Cape York’s tourism season has officially begun after the Peninsula Developmental Road was opened to travellers at 4pm on Friday.
Businesses all over the Cape, from Laura to Weipa, Portland Roads to Bramwell Station and the Archer River to Punsand Bay are expecting 2021 to be the busiest season on record.
“This is the year for Weipa,” said Lisa Hill from Western Cape Eco Tours, which she operates with husband Dave.
“We are starting to see more and more people include Weipa as part of their itinerary and for good reason,” she said.
“There’s plenty to do here now and people who do come here don’t leave disappointed.”
Ms Hill said Cape York should expect a major influx of tourists this year as a result of COVID-19.
“People are looking for domestic adventures this year and that is good news for us,” she said.
“It puts pressure on all of us though to make sure our visitors have a good experience.
“If they have a great time, they’ll spread the word and we’ll keep building on 2021.”
While the pandemic might be good news for the tourism industry this year, it had a devastating impact in 2020.
A number of tourism operators had to close down completely, including Western Cape Eco Tours.
“We had no choice with the Cape biosecurity bubble and some of the social distancing requirements,” Ms Hill said.
“But we’re back and looking forward to a big season.”
Hardus van Wyk and Megan Hall own and operate the Weipa Mine and Town Tour and also had to put the bus on hold last year.
However, they were able to stay afloat through other employment and are now looking forward to a massive year of tourism.
“We’ve already got a lot of days booked out,” Ms Hall said.
“We will run as many tours as we can to accommodate everyone but people expecting to drive into town and get on a tour could end up disappointed if they don’t book in advance.”
Up north, Bramwell Station is always one of the busiest places on the Cape during the tourist season.
Ken Godfrey has operated the Bramwell Tourist Park for almost a decade and only just arrived last week.
“The road was the worst I have ever driven in the 20 years I have been coming up the Cape,” he said on Friday.
“It took me four hours to get from Musgrave to Coen.
“I hope they (Department of Transport and Main Roads) are going to fix it up quickly.”
While the Cape has been clear of COVID-19, Mr Godfrey said he had to make some changes to the offerings at Bramwell as a result of restrictions.
“We’re going to have live music every night this year but we had to cancel the big Music Muster festival,” he said.
“I just couldn’t get a straight answer from the government or Cook Shire Council about restrictions and then we would have to enforce them.
“It got a bit too hard in the end. But we will have some big-name acts up this year and we will have a performer every night, starting this Wednesday.”
Getting supplies has also been a challenge for Bramwell and other remote outposts that cater for tourists and bus tour companies.
“The road is open but they haven’t been letting trucks through,” Mr Godfrey said.
“We’re in a mad rush to get beer and food so we can feed these tourists.
“We’ve loaded up a Hawkins truck in Cairns but it can’t get here yet.”
Finding staff to cater for the tourists is another challenge for Cape York operators.
Archer River Roadhouse will see a massive influx of tourists this year but owner Brad Allan has been struggling to find people to work.
“Normally we have four or five backpackers working here every year, but there’s very few of them left in the country,” he said.
“I’m hoping that there’s going to be a few Aussies that are travelling around and may want to pick up a bit of work.”
Brooke Quartermaine at the Weipa Camping Ground has also struggled to find staff in what has become a competitive industry.
“We’re going to have more visitors and less staff overall,” she said.
“It’ll be a challenge but we’ll get through it. Most tourists are pretty good and understand that they are in a remote area.”
This article appeared in Cape York Weekly, 19 May 2021.