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The Tip

The top of Cape York is a truly impressive place. I was stoked to have made it by bike! Crowds of tourists queue at the northernmost point for photos and comical comments: “is this all there is?” I was entranced by the incredible scenery and feel of the place.

The Jardine River divides the tip from southern Cape York. Swamp and heath country blocked European exploration and settlement but provided ample resource for Aboriginal. Injinoo people own the tip and welcome visitors who purchase a permit on the Jardine ferry. Established in 1867 Injinoo is the oldest Cape community. Today five closely linked communities exist. People displaced from Sabai Island created Bamaga, the largest town, in 1947. People forcibly removed from the Weipa area, to allow bauxite mining, formed new Mapoon and Umagico. Tiny Seisia was formed in 1986 and is a Torres Strait Islander community. Today these communities are vibrant, friendly and flourishing. Governed by Community Councils, the top towns rely on tourism and local development projects..

The Tip is a dramatic spot. After biking through dense rainforest a short walk over a rocky headland leads to the famous sign. Current roars through a narrow channel between the mainland and York Island, and scores of lost fishing lures are exposed at low tide. Incredible Frangipani beach stretches west, leading towards the golden sand of Punsand Bay and Possession Island. Here James Cook claimed “New Wales” for England in 1770. Glowing white sand beaches, low headlands and mangrove filled creeks lead toward the massive mouth of the Jardine River. I woke up in the middle of the night to uproot my tent and drag it farther from the incoming tide- leery of crocs!

To the East lies Somerset, site of an 1864 settlement. The Jardine family ruled pearling and cattle interests with an iron hand, introducing missionaries to pacify Torres Strait Islanders. Today little remains of once-grand bungalows, military barracks and coconut plantations. From Somerset a wonderful beach bike heads south, crossing headlands before heading inland past crystal clear freshwater lakes. The Coral Sea glows green with rocks, shoal and reef visible. Yet yachts and cargo vessels cruise past, satellites removing the perils of past navigation. Far in the distance tall mangrove forest lines the Escape River. A labyrinth of channels, mangrove ecosystems are vital to the survival of reef fish and blur the distinction between land and sea.

To the North lies Torres Strait. 4600 people inhabit 19 of the 130 islands dotting shallow azure sea. Waibene or Thursday Island is the administrative centre and popular tourist destination. I enjoyed hand-hewn Green Hill Fort. Here 6-inch guns and military barracks were built in the 1890’s to protect coal hulks from the Russians. Tropical conditions, boredom and disease made life hard for white-clad, pith-helmeted troops. Of course the Russians never came. Pearling attracted Japanese, Malay and Aboriginal leading to a diverse and unique population today.

www.capeyork.wilderness.org.au for information on natural heritage

www.epa.qld.govt.au for information on Cape York National Parks

http://www.deh.gov.au/erin/cyplus/ for an in depth report on Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York.

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