There is an abundance of enriching life experiences to be had at the northernmost point of Australia, starting with the community-owned Cape York Peninsula Lodge – part of an enterprise that proves travel can be used as a force for good.
With over 1000 kilometres between you and the closest town, Cape York Peninsula Lodge is as remote as it gets: wild brumbies graze on median strips, shy dugongs pop out at unexpected moments and giant crocs guard river crossings. It’s here, in the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) on the northwestern coast of the Cape, where you’ll find five townships and two First Nations cultures woven together by time and necessity; the world’s first climate refugees left their saltwater inundated island of Saibai in the Torres Strait roughly eight decades ago. Now it’s the only place in the country where the merging of Australia’s traditional landowners and Torres Strait Islander cultures can be experienced on Country.
The wild and remote Cape York Peninsula. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
There are three Aboriginal townships known as Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon, and two Torres Strait Islander townships named Seisia and Bamaga. The last is where I’ll be staying for the next three nights after forgoing the two-week drive and opting for the “cheat’s way” to Bamaga on a two-hour flight from Cairns to explore the final frontier of Tropical North Queensland.
The colours of Cape York. (Image: Katie Carlin)
I’m greeted by local elder Uncle Michael at the airport – his seriousness belies a cheeky sense of humour that slowly emerges over the next few days while touring Pajinka (formerly known as The Tip) under his careful guidance. My travel companions are mostly retirees in their seventies and eighties and we pile onto the 4×4 coach together.
The river-facing cabins at Cape York Peninsula Lodge offer gorgeous vistas throughout your stay. (Image: Tourism and Events Queensland)
Check-in is a smooth process and I spy some lovely handmade pieces in the reception souvenir shop – I make a mental note to come back for a proper look later. Zandra and Leah, two high school students participating in a six-month traineeship, walk me to my room, pointing out facilities and features as we go. It’s 4.5 stars and award-winning but the lodge’s luxury status is all about home comforts – finding such a haven in the centre of one of the most unforgiving climates in Australia sure feels like luxury.
I am staying in one of the six self-contained studios that overlook Mosby Creek. If you would like to self-cater these are the rooms for you. The studio features a small, fully stocked kitchen with a stove, microwave, toaster, kettle, coffee-pod machine (you can pick up pods and groceries in the local IBIS Supermarket in town) and a fridge with freezer.
The suites at Cape York Peninsula Lodge offer home comforts in the outback.
There are different bed configurations available, but my studio has a queen-sized bed and a separate single bed which would be perfect for a family of three. There is a television, dining table and a generously sized bathroom with shower and basic toiletries supplied – and most important of all, it has a powerful air conditioner.
The ensuite bathrooms are generously sized.
The deck quickly becomes my favourite place to end the day; the heat starts to lose its edge and the humidity teeters off, frogs erupt into their nightly chorus, and the last glimpses of the rust-coloured creek disappear under a cloak of darkness. It’s the perfect place to sit and unpack the events of the day, with a cheese platter and a glass of vino in hand.
Order up a cheeseboard or build your own to enjoy on your deck of an evening.
Food and drink
Another area that Cape York Peninsula Lodge excels in is its onsite dining. With so much to choose from on the menu, I find it hard to drag myself away from the lodge (more on that below), but Bamaga and the surrounding townships all have a few inviting options to try.
The lodge’s onsite Paperbark Restaurant runs dinner service from 5pm to 8pm, seven days per week (depending on the season). Chef Craig knows how to put together a knockout a la carte menu with a real fusion of cuisines.
One of the chef’s many delicious creations at Paperbark Restaurant. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Find Wagyu beef gyoza, char sui duck shanks and mac-and-cheese croquettes on the entrée menu with fettuccini marinara, kangaroo fillet, Wagyu beef burgers and coconut jackfruit stir fry making an appearance on the mains. You’ll want multiple nights here to eat your way through the full four-page menu. I also had some excellent wines at the fully licensed restaurant during my stay – including a Penfolds shiraz. Cocktails are also available.
Paperbark Restaurant is located beside the lodge reception overlooking the pool. (Image: Justin Meneguzzi)
The restaurant itself has a lovely atmosphere and an outside deck that overlooks the pool, for those who don’t mind the humidity. It is also open from 7am to 8.30am for your run-of-the-mill buffet breakfast – head up to the bar to order a coffee rather than using the self-serve jugs of coffee. Paperbark is closed during the day, but you can pre-order lunch the night before to have it delivered to your room or packed to take away for a day of exploring.
For a pub feed and a game of darts, head to Bamaga Tavern just down the street from the lodge. Expect to find your usual pub fare and a lively atmosphere. It also holds the title of Australia’s most northerly mainland pub.
The Bamaga Tavern is the place to go for an excellent pub feed. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Pick up freshly baked bread at the Bamaga Bakery from 7am daily or opt for one of the bakery treats – think good old fashioned cream buns, lamingtons, choc chip cookies and hedgehog slice.
Find all the classics at Bamaga Bakery. (Image: Katie Carlin)
If you’re in town for a few days, ring ahead and order one or more of the locally caught crayfish from the Seisia Kiosk. They also offer a takeaway menu of roast chicken, burgers, fish and chips, salad, oysters and prawns.
Find burgers, fish and chips and more at Seisia Kiosk. (Image: Katie Carlin)
You can get fresh produce and groceries from the IBIS Supermarket and other supplies from the BP Bamaga Roadhouse and Mini Mart. The neighbouring townships of Seisia and Umagico also have supermarkets – but don’t expect to have the same access to fresh food as you do in the cities and regions; all food arrives by barge to the Cape, so variety is limited.
