Peninsula Development Road, Cape York

If you’ve got a trip planned to the top of Australia in Cape York, there’s a good chance you’ll have heard of the Peninsula Development Road, or the PDR as its most commonly referred to. This is the primary road to get you up to Weipa, and if you want to continue north to the tip of Australia, you’ll have to turn off towards the Jardine Ferry Crossing, on a couple of other roads.

Gravel on the PDR
Driving on the Peninsula Development Road towards Weipa

The Peninsula Development Road is a very busy road that is used extensively by locals, those working and during the tourism season, thousands of tourists. It’s a great adventure, and well and truly part of the bucket list item of visiting Cape York.

It’s common for people to refer to the PDR as the road that takes you right to the tip of Cape York, but you actually turn off this onto Telegraph Road and then the Northern Bypass Road.

The tip of Cape York
If you want to get to the tip of Cape York, you turn off the Peninsula Development Road

Where is the Peninsula Development Road?

The Peninsula Development Road starts in Lakeland, and winds its way through Laura, Hann River Roadhouse, Musgrave Roadhouse, Coen, Archer River and finally ends in Weipa, which is a big, beautiful mining town with a difference; its all on a mining lease!

Driving on the PDR
Driving from Lakeland towards Weipa

How long is the PDR?

The PDR is 571km from Lakelands to Weipa, and is not the sort of road that you can sit on 100km/h non stop, so allow a substantially greater amount of time to make your way up it.

How much bitumen is on the PDR?

We were quite surprised at how much bitumen is on the Peninsula Development Road. The sections in the south are much longer, but it goes between bitumen and gravel all the way into Weipa, and if you turn off to head to the tip of Cape York, there too.

In general, the bitumen areas are where it goes through a town, past a station, or where there’s a lot of water flowing that keeps damaging the roads. I have no doubt that the entire road will be bitumen before long, which will bring mixed emotions from different people.

The PDR has a lot of bitumen
A lot of the PDR is bitumen, and they keep putting more in

In terms of the section between Lakeland and Weipa, there’s less than 200km of unsealed road left, which means you’re only doing 35% dirt road driving. To clarify, this is not to the tip of Australia; its just to Weipa, and the last section heading into Weipa is usually pristine and fantastic to drive on.

This constant swapping between bitumen and gravel means you have to think carefully about your tyre pressures though, which we go into below.

Onto the gravel of the PDR
The PDR chops and changes between dirt and bitumen

What are the Peninsula Development Road Conditions like?

The PDR has a reputation for endless corrugations, and I can see exactly how this would be the case. We did it early in the season and had a really decent run with only a few corrugated or rough sections on the way up. A few weeks later, on the way back down you could easily see and feel the deterioration, but it was still a good run.

I bet after the school holidays though, it would be in pretty average shape, as more traffic always results in more wear and tear to the road. I did see footage of a ridiculous number of 4WD’s, caravans and camper trailers in August, and heard from a number of people that the roads had deteriorated considerably.

When we did it the Gibb River Road was far worse than the PDR, but I guarantee that this is not always the case, and its entirely dependent on when you go, and when the graders have last been through.

Driving to Cape York on the Peninsula Development Road
The road conditions can be great, or terrible

Check the road conditions before you go

As per the above, take a minute to find out what the road conditions are actually like. You can get the formal response from the Queensland Road Condition website, or you can get local feedback from those that are heading back down, or on the Cape York Facebook Group. Use all three to gauge the conditions, and then just drive to how they are.

Engage 4WD on the gravel

If you’re driving on the gravel, or dirt roads, you should have your vehicle in 4WD high range. Some vehicles are constant 4WD, and that’s OK too, but driving in 2WD on the corrugations will wear your tyres out quickly, and you risk losing control much easier.

4WD Dial
You want to be in 4WD high range on the dirt for lots of different reasons

Watch out for the wildlife

There’s a lot of cattle around the PDR, and you need to be careful for native animals as well. We saw a handful of eagles and a couple of snakes, and you want to make sure they’re left alone, and OK.

If its flooded, forget it

Cape York becomes a whole new world once it starts raining, and there are plenty of places where your vehicle would get washed downstream, and lives endangered by entering water that is flooding. If its flooded, forget it, and stay out! It’s never worth the risk.

Slow down for the flood ways (and in general)

You will go through hundreds of flood ways on your way up the Peninsula Development road, and even more if you go all the way to the top. Each floodway has a warning sign before it, and you can normally see the dip start to occur. Some certainly sneak up on you faster than others, but you always have an opportunity to slow down.

Now, I’m going to suggest you do that, for each and every floodway unless you have someone in front who is doing that for you, and slow down even more if you are towing anything. The reason is simple; by the time you realise (if you do) that its rough, you’re too late.

We met a couple who bent the chassis on their BT50 after hitting a shocking floodway too hard, and apparently 90 dual cabs are repaired every single season at Weipa.

A bent BT50 chassis
This vehicle suffered a badly bent chassis from a rough floodway

If there is water over the floodway (and there is for many of them), you have no idea what’s underneath, and assuming it’s a nice, flat gravel crossing is a MAJOR mistake.

At the other end of the scale, there are some truly world class muppets who drive the PDR, and driving slowly is imperative. Use your radio, don’t overtake if you can’t see around a vehicle, and don’t drive like a twat. We saw a few people overtake others in a way that could only be described as moronic, and there’s been enough deaths and accidents on this road already.

Can you do the PDR in a 2WD?

