Driving to Cape York, what you should know before you go

Cape York is a holy grail for many 4WD and off-road enthusiasts. We all want to get to the furthermost tip of Australia at least once in our lifetime.

Driving to Cape York is a challenging experience considering corrugated roads, dust, remoteness, and other hazards. Being prepared for the trip is very important as it can save you and your car.

Note there are not many services around there and normally if something happens to your car you have to call for a tow truck and take it to Weipa or back to Cooktown or Cairns.

In this article we will try to answer all important questions about Cape York, so you can prepare better for your trip.


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Driving to Cape York
Driving to Cape York

Best time to go to Cape York

The best time to go to Cape York is in a dry season, between May and September. Note, it is also the busiest time as the roads are full of cars, and some accommodation places have to be booked in advance. For example, Punsand Bay Camping, the most popular caravan park on the Cape, has to be booked at least four months in advance.

Driving distances in Cape York

Considering big distances in Australia, Cape York tip is only 1030 km from Cairns. However, due to most of the road being dirt, you have to allocate more time to drive safely. Below you can find distances to the biggest attractions and places in the Cape York Peninsula.

CairnsCooktownElim BeachWeipaBramwellChilli BeachJardine FerryCape York
Tip
CairnsX3263978207877839571030
Cooktown X 72651618614788860
Elim Beach X 646613609783856
Weipa X 261287430504
Bramwell X 172170244
Chilli Beach X 342415
Jardine Ferry X 74
Cape York TipX
Driving to Cape York - PDR
Driving to Cape York – PDR

How to prepare car for Cape York?

Car preparation is a vital part when planning to go to Cape York. Regardless of if you want to tackle the Old Telegraph track or not, it is a long way to the tip. We did our Cape York trip in 2021 without any issues but we were well prepared. Below is the list of all essentials with an explanation of what they are for.

EquipmentWhy should I have it?
BullbarProtect your car front and radiator in case you collide with a wallaby or kangaroo.
SnorkelA must-have part if you go for any deep water crossings in Old Telegraph Track, Track to Usher Point, Old Coach Road, or any track with deep water crossings.
Dual Battery SystemEssential when you have a fridge, but also helps to charge other devices.
WinchUseful on any challenging 4WD tracks, if you are not planning to go on PDR (Penninsula Developmental Road) only, you don’t need it.
TyresYour tyres to the Cape will be hit hard, so make sure you have a good set before you go.
Heavy-Duty SuspensionThere are huge corrugations on the PDR, especially before the Jardine River ferry, so double check your suspension.
CompressorWhen driving to the Cape, it is recommended to change your tyre pressure depending on the road you drive. Having a compressor you can quickly inflate your tyres.
Cargo BarrierIt is a safety crate that separates the passengers from the bags and equipment stored in the back. In case of an accident, the crate will stop the baggage to hit you in the head. Many people ignore this safety part, but in our opinion, it is a must.
Gearbox and Diff BreathersPrevent the water from going inside your diffs or gearbox. You don’t need it if you plan to drive directly to Cape York via PDR.

It’s a good habit to check all the screws in the car and make sure they are not got unscrewed on the corrugated road. This should be done every day when you stop for a night. Corrugations make driving difficult for all the equipment you have. In particular check the roof rack, any storage boxes on the roof, battery mounts, backlights, or any third party equipment you attached to the car. During our trip, we passed by lost batteries, shovels, and a few solar panels.

Cheap trailers may have issues with suspensions so it is a good idea to check underneath if everything looks normal.

In addition, check fluid and oil levels and it is recommended to change your air filter once you get to Cape York.

What maps do I need for Cape York?

Considering you may end up in some remote places around Cape York, it is best to always have paper maps and GPS navigation as well. This way you will always know where you are.

For the Cape York trip, we used Cape York Atlas and Guide and HX-1 GPS Navigator.

Driving to Cape York
Driving to Cape York

How much of the road to Cape York is sealed?

