Adventure awaits: why Cape York is the ultimate family road trip
Queensland is packed with inspiring family road trips that will bring you and the kids closer to nature – and each other. But if you want to show them what adventure really looks like (and create some life-long memories along the way), then set your sights on a Cape York 4WD odyssey.
Unofficially known as ‘The Tip’, the Cape York Peninsula is famous for being the northernmost part of Australia. A region of remote wilderness and rugged landscapes, it’s the ultimate destination for adventurous families who are up for a challenge.
Away from the screens, chores and the hustle and bustle of daily life, there’s time and space to reconnect like never before. Load up the 4WD, round up the kids and get ready for the journey of a lifetime. Here are five Cape York must-dos:
1. Unleash your inner explorer
A journey to Cape York takes a lot of planning, but once you’re there, the opportunity for discoveries are endless.
Channel your kids’ natural inquisitiveness and spend your days exploring the region’s national parks. Traverse rugged 4WD tracks, tackle treacherous river crossings, then pitch a tent at a free bush campsite at the end of each action-packed day.
Stop off in Cape Melville National Park, about halfway between Cairns and the Tip, to discover a dramatic landscape of granite boulders, sandstone escarpments and inland dunes. Just remember to follow all warning signs and stay croc-wise near the water. If in doubt, seek local knowledge.
2. Walk in the footsteps of ancient people
Aboriginal Australians have called Cape York home for more than 40,000 years. Don’t miss the opportunity to uncover the rich stories and traditions that give this region its unique character.
Take the Bloomfield Track north from Cape Tribulation to Wujal Wujal to explore Wujal Wujal Falls, a sacred site of the Kuku Yalanji people (it’s an easy 30 minute return hike). Next, head to nearby Wujal Wujal Art Centre where local Aboriginal artists exhibit works inspired by the surrounding rainforests, waterfalls and mountains.
Further north in Cooktown, see legends of the Dreamtime brought to vivid life on the richly painted Milbi Wall along the town’s wharf (Milbi is the Aboriginal word for ‘story’). The wall tells the creation stories of the Endeavour River and Cooktown, as well as the story of the Guugu Yimithirr people and their first contact with European settlers.
For art of a more ancient variety, head west to Laura to encounter aboriginal art in its original 20,000-year-old ‘gallery’ on a Jarramali Rock Art 4WD Tour.
3. Discover hidden beaches
The coastline of Cape York is lined with remote beaches, windswept headlands and secret coves. Drive an hour north of Cooktown and you’ll find yourself at Elim Beach, a little-known stretch of coastline that’s as beautiful as it is secluded. Picnic under the shade of the paperbark trees that dot the shoreline, then take a drive up the beach to the majestic Coloured Sand cliffs. (If you’re new to beach driving, check out these beginner’s tips).
Further north, round off your trip to the tip with a detour to Frangipani Beach, the northernmost beach on the Australian continent. Watch the sun set over the Torres Strait and set up camp for the night (the nearby rainforest campground is free).
4. Spot native animals in the wild
Cape York abounds in rare creatures and colourful wildlife. Turn the kids into junior nature photographers by challenging them to keep track of the animals you encounter on your road trip. Expect to cross paths with shy marsupials, giant flightless birds, fluorescent green tree frogs and much more as you venture deep into the wilderness.
Cape York Peninsula is even home to packs of roaming wild horses descended from domestic herds that escaped their colonial owners. Don’t be surprised if a small band of horses (known as brumbies) come roving through your campground at dusk looking for an easy supper. Just be sure to keep your food and scraps packed away and remember to keep a respectful distance.
5. Stand at Australia’s northernmost edge
Last but definitely not least, marvel at rugged, unfiltered nature as you stand on the edge of Australia.
Commemorate reaching your destination with a family snap in front of the iconic ‘You Are Standing at the Northernmost Point of the Australian Continent’ sign. Then, head to The Corrugation Bar at the nearby Punsand Bay campgrounds for a celebratory beer (or lemonade).
Tip: visit at low tide when it’s just a short walk across the sand to reach the sign. The walk at high tide is over rocks and may be tricky for kids to navigate.
Ready to hit the road to Cape York? Here are 13 tips to help you (and your family) prepare.