The Peninsula Development Road is suitable for 2WD vehicles, some of the time. If its badly corrugated, I certainly would not be taking any 2WD vehicle that I cared about down the PDR, but people do all the time. In terms of clearance, there are times where some extra distance from the ground is important (mainly damaged flood ways), but if you take it very carefully its usually OK.

You need a UHF radio

I think it should be compulsory for every single person driving to Cape York to have a UHF radio. It doesn’t have to be fancy, or expensive; you can get cheap hand held ones for virtually nothing these days, and they make life so much easier, and safer.

You want to know if a big truck is coming your way, or if someone wants to overtake you, or if its safe to go around another person. Driving without a UHF on channel 40 on this road makes you blind and vulnerable in so many ways, so get one before you head up.

UHF Radio on for Cape York
Having a UHF for Cape York should be mandatory

Tyre pressures and speed for the PDR

I love a controversial topic, and nothing is more controversial than tyre pressures and speeds on gravel roads. The right way is just to hit the road as fast as you can, skipping over all the bumps, with full tyre pressures yeah?

No. It’s absolutely not, and the most sensible way of driving the PDR is to let some air out of your tyres, and some speed out of your speedo. We’ve always suggested dropping your tyre pressures down 20 – 30% for gravel driving, and lowering your speed accordingly too.

For us, that means from 48 PSI in the back of our Dmax, and 60 PSI in the camper wheels, we go down to 38 and 48 PSI, and we drop our speed.

The reduction of tyre pressure does miracles. It stops your 4WD from feeling every single corrugation, and helps it stay together as a 4WD, and not as pieces of a 4WD. It also helps the track stay in good condition for others, makes you and your passengers a lot more comfortable, and reduces the noise considerably.

You need to let your trailer tyres down accordingly too, or they’ll fall apart. For us, we sat on a maximum of 80km/h including on the bitumen, and slowed down for flood ways or when the road wasn’t up to scratch.

Driving the Batavia Downs
Letting your tyres down for the dirt driving is very sensible

If you aren’t towing you could do a little faster than this on the good sections, but there’s no need to go any faster.

Now, the reason we didn’t speed up on the bitumen was simple; the faster you go at lower tyre pressures the more your tyres flex, and the more heat builds up. If they get too hot, they’ll get damage to the sidewall (the rubber literally starts to fall apart) and they’ll blow up on you when you least expect it.

Drop some air and speed, and you’ll have a much more comfortable, economical and safer trip up the PDR.

Gravel road to Cape York
If you go further north the road surfaces change a lot

What if you want to get to Bamaga and the tip?

Despite what people imply, the PDR takes you to Weipa, and that’s it. If you want to get to Cape York, and the very tip of Australia, you turn off the PDR, and take Telegraph Road, which connects onto the Northern Bypass Road, and goes to the Jardine River Ferry, and then continues north to the top.

Just to make it more confusing though, there’s a small section between the Jardine Ferry and Injinoo that is called the Peninsula Development Road, so go figure!

Crossing the Jardine River on the Ferry
Going across the Jardine River on the ferry

Can you tow a caravan or boat on the Peninsula Development Road?

Yes, you absolutely can, and thousands of people do it every single year. On the flip side, a lot of people leave their vans at Lakeland, Hahn River, Bramwell Station or so forth.

The fishing in Weipa is huge, and there are more boats that get towed up than you could poke a stick at. However, you want a trailer that is up to scratch, and you want to drive with lower tyre pressures and speeds.

You can take full size caravans right to the top of Cape York, or you can leave them down below and swag up. My advice is to get up to date road conditions, and make your own mind up. If the road is rough, and you have a van you don’t feel is up to the drive, or you’re worried about damaging it, then leave it behind.

If your van is well built, the road conditions are OK and you are prepared to drive accordingly, you can join thousands of other people who’ve towed their vans up and down. We towed our Reconn R2 to Weipa and Bamaga with no issues, and my folks took their 18’6 single axle Kokoda Digger too, with zero problems.

Jardine River Ferry cost
A huge number of people take their vans all the way to Bamaga and Seisia

The Old Telegraph Track

If you want an adventure that looks a lot shorter (its not, in real life!), then you can opt to drive the Old Telegraph Track, which is a huge 4WD adventure from Bramwell Station to near the Jardine River. This is not a novice 4WD track, or one you should take a stock vehicle on, but for those who are setup and prepared, it’s the adventure of a lifetime with some spectacular scenery along the way.

The Old Telegraph Track
If you’re after a big adventure, the Old Telegraph Track will fit the bill

Fuel on the PDR

Lakeland sells good, cheap fuel, and is a great place to stop on your way up. From there, Laura is quite cheap, and then you can get fuel at Hann River, Musgrave Roadhouse, Archer River and in Weipa itself (which is very reasonable).

If you keep heading north you can get it at Bramwell Roadhouse and Bamaga, and there’s never fuel too far away but you absolutely need to ensure you have enough!

Fuel at Laura in Cape York
We topped up at Laura, Weipa, Bamaga and then down past Lakeland

How long do you need to drive the Peninsula Development Road?

If you are just driving from Lakeland to Weipa, allow about 7 – 10 hours of driving time. Break it up if you can, as its wearisome to drive some of these roads and there’s plenty of decent places to pull in and stop. We spent a night at Hann River, a couple of nights in the Coen Free Camps, and then made our way into Weipa and had a couple of nights at the Weipa Caravan Park (which is surprisingly good).

Weipa to the tip

If you’re heading from Weipa to the top of Cape York, or coming down and going to Weipa, you can cut across the Batavia Downs Road, which has a reputation for being exceptional, and we found it better than most of the driving at the top of Cape York.

Cape York water crossing
We completely fell in love with Cape York

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