Getting from Australia to Cape York

Travelling from the rest of Australia to Cape York?

Most Australians would drive their four wheel drive across the continent, but if you are from overseas, you may take yourself to Cairns by other means and then rent a four wheel drive up here.

Flying here may be cheaper depending on where you fly from, but once you are up here and rent a four wheel drive vehicle, it is not cheap.

If that's what you are doing, you may want to buy a 4WD in Cairns - it may well be a cheaper option. (If you are from overseas you may want to read about driving in Australia).

NEW - All the FREE camping spots along the main roads to Cairns from Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Northern Territory are in the Destination Guide.

driving to cape york

Driving Your Own Vehicle Up Here
Driving your own vehicle up here is of course by far the best option. It extends your holidays as getting here is part of your travels and means you can cover some new roads in Australia. 
It may not be the cheapest option, but it's flexible as you are able to stop wherever you want.

flight to cairns australia

Flying to Cairns or Cape York
If you haven't got your own 4WD and aim to rent (or buy) one, it's of course cheaper to fly to Cairns where there are plenty of choices to rent or buy a 4WD. 
You can also fly strait to Cooktown,  Weipa, Lockhart River, Horn Island, and many, many other places in Cape York.

long distance buses australia

Other Transport
Not many Cape York travellers do this but there is an excellent network of long distance buses and trains in Australia, and for international travellers it is a very popular way to get around. It could be worth checking it out if you want to get to Cairns quickly and reasonably cheaply.

rent 4wd

Renting or Buying a Vehicle
Once up in Cairns you have the option of buying or renting a vehicle. To do Cape York properly, you definitely need a four wheel drive. In a two wheel drive vehicle you get as far as to Laura and Cooktown (ok, you do get to the Tip, but you
wreck your two wheel drive on corrugations and miss out all the fun tracks).

cape tribulation tours

Joining an Organised Tour
Some people visit Cape York on a tour. If you don't mind being driven around with other people, taking a tour from Cairns to Cape York may be an option. However personally I never recommend it, there is no reason why you cannot do Cape York yourself - I did my first trip alone.

Driving from Queensland to Cape York

Travelling from the rest of Queensland to Cape York?

Most Australians who do Cape York drive their own four wheel drive vehicles across the continent.

The good thing is that you can cover some new roads on your way up, the bad thing is that if you have limited time you'll likely fly through it without being able to have much of a look around.

But the whole point is to get your vehicle up here so there is not much choice.
.. except my recommendation would be make as much time available as you can - you obviously still pay for the fuel to get from the rest of Australia or Queensland to Cape York so you may as well enjoy it.

Driving from Queensland to Cape York - East Coast

brisbane australia queensland

Brisbane is the capital of Queensland and a great city with a busy CBD, trendy inner suburbs and some nice islands off the shore.
It is more laid back than Sydney and Melbourne, but is still a large city with everything you ever need.

sunshine coast australia

Sunshine Coast
North of Brisbane is Sunshine Coast - if you just drive though it you won't see much except the highway, but if you stop in places, there are some great beaches, markets, Australia Zoo, Big Pineapple, Ettamogah Pub, and Noosa.

hervey bay australia

Fraser Coast
The next coast north is Fraser Coast, mostly known for Fraser Island for travellers (It's a 4WD destination unless you only visit Kingfisher Bay). The island is off the coast of Hervey Bay - the whale watching capital of Australia.

rockhampton australia

Gladstone and Rockhampton Area
Further north is Gladstone (with the beautiful Heron Island off the coast), and Rockhampton.
Just inland is the road to Longreach; the little fossicking townships around Emerald; and the famous Carnarvon Gorge National Park.

mackay australia

Mackay Region
In Mackay region you are getting to north Queensland so there are tropical rainforests and more and more sugar cane fields. Mackay is a nice coastal town and just north of it are Cape Hillsborough and Eungella National Park.

burdekin river bridge

Mackay to Townsville
You first drive past Airlie Beach with the famous Whitsunday Islands, and then some small towns like Bowen and Ayr. Then you are driving through the so-called "dry tropics" for a while which means the lush, green tropical rainforests are replaced by open eucalypt woodlands.

mission beach australia

Townsville to Cairns
The tropical rainforests are gradually back north of Townsville, you notice them taking over some time after Cardwell. This is a beautiful drive through lush rainforest and past the places that copped the centres of our recent severe cyclones: Innisfail (Larry) and Tully (Yasi).

