Elim Beach – Beautiful place, dangerous place

It is not on any tourist map. Travel guides do not mention it as far as I know. I have visited it twice and am unlikely to do so again. Not because it’s not worth a visit. It’s just that it’s 2000 km by road from where I now live, and my appetite for rough travel has waned. Remote, isolated, untouched, entrancing, romantic, risky, lonely and wistful; it demands a place on my list of unforgetable destinations.


Elim Beach is located about an hour’s drive on rough, barely formed roads from the Indigenous community of Hopevale, which in turn is about 4 hours drive north of Cairns, the nearest major city. Few people visit, apart from Hopevale locals who own the land in the area. There are no fast food outlets. No outlets of any kind. No accommodation, apart from a few isolated shacks, no proper roads, just sandy tracks through the trees which border pristine white sandy beaches shaded by palm trees and clumps of mangroves. If your vehicle breaks down you should be prepared for a long wait until the next traveller comes along. It could be hours. It could be days. Best to have some food and water as well as basic camping gear which will keep you comfortable and safe at night. Which reminds me of a camping experience at Elim Beach which is a good story now, but at the time the fun was not so evident to us.

Sue and I drove up from Cairns for the weekend. We did the right thing and asked permission from the locals to camp at their beach and it was granted. An old aboriginal man we met at the beach pointed to what he assured us was a prime camping spot. Lovely place. Beautiful trees with astonishingly colourful birds. We set up camp. It wasn’t until just before sundown we noticed our tent was on a low sandbank between a freshwater swamp and an incoming saltwater tide. At around the same time we remembered that this was saltwater crocodile country, and that crocodiles were known to attack people who camped too near the water. The fact that the swamp was alive was venomous snakes was not too far from front of mind either. What were we thinking to have selected such a camping spot? Still, it was now too late to change; the swamp and the beach were fading to darkness, and our ears tuned themselves keenly to noises from the swamp. Being ever the legendary warrior male, I pulled a machette out of the back of the car and set it down next to me, scanning the water for telltale red eyes. More the illusion of safety than the reality. There is only so long one can stretch out the time before going to bed and, as a majestic moon, almost full, rose out of the sea we crawled into the tent and made very sure the door zips were fastened. Not that zips were going to save us from a determined 4 metre crocodile, but we were pretty sure they would deter the snakes. I held on to the machette beside my sleeping bag and spent what seemed a very long night rehearsing scenarios that thankfully didn’t happen. Afterwards it occured to us that there might have been one or two laughs at our expense from the locals.

Beautiful place. Dangerous and lonely place. I am so deeply happy that such places exist. Places where the predictability of suburban life does not apply. Long may the local inhabitants enjoy their hunting and fishing. Long may the Black Cockatoos and the swamp wallabies live alongside their predators, all preserved by their remoteness from whatever western civilization thinks it wants, needs and deserves.




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