Cape York Peninsula
Overview
 
Cape York Peninsula is a large remote peninsula
Peninsula
A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland. In many Germanic and Celtic languages and also in Baltic, Slavic and Hungarian, peninsulas are called "half-islands"....

 located in Far North Queensland
Far North Queensland
Far North Queensland, or FNQ, is the northernmost part of the Australian state of Queensland. The region, which contains a large section of the Tropical North Queensland area, stretches from the city of Cairns north to the Torres Strait...

 at the tip of the state of Queensland
Queensland
Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, the largest unspoilt wilderness in northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Although the land is mostly flat and about half of the area is used for grazing cattle, and wildlife is threatened by introduced species
Introduced species
An introduced species — or neozoon, alien, exotic, non-indigenous, or non-native species, or simply an introduction, is a species living outside its indigenous or native distributional range, and has arrived in an ecosystem or plant community by human activity, either deliberate or accidental...

 and weeds, the relatively undisturbed eucalyptus wooded savannahs, tropical rainforests and other types of habitat are now recognized for their global environmental significance.

Edmund Kennedy
Edmund Kennedy
Edmund Besley Court Kennedy was an explorer in Australia in the mid nineteenth century. He was the Assistant-Surveyor of New South Wales, working with Sir Thomas Mitchell...

 was the first European explorer to attempt an overland expedition of Cape York Peninsula.
Encyclopedia
Cape York Peninsula is a large remote peninsula
Peninsula
A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland. In many Germanic and Celtic languages and also in Baltic, Slavic and Hungarian, peninsulas are called "half-islands"....

 located in Far North Queensland
Far North Queensland
Far North Queensland, or FNQ, is the northernmost part of the Australian state of Queensland. The region, which contains a large section of the Tropical North Queensland area, stretches from the city of Cairns north to the Torres Strait...

 at the tip of the state of Queensland
Queensland
Queensland is a state of Australia, occupying the north-eastern section of the mainland continent. It is bordered by the Northern Territory, South Australia and New South Wales to the west, south-west and south respectively. To the east, Queensland is bordered by the Coral Sea and Pacific Ocean...

, Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

, the largest unspoilt wilderness in northern Australia and one of the last remaining wilderness areas on Earth. Although the land is mostly flat and about half of the area is used for grazing cattle, and wildlife is threatened by introduced species
Introduced species
An introduced species — or neozoon, alien, exotic, non-indigenous, or non-native species, or simply an introduction, is a species living outside its indigenous or native distributional range, and has arrived in an ecosystem or plant community by human activity, either deliberate or accidental...

 and weeds, the relatively undisturbed eucalyptus wooded savannahs, tropical rainforests and other types of habitat are now recognized for their global environmental significance.

Exploration

Edmund Kennedy
Edmund Kennedy
Edmund Besley Court Kennedy was an explorer in Australia in the mid nineteenth century. He was the Assistant-Surveyor of New South Wales, working with Sir Thomas Mitchell...

 was the first European explorer to attempt an overland expedition of Cape York Peninsula. He had been second-in-command to Thomas Livingstone Mitchell in 1846 when the Barcoo river was discovered. The aim was to blaze a trail to the tip of the cape where some Sydney businessmen thought of developing a port for trade with the East Indies
East Indies
East Indies is a term used by Europeans from the 16th century onwards to identify what is now known as Indian subcontinent or South Asia, Southeastern Asia, and the islands of Oceania, including the Malay Archipelago and the Philippines...

.

The expedition set out from Rockingham Bay near the present town of Cardwell
Cardwell, Queensland
Cardwell is a tropical coastal town in northeastern Queensland. It is located at the southern extremity of the Cassowary Coast. At the 2006 census, Cardwell had a population of 1,250. The Bruce Highway National Highway 1 and the North Coast railway line are the dominant transport routes;...

 in May 1848, and it turned out to be one of the great disasters of Australian exploration. Of the thirteen men who set out, only three survived. The others died of fever or starvation, or were speared by hostile aborigines. Kennedy died of spear wounds almost within sight of his destination in December 1848. The only survivor to complete the journey was Jackey Jackey
Jackey Jackey
William Westwood was often referred to as a "gentleman bushranger" because of his dress and respect for his victims. He got the name 'Jackey Jackey' from the aboriginal people...

, an aborigine from NSW. He led a rescue party to the other two who had been unable to continue.

The cape was finally conquered in 1864 when the Jardine brothers with eight companions drove a mob of cattle from Rockhampton
Rockhampton
Rockhampton can refer to:* Rockhampton, Queensland is a city in Queensland, Australia* Rockhampton City, Queensland, a suburb of Rockhampton, Queensland* Electoral district of Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia...

 to the new settlement of Somerset where the Jardine’s father was commander. Enroute they lost most of their horses, many of their stores and fought pitched battles with aborigines, finally arriving in March 1865.

Geography and geology

The west coast borders the Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Carpentaria
The Gulf of Carpentaria is a large, shallow sea enclosed on three sides by northern Australia and bounded on the north by the Arafura Sea...

 and the east coast borders the Coral Sea
Coral Sea
The Coral Sea is a marginal sea off the northeast coast of Australia. It is bounded in the west by the east coast of Queensland, thereby including the Great Barrier Reef, in the east by Vanuatu and by New Caledonia, and in the north approximately by the southern extremity of the Solomon Islands...

. The peninsula
Peninsula
A peninsula is a piece of land that is bordered by water on three sides but connected to mainland. In many Germanic and Celtic languages and also in Baltic, Slavic and Hungarian, peninsulas are called "half-islands"....

 is bordered on three sides (north, east and west). There is no clear demarcation to the south, although the official boundary in the Cape York Peninsula Heritage Act 2007 of Queensland runs along approximately 16°S latitude.

