Cape York Adventure Part 3
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Cape York Adventure Part 3

Heading back south

by Susie Baber  |  23 August 2022

Time to say goodbye to the tip as we head south again. Back to the ferry over the Jardine where we pretty much drive straight on, have seen social media posts of people waiting hours to get on the ferry going in both directions so we have been quite lucky.

Our trip up the Cape was planned and booked in advance but we have deliberately left our trip back down to Cairns unplanned, giving us the flexibility to go where the mood takes us.

A few days ago we found out there is a rodeo in Weipa this weekend, something none of have experienced so we added that at the top of our list.

Weipa Rodeo

A long day of corrugations down the Northern and Southern Bypass Roads. Back past Eliot Falls, Fruitbat Falls and the OTT. We stop at Bramwell Roadhouse to ask for some local advice about Batavia Downs Road , if this short cut is in good condition it will cut about 80km off our drive toward Weipa. Advice is that the road is good, recently graded and water levels are low. Good choice, road is much better than some we have travelled and gets us to York Downs camping earlier than expected. York Downs is a working cattle station that offers camping around a dam for just $2 a night. No facilities or water available but plenty of space and you can swim in the dam if you need to cool off. We spent one night here baking (choc-chip banana bread) on the camp fire and experimenting with some star photography.

We have booked the camping site available at Weipa Caravan Park, but when we arrive we are unable to check in until midday so we set off to explore the town and then to Woolies to restock. This is the first big  supermarket we have seen since Cairns. Can’t help thinking maybe Rio Tinto contribute to it being here – it is a long way to drive to stock the only Woolies on the Peninsula. There is also a butcher, news agent and chemist, very civilised.

After midday we set up camp and try our luck at a couple of local fishing spots. We head off to the rodeo at about 5pm. $20 each gets us entry for the night. We wander in and find a seat to watch the action. Most of the events seem to consist of someone trying to stay on either a bull or a bucking horse for more than 8 seconds. I think we only saw one successful ride the entire evening but the atmosphere of the crowd and the people watching was fabulous, picking the locals from the tourists was great entertainment. There were events for the kids including whip cracking and a dance comp, food trucks, a bar and live music into the night. Handy hint: Next time I would take my own chair, those aluminium bleachers are not made for comfort.

Chilli Beach

From Weipa we head right across to the opposite side of the peninsula toward Chili Beach. Our fly by the seat of our pants philosophy hasn’t worked well for tonight’s camping. We were unable secure a spot at the beach camp site as it is all booked out, but we have got a spot a Gordon Creek which is just a few km back in the rainforest. When we arrive we find the site we have booked is a bit smaller than expected, the rainforest clearing is actually 2 sites which makes it a bit crowded sharing with our new neighbours. With nothing else available we make to most of what we have. Luckily our new neighbours are only staying the one night so we have the whole clearing to ourselves on night two. An unexpected bonus of camping in the rainforest was the fireflies. If you turn off all the lights and stay very still, you can see them flitting around in the trees above you, the longer you stay still the closer they come. A very special moment, but very hard to photograph, sorry.

In the morning we drive to Chili beach. A lovely beach lined with coconut palms, after scoping out the choices we manage to find a tree that is not too hard to climb and snag ourselves a coconut. Next challenge – getting into it. Andrews cheap axe proves to be up to the task and we have ourselves some fresh coconut water. My hammock goes up between two coconut trees and spend some time reading my book.

The east coast of Cape York is not just known for being beautiful and remote, but also for being windy. This day was no exception and after a while we admitted defeat and packed the chairs back in the car to go and explore some more.

Having a look around the camping area we are disappointed to see that there are many vacate sites even though it had been fully booked on the Qld National Parks website. Apparently, people book and don’t turn up. Camping in the National Park is not expensive so if you have a change of plans you are not losing a lot of money, but even so it would be much more considerate to cancel your booking and let someone else enjoy the camp site. Next time we will book earlier and I think my pick would be sites 4,5 or 10 – a little more protected from the wind.

From Chili Beach we drive to Portland Roads, a tiny town on the northern side of the point. To our surprise it has a café/restaurant and, lucky for us, we have arrived just in time for afternoon tea. Portland Roads used to be a major point of transit to the top of Australia before the roads were put through, today it consists mostly of retirees and holiday homes.

Hann Crossing

Not planning in advance doesn’t mean we can camp with a booking, even the National Parks require you to book ahead and the lack of phone reception on Cape York can make this problematic. Whenever we found a couple of bars of internet service we would stop and see what was available for the next step of our trip. Waiting until you get to camp could mean no reception, so no booking, and the chance that someone else would turn up and claim your site as their own.

From Gordon Creek we made the very long drive to Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, the drive always seems much longer through the corrugations and dust. We arrive at Hann Crossing just before sunset and are very happy with our camp site. A little bit of shade and a steep river bank to stop any curious crocs seems perfect.


We had been told that the best fishing was up stream at a small waterfall so we tried our luck and managed a small barramundi for dinner. While relaxing at camp we saw a crocodile cruising silently up the river, I can see why they can take you by surprise.

What is now the largest National Park on the peninsula was once a property instrumental in the establishment of the cattle industry on Cape York. The original lease was granted in 1879 and by 1984 the property carried 8000 head of cattle. Changing hands many times, in 1966 the Lakefield Cattle Company purchased the Laura and Lakefield properties and abandoned the Old Laura Homestead in favour of New Laura about 24 km north. In 1978 both stations were purchased by the Queensland Government to establish Lakefield National Park. Reconstruction of the homestead and outbuildings was begun during the mid 80s and they are now listed on the Queensland Heritage Register.

Rinyirru is really a destination in itself, I wish we had more time to explore it. I think we could happily spend a week here camping, fishing and relaxing.


On the way to Laura we make a quick stop at Old Laura Homestead and marvel at the way of life in these rugged areas in the 1800’s. I am sure I wouldn’t have been strong enough to live like that.

By lunch time we have set up camp at The Laura Pub and Andrew and I go for a drive to the Split Rock Art Site. Near the carpark are several informative display boards and an honesty box for you to pay for the self guided walk (not cheap). The first 200m are quite steep and too many hours sitting in the car over the last few weeks has played havoc with my fitness. There are three rock galleries before you reach a no entry sign where we turn around and walk back the way we came. Guided tours of this rock art site are available and, given the price of the self-guided walk, could be worth while considering.

As the afternoon wears on we settle down to play a few hands of cards until friends arrive that evening. We have dinner in the shady beer garden at the back of the small country pub and the famous lamb shanks live up to their reputation.

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