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About Cape Melville

Getting there and getting around

The tip of Cape Melville. Photo: Melisha McIvor, Queensland Government.

The tip of Cape Melville. Photo: Melisha McIvor, Queensland Government.

Tidal creek crossings along the beach near Cape Melville. Photo: Melisha McIvor, Queensland Government.

Tidal creek crossings along the beach near Cape Melville. Photo: Melisha McIvor, Queensland Government.

Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) is extremely isolated and remote. All roads into and on the park are unsealed and suitable for high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles only—they are not suitable for trailers, caravans, campervans or buses. Roads on the park are rarely maintained and can be very rough. Be prepared for corrugations, washouts, tidal creek crossings and soft sand. The road into Ninian Bay is particularly difficult and vehicles may be scratched by roadside vegetation.

Visitors must be experienced in four-wheel-driving and should travel with the necessary recovery gear, winches, spare parts, first-aid, communications equipment, and adequate food, water and fuel. Satellite phones are essential—there is no mobile reception—and personal locator beacons (PLBs) are recommended. Travel with another vehicle where possible. For more information, see things to know before you go and staying safe.

The park is generally accessible in the dry season, from July to November. During the wet season, roads into and on the park become impassable for extended periods and are closed to public access. Observe road closures and restrictions, as penalties can apply. Check park alerts and with the Department of Transport and Main Roads or Cook Shire Council for local road conditions. The Bureau of Meteorology provides updated weather reports.

Access to the park is either from the west via Kalpowar Crossing in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) or from the south by the coastal route from Cooktown. These routes converge at Wakooka outstation, which is Aboriginal land and camping is not allowed.

Access via Kalpowar Crossing

It is about 70 km from Kalpowar Crossing to Wakooka outstation, and an additional 4 km to the park boundary. From here it is a further 35 km to the camping areas at Bathurst Bay or 37 km to Ninian Bay camping area. Sections of this road are extremely rough and it can take up to 5 hrs to traverse.

Access via Cooktown

The coastal route from Cooktown is around 180 km to Wakooka outstation, and an additional 4 km to the park boundary. From here it is a further 35 km to the camping areas at Bathurst Bay or 37 km to Ninian Bay camping area. The road is extremely rough and challenging and can take up to 12 hrs to traverse. The coastal route can also be accessed by travelling 66 km from Old Laura Homestead in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL) along Battle Camp Road to join the coastal route 45 km north of Cooktown.

Alcohol restrictions are in place in many of Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. For the latest information on restrictions, see Alcohol restrictions for travellers.

Roads in national parks are the same as any other public road in Queensland. All vehicles, except those exempted by law, must be registered. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service does not give permission for conditionally registered vehicles (e.g. quad bikes) to be used recreationally by individuals. In many places it is not legally possible to issue a permit.

Surveillance cameras may be used to monitor visitor behaviour and movements throughout the park. On-the-spot fines may also apply.

Map: Cape Melville, Flinders Group and Howick Group national parks (CYPAL) map (PDF, 206K)*

Wheelchair accessibility

There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities in this park.

Park features

Cape Melville granite outcrops. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Cape Melville granite outcrops. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

This remote park is characterised by the massive, tumbled granite boulders of the Melville Range, the sandstone escarpments of the Altanmoui Range, and inland dunefields. The park features a diversity of plant communities including rainforest, mangroves, heathlands, woodlands and grasslands.

The isolation of Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) has given rise to a high proportion of endemic plants and animals, which are found nowhere else in the world. Most notable of these is the foxtail palm Wodyetia bifurcata, now a popular garden plant.

Features of the park's landscape are woven into a rich tapestry of Aboriginal traditional stories and significant sites, creating a living cultural landscape. The long Aboriginal occupation of this area, known as Othawa, is evidenced by shell middens, burial and rock art sites, and has contributed to the significant diversity of vegetation in the area.

Camping and accommodation

Camping in Crocodile camping area. Photo: Fran Mickan, Queensland Government.

