Cape York – Chilli Beach Marine Conservation

10-day Cape York adventure: Tropical North Queensland holiday with a difference…

This eco adventure is based at one of Cape York’s iconic spots – Chilli Beach – a fabulous 7km coconut palm-fringed, white coral sand beach.

Welcome to Cape York, one of the great wild places on earth! This 4WD camping safari provides the opportunity to explore some of the Cape’s vast wilderness areas. Enjoy the rich rewards of close encounters with unique wildlife in a widely biodiverse region, and catch glimpses of cultural landscapes interwoven with ancient Aboriginal traditions and European history.

Chilli Beach is located 790km north of Cairns, on the eastern side of Cape York just north of Lockhart River, within the stunning Kutini-Payumu (Iron Range) National Park. The national park is a refuge for a wide range of distinct, endemic species in the largest area of remaining lowland rainforest in Australia.

Join us on this annual pilgrimage and partnership with Tangaroa Blue, Queensland’s Parks and Wildlife Rangers, and the Lockhart River community. Explore the magic of the Cape’s spectacular landscapes, people and stories and make a real difference – spending a few days contributing to a deeply rewarding, hands-on marine debris clean-up project.

This eco tour gives you the opportunity to discover some of the Cape’s top sights and provides extended time at Chilli Beach.

No experience is necessary – all you need is adventurous heart!

Eco Tour Highlights

  • Stunning Cape York scenery
  • Boat tour and bird life at Mareeba Wetlands Reserve
  • Ancient Aboriginal Rock Art at Laura’s Split Rock Gallery
  • Meandering along Chilli Beach and watching metallic starlings come into roost
  • Kutini-Payumu (Iron Range) National Park
  • Encounters with some of Cape York’s many rare and endemic species
  • Connecting with the Lockhart Aboriginal Community and Park Rangers through hands-on marine debris conservation
  • Re-living the Gold Rush days and early pioneer history at Coen and Cooktown museums
  • Spotting crocodiles and other wildlife, and discovering one of the oldest rainforests in the world on a Daintree River Cruise
  • Option to extend tour at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, Port Douglas (additional costs apply)

Duration: 10 days/9 nights
Departs: Email us for 2018 dates
Price: $2,900 AUD per person
Tour inclusions as noted below


Day 1: Cairns – Mareeba Wetlands – Split Rock Aboriginal Rock Art – Musgrave

Starting from Cairns, we drive north up the Kuranda Range through wet tropical rainforest before entering savannah country at Mareeba. Mareeba Wetlands Reserve protects over 5000 acres of tropical wetlands and wildlife. Glide through lilies on an electric boat tour on Clancy’s lagoon and discover more about this significant nature refuge and local birdlife. Enjoy guaranteed sightings of captive Gouldian Finches and keep an eye out for one of the world’s rarest birds, the Buff-breasted Buttonquail.

Continuing north to Laura, stopping for a late picnic lunch and walk to the famous Split Rock Aboriginal Rock Art Gallery. Leaving Laura we drive further up the Cape to camp at the historic Musgrave Roadhouse. Built in 1887, it was a fortress telegraph station on the historic Overland Telegraph Line, and rich in pioneering history. The area around Musgrave may offer the chance to see the endangered Golden-Shouldered parrot that nests in local termite mounds. Overnight camping at Musgrave Roadhouse. LD

Day 2: Musgrave – Coen – Archer River

In the morning we head up the Bamboo Range enjoying mountainous views before arriving in the historic township of Coen. Uncover this tiny township’s European history at the Heritage House Museum (the Old Mein Telegraph Station) and hear tales of the mining boom, the Overland Telegraph Line and early pioneers. Next stop is Archer River road house, a camp by the river and chance to taste the Cape’s best burgers. Overnight camping at Archer River Road House. BLD

Day 3: Archer River – Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park – Chilli Beach

We depart Archer River on a spectacular drive across country, passing through undulating open forest, heathland and the rugged rainforest-clad ranges of Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park. We wind our way slowly to Chilli Beach, taking time to explore some of the park and possibly spot some of Cape York’s magnificent wildlife including Palm Cockatoos, dimorphic Eclectus Parrots, magnificent riflebirds and perhaps even a green python. Arrive at our base camp in time to see flocks of metallic starlings arrive at sunset.  Overnight camping at Chilli Beach. BLD

Days 4-6: Chilli Beach | Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park

