Monday, September 28, 2009

- CAPE YORK, Part 3 -

(A section of the OTT)

The following morning we packed up and hit the road heading back south via the Jardine River Ferry. 30km or so past the Ferry we followed a track that links up to the Old Telegraph Track, as we wanted to save back tracking to reach the Elliot Falls for a swim! Just getting there was a little adventure, navigating our way around large pools of water and huge ruts gouged out by countless 4wdrivers throughout the tourist season. It was fun and gave us a little taste of the challenges of choosing to reach the cape via the OTT. Eventually we arrived at Elliot Falls and to our surprise had it all to ourselves!! It was beautiful, rushing water cascading over the rocks. Around the corner from the falls we found Twin Falls which was more ideal for swimming & exploring!

(Elliot Falls)

(Beautiful Twin Falls...)

Another 7km south, we found Fruit Bat Falls, formed by rocks stretching the width of a small river. The water was very cold, however we couldn’t pass a swim under the falls, and it was such an awesome spot!

(Fruit Bat Falls)

Our destination for today was to make it out to Captain Billy Landing, location on the Eastern side of the cape, via a 30km track off the main road. We were excited about visiting Captain Billy landing as we’d seen some impressive photo’s and decided on the spot that we wanted to check it out, although we had heard reports it can be really windy!! The turn off sign also noted that there would be Speed humps for the entire 30km’s!! Great!! It’s going to be a slow bumpy ride!! After about 10km’s down the track the corrugations were bloody shocking and then….


We’d lost all our steering!! We both jumped out of the car to find out what the problem was… and there it was; the idler arm on the left hand side had snapped clean at the joint. So there was no support or pivot point for the steering rods!! BLOODY HELL, here we were with no steering, obviously no spare parts for this kind of break down and the closest roadhouse was about 80km’s away! We slowly turned the car around and we fastened the steering rod up to the chassis to help support it as we slowly drove the car back the way we had come to the main road. Our plan was to get back to the main road, have some lunch and flag down a passing traveller for some advice and some spare wire.

We were lucky enough to have someone call past just as we had finished lunch and surprisingly it was another Toyota 4runner! The kind traveller had some spare fencing wire and we rigged it up underneath to hold the Idler Arm in place! So the next gruelling stage began, crawling and nursing the car 70kms south to Bramwell Junction Roadhouse. It was slow going, and every 10kms we stopped to check we weren’t doing any damage and that our rough bush mechanics wasn’t wearing and tearing! Eventually we arrived at Bramwell, set up camp for the night, had hot showers and bought a few Bourbons to sit and contemplate what our next move would be.

The bush mechanics fastening was holding well and instead of sitting and waiting for a tow truck and paying a hefty towing fee, we measured up that we could still drive the car. Nor did we didn’t have a time issue, so the next morning we headed off towards Weipa, the nearest place to get the car fixed, which was 180km’s away!! A risk we knew, however being school holidays we knew if we needed assistance, it wouldn’t be too far away. So we hit the bumpy road at 7am wanting to make reasonable time into Weipa. The drive was fairly slow and uneventful, still stopping every so often to check that everything was holding well under the car. The corrugations were a lot trickier to navigate and sometimes we had to drive on the shoulder of the road just to smooth out the ride. Finally around 11am we made it into Weipa!! Thank Goodness! We took the car straight to the mechanic and they begun the search for relevant parts while we booked into accommodation. We soon learnt that the only part available would have to be flown in from Cairns, and being so remote the plane came in to town once a week!! We were in for the long haul and thankfully had booked a room with an aircon, it was going to be a long wait!

By the end of the week the car was fixed, the wallet a whole lot lighter and we were back on the road!!! It was certainly a long week, but we managed and put it down to part of the adventure of travelling up the Cape York Peninsula, and we chose the easier way!

(Brendon happy to be back on the road!)

(Weipa Bridge)

(Taken at Musgrave Roadhouse on the way back)

By now we didn’t feel like doing much more exploring so we kept to the road heading south. Just outside Laura, we stopped off to check out the Aboriginal Art at the Split Rock Art site. It was pretty interesting with an awesome view and provided a nice break from the road. From here the bitumen began and we made good time back to our friends place in Mossman.

Back safe and sound, we had a wonderful 3 weeks away. The journey “Up the Cape” reached all expectations and provided us with countless memories and adventure! It was unbelievable and we would definitely consider doing it again! Perhaps with a group of mates and a boat next time!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

- CAPE YORK, Part 2 -

We began the day early, purchasing our ticket for the ferry across the Jardine River, which is fairly expensive, however does include some bush camping, access to communities and the maintenance costs for the camp grounds. Due to the time of year the crossing wasn’t all that impressive, looking rather shallow and the ride was over in a matter of seconds. So before we knew it, we were back onto the bumpy corrugated roads on our way to Bamaga (which is the main community on the cape).