The Savannah Way


Gulf Savannah
If you come from the west, you drive through Gulf Savannah. There are two roads - Flinders Highway with towns like Mt Isa, Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Richmond, Hughenden and Charters Towers; or the coastal Savannah Way through Burketown, Normanton and Karumba.

northern territory australia

Top End of Northern Territory
West of Gulf Savannah is the Top End with Northern Territory's capital Darwin, the famous Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park and the Aboriginal Arnhem Land. In the southern parts of the area are Katherine and Nitmiluk National Park with Katherine Gorge.

kimberley australia

The Kimberley
West of the Top End is the Kimberley - one of the last frontiers in Australia with one 'highway' through it; and north of it the Gibb River Road that takes you to some beautiful waterfalls and gorges. Some great places are Purnululu National Park, and towns like Broome and Derby.

Through the Outback


Outback Queensland to Cape York
South-west of Cape York is the outback Queensland with some great history, flat landscapes and towns like Longreach, Winton, Blackall, Barcaldine, Aramac, Muttaburra, Kynuna, McKinlay, Boulia and Birdsville.

australian outback

The Red Centre of Northern Territory
West is the heart of the Australian outback with Alice Springs and some fantastic red landscape around it, in the national parks like McDonnell Ranges, Kings Canyon, Finke Gorge and the famous Uluru Kata Tjuta National Park.


Outback South Australia
Just south is another, less visited but therefore even better area with Lake Eyre and the Central Australia Deserts. There is the underground town Coober Pedy, the Oodnadatta Track, and the Birdsville Track that goes to Queensland.

Travel Distances

Australian travel distances are very long.

If you are from overseas you may underestimate them.

And even if you are from the southern parts of Australia
, you will probably still find the distances in Cape York longer than what you are normally used to.

It's because with a scarce population it's far between towns
, and the peninsula itself is quite large - covering an area similar to the state of Victoria.

From Cairns to the Tip alone is about 1000km one way, and any side trips including Weipa and Iron Range are not included.

distances cape york

You also find the distances in the big picture in the FREE Pocket Guide, and in detail in the Destination Guide.

Below is the information for international travellers (particularly from Europe):

Travel Distances for International Travellers

When you first come here from Europe and many other parts of the world, you don't realise and it is easy to underestimate how long the travel distances here really are.
travel distances

driver reviver

break the drive stay alive

free driver reviver

Australia is as large as the whole Europe or the US
. Distances between places are huge.

Often driving from one town to another equals crossing many countries in Europe.

Queensland is the second largest state in Australia, and the distance between Brisbane and Cairns is almost the same as the distance between Brisbane and Melbourne!

Other large states have a lot less roads than Queensland. In Western Australia - the largest state in Australia - there is the south-western corner but other than that there is almost only one road up north.

In Northern Territory, there is basically just one road through the state
, while the outback of Queensland is criss-crossed by many different highways.

With so many roads and long distances (and this applies to other states too), driver fatigue can be a problem more than you think. There are signs reminding you to stop and have a break.

There are rest areas along the roads, and there are also the so-called "Driver Revivers" - where you can have a FREE cup of coffee or tea and a bisquet or a lolly to give you some energy.

These are run by volunteers and open more often during holiday periods like Christmas and school holidays when there are more people on the roads.

Driving in Australia for International Travellers

If you are from overseas you may want to read about driving in Australia.

We drive on the left hand side of the road, just like you do in the UK.

That means, you overtake from the right hand side and enter roundabouts having a look to your right - everything is in the mirror image compared to driving in Europe and the US, except the "right hand rule"

That rule applies in a crossroad with no road signs - you have to give way to anyone coming from your right hand side - that rule is the same both in the left and the right hand traffic.

driving in australia


australian road train

over size

no overtaking

road sign

australian road

bush fire

kimberley road


northern territory road

road distances

queensland road


* You have to have the drivers licence of your home country as well as an International Driving Permit.

* Having to wear a seatbelt is a Law.

* Obeying speed limits is a Law.

* The legal alcohol limit is 0.05

* Using a mobile phone while driving is illegal in Australia.

