Cape York Peninsula Attractions
A gigantic triangle larger in area than the whole state of Victoria, the Cape York Peninsula is the most northerly part of Queensland. The base of the triangle extends from Normanton and Karuba, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, in the west to Cairns in the east, while at the apex is Thursday Island (familiarly, 'TI') off the northern tip of the peninsula in the Torres Strait.Apart from a few isolated cattle stations, Aboriginal villages and small settlements along the line of the old Overland Telegraph the peninsula is practically uninhabited. June to September is the best time to visit.Little has changed in the landscape of the Cape York Peninsula over the last 150 years. This wild territory with its heavy tropical rains, cyclones and untamable rivers has resisted all attempts at cultivation. It is thus a natural wildlife reserve for the native flora and fauna (orchids, insect-eating plants, crocodiles).TransportIn the whole of the north there are practically no asphalted roads or bridges, which would be unlikely to survive the heavy rains. During the wet season in summer no traffic goes by land and the only way to get about is by plane or by boat. In normal weather conditions it is possible between the end of May and the beginning of November to travel in an all-terrain vehicle from Cairns via Mareeba or Cooktown, Laura and Coen to Bamaga at the northern tip of the peninsula. Between Coen and Bamaga there are no petrol stations, and on the journey north a number of rivers have to be forded.The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland has produced excellent maps and informative material on this route. Experienced local agencies run tours which offer adventure and a memorable experience with minimal risk. It is also possible to sail from Cairns to Thursday Island. After a long period of drought it is possible to drive in a sturdy normal car as far as Coen and Weipa, on the west coast; but most car rental firms do not allow their cars or camper vans to be taken further north than Mossman, Port Douglas and Dauntree, where the surfaced roads come to an end.Aboriginal settlementsThroughout the Cape York Peninsula there are independent Aboriginal territories and settlements, which can be visited only with a permit from the Aboriginal administration. The most important settlements are Lockhart River and Portland Roads on the east coast, Edward River, Weipa South and Aurukun on the Gulf of Carpentaria and Bamaga at the northern tip of the peninsula. No permit is necessary for traveling on public roads.
Thursday Island, Australia
Off Cape York in the Torres Strait, extending across the strait almost to the coast of Papua New Guinea, are numerous islands which belong to Australia but are mainly inhabited by Melanesians (population around 9000). Thursday Island (area 3.5 sq.km) is the most northerly administrative center in Queensland. In addition to Melanesians (Torres Strait Islanders) the population includes Aborigines and Asians. In the 19th C the island was a center of pearl fishing, the mother-of-pearl industry and trepang-gathering. There are regular air services between Cairns and Thursday Island; the airfield is on the neighboring Horn Island. By sea, there are regular cruises from Cairns to Thursday Island and back, and a ferry service from Bamaga at the tip of Cape York, with boats picking up passengers at Pundsand Bay.There are a number of handsome 19th C buildings - the Quetta Memorial Church (built in 1893 to commemorate the sinking of the Quetta off the island in 1890), the courthouse (1876) and the Grand and Federal Hotels. In the north of the island is a cemetery containing the graves of many pearl fishers and Melanesians.