Cairns to Cape York - Cape York Capers

27 February 2007
Words & Pics: Rod Chapman

In a society where cheap airfares have shrunk the size of the world considerably, it's nice to know you don't have to look further than your own backyard for a good old-fashioned adventure. And when it comes to big dirt bike adventures, it's hard to beat riding from Cairns to the northernmost tip of Australia, Cape York.

Let me begin by saying that this isn't an insignificant undertaking. You'll need the best part of a week if you want to keep the daily distances sane and do a bit of sight seeing; you'll need a bike in top condition and you'll need to know what you're doing - if plans turn pear-shaped up here, you can really be in trouble.

So, the best way to go is to pick an organisedCape York tour, where the guides know the lie of the land, there's backup and there are people to help you out if you come to grief. There are a few companies available, but I went with Cape York Motorcycle Adventures - it's been around for years and what company owner Roy Kunda doesn't know about the Cape isn't worth knowing.

From Cairns, we headed out on the provided Suzuki DR-Z400s to sample some of the superb singletrack that festoons the nearby Atherton Ranges, before making our way up past Mossman to Cape Tribulation in the famous Daintree Rainforest.

From there we rode through the Daintree north up to Rossville, on an undulating 4WD track that snakes its way through the rainforest and several creek crossings. At the very beginning of the dry season as we were, the last wet season's record rainfall meant that river and creek levels were far Cape Yorkhigher than they should have been for that time of year, but this only added to the adventure - especially when you know there are crocs in these parts!

From Rossville on the countryside opens out, and then you pop back onto the tar near Black Mountain, just south of Cooktown. After Cooktown we headed off on a picturesque 'shortcut' down Battle Camp Road, only to find the Normanby River as a swollen, impassable torrent, so it was back on the tar to Lakeland, and up the Peninsula Development Road to Laura, and then the Hann River Roadhouse.

We were stopped by floodwaters again at Archer River, where after waiting a day the river dropped enough for us to float our DR-Z400s over one by one in an aluminium dinghy, allowing us to push on for Bramwell Junction and the Telegraph Road that would take us to the top. Compared to theCape York singletrack near Cairns or the fire trails through the Daintree, the roads up here are more like dirt highways - flat and broad, and they becoming increasingly sandy the further north you push.

From Bramwell Junction the Telegraph Track is a must for those wanting to do it the hard way, but on our trip the river levels blocked it off completely, meaning it was back to the 'main' road to reach the northern settlement of Bamaga. The track from Bamaga to the tip itself is a blast - a winding clay ribbon that twists and turns through the jungle, until you pop out at the carpark of the Pajinka Wilderness Lodge, a resort which fell into ruin some years ago.

A 30-minute walk later and you'll be standing at the very top of Australia, less than a couple of hundred kilometres away from Papua New Guinea. After riding around 1000km to get there, you'll feel pretty damn proud of yourself - and whyCape York shouldn't you? The Cape York Motorcycle Adventure tour I was on was a one-way affair - from here we rode back to Bamaga, loaded the bikes onto a barge bound for Cairns, and then hopped on a light aircraft for a flight back to the same city (getting a bird's-eye view of the Cape and the Great Barrier Reef along the way).

This great off-road epic won't be packed with the same thrills you might get from a blast through Victoria's High Country, and it's certainly different from playing on the dunes across the Simpson Desert, but it's a brilliant trip in its own right, for its own reasons.

Travelling to the Cape you'll see a slice of the 'real' Australia, and if you're from the city you'll find the sheer sense of isolation and remoteness is one of the highlights of the trip. You'llCape York undoubtedly meet some amazing people along the way, and perhaps you'll see a side to Australia and Aussie life that you never new existed. It's a brilliant part of the country, and there's no better way to explore it than from behind the handlebars of a bike. Try it yourself - you'll never forget it.

Know Before you Go:

Double your safety margins when riding in remote areas - if you come unstuck, medical help is often many hours away.

You'll need to tackle this trip in the dry season (May to September). You can ride it in the shoulder months too (April and November), but you'll have a greater chance of finding impassable creeks and rivers.

It's nearly 1000km from Cairns to the top of Cape York; the riding itselfCape York generally isn't what you'd call 'technical', but you'll need to be fit enough to spend about a week on the road to get from one to the other, in hot and steamy tropical conditions.

Animals often wander across the road up here. Keep an eye out at all times for kangaroos, emus and wild horses, amongst many others.

Unless you're riding in a group and you all know what you're doing, a ride of this magnitude is best done within the safety of an organised tour, where experienced guides can lead the way and show you the best the Cape has to offer.

For more information:

Contact Roy or Renae at Cape York Motorcycle Adventures, Lot 1 Captain Cook Highway, Clifton Beach QLD 4879; tel: (07) 4059 0220; or visit:

Visit the website for more information on Cape York's attractions,Cape York communities and National Parks.

For Queenland's main Government-sponsored tourism website, visit:



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