You’ll find a lovely lodge pool right beside the onsite restaurant, it’s the perfect place to cool off at the end of the day. While the turquoise waters at the surrounding beaches look inviting, they are also inhabited by crocodiles, marine stingers, and deadly jellyfish, so swimming is not advised.
Take a dip in the hotel pool to beat the humidity.
Long hot days spent exploring the region means plenty of dirty washing and the lodge has a communal laundry room set up for guest services.
Expect slow internet speeds and weak or no phone signal – especially if you’re not with Telstra. I didn’t have more than two bars of phone reception during my stay, and I couldn’t connect to the hotel wi-fi from my room. If you want to continue bingeing your favourite show of an evening, I recommend downloading them in advance. But the lack of connection is the perfect excuse to disconnect from the outside world. Plan to be unreachable and embrace the slower pace of life.
Tours and experiences
Cape York Peninsula Lodge offers two Indigenous-hosted return day trips for guests (or they offer vehicle hire if you prefer to explore independently) to explore Pajinka and Fruit Bat Falls.
Cape York Peninsula Lodge runs two Indigenous-led tours. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Indigenous-led day trip to Pajinka
Adventurous travellers have been following the siren call to Australia’s jagged tip for generations and this cultural tour of Pajinka is easily the highlight of my time in Cape York.
Enjoy a picnic lunch packed by the lodge at Somerset Beach on your way to Pajinka. (Image: Katie Carlin)
The 45-minute drive through rugged rainforest is punctuated with stops at historical sites that include ruins, graves, WWII wreckages and the remains of Pajinka Resort – and a steady stream of stories from our Indigenous tour guides, Uncle Tommy and Uncle Michael.
Find remnants of WWII wreckages during the tour to Pajinka.
There are three routes that lead to the very tip of Australia, and all of them require varying degrees of ability to navigate. The first is a steep and slippery climb over a rock face – not such a great idea for my group of older travellers, even if Uncle Tommy fashioned them walking sticks from branches on the drive here.
Pajinka at low tide is the best route to the tip of Australia. (Image: Katie Carlin)
The second is walking the high side of the mangroves, and the third is walking along the beach at low tide. Our group take to the waterlogged sand past mangroves to the rocky outcrop we clamber over together.
It will take about 20 minutes to get to the northernmost point of Australia. (Image: Katie Carlin)
It’s roughly 20 minutes before we reach our destination: a sign that reads, “You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent”. It’s a dazzling scene here at the water’s edge: a smattering of green-capped islands, sunlight dances off the aquamarine waters, and I keep my eyes peeled for those elusive dugongs that are known to appear without warning in these parts.
This sign indicates you’ve reached the northernmost point of Australia. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Indigenous-led day trip to Fruit Bat Falls
I can guarantee you’ve seen photos of Fruit Bat Falls: lush cascades roll over a wing-shaped rocky ledge into pools of crystal-clear emerald, green water. But the journey to get here is as thrilling as a dip in this remote waterhole.
A day trip to the pristine waterhole of Fruit Bat Falls. (Image: Katie Carlin)
This return day trip tour takes us across the mighty Jardine River onboard a ferry (a barge that pulls cars across via a chain pulley system) and onto the red dirt road that connects to part of the Old Telegraph Track until we reach the bush trail to the falls.
Crossing the mighty Jardine River. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Find toilet facilities and the ferry station on the other side of the Jardine River. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Sit under the falls and let the day tick away. This place is an unspoilt haven. The tour includes a picnic lunch as well as additional stops along the way to Mutee Heads, Umajico and Injinoo.
Let time tick away as you relax under the falls. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)
Cultural performance space
On my final night at the lodge, I am treated to a cultural performance by the award-winning Torres Strait Islander dance troupe Naygayiw Gigi. The interactive performance tells the story of how their people came to settle in the NPA with educational elements of history, language and culture woven in to convey the importance of storytelling through dance and the significance of costumes, props and musical instruments. The stage is set up alongside the hotel pool and performed underneath the night sky with strings of fairy lights creating a magical atmosphere.
Cape York Peninsula Lodge hosts a cultural performance by Naygayiw Gigi. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Back story – why stay here?
Cape York Peninsula Lodge is part of Bamaga Enterprises Limited, a not-for-profit, Indigenous, community-owned company. The profits of all the businesses – including the lodge, Bamaga Tavern and BP Bamaga Roadhouse – are fully reinvested back into the Indigenous community through community development projects, education, healthcare and infrastructure initiatives. Staying here not only gives you a deeper understanding of our First Nations cultures, but it also ensures your dollar goes back into the community; regenerative travel at its best.
Accommodation options at Cape York Peninsula Lodge range from standard rooms (from $275 per night), deluxe rooms (from $330 per night), executive cabins (from $370 per night), self-contained studios (from $400 per night) and the suites with separate lounge area ($400 per night).
The day trips to Pajinka and Fruit Bat Falls in an air-conditioned 4×4 coach cost $300 per person for each tour. There is a two-passenger minimum, and the tour includes a packed lunch prepared in advance by the chef of Paperbark Restaurant. The cultural performance by Naygayiw Gigi is hosted by the lodge and is dependent on the performers’ tour dates. Contact Cape York Peninsula Lodge to find out more.
Spend the day relaxing at Fruit Bat Falls. (Image: Katie Carlin)
Skytrans flies to Bamaga Airport (ABM) from Cairns. Airport transfers are available. The lodge is only a 10-minute drive from the airport. Car hire is also available through the lodge for a fee. Hire costs start at $205 per day for a 2WD to $350 per day for a LandCruiser.
Adventure lovers are drawn to the northernmost tip of Australia in Pajinka. (Image: Tourism Tropical North Queensland)