Cape York: Eco-adventure and indigenous Australian culture

AUSTRALIA’S Cape York Peninsula is located in the far north of the state of Queensland and considered one of the last remaining true wilderness areas on Earth. Though truly untouched nature is hard to find anywhere on the globe, Cape York is home to virtually pristine rainforest, eucalyptus and mangrove forests, undisturbed river networks and the healthiest portion of the Great Barrier Reef.

Cape York’s ecological areas contain around 3,300 different species of flowering plants, many examples of ancient flora and a high level of endemic plant species.

The rich plant life provides a home to 700 land vertebrates including 40 endemic species as well as an impressive selection of birds.

For eco-tourists with a spirit of adventure, Cape York offers something unique and unforgettable.

From USA Today’s “Top New Trips to Emerging Places” for adventure travel:

[…] none of the off-the-beaten-path beach towns along the mainland can compete with the undeveloped tracts of Cape York Peninsula, at the very northeastern tip of the continent. Even the heartiest Aussie will admit that this land is truly out there. It’s accessible only via puddle-jumper planes and dirt roads suitable only for 4x4s, but for those divers and fishermen looking to taste the waters of the GBR as they were a century ago, this is truly the best bet.

Another exciting aspect to Cape York is its well-preserved aboriginal culture. 60% of the population of Cape York is made up of descendants of the peninsula’s original inhabitants and those of the nearby Torres Strait Islands. The small town of Laura in particular is a center for aboriginal culture with the world’s largest collection of prehistoric rock art and a biannual dance festival.

From Australian Geographic:

The dances performed at Laura are not watered-down shows for tourists. For three days music plays, kids and adults dance, sing and perform, and an infectious energy cuts through the dust and heat of Laura’s sacred grounds.

In previous years, a competition was held to award the festival’s best performer. In 2013, however, the festival moved away from this contest, focusing instead on the exchange of song and dance between the communities.

Aboriginal art at Laura. Pic: leGuik (Flickr CC)

The indigenous community of Aurukun is also experiencing a revival of traditions in the form of wood sculpture. These sculptures, made of milkwood or milky pine, are used to represent the mythology of the Wik people. The Aurukun Art Centre provides works for galleries across Australia.

A private collector, referred to only as “Jesse” had this to say about the art of the Wik people in an ABC report on a current gallery display at the Noosa Regional Gallery:

The poignant sculptures of Aurukun are an authentication of the resilience and the innate artistic psyche of the Aboriginal people, more specifically the Wik people. Some of the mythological stories these carvings represent are unique and in danger of disappearing.

These objects find their origins in antiquity and their ancestral mythology, but move effortlessly in the realm of contemporary art with their arresting presence.

So if you’re up for a bit of adventure and/or interested in Australian aboriginal culture, a journey to the Cape York Peninsula might be just the thing.

Quick facts about Cape York:

  • Home to several National parks – Jardine River National Park, Lakefield National Park, Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) National Park and Mungkan Kandju National Park
  • Located only 80 miles (130 km) south of Papua New Guinea
  • “The Green Season” (monsoon) is between November and April with the dry season lasting from May to October
  • Activities include liveaboard diving, camping, fishing, crocodile spotting, horseback riding, bird-watching, hiking, cultural tourism and island hopping in the Torres Straits.
  • Geological highlights include limestone karsts at Palmerston, piled black granite boulders in Black Mountain National Park, massive sand dunes on the east coast and the Peninsula Ridge mountain range

Sunrise at Chilli Beach. Pic: Cheryl Murphy (Flickr CC)