Camping in Crocodile camping area. Photo: Fran Mickan, Queensland Government.

The beach at Ninian Bay camping area. Photo: Craig Hall, Queensland Government.

The beach at Ninian Bay camping area. Photo: Craig Hall, Queensland Government.

Camping

There are camping areas on the eastern side of Bathurst Bay near Cape Melville (Crocodile, Wongai, Oystercatcher and Granite camping areas) and at Ninian Bay camping area. Access is by four-wheel drive only and no facilities are provided.

Campers must be completely self-sufficient in this extremely remote area. For more information, see things to know before you go and staying safe.

Be aware that crocodiles occur in all creeks, rivers, swamps, waterholes and along beaches of this park. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal—always be croc wise in croc country.

Camping permits are required and fees apply.

Other accommodation

Camping facilities are provided at nearby Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL). Privately managed camping areas are located adjacent to the park at Bathurst Head and Starcke River. There is also a range of holiday accommodation in and around Cooktown, Laura and along the Peninsula Development Road. No accommodation facilities are provided in Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL). For more information, see the tourism information links.

Things to do

Walkers on the beach at Cape Melville. Photo: Eric Wason, Queensland Government.

Walkers on the beach at Cape Melville. Photo: Eric Wason, Queensland Government.

The walking track to the Mahina monument. Photo: Eric Wason, Queensland Government.

The walking track to the Mahina monument. Photo: Eric Wason, Queensland Government.

Freshwater creek in Nookai day-use area. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Freshwater creek in Nookai day-use area. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Tidal creek crossings along the beach near Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Tidal creek crossings along the beach near Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Cape Melville offers many opportunities for visitors to explore and enjoy the natural surrounds.

Map: Cape Melville, Flinders Group and Howick Group national parks (CYPAL) map (PDF, 206K)* 

Walking

Mahina monument track (Grade: easy)

Distance: 300 m return
Time: Allow about 30 mins walking time
Details: From the beach in the Mahina camping area there is a 200 m (one way) 4WD track to a parking area. From here, this walking track leads to a monument commemorating lives lost when a pearling fleet was destroyed in Cyclone Mahina in 1899.

Beach walks (Grade: easy)

Distance: various
Time: various
Details: Enjoy a walk along one of Bathurst Bay’s many sandy beaches. Fringed by woodlands and with a backdrop of the Melville Range, these beaches have views over the ocean to the islands of the Flinders Group National Park (CYPAL).

Be aware that crocodiles occur in all creeks, rivers, swamps, waterholes and along beaches of this park. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal. Always be croc wise in croc country.

Four-wheel driving

Drive four-wheel-drive vehicles through Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) on formed roads and tracks. Expect to share the roads with pedestrians, cyclists, trail-bikes and other vehicles.

Vehicles should be in good mechanical condition. Carry plenty of fuel as driving on rough roads in low gear uses more fuel than under normal driving conditions. Also carry spare parts and basic vehicle repair equipment. You will need to be self-sufficient as no fuel, spare parts or mechanical work are available at Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL). 

If possible, travel with another vehicle. Always observe directions about road closures or other restrictions to avoid road damage and vehicle problems.

Vehicles are not permitted off-road or on internal roads and tracks that are closed for management purposes. Drivers must be licensed and vehicles must be road-registered. For more information, see four-wheel driving.

Trail-bike riding

Ride trail-bikes through Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) on formed roads and tracks. Expect to share the roads with pedestrians, cyclists, vehicles and other trail-bikes.

Trail-bikes should be in good mechanical condition. Carry plenty of fuel as riding on rough roads in low gear uses more fuel than under normal driving conditions. Also carry spare parts and basic repair equipment. You will need to be self-sufficient as no fuel, spare parts or mechanical work are available at Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL). 

If possible, travel with another trail-bike or vehicle. Always observe directions about road closures or other restrictions to avoid road damage and bike problems.

