Motorcycling in Australia: An Off-Road Trip around Cape York (A Personal Story)
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Cape York is one the world’s greatest adventure travel destinations. For riders, getting there is the ultimate challenge, the adventure of a lifetime!
Cape York Motorcycle Adventures (CYMCA) and its owner, Roy Kunda, have been running motorcycle tours from Cairns to the northernmost tip of mainland Australia for two-and-a-half decades. Originally from Victoria, Roy fell in love with the remote Cape York Peninsula after having traveled around Australia solo on a motorcycle in the mid-1980s. He moved to Cairns and created CYMCA.
This is my story about eight thrilling days spent on an off-road motorcycle tour around Cape York that have changed the way I look at Australia.
Seisia – Photo by Ian Cochrane
It’s 6 am and we’re off to the airport for the first leg of our journey – traveling from Cairns to Horn Island. From there, we took a ferry back to the Aussie mainland and arrived in Seisia. There, we met our guide Roy Kunda at the jetty.
We land at our tropical beachside camp at Loyalty Beach. As we down a crackling campfire-cooked dinner, everyone starts to get acquainted. Most of these guys are so excited to sleep under the stars for the first time that they all drag their camp stretchers out of the tents that have been set up for us.
Tip of Cape York – Photo by John Benwell
The first riding day dawns and we claim our bikes, practically identical DR-Z400s, none more than seven-months-old as CYMCA changes them over every year. Our destination is the ‘most northerly tip of Australia’. We wind down a deep, sandy 4WD trail that really tests a few of the guys, with one or two hitting the deck early. They all get back up again thanks to the encouragement of our very patient guides.
The northernmost point of the Cape itself is a 500-meter (1,650 ft) hike over a rocky crag to the famous signpost that marks ‘The Tip of Australia’. Reaching that point makes it all seems more than worthwhile. After a photo session at the very edge, we all look down into the sparkling, inviting water beneath. However, the many creatures lurking within, including sharks and large saltwater crocs, made us opt out of a bath.
From the Cape, we continue through the network of dirt roads and 4WD trails, pausing briefly at the picturesque Somerset Beach. Our ride takes us down a series of beaches, and, for some of the riders, this was their first time riding on sand.
Our first day’s riding ends with an Aussie barbecue of lamb chops and a few cold ones while watching a magical backdrop with a stunning display of the sun setting over the water.
We awake to the sound of bacon sizzling over the campfire. There’s no rush as Roy tells us that “it’s a holiday, not a race!”, so we enjoy a hearty breakfast and hop on the Suzuki’s around 9:30 am.
Our little convoy winds through the township of Bamaga and we visit a couple of World War II plane crash sites: a Beaufort bomber and a Douglass DC3, which ran out of fuel 3 km (1.8 miles) short of the runway.
We ride out of the trees and along a short trail and spend the next hour choking on patches of bulldust. This stuff is superfine chalk-like grit that is as slippery as mud. It can be up to a meter deep and hangs in the air like a cloud.
Old Telegraph Trek
Over the Jardine Ferry, we hit the northern entrance of the historic Old Telegraph Track, the only means of communication (via Morse code at first, then telephone) between 1885 and 1987. Then, we reach the infamous Gunshot Pass. Here, the group comes to a halt at a 3-meter (10 ft) vertical drop on the road. Most riders don’t even attempt it, preferring to hand their bikes over to the guides. The contrast is amazing as we rip off down a fast, flowing and a very fun trail that winds down towards a dodgy log bridge at the stunningly clear Nolan’s Brook.
We continue through more water crossings and rough-as-guts terrain to the picturesque Eliot Falls. The falls drop into a 90-meter (300ft) wide limestone pool, framed by tiered waterfalls, just like in a scene from a movie. A swim in the mineral-rich water soothes our aching muscles and bones.
