Cape York Camper-Style

by Peter and Jannette Manins

published in Motorhome World for Sep/Oct 2008 #22, pp 90–92
republished in The Wanderer (, December 2010, Vol 25, No 12, pp 18–20.


We’ve got to go down THERE? Palm Creek is the first crossing on the Old Telegraph Line.

If you could go anywhere in any motorhome or campervan in Australia for 14 days, what would you do? We were faced with this ‘problem’ with only days to decide, upon return from an interstate trip. We opened a letter to find we had won the June 2008 Motorhome World/Kea Campers 14 Days of Luxury competition.

We had always wanted to go to the Bungle Bungles, to Cape York, or to Kakadu so we chose to forego the luxury of a six-berth motorhome and selected the Kea 4WD Toyota LandCruiser pop-top camper. We would take it from Cairns, Qld. to Cape York and back. We reasoned that 14 days would be a bit rushed, so extended the booking to 19 days.


Outward route from Cairns (red), return route (blue).

We planned the main route using the Hema map of Cape York and two days on Google Earth. In Cairns we picked up the book Cape York, An Adventurer’s Guide by Ron and Viv Moon, and this proved invaluable. With many diversions and unplanned extras, we really enjoyed experiencing this frontier country, travelling 3326 km.


At first the van seemed very cramped, but this was quickly sorted. In some ways we found it more spacious than our own motorhome. The pull-out bed in the pop-top roof was really good, comfortable, and with lots of ventilation if required, and we got to like the metho stove on the back door – something that would be hard to use in cold, wet Victoria.

Our route was basically Cairns to Weipa via the Peninsula Development Road, onto the Old Telegraph Line, a ferry ride over the Jardine River and then on to Punsand Bay and up to The Tip. We then headed south on the Bamaga Road bypasses and Telegraph Road to Portland Roads road then on to Lockhart River and Lakefield National Park. From there we travelled to Cooktown, returning to Cairns via the Bloomfield Track.

We averaged 14.0 L/100k (high of 14.8, low of 13.3); diesel fuel was over $2.00/L everywhere north of Cooktown — up to $2.39/L at Bramwell Junction (23 June 2008).


Crossing Cyprus Creek.

When we told fellow travellers that we had won the trip, they all would say that they had never met a significant prize winner before! We had to admit that we hadn’t either.


Nolan's Brook is the last crossing before the Jardine River.

The Old Telegraph Line going from south to north was exciting with over 19 creek crossings, and five were challenging to us inexperienced 4WDers. For the north part of the track, we were able to tag along with a party of travellers from Warragul, Victoria. We would not have liked to go the other direction on the track because of several steep creek exits.

The Roads


The road to Weipa was good.

We met on average only a couple of vehicles per hour on most roads, but the dust kicked up as we passed each other was often thick and got into everything. The few road trains we met could be seen for many kilometres because of the huge dust clouds they generated.


The track to The Tip from Punsand Bay (a mini OTL experience!).

Road conditions were changing all the time, with much upgrading taking place. There was some bitumen south of Weipa, and lots of good stretches interspersed with horrid sections. We came to a complete stop a couple of times on the Southern Bypass, the corrugations were so bad. Vehicles and vehicle parts abandoned on the verges, a trailer with a sheared-off axle perched on the back of a pickup, the top half of a pop-top caravan on the roadside and many shredded tyres were all evidence of the harsh conditions and the care required of drivers.


Passing an anthill on the Old Telegraph Line.

Despite 130,000 km on the clock in two years, the LandCruiser performed flawlessly throughout the trip. The only issue was a broken pop-top strut, which continued to work for the rest of the trip after some hammering at a rainforest stop on the road to Portland Roads, where others were trying to record bird calls.


We particularly liked the Weipa area, and Loyalty Beach park at Seisia, but our favourite overnight stops were all bush camps:

  • under the casuarinas at Pennefather River
  • on the north bank of Jardine River old crossing
  • Jackey Jackey Creek
  • Captain Billy’s Landing (alone, behind the shelter!)
  • Six Mile Waterhole in Lakefield National Park near Laura.

Camped at Six Mile Waterhole in Lakefield NP.


Bush camping is available at Elliot Falls, midway up the Bypass Roads.

The scenery was magnificent, ever changing. Breathtakingly beautiful rainforest would give way to a plain of anthills, high heathland would be interspersed with deep rocky gullies, and lily-covered waterholes and swamplands full of birdlife would change to sand-dunes and to dry sclerophyll forest.

A few tips

  • Mid-June is a great time to go to The Tip.
  • Ron and Viv Moon’s book is essential.
  • If bringing fruit back through Cohen, keep receipts for the quarantine station there in case it is manned.
  • The word “resort” is used very loosely in Far North Queensland.
  • The water in all the rivers that we tried was excellent to drink.

Camped behind the shelter at Captain Billy's Landing.


We made it! Posing at The Tip.


Many thanks to the staff at Kea Cairns for their help.


These are scans of the original Motorhome World article:

page1-2.png page3.png