A guide to the CREB Track, Cape York
North Queensland is a 4WD enthusiasts paradise, and the CREB (Cairns Regional Electricity Board) Track is one of the many routes that attracts visitors to this remote and challenging part of Australia. Showcasing a spectacular World Heritage-listed rainforest, various creek crossings, steep climbs and iconic attractions like Roaring Meg Falls, the CREB Track's condition is very dependent on local weather conditions and requires careful planning.
Our route will start in Cooktown and head south down to the village of Daintree, covering 137km in total.
As with any 4WD adventure, ensuring you have the right gear is a priority — particularly when it comes to your maps or navigation tools. Here are some handy tools to ensure a smooth journey:
Grading: Difficult. Low range gearing and high ground clearance. Take traction aids and the necessary recovery gear
Time: Day trip or overnight camp
Distance: 137km, Cooktown to Daintree
Longest drive without fuel: 82km, Wujal Wujal to Wonga Beach
Best time of year: May to November during the dry season. Not surprisingly, the CREB Track is closed during the wet season (December to April) and at other times if the situation warrants it.
Warnings: Don’t drive on the track when it has been closed by the council. The top of Roaring Meg Falls is a recognised women’s site for the Buru people, so signage asks men not to visit the site. No alcohol is permitted in the Roaring Meg Falls area. Camping is only permitted in the designated zone: do not camp at the swimming area (beach) or beside the river’s edge.
Permits and fees: Visitors are asked to contact a representative of the Burungu Aboriginal Corporation (traditional owners) prior to accessing Roaring Meg Falls
Facilities: Cooktown, Lions Den Hotel, Wonga Beach, Wujal Wujal (no fuel weekends), Home Rule Rainforest Lodge (no fuel), Ayton (no fuel), and Daintree (no fuel)
Douglas Shire Council
P: 07 4099 9444
Burungu Aboriginal Corporation
P: 07 4098 6248
Hidden by deep rainforest, the CREB Track’s red clay surface and very steep angles that mean the slightest rainfall, even days old, can render the track nearly impassable. A brief drizzle mid-trip, not unlikely in this coastal rainforest, and going downhill becomes an exercise in careful braking and steering. Even mud tyres have a hard time with this stuff.
With World Heritage listing, this area of north Queensland is particularly sensitive, and travellers should respect the land and stay on the track.
After Cooktown the Mulligan Highway heads south until you get to the Helenvale turn, which takes you past the legendary Lions Den Hotel on the banks of the Little Annan River. About 33km later you arrive in Ayton. From here you can travel down the CREB Track, or the Bloomfield Track if the CREB is closed.
The first 15km or so of the CREB are relatively easy, a winding gravel road through the rainforest, with spectacular views and waterfalls along the way.
As you get into the heart of the McDowall Range, the track shows its true colours. This continues until you drop out of the Range to the Daintree River, a broad shallow crossing, and find yourself in the sleepy town of Daintree.
In the old days, when this was the only road up the coast, everyone would fit chains to their tyres to cross this range. Now, the Douglas Shire Council closes the CREB Track for much of the year, with warnings that if you travel on a ‘closed road’, you’ll have to pay for your own rescue.
The council does not recommend towing, but the careful driver — on a very dry day — can make it through unscathed, although not unnerved.
It’s worth planning your Cape York trip carefully, because what looks like a two or three hour trip can actually become a much longer drive if weather or road conditions are not optimal.
The ultra-steep clay slopes of the CREB Track render it unsuitable for novice four-wheel drivers. When dry, the track offers experts an enjoyable drive, but after a shower of rain — and it often rains in these parts — it becomes extremely difficult if not dangerous, and can be impassable. Many vehicles have had to be recovered at significant cost to the owners.
Even in dry conditions the track is unsuitable for vehicles without low-range gearing, good ground clearance and/or appropriate tyres. Heavily laden vehicles and trailers are not recommended. Parts of the track cross private land and travellers are requested to stay on the main track and to leave gates as they find them.
The only camping site along the CREB track is at impressive Roaring Meg Falls, where there is a campground by a magnificent waterhole — the falls are along the road/walking track off to the left as you arrive at the campground, the swimming hole is down the closed-off road to the right.
Things to do
The driving is worth travelling for, and this Wet Tropics World Heritage area is a jewel that shines brightest when you slow down to smell the flowers.
There are waterfalls to explore at Bloomfield and Roaring Meg, however the local Aboriginal people request that men do not visit the top of Roaring Meg Falls, as it is a sacred women’s site.
A lookout 35km down the track affords a rare view out over the Thornton Range, and the steep climb up 'Big Red' will offer fabulous views over the Daintree Rainforest.
Several river cruises depart Daintree village, offering a guided tour and remarkable insights into this area of Australia.
Originally carved through the Daintree rainforest by the Cairns Regional Electricity Board (CREB) to create a service access trail, the CREB Track became obsolete when the Bloomfield Track was cut closer to the coast, and now operates solely as a recreational track and southern access to the Burungu land at China Camp.
For thousands of years, Aboriginal communities have lived in this region. The path of the CREB Track mostly follows ancient Aboriginal foot trails. After James Cook and his crew took refuge in Cooktown in 1770, few European men visited for almost 100 years. Kennedy’s expedition in 1848 bypassed this section of coast, highlighting how difficult the terrain was, and still is.
The 1873 discovery of gold in the Palmer River essentially built Cooktown and plenty more ghost settlements like Maytown, but the area around the CREB Track was primarily mined for tin.
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