Two of Cape York’s best wild swimming spots are in Jardine River National Park, at the base of the area known simply as The Tip. The delightfully refreshing Fruit Bat and Eliot Falls are both crocodile-free and nothing beats cooling off beneath a waterfall after a long, hot, dusty drive. Fruit Bat Falls is the easiest to get to – it’s a short detour off the Northern Bypass Road and has plenty of shady picnic tables – and you can camp at Eliot Falls, which is just 7km further down the track. Beyond the falls you can wake up to million-dollar water views from campsites on both sides of the Jardine River and beside the beach at Ussher Point and Captain Billy Landing.
Clear, fresh water is abundant, not only in the mighty west-flowing Jardine River—which dominates the landscape—but also in swamps, boggy gullies and numerous smaller streams. The area features a diversity of plant communities. Heathland, grassland, rainforest and woodland grow on low broad sandstone ridges separated by swamps, while shrublands and vine thickets cover massive coastal sand dunes. The animals that live in this area are an interesting mix of species. Some have been present since the ancient Gondwanan rainforests while other endemic species have evolved from Gondwanan times over long periods of isolation and climate change. More recent species, originating from New Guinea, arrived via ice-age land bridges.
The parks encompass the traditional country of several Aboriginal groups, including people from the Atambaya, Angkamuthi, Yadhaykenu, Gudang and Wuthathi language and social groups. The area is a living cultural landscape, with places and features named in Aboriginal languages, story-places and story-beings, and occupation and ceremony sites throughout. Today the Traditional Owners retain a strong and continuing interest in their land and are involved in the protection and management of the area.
The area also has links of early European travellers to Cape York Peninsula. In 1848, Edmund Kennedy was speared on the Escape River, at the northern end of the park. The Jardine brothers were involved in skirmishes with Aboriginal people during their overland expedition in 1865 and later during their settlement at Somerset. Geologist Robert Logan Jack encountered local Aboriginal people on the east coast in 1880, at a place known today as Captain Billy Landing. In 1887, a telegraph line was completed to provide communications with remote Cape York Peninsula—today this line forms the western boundary of the park and reserve.