For many of us the Old Tele Track is a bucket list trip that we often spend years planning and preparing for but the Cape York Peninsula has so much more to offer than two days of creeks, crowds and broken 4wd’s. In this article we’ll show you the many mind blowing beautiful places and things to do along the way on roads that are off road camper and caravan friendly. The Daintree, Laura, Coen, Cape Tribulation and other hidden gems await the clever traveller that’s prepared to do a little extra planning and head up those turn offs along the way. If you have an offroad camper or caravan, you’ll be that much more comfortable and we’ll explain the tricks to having some fun 4wdíng without trashing your gear. No need for big lifts and massive tyres, this is the everyday persons guide to the cape.
“The Cape” is rich in both indigenous history and culture, much of the land is owned and managed by local in-digenous communities. Just across the water from the very tip are the Torres Straight Islands of Thursday Island and Horn Island, both of which are a must visit on your trip to the top as the people are some of the friendliest you’ll meet and the food in the local pubs is first rate.
If aboriginal art is your thing there are some great spots to visit along the way. At Laura some of the best Aboriginal art “rock galleries” are there for your viewing. At Weipa there are shell middens revealing previous local history along with ab-original art well worth your time to see.
If you’re a fisherman like me then a trip through the north after the wet season is a great way to bag some quality catches. By routing your journey along the coast north of Cairns you’ll find excellent camping locations close to great spots to wet a line. Cairns to the Daintree is an easy drive and for the keen fisho there are plenty of mangroves and creeks to soak a bait or thrash the water to foam with your favourite lures. A must stay loca-tion is Cape Tribulation, in particular Cape Trib Camping where the facilities are excellent and they’ll even cook you one of their sensational wood fired pizzas. Campers and caravans are well catered to with powered site and everything is close to the beach. Activities in the area include a tree top experience zip lining through the tree canopy, swimming at the local waterhole, Great Barrier Reef tours, exotic fruit tasting at Cape Trib Farm, horseback tours and crocodile adventures. If you want your quiet time and a peaceful spot, there’s no shortage of that either.
North from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield will be your first taste of the northern dirt roads, there are creek crossings and some steep climbs and descents but it’s still a very accessible road and far from “4wd only” terri-tory when dry. If you want the challenge of more testing 4wd terrain there’s always the Creb Track to test your lockers and traction control and maybe the trophy of a broken CV, just carry the right spare parts and be pre-pared to put a ding or three in your camper or caravan. Along the way be sure to check out Bloomfield Falls which is breathtaking when the water is running.
Further north at Helenvale there is the famous and historic Lions Den Hotel. It wouldn’t be right not to stop for the obligatory selfie and a cool drink and if you’re hungry this is the place to eat. From here we head up to Cooktown which is the spot Captain James Cook repaired his damaged Endeavour after running aground on the Barrier Reef. Around town there is plenty of history as the foreshore parks have many statues, landmarks and monuments to check out. The Grassy Hill Lookout is home to the old lighthouse and the views are spectacular. In town there is the James Cook Museum, Botanical Gardens and Cooktown Cemetery.
Some of the Cape’s best fishing is to be had right here at the jetty which is Cooktown’s most popular spot, just to the north are the rock walls and south the boat ramp has been known to produce some quality fishing. If you have time on your hands it’s well worth booking one of the local charters that can take you up the rivers or out to the reef. If you’re in the area during the Queens Birthday weekend the three day festival has a re-enactment of Cook’s arrival and plenty more to do and see.
Well worth the effort is making your way to the Peninsula Develop-ment Road (PDR) via Endeavour Battlecamp Rd. Although not chal-lenging during the dry from a 4wd sense, the scenery and points of interest along the way make it a pleasant drive. If you want to camp along the way Horseshoe Lagoon is the spot. Keep an eye out for the wild brumbies and native wildlife in the area. Just up the road is Old Laura Homestead and a must see window into the life of early settlers. Many of the old original structures are still intact affording some great photograph opportunities. Mango trees litter the grounds along with enormous flame trees and relics worth investi-gating. There is camping available near the Homestead and plenty of room for your van or camper. Outside the local store at Laura there is a vintage car the same model as the original that first made the trek to the Cape and conveniently close to the local pub.
Laura can be considered the gateway to the Northern Peninsula and as you head north along the PDR you’ll see the landscape changes and the termite mounds grow larger into the cathedral shape we see in everyone’s trip photos. There are roadhouses at regular intervals along the PDR so fuel won’t be a problem and all of them have great tucker and some kind of signature burger or steak sandwich and somewhere to camp if you’re done with driving for the day. So far in my travels the Palmer River Roadhouse has had the only burger so big I struggled to finish it.
