Australia is fully of locations that are beautiful, rugged, remote and perfect for the ultimate 4WD and camping adventure. Two of the most well known regions in Australia for this though are Cape York and the Kimberley, and we’ve wanted to tick both off the list for many years.
We’ve done the Kimberley a couple of times, with it being far closer to home, and loved every minute of the trips. Recently though, we made it to Far North Queensland, and spent a good couple of weeks exploring the Cape York area, and in this post, I want to do a bit of a comparison.
This is to help you, and not to knock an area
Now, before we go too far, I want to clearly express that this post is purely to help you work out where you want to go, and what you should expect. Both places likely require a lot of driving to get to, a fair bit of commitment financially, and lots of annual leave.
I’m not going to say Cape York is not as good as the Kimberley, or knock either locations. They are both nothing short of staggering and both completely and utterly deserve a visit, but I do want to share some differences, and thoughts that might help you decide what to do, when to do it, what to expect and how you go about it.
Where is the Kimberley?
The Kimberley is in the northern part of Western Australia, and covers a truly massive area from Broome across to Kununurra, incorporating the Gibb River Road, Great Northern Highway and a massive number of stunning attractions.
Where is Cape York?
Cape York is the northern most part of Queensland, known as Far North Queensland. This is also a big area, and covers coast on both sides of the peninsula, with lots of incredible places to see and stay at, along with world class fishing and hunting. If you drew a line from Normanton East, you’d get the area roughly classified as Cape York.
How long do you need to see each area?
Honestly, how long is a piece of string? You could do a whirlwind tour and spend 2 weeks in both areas (and probably less if you really wanted), but they’re a long way away and maximising the time there to see as much as possible is advisable.
If you wanted to do the Dampier Peninsula, plus the Gibb River Road, and Kununurra, I reckon a month is probably about right, with longer better if you can get it. You could easily spend 2 months exploring the Kimberley.
Cape York on the other hand, is probably slightly less, with 2 weeks from Cooktown to the top and back down again quite a leisurely pace. That said, you could easily spend months exploring the nooks and crannies of this amazing area too.
Northern Australia is crocodile country, and you should never swim anywhere that you are not 100% certain of being crocodile free. That includes all freshwater rivers, creeks and pools of water, as salt water crocodiles are found all over, including fresh water.
The common joke is to only swim where there are tiles, or basically, in dedicated swimming pools. Of course, there are some options where swimming is safe, especially along the Gibb River Road. The Dampier Peninsula in the Kimberley occasionally gets crocodiles in the ocean near camp sites, but for the most part its generally quiet except near the creeks. I’d still be very cautious of swimming.
In Cape York, you can swim at Fruit Bat Falls (although there was a salt water crocodile seen recently), and Elliot Falls, the Saucepan and Twin Falls, but there’s not too many other places you can safely take a dip.
Both regions have plenty of 4WD tracks, but the Kimberley is less hardcore, unless you get on an Oombulgurri tour, or head really remote. The Gibb River Road is a gravel road (and bitumen in some parts) that can be corrugated, but its not really a 4WD track anymore.
Cape York has a number of 4WD tracks, including the iconic Telegraph Track, and then there’s tracks to the tip of Cape York, near Punsand Bay, 5 beaches, Jardine River and Mutee Heads, Frenchmans Track, CREB track, Palmer River, Cape Melville and the Bloomfield Track.
There’s certainly a lot more 4WD tracks in Cape York, and they’re a lot more technical and difficult than the majority of what you’ll find in the Kimberley.
Cape York is beautiful, and changes on a dime on so many occasions. It’s got amazing beaches, beautiful rainforest, waterfalls and savannah that is all stunning, and worth a look.
The Kimberley though, has amazing ranges, stunning gorges, more waterholes than you could remember, and views that are nothing short of mind blowing. We were shocked on so many occasions exploring the Kimberley, and would rate it up there with the best scenery in any region of Australia.
Both the Kimberley and Cape York are relatively remote, and you can be quite a long way away (in distance, or time) from any major centre. This means both regions require a vehicle that is reliable, and set up correctly, or you might find yourself in a world of pain.
We were told its $4000 for a tow from Weipa to Cairns, and that’s without a trailer, and you’ll have to wait around for a truck to take you back. Getting to Weipa could be a mission depending on where you are, so go prepared, and with the right gear.
The Kimberley probably has more locations nearby that you can get to, and when you do the Gibb River Road you’re going from one fairly major centre to another, rather than Cape York, which has Weipa and Bamaga up towards the tip, and that’s really it.
If you plan on doing the Old Telegraph Track you’ll need a suitably modified 4WD too, and an understanding that there is a decent chance you might do damage to your vehicle.
Towing a trailer
Both regions are suitable for towing trailers through, that are set up correctly. By trailers, I mean toy haulers, box trailers, caravans, camper trailers and hybrid campers. Both regions can have shocking corrugations, with Cape York probably having a greater reputation for bone jarring, and endless vehicle shaking humps and bumps.
You either need to confirm the road conditions are good before you go, or take a trailer that is suitable for the rough roads. Some semi off road caravans make it all the way to the top of Cape York, but if the corrugations are bad its going to put a lot of stress on them, even if you lower your tyre pressures correctly.
Both Cape York and the Kimberley are incredible regions, and we’re lucky to be able to visit them. Yes, they’re a big adventure that needs a significant amount of time off, preparation and monetary availability, but they’re both so worth a look.
We’ve been lucky enough to see the Kimberley a number of times, and went to Cape York for the first time this year. We’ll be back to both places for sure; they’re addictive, incredible and absolutely worth a visit.
Have you been to one, or both? What did you think of it?