Trail-bikes are not permitted off-road or on internal roads and tracks that are closed for management purposes. Riders must be licensed and trail-bikes must be road-registered. For more information, see trail-bike riding

Quad bikes

Roads in national parks are the same as any other public road in Queensland. All vehicles, except those exempted by law, must be registered. The department does not give permission for conditionally registered vehicles (e.g. quad bikes) to be used recreationally by individuals. In many places it is not legally possible to issue a permit.

Surveillance cameras may be used to monitor visitor behaviour and movements throughout the park. On-the-spot fines may also apply.

Picnic and day-use areas

Nookai day-use area covers the 4 km of coast between Crocodile and Wongai camping areas (see Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) camping areas map (PDF, 154K)*) and offers great beach fishing. The day-use area extends inland to include a small creek where fresh water can be collected—this water must be treated before drinking. Fresh water is extremely limited in the park so take care not to pollute it—do not use soap, shampoo or detergents in or near the creek. Camping is not permitted in the day-use area.

Boating and fishing

Marine waters adjacent to Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) are internationally significant and are protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Zones in the two marine parks—the Great Barrier Reef Coast and Great Barrier Reef—provide a balanced approach to protecting the marine and intertidal environments while allowing recreational and commercial use. Check zoning information and maps before entering or conducting any activities in the marine parks.

Recreational fishing is allowed in all creeks and rivers in Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL). Fisheries regulations apply—information on bag and size limits, restricted species and seasonal closures is available from Fisheries Queensland.

Be aware that crocodiles occur in all creeks, rivers, swamps, waterholes and along beaches of this park. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal. Always be croc wise in croc country.

Bicycling

Cycle through Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) on internal roads and tracks. Expect to share the roads and tracks with pedestrians, vehicles, trail-bikes and other cyclists.

Bicycles are not permitted on roads and tracks that are closed for management purposes.

For more information, see cycling.

Things to know before you go

The creek at the southern end of Crocodile camping area. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

The creek at the southern end of Crocodile camping area. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Beach four-wheel-driving tracks near Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Beach four-wheel-driving tracks near Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Ninian Bay. Photo: Craig Hall, Queensland Government.

Ninian Bay. Photo: Craig Hall, Queensland Government.

Essentials to bring

Preparation is the key to a safe and enjoyable visit. Make sure you bring:

  • adequate food and drinking water—fresh water is extremely limited in the park
  • always prepare for a longer stay than anticipated in case of breakdown or stranding due to wet weather
  • fuel, spare parts, vehicle repair and recovery equipment
  • first-aid kit
  • sunscreen, hat, sunglasses and protective clothing
  • insect repellent and mosquito nets
  • fuel or gas stove for cooking
  • rubbish bags—no bins are provided
  • satellite phones are essential and personal locator beacons (PLBs) are highly recommended.

Opening hours

Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) is closed for the wet season from 1 December to 30 June each year. These dates may vary depending on weather and road conditions. Camping areas and roads may also be closed at other times after heavy rain. Check park alerts and with Department of Transport and Main Roads or Cook Shire Council to enquire about local road conditions.

Sections of the park may be closed periodically for management purposes. Do not enter these areas and obey all signs.

Permits and fees

Camping permit

Camping permits are required and must be booked in advance. Fees apply. A camping tag with your booking number must be displayed at your camp site.

Other permits

Permits are required for commercial and some organised group activities. See park permits and policies for more information.

Pets

Domestic animals are not permitted in Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL). Penalties apply.

Climate and weather

Cape York Peninsula has a tropical climate. The best time to visit is during the drier months of July to September when the daytime temperature averages 28ºC. From October to December it can be very hot and thunderstorms are common. The wet season, usually from December to May, can see the area deluged by heavy monsoonal rains and roads becoming impassable for extended periods, preventing access to the park. Average maximum temperatures at this time are around 33ºC with very high humidity. For more information, see the tourism information links.