At the peninsula’s widest point, it is 430 km from the Bloomfield River
Bloomfield River
The Bloomfield River is a river situated in Queensland, north of Daintree. The river enters the sea north of Cape Tribulation and is noted for its Bloomfield River cod fish species, found only in the river...

, in the southeast, across to the west coast (just south of the Aboriginal community of Kowanyama
Kowanyama, Queensland
Kowanyama is a town on the Gulf of Carpentaria side of Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, Australia.At the 2006 census, Kowanyama had a population of 1,017....

). It is some 660 km from the southern border of Cook Shire, to the tip of Cape York. The largest islands in the strait include Prince of Wales Island, Horn Island, Moa, and Badu Island.

At the tip of the peninsula lies Cape York, the northernmost point on the Australian continent
Continent
A continent is one of several very large landmasses on Earth. They are generally identified by convention rather than any strict criteria, with seven regions commonly regarded as continents—they are : Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Antarctica, Europe, and Australia.Plate tectonics is...

. It was named by Lieutenant
Lieutenant
A lieutenant is a junior commissioned officer in many nations' armed forces. Typically, the rank of lieutenant in naval usage, while still a junior officer rank, is senior to the army rank...

 James Cook
James Cook
Captain James Cook, FRS, RN was a British explorer, navigator and cartographer who ultimately rose to the rank of captain in the Royal Navy...

 on 21 August 1770 in honor of Prince Edward, Duke of York and Albany, a brother of King George III of the United Kingdom
George III of the United Kingdom
George III was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland from 25 October 1760 until the union of these two countries on 1 January 1801, after which he was King of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his death...

, 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 honour of his late Royal Highness, the Duke of York."


The tropical landscapes are among the most stable in the world. Long undisturbed by tectonic activity, the peninsula is an extremely eroded, almost level low plain dominated by mighty meander
Meander
A meander in general is a bend in a sinuous watercourse. A meander is formed when the moving water in a stream erodes the outer banks and widens its valley. A stream of any volume may assume a meandering course, alternately eroding sediments from the outside of a bend and depositing them on the...

ing river
River
A river is a natural watercourse, usually freshwater, flowing towards an ocean, a lake, a sea, or another river. In a few cases, a river simply flows into the ground or dries up completely before reaching another body of water. Small rivers may also be called by several other names, including...

s and vast floodplain
Floodplain
A floodplain, or flood plain, is a flat or nearly flat land adjacent a stream or river that stretches from the banks of its channel to the base of the enclosing valley walls and experiences flooding during periods of high discharge...

s, with some very low hills rising to some 800m elevation in the McIlwraith Range
McIlwraith Range
The McIlwraith Range is a rugged, dissected granite plateau on the Cape York Peninsula, Far North Queensland, Australia. Part of the Great Dividing Range, it covers about 3000 km2 and lies about 15 km east of the town of Coen, and 550 km north of Cairns...

 on the eastern side around Coen
Coen, Queensland
Coen is a small inland town on the main road heading up the Cape York Peninsula in far northern Queensland, Australia. It is in the Cook Shire Local Government Area. At the 2006 census, Coen had a population of 253....

.

The backbone of Cape York Peninsula is the Peninsula Ridge, part of Australia’s Great Dividing Range
Great Dividing Range
The Great Dividing Range, or the Eastern Highlands, is Australia's most substantial mountain range and the third longest in the world. The range stretches more than 3,500 km from Dauan Island off the northeastern tip of Queensland, running the entire length of the eastern coastline through...

. This mountain range
Mountain range
A mountain range is a single, large mass consisting of a succession of mountains or narrowly spaced mountain ridges, with or without peaks, closely related in position, direction, formation, and age; a component part of a mountain system or of a mountain chain...

 is made up of ancient (1,500 million year-old) Precambrian
Precambrian
The Precambrian is the name which describes the large span of time in Earth's history before the current Phanerozoic Eon, and is a Supereon divided into several eons of the geologic time scale...

 and Palaeozoic rocks. To the East and West of the Peninsula Ridge
Ridge
A ridge is a geological feature consisting of a chain of mountains or hills that form a continuous elevated crest for some distance. Ridges are usually termed hills or mountains as well, depending on size. There are several main types of ridges:...

 lie the Carpentaria and Laura Basins, themselves made up of ancient Mesozoic
Mesozoic
The Mesozoic era is an interval of geological time from about 250 million years ago to about 65 million years ago. It is often referred to as the age of reptiles because reptiles, namely dinosaurs, were the dominant terrestrial and marine vertebrates of the time...

 sediments. There are several outstanding landforms on the peninsula: the large expanses of undisturbed dune
Dune
In physical geography, a dune is a hill of sand built by wind. Dunes occur in different forms and sizes, formed by interaction with the wind. Most kinds of dunes are longer on the windward side where the sand is pushed up the dune and have a shorter "slip face" in the lee of the wind...

fields at the eastern coast around Shelburne Bay and Cape Bedford-Cape Flattery; the huge piles of black granite
Granite
Granite is a common and widely occurring type of intrusive, felsic, igneous rock. Granite usually has a medium- to coarse-grained texture. Occasionally some individual crystals are larger than the groundmass, in which case the texture is known as porphyritic. A granitic rock with a porphyritic...

 boulder
Boulder
In geology, a boulder is a rock with grain size of usually no less than 256 mm diameter. While a boulder may be small enough to move or roll manually, others are extremely massive....

s at Black Mountain National Park
Black Mountain National Park
Black Mountain National Park is a 781 hectare protected area in the Queensland, , 25 km south west of Cooktown. It is managed and protected as a national park under the Nature Conservation Act 1992....

 and Cape Melville
Cape Melville
Cape Melville is a headland on the eastern coast of the Cape York Peninsula. To its west lies Princess Charlotte Bay. It is part of the Cape Melville National Park....

