Bicycle Australia

Cape York

Bicycle Route Guide

Copyright 1986, 1987, 1988, 2000 Bicycle Australia Inc.

Cape York Route Location


The Cape York peninsula is one of the last vast wilderness regions in Australia, an area greater than Tasmania of eucalyptus forests, fast flooding streams, giant anthills, aboriginal relics, rugged mountains, tropical rainforests, billabongs, and a rough bush track leading to the northern tip of australia.

Little has changed since the first European "tourist", a Dutch sailor named Willaim Jansz, arrived in 1606. Captain James Cook happened along 174 years later. Yet despite his glowing reports, hordes of package tourists were slow to follow. The explorer Kennedy was the first European to make the overland trip north, although an aborigine's spear cut short his adventures. (Dead men tell no tales).

Nowadays the overland journey is still one of Australia's great adventures, though somewhat less hazardous than in Kennedy's time.

The first bicycle reached Cape York more than a decade before the first motor vehicle. Today an increasing number of intrepid 2-wheeled adventurers retrace this epic journey, although with few of the hardships their predecessors experienced. For example, there are now eight ice cream stops along the route.

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Then whether to follow

To date, Trevor notes and this guide describe the Inland Route following the old Telegraph Line.

In 1988, Terry Collins took the Cape York part of Bicycle Australia in 88 up the new Coastal Route via the Bloomfield Road and Lakefield National Park and his research and notes will eventually be added into this guide.

For a FAST trip, take the Inland Route and New Development Road. For a RUGGED trip take the coastal route via the power line, then Lakefield National Park and Old Telegraph Line.

Otherwise, Lakefield National Park and the Old Telegraph Line (with a ferry crossing of the Jardine River) are recommended no matter which option you take.

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Cairns to Mount Molloy

Cairns is the northern gateway to Australia. It has frequent train, bus and plane connections with the South as wellas international flights from U.S.A. Japan and New Guinea.

Cairns has a wide range of accommodation, super markets, a number of reasonable bicycle shops and tourist traps galore. It is an ideal place to stock up with titbits for the ride and indulge in the trappings of civilisation before setting off into the wilderness.

Mt. Molloy is accessible by three (3) different routes from Cairns: (a) vir Kuranda, Black Mountain Road and Julatten, (b) via Kuranda, the Kennedy Highway and Mareeba, and (c) via the Cook Highway, the Rex Range Road and Julatten.

The last two are faily plain sailing on bitumen highways. By choosing (a) you can avoid fast lane tourists. It is wise to begin your Cape York adventure gently, gradually working up to the harder days ahead.

The trail begins with the steep climb up the coastal range to Kuranda. It is recommended that you make it in the armchair comfort of the Kuranda Tourist Train - begin gently remember!. The ride to Cairns Railway Station in McLeod Street is not particularly strenuous. In 1988, there were two departures daily at 8:30am and 9:00am. There are also the non-tourist orientated standard services which leave earlier and later throughout the day - check times at the railway station.

Kuranda has an excellent open air market each Sunday and Wednesday where you can overdose on fresh fruit and vegies. You may not see another paw paw for a month.

A commercial audio-visual show "Cape York Experience" will give you a foretaste of the natural wonders in store for you.

Black Mountian Road turns north from the Kuanda-Cairns Highway 200 metres east of the Barron River bridge. Its surface is dirt and gravel. The trail meanders along the crest of the coastal range through mostly rainforest. Traffic is minimal. A "No Through Road" sign deters all but intrepid cyclists. Permission for access and camping in the State Forest is obtainable from the Forestry Station passed en-route (telephone 070-937103).

Water: Plentiful.

Camping: 4kms Unamed Creek (200 metres down track to right by rotting bridge over Flaggy Creek, with swimming hole 60 metres upstream), 19 Flaggy Creek, 43 Spring Creek, 69 Rifle Creek. although sweetwater Lake is mosquito infested.


Kuranda - post office, telephone, Commonwealth Bank agency, general store, hostel.

Julatten - Nil.

Mt. Molloy - post office, telephone, gneral store, bakery, Commonwealth Bank agency.

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Mount Molloy to Laura

You are now on the Penisula Development Road. Your first 68 kms are bituem, but the magic does not last for long. You will soon become intimately acquainted with potholes, corrugations, rocks and dust. Water is scarce along this section, plan your stages carefully.

The first half is through ancient eroded ranges. The ascent of the Desally Range is best planned for the cool of the morning.

Fairly wild beef cattle wander among the stunted eucalypts. Although the road is unfenced, they are normally of no danger to cyclists. The mere sight of a bicycle puts them to flight.

