The dry season in Australia is the time when you best can enjoy your visit to Cape York.
The Tip of Cape York (northern peninsula area, north of Jardine River) is a special piece of land as it belongs entirely to five Aboriginal Communities. Almost the entire area is owned by the Injinoo community which also owns and operates the Jardine River Ferry.
Due to the specific nature of this part of Australia, there are a few things to know before entering the area. There are specific rules that apply only to the cape york tip.
#1 Jardine River Ferry is a paid service
Jardine River Ferry crossing is a boundary between the northern peninsula area (NPA) and the rest of Cape York. Getting to the ferry with the 4WD is a different story (read Driving to Cape York guide), but at least it is worth mentioning the final 25 km before the ferry.
Huge corrugation before the ferry
When we drove to Cape York in 2021, the worse part of the Bamaga road was the 25 km before the ferry. The dirt road had huge, 1-meter corrugations, making it almost undrivable. There were side tracks on both sides of the road, but those were corrugated too.
On this part, we saw 4 damaged vehicles on the side, and one with a roof rack that flew from the roof and shattered the windscreen.
I think that describes how bad was the road.
We spoke to locals in Punsan Bay and they say, at the end of the dry season (October) the road to Cape York is flat as a table, due to minimal traffic, so maybe consider arriving late in the dry season.
What is included in the ferry cost?
When we travelled in 2021, the ferry cost us $100, but it changes every year. The price includes the camping permits in Council Camping Areas.
There is plenty of free camping on Cape York Tip. Find your secluded spot and enjoy nature.
#2 The road from Jardine Ferry to Bamaga is wide but corrugated
The final dirt road to Bamaga is not as corrugated as it was before the Jardine Ferry, but special caution has to be taken due to the increased traffic in the dry season.
When you arrive at the tip you notice that the main roads between Injinoo, Umagico and Seisia are bitumen.
#3 Cape York Tip is heaven for free camping
This is one of the main reasons we all come to Cape York. As we mentioned before, camping fees are included in your ferry cost so that you can camp in all designed Council Camping Areas.
However, due to the remoteness of Cape York Tip, there are endless opportunities for free camping. For example, when you drive to Usher Point you can camp in the designated area or drive on the beach, find a shady spot and spend the night there.
Check out some of the popular camping spots on the tip:
– Mutee Head Campground
– Freshwater Beach
– Jardine River Mouth
– Usher Point
– Somerset Campground
Before heading for a camp check the government website if there are no closures for the area.
#4 All caravan parks are on the beach!
If you prefer to have some facilities and a bit of a crowd around you, choose your place in one of the caravan parks. They are all located on the beach!
Punsand Bay Camping – full licence bar, firewood pizza, accommodation, closest to the tip (super busy)
Loyalty Beach Campground & Fishing Lodge – campground with a kiosk and fish & chips every day (busy)
Alau Beach Campground – small caravan park in Umagico, with a reception and basic supplies shop (quiet, but can get busy in peak season)
#5 Cape York Tip is awesome for fishing
The second reason to visit Cape York is great fishing. The most popular place to try your luck is the Seisia wharf. If you have the right gear, it is almost guaranteed to have a good catch like trevally, cod, Spanish mackerel, queenfish, or even barramundi.
#6 There are limited supplies on The Tip
There are a few small settlements/towns on the tip including Bamaga, Sesia, Umagico, and Injinoo,
Bamaga, located about 40 km from the northernmost point of Australia is the biggest out of all of them with a population of 1160 (2021).
Bamaga offers basic services including a hospital, health care centre, pharmacy, spare shop, bakery, and service station. In Umagico and Sesia you find a small supermarket.
Fuel stations are in Bamaga, Sesia and Injinoo.
There are repair shops in Bamaga and Sesia, but if something more serious happened you would have to hire a tow truck and take it to Weipa.
Don’t count on buying supplies on the Tip. Instead, pack your car with food and fuel in advance.
#7 By visiting WWII plane wrecks you taste a bit of Cape York history
Like many coastal areas of Australia, Cape York has a bit of history associated with World War II.
Back in 1944, most of the able Torres Strait Islanders enrolled in the army to push the Japanese from the Cape York area. Interestingly, they were only paid 1/3 of the white troop ages (later that changed to 2/3). The whole place was transformed into a military base with Bamaga airport strips serving a crucial role.
As a result of that defence, there are now a few plane wrecks worth visiting while you stay in the area. It is only a short drive from town.
