Cape York Peninsula

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Cape York Peninsula
Eborac Island at Cape York.jpg
Cape York, with a view of the offshore Eborac Island
Geographical location
Cape York Peninsula (Australia)
Cape York Peninsula
Coordinates 14 °  S , 143 °  E Coordinates: 14 °  S , 143 °  E
Waters 1 Coral sea
Waters 2 Gulf of Carpentaria
length 660 km
width 430 km
surface 137,000 km²
A2015 Cape York Peninsula map.svg
Map of the Cape York Peninsula

The Cape York Peninsula is a remote peninsula in the tropical north of the Australian state of Queensland . The peninsula has an area of ​​around 137,000 km 2 and is inhabited by around 18,000 people. It is characterized by an almost untouched wilderness . Its northern tip, Cape York , forms the northernmost point of mainland Australia.


Near the tip of Cape York, Queensland, Australia

The Cape York Peninsula is surrounded by water to the north, east and west. The west coast borders on the Gulf of Carpentaria , the east coast on the Coral Sea . The northern tip of the peninsula meets the Torres Strait . From here it is only about 140 km to New Guinea . The southern boundary is not clearly marked. In the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act of 2007, the official southern limit is set at around the 16th parallel. At its widest point it is 430 km from coast to coast. The north-south extension is about 660 km.

At the northern tip of the peninsula is Cape York, the northernmost point of mainland Australia. The cape was named on August 21, 1770 by James Cook in honor of Edward August, Duke of York and Albany . This was a brother of King George III. from Great Britain , who had died three years earlier:

"The point of the Main, which forms one side of the Passage before mentioned, and which is the Northern Promontory of this Country, I have named York Cape, in honor of his late Royal Highness, the Duke of York."

- James Cook

Since the peninsula is located in a tectonically not very active region, the landscape is heavily eroded and flat. The meandering rivers are surrounded by large floodplains . Only in the McIlwraith Range in the east do some hills rise to a height of 800 m. The McIlwraith Range is part of the Peninsula Ridge , which in turn is part of the Great Dividing Range , a mountain range that stretches along the entire east coast of Australia. The rock is around 1.5 billion years old and comes from the Precambrian and Paleozoic Era . To the west of the Peninsula Ridge is the Carpentaria Basin , to the east the Laura Basin . The basins consist of Mesozoic sediments .

There are some remarkable landforms on the peninsula: large, pristine dune areas on the east coast, granite pillars in Black Mountain National Park and Cape Melville and karst landscapes in the south of the region around Palmerston.


The soils are extremely sterile, even by Australian standards. They are almost completely laterized . The USDA soil classification classifies them as Orthente . This sterility is one of the main reasons why the region is so sparsely populated. The soils are so difficult to work with that attempts at commercial arable farming have mostly failed.


The Cape York Peninsula has a tropical climate, with a monsoon season from November to April. This is followed by a dry season from May to October. The temperatures are hot, only in higher areas it is a little cooler. The average temperature in the dry plains in the southwest is 27 ° C, in the hills of the McIlwraith Range it is 18 ° C on average. Temperatures above 40 ° C and below 5 ° C are rare.

The annual rainfall is high, it is between 2000 mm in the Iron Range and north of Weipa , and about 700 mm on the southern border of the peninsula. Almost all of the precipitation falls between November and April, only on the eastern slopes of the Iron Range is the monthly rainfall over 5 mm from June to September. Between January and March the monthly mean values ​​range from 170 mm in the south to over 500 mm in the north and in the Iron Range.

Average monthly temperatures and rainfall for Cape York
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Max. Temperature ( ° C ) 29.8 29.6 29.6 29.5 28.8 28.1 27.6 27.8 28.5 29.9 30.9 30.8 O 29.2
Min. Temperature (° C) 24.0 23.9 23.8 23.7 23.0 22.3 21.5 21.6 22.2 22.9 23.8 24.2 O 23.1
Precipitation ( mm ) 370.6 352.1 370.9 255.5 69.1 26.1 19.7 9.5 6.4 14.9 56.7 194.6 Σ 1,746.1
Rainy days ( d ) 16.9 15.7 16.3 11.7 7.0 5.7 4.8 3.1 1.6 2.1 4.2 9.0 Σ 98.1
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
  Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Source: Australian Government - Bureau of Meteorology , data collection period: 1887–1955.


Tourists cross the Wenlock River during the rainy season.
The course of the Tropic of Capricorn through Australia

The Peninsula Ridge forms the watershed between the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Coral Sea. Large, winding rivers such as the Mitchell River , the States River, and the Jardine River flow west . During the dry season, the water level drops so far that these rivers only become a chain of individual waterholes. In the rainy season, they swell again to form mighty rivers, which also flood the extensive alluvial forests.

