Elim Beach within the Hope Vale Community of Cooktown offers much more than just Coloured Sands.
Cooktown is a popular stop on the trip north to Lakefield National Park, on the Cape York Peninsula, particularly if entering via Battle Camp Road. The area is rich in history thanks in part to one Captain James Cook, who ran aground on the nearby reef in 1770. He eventually climbed Grassy Hill, which overlooks the surrounding reefs, to navigate his way clear. He must have been onto a good thing because Grassy Hill has become a tourist hotspot ever since, showcasing an amazing view of the Endeavour River, particularly at sunset.
A highlight of Cooktown and surrounds is the aboriginal community of Hope Vale, about a one hour drive north. The Lutheran Church originally established the Cape Bedford Mission at Elim Beach in 1886, but later moved the community to the current site at Hope Vale. This is the traditional country of the Guugu Yimithirr, including Hopevale (Dyuubi) and Elim Beach (Thiithaarr).
Elim Beach is a peaceful location reached via an unsealed road one hour away from Hope Vale, which weaves through white silica sand hills and coastal scrub. If visiting for the day, grab a day use permit and map from the service station in town. Otherwise campers can go direct to the campground.
When you reach the T-junction at the beach, turn left for the Coloured Sands or right to the campground and follow the signs. The beachfront campground is shaded by mature paper bark trees, perfect for setting up the hammock. It’s one of those peaceful bush camps, allowing you to escape the crowds and take in tranquillity of the area for a few days. There are plenty of opportunities for fishing, best exploited with a tinnie which can be launched from the beach at high tide and moored there for the rest of your stay. You can even explore the coastline by boat to Cape Bedford in the east, or McIvor River to the north.
The camp is managed by Thiithaarr-warra Elder, Eddy Deemal, ably assisted by his brother Dave. Dave was looking after the place when we visited; a good spirited older gentleman and a good talker, rattling off stories from his former croc hunting days. The brothers have been known to put on a good show, demonstrating how to throw a spear with a woomera, catching mud crabs or sharing a tale about their past.
Basic facilities at the site include toilets and showers, with water pumped from a natural spring. The access track provides reasonable access for four-wheel drives, camper trailers or all-wheel drives. Like many places up north, the area is patrolled by a local croc, but thankfully he wasn’t on duty when we visited.
The Coloured Sands
The Coloured Sands is accessible on foot via a sandy track which drops onto the beach. Alternatively you can drive along the beach to the foothills or park at the entrance of the beach and walk up – just ensure you park away from the fishing shacks. The Sands are at least 300m up the beach and you can explore the area by climbing the soft sand on the right hand side.
If the idea of wrestling the lids off a few beers appeals to you, be warned – there are alcohol restrictions in the area. Possession is limited to a carton (30 cans) of light or mid-strength beer or one 750ml (one bottle) of unfortified wine per vehicle. Cask wine, fortified wine, full-strength beer, spirits and pre-mixed spirits are prohibited and the penalties are severe; try $37,500 for a first offence!
Beyond the idyllic location, the clincher at Elim Beach is sharing time with Eddy and Dave, the rainbow warriors of Thiithaarr-warra, who provide a rare insight into Aboriginal culture at an accessible level.