With a welcome tailwind you should make good times across the plains of Lakeland Downs. After the first Laura River crossing the terrain is dominated by rugged sandstone escarpments. Aboriginal rock paintings can be viewed at Split Rock 14kms before Laura. A well marked walking track has been constructed and the walk is well worth the effort.

Water: Rifle Creek, 16 Station Creek, 28 Mt Carbine, 43 McLeod River, 101 dam on left 100 metres west of grid, 115 Palmer River, 148 Lakeland, 174 first Laura River crossing, 193 Laura River at Kennedy Creek, 211 Laura.

Camping: Any of the above.


Maryfarms - post office, telephone and Commonwealth Bank agency.

Mt. carbine - hotel, showers, telephone, garbage collection.

Palmer River - licensed cafe, telephone, showers, museum, camping ground/ caravan park, garbage collection.

Lakeland - faily well stocked store, hotel, telephone, showers, camping ground/caravan park, garbage collection.

Laura - cafe, camping ground, post office, Commonwealth Bank agency, hotel, showers, telephone, faily well-stocked store, garbage collection.

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Laura to Musgrave

While the direct route is rough, dry, sandy and uninteresting, the detour through Lakefield National Park is one of Cape York's highlights.

Wildlife you may encounter include wallabies, kangaroos, dingoes, countless species of birds, goannas, crocodiles and feral pigs. And with a bit of luck, you may even catch a barramundi or two.

Permission for camping in the National Park is obtainable at the Ranger Stations at New Laura and Lakefield. The track through the Park is often better condition than the main road, except for a very bumpy stretch between the Morehead River and Saltwater Creek and a sany section between Saltwater Creek crossing and the Marina Plains turnoff.

Water: 0 Laura, 1 Laura River (third crossing), 17 Little Laura River, 29 Laura River (near Old Laura station), 35 Dowlings Waterhole, 64 New Laura Station, 73 Kennedy Bend, 100 Laekfield Ranger Station, 116 Breeze Plains Outstation, 126 Hann Crossing, 139 Morehead River, 158 Sweetwater Lake (1km past Saltwater Creek crossing), 181 Unnamed Lagoon (sometime Nine Mile Lagoon), 208 Musgrave.

Camping: Any of the above (except Ranger Stations), although sweetwater Lake is mosquito infested.

Fishing: Catfish Waterhole, Kennedy Bend, Kalpower Crossing, Hann Crossing and Saltwater Creek.


New Laura and Lakefield Ranger Stations - telephone (emergency only), garbage collection, wildlife information, camping permits.

Musgrave - licensed cafe, telephone, mail box, showers, garbage collection.

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Musgrave to Coen

The RACQ description is succint: "Stony track conditions vary from corrugations and potholes to neglected surface. Then there is the sand!".

The first 15 kms is studden with DIP signs, though most of the creeks are usually dry. There should be drinkable water in One Mile Creek, and perhaps in Five Mile Creek, Red Blanket Creek and Ten Mile Creek. If you camp on one of these creeks, the climb of the Bamboo Range can be made in the cool of the morning. The road on the top of the plateau is sandy with patches of bull dust. Low mounted panniers may bottom out on the sand ridges between wheel tracks. In places the worst of the sand can be avoided by taking strategic detours through the scrub.

There is a clear deep waterhole on the south side of the Kendle River 100 metres west of the wooden bridge. It is the haunt of a large? freshwater crocodile.

The Great Dividing Range is crossed after the Kendle in a series of roller coaster hills.

The Stewart River crossings provide ideal lunch or camp spites before tackling the Coen Range. Don't be misled by the "Wilderness Cafe 25km" sign, 3kms in more like it.

Water: 0 Musgrave, 18 Ten Mile Creek, 49 Duckholes Creek (usually dries up in August), 59 Station Creek, 71 Kendle River, 86 Big Stewart River, 97 Little Stewart River, 107 Stewart Creek, 114 Coen.

Water: Coen - post office, telephone, Commonwealth and Westpac Bank agencies, showers, coin washing machine, camping ground, hotel, 2 well stocked stores, mechanical workshop, cafe, hospital (no doctor), garbage collection. Coen's best camping spot is along the 1km of river north of the second bridge.

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Coen to Wenlock River (Moreton)

This section of road is in relatively good condition. Between Coen and its airport, you may get a chance to use top gear. The Archer River is heralded by the appearance of large granite boulders and balancing rocks on the left hand side of the road. If you haven't had a rest day for a while, the Archer is the place. It is also the home of the BIG ARCHER burger, renowned as the best in Cape York.

The area between the Archer and Wenlock Rivers is the driest you will encounter. The only reliable water is on Heskett Creek. This means no midday swim for 2 days running.

The camp on Heskett Creek is on the north bank 200 metres west of the crossing. Fressh water crocodiles have been seen here.