Fuel and supplies

The nearest fuel, meals, supplies and mechanical repairs are available at Laura or Cooktown. From the camping areas, Laura is around 200 km (up to 6 hrs drive) and Cooktown is around 220 km (up to 12 hrs drive). For more information, see the tourism information links.

Staying safe

The eastern side of Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

The eastern side of Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Estuarine crocodile. Photo: Queensland Government.

Estuarine crocodile. Photo: Queensland Government.

Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) is extremely remote and visitors must be well prepared and entirely self-sufficient.

A practical working knowledge of basic first aid is highly important when travelling in remote areas. Be familiar with first-aid procedures for heat exhaustion, snakebite and sprained or twisted ankles. Ideally, at least one person in your party should have an up-to-date first-aid qualification. You should carry a well-stocked first-aid kit, and make sure that other members of your party know where it is located. Other important guidelines are:

  • Drive slowly and carefully and stay on designated roads and formed tracks—do not drive on salt flats. Driving on the beach can be dangerous, particularly near creek mouths where quicksand can develop, so care must be taken.
  • There are various natural hazards in the park. Please take note of all management and safety signs.
  • Plan your itinerary allowing adequate time to drive carefully as park roads are unsealed and not maintained.
  • Ensure that your vehicle is in good mechanical condition and carry adequate fuel and vehicle repair and recovery equipment.
  • Be prepared for delays caused by breakdowns and stranding due to wet weather.
  • Always carry adequate drinking water as well as equipment for treating water. Fresh water is extremely limited in the park and should not be relied on as a source of drinking water.
  • Ensure family and friends know your itinerary.
  • When trail-bike riding, wear appropriate safety gear and be realistic about your riding abilities. Ride to the conditions.
  • When cycling, wear appropriate safety gear and be realistic about your cycling abilities. Slow down or stop when approaching other track users. Follow the give-way code—cyclists must give way to walkers and alert others when approaching.
  • Be alert for snakes when exploring the area. Wear protective clothing such as long trousers and closed-in shoes.
  • Protect yourself from the sun. Wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses and a long-sleeved shirt, even on cloudy days.
  • Mosquito nets are recommended for overnight camping.
  • Dangerous stinging jellyfish (stingers) may be present in the coastal waters at any time, but occur more frequently in the warmer months. If you do enter the water, a full-body lycra suit, or equivalent, may provide a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn. Visit marine stingers for the latest safety and first-aid information.
  • Remember to be croc wise in croc country.

For more information, please read the guidelines on safety in parks and forests.

Be croc wise in croc country!

Crocodiles occur in all rivers, creeks, swamps, wetlands, waterholes and along beaches of Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL). Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal. Never take unnecessary risks in crocodile habitat. Visitors are responsible for their own safety, so please follow these guidelines and always be croc wise in croc country.

  • Obey crocodile warning signs—they are there for your safety and protection.
  • Never swim in water where crocodiles may live, even if there is no warning sign present.
  • Swimming or standing in water above knee-height near a crocodile warning sign, or where estuarine crocodiles are frequently seen, is illegal in protected areas (water can still be entered if there is a reasonable excuse to do so, e.g. launching a boat).
  • When fishing, always stand a few metres back from the water's edge and never stand on logs or branches overhanging the water.
  • Never clean fish or discard fish scraps near the water's edge, around camp sites or at boat ramps.
  • Stay well back from any crocodile slide marks. Crocodiles may be close by and may approach people and boats.
  • Boats and vehicles must never be brought within 10 m of an estuarine crocodile in the wild—it is illegal unless part of a commercial crocodile viewing tour, or there is a reasonable excuse, e.g. where a creek is less than 10 m wide.
  • Never dangle arms or legs over the side of a boat. If a person falls out of a boat, they should get out of the water as quickly as possible.
  • Never provoke, harass or interfere with crocodiles, even small ones.
  • Never feed crocodiles—it is illegal and dangerous.
  • Camp at least 2 m above the high water mark and at least 50 m from the water's edge. Avoid places where native animals and domestic stock drink.
  • Never leave food scraps, fish frames or bait at a camp site. Always check that previous campers have not left these behind.
  • Never prepare food, wash dishes or pursue any other activities near the water's edge or adjacent sloping banks.
  • Be more aware of crocodiles at night and during the breeding season, September to April.