As of 2021, the road to Weipa is sealed in about 50%. You can check the current progress on the Department of Transport and Main Roads – Road to Weipa page. The unsealed parts can be corrugated badly so make sure you adjust your speed. Be careful especially when approaching dips.

Travel Spiced Life

It’s not advised to overtake a vehicle if you don’t see what is in front of the passing car. There are numerous accidents on PDR due to unsafe driving, so better be slow and safe than sorry.

The remaining bits on Telegraph Road and Bamaga Roads are mostly unsealed, and the corrugations are even worse. Be especially careful in the part between the turnoff to Capitan Billy Landing for 40 km. This part has many bends and horrible corrugations.

When we took our trip in June 2021, the almost undrivable part was the last 25 km before the Jardine ferry. We had to drive really slow, but the shaking was still horrible.

In the last 50 km before the Jardine ferry, we spotted 5 cars on the side of the road. One car’s roof rack with a roof tent was laying on the ground. This is why you always check your screws!

Travel Spiced Life

If you want to avoid crowds and corrugations drive to Cape York in October. Note, the weather in October is hotter and some places starting to close their facilities in preparation for the wet season.

What’s the easiest way to Cape York?

The easiest way to Cape York is via Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR), Telegraph Road, Bamaga Road, Jardine Ferry and the final bit on Bamaga Road to the tip.

Some people drive to the Cape in 2-3 days from Cairns. We don’t recommend it as this means driving fast and unsafe. It is better to plan your trip ahead and spend a minimum of 2 weeks, but preferably 3 to 4 weeks on the Cape York Peninsula to really see everything.

Driving to Cape York - Isabella Falls
Driving to Cape York – Isabella Falls

How far you can take caravan to Cape York?

In general, we don’t recommend taking caravans to the tip of Cape York. But driving to Weipa is not as challenging and the road is 50% sealed.

Many people drive to Weipa, leave the caravan there, and go to Cape York in their 4WD only. This seems like a good option.

Saying that during our trip we also saw some people with caravans, but is it really worth towing a few tonnes on this unforgiving, dusty road? I leave it up to you.

If you are really keen to take your caravan to Cape York, below are possible destinations.

Cape York DestinationPossible to Take a Caravan?
CooktownYes
Anywhere on PDRYes, many roadhouses and caravan parks are available
WeipaYes
Elim Beach Yes
Cape Melville National ParkNo, only 4WD
Lakefield National ParkYes
Chilli BeachNot recommended, take a trailer instead
Olkola National ParkNo, only 4WD
Captain Billy LandingNo
Cape York TipYes, stay in Punsand Bay Caravan Park, or Seisia Holiday Park, Alau Beach Campgrounds or Loyalty Beach Campground and Fishing Lodge.

Where to leave caravan when going to Cape York?

We don’t recommend taking a caravan to the Cape York tip due to a difficult, corrugated road. Below are the best three options to leave your caravan safely and travel to the tip in your 4WD.

Where to leave a caravan before going to the tip?Description
WeipaWeipa Camping Ground is the only caravan park in Weipa, but it is a good one too. Leave your caravan there and enjoy a trip to the tip in your fourbie.
Bramwell Station Tourist ParkBramwell Station Tourist Park is located 7 km before Bramwell Roadhouse. Enjoy a huge campground, table dinner and licenced bar.
Bramwell RoadhouseBramwell Roadhouse is the last stop to leave your caravan. The roadhouse has a nice campground with fire pits and great burgers. After the roadhouse, Bamaga Road can be really unforgiving, and if you don’t want to damage your caravan leave it there. This is the place where Old Telegraph Track starts.
Driving to Cape York - driving through Lake Field National Park
Driving to Cape York – driving through Lake Field National Park

Read more from ExplorOz what people say about taking a caravan to the tip.

What spares to take to Cape York?

