Jardine River National Park
The park and reserves are located in the remote north of Cape York Peninsula. Most of the roads on the peninsula are accessible by 4WD only.
From Cairns, drive north-west to the Peninsula Developmental Road, the main road to Cape York Peninsula. Follow the Peninsula Developmental Road 50km north from Coen and turn onto the Telegraph Road. Turn east 40km north of the Wenlock River crossing on to the Southern Bypass road. An alternative but rougher route is to continue along the Telegraph Road, which forms the western boundary of Heathlands Resources Reserve.
To access the northern part of the Jardine River National Park, from Heathlands Resources Reserve, follow the Northern Bypass road for 36km to the Jardine River ferry crossing and continue for another 10km to the campsites on the river's northern bank. Vehicle access within the park is restricted to the road along the park's western boundary.
All roads to and within the park and reserves are suitable for 4WD only. Visitors must be totally self-sufficient. It is advisable to travel with another vehicle and it is essential to carry adequate fuel, basic spare parts, food, water and first aid equipment in case of unexpected delays or breakdown.
Eliot Falls campground has wheelchair-accessible toilets.
This vast, remote wilderness is an ancient sandstone landscape. Sediments laid down when the area was a shallow sea have been shaped over millions of years of weathering to form today's gently undulating landscape. Clear fresh water is abundant, not only in the mighty west-flowing Jardine River, which dominates the landscape, but also in swamps, boggy gullies and numerous smaller streams. This, along with the absence of food for horses and cattle, prompted early European explorers to call this place the "wet desert".
The area features a diversity of plant communities. Heathland, grassland, rainforest and woodland grow on low broad sandstone ridges separated by swamps, while shrublands and vine thickets cover massive coastal sand dunes. Animals are an interesting mix of species — relicts of ancient Gondwanan rainforests, endemic species that evolved from Gondwanan ancestors during long periods of isolation and climate change, and more recent invaders from New Guinea, which arrived via ice-age land bridges.
The area has a rich Aboriginal and European heritage. For thousands of years the area has been occupied by Aboriginal peoples known as "sandbeach people", who gathered food and resources from the seas and surrounding "sandbeach country". The area has links to early European travellers to the Cape: Edmund Kennedy was speared on the Escape River, at the northern end of the park, in 1848; the Jardine brothers were involved in skirmishes with Aboriginal people during their overland expedition in 1865 and later during their settlement at Somerset; geologist Robert Logan Jack encountered local Aboriginal people on the east coast in 1880, at a place known today as Captain Billy Landing; and a telegraph line was completed in 1887 to provide communications with remote Cape York. Today this line forms the western boundary of the park and reserve.
Camping and accommodation
Camping - Bush camping is possible at Eliot Falls, Captain Billy Landing and along the northern and southern banks of the Jardine River. Eliot Falls campground has a range of facilities — picnic tables, fireplaces, drinking water and toilets — and campsites are designated as either tent or campervan sites. Toilets are also provided at Captain Billy Landing. The Jardine River campsites — 6 sites on the northern bank and 8 sites on the southern bank — have no facilities. Camping is not permitted at Fruit Bat Falls, which has a picnic area and toilet facilities for day use only. Camping permits are required and fees apply.
Campers can obtain camping permits from the self-registration shelters at Eliot Falls and Captain Billy Landing upon arrival at the campgrounds. Prior bookings are required to camp on the Jardine River; permits can be obtained from the Heathlands ranger station.
Campers must be self-sufficient in this remote area as fuel, supplies and first aid are not readily available. Drinking water is available at Eliot Falls campground. Campfires are permitted using existing fireplaces. Use fire responsibly and, where possible, use gas stoves. Generators are not allowed.
Other accommodation is available in Bamaga and Seisia, 80km north from Eliot Falls. For more information see the tourism information links below.
Things to do
The park and reserves offer several different opportunities for short walks. In Jardine River National Park it is possible to ramble along the banks of the Jardine River near the campsites. Remember to be Croc wise.
In Heathlands Resources Reserve, it is possible to walk along the remote coastline at Captain Billy Landing(here too, remember to be croc wise) or to enjoy a stroll along wooden walkways at Fruit Bat Falls and Eliot Falls.