; and the limestone karst
KARST
Kilometer-square Area Radio Synthesis Telescope is a Chinese telescope project to which FAST is a forerunner. KARST is a set of large spherical reflectors on karst landforms, which are bowlshaped limestone sinkholes named after the Kras region in Slovenia and Northern Italy. It will consist of...

s around Palmerston in the Cape’s far south.

Soil

The soils are remarkably infertile even compared to other areas of Australia, being almost entirely laterised
Laterite
Laterites are soil types rich in iron and aluminium, formed in hot and wet tropical areas. Nearly all laterites are rusty-red because of iron oxides. They develop by intensive and long-lasting weathering of the underlying parent rock...

  and in most cases so old and weathered that very little development is apparent today (classified in USDA soil taxonomy
USDA soil taxonomy
USDA Soil Taxonomy developed by United States Department of Agriculture and the National Cooperative Soil Survey provides an elaborate classification of soil types according to several parameters and in several levels: Order, Suborder, Great Group, Subgroup, Family, and Series.- Example of...

 as Orthent
Orthent
In USDA soil taxonomy, Orthents are defined as Entisols that lack horizon development due to either steep slopes or parent materials that contain no permanent weatherable minerals . Typically, Orthents are exceedingly shallow soils. They are often referred to as "skeletal soils" or, in the FAO soil...

s). It is because of this extraordinary soil poverty that the region is so thinly settled: the soils are so unworkable and unresponsive to fertilisers that attempts to grow commercial crops have usually failed.

Climate

The climate on Cape York Peninsula is tropical and monsoon
Monsoon
Monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea...

al, with a heavy monsoon season from November to April, during which time the forest becomes almost inhabitable, and a dry season from May to October. The temperature is warm to hot, with a cooler climate in higher areas. The mean annual temperatures range from 18 °C at higher elevations to 27 °C on the lowlands in the drier south-west. Temperatures over 40 °C and below 5 °C are rare.

Annual rainfall is high, ranging from over 2000 mm. in the Iron Range and north of Weipa to about 700 mm. at the southern border. Almost all this rain falls between November and April, and only on the eastern slopes of the Iron Range is the median
Median
In probability theory and statistics, a median is described as the numerical value separating the higher half of a sample, a population, or a probability distribution, from the lower half. The median of a finite list of numbers can be found by arranging all the observations from lowest value to...

 rainfall between June and September above 5mm (0.2 inches). Between January and March, however, the median monthly rainfall ranges from about 170mm (6.5 inches) in the south to over 500mm (20 inches) in the north and on the Iron Range
Iron Range
The Iron Range is a region that makes up the northeastern section of Minnesota in the United States. "The Range", as it is known by locals, is a region with multiple distinct bands of iron ore...

.

Rivers

The Peninsula Ridge forms the drainage divide between the Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Carpentaria
The Gulf of Carpentaria is a large, shallow sea enclosed on three sides by northern Australia and bounded on the north by the Arafura Sea...

 and the Coral Sea. To the west, a series of large, winding river systems including the Mitchell
Mitchell River (Queensland)
The Mitchell River is a river in the Far North Queensland region of Australia. The river begins on the Atherton Tableland about northwest of Cairns, and flows about northwest across Cape York Peninsula from Mareeba to the Gulf of Carpentaria....

, Coleman, Holroyd, Archer, Watson, Wenlock, Ducie and Jardine
Jardine River
The Jardine River is the largest river of Australia's Cape York Peninsula and is named after the pioneer Frank Jardine.-References:...

 catchments
Drainage basin
A drainage basin is an extent or an area of land where surface water from rain and melting snow or ice converges to a single point, usually the exit of the basin, where the waters join another waterbody, such as a river, lake, reservoir, estuary, wetland, sea, or ocean...

 empty their waters into the Gulf of Carpentaria. During the Dry season
Dry season
The dry season is a term commonly used when describing the weather in the tropics. The weather in the tropics is dominated by the tropical rain belt, which oscillates from the northern to the southern tropics over the course of the year...

, those rivers are reduced to a series of waterholes and sandy beds. Yet, with the arrival of torrential rains in the Wet season
Wet season
The the wet season, or rainy season, is the time of year, covering one or more months, when most of the average annual rainfall in a region occurs. The term green season is also sometimes used as a euphemism by tourist authorities. Areas with wet seasons are dispersed across portions of the...

, they swell to mighty waterways, spreading across extensive floodplains and coastal wetlands and giving life to a vast array of freshwater and wetland species.

On the Eastern slopes, the shorter, faster-flowing Jacky Jacky Creek, Olive, Pascoe, Lockhart, Stewart, Jeannie and Endeavour
Endeavour River
The Endeavour River on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, Australia, was named in 1770 by Lt. James Cook, R.N., after he was forced to beach his ship, HM Bark Endeavour, for repairs in the river mouth, after damaging it on Endeavour Reef...

 Rivers flow towards the Coral Sea, providing important freshwater and nutrients to the healthiest section of the Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world'slargest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres over an area of approximately...

. On their way, those wild, undisturbed rivers
Wild river
A Wild River or Heritage River is a :river or a river system designated by a government to be protected and kept "..almost untouched by development and .. therefore in near natural condition, with all, or almost all, ....

 are lined with dense rainforests, sand dunes or mangroves.

