Dangerous Things in Cape York

So what are the dangerous things you may come across in Cape York?

Cape York is not any more dangerous than any other outback area. All you need is to be well prepared and use common sense.

The worst thing that can happen to you is that you get stuck somewhere and have to wait for someone to come along.

You have to carry plenty of water and food, and make sure your vehicle is in good condition.

saltwater crocodile

Dangerous Animals
Like elsewhere in Australia, one of the dangers around are some of our animals. Like everywhere else in Australia, we have sharks and poisonous snakes and spiders. And like 
elsewhere in northern Australia, we have crocodiles and jellyfish.

boggy sand

Getting Stuck
Realistically, your most likely danger in Cape York is getting stuck somewhere, and having to wait for help. It's only a matter of time before someone comes along
, but on smaller roads you will have to wait longer Always carry plenty of food and water.



lt is not a bad idea to have some kind of means of communication in case you do go to more remote tracks
. Mobile phones are useless due to lacking reception, sat phones are expensive to buy and use. Personally I carry the "Spot", which is a kind of EPIRB.

australian mosquito

Mosquito and Sandfly Bites

While Australian mosquitoes don't give you deseases as bad as malaria, we do have Ross River Virus and Dengue Virus. And another bad thing is sand flies. Sandfly bites are incredibly itchy and when scratched they get easily infected. Use proper insect repellent to avoid insect bites.

tropical cyclone

Tropical Cyclones
If you visit Cape York during the Dry season, you don't risk one, but if you are up here during the Wet
, which is the time of the southern summer, there most likely will be some heavy thunderstorms and tropical cyclones.

bush fires

Bushfires are usually more dangerous in the southern parts of Australia, due to their dry summers. Up here, the hottest part of the year is during the Wet season, so the fires don't get quite as bad. But there are fires around, and they are often out of control.

australian beaches

Australian Beaches
If you are from overseas, it is good to know that we don't sunbake ourselves on beaches because the sun is much stronger here than in the Northern Hemisphere. There are also sharks; and Queensland beaches also have crocodiles and jellyfish. Your best place to swim is in freshwater waterholes.

Dengue Virus and Dengue Fever

Dengue fever is caused by Dengue virus and both are dangerous things.

It is a mosquito-borne tropical disease that you don't want to get.

As opposed to Ross River Virus that can be found anywhere in Australia, Dengue Fever is only found in Queensland (except in the far south), and it is found in the whole Cape York Peninsula

Also, as opposed to Ross River Virus that is only found in Oceania, Dengue Fever is found in tropical areas on many other continents and has since the 1960s become a global health problem with up to 100 million people infected every year.

It also differs from the Ross River Virus by being potentially more dangerous, because it can develop into life threatening conditions.    

Is it Easy to Get Dengue Virus?

I have been living in tropical north Queensland for more than ten years now, and I haven't had it.

I have definitely been exposed, and I have been living in places with no insect screens.

I have also seen, and killed many dengue mosquitoes on myself.

They look like this: 

dengue mosquito
Dengue mosquito. By Zac Declerck via Flickr.com

They are easy to distinguish from other mosquitoes thanks to their dark-and-white striped legs.

There are a few different species of them, but they all belong to the same genus and are popularly called tiger mosquitoes - thanks to the pattern on their legs.

How Can You Avoid Dengue Virus?

There is no reason to panic - if I haven't got it during almost a decade, it is unlikely that you get it during your travels.

Because Dengue mosquitoes like to live around homes and buildings, locals are at a bigger risk than people engaging themselves in tourist activities.

Also, Dengue Fever comes in outbreaks.

You can check here if there is an outbreak right now.

The best thing you can do as a traveller, is to use insect repellent and have your eyes open for, and kill any tiger mosquitoes

(If you live in the area, you can do more - read in the end of the page).

How Dangerous Is Dengue Virus?

Dengue Fever itself is not one of the particularly dangerous things, even though a bad case is supposedly a lot of suffering from muscle and joint pain.