The best camp on the Wenlock is on the south bank 100 metres west of the crossing. There is a good barramundi hole another 200 metres downsteam.

Water: 0 Coen, 3 Coen river (The Bend), 21 dam on left side of road, 38 Bourne Creek (dries up in August), 64 Archer River, 98 snider Creek (small muddy hole only), 126 Heskett Creek, 180 Wenlock River.


Archer River - cafe, telephone, showers, garbage collection.

Wenlock River - telephone, telegraph office.

The Telegraph Station and its maintenance staff are becoming redundant as microwave repeaters place the land line. It is possible that it will cease operation in 1986. However the site will be much in demand for a Roadhouse. Update - the Telegraph Station had been totally replaced by 1988, but no roadhouse.

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Wenlock River to Jardine River

The track north of the Wenlock becomes narrower, the anthills taller, the country wilder and better watered, the vegetation more luxuriant. Bicycles have know to outpace 4WD's on this section. Creeks flow clear and deep. The sand is also fairly deep in places. However you notice more of the flora on the occassions you are obliged to push your trusty steed. Take particular note of the flowering grevilleas and the carniverous pitcher plants.

There are a number of inviting swimming holes en route, with the waterfall just below the Dulhunty River crossing the best. A favourite detour is the 3kms to Eliot Falls.

Keith Barnes, the Jardine ferryman has trained rifle fish to shoot pieces of bread from his hand with a jet of water. Before the day's first trip across the river, he may give you a demonstration. Update - Keith Barnes role was taken over by the Aboriginal Land Council (?) in 1988 and Keith is no longer the feryman.

You might surprise a barramundi in one of the deep holes by the outer bank of a bend in the river.

Water: 0 Wenlock River, 11 Shramm Creek, 35 Twenty Mile Creek (deep waterhole 100m west of crossing), 43 Rocky Creek, 47 Palm Creek (sometimes know as South Alice), 50 Palm Creek (sometimes know as North Alice), 63 north Alice Creek, 75 Dulhunty River, 90 Gunshot Creek, 100 Cockatoo Creek, 132 Canal Creek, and many clear running creeks before the Jardine is reached at 162.

Facilties: Jardine River - ferry (no longer free to intrepid cyclists), T shirts and other souveniers, garbage collections.

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Jardine River to Cape York

Much money has been spent bulldozing a new track which detours to the east of the telegraph line. 4WDers will tell you it is a good road. If you fancy a 50m wide swathe smashed straight through virgin forest you may agree. This part of the track is a hot sandy environmental disaster area. But perhaps it gives the 4WD-ers a chance to turn up their Billy Joel tapes!.

The Biffen Swamp route is preferred to the bypass, as it is less trafficked, more direct, and scenically interesting.

Jackey Jackey Airfield, Bamaga's airport is 11kms southwest of the town along a well graded road.

The road north from Bamaga passes through dense forest and is curiously deficient in potholes and corrugations. A possible campsite is on Laradeenya Creek 1Kms along Punsand Bay Road. Permission for camping here is necessary from the council office in Bamaga.

Continuing northward, the rainforest canopy often encloses the road in a pleasant green tunnel, a stark contrast to the track from the Jardine. Rainforest gives way to open woodland as you approach Cape York. The northern tip of Australia is 400 metres along a walking track from the end of the road.

Water: 0 Jardine River, 21 Biffin Swamp, 28 Skull Creek, 29 Burster Creek, 33 Bamaga, 51 Laradeenya Creek. Also at Seisia and Punsand Bay.

Camping: Seisa (Red Island Point), Punsand Bay, Laradeenya Creek (permission required).


Bamaga - post office, telephone, Common wealth Bank agency, well stocked store, hospital with doctor, wet canteen, garbage collection, Air Queensland office.

Seisa - camping ground, toilets, cold showers, ferry to Thursday Island.

Punsand Bay - camping ground, hot shower, toilets, day trip to Thursday Island.

Cape York - Air Queensland's "Wilderness Lodge", camping(?) and showers depending on availability of water (enquire at Air Queensland office). Update - ownership of the lodge has definitely changed.

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Intermediate Distances

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List Of Suggested Equipment

Fat tyred bicycle, odometer, bungee cords, spanners, screwdrivers and allen keys to fit ALL the bike's ironmongery, freewheel remover and pocket vice or large shifter, small file, spare spokes, chain lube (a dry variety).

Front and rear racks, panniers, bidons (water bottles), pump, chain tool, crank tool, spare tube, spare screws and nuts, spare brake and gear cables, grease.

Tent or substitute, torch and spare batteries, 2 litre water container, billies, plate and cup, garbage bags, spare plastic bags, closed cell sleeping mat, trail guide, maps and compass.