The floodplains of the Laura Basin, which are protected in the Lakefield
Lakefield National Park
Lakefield is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1,707 km northwest of Brisbane and 340 km north-west of Cairns by road, on Cape York Peninsula. At 5,370 km2 Lakefield is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1,707 km northwest of Brisbane and 340 km north-west of...

 and Jack River National Parks, are crossed by the Morehead, Hann, North Kennedy, Laura, Jack and Normanby
Normanby River
The Normanby River is a major river in northern Queensland, located on the edge of the Wet Tropics and flowing in a generally north-northwestward direction through seasonally flooded savanna grassland to Princess Charlotte Bay about 150 kilometres from Cooktown....

 Rivers.

The Peninsula’s river catchments are noted for their exceptional hydrological
Hydrology
Hydrology is the study of the movement, distribution, and quality of water on Earth and other planets, including the hydrologic cycle, water resources and environmental watershed sustainability...

 integrity. With little disturbance on both water flows and vegetation cover throughout entire catchments, Cape York Peninsula has been identified as one of the few places where tropical water cycle
Water cycle
The water cycle, also known as the hydrologic cycle or H2O cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. Water can change states among liquid, vapor, and solid at various places in the water cycle...

s remain essentially intact. Cape York Peninsula contributes as much as a quarter of Australia's surface runoff
Surface runoff
Surface runoff is the water flow that occurs when soil is infiltrated to full capacity and excess water from rain, meltwater, or other sources flows over the land. This is a major component of the water cycle. Runoff that occurs on surfaces before reaching a channel is also called a nonpoint source...

. Indeed, with only about 2.7 percent of Australia's land area it produces more run-off than all of Australia south of the Tropic of Capricorn
Tropic of Capricorn
The Tropic of Capricorn, or Southern tropic, marks the most southerly latitude on the Earth at which the Sun can be directly overhead. This event occurs at the December solstice, when the southern hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun to its maximum extent.Tropic of Capricorn is one of the five...

. Tapping those heavy tropical rainfalls, the peninsula’s rivers are also of particular importance for replenishing central Australia’s Great Artesian Basin
Great Artesian Basin
The Great Artesian Basin provides the only reliable source of freshwater through much of inland Australia. The basin is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world, stretching over a total of , with temperatures measured ranging from 30°C to 100°C...

. The Queensland Government is currently poised to protect 13 of Cape York Peninsula’s wild rivers under the Wild Rivers Act 2005.

Geological history

Around 40 million years ago, the Indo-Australian tectonic plate
Indo-Australian Plate
The Indo-Australian Plate is a major tectonic plate that includes the continent of Australia and surrounding ocean, and extends northwest to include the Indian subcontinent and adjacent waters...

 began to split apart from the ancient supercontinent
Supercontinent
In geology, a supercontinent is a landmass comprising more than one continental core, or craton. The assembly of cratons and accreted terranes that form Eurasia qualifies as a supercontinent today.-History:...

 Gondwana
Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

. As it collided with the Pacific Plate
Pacific Plate
The Pacific Plate is an oceanic tectonic plate that lies beneath the Pacific Ocean. At 103 million square kilometres, it is the largest tectonic plate....

 on its northward journey, the high mountain ranges of central New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

 emerged around 5 million years ago. In the lee of this collision zone, the ancient rock formations of what is now Cape York Peninsula remained largely undisturbed.

Throughout the Pleistocene
Pleistocene
The Pleistocene is the epoch from 2,588,000 to 11,700 years BP that spans the world's recent period of repeated glaciations. The name pleistocene is derived from the Greek and ....

 epoch Australia and New Guinea have been alternately land-linked and separated by water on a number of occasions. During periods of glaciation
Glacier
A glacier is a large persistent body of ice that forms where the accumulation of snow exceeds its ablation over many years, often centuries. At least 0.1 km² in area and 50 m thick, but often much larger, a glacier slowly deforms and flows due to stresses induced by its weight...

 and resulting low sea levels, Cape York Peninsula provided a low-lying land link
Land bridge
A land bridge, in biogeography, is an isthmus or wider land connection between otherwise separate areas, over which animals and plants are able to cross and colonise new lands...

. Another link existed between Arnhem Land
Arnhem Land
The Arnhem Land Region is one of the five regions of the Northern Territory of Australia. It is located in the north-eastern corner of the territory and is around 500 km from the territory capital Darwin. The region has an area of 97,000 km² which also covers the area of Kakadu National...

 and New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

, at times enclosing an enormous freshwater lake (Lake Carpentaria) in the centre of what is now the Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Carpentaria
The Gulf of Carpentaria is a large, shallow sea enclosed on three sides by northern Australia and bounded on the north by the Arafura Sea...

. In this way, Australia and New Guinea remained connected until the shallow Torres Strait
Torres Strait
The Torres Strait is a body of water which lies between Australia and the Melanesian island of New Guinea. It is approximately wide at its narrowest extent. To the south is Cape York Peninsula, the northernmost continental extremity of the Australian state of Queensland...

 was last flooded around 8,000 years ago.

Flora

Cape York Peninsula supports a complex mosaic of intact tropical rainforests, tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannahs, and shrublands|tropical savannahs, heath lands
Heath (habitat)
A heath or heathland is a dwarf-shrub habitat found on mainly low quality acidic soils, characterised by open, low growing woody vegetation, often dominated by plants of the Ericaceae. There are some clear differences between heath and moorland...