(The Jardine River Ferry)

At Bamaga we refuelled and decided to head out in search for a number of WWII plane wreck sites that were marked on our map. It was quite a surreal adventure as there weren’t any signposts. We just had to find our way by following a small track and bashing through the bush over logs etc. Gradually the track opened up into clearings strewn with old rusted aviation fuel drums, and then eventually we arrived at the plane wreck. I later read that this one was a Beaufort Bomber which came down not far from the old Jacky Jacky Airstrip. We also visited the crash site of a DC3, which had come down on its way from Brisbane to New Guinea in May 1945.

(The Beaufort Bomber WWII crash site.)

(DC3 remains from at flight enroute to New Guinea.)

On returning to Bamaga we took the road north out of town and made the 34km journey to the most northern tip of mainland Australia. The track was considerably winding and cut through a large pocket of Rainforest for most of the way. This surprised me as I expected the tip be quite barren and rocky, not with lush towering trees and lush vegetation! We finally made it to Frangipani Beach, parked up the car and went looking for the track to the tip. Thankfully a recent traveller had made a makeshift sign showing us the way!

(Makeshift sign to Direct travellers...)

We followed a rocky ridge heading towards the ocean. It wasn’t the clearest of days and we began watching a rolling cloud come in as we walked. It wasn’t until we made it to a lookout plaque before the rain came hurtling down on us!! Looking back it must’ve been quite funny watching us trying to shield our cameras from the rain under our shirts! The rain passed as quickly as it had arrived and we continued down to the waters edge to the sign declaring we had made it to the most northern point of the continent!

(Above 3 Pictures: At the most northern point of mainland Australia!)

Back at the car we drove back through ‘Pajinka’ which was once an Aboriginal Owned Wilderness Lodge. Now the buildings are just a shell and a lot of rubbish has been left behind. I’m sure there is more to the story since its closure in 2002; however it was a real shame to see this popular tourist destination still looking like a dump nearly 8 years on! Certainly somewhere the hefty Jardine River Ferry ticket money would be put to good use!

On the return track from the tip we passed so many travellers it was hard to believe we were far from civilization! We explored a number of camp grounds on the way back, however decided on staying in the seaside township of Seisia with the convenience of catching the Ferry to Thursday Island the following day! The remainder of the day we spent catching up on the laundry and reorganising the car.

Shortly after 8am the next morning we boarded “Straight Magic” for our 1 ¼ hr ferry ride to Thursday Island or T.I as it’s also affectionately known. It was an informative journey with the skipper pointing out the numerous islands and their historical significance. We passed Possession Island where Captain Cook first claimed British sovereignty over the eastern part of Australia in 1770 and islands of local pearling history as we rode the waves into the Port of T.I. Once on land, most of passengers decided to join the local tour, however we decided to explore around the island by ourselves. Walking down the main street you could swear you back on the mainland in some small outback town, however walking into the shops we were swept away into island life and the diversity of influences from nearby Papa New Guinea and surrounding islands of the Torres Strait. One shop in particular was filled with bright Hawaiian style printed cloth and clothing, worn mostly for festivals, special occasions etc.

After locating a town map, we headed up the steep Green Hill to visit the fort. It was built in 1890 and used as a defence centre for Australia, watching with 4 loaded canons over the nearby shipping channel and again in WWII keeping watch for invasions by the Japanese. It now houses the historical society museum of the Island, which we soon learnt that we had to go on the tour to have access to it!! Bugger! However the effort walk up the hill wasn’t all lost, as from here we got a spectacular view of T.I and surrounding islands.

(Awesome views from Green Hill, Thursday Island)

We continued on visiting significant buildings & places of the township and back through the shops for another browse. For lunch we headed to the Grand Hotel over looking the water, it was magic! We spent the rest of the day relaxing on the foreshore and watching island life. If we had more time we would’ve taken a tour over to neighbouring Horn Island where they offer insight into life during WWII and exploring the remnants of war bunkers and aircraft crash sites etc. However before we knew it we were back on the boat heading for the mainland. What a glorious day spent on T.I!

(Sunset back on Seisia Beach)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

- CAPE YORK, Part 1 -

To me travelling Cape York is a ‘must do’ when travelling around Australia. It’s one of the ultimate Australian 4wd adventures, rich in history, challenging, isolated and has a rugged outback appeal which lures enthusiasts back time and time again. And we were no exception! You can traverse the Cape a number of different ways. The easier way, the hard way or most tend to mix it up a little without any intentions! And this is exactly what happened to us!

After picking up some last minute supplies, we left Cooktown via Battle Camp Rd. Battle Camp Rd is known to be rough and can be completely impassable during & after the Wet. We soon got a taste of what was on the horizon, with the amount of corrugations, bull dust and the flooded creek crossings we encountered along the way. This is part and parcel of “doing” the Cape and we loved every minute of it!

(Roadtrain throwing up the dust on the way up Cape York.)