After turning off the PDR onto the Telegraph Rd eventually you’ll arrive at Bramwell Junction. Here you can get fuel and food and basic supplies and there is a camping area that’s inexpensive and it marks the start of the Old Tele Track however, if you’d like something a bit special it’s hard to go past Bramwell Station. Here you have great camping, excellent facilities like hot showers, a bar and kitchen so if you feel like a night off from the camp oven they will gladly serve a meal for you. During the peak season there is also live entertainment but it does get crowd-ed so make sure you book a spot.
Bramwell Junction is also the starting point for the Old Telegraph Line for those intent on taking on the icon-ic track. Here there is excellent camping, fuel, food and basic supplies. Don’t forget to check out the number plate tree and grab a photo or three and if you’re looking for somewhere to set up the camper or caravan you can do it here.
North of Bramwell are Fruit Bat Falls and Elliot Falls. If you wish to camp overnight this can be done at Elliot Falls. The water is crystal clear and croc free and arguably the nicest place to swim on the Northern Peninsu-la, but always be mindful of personal safety and that of the kids. This is the wilds of North Queensland after all.
From the falls you can head north towards the top. The Jardine river isn’t too far away and this is where you purchase your ferry pass which includes your camping permit for various areas north of the Jardine. Life is pretty laid back at the barge so if you’re early or arriving at lunchtime, chill out and relax until the guys are back on deck. Be cautious near the water, the Jardine is known for some BIG crocs and there have been peo-ple taken in the past. If you arrive late, find yourself a nice spot to camp away from the waters edge and head across the following morning.
Bamaga is the place to stock up on groceries and other items if you’re running low. There’s a bakery and a pub that does bottle sales but remember your limits on carrying alcohol.
At Siesia my pick of the camping is definitely Loyalty Beach. You can set your tent or camper up at the edge of the sand or back a bit if you have young kids or a dog. There is a resident croc in the nearby creek that’s a big fellow, he’s been known to stalk dogs in the past. Although the odds are extremely low of him paying you an evening visit, he’s definitely not something you want to trip over on your way to the toilet. Loyalty has an excellent restaurant and dongle style accommodation if you’re really missing airconditioning. There’s also a shop where you can get limited groceries, ice creams, drinks etc.
If you want to visit Thursday Island, and I suggest you do, then Siesia wharf is the set off point. Thursday Is-land has many cultural attractions as well as historic significance. The Gab Tutui Cultural Centre is well worth a visit, it’s a short walk from the wharf and delves into the indigenous history of the Islands. There’s plenty to see in the way of World War history and Australia’s most northern pub is a great spot for a beer and ex-cellent food.
Back on the mainland another spot that provides great camping is Punsand Bay. Not far from Loyalty Beach, it’s family friendly and well worth the visit. From Punsand Bay or Loyalty Beach you can day trip all the great spots to the north. There’s the famous Croc Tent where you can grab some great souvenirs and the staff will gladly help with directions to some of the cool spots to check out. The most popular spot is of course “The Northernmost Point On The Australian Continent” for the obligatory photos celebrating your adventure. Keep an eye out for dugongs and turtles as they frequently pass by the area. While you’re up there be sure to check out the resort ruins just south.
Another great spot to check out is Somerset. This spot is rich in history among the wild mango trees and is worth a day’s exploration including the Five Beaches drive. Somerset was the first permanent white settle-ment in Cape York and the first administrative centre for Cape York and the Torres Straight Islands. The Torres Straight back in the day was a violent and dangerous place with the Kaurarega head hunters attacking ship wrecks and the mainland tribes also still being cannibals.
I’ve only covered a small number of great places to visit and camp on the Cape York Peninsula. It would be well worth your while to check out great spots like Chili Beach on the East Coast, Lockhart River, Weipa and the beaches north, Pormpuraaw and the fishing around there. The number of resources available to plan your trip to cater for your personal tastes are many, there’s also some great Facebook groups dedicated to travelling the Cape and are a handy resource for up to date track and camping conditions as many locals are part of the groups.
The most important thing to remember is, stop planning and start doing. Too many people put off the trip thinking you need huge tyres, winches and all kind of 4WD gear when in actual fact, a reliable 4WD with a snorkel and good rubber will get you to most places without any trouble.