Bristol Beaufort Mark VIII – Australian-made twin-engine torpedo bomber
|Wreck||Plane Type||Crash Date|
|Bristol Beaufort Mark VIII||Australian-made twin-engine torpedo bomber||2/07/1944|
|Bristol Beaufort Mark VIII||Australian-made twin-engine torpedo bomber||10/10/1945|
|DC-3||American Propeller-driven airliner||05/05/1945|
|P-40E (Kittyhawk)||American single-engine fighter||N/A|
#8 The Tip of Cape York – is the best part of the trip!
Visit Crock Tent to get your souvenirs, maps and directions
Crock Tent is located at the intersection of Pajinka Rd (the tip track) and Punsand Bay Road. It is a great place to stop before heading to the final part of the trip. The shop has plenty of Cape York souvenirs for everyone’s taste.
In Crock Tent, you can also get an update on track conditions are receive a map that will help you with navigation.
Walk to the northernmost tip of Australia
After leaving Crock Tent it is only 18 km the final part of the trip.
This is what everybody long for. After driving thousands of kilometres (note that some people come from Victoria, NSW, SA or even WA) in dust and corrugations placing your feet on the northernmost tip of Australia is a dream of many people.
In our case, we were postponing the Cape York trip for many years and finally, in 2021 we did it.
The final part of Pajinka Road is an easy rainforest track with one water crossing on the way. At the tip, there is a small car park as a base for the final 800 meters of the trail to the tip.
The walk goes over the rocks and it is not very difficult. Occasionally you have to step on a boulder and find your way around, but nothing serious.
As you walk on the top of the rocks, you see everything from above. The views are magnificent. There is a huge sandy beach on the left and many Cape York islands floating in the sea in the distance.
A Somerset campground is one of the places where you can stay for free.
To get there you have to enter Somerset Road and follow it to the monument of canons. Turn left 50 meters before the monument and the road will take you to the Somerset campground.
Those who feel more adventurous can continue Somerset Road and tackle the famous 5 Beaches Loop 4WD Track. While driving the track you can stop on the way for a night to fully soak in the atmosphere of Cape York.
Somerset Beach area has a great historical significance with a European settlement history dating back to the 1860s.
On the south, you find a track leading to the old well and windmill. On the northern end of the camping area, there are the Jardine family and pearl diver graves.
For those, who don’t mind walking further, there is a more challenging trail around the rocky point at the northern end of the beach at low tide. The walk takes you to a sandstone bluff where you find some cave paintings.
Visiting Punsand Bay is your reward after reaching the tip of Australia. It is one of the very few licence places in the northern peninsula area.
The Corrugation Bar is where you get the most northern tap beer in Australia. They serve a huge variety of drinks and if you top it with the only wood fire pizza (the best we’ve ever eaten), you would not want to leave Punsand Bay for a while.
In addition to bar and camping facilities, they also have a campground shop, swimming pool, and kids’ activities.
Punsand Bay is also a place where you book your tours including Thursday Island or helicopter scenic flight.
When we arrived in Punsand Bay, it was the day of the State of Origin finals, so the tavern was full of people and had a great atmosphere.
#9 Be aware of alcohol restrictions
Knowing about alcohol restrictions in the northern peninsula area will help plan your trip better you avoid heavy fines.
The area is under Alcohol Management Plan and restrictions apply to all 5 communities: Bamaga, New Mapoon, Umagico, Injinoo and Sesia.
Usually, the restrictions per person are:
– 2 litres of wine and 30 x 375 beer cans, OR
– 2 litres of wine and 24 x 375 mixed spirit cans
You cannot carry, beer and pre-mixed cans together.
The best way to find out the current restrictions is to visit the government website from the link below.
#10 Book a tour if you don’t have your own 4WD
If you don’t have a forbie, and still want to see all Cape York attractions you can book a 4WD tour and they will take you there. Usually, all food, accommodation and ferry/cruise fees are included. For details check the Viator website.
The Tip of Cape York – Summary
The drive to Cape York is an iconic trip that every 4WD driver should do at least once in their lifetime. For us, it was definitely a trip we never forget.
Despite driving a dusty and corrugated road, Cape York offers a specific atmosphere that cannot be found anywhere in Australia. There are national parks, great swimming (be aware of crocks), fishing, and by most 4WD driving that includes the famous Old Telegraph Track.
We will definitely come back and visit the missing places!
Have you been to Cape York? Are you planning? If you have any questions please write a comment below.
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4WD Equipment Checklist
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