For the next three days we participate in the marine debris clean-up activities with early morning and late afternoon beach walks collecting marine debris alongside Tangaroa Blue and Community Rangers. There will be plenty of time to explore this iconic palm-fringed, white coral sand beach and National Park, including a walk to Mt Tozer’s lookout to enjoy the scenic views of the heathlands. Hear the local legend about the cassowary, do some birdwatching on the Old Coen track, and night-time spotlighting to search for some of the unique endemic wildlife. Enjoy the serenity of our bush camp under the stars. Overnight camping at Chilli Beach. BLD

Day 7: Chilli Beach – Archer River

Our last morning at Chilli Beach is spent cataloguing the source of the marine debris before packing-up camp and heading off on our return adventure down the Cape. After departing Chilli Beach we will drop into Lockhart River and visit the Art Centre (subject to opening times) – famous for the “Art Gang” who produce unique paintings, puunyas (baskets) and Giddy Giddy beads. Enjoy the last glimpse of the Iron Ranges landscape before making our way to our camp on the banks of the Archer River. Overnight camping at Archer River. BLD

Day 8: Archer River – Hann River Roadhouse or Laura

We leave Archer River and drive back down the Cape for tonight’s camp at Hann River Roadhouse or Laura, depending on road conditions and drive times. BLD

Day 9: Cooktown – Keating Lagoon – Lion’s Den

We depart early for the historic township of Cooktown, with a stop at the boulder-strewn Black Mountain. The James Cook Museum is one of Queensland’s best – showcasing the fascinating history of this remarkable town. The exhibits are rich and varied including artifacts from Captain James Cook’s enforced seven week stay at the Endeavour River, during which the first meaningful contact between Europeans and Indigenous Australians took place, to exhibits portraying the days of the Palmer River gold rush and personal stories about Cooktown’s early residents. We leave Cooktown, stopping at Keating Lagoon bird hides to check out the waterbirds, before arriving at our last camp at Helenvale and a chance to savor the unique atmosphere of the Lion’s Den. BLD

Day 10: Lion’s Den – Daintree – Cairns (or Port Douglas)

Our final journey down the coast to Cairns either via the famous Bloomfield track (weather and road dependant) or the Inland road. Enjoy a cruise on the Daintree River and close encounters with local wildlife including crocodiles. After lunch we travel down the scenic coast road to Cairns, boasting some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Australia. Expected return time to Cairns is 6pm. BL

Optional Extra: extend your stay at ecotourism-certified Thala Beach Nature Reserve, Port Douglas (see below for full details and extra costs). For guests extending the tour at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, the transfer to your accommodation in Port Douglas is included (you will be dropped off at Thala instead of continuing to Cairns on Day 10).

B – breakfast  L –  lunch D – dinner


This eco tour is graded Medium. We recommend a medium level of fitness. There are long stretches of unsealed road and 4WD tracks, estuarine crocodiles are known to inhabit the area, and stinging jellyfish are found in the sea.

Walks to the Split Rock Gallery, along the Old Coen Track, spotlighting walks, and the beach walks for the marine debris collections may involve walks of up to 5km a day, including on soft sand and uneven rocky track. It may be winter, and Chilli Beach often has onshore winds which give it a deceptively cooler feel, but the sun in Cape York is still very strong, and sunburn and dehydration can easily occur. During the day we recommend you carry your daypack, including a hat and a water bottle.

This eco tour is for people with an adventurous spirit and who are willing to assist with carrying equipment and camp gear, setting-up camp, and preparing and cooking camp meals. This remote area project has extremely limited access to medical assistance; with up to a 2-hour-drive to medical services. Please take this into account when considering your fitness levels, and any pre-existing medical conditions.

Group Size

  • Maximum group size is 10 people
  • Minimum age for participation is 14
  • Participants under 16 are to be accompanied by an adult
  • Departure is guaranteed, subject to 4 people travelling

Conservation Impact

All of Naturewise’s Eco Escapes allow you to play a vital role in the conservation of our natural environment, while enjoying some of Australia’s most spectacular places. Many tens of thousands of birds and other marine life such as whales, dolphins and turtles are killed by plastic rubbish and marine debris discarded into our oceans every year. Fishing nets, bottles, plastic bags, and other debris is carried by the ocean currents and deposited on remote Cape York beaches.  The visual pollution is significant, but even worse is the impact on the environment, especially the harm caused to wildlife when they ingest or become entangled in this rubbish.  This program assists Queensland Parks and Wildlife and the local Lockhart Aboriginal community look after Chilli Beach by removing, sorting and cataloguing the marine debris.  These surveys allow for the source of the pollution to be identified and the information provided back into source-reduction campaigns, in order to help prevent further marine debris landing on local beaches.

