Tucked in behind Cape Melville to the east with Princess Charlotte Bay to the west, the Flinders Group is 340km north of Cairns. The seven National Park Islands are well off the beaten track and these days most visitors are expedition cruise passengers, long distance cruisers or fishing trawlers seeking refuge from bad weather. The islands can also be reached by private vessel. Several commercial cruise vessels departing Cairns visit the island group.
Until 80 years ago, Flinders Island Group was a thriving community. It was home to the Yithuwarra people for thousands of years. More recently in the late 19th and 20th centuries there was a trader station on the Aapia Spit which was the base for the pearling, fishing and beche de mer fleets. The Aboriginal people were removed from the islands to missions during World War II when the defence forces took over the islands. Now it is empty and deserted, visited by a handful of vessels heading to Darwin and the occasional fishing trawler for the secure anchorage afforded in the Owen Channel.
Also a popular anchorage for cruising yachts, the islands can be reached by small boat from Bathurst Heads or Cape Melville in suitable weather and tide conditions. Owen Channel near Aapa Spit, a conspicuous sand spit on Flinders Island, is the most popular anchorage and is safe in all winds except for the south-west storms during the wet season.
The Flinders Group National Park comprises seven islands (Flinders, Stanley, Blackwood, Maclear, Denham, King and Clack islands), with a total area greater than 3000ha. On the basis of the Yiithuwarra peoples traditional affiliations, the Flinders Group has been successfully claimed under the Aboriginal Land Act (Qld) 1991 although the leaseback provisions have yet to come into effect. The islands also lie within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and the surrounding waters and reef are protected as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The Flinders Group National Park comprises seven islands: Flinders, Stanley, Blackwood, Maclear, Denham, King and Clack islands. These attractive islands feature rocky shores, rugged sandstone cliffs, hills and escarpments, and sand dunes. The islands slopes are covered in woodlands, mixed vine thickets, open heath and grasslands. Salt flats and mangrove forests occur in intertidal areas. Fringing reefs and highly diverse seagrass meadows surround the islands. The island group supports a variety of land and sea birds.
The Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the Flinders Group islands and Cape Melville collectively identify as Yiithuwarra or 'saltwater people'. The cultural landscape of the island group, which has great meaning for the Yiithuwarra, contains many important Aboriginal heritage sites. Reflecting their long occupation, heritage sites include mammoth rock art galleries on Stanley Island that depict contact with Europeans. Following the stepped boardwalk up to the Yindayin rock shelter, there are hundreds of painted images depicting crocodiles, turtles and dugongs as well as tall ships.
As Lt. James Cook didn't come through this area in 1770, there is a question whether these artworks could be evidence of contact with earlier Portugese or even Spanish ships. It has even been suggested that one is similar in shape to the Macassan praus of Sulawesi that harvested trepang along the coast of northern Australia. There is plenty of archaeological evidence and oral history in Arnhem Land of Aboriginal contact and trade with the Macassans from about 1500 onwards, but none in this area. Alternatively, the sketches might depict European ships of the late 1800s.
Access: The Flinders Group of islands is located adjacent to Princess Charlotte Bay, 25km west of Cape Melville and 11km north of Bathurst Heads, 340km north of Cairns on eastern Cape York. There are no wheelchair-accessible facilities on the island group.
Camping: Bush camping is available on Flinders Island in the Flinders Group National Park. A pit toilet, shelter, picnic table and water tanks are provided for visitor use. Visitors should bring adequate water, as water availability cannot be guaranteed throughout the dry season. Bring fuel stoves as open fires are prohibited, and rubbish bags as all rubbish must be removed. Camping is not allowed on the other islands. Camping permits are required and fees apply.
The islands are remote; camping is possible in nearby Cape Melville National Park on the mainland. Other accommodation is available in Cooktown, 180km south-east of the island group (235km by road from Bathurst Bay).
Camping on Flinders Island requires a camping permit and fees apply. A tag with your booking number must be displayed at your campsite.