, wetlands, wild rivers
Wild Rivers
Wild Rivers was a waterpark in Irvine, California. It opened in 1986 on the site of the former Lion Country Safari. Following the expiration of its lease with the The Irvine Company, it closed permanently on September 25, 2011, with the hope of opening in a new location by 2013.-History:Before Wild...

 and mangrove
Mangrove
Mangroves are various kinds of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics – mainly between latitudes N and S...

 swamps. These various habitats are home to about 3300 species of flowering plants  and almost the entire area of Cape York Peninsula (99.6%) still retains its native vegetation and is little fragmented. Cape York Peninsula also contains one of the highest rates of endemism in Australia, with more than 260 endemic plant species found so far. Therefore, parts of the Peninsula have been noted for their exceptionally high wilderness quality. The flora of the peninsula includes original Gondwana
Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

n species, plants that have emerged since the breakup of Gondwana and species from Indo-Malaya and from across the Torres Strait in New Guinea with the most variety being found in the rainforest areas. Most of the Cape York Peninsula is drier than nearby New Guinea which limits the rainforest plants of that island from migrating across to Australia.
The majority of Cape York Peninsula is covered in tropical and subtropical grasslands, savannahs, and shrublands|tropical savannah woodland consisting typically of a tall dense grass layer and varying densities of trees, dominantly eucalypt
Eucalypt
Eucalypts are woody plants belonging to three closely related genera:Eucalyptus, Corymbia and Angophora.In 1995 new evidence, largely genetic, indicated that some prominent Eucalyptus species were actually more closely related to Angophora than to the other eucalypts; they were split off into the...

s of which the most common is Darwin stringybark (Eucalyptus tetrodonta). Although abundant and fully functioning on the peninsula, tropical savannahs are now rare and highly degraded in other parts of the world.

Tropical rainforest
Tropical rainforest
A tropical rainforest is an ecosystem type that occurs roughly within the latitudes 28 degrees north or south of the equator . This ecosystem experiences high average temperatures and a significant amount of rainfall...

s cover an area of 748,000 ha, or 5.6 percent of the total land area of Cape York Peninsula. Rainforests depend on some level of rainfall throughout the long Dry season
Dry season
The dry season is a term commonly used when describing the weather in the tropics. The weather in the tropics is dominated by the tropical rain belt, which oscillates from the northern to the southern tropics over the course of the year...

, climatic conditions that are mostly found on the eastern slopes of the Cape’s coastal ranges. Being almost exclusively untouched, old-growth forests and supporting a disproportionately high biodiversity including flora of Gondwana
Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

n and New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

n origin, the rainforests are of high conservation significance. The largest contiguous rainforest area on the Cape occurs in the McIllwraith Range-Iron Range
Iron Range National Park
Iron Range is a National Park located in Queensland, Australia, 1940 km northwest of Brisbane and 100 km east of Weipa in the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Within the National Park is the Iron Range , Scrubby Creek mining site and the Lockhart River Aboriginal Reserve...

 area. The Gondwanan flora of this area includes Araucariaceae
Araucariaceae
Araucariaceae, commonly referred to as araucarians, is a very ancient family of coniferous trees. It achieved its maximum diversity in the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, when it was distributed almost worldwide...

 and Podocarpaceae
Podocarpaceae
Podocarpaceae is a large family of mainly Southern Hemisphere conifers, comprising about 156 species of evergreen trees and shrubs. It contains 19 genera if Phyllocladus is included and if Manoao and Sundacarpus are recognized....

 conifers and Arthrochilus
Arthrochilus
Arthrochilus is a genus of flowering plants from the orchid family, Orchidaceae.- References :*Pridgeon, A.M., Cribb, P.J., Chase, M.A. & Rasmussen, F. eds. . Genera Orchidacearum 1. Oxford Univ. Press....

, Corybas, and Calochilus
Calochilus
Calochilus is a genus of flowering plants from the orchid family, Orchidaceae.- References :*Pridgeon, A.M., Cribb, P.J., Chase, M.A. & Rasmussen, F. eds. . Genera Orchidacearum 1. Oxford Univ. Press....

 orchids. In all, this rainforest contains at least 1000 different plants, including 100 rare or threatened species, and 16% of Australia's orchid species.

On poor, dry soils tropical heathlands
Heath (habitat)
A heath or heathland is a dwarf-shrub habitat found on mainly low quality acidic soils, characterised by open, low growing woody vegetation, often dominated by plants of the Ericaceae. There are some clear differences between heath and moorland...

 can be found. North-east Cape York Peninsula supports Australia’s largest areas of this highly diverse ecosystem.

The extensive wetland
Wetland
A wetland is an area of land whose soil is saturated with water either permanently or seasonally. Wetlands are categorised by their characteristic vegetation, which is adapted to these unique soil conditions....

s on Cape York Peninsula are "among the largest, richest and most diverse in Australia". 19 wetlands of national significance have been identified, mostly on the large floodplains and in coastal areas. Important wetlands include the Jardine Complex
Jardine River National Park
The Jardine River National Park is a national park Queensland, Australia, 2137 km northwest of Brisbane and about 900 km northwest of Cairns, on the tip of Cape York Peninsula....

, Lakefield
Lakefield National Park
Lakefield is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1,707 km northwest of Brisbane and 340 km north-west of Cairns by road, on Cape York Peninsula. At 5,370 km2 Lakefield is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1,707 km northwest of Brisbane and 340 km north-west of...

 systems and the estuaries of the great rivers of the western plains. Many of these wetland come into existence only during the Wet season
Wet season
The the wet season, or rainy season, is the time of year, covering one or more months, when most of the average annual rainfall in a region occurs. The term green season is also sometimes used as a euphemism by tourist authorities. Areas with wet seasons are dispersed across portions of the...

 and support rare or uncommon plant communities.

