Riding to the top of Australia

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A ride to the most northerly point of Australia through the remote Cape York Peninsula will push man and machine to its limits. Local rider Peter Jackson reveals what it takes to conquer one of the toughest adventure biking challenges Down Under.

Australia seems to be purpose-built for adventure riders. The massive island continent harbours nearly every off-road challenge you could desire. In fact, being totally biased, you may as well throw away your plans for an around-the-world adventure and just make a beeline straight Down Under to visit us, convicts. 

The Trails can get pretty Gnarly

It’s basically a massive theme park for off-road riders and it’s big. In fact, using the standard Australian measuring system it’s classed as ‘bloody huge’. But this place is a land of contrasts. At one end of the country it’s drowning in floods due to cyclones, the other end is alight with bush fires, then dust blown and waterless in periods of drought in the middle of the country. Oh, and we have snow thrown in seasonally during the year, just to round it all out. 

Riding to Cape York 

Landmass and weather events aside, what I do want to share with my fellow adventure riders is a little bit about my neck of the woods here in far North Queensland and the Cape York region. First off, let me orientate you. The Cape York region pretty much starts from the northeastern Queensland coastal city of Cairns and continues further north, forming the recognisable pointy bit of the Australian map. Cairns is the popular starting destination for both Australian based adventure riders as well as overseas visitors who freight their bikes across the oceans to ride here. 

There are many different routes of varying degrees of difficulty that can be taken to have you standing on the very top of Down Under, so let me share with you the simplest way to get you there. 

Sinking feeling
Ever get that sinking feeling

The trip is a long one. A return journey will see you travel more than 1,250 miles from Cairns to Seisia at the very top of Cape York and can take anywhere between eight to 14 days to complete. Following the Eastern Development Road or EDR, as it is known, you can expect multiple creek crossings, a combination of sealed and heavily corrugated unsealed roads, and depending on the time of year, either heavy bulldust or thick mud to make things interesting.

The journey also showcases an untamed part of Australia that not many get to see. It’s an eyeball to eyeball look at unique wildlife, stage dressed on a timeless landscape with a host of unique, authentic Outback Australian characters that seem to inhabit every pub. It truly is the last of the Great North of Australia. 

Choose your weapon

 Let’s start with what sort of machine will handle a trip to the Tip. Since we are talking about the simplest route with no sidetrack diversions along the EDR, you could expect to conquer that mission on anything from a Suzuki DRZ 400 with a large capacity fuel tank to the great desert ships of BMW GS-esque proportions. 

Accuracy is key
Accuracy is key

If you are planning to divert from the EDR and conquer the jungle sidetracks, take a tip from the local Cape York Tour groups who recommend a well set up, lightweight enduro model with appropriate fuel capacity. Unless you have a large ‘S’ written on the front of your riding gear and a red cape fluttering out from behind you, larger and heavier breeds of motorcycle will quickly have you wishing your parents had never met. 

Generally, big adventure bikes are fine for the open, unsealed development road type sections, but use a lighter enduro-type model if you plan to divert onto the gnarly, snotty stuff. 


So, what things do you need to be aware of when travelling to the Cape by motorcycle. At the risk of stating the obvious, I’m going to say that ensure your machine is well serviced and well prepared. Long-range fuel tanks of between 15-21 litres are a standard sight on adventure bikes. Heavy-duty tyres with a puncture-resistant slime introduced to your tyre tube is a good recommendation.

Riding with mates
Riding with mates

Having your suspension dialled into the best possible settings for the terrain will pay off as well, as will quality off-road tyres with a suggested 70% to 30% ratio weighted to off-road work. There are sections of corrugations that run for miles, so I hope your fillings are strong. 

Spare tyre tubes, as well as your basic tool kit is a must, along with a selection of spares. row in a first aid kit while you are there. Go with the mindset that, should you get a flat, crack an engine case, break a clutch lever, or drown your bike in a creek crossing, you can be miles from help – hundreds of miles in some cases. You can forget about a nearby dealership, so pack and prepare accordingly. 

You and Trees
Nothing but you and trees for miles around

Make sure you’re in good shape as well. The Australian heat is relentless and heatstroke has cooked a fair number of visitors over the years. Hydrate, hydrate and hydrate some more, and I do not mean just drink beer. As an Australian, it physically hurt me to type that, but taking the 500ml complimentary water bottle from your hotel is not going to cut it. A hydration pack water system with at least 2-3 litres capacity of water are also a must. Take more if possible as temperatures here can hit the high thirties and more. Add to this the humidity and the added weight of your riding gear. 


Cape York is basically a telecommunications black hole. Sure, there may be odd old-school pay phones at some of the roadhouses but that’s pretty much it. Basically, you’re on your own and you should be prepared to get yourself out of any sticky situations you find yourself in because you may not be able to call for help anytime soon. 

Fighting through sand
Fighting through sand

It is not all bad news, the Eastern Development Road does have a small trickle of 4×4 travellers, trucks and local Aboriginal community residents that travel the road, but it may be a long wait sitting in the dust and heat on the side of the road waiting for a good Samaritan. When it comes to spares, fuel and water if you are going to do it, overdo it. Proper preparation prevents piss poor performance, as they say in the army. 


The top of Australia has an abundance of wildlife, some of it is cute and fluffy, some of it will eat you, all of it you need to be aware of. Our humble national emblem, for example, the kangaroo, can stand around 2m tall and weigh in at 90kg. Yes, sure they look cute on the tourist videos as they are being fed eucalypt leaves and lazily scratching their marsupial testicles under a shady tree.