Shorter, faster flowing rivers like the Endeavor River flow from the eastern slopes of the hill country towards the Coral Sea. They provide nutrients to the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef , which lies off the coast of the peninsula. Dense rainforests, dunes and mangrove forests lie on the banks of the rivers .

The river basins are known for their ecological and hydrological integrity. Both the flow paths and the vegetation accompanying the river are almost undisturbed, making the peninsula one of the few places with an intact tropical water cycle . The surface runoff of the Cape York Peninsula accounts for a quarter of the surface runoff of the whole of Australia, with an area share of only 2.7%. The region thus produces more runoff than the entire area of ​​the continent that lies south of the Tropic of Capricorn (see graphic on the right). By diverting the heavy tropical rains, the peninsula's rivers help replenish the Great Artesian Basin .

Geological history

Mount Mulligan, Hodgkinson Goldfields

The peninsula was formed by the unfolding of the Great Dividing Range in the Carboniferous approx. 300 million years ago, when Australia collided with parts of what is now South America and New Zealand. Since then the country has been subject to severe erosion.

During the Pleistocene , Australia and New Guinea were temporarily connected by a land bridge in the area of ​​the Torres Strait. This land bridge also existed during ice ages with low sea levels. There was another connection between Arnhem Land and New Guinea west of the Cape York Peninsula, which then turned the Gulf of Carpentaria into a huge freshwater lake. This kept Australia and New Guinea connected until the Torres Strait was flooded again 8,000 years ago.


Edmund Kennedy was the first European explorer to explore the Cape York Peninsula by land. Together with Sir Thomas Mitchell , he discovered the Barcoo River in 1846 . The aim of this expedition was to pave a way to the tip of the peninsula, where businessmen from Sydney wanted to build a port for trade with the East Indies .

The expedition started in May 1848 at Rockingham Bay near Cardwell . Of the 13 men who set out, only three survived. The remainder starved to death, died of fever, or were killed by hostile Aborigines . Kennedy was also killed by Aboriginal spears in December 1848. The only survivor to complete the entire route was Jackey Jackey , an Aboriginal from New South Wales. He then led a rescue team to the two other survivors who could not get any further on their own.



There is a great variety of vegetation forms on the peninsula: untouched tropical rainforests , tropical and subtropical grasslands and savannahs , heathlands , wetlands and mangrove forests . About 3300 species of flowering plants live in these different habitats , almost the entire area of ​​the peninsula (99.6%) is still covered by its original vegetation. The Cape York Peninsula also has one of the highest proportions of endemics in Australia: over 260 endemic plant species have been discovered to date. The flora of the area includes species that already grew on the continent of Gondwana , as well as species from the Oriental and those that immigrated from New Guinea via the Torres Strait. The greatest diversity is found in the rainforests.

The tropical rainforests cover an area of ​​748,000 hectares or 5.6% of the total area of ​​the Cape York Peninsula. They are mainly found on the eastern slopes of the Peninsula Ridge, where climatic conditions allow such vegetation even during the long dry period. The largest contiguous rainforest area is in the Iron Range. Plants such as araucarias , stone slices and the orchid genera Arthrochilus , Corybas and Calochilus grow there . In this rainforest alone there are at least 1000 different plant species, 100 of which are rare or endangered species, as well as 16% of the orchid species in Australia.

Carnivorous pitcher plant on the Cape York Peninsula

The largest heather areas in Australia are found on the poor, dry soils in the northeast of the peninsula. 19 wetlands of national importance are located on the coasts and in the floodplain of the peninsula. These include Jardine River National Park and Rinyirru National Park . Many of these wetlands only exist during the rainy season. The coasts and estuaries of the rivers of the Cape York Peninsula are lined with mangroves. The largest mangrove forest in Australia is located on Newcastle Bay in the northeast of the peninsula.


Over 700 species of vertebrates live on the peninsula, 40 of which are endemic. As with the flora, the fauna is made up of species that already existed on the primary continent Gondwana, that emerged from the isolated location of the Australian continent and that immigrated from Asia and New Guinea. Among the birds that can be found in the area include Brown abdominal Laubenvogel , Ockerbrust-Laufhühnchen ( Turnix olivii ) Golden-shouldered parakeet ( Psephotus chrysopterygius ), jewelry Season tails ( Malurus amabilis ), banks honeyeater ( Trichodere cockerelli ), Torre honeyeater ( Meliphaga notata ) and Australian oystercatchers ( Haematopus longirostris ). One of the most venomous species of snakes in the world, the eastern brown snake, is found on the peninsula. In terms of mammals, the Bramble Cay mosaic-tailed rat is worth mentioning, which only occurs on the small island of Bramble Cay in the Torres Strait and may even have been extinct. The Cape York rock kangaroo is also quite rare.

