach are both a must and if you are into your wartime history, the Cape is littered with evidence of wartime camps, bomb testing sites, crashed planes and lookout towers.

However you choose to see the Cape and no matter long you have to enjoy the journey, the most important thing is to make sure you get there. The Cape really is one of Australia’s last frontiers and a Cape trip will give you, your family and mates, the adventure of a lifetime.


Matt Penrose – OzOffroad