However, meeting one and its pals at speed as they bound from one side of the roadside to the other at dusk, will wipe the smile off your face. Generally riding at dawn and dusk requires a high level of alertness since animals are on the move in search of water. My personal plan when riding the Cape is to be off the road by 5 pm and back on the road at 9 am the next day. 

Help from friends
I get by with a little help from my friends

The kangaroo’s country cousin, the wallaby, can be just as entertaining and travel in large mobs and can appear in front of you almost out of nowhere. Then there are the cattle, both the feral and domestic. Large sections of Cape York’s Eastern Development Road is bracketed by massive cattle stations with hundreds of miles of unfenced sections. Generally, they are signposted, warning travellers to expect wandering stock. 

One creature that is uniquely native to Northern Australia, and the Cape’s jungle area specifically, is the cassowary. Think of the cassowary as a 7ft ostrich with colourful plumage and severe anger management issues. It is shy in nature but very territorial, particularly with its chicks.

I found it like that
I found it like that, Honest!

It sports a large middle toe/spur on its foot that can disembowel a grown man and a hard-bony formation on its head called a casque that it will happily nut you with. Avoid contact with this native bird as they behave like you owe them money. If you feel the need to photograph one, do so from a distance. Better still buy a postcard of one later. 

Feral Pigs are also something that you may encounter and are a road hazard weighing up to 100kg. These are very cranky, large and sport razor sharp tusks ey, like the wallabies, kangaroos and cattle, love stepping out onto the road at the wrong time. 

Bushfires are a danger to be taken seriously

And then there’s the saltwater crocodiles. Snapping handbags. Long-tailed, short-legged, swamp terriers. Salties. The Australian saltwater crocodile is unforgivingly lethal and responsible for many deaths in the north every year.

Much has been said about these bad boys. Growing up to over 5m in length, these monsters rule the tropical waterways. The saltwater crocodile is a bit of a misnomer. These creatures happily travel inland to inviting freshwater swimming holes as well as hanging out at saltwater tributaries and beaches. 

Watchout for Crocs
Watch out for Crocodiles

Most, if not all, of the water crossings you will encounter between Cairns and the Cape will be signposted with a crocodile warning sign. Heed them. At the time of writing a park ranger was blindsided by a 2m saltwater croc. He survived only by driving his thumb into its eye, allowing him to escape and drive the 60 miles back to a ranger station with a badly mangled arm to get medical help flown in. 

Perfect End
The Perfect end to a day

Flooding and creek crossings 

They say that North Queensland has only two seasons – wet and hot and dry and hot. The effect of the wet season echoes across the Cape for some time as water drains off the top of Australia. Take extreme caution when crossing still flooded creeks and river crossings as some are quite deep depending on what time of the year you plan your trip. There are some locations you can cool off in and have a swim but check with the locals. Diving headlong into a random stream or river is courting disaster. Just because you cannot see a large crocodile, does not mean they are not there. 

When to ride to the Cape 

The best plan is to try and beat the heat. Ideally, plan your trip between March and late October. After that the place turns into a monsoon filled swamp due to the heavy seasonal rains. This is the time of year when riding ceases and the sheds around the north come alive with the sound of tinkering and the opening of cold beer cans. Basically, the Cape becomes a massive mud puddle 


During summer in Cairns, average temperatures range from 23.6-31.4C. The wet season begins around December and most annual rainfall (around 2,000mm) occurs in the summer months.


It is still very warm in autumn, both day and night, with temperatures averaging between 21.5 – 29C. The rain subsides from April, however, the weather can be windy until August. Prevailing south easterly winds continue until around October time. 


Winter in Cairns brings slightly cooler temperatures and lower humidity, making it the peak tourist season. Average temperatures range from 17.5 – 26C and there is little rainfall. 


In spring, average temperatures range from 20.5 – 29C. This is the end of the dry season when the humidity starts to build with the onset of the wet season from December. 

Fuel, Pubs and Accommodation 

As been as we’re focusing on the most straightforward route to Cape York along the EDR, it makes sense to highlight the available stops and services. In general, the average adventure bike will have the capacity to take you from one fuel stop to the next. Plan your fuel stops with a generous overlap, however. The rule of thumb would be taking a spare five litres at least and, as the old saying goes, better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Ideally, you can take anywhere from 8-12 days to complete the trip. Accommodation can be found at roadside pubs or you can camp out at the many prepared campsites, but permits are required. To look up camping sites, check out www.findapark.npsr.qld.gov.au

The Old Telegraph Road 

On your journey to Cape York, you will come across the infamous Old Telegraph Track and be faced with a choice. Take this a snotty, nearly track with multiple creek crossings, or circumvent it by going around on the bypass roads which are in better condition. The choice will be yours, with many travellers opting to take the Old Telegraph Track north and returning along the bypass roads. 

Congratulations, you’ve reached the top 

Once you arrive at the top of Australia, you will be able to look across to the Thursday Islands and to Australia’s nearest neighbour, Papua New Guinea. Sitting beachside at Cape York, you have a sense of being in an unspoilt tropical paradise that not many people enjoy as it is such an arduous journey to get there. Accommodation is basic, as are all the hotels and pubs that lead up to this beautiful remote location. Make sure you talk to the locals, they are friendly enough. It may cost you a beer or two, but you could see yourself invited out for a spot of fishing. Sadly, many Australians will never know this beauty or the hospitality shown. Life is very basic but that’s how I like it. Untouched with the very real feeling that this is truly the last of our wild north.