* Due to huge travel distances, there are signs reminding you to take a break

* Watch out for cattle and wildlife such as kangaroos that cross the roads.

* Be aware of floods and bushfires. Obey road closure signs and never drive through floods.

* Be aware that road trains can be 50m long and take a long time to overtake.

* On long country roads, watch the road signs about next fuel availability and remember to top up your tank.

* If you break down and need help, stay with your vehicle and wait for somebody to stop and help you.

* It is handy to have a UHF radio. The channel that is worth listening to is 40 - it is what the road trains use. Caravanners often use channel 18

* In emergency, ring 000.

* In remote areas, carry a satellite phone or an
Below are some things that I remember from Europe, or have learned from talking to international travellers about driving in Australia.

* Driving in Australia - Roundabouts

Many Australians are really slack changing lines close to or even in roundabouts. What I remember this used to never happen to this extent in Europe.

There is one thing in roundabouts that is different from the rules in Europe. While over there, you only have to indicate as you exit a roundabout, here you have to use indicators even as you are in the roundabout.

If you are turning right you have to use the right-hand indicator inside the roundabout, or else the driver who is supposed to give you way when entering the roundabout from the opposite direction will think that you will go straight ahead and enter the roundabout in front of you!

* Driving in Australia - Merging

When your lane ends and you have to merge - watch if there are white lines right in the end of your ending lane. If there are lines you have to give way to the vehicles in the other lane. If not, they have to give way to you.

And finally - here is something that even Australians are often confused about:

* U Turns

This is such a commonly unknown rule - I learned it myself not too long ago :-)

Sometimes there is a sign saying U-turn permitted, sometimes there is a sign saying No U-turn - so what if there is NO sign???

When there is no sign, you have to work it out from the type of crossroad you are in!

When there is NO sign saying anything about u-turns, you are NOT allowed to make one at the crossroads with traffic lights.

At traffic lights, to be allowed to make a u-turn, there has to be a sign saying "U-turn permitted".

When you are at an intersection with no traffic lights or just a centre island, you are allowed to make a u-turn where there is no sign.

The only time you are not allowed to do a u-turn in an uncontrolled crossroad is where there is a sign saying "No U-turn".

When you are driving in Australia and doing a u-turn
, you have to give way to all other traffic, even if they are at a give-way or stop sign.

cape york travel

Plan Your Trip... the FREE Cape York Travel Pocket Guide

Get this 50 pages guide totally for FREE. It contains information that helps you getting started with planning of your trip. You get to make early-stages desicions such as when to go, how long time you should take, how to get there and get around, where to stay (general info), what will it cost.. and a short insight to what is there to see and do in Cape York.

Plan and Bring to the Trip... the full Destination Cape York Travel Guide

visit cape york

This complete 300 pages travel guide is all you need before and during your trip. Besides the background chapters on the peninsula's history and wildlife; and the comprehensive detail about all the places (down to prices, opening hours and full contact detail), it has invaluable information on at least 10 four wheel drive tracks, at least 30 guaranteed FREE camping spots on the Cape (and at least 150 on your way to the Cape), at least 40 best swimming holes, all mapped; as well as practical things - from fuel, roads, wireless internet and mobile phone reception, how to deal with the national parks booking rules; and Aboriginal land entrance and camping permits and alcohol restrictions - to vehicle preparation and accessories and necessary recovery gear by my vehicle-recovery-guy partner). Not to mention locals' tips on how to spot that croc and palm cockatoo ;-)

If you liked the books or this website, let others know about it! 

Link to it from your website, your blog, your forum post... Share it on Facebook, Tweet about it...

Every link helps other travellers!

Thank you for doing the right thing and letting others know :-)

destination cape york

Latest Pages

Notice Board

Ask a Question

YOUR Adventure

YOUR Cape Memories

Keep yourself updated
on the latest -
weather, roads,
free travel tips,
and get the
FREE Cape York
Pocket Guide!




Don't worry - your email address is totally secure.
I use it only to send you the Cape York News.

Get the FREE Pocket Guide:
cape york travel free pocket guide

Get the Big Destination Guide
destination cape york book

Available with the Big Destination Guide:
cape york dog caravan trailer
FEEDBACK Page 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
cape york businesses

loyalty beach