At Eliot Falls campground, several formed walking tracks allow you to explore the area around Eliot and Canal creeks.
(1) Twin Falls Yaranjangu — 480m return (10 minutes) Grade: Easy
A sandy track meanders through woodland to a timber walkway through a shady grove of cypress pines, before reaching acacia woodland near Canal Creek. The wooden walkway leads to Twin Falls, near the junction with Eliot Creek.
(2) Eliot Falls Yaranjangu — 550m return (15 minutes) Grade: Easy
From Twin Falls, the wooden walkway descends to a viewing platform overlooking the picturesque Eliot Creek. A shady boardwalk along the creek bank leads to a natural sandstone platform with views of Eliot Falls. More steps ascend to the woodland where the wooden walkway rejoins the sandy track returning to the day-use area.
(3) "The Saucepan" — 670m return (15 minutes) Grade: Easy
A sandy track leads into an acacia and grevillea woodland and then descends towards Eliot Creek, through dry heath featuring casuarinas, banksias, grevilleas and leptospermums. At "The Saucepan", the shallow creek gently tumbles between fingers of sandstone, flowing into a deeper sandstone-lined channel, which leads towards Eliot Falls.
Picnic and day-use areas
A day-use area with picnic tables, a toilet and a wooden walkway along Eliot Creek are provided at Fruit Bat Falls. Camping is not permitted here.
Fishing is allowed in the Jardine River and its tributaries throughout the park and reserve.
The area is adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Some areas of the marine park are National Park zones where fishing and collecting is prohibited; other areas have restrictions on fishing and collecting.
Fisheries regulations also apply. Information on bag and size limits, restricted species and seasonal closures is available from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries.
There are excellent opportunities for viewing wildlife. Go birdwatching and look for the yellow-billed kingfisher and fawn-breasted bowerbird (species restricted to the remote north of Cape York and New Guinea). You may also see the spectacular palm cockatoo. Around the campgrounds you are certain to see sulphur-crested cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets as well as the northern race of the Australian brush-turkey, which has a purple, instead of yellow, wattle.
Spotlighting at night may reveal unusual species such as the common spotted cuscus and spiny knob-tailed gecko as well as possums and native rodents.
Be aware that estuarine crocodiles inhabit the park and reserve so remember to be croc wise.
See the description of the park's natural environment for more details about the area's diverse wildlife.
Essentials to bring
Always carry adequate food, water, first aid equipment, fuel and basic vehicle repair equipment. The nearest fuel, repairs and supplies are in Bamaga.
Always carry adequate drinking water with you as well as equipment for boiling water — treated water is not available in the park and reserve.
Carry plenty of fuel — driving on rough roads in low gear uses more fuel than normal driving conditions.
Bring a screened tent or mosquito nets for protection from insects at night.
Carry rubbish bags to take your rubbish away with you — bins are not provided.
The park and reserves are open throughout the dry season, usually from June until November. At other times the area is inaccessible due to wet season flooding.
Permits and fees
All camping areas within Jardine River National Park and Heathlands Resources Reserve require a camping permit and fees apply. A tag with your booking number must be displayed at your campsite.
Bookings can be made on site at the self-registration shelters at Captain Billy Landing and Eliot Falls campgrounds.
Bookings can be made in person at Heathlands ranger station for camping on the Jardine River.
Permits are required for all commercial activities or group functions within the park.
Domestic animals are not permitted in the park or reserves.
Climate and weather
Far northern Cape York Peninsula has a tropical climate with a wet season usually from December to April. Flooding caused by heavy rains prevents access to the area during much of this time.
Visiting this area is only possible during the dry season, usually from June to November. Although rain can also be experienced during this time, conditions are much more suitable for travellers. Nonetheless, nights can be cool while daytime temperatures can reach 40 degrees Celsius. For more information see the tourism information links below.
Fuel and supplies
The nearest fuel and supplies are available at Bamaga, 80km north of Eliot Falls. For more information see the tourism information links below.
Stay on designated roads — there are various natural hazards in the parks.
Some waterfalls contain natural hazards — please obey management and safety signs.
Dangerous stinging jellyfish occur in tidal and coastal waters between September and late May.