What is dangerous is that it can develop into dengue hemorrhagic fever - which causes internal bleeding, which, as you likely know, is potentially life threatening.

It is more likely to develop if you get bitten more than once - so if you get any symptoms, you should go and check it out with a doctor as soon as possible.

A blood test will reveal if it is dengue and which type it is.

What Are the Symptoms of Dengue Virus?

The symptoms are sudden fever, headache, joint and muscle pain, rash, bleeding nose and bleeding gums, vomiting and diarrhea.

Less than 5% of cases develop the critical phase, where organ disfunction and internal bleeding may occur.

You are more likely to develop this phase if you have had a different type of dengue before. You will be immune to the same type that you had, but more vulnerable if you get a different type of dengue.

What Is the Treatment for Dengue Virus?

Like with other diseases that are caused by a virus, there is no treatment.

Your doctor may recommend you painkillers or panadol, but don't take aspirin because it will only increase any internal bleeding, and in fact don't take anything at all without talking to your doctor.

The stronger your general health the quicker you will recover (and hopefully not develop the 'critical phase').

Of course, resting a lot and eating healthy helps.

Eat a lot of fruit and vegies high in all kinds of vitamins, and drink a lot of water. These are things that you should do everyday anyway, to keep your general health and immunity on a good level.

There is no vaccine for dengue, however scientists are working on it.

dengue virus
Poster by rooymans 2000 via Flickr.com

What Can You Do if You Live in Dengue Virus Area?

Dengue mosquitoes don't breed in rivers and swamps as most other mosquitoes - they particularly like to breed in yards and around homes.

Then they like to hide in dark corners inside your house where you cannot see them. As opposed to other mosquitoes that tend to be most active at dusk and dawn, dengue mosquitoes bite any time of the day.

Because they so much like to be in and around homes, an important step in the control of those mosquitoes is to keep your yard free from places where they can breed - anything from bird baths to palm fronds or old tyres that fill with rainwater.

Inside, spray the shady places and dark corners where mosquitoes hide.

Wear light coloured and loose-fitting clothes.

Remember that if someone in your family has got the fever, everyone else is at even higher risk.

Ross River Virus

Ross River fever is caused by Ross River virus.

It is a mosquito-borne disease found in Australia as well as Papua New Guinea and some Pacific Islands.

It is not a dangerous disease, but people who have had it say that the joint pain can be severe.

The disease got its name from Ross River in Townsville in north Queensland, where it was first discovered.

As opposed to Dengue Virus that is only found in Queensland, Ross River Fever has spread from Australia's tropical north and is now also found in the southern parts of the country.

ross river virus
Hungry mosquito, 'possibly Aedes vigilax'. By eyeweed via Flickr.com

Is it Easy to Get Ross River Virus?

It is statistically not easy to get it.

I have lived in Australia for well over 10 years now, 90% of the time in tropical north Queensland (and three years next to Ross River - not that it means anything).

I have been exposed to mosquitoes, I don't like to poison myself with repellent, and I haven't had it.

Most people here will say the same.

What Are the Symptoms?

The virus has some of the usual flu-like symptoms - headache, muscle and joint ache, fever, fatigue, rash.

But many people never develop any symptoms and thus never know they ever had the disease.

How Dangerous Is It and What Is the Treatment?

The virus is not particularly dangerous in any way.

And like with other viruses, there is no treatment.

You have to rest a lot, eat healthy and drink a lot of water. The healthier you are the quicker you get over it.

For some people, however, it can take a long time to get over it, and some people also say that it can come back in the following years, particularly during the Wet season (during the southern Australia's summer months).

How Can You Avoid Ross River Virus?

Ross River Virus is spread by a number of different mosquitoes, and some of them have a similar appearance (with striped legs) to the so-called "tiger mosquitoes" that carry Dengue Fever.

Look for them, kill them. Use insect repellent. Wear light coloured and loose fitting clothes. That's about what you can do as a traveller.

If you live in Australia, you can do more.