We regrouped at a bewitching creek view from where Roy lead us downstream to our secret spot where we set up camp for the night. It was an awesome spot at a curve in the river and our support driver already has the firewood sorted and the chairs out for us. Still hot and dirty, we grab a well-earned drink and cool off in the river before settling in for a hearty dinner.
Our ride today takes us down the Frenchman’s Track, where things get even more interesting! We encounter a bushfire blazing across the track, the thick blue smoke of forests burning lingering in the air as we arrive at the Archer River Roadhouse.
Twilight is my favorite part of the day, when the group huddles around a campfire to swap war stories over brontosaurus-sized steak dinners and ice cold beer.
The group at Silver Plains
This is our biggest day of the tour. We started with a ride through the town of Coen, followed by a shortcut across the old horse and cart road. We passed by open mineshafts and dangerous washouts. We gathered briefly to take in the breathtaking view over the Silver Plains before descending to the valley floor and turned onto cattle station trails that are thick with bulldust again.
The scrubby bush thickens to a tropical forest as we arrive at a tidal river for a fishing spot. Despite being able to see the fish heading upstream, no one was able to bring one in and we are soon back on the wheels following a secret track to a little-known beach run.
With the tide out, Roy and I venture onto the exposed mud flat, where I get bogged to the bash plate and retreat to the safety of dry sand. Continuing down the beach and past the wing of an old WW2 fighter plane, nature offers up an irresistible run stretching for hundreds of meters.
Leaving the sand, the landscape undergoes an eerie transformation as we ride through a long dead forest, followed by scorched grasslands where only blackened termite mounds remain.
We finally reach the Kalpower Crossing campground, an area famous for both its salt and freshwater crocodiles. With torches shining into the murky depths, we hunt barramundi, despite the very real danger of something much bigger hunting us.
Long after everyone retreats to the safety of the campfire, Roy returns with the prize fish, which he promptly cooks on the coals and we all devour. Beer in hand, a blanket of stars above us…this might just be heaven.
Cooktown – Photo by Doug Beckers
The days roll into one and I find myself surprised to be riding into civilization at Cooktown, where we stop for lunch and then carry onto the infamous Lion’s Den Hotel, where we eventually bunk down in an African-inspired Safari tent.
Daintree Rainforest – Photo by deeuutee
We start the next day with a steep and rocky access track that features a nasty uphill log crossing. Following this tough start to the day is the CREB Track, which takes us deep into rainforest-covered mountains and down into the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest, the oldest surviving rainforest in the world.
Roughly 80km (50 miles) long, the CREB Track dishes up a grin-inducing rollercoaster ride of large erosion mounds, massive hills and unpredictable twists and turns. The views, when they appear, are unbelievably beautiful: jungle, beach, reef and sky in one picturesque glance. Near the end of the track, we hit a river crossing with two other tour groups struggling across. We wait for them to move on before ducking down a hidden trail to a swimming hole known only to Roy and the locals.
Lunchtime brings us to the Daintree Village and Barramundi burgers. Sundown sees us sipping brews beside the pool at the backpacker paradise that is PK’s Jungle Village on the coast at Cape Tribulation. This is the only place on the planet where two World Heritage-listed sites meet – the greenest lowland rainforests and the bluest fringing reefs of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
Captain Cook Highway, Cairns – Photo by Rajeev Rajagopalan
With so much behind us, the final day shows us that our guides have saved the sweet single track between Mossman and Cairns for the last blast. With a mix of relief and regret, we wind down The Captain Cook Highway, a primo motorcycling road with numerous curves and switchbacks that wind around the towering sea cliffs with astronomical views of the Great Barrier Reef.
The last eight days with the boys have been a blast! It was one of those rare holiday experiences with so many exciting things happening every day that will forever occupy a prime spot the memory bank.
*Cover photo by wherewerewe91
An off-road tour is simply the best way to see one of the best parts of this great land called Australia. So go ahead and book your motorcycle tour in Australia today!