Walking opportunities on the islands are limited to strolls around the camping area and Aapa Spit on Flinders Island and a long strenuous walk to the Aboriginal rock art shelters on Stanley Island. Walking around the other islands is not encouraged, as important cultural sites may be disturbed.
The Dart - 300m return (10 minutes) Grade: Easy A short track on Flinders Island (Wurriima) leads from Aapa Spit to several wells and a rock carved with the words HMS Dart, 1899 . This carving is a legacy of the visit by a naval survey ship which collected water from the wells in 1899.
Yindayin rock shelters - 2.8km return (1 hour) Grade: Moderate On Stanley Island (Yindayin), a strenuous walk begins at Mangrove Landing in Owen Channel. The track crosses to the northern side of the island, continues along the beach and meanders through low woodland. Here, interpretive signs provide information on bush tucker. A boardwalk with numerous steps climbs to a rocky overhang and winds through two rock shelters, allowing viewing of the famed rock art images. A sandy track descends back to the beach. The walk then returns along the same track. Interpretive signs along the boardwalk present the story of the island's heritage. The walk requires a moderate level of fitness; it is best to walk in the cooler part of the day, avoiding the midday heat. Carry water and wear a suitable hat, sunscreen and sturdy footwear. Please stay on the boardwalks to avoid raising dust in the rock shelters - dust can obscure and harm the rock art images.
Picnic and day-use areas: A day-use area is located adjacent to the campground on Flinders Island. A shelter with picnic tables, a toilet and a water tank are provided (although the water tank can be empty during the dry season usually from May until November).
Boating: The Flinders Group offers sheltered anchorages for private and commercial vessels. The islands are a popular destination for cruising yachties. The island group can also be accessed by small boat from Bathurst Heads or Cape Melville on the mainland in suitable weather and tide conditions. The most popular anchorage is in Owen Channel adjacent to Aapa Spit, a prominent sand spit on Flinders Island. This anchorage is safe in all winds except for the south-west storms during the wet season.
Fishing: The reef and waters surrounding the Flinders Group National Park are protected as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Flinders, Stanley, Blackwood, Maclear and Denham islands are surrounded by yellow zone (Marine Conservation Park), which allows limited fishing and collecting. The waters surrounding Clack Island, Clack Reef and the western side of King Island are green zone (Marine National Park) which is a look but do not take area. A light green zone (Buffer) surrounds the green zones.
Fisheries regulations also apply - information on bag and size limits, restricted species and seasonal closures is available from the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries. Further information is available from Cairns and Cooktown QPWS offices.
Viewing wildlife: The island group offers opportunities for watching seabirds. Many species can be seen around the shores, including the eastern reef egret, osprey, white-bellied sea-eagle, pied oystercatcher, beach stone-curlew, silver gull, caspian tern, bridled tern, sooty tern, crested tern, lesser crested tern, and common noddy. On the islands, woodland birds include the bar-shouldered dove, pied imperial-pigeon, varied honeyeater, yellow-bellied sunbird, mistletoebird, nankeen kestrel and Torresian crow. Along the walking tracks and around the camping area, visitors may also glimpse geckos, sand monitors and native rodents. Bats may be seen under rock overhangs and colonies of black flying-foxes inhabit the mangroves.
A diversity of fish, crustaceans and molluscs can be found along the shores and in the shallow waters around the islands along with several species of marine turtles and, occasionally, dugongs, marine mammals that feed on seagrass.
Climate and weather: The Flinders Group has a tropical climate with a wet season usually between December and April, when maximum temperatures can soar above 30 degrees Celsius. The best time to visit the island group is between May and October when rain is unlikely and temperatures are cooler, as the islands' vegetation does not provide much shade. For more information see the tourism information links below.
Safety: Be aware that dangerous stinging jellyfish may be present in the waters around the islands during the warmer months. Be aware that estuarine crocodiles can occur in waters around island national parks. Remember your safety is our concern but your responsibility always be croc wise in croc country.
The Gateway Discovery Centre
51 The Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
ph (07) 4051 3588
fax (07) 4051 7509