From the coast to the outback via the reef and rainforests, TNQ is the ultimate beach-meets-bush trip.
Telegraph Road, Cape York
With so many emerging destinations around the world, sometimes we forget what is on our doorstep, such as the Daintree, Whitehaven Beach and the Great Barrier Reef. But ask any Australian who loves getting off the beaten track what their bucket-list looks like and you can almost guarantee that Cape York will be near the top.
When you think about it, it's not surprising that the Cape, the ultimate beach-meets-bush trip in Tropical North Queensland, is high on the list for many. What is surprising is just how little thought we'd given to going, until it started to pop up more and more over the camp fire during group trips. Timeframes were discussed. Two weeks, three, a month? Seasons, equipment, routes, accommodation. Before we knew it, we'd formed a plan. It wasn't something we'd done consciously but it suddenly made so much sense to 'do the Cape' – it was right on our doorstop and it was everything we looked for in a trip.
Cattle Station, Cape York
Sunset is when nature is truly at its most magical on the Cape. The sky becomes a deep, fiery orange – the fading golden light caught in clouds created by the dusty roads. Wildlife emerges after a day spent hiding from the relentless heat. Jabirus and brolgas fish lily-lined waterholes, cattle come in to graze at farmsteads, wallabies tentatively explore campgrounds and cockatoos screech and splash as they gather at water troughs to drink.
Saltwater Crocodile, Rinyirru National Park
As Queensland's second-largest national park, Rinyirru (Lakefield) is teeming with wildlife. During summer the gates to Rinyirru close as 'The Wet' descends on the Cape, creating wide floodplains. Come winter the waters recede, leaving a few rivers, waterholes and lagoons where you're bound to see waterbirds, turtles, dingoes, wallabies and crocodiles as they congregate for food and shelter.
In a six-person seaplane, we can barely contain our excitement on a scenic flight over the Whitsundays. During our hour-long journey, we circle breath-taking Whitehaven Beach, more islands than we can count (there are 74 in total) and a seemingly never-ending series of reefs.
Halfway into the flight, the pilot announces we're about to y over the famous Heart Reef. Situated within Hardy Lagoon, it measures just 17m wide, but it really is something special from the air. Not long after this, we experience a ‘touch and go' landing, descending and skimming across the ocean between reefs for 100m before climbing again. The Great Barrier Reef is a must-do but to truly comprehend the enormity, you need to see it from the air.
Fruit Bat Falls, Cape York
Just past the halfway point on the Old Telegraph Track (or bypass roads if that's more your style), Fruit Bat Falls is the embodiment of an oasis in the desert. Red dirt ends and suddenly before you is a waterfall cascading over amber rocks into crystal-clear emerald pools. It's easy to spend hours luxuriating in the cool waters, or clambering up the rocks and exploring the pools above. Also worth stopping at is Eliot Falls Campground, which contains three additional (and equally beautiful) waterfalls: Eliot, Twin and The Saucepan. Best of all? They're all croc-free.
Chilli Beach, Kutini- Payamu National Park
Looking like something from a postcard, Chilli Beach is a must-do for anyone exploring Cape York. Deep within the beautiful Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, this stretch of beach is pure paradise – and it's not uncommon to have it to yourself. It's worth spending some time here walking the coconut palm- fringed sands – its location means the beachcombing is second to none.
Old Telegraph Track, Cape York
Originally formed in the late 1800s to facilitate communication to the tip, the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) is as quintessentially Cape York as it gets. While appearing dead straight on a map, the track actually snakes its way through 80km of bush, covering rutted tracks, log bridges and dozens of creek crossings from Bramwell Station to the Jardine River. The perfect balance of history, adventure and relaxation, the OTT really showcases the best of everything the Cape has to offer.
Pajinka (The Tip)
After weeks of driving, we're finally here – the tip of mainland Australia. The final drive is a little surreal with red road winding through a lowland rainforest that leads to the rocky point of Pajinka. Clambering over the rocks to the legendary sign and Torres Strait beyond, I'm reminded of numerous quotes that talk about travel being the journey not the destination, but on this trip it really is about both. This sign marks a huge achievement for us all.