Cape York Towns
On a surface roughly as large as the Australian state of Victoria, there are only about 10 sizeable towns, and the distances between them are hundreds and hundreds of kilometres.
From south to north, the townships get smaller and smaller. In the southern parts of the peninsula are Cairns (a sizeable city), Mareeba, Port Douglas and Cooktown. In central parts is Coen. And in the northern parts is Weipa. Anything north from here is tiny, even though Bamaga is the largest township on the tip of Cape York.
Cairns is the second largest city in north Queensland and the only city anywhere near Cape York. It has heaps of things to see and do, some great day trips and other activities, excellent accommodation, and it's a favourite place for taking tours to the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is not really in the Cape York, and the same applies to Mareeba and Port Douglas. But because many people start their Cape York trip in Cairns, and pass through Mareeba and/or Port Douglas, I thought it was handy for you to have the information about those places on this website.
Mareeba is a reasonably large country town. It is in the southernmost end of the peninsula, and often not considerd as one of Cape York towns. Its main purpose is to service the surrounding farming and cattle country and the only things to see used to be the Granite Gorge and Mareeba Wetlands. But it is now getting more and more things to see and do for travellers. It's also large enough to have some fast food chains, a variety of shops, and a large supermarket. If you head inland or towards the Tip from here, you may want to stock up your supplies.
Chillagoe is a small outback town on the Burke Developmental Road between Mareeba in east and Normanton in west. It is relatively remote compared to other southern Cape York towns, with about 150km to Mareeba and about 600km to Normanton. In between is nothing but a few tiny townships. In Chillagoe, there is the historical smelters ruins and and the famous Chillagoe Caves.
Port Douglas is a touristy town and generally I am not a big fan of them. But Port Douglas is enjoyable, nice and colourful, and has plenty of good shops, bars and restaurants. It also has great Sunday Markets, an excellent beach and a lot of adventure tours. Why not enjoy the town's top class accommodation for a while...
Cooktown is the most interesting of all Cape York towns if you are into history. It's the place where Captain James Cook and his crew spent the longest time in Australia - long enough to become known as the first white settlement in Australia. There is a great museum about it all, and about the rest of the area's history. There is also a great lookout point, some lovely walks and parks, a historical cemetery, and the famous Fisherman's Wharf - one of the most popular places to fish in the area. You can also join a tour, and there is some great accommodation.
Coen is one of the smallest Cape York towns, but it is the largest town in central Cape York. It is the place to stock up your supplies if you head straight to the Old Telegraph Track and tip of Cape York without turning into Weipa. There is an interesting history museum here, a grocery shop, a fuel station and a post office, few places to stay, and the town's only pub originally called Exchange Hotel, but nowadays more commonly known as Sexchange Hotel.
Weipa is a sizeable town in north western Cape York and the largest one of northern Cape York towns. The reason for this is the largest bauxite deposit in Australia (and one of the largest in the world), which is mined in the town. Some people dislike it straight away - it is really an industrial looking workers town and there is nothing much to see and do here, not even a good old traditional Aussie pub. But I like its birdlife, red soils and blue waters off the coast, and there is some good fishing.
Bamaga is the largest one of Cape York towns that are north of Jardine River. It is a Torres Strait Islander community and the administrative centre of the area with the largest supermarket and the only pub and bottle shop north of the river -- but there is not much for travellers. The other communities Umagico, Injinoo, New Mapoon and Seisia are so close they almost feel like part of it. There is resort accommodation in town, and camping in the surrounding communities.
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