This incredible sea turtle conservation program takes place on Cape York Peninsula. Cape York Peninsula is a beloved destination for Rustic Pathways. Our business started 36 years ago running 4WD programs in this part of the country! In recent years, our programs have ventured deep into remote areas of the Cape. On the western side of the Cape, fishing nets drift ashore from the Gulf of Carpentaria. Nets kill marine life, get buried in the sand and destroy significant turtle nesting grounds. This service expedition takes students to the remote beaches near Weipa and helps protect turtle habitats. You will be supporting a grass-roots project to clean the beaches and record data that will assist in the management of the region. You will also be working alongside Indigenous Rangers to learn about Indigenous cultural heritage. Get ready for an amazing journey!
Rustic Pathways’ staff will welcome you upon arrival into Cairns. You will transfer to the accommodation and settle into your dorm rooms. After lunch, there will be a sea turtle conservation program orientation session with your Rustic leaders. After that, you’ll meet with the founder of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre to learn about turtle conservation.
Fly up to Weipa, one of the larger regional communities on the western side of the cape. It is a hub for mining in the region. Upon arrival, we’ll collect our 4WD vehicles and take a tour of the town. This afternoon, students will be given a budget, and then will be involved in purchasing the food for the service phase. We’ll then load up the 4WD’s and drive north out of Weipa. We’ll leave the sealed road behind and take a four-wheel-drive track out to the beaches near the Pennefather River.
Our base camp for the next five days is set amongst the casuarina trees in the sand dunes high above the beach. Once the group has set up base camp, we’ll drive along the beach to the mouth of the Pennefather River. It’s wild country out here. Apart from other avid four-wheel-drive tourists, we’ll have this magnificent beach to ourselves.
Students will learn about minimal impact camping in wilderness areas. There are no facilities here. Students will be learning best practices in managing pit toilets and waste disposal. There is a safe fresh-water swimming hole about 15 minutes from camp (no crocs), where students will have the opportunity to freshen-up. Swimming in the ocean is not an option, except in the isolated shallow pools that are created at low tide.
This evening students will be involved in preparing the evening meal on camp ovens. Later, they’ll have time to write about their experiences in their journals.
Overnight: Cape York
The following four days will follow a similar format. Our first day will involve a site survey along the beaches. This will provide students an overview and understanding of the work that needs to be done. Students will be involved in the decision-making process of how to spend their time here.
One of the main projects will be working with Indigenous Rangers in the collection and removal of rubbish from the beaches. This is an essential activity on any sea turtle conservation program, as it is such a key issue. We’ll utilize our 4WD’s to remove old nets and other debris and transport this back to rubbish tips in Weipa.
Feral pigs and cane toads are significant environmental threats in this area. Pigs dig up the turtle nests to eat the eggs. The toads threaten biodiversity through poisoning other species such as goannas, snakes and birds. Students will conduct surveys to collect data on the number of pigs and toads in the area.
After dark, we will patrol the beaches to search for turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. If the timing is right, students will hopefully have close-up encounters with turtles. It’s amazing to witness them crawling up the beach, digging nests and laying their eggs! They will record this information on maps, which, together with pest species survey information, will be passed on to environmental management authorities to contribute to their environmental management plan.
In between service projects, there’ll be a focus on learning about the Indigenous heritage of the region. We may take a trip up to Mapoon and visit the Indigenous community there. We’ll also take students down the beach to Duyfken Point, where Dutch sailors first sighted the Australian coast in 1606. There’s an observation tower that students can climb and a plaque in memorial of the sailors. Along the way, students will also see several wrecks of planes that crashed in WW2.
The final night here will be a celebration of our learning and service work.
Our time on Cape York concludes this morning as we pack up camp, transfer back to Weipa and take a flight back to Cairns. From here, your group can fly home or extend their journey with Rustic Pathways by adding on additional travel days. Contact us for a customised itinerary!