In the rainforests of the Iron Range National Park, there are species that are also found in New Guinea, including the eclectic parrot , the green tree python , the southern gray cuscus and tree kangaroos . There are also 200 species of butterflies there, 11 of which are endemic. They include Ornithoptera priamus with a wingspan of up to 20 cm. The occurrence of the pygmy marten , a forest-dwelling marsupial, has meanwhile decreased significantly. This is due to the fact that it feeds on the introduced poisonous cane toad .

Land use

Traffic signs indicating the change of cattle

57% of the total area of ​​the Cape York Peninsula - especially in the east and in the center - is used as pastorally managed pastureland by cattle farms. 20% of the land belongs to the indigenous people, including the entire west coast. Most of the remaining land is occupied by national parks managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service . There are large deposits of bauxite on the Gulf of Carpentaria . The place Weipa is the local center of bauxite mining. The region also lives from silicon deposits, from fishing and tourism. Although overgrazing , mining, and introduced species such as wild boars, cane toads, and grasses have already caused some damage, the Cape York Peninsula remains a relatively unspoilt area with intact ecosystems. Since the colonization by the Europeans, no animal or plant species has been exterminated here.

Gold deposits were discovered on the peninsula in 1872. Six years later there were 17,000 prospectors in the area. The settlements established at that time are now partially preserved ghost towns.

The “Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy” study was commissioned in 1990 by the Australian government. With her, plans for the preservation of the wilderness should be worked out. A nomination of the region as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is also being considered. Large national parks are Oyala Thumotang National Park , Jardine River National Park , Black Mountain National Park and Rinyirru National Park .


The first known contact between Europeans and Aborigines occurred in 1606 on the west coast of the peninsula. It was not until the 19th century that Europeans settled it, who first founded fishing villages, then farms and finally mining towns. As a result, the Aborigines had to partially move away from their originally inhabited areas. Torres Strait Islanders were also arriving on the mainland. Today about 18,000 people live on the peninsula, of whom the majority (approx. 60%) are still native Australians.

The administrative and commercial center of the region is Cooktown in the southeast. The largest place, on the other hand, is the Weipa mining settlement . The rest of the peninsula is extremely sparsely populated. Half of the population lives in small settlements and on the cattle ranches. A larger Aboriginal mission station with over 760 residents is Hopevale .

The Cape York Peninsula is a popular destination for campers, hikers, ornithologists and anglers in the dry season .

In and around Laura there are a large number of prehistoric Aboriginal rock carvings with an age of approximately 16,000 years.


Telegraph Road

In a north-south direction, two roads cross the peninsula: the Peninsula Developmental Road (PDR) and the Telegraph Road . Both roads are unpaved, only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles and are often impassable in the rainy season.

A paved road connects Cairns and the Atherton Tablelands to the Lakeland Downs and Cooktown.


In addition to the missile test site in Woomera created by the British government in the late 1940s , there were plans to make the Cape York Peninsula a British spaceport due to its proximity to the equator . After the Woomera was the launch site with the third largest rocket activity after the sites in the USA and the USSR in the 1960s, it was almost abandoned in the mid-1970s. When NASA stopped its flights for years after the Challenger disaster in 1986 , Cape York was considered as a launching base for commercial satellites, but like the later interest of Japanese JAXA , everything came to nothing.

