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Cape Palmerston National Park

Paul Curtis © North Queensland Wildscapes

Cape Palmerston National Park

Experience spectacular coastal scenery as you camp, drive, boat and fish in this ruggedly-beautiful park.

Rocky headlands are part of the rugged beauty of Cape Palmerston National Park.
Rocky headlands are part of the rugged beauty of Cape Palmerston National Park. John Atkinson © Queensland Government
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Park Cape Palmerston
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Park Ranger Park Ranger

Cape Palmerston National Park is a stunning collection of headlands, mangroves, beaches, swamps and dunes... all with the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area on its doorstep. Mount Funnel towers over the park, dominating the skyline from just about every vantage point. Don’t miss the chance to photograph this monolith when it is awash with sunset colours.

The striking landscapes are not the only gems protected here. Vulnerable species live and visit the golden shores and wooded forests. Water mice, squatter pigeons, beach thick-knees and eastern curlews are all found in the park, and you're bound to see some of them as you travel along the Cape Palmerston drive.

Set up camp in the park and spend your days exploring the far reaches. Make a piece of the beach along the eastern coast your own, or set up your tent or high-clearance camper trailer in Windmill Bay camping area. If you'd rather a more sheltered site, Cape Creek camping area on the western coast is protected from the prevailing winds.

The Aboriginal people of this area have had a connection to the country for thousands of years and there are cultural sites throughout the park. Look for shell middens as you explore the far reaches.

Keep discovering

Top things to see and do

Camp at Windmill Bay camping area and enjoy beach activities like fishing and beach cricket!

Cape Palmerston's camping ar...

See Cape Palmerston's camping areas.

Experience the diverse landscapes of Cape Palmerston National Park on the Cape Palmerston drive.

Cape Palmerston's journeys

See Cape Palmerston's drive.

Getting there and getting around

Cape Palmerston National Park is 115km south-east of Mackay, on the Central Queensland coast. You need a 4WD to get to the park.

  • Turn off the Bruce Highway at Ilbilbie (76km south of Mackay and 157km north of Marlborough) and drive east towards Greenhill.
  • Before Greenhill, turn left into Cape Palmerston Road.
  • The park boundary is about 6km along this road.
  • You will need to consult the map (PDF, 146.0KB) because the tracks and intersections aren't signposted.
  • Make sure you check the tide times before you drive on the beach as the tides vary up to 6m.
  • Read 4WD with care for important information on 4WD safety and minimal impact driving.

Road conditions

  • The roads and beaches in the park are sandy and conditions vary.
  • It may be difficult to drive on the roads during periods of extended wet or dry weather.
  • See traffic and travel information for road and travel conditions.
  • Check park alerts for the latest information on access, closures and conditions.

Fuel and supplies

There is a shop just after the Cape Palmerston Road turn-off on the road to Greenhill. Fuel and supplies are also available at Ilbilbie.

  • For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Wheelchair access

There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities.

Camping

Set up your tent or camper trailer at the mouth of Cape Creek, along the beach at Windmill Bay or in the fore dunes along the eastern coast of Cape Palmerston. Facilities vary from toilets and picnic tables, to bush camping where you must be totally self-sufficient.

See camping areas

Viewing wildlife

Look for ospreys and sea eagles overhead, white-breasted woodswallows and other species in the woodlands, and international migratory shorebirds on the beaches. Remember to check the swamps as well, you never know what you might find there.

Don't miss out on climbing the cape and scouring the sea below. Look for turtles, whales, dugongs and dolphins.

Four-wheel driving and scenic driving

Jump in your 4WD and check out Cape Palmerston's beaches and inland roads.

Canoeing and kayaking

When weather conditions are fine, launch your canoe or kayak and explore the coastline, creeks and estuaries of the park.

Swimming

There are no patrolled swimming areas along the coastline of Cape Palmerston National Park and we advise against swimming in the ocean, creeks and estuaries. Tragedies have occurred in unpatrolled waters and crocodiles and marine stingers are found here. Enter the water at your own risk.

Fishing

Wet a line and catch a feed along the beaches, creeks and estuaries of the park.

Boating

Enjoy all that the ocean has to offer while boating along the coast of the park. Fish in the open water, creeks and estuaries, or just marvel at the coastal scenery.

When to visit

Opening hours

Cape Palmerston National Park is open 24 hours a day.

  • Check park alerts for the latest information on access, closures and conditions.