The Peninsula’s coastal areas and river estuaries
Estuary
An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea....

 are lined with mangrove
Mangrove
Mangroves are various kinds of trees up to medium height and shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics – mainly between latitudes N and S...

 forests of kwila and other trees. Australia’s largest mangrove forest can be found at Newcastle Bay.

Fauna

The Cape harbours an extraordinary biodiversity
Biodiversity
Biodiversity is the degree of variation of life forms within a given ecosystem, biome, or an entire planet. Biodiversity is a measure of the health of ecosystems. Biodiversity is in part a function of climate. In terrestrial habitats, tropical regions are typically rich whereas polar regions...

, with more than 700 vertebrate
Vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

 land animal species of which 40 are endemic. As a result from its geological history, "the flora and fauna of Cape York Peninsula are a complex mixture of Gondwana
Gondwana
In paleogeography, Gondwana , originally Gondwanaland, was the southernmost of two supercontinents that later became parts of the Pangaea supercontinent. It existed from approximately 510 to 180 million years ago . Gondwana is believed to have sutured between ca. 570 and 510 Mya,...

n relics, Australian isolationists and Asian or New Guinean invaders" (p. 41). Birds of the peninsula include Buff-breasted Buttonquail
Buff-breasted Buttonquail
The Buff-breasted Buttonquail is the largest and possibly the rarest of the buttonquail. This species is endemic to extreme northeastern Australia, in northern Queensland from near Coen to Mareeba west of Cairns.-Description:...

 (Turnix olivii), Golden-shouldered Parrot
Golden-shouldered Parrot
The Golden-shouldered Parrot is a rare bird of southern Cape York Peninsula, in Queensland, Australia. A small attractive parrot related to the more common Red-rumped Parrot, it is considered to be a superspecies with the Hooded Parrot The Golden-shouldered Parrot (Psephotus chrysopterygius) is a...

 (Psephotus chrysopterygius), Lovely Fairywren (Malurus amabilis), White-streaked Honeyeater
White-streaked Honeyeater
The White-streaked Honeyeater is a species of bird in the Meliphagidae family. It is monotypic within the genus Trichodere.It is endemic to Australia.Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical dry forests....

 (Trichodere cockerelli), and Yellow-spotted Honeyeater
Yellow-spotted Honeyeater
The Yellow-spotted Honeyeater is a species of bird in the Meliphagidae family.It is endemic to Australia.Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forests and subtropical or tropical mangrove forests....

 (Meliphaga notata) while some such as Pied Oystercatcher
Pied Oystercatcher
The Pied Oystercatcher, Haematopus longirostris, is a species of oystercatcher. It is a wading bird native to Australia and commonly found on its coastline. The similar South Island Pied Oystercatcher The Pied Oystercatcher, Haematopus longirostris, is a species of oystercatcher. It is a wading...

 are found in other parts of Australia but have important populations on the peninsula. The Cape is also home to the Eastern brown snake
Eastern brown snake
The eastern brown snake , often referred to as the common brown snake, is a species of genus Pseudonaja. This snake is considered the second most venomous land snake based on its value in mice. It is native to Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia.-Description:Adult eastern brown snakes are highly...

, one of the world's most venomous snakes. Mammals include the endangered rodent Bramble Cay Melomys found only on Bramble Cay
Bramble Cay
Bramble Cay, also called Naizab Kaur, Massaramcoer or Baramaki, and located at the northeastern edge of the Torres Strait Islands of Queensland and at the same time at the northern end of the Great Barrier Reef, is the northernmost point of land of Australia...

 in the Torres Strait.

The rainforest
Rainforest
Rainforests are forests characterized by high rainfall, with definitions based on a minimum normal annual rainfall of 1750-2000 mm...

s of the Iron Range
Iron Range National Park
Iron Range is a National Park located in Queensland, Australia, 1940 km northwest of Brisbane and 100 km east of Weipa in the Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Within the National Park is the Iron Range , Scrubby Creek mining site and the Lockhart River Aboriginal Reserve...

 support species that are also found in New Guinea
New Guinea
New Guinea is the world's second largest island, after Greenland, covering a land area of 786,000 km2. Located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, it lies geographically to the east of the Malay Archipelago, with which it is sometimes included as part of a greater Indo-Australian Archipelago...

, including the Eclectus Parrot
Eclectus Parrot
The Eclectus Parrot, Eclectus roratus, is a parrot native to the Solomon Islands, Sumba, New Guinea and nearby islands, northeastern Australia and the Maluku Islands...

 and Southern Common Cuscus
Southern Common Cuscus
The Southern Common Cuscus is also known as Australian Cuscus, Grey Cuscus, Grey Phalanger, and To-ili. An arboreal marsupial, it is endemic to Australia , southern New Guinea and possibly the Aru Islands. Until recently, it was considered conspecific with P. intercastellanus, and before that also...

. Other rainforest fauna includes 200 species of butterfly including 11 endemic butterflies one of which is the huge Green Birdwing
Ornithoptera priamus
Ornithoptera priamus, commonly known as the common green birdwing, Cape York Birdwing, Priam's Birdwing or Northern Birdwing, is a widespread species of birdwing butterfly found in the central and south Moluccas, New Guinea, Bismarck Archipelago, Solomon Islands, and northeast...