Make sure there is no water gathering anywhere in your yard. Empty any containers, get rid of palm fronds and anything that fills with rainwater. Insect-screen your home. Spray dark corners in your home where mosquitoes like to hide.

Sand Flies

Sand flies are not really the most dangerous things but they are a big nuisance.

And they can turn some of the most beautiful camping spots in Cape York to some of the most unpleasant places to be.

They are small biting insects that belong to the same order as flies - Diptera. 

They are so small you cannot see them and their bites get so itchy you want to scratch your skin off.

As their name suggests, sand flies live near sand, and they need salt or brackish water in their life cycle, so they are typically found in or near beaches and river mouths

sand flies
Sand flies are tiny mosquito looking insects. By AFPMB via Flickr.com

Some of the beautiful spots that they 'destroy' in Cape York include Portland Roads, Vrilya Point, Mutee Head, Sadd Point, Captain Billy Landing.... and many more.

Bring proper, Bushman insect repellent with you to your Cape York trip.

It is the only one that I have found working properly against those pests.

Sand Fly Bites

I have serious trouble keeping myself from getting something sharp and scratching my skin off.. and this is not a good thing to do on a Cape York trip.

It is a trip where it is not always easy to keep your skin perfectly clean because you are camping in the bush and at times your only 'bath' is in creeks and waterholes where you don't use soap.

I normally never get my scars infected but on a Cape York trip I do, so badly that on some trips I have ended up visiting a hospital to get antibiotics.

A bad infection, if not treated, can even get life threatening
and if you are somewhere remote it can be a long way to the hospital (I was once in Ussher Point - one of the remotest places in Cape York and we were bogged in sand with 60km to the main road and even more to the closest hospital in Bamaga... not a walking distance).

sandfly bites
Infected sand fly bite, by John (leishmaniasis) via Flickr.com

Bring proper insect repellent, like Bushman.

Bring something to ease itchiness, like calamine lotion.

Try not to scratch your skin off. This is easier said than done but a proper infection on a Cape York trip really is not fun.

Bush Fires

Like in the rest of Australia, there are bush fires in Cape York, and if you are from overseas, you may be wondering.

You come across them everywhere when you drive around in Australia, and Cape York is no exception.

I remember my first trip around the continent in 2001. I was right out of Sweden and had no idea about a lot of things in Australia.

I was in Western Australia when I listened to the news about the 2001 Sydney bushfires. I had left Sydney about a month earlier.

bushfire bamaga

bush fires australia

bush fires cape york

bush fires queensland

australian bushfires

bushfire weipa

As we were approaching the Kimberley, the bush seemed to be burning everywhere. It was really scary.

I didn't know what to do, should I drive through or not?? But Australians seemed not to worry about it.

If you are from overseas, you likely find yourself in a similar situation on your travels in Cape York or elsewhere in Australia.

All I can say, do like the locals do.

A bushfire can look scary, and the thing is - in more civilised places, in more crowded parts of Australia, there will be fire fighters and some kind of traffic control to tell you what to do - but up here, sometimes there is none of it.

You are in the middle of nowhere and the bush is burning, and that's it.

There is nobody there to tell you what to do.

While it is quite common to come across bush fires up here, and while it is true that many of the bush fires up here are out of control, the good thing is that they never get as bad up here as the ones in the southern parts of the country.

The fires that you hear about on the world news, like the 2003 Canberra, and the 2009 Victoria bush fires, they get that bad because the conditions for the fires are much worse in the southern parts of the country.

Contrary to the common belief that northern Australian climate is hotter all year around, when it's the hottest part of the year, up here we have the Wet Season.

We have a lot of rain and humidity which cools the temperatures down, while down south the summer temperatures can be higher, and that in combination with the dry air and strong winds creates ideal conditions for the fires to get big and spread quickly.

They also have larger forests, and more of them, while up here we have open woodlands, grasslands, swamps and wetlands, with not that large areas with big trees to burn.

And rainforests are moist enough to never burn.

The fires do exist up here, but they seldom get so big that they would be life threatening.

That said, use common sense.

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