The “trip to the tip” is the ultimate pilgrimage for conquistador four-wheel drivers, and its popularity has grown with the closure of international borders.

Key points:

  • A Cape York council estimates 80,000 people visited the region this year
  • The Northern Peninsula Area’s water failed under the added pressure in August
  • Traditional owners want to charge visitors to visit Pajinka next year

The Northern Peninsula Area (NPA) is Queensland’s northernmost mainland council area and has about 3,000 residents, made up of the five communities of Bamaga, Injinoo, Seisia, Umagico, and New Mapoon. 

Since about April the NPA estimates 80,000 visitors passed through, putting exceptional pressure on its resources.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced that some traditional owners of Pajinka — the tip of Cape York — wanted to close the site to the public, but that did not eventuate. 

Some businesses say the threat of closure drove a tourist season that was busier than usual, but now community leaders are looking ahead to how the region can be better equipped to benefit from the annual influx of four-wheel-drivers.

A sign at the entry to Bamaga which reads

The Northern Peninsula Area ran out of water in August, at the height of tourist season. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Diesel in demand

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Cape York was physically barricaded from the rest of Queensland under federal biosecurity legislation, to protect its vulnerable communities.

Coupled with interstate travel restrictions, 2020 was a disappointing year for tourism businesses in the region, but ABC reported earlier this year some were anticipating 2021 would be the busiest tourist season in a decade.

Bewan Idai managed the service station in Bamaga and said there was a rush of visitors at the start of the season.

“There was one period there, I think it was  right when the tourist season kicked off, because it was such a mad rush to get up to the tip everyone was, ‘Oh, we’re not sure if it’s going to close or not’; everyone was rushing through.

“Our diesel sales have … pretty much doubled in some stages there .. because of the diesel vehicles coming through,” Mr Idai said.

He said it was not quite his busiest tourist season ever, but it was up there.

“It was enough to kind of keep my staff busy; [enough to] keep them running off their feet at some points.

A man stands next to a diesel bowser

Bewan Idai manages the service station in Bamaga and says there was a rush early this year.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Robert Poi Poi is the chairman of Bamaga Enterprises, which manages a range of businesses, including the town’s resort.

“There’s a big difference, compared to previous [seasons] … we’ve made, like, 50 per cent more than previous years.

“We definitely had plenty of tourists this year,” Mr Poi Poi said.

‘We weren’t really prepared for it’

The NPA is a unique area, made up of five distinct communities over about 1,000 square kilometres.

When ABC visited the region in November, residents were subject to level 6 water restrictions.

But in August, at the height of tourist season, the town’s water supply broke down with a major water leak, and essential services like the local school, were closed.

A woman stands in front of a blue painting

Patricia Yusia says the area’s water infrastructure failed in August under pressure from tourists.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

Mayor Patricia Yusia said the community’s water infrastructure was old and could not cope with the pressure added by the thousands of tourists that passed through.

She said it needed to be upgraded and if increasing numbers of people were interested in visiting, then “we need to have a bit more more investment into NPA”.

Mayor Yusia said at times, the town tripled in size with tourists.

“You can hardly drive, there’s so many people, so many cars … there’s just cars everywhere.”

“We’ve only got couple of supermarkets, and they get inundated; there’s hardly anything on the shelves for the locals when the tourists stay here,” Ms Yusia said.

“We’ve been just overwhelmed by the tourists; we weren’t really prepared for it.”

With the supermarket, service station and campgrounds operated by private entities, council’s only income from drive tourists is the Jardine Ferry.

A wide green river surrounded by dry trees.  ferry is at the edge of the river

The Jardine River is the town’s water source, and the ferry pictured is the council’s only source of income from tourists.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

She said tourists were welcome to the region, and acknowledged the benefits of the industry to the local economy, but noted the community needs help to manage the influx of people during the tourist season.

Tourists to pay to visit the Tip

Traditional owners of Pajinka are planning to charge visitors on arrival to the area. 

The site was handed back to traditional owners in 2019, which gives them rights to manage the area.

Earlier this year there were widespread reports that the Gudang Yadhaykenu Aboriginal Corporation (GYAC) would close Pajinka to the public, to protect the area from further damage, but it did not happen.

A rock with graffiti on it

Traditional owners say graffiti, rock cairns and rubbish have been issues at Pajinka for years.(ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter)

But moving forward, corporation chair Michael Solomon said the corporation would be setting up an entry station to collect fees from tourists. 

He said a fee would encourage more tourists to be more respectful and would give the owners the funds to create a better experience for tourists.

Mr Solomon described disrespectful behaviour shown by tourists as “very, very hurtful”.

two portaloos standing next to bushland

Toilet facilities currently at Pajinka.(ABC Far North: Jemima Burt)

GYAC is yet to decide on how much tourists would pay, or develop the infrastructure needed for a toll booth at the entry to Pajinka, but those in charge said earning income off the site would provide long-term benefits. 

“If we would have the money, we could have solved a lot of problems with that place, lot of issues and all this stuff,” Mr Solomon said.

“I want to make things happen for my, you know, future grandchildren, children and their children on this thing, you know, rest of the clan groups.”

The rocky, seaside outcrop of the tip of cape york from the air

Pajinka has been managed by the Gudang Yadhaykenu Aboriginal Corporation since 2019. (ABC Far North: Brendan Mounter )

Posted , updated 

Tourists may have to pay to visit Cape York’s tip
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