Crocodiles fill an essential role as key predators in the aquatic and estuarine ecosystem. This park is one of only six key areas for estuarine crocodile conservation in Queensland, and is crucial to the long-term conservation of the species on Queensland's east coast.

For more information, see crocodiles—be croc wise.

Looking after the park

A tidal creek crossing on the beach near Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

A tidal creek crossing on the beach near Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

  • The use of firearms and chainsaws is prohibited in national parks.
  • Leave domestic animals at home—they are prohibited in national parks and adjacent tidal lands.
  • Camp only in designated camping areas—camping is not permitted in other parts of the park.
  • Bury human waste and toilet paper at least 15 cm deep and 100 m from camp sites, roads, beaches and watercourses.
  • Light fires only in existing fireplaces and put fires out with water when leaving. Fuel stoves are recommended. Do not collect firewood in the national park. Obey fire restrictions.
  • Take care not to pollute fresh water. Do not use soap, shampoo or detergents in or near waterways.
  • Avoid damaging the beach-front wongai trees as they have significance for the Traditional Owners and provide shade and shelter from the wind.
  • Do not collect souvenirs or interfere with cultural sites.
  • When driving or trail-bike riding, stay on the formed roads—off-road trail-bike riding and four-wheel driving is not allowed.
  • Roads in national parks are the same as any other public road in Queensland. All vehicles, except those exempted by law, must be registered. Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service does not give permission for conditionally registered vehicles (e.g. quad bikes) to be used recreationally by individuals. In many places it is not legally possible to issue a permit.
  • Riders and drivers must be licensed and vehicles must be road registered.
  • Motocross is not permitted in this park.
  • Surveillance cameras may be used to monitor visitor behaviour and movements throughout the park. On-the-spot fines may also apply.
  • Respect park neighbours and visitors—ensure the noise and dust from your riding and driving doesn’t upset others.
  • When cycling, stay on formed roads.
  • Limit the spread of weeds by ensuring clothes, shoes, gear, bikes and vehicles are clean and free of seeds before arriving at the park.

See the guidelines on caring for parks for more information about protecting the environment and heritage in parks.

Park management

The rocky coastline of Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

The rocky coastline of Cape Melville. Photo: Janie White, Queensland Government.

Cape Melville National Park (CYPAL) is jointly managed by the Cape Melville, Flinders & Howick Islands Aboriginal Corporation and the Queensland Government in accordance with an Indigenous Management Agreement and other land management arrangements. Read more about the joint management of Cape York Peninsula national parks.

Cape Melville National Park was originally gazetted in 1973. It was extended in 1996 with the inclusion of parts of the Starcke Pastoral Holding and again in 2005 with the inclusion of parts of the Kalpowar Pastoral Holding. The park now stretches for 70 km, from Cape Melville in the north to Jeannie River to the south, covering 171,410 ha.

Cape Melville was successfully claimed under the Aboriginal Land Act (Qld) 1991 and changed to national park (Cape York Peninsula Aboriginal Land) on 26 November 2013. This tenure recognises Indigenous connection to the land and allows for joint management of the park by QPWS and the Aboriginal Traditional Owners.

Tourism information links

Nature's PowerHouse Visitor Information Centre
www.naturespowerhouse.com.au
Cooktown Botanic Gardens, Cooktown QLD 4895
Phone: (07) 4069 6004
Email: info@naturespowerhouse.com.au

Cairns and Tropical North Visitor Information Centre
www.cairnsgreatbarrierreef.org.au 
51 The Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
Phone: (07) 4051 3588
Email: info@ttnq.org.au

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland Holidays.

Further information

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Last updated
29 November 2013