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What to See on Your 4WD Trip from Cairns to Cape York

3 June 2024

Embarking on a 4WD trip from Cairns to Cape York is the quintessential Australian road trip, offering a blend of rugged landscapes, pristine wilderness, and rich Indigenous culture. This journey to the northernmost tip of Australia is challenging yet incredibly rewarding, with countless sights and experiences along the way. Here’s your guide to what to see and do on your 4WD trip from Cairns to Cape York.

Cairns: The Gateway to Adventure

Your journey begins in Cairns, a vibrant city known for its tropical climate and proximity to the Great Barrier Reef. Before you head north, take some time to explore Cairns. Visit the Cairns Esplanade, relax in the Lagoon, and stock up on supplies for the trip ahead. Once you’re ready, hit the road and head towards the Atherton Tablelands. It is the perfect starting point on your 4WD trip from Cairns to Cape York.

Waterfall in Cape York

Atherton Tablelands: A Scenic Detour

Just a short drive from Cairns, the Atherton Tablelands offers a stunning landscape of rolling hills, waterfalls, and lush rainforests. Highlights include the Millaa Millaa Falls, one of the most photographed waterfalls in Australia, and the Curtain Fig Tree, an ancient and massive strangler fig tree. Don’t miss a visit to the charming town of Yungaburra, where you can enjoy a meal at a local café and perhaps spot a platypus in Peterson Creek.

Grass Hill Look Out Cooktown Cape York Tour
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Cooktown: A Historic Stop on Your 4WD Trip from Cairns to Cape York

Continuing north, your next major stop is Cooktown, approximately 330 kilometers from Cairns. This historic town is named after Captain James Cook, who landed here in 1770. Visit the James Cook Museum to learn about the town’s history and the indigenous Guugu Yimithirr people. Take a stroll along the picturesque waterfront, and drive up to Grassy Hill for panoramic views of the coastline.

Your 4WD Trip from Cairns to Cape York

Lakefield National Park: Wilderness and Wildlife

From Cooktown, head towards Lakefield National Park (Rinyirru), one of Queensland’s largest and most remote national parks. The park is renowned for its diverse ecosystems, including wetlands, rivers, and savannahs. It’s a fantastic place for birdwatching and spotting wildlife such as crocodiles, kangaroos, and dingoes. Camp under the stars and enjoy the serenity of the Australian wilderness. It is a perfect stop on your 4WD trip from Cairns to Cape York.

Laura: Indigenous Art and Culture

Continuing your journey, make a stop in Laura, a small town with a rich indigenous heritage. Laura is famous for its ancient rock art sites, some of which date back thousands of years. The Quinkan Cultural Centre provides excellent information on the local indigenous culture and the significance of rock art. Take a guided tour to the Split Rock galleries to see these incredible artworks up close.

The Old Telegraph Track: A 4WD Enthusiast’s Dream

One of the most iconic parts of the journey your 4WD trip from Cairns to Cape York is the Old Telegraph Track (OTT). This challenging 4×4 track follows the route of the original telegraph line and is famous for its river crossings, rugged terrain, and beautiful scenery. Key points of interest along the OTT include:

  • Palm Creek Crossing: A challenging entry point to the track, known for its steep banks and muddy conditions.
  • Gunshot Creek: Perhaps the most infamous crossing on the OTT, with its steep drop and narrow passage.
  • Fruit Bat Falls: A picturesque waterfall and swimming spot, perfect for a refreshing dip.
  • Twin Falls and Elliot Falls: Stunning waterfalls that offer excellent swimming and camping opportunities.

Jardine River: The Final Frontier

After conquering the Old Telegraph Track, you’ll reach the Jardine River, the last major river crossing before Cape York. Use the Jardine River Ferry to cross safely. The surrounding area is rich in Aboriginal culture, and you can learn more about the traditional owners of the land at the local communities.


Bamaga and Seisia: Gateway to the Tip

As you approach the northern tip, you’ll pass through the communities of Bamaga and Seisia. These towns offer essential services, accommodation, and opportunities to learn about the local Torres Strait Islander culture. From Seisia, you can also take a ferry to Thursday Island, the administrative and commercial hub of the Torres Strait Islands.

Top 10 Things to do in Cape York

The Tip of Cape York: Standing at the Edge of Australia

Finally, after an epic journey, you’ll reach the northernmost point of mainland Australia, often simply referred to as “The Tip.” Park your 4WD and take a short walk to the iconic signpost that marks the tip. Standing here, with the vast expanse of the Torres Strait stretching out before you, is a truly unforgettable experience.

Your 4WD trip from Cairns to Cape York is an adventure of a lifetime, filled with breathtaking landscapes, historical sites, and cultural experiences. From the lush rainforests of the Atherton Tablelands to the rugged terrain of the Old Telegraph Track and the pristine beauty of the Cape York Peninsula, this journey offers something for every traveler. So gear up, prepare for the adventure, and book your Cape York tour with us today for an unforgettable journey to the edge of Australia! Perfer to make your own way there? Hire a car from 4WD Hire Cairns and make your way to the tip!