See also

Portal: Australia  - Overview of Wikipedia content on Australia


  • Holmes, John. 2011. Contesting the Future of Cape York Peninsula . Australian Geographer, Vol. 42, No. 1.
  • Hough, Richard. 1994. Captain James Cook: a biography . Hodder and Stroughton, London. ISBN 0-340-58598-6 .
  • Pike, Glenville. 1979. Queen of the North: A Pictorial History of Cooktown and Cape York Peninsula . G. Pike. ISBN 0-9598960-5-8 .
  • Moon, Ron & Viv. 2003. Cape York: An Adventurer's Guide . 9th edition. Moon Adventure Publications, Pearcedale, Victoria. ISBN 0-9578766-4-5
  • Moore, David R. 1979. Islanders and Aborigines at Cape York: An ethnographic reconstruction based on the 1848–1850 'HMS Rattlesnake' Journals of Oswald Walters Brierly and information he obtained from Barbara Thompson . Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Canberra. ISBN 0-85575-076-6 (hbk); 0-85575-082-0 (pbk). USA edition ISBN 0-391-00946-X (hbk); 0-391-00948-6 (pbk).
  • Pohlner, Peter. 1986. Gangaurru . Hopevale Mission Board, Milton, Queensland. ISBN 1-86252-311-8
  • Trezise, ​​PJ 1969. Quinkan Country: Adventures in Search of Aboriginal Cave Paintings in Cape York . AH & AW Reed, Sydney.
  • Trezise, ​​Percy. 1973. Last Days of a Wilderness . William Collins (Aust) Ltd., Brisbane. ISBN 0-00-211434-8 .
  • Trezise, ​​PJ 1993. Dream Road: A Journey of Discovery. Allen & Unwin, St. Leonards, Sydney.
  • Haviland, John B. with Hart, Roger. 1998. Old Man Fog and the Last Aborigines of Barrow Point . Crawford House Publishing, Bathurst.
  • Premier's Department (prepared by Connell Wagner). 1989. Cape York Peninsula Resource Analysis . Cairns. (1989). ISBN 0-7242-7008-6 .
  • Roth, WE 1897. The Queensland Aborigines . 3 vols. Reprint: Facsimile Edition, Hesperian Press, Victoria Park, WA, 1984. ISBN 0-85905-054-8 .
  • Ryan, Michelle and Burwell, Colin, eds. 2000. Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland: Cooktown to Mackay . Queensland Museum, Brisbane. ISBN 0-85905-045-9 (set of 3 vols).
  • Scarth-Johnson, Vera. 2000. National Treasures: Flowering plants of Cooktown and Northern Australia . Vera Scarth-Johnson Gallery Association, Cooktown. ISBN 0-646-39726-5 (pbk); ISBN 0-646-39725-7 Limited Edition - Leather Bound.
  • Sutton, Peter (Ed.): Languages ​​of Cape York: Papers presented to a Symposium organized by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies . Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra. (1976). ISBN 0-85575-046-4 .
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2000. Nomads of the 19th Century Queensland Goldfields . Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-875998-89-6 .
  • Wallace, Lennie. 2003. Cape York Peninsula: A History of Unlauded Heroes 1845-2003 . Central Queensland University Press, Rockhampton. ISBN 1-876780-43-6 .
  • Wynter, Jo and John Hill. 1991. Cape York Peninsula: Pathways to Community Economic Development . The Final Report of The Community Economic Development Projects Cook Shire. Cook Shire Council.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Mittermeier, RE et al. (2002). Wilderness: Earth's last wild places. Mexico City: Agrupación Sierra Madre, SC
  2. a b c d e f g h i The natural heritage significance of Cape York Peninsula (pdf) ( Memento of the original from April 28, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. by Mackey, BG, Nix, H., & Hitchcock, P .; 2001, accessed January 1, 2016 @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. Full text of the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act (pdf) on the Queensland Government website. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
  4. Captain Cook's Journal during his first voyage round the world made in HM Bark "Endeavor" 1768-71. Transcript from Project Gutenberg , accessed January 1, 2016.
  5. a b c d Frith, DW, Frith, CB: Cape York Peninsula: A Natural History. Chatswood: Reed Books Australia, 1995. ISBN 0-7301-0469-9 .
  6. a b c d e Woinarski, J., Mackey, B., Nix, H., Traill, B. (2007): The nature of northern Australia: Natural values, ecological processes and future prospects. Canberra: ANU E press.
  7. ^ A b William Joy: The Explorers. Adelaide, Rigby Limited, 1964, p. 77, ISBN 0-85179-112-3
  8. ^ Wildlife of Tropical North Queensland. Queensland Museum, 2000, ISBN 0-7242-9349-3 .
  9. a b c Cape York Peninsula Land Use Study (CYPLUS). (pdf) ( Memento of the original from January 2, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland, Australian Heritage Commission, Brisbane, 1995, accessed January 1, 2016. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  10. Cofinas, M., Creighton, C. (2001): Australian Native Vegetation Assessment. National Land and Water Resources Audit.
  11. ^ Australian Natural Resource Atlas. Australian government. Retrieved January 1, 2016.
  12. a b Tour tip: Cape York (Weipa) on, accessed on January 1, 2016.
  13. ^ Compiling a case for World Heritage on Cape York Peninsula. (pdf) ( Memento of the original from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Peter S. Valentine, 2006, accessed January 1, 2016. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  14. ^ Australian Spaceport. on the Aussie Space Portal, accessed January 1, 2016.