Plastic reel of 10kg fishing line and assorted fishing tackle, cycling gloves, sunglasses, soap, insect repellant, lip salve, track suit, 2 T shirts, under clothes, small towel or sarong, light sleeping bag, collapsible bucket, matches, billy grippers, cultery and sharp knife.

Length of nylon cord, sewing repair kit, camera and films, first aid kit, personal toiletries, sunscreen, hat or cap, long sleeve cotton shirt, 2 pair of shorts, swimming costume (optional).

Commonwealth Bank book - Update; when this guide was originally written, one of the essential tools for bicycle touring in Australia was the Commonwealth Bank book because it was accepted Australia wide at post office's everywhere. So, as long as you were in a place during post office hours, you could pick up money for supplies, etc.

Two things have happened to change that advice. The Commonwealth Bank has become greedy and now extracts hefty account keeping fees. Credit card facilities, with better hours are now widespread, but we are not sure of facilties along the Cape York Route.

So the advice is now to have someway of getting money. Bankcard, Master Card and Visa Card are, for the information of overseas vistors, the major credit cards in Australia. Users of other credit cards may experience difficulties outside capital cities.

Emergency Repairs: Some tips from Terry's experiences. He replaced two tyres on his trip, but he admits to riding cross country to have firm sand and avoid the very soft sand that was churned up by the 4WD convoys on the track. This put him into direct conflict with the remains of burnt off scrubby bushes. If you are similarly inclined, bring some spare tyres or tyre wall patching material. The trick is to protect the tube and stop the tube from forcing out through the hole.

Terry also went through two new Brooks saddles (4 wire variety) on his trip. Replacement was affected by making a telephone call from the next public telephone and having a new one sent ahead to the next mail drop off point. Express post can be expensive, but it can save carrying a lot of "we might need it spare". So knowing the telephone number of a reliable bicycle shop is a good bit of equipment.

Look at tools and spares as being a group responsibility. You only need one humongous shifter for releasing freewheels for the group, but everyone may need their own freewheel adapter. You only need one of each chain type. Have the slowest rider cary the group tools as their share of group weight so they are always behind whomever needs them.

Never Ever take untested equipment on a major ride like this. Terry's seats were both new and he suspects a faulty batch. He has also lobbed onto another trip with a complete new drive train to find that all three chains were faulty and links would just fall apart.

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First Aid Kit

2 x 10cm elastic bandages (for snake bite! - find out how to use them), mild analgesic, e.g. asprin or paracetamol, personal medications, disinfectant, tweezers, sissors, "band aids", sticking plaster, 1 x 9cmx20cm surgipad combined dressing, 1 x 9cmx20cm non-adhering dressing.

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Suggested Itinerary (for 26 days)

This is Trevor's suggested itinerary for a fully self sufficent trip from Cairns up the middle through Laura.

1Flaggy Creek19kms
2Rifle Creek50kms
3McLeod River43kms*collect food parcel
6Laura64Kms*collect food parcel
7Kennedy Bend62kms
8Hann Crossing53kms
9Rest Day
10unnamed lagoon55kms
11Ten Mile Creek45kms*collect food parcel
12Kendle River52kms
13Coen River45kms*collect food parcel
14Archer River62kms
15Rest Day
16Heskett Creek62kms
17Wenlock River54kms*collect food parcel
18Palm Creek47kms
19Gunshot Creek43kms
20Eliot Falls45kms
21Rest Day
22Jardine River34kms
23Laradeenya Creek50kms*collect food parcel
24Laradeenya Creek40kms2kms return to Cape York
25trip to Thursday Island
26Laradennya Creek to Jackey Jackey Airfield27kms
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Warning and Disclaimer

The information contained in this route guide is copyright for Bicycle Australia.

Individuals may use it for free and we ask you to send feedback, updates, corrections, additions, etc to keep this guide as useful as possible.

For commercial use, we would like you to clear your conscience by sending a small fee per rider to Bicycle Australia.

Lastly, in this litigatious world, we have to point out that this information is used at your own risk.

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Route Development

All the work in route research is undertaken on a voluntary basis. Consequently, should you find either additional information for or incorrect information in this guide, please let us know so we may correct it.

Bicycle Australia also welcomes contributions of ride notes from other tours you have done. should you be contemplating another ride and would like to assist with developing other routes, please contact Bicycle Australia. We can then inform you of the information we are looking for in the area in which you are planning to ride. We thank you now for any assistance that you are able to give.

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Bicycle Australia would like to thank Trevor Strickland of Tropical Bicycle Odysseys for researching and writing the original Bicycle Australia Cape York Route Guide. If you like the guide and it's humour and are interested in further bicycle riding in North Queensland, then Trevor runs five other rides in the area, as well as running trips up the Cape York Trail.

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