Climate and weather

Cape Palmerston National Park has a mild subtropical climate. Winters are mild (10–25°C) while summers are warm to hot (22–32°C). Expect heavy rain from December to March.

Permits and fees

Camping permits

Organised events

  • If you are planning a school excursion or organising a group event such as a wedding, fun run or adventure training, you may need an organised event permit. Maximum group sizes and other conditions apply depending on location and activity type.

Pets

Domestic animals are not allowed here.

Staying in touch

Mobile phone coverage

Unreliable. Check with your service provider for more information.

Tourism information

Brochure

Download this brochure and take it with you:

Information provided in this guide is correct at the time of printing. Check park alerts for the latest details.

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Be prepared

Open fires

  • Open fires are not allowed. Bring a fuel stove for cooking.
  • You can use an above ground fire container. Bring clean, milled firewood as you cannot collect timber from the park. Remove your fire container when you leave.
  • Read camp with care for tips on camping safely and camping softly.

Rubbish

  • There are no bins. Take your rubbish with you when you leave.

Drinking water

  • Water is not available in the park. Bring all the water you will need for drinking, cooking and cleaning.
  • Treat all water before use.

Dump point

  • There are toilets at the Windmill Bay camping area.
  • At all other locations, use portable toilets, or bury your waste in a 15cm hole, well away from camp sites, walking tracks and waterways. Bag and remove personal hygiene products and nappies.
  • The nearest dump points are at Carmila and Sarina.

Driving

  • You will need to consult the map (PDF, 146.0KB) because the tracks and intersections aren't signposted.
  • Make sure you check the tide times before you drive on the beach as the tides vary up to 6m.
  • Remember all vehicles must be registered, drivers must be licensed and all Queensland road rules apply, even on beaches.
  • Read 4WD with care for important information on 4WD safety and minimal impact driving.

Camping

  • Don't clear and vegetation or cut trees down to make space for camping.
  • Read camp with care for tips on camping safely and camping softly.

Boating and fishing

Around water

  • There are no patrolled swimming areas along the coastline of Cape Palmerston National Park and we advise against swimming in the ocean, creeks and estuaries. Tragedies have occurred in unpatrolled waters and crocodiles and marine stingers are found here. Enter the water at your own risk. The nearest patrolled beach is at Sarina.
  • Be croc-wise in croc country.
  • Beware marine stingers.
  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Natural environment

Covering 7160ha, Cape Palmerston National Park conserves one of the few remaining areas of undeveloped coastline between Bowen and Saint Lawrence in Central Queensland. This park is significant for the extent and variety of its lowland coastal vegetation.

The park protects a range of plant communities, including mangroves and pioneer dune vegetation, beach scrubs, melaleuca woodlands and wetlands, open eucalypt woodlands, grasslands and riverside rainforests.

Mangrove and saltpan communities within the park are important fish breeding areas. Mangroves also support animals such as crabs, prawns, bats and migratory waders.

The park is one of only three known protected habitats in Queensland for water mice, which inhabit some of Cape Palmerston's mangrove communities. This vulnerable species builds nests of mud in the inter-tidal zone and hunts at night for small crustaceans.

Melaleuca wetlands provided habitat for frogs and numerous other species.

Birdlife here is prolific. The park's beaches are home to a range of shorebirds, including vulnerable beach stone-curlews. Further inland, pied imperial-pigeons visit the park in late winter and in spring. You might see small flocks of these striking birds feeding on fruit in the many native fig trees. These pigeons are found across northern Australia and New Guinea, but are near their southern limit at Cape Palmerston.

Mount Funnel, in the park's south-west, is a dominant landscape feature, rising to 344m. Its distinctive cap is harder than the surrounding rock and has withstood millions of years of erosion.

The coastal waters adjacent to the park are part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and they support significant seagrass meadows. Ince Bay (to the north of the park) is a Species Conservation (Dugong Protection) Area. Estuarine crocodiles are permanent residents of the park's waterways. Turtles and whales are visitors to the nearby sea waters.

  • Request a species list to see what plants and animals have been recorded here.

Culture and history

A 1992 archaeological survey of the park's coastal sections found a number of shell middens (mounds), formed by the area's Aboriginal inhabitants. Today, they are a reminder of the special connection Indigenous people have with this place.

Explorer Captain James Cook named Cape Palmerston, Cape Hillsborough and Cape Conway as he sailed up the Queensland coast in 1770.

Before being gazetted as a national park, parts of the park were used for cattle grazing, fishing and oyster collecting. Little evidence of this history remains today.

Last updated: 15 October 2018
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