, the Green Tree Python and the Northern Quoll
Northern Quoll
The Northern Quoll , also known as the Northern Native Cat, the Satanellus, the North Australian Native Cat or the Njanmak , is a carnivorous marsupial mammal, native to Australia.- Taxonomy :The Northern Quoll is a member of the family Dasyuridae, and is often stated to be the most distinctive...

 a forest marsupial
Marsupial
Marsupials are an infraclass of mammals, characterized by giving birth to relatively undeveloped young. Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands, with the remaining 100 found in the Americas, primarily in South America, but with thirteen in Central...

 that is now severely depleted from eating the introduced poisonous cane toad
Cane Toad
The Cane Toad , also known as the Giant Neotropical Toad or Marine Toad, is a large, terrestrial true toad which is native to Central and South America, but has been introduced to various islands throughout Oceania and the Caribbean...

s.

The riverbanks of the lowlands are home to specific wildlife of their own while the rivers including the Jardine, Jackson, Olive, Holroyd and the Wenlock are rich in fish. The wetlands and coastal mangroves are noted for their importance as a fish nursery and crocodile
Saltwater Crocodile
The saltwater crocodile, also known as estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile, is the largest of all living reptiles...

 habitat, providing important drought refuge
Drought refuge
A drought refuge is a site that provides permanent fresh water or moist conditions for plants and animals, acting as a refuge habitat when surrounding areas are affected by drought and allowing ecosystems and core species populations to survive until the drought breaks...

  and finally the Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is the world'slargest reef system composed of over 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands stretching for over 2,600 kilometres over an area of approximately...

 lies off the east coast and is an important marine habitat.

Threats and preservation

Cattle station leases occupy about 57% of the total area, mostly located in central and eastern Cape York Peninsula. Indigenous land comprises about 20%, with the entire West coast being held under Native title
Native title
Native title is the Australian version of the common law doctrine of aboriginal title.Native title is "the recognition by Australian law that some Indigenous people have rights and interests to their land that come from their traditional laws and customs"...

. The remainder is mostly declared as National Park
National park
A national park is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or owns. Although individual nations designate their own national parks differently A national park is a reserve of natural, semi-natural, or developed land that a sovereign state declares or...

 and managed by the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service
The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, or QPWS, is a sub-section of the Environmental Protection Agency within the Queensland government. Its primary concern is with the development and maintenance of national parks within Queensland.-External links:*...

. Land uses include broad acre pastoralism, bauxite and silica sand mining, nature reserves, tourism and fishing. There are extensive deposits of bauxite
Bauxite
Bauxite is an aluminium ore and is the main source of aluminium. This form of rock consists mostly of the minerals gibbsite Al3, boehmite γ-AlO, and diaspore α-AlO, in a mixture with the two iron oxides goethite and hematite, the clay mineral kaolinite, and small amounts of anatase TiO2...

 along the west or Gulf of Carpentaria
Gulf of Carpentaria
The Gulf of Carpentaria is a large, shallow sea enclosed on three sides by northern Australia and bounded on the north by the Arafura Sea...

 coast. Weipa is the centre for mining. Much has been damaged by overgrazing, mining, poorly controlled fires and feral pigs, cane toad
Cane Toad
The Cane Toad , also known as the Giant Neotropical Toad or Marine Toad, is a large, terrestrial true toad which is native to Central and South America, but has been introduced to various islands throughout Oceania and the Caribbean...

s, weeds, and other introduced species but Cape York Peninsula remains fairly unspoilt with intact and healthy river systems and no recorded plant or animal extinction since European settlement.

The "Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy" study was commissioned by the Australian government in 1990 to create plans to protect the wilderness and a nomination for World Natural Heritage
World Heritage Site
A UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place that is listed by the UNESCO as of special cultural or physical significance...

 is currently being considered by the Queensland and Australian Federal governments. Major national parks include the Jardine River National Park
Jardine River National Park
The Jardine River National Park is a national park Queensland, Australia, 2137 km northwest of Brisbane and about 900 km northwest of Cairns, on the tip of Cape York Peninsula....

 in the far north, Mungkan Kandju National Park
Mungkan Kandju National Park
Mungkan Kandju, formerly Archer Bend National Park, is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1914 km northwest of Brisbane.-See also:* Protected areas of Queensland* Koowarta v Bjelke-Petersen...

 near Aurukun
Aurukun, Queensland
Aurukun is an Indigenous community, situated approximately south of Weipa in far North Queensland, Australia. The town faces west to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and during the wet season, roads are impassable....

, and Lakefield National Park
Lakefield National Park
Lakefield is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1,707 km northwest of Brisbane and 340 km north-west of Cairns by road, on Cape York Peninsula. At 5,370 km2 Lakefield is a national park in Queensland, Australia, 1,707 km northwest of Brisbane and 340 km north-west of...

 in the southeast of the bioregion.

People and culture

The first known contact between Europeans and Aborigines occurred on the west coast of the peninsula in 1606 but it was not settled by Europeans until the 19th century when fishing communities, then ranches and later mining towns were established. European settlement led to the displacement of Aboriginal communities and the arrival of Torres Strait Islanders on the mainland. Today the peninsula has a population of only about 18,000, of which a large percentage (~60 %) are Aborigines
Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands. The Aboriginal Indigenous Australians migrated from the Indian continent around 75,000 to 100,000 years ago....

 and Torres Strait Islanders
Torres Strait Islanders
Torres Strait Islanders are the indigenous people of the Torres Strait Islands, part of Queensland, Australia. They are culturally and genetically linked to Melanesian peoples and those of Papua New Guinea....

.

The administrative and commercial centre for much of Cape York Peninsula is Cooktown
Cooktown, Queensland
Cooktown is a small town located at the mouth of the Endeavour River, on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland where James Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, for repairs in 1770. At the 2006 census, Cooktown had a population of 1,336...