What spare parts to take with you on a Cape York trip is strictly related to if you are going for all the exciting 4WD tracks like Old Telegraph Track, Usher Point, Cape Melville, Old Coach Road or Frenchman tracks. Below is the list to consider.

Spare PartDriving only to Weipa and Cape YorkDriving to Cape York and 4WD
ToolkitYesYes
Two Spare TyresYesYes
Manual Tyre Repair KitYesYes
FusesYesYes
Fan BeltYesYes
Nuts and BoltsYesYes
Engine, Gearbox, Diff OilYesYes
WireYesYes
WD 40YesYes
Jumper LeadsYesYes
Duct TapeYesYes
TorchYesYes
Air FilterYesYes
Heater HoseOptionalYes
Radiator HosesOptionalYes
Wading BlankedNoYes
Recovery KitNoYes
ShovelNoYes

Is it safe to sleep in tent or swag?

Considering you should travel to Cape York light, many people sleep in tents or swags.

It is safe to do so if you follow a few simple rules.

  • Make sure you setup your camp at least 100 meters from the creek or river where you know there are salt water crocodiles.
  • Close your tent or swag in the evening and for the night.
  • Don’t leave any food scraps for the night (to not attract crocodiles).

If you don’t like sleeping in a tent or swag, another popular way of travelling is having a rooftop tent. We have it too and if you travel only with your partner this is the best, fastest and safest setup.

Queensland Travel Guide

What is the best part of Cape York?

Unsurprisingly, the best part of the Cape York trip is to do the final tip walk. The 800 meters trail leads you on top of the rocks to the final destination – a sign saying ‘You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent ‘.

The whole walk is beautiful. It gives you 360 degrees view of the surrounding islands and ocean. It is really worth staying there for some time and enjoying this amazing place.

If you were lucky to book your spot at Punsand Bay Caravan Park, after the walk you will be rewarded with the best firewood pizza and a licenced bar.

Sunset at Punsand Bay
Sunset at Punsand Bay

For us, that evening on the tip was the best and we remembered it for a very long time.

If you thinking of going to Cape York, don’t wait, start planning now – for us it was a lifetime experience.

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4WD Equipment Checklist

GPS Navigator or compass

Maxtrax – if you get bogged, you can use it for additional traction

Tire Deflator – deflate tires quickly when going on dirt or 4WD

Air Compressor – inflate tires quickly after going back on bitumen (we use MM)

Tire Repair Kit – to fix the tire by yourself when you don’t have access to the tire shop (we use Oztrail)

UHF Radio – for communication with your mates and in emergency

Full Recovery Kit (with Dampener Blanket) – must-have if you are going on real off-road

High Lift Jack – useful if you do serious 4WD tracks

Shovel – useful if you get bogged, also good for campfire cooking

Fuel funnel with water filter – additional protection when fueling up in dodgy places

Additional fuel canisters

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4 Comments

  1. Do I need a 4wd if not doing OTT. We only have a VW transporter van. I live on a farm.
    Tlhanks.

    1. Hi Jeannine,
      You definitely need a proper 4WD. Vans are not designed to stand the horrible corrugations and water dips that you may encounter in some parts on main roads (PDR or Bamaga) to Cape York.

      Even 4WD struggle with corrugations. This year we saw five 4WDs on the side of the road, on the section between Bramwell Roadhouse and Jardine Ferry. One car had a shattered windscreen and its rooftop tent had fallen on the ground. This is how hard it can get sometimes.

      For your reference, we also saw only one van driving to the Cape. An option would be to hire a 4WD or buy one and sell it after your Cape York trip.

  2. With due care you’ll easily bring your 2WD van up during the dry season – certainly through to the end of October. We have plenty of vans, from old VW Combies through to modern Transits, coming up here every season without issue. And 2WD cars too. So come on up and enjoy! Cheers, Steve

    1. Hi Steve,
      Maybe at the end of the season, it is possible to bring a van. The corrugations are smaller and there is less traffic. Personally, I would only consider a 4WD. Thanks for your input.

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