Location and Transportation

Cape York is situated at the top of Queensland and includes Australia’s most northerly point (the “tip”).  Chilli Beach is approximately 750 km from Cairns (a good three quarters of the way up the Cape) and situated between Portland Roads and Lockhart River.  It is often described as a “magical spot” with  a long, wide, white coral sand beach fringed with palms.  In the immediate hinterland is the Iron Ranges National Park and night spotlighting may well yield some of the Cape specials – spotted cuscuses, striped possums and sugar gliders.

Travel from Cairns up the Cape York will be via the Peninsula Development track – all unsealed road. We break up the drive each day with tours, sightseeing and activities. Travel will be in air-conditioned sideward-facing 4WD’s, with an off-road trailer providing space for luggage and camping equipment.


Camping at Roadhouse campsites with communal bathroom facilities (including hot showers) on the journey up and down the Cape. Bush camping at Chilli Beach with toilet facilities and a bush camp shower. Quick-erect, twin share canvas tents and stretcher beds are provided; and a camp trailer with mobile kitchen helps provide most of the meals. Bring your own tropical sleeping bag or sleeping sheet, bath towel, camp pillow and head torch. There is limited, or no opportunities for power at Chilli Beach; and very limited mobile reception. We carry an emergency-only satellite phone and EPIRB (emergency locating beacon), and a remote area first-aid kit – but no medications.


All prices are for 10 days/9 nights
$2,900 AUD per person
4 nights campsite camping with amenities block and
5 nights remote bush camping with limited facilities (twin share quick-erect canvas tents with stretcher beds, BYO lightweight tropical sleeping bag and head torch).

9 night’s camping equipment including twin share quick-erect canvas tent, stretcher bed and camp pillow • experienced Guide • return transfers from Cairns • all meals as stated • National Park and Camping Fees • Guided nature walks • Mareeba Wetland and Daintree River Cruise • Entrance fees to James Cook Museum, Split Rock Gallery Rock Art Site and Mein Telegraph Station • marine debris activities • maximum 10 passengers

Alcoholic drinks • items of a personal nature • travel insurance • travel to Cairns departure point • meals and activities not included in program itinerary • optional extra stay at Thala Beach Nature Reserve
NOTE: Alcoholic beverages are not provided. Most of the Cape and Aboriginal Communities have alcohol prohibitions (subject to heavy fines); we ask that no alcohol is carried.

Optional extra: Thala Beach Nature Reserve, Port Douglas

Finish your trip with a stay at Thala Beach Nature Reserve, Port Douglas, a deluxe lodge and nature reserve on a private headland just 10 minutes south of Port Douglas. Rejuvenate with a spa treatment, walk along the resorts private beach or bush walking trails, enjoy beautiful food in Osprey’s restaurant and a cocktail overlooking the headlands or simply relax. The tour will transfer you direct to the property on Day 10.

Jungle Walk Bungalow
Low set on the forest floor and capture the intimate feel of the unique woodland environment
Twin or Double room: $177.00 AUD per person per night
Single room: $324.50 AUD per person per night

Eucalypt Bungalow
Nestled amid the forest canopy, a delight for birdwatchers, look out on the sweep of rainforest and native surrounds
Twin or Double room: $229.50 AUD per person per night
Single room: $429.50 AUD per person per night

Includes: Deluxe bungalow accommodation, full breakfast, daily scheduled guided tours with onsite rangers including nature walks, bird watching, coconut odyssey and beach discovery and star gazing at Thala’s specially-designed outdoor observatory.

Getting from Thala Beach Nature Reserve to Cairns: Airport Transfers can be organised at a cost of $36 AUD per person (one-way) from Thala Beach Nature Reserve to Cairns International and Domestic airport; via shuttle bus along the scenic coastal drive. Pre-bookings are required.

Departure Date

Departs Cairns: 8-17 August 2017 – Bookings closed

Email us for 2018 dates when available


Download Booking Terms and Conditions

Chilli Beach image courtesy of Tangaroa Blue. Photo credit: Lyndal Scobel. 

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