, located in its far south-eastern corner while the peninsula’s largest settlement is the mining town Weipa
Weipa, Queensland
Weipa is the largest town on the Gulf of Carpentaria coast of the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia. At the 2006 census, Weipa had a population of 2,830; the largest community on Cape York Peninsula. It exists because of the enormous bauxite deposits along the coast...

 on the Gulf of Carpentaria. The remainder is extremely sparsely populated, with about half the population living in very small settlements and cattle ranches. Along the Peninsula Developmental Road, there are small service centres at Lakeland
Lakeland, Queensland
Lakeland, Queensland - also known as Lakeland Downs - is a small farming centre in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia.It is at the junction of the main Peninsula Development Road , and the Mulligan Highway. It is located in the Shire of Cook.It contains a hotel, a cafe, and roadhouse and a...

, Laura
Laura, Queensland
Laura is a small town north of Lakeland in Cook Shire, Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland, Australia. It is on the only road north towards the tip of the peninsula, and is the centre for the largest collection of prehistoric rock art in the world. It also forms the northern apex of the...

 and Coen
Coen, Queensland
Coen is a small inland town on the main road heading up the Cape York Peninsula in far northern Queensland, Australia. It is in the Cook Shire Local Government Area. At the 2006 census, Coen had a population of 253....

. At the tip of Cape York, there is a sizeable service centre on nearby Thursday Island. Aboriginal communities are at Hopevale
Hopevale, Queensland
Hopevale, , Queensland, Australia is an Aboriginal community on Cape York Peninsula about 46 km northwest of Cooktown by road, and about 10 km off the Battlecamp Road that leads to Lakefield National Park and Laura...

, Pormpuraaw, Kowanyama
Kowanyama, Queensland
Kowanyama is a town on the Gulf of Carpentaria side of Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland, Australia.At the 2006 census, Kowanyama had a population of 1,017....

, Aurukun
Aurukun, Queensland
Aurukun is an Indigenous community, situated approximately south of Weipa in far North Queensland, Australia. The town faces west to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and during the wet season, roads are impassable....

, Lockhart River
Lockhart River, Queensland
Lockhart River is a coastal Aboriginal community situated on the eastern coast of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, Australia. The population consists mostly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, whose ancestors were forcibly moved to the area beginning in 1924...

, Napranum, Mapoon, Injinoo
Injinoo
Injinoo refers to Australian Aborigine people in Cape York Peninsula.There are five communities which lie on the traditional country of the Injinoo peoples in the NPA of Cape York Peninsula: Bamaga, Seisia, Injinoo, Umagico and New Mapoon....

, New Mapoon
New Mapoon
New Mapoon is an area South of Seisia and West of Bamaga at the tip of Cape York Peninsula, adjoining the Lockerbie Scrub. At the 2006 census, New Mapoon had a population of 346....

 and Umagico. Torres Strait Islander communities on the mainland are at Bamaga and Seisia. A completely sealed inland road links Cairns and the Atherton Tableland
Atherton Tableland
The Atherton Tableland is a fertile plateau which is part of the Great Dividing Range in Queensland, Australia. It is located west to south-south-west inland from Cairns, well into the tropics, but its elevated position provides a climate suitable for dairy farming. It has an area of around...

 to Lakeland Downs
Lakeland, Queensland
Lakeland, Queensland - also known as Lakeland Downs - is a small farming centre in Cape York Peninsula, Queensland, Australia.It is at the junction of the main Peninsula Development Road , and the Mulligan Highway. It is located in the Shire of Cook.It contains a hotel, a cafe, and roadhouse and a...

 and Cooktown
Cooktown, Queensland
Cooktown is a small town located at the mouth of the Endeavour River, on Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queensland where James Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, for repairs in 1770. At the 2006 census, Cooktown had a population of 1,336...

. The road north of Lakeland Downs to the tip of the Peninsula is sometimes cut after heavy rains during the wet season (roughly December to May).

The Peninsula is a popular tourist destination in the Dry Season for camping, hiking, birdwatching and fishing enthusiasts. Many people make the adventurous, but rewarding, drive to the tip of Cape York, the northernmost point of mainland Australia.

Some of the world's most extensive and ancient Aboriginal
Indigenous Australians
Indigenous Australians are the original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands. The Aboriginal Indigenous Australians migrated from the Indian continent around 75,000 to 100,000 years ago....

 rock painting galleries surround the town of Laura
Laura, Queensland
Laura is a small town north of Lakeland in Cook Shire, Cape York Peninsula in northern Queensland, Australia. It is on the only road north towards the tip of the peninsula, and is the centre for the largest collection of prehistoric rock art in the world. It also forms the northern apex of the...

, some of which are available for public viewing. There is also a new Interpretive Centre from which information on the rock art and local culture is available and tours can be arranged.

Telegraph track

There are two major roads accessing the Bamaga Seisia region; the PDR or peninsula development road and the OTL or overland telegraph line (commonly referred to as the tele track) The tele track was used for construction and maintenance of the OTL until it was superseded by fibre optic cables, and is now used by four-wheel drive
Four-wheel drive
Four-wheel drive, 4WD, or 4×4 is a four-wheeled vehicle with a drivetrain that allows all four wheels to receive torque from the engine simultaneously...

 vehicle enthusiasts in the dry season. Many crossings, such as the bridge over the Wenlock near Moreton station, have been upgraded; however, many fords remain.

Solar eclipse

The next total eclipse of the sun, on 13 November 2012 UTC (14 November AEST), should be visible from Cape York, Australia, as well as some northern islands of New Zealand.

See also

  • McIvor, Roy (2010). Cockatoo: My Life in Cape York. Stories and Art. Roy McIvor. Magabala Books. Broome, Western Australia. ISBN 978-1-921248-22-1.
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