The drive to the tip of Australia at Cape York is fairly long, and you’ll have to pull over and take a break at various stages. We had limited plans, but stumbled across the Coen Free Camping options that sounded fantastic, and ended up spending two nights in a truly fantastic location.
Where is Coen?
You’ll find the town of Coen heading up the Peninsula Development Road, to Weipa or the top of Cape York. It’s roughly 400km from Cooktown, and is one of the larger places that you drive through on the way to the Cape. From Coen, its 260km to Weipa, and around 440km to Bamaga near the tip of Australia, but you have to cross the Jardine Ferry to get there.
Where are the free camping areas?
Heading north of Coen only a couple of minutes drive, you cross a small bridge, and the free camping starts immediately on your right hand side (East side). There’s a number of tracks that head off towards the river, with the first one literally metres away from the bridge. If you miss one, don’t stress, as you can take the next one, or turn around at picnic area.
The picnic area is the last of the free camping areas that are published, and you can drive down and turn around if you want to check the other spots out.
The free camping is on both sides of the river, and you can cross at the picnic area fairly easily, and then drive on the far side of the river to a huge number of other camp sites.
Alternatively, if you want a free camping spot south of Coen, the Stewart River camp is absolutely magic, although it has limited spots. We thoroughly enjoyed a night here, with even more peace and quiet, and just as good views as the northern Coen camp sites.
Do you need a 4WD?
Every single free campsite near Coen requires a 4WD to access, with exception of the flat, gravel section at the picnic area that is hugely popular for those with big rigs. This is easy enough to get to, and there’s plenty of flat room to pull up and camp.
Can you get a caravan in?
There were a lot of caravans camping in these areas when we stayed, and yes, its easy to get a caravan into the main camping area at the side of the picnic area. However, if you want to get a bit more adventurous, it depends on your setup, driving ability and whether you want to risk damage.
We checked out every single free camp, and most of them were really pushing to get caravans in due to big holes, side angles or lack of room with trees overhanging. That said, my Dad managed to get his 18’6 Kokoda Digger off road van into the bottom of the northern most camp, called Ang-Gnarra Aboriginal Corp on Wikicamps. This was really tight on the bottom curve, with the edge of the van nearly scraping along the bank, and it had a pretty decent hole at the bottom of the picnic area to contend with.
If you are unsure, or not wanting any damage, park your caravan on the flat area next to the picnic area, and enjoy an easy, risk free camping location!
We had an amazing campground
I mentioned above that we scored a truly awesome campground, and we ended up staying two nights here, which was fantastic for the kids to relax and unwind a bit. We looked at all of the other campgrounds, and asides from the one next to the picnic area they were all a struggle to get my folks van into.
We ended up camping metres from the beautiful river, splashed around, walked and had a great time. We could have crossed, but with the trailers and soft sand it just didn’t make sense.
I did manage to upset a wasp nest looking for firewood and ran like the wind, getting stung a number of times, but chuckled about it not long afterwards. The Ang-Gnarra campground is beautiful, if you can get it, and if you can’t, you can head across the creek (that was really solid) and find yourself something else awesome.
If you have a smaller setup, the first few camps closer to Coen looked great too.
Cherabin and gold
We managed to get a number of Cherabin here, using a crab net from WA which is much less effective than a proper yabby net, and had quite a bit of fun doing so. These are delicious freshwater critters that we don’t really hear much about in WA.
Also, there’s gold flecks in the river, and when a fellow camper asked us if we’d found any, I thought he was pulling my leg. As it turns out, its true, and if you were keen to do some panning you might find something.
All in all, the Coen Free Camping is great, and was one of our favourite free camps around the Cape York area. If you’re looking somewhere to pull in and relax, this is a brilliant option.