We crossed Laura River and stopped for a break at the Old Laura Homestead, marking the entrance to Lakefield National Park. We stopped of at numerous campsites in search for a good spot to fish, however being late in the dry most were down to shallow pools of stagnant water. We chose to stay at Kalpower Crossing, not only was it shady with good facilities, it offers peaceful views of the river.

The next morning we explored more of the National Park almost reached the ocean in search of a decent high bank to fish off. After getting some advice from a couple of fellas we met on the road, we tried our luck in a favourable waterhole for just over an hour. After a couple of teasing splashes, we soon realised today wasn’t going to be our day. We were soon back on the main road heading north 170km of dusty, spine tingling corrugations, we eventually pulled into camp at Archer River Roadhouse and the luxury of a hot shower!

(Old Laura Homested, Lakefield NP.)

Just after first light we were back on the road again navigating our way out to Iron Range NP, via the Aboriginal Community of Lockhart River. The road was in good condition after recent road works making the journey relatively smooth. We made an early camp so we didn’t miss out at very popular Chilli Beach! It was blowing a gale, but that didn’t hamper our spirits, after setting the awning and an extra tarp as a wind break we soaked up the sun over a good book. We were sitting on the palm tree lined beach, sounds of the ocean and the view of islands scattered across the horizon, what more could we ask for?

(Bren, soaking up the sun... what a place!)

(Our camp/windbreak, Chilli Beach.)

(Palm trees @ sunrise, Chilli Beach, meters from our campsite.)

From Chilli Beach we could return to the main rd, via the way we came or by taking a 50km “shortcut” via the Frenchman’s Track, saving us about 90km of back tracking. The Frenchman’s Track can be quite challenging as it is not maintained, nor is it sign posted and depending on the time of year can be totally impassable! The major hurdle would be the Pasco River crossing, we learnt this from our handy guide book, it reads “caution deep river crossing, should only attempted by experienced 4x4 drivers only”. The crossing was only 16km in from the turn off so we decided we’d drive in to check it out and see if it was within our experience to make the crossing.

We made our way in over a fairly reasonable track, a few washouts, patches of the usual corrugations and ruts. Eventually we reached the Pasco River, we jumped out to investigate by wading across the river (about 0.6metres deep) to check out the steep & rocky embankment on the other side. After assessing the conditions we decided to go ahead as this would be our only major 4wd adventure while up the cape & not wanting to hammer the car as we still had a long way to go! We crossed the river successfully dodging a large boulder without a problem, then put the car into Low range and slowly navigated our way up the rocky slope! It was exciting, wheels spinning, and redirecting the wheels a couple of times saw us comfortably to the top no worries!

(The climb after the crossing.)

(Pasco River Crossing.)

(Looking back down the hill.)

(Bren, after the Pasco River Crossing.)

The track continued with deep washouts, ruts and creek crossings keeping our speed around 30 kph! One crossing in particular was a little deceiving with the first section slightly deeper and the water pushed over the bulbar for a few seconds before levelling out into shallower water. Thankfully no water came in under the doors! After crossing the almost dry Wenlock River we finally reached the main road! What an adventure, 50kms worth and it took us about 3 hours! We then pushed on to camp at the Jardine River ready to cross by the river ferry first thing in the morning…


(Wenlock River, Note the sign... "we were here in a boat...")

Friday, September 11, 2009

- Cooktown -

(Spectacular views from Archer Point.)

Just out of Cooktown we called in to Archer Point for a look. Many tracks lead us to secluded little beaches; however the highlight was definitely the lighthouse which offered spectacular views of the now rugged coastline. It was bloody windy and gave us an insight to what it must’ve been like for Captain James Cook back in 1770 when the Endeavour hit a reef not far offshore from where we were standing!!

We spent a couple of days in Cooktown, taking in the sights and taking in some of the historical significance of the area.

We drove to the top of Grassy Hill, here we learnt that Capt. Cook climbed the hill everyday to survey the river mouth and find a clear passage north for the Endeavour to sail after repairs were carried out on its damaged hull.

(View of Endeavour River, Cooktown.)

(Lighthouse, Grassy Hill, Cooktown.)

(Monument making the spot where Capt. James Cook beached the Endeavour for repairs, June 1770.)

- The Daintree & Cape Tribulation -

I think the Daintree is on most travellers’ itinerary when travelling to Far north Queensland. Not only is it the oldest living rainforest in the world (over 140 million years old) making it a world heritage listed area, it is home to rare species of flora and fauna and not to mention the scenery is simply breathtaking. We had been looking forward to visiting the Daintree for quite some time so you can imagine the excitement when the day finally came to leave Mossman and head north. To begin the journey we had to cross the Daintree River via cable ferry ($11 one way) which gave us the feeling we were entering another world. Once across the river the sealed road winds higher and higher up into the mountains! The poor car struggled a bit on the steep hills, but as usual the old girl pulled through just fine! We were already amongst the rainforest and before to long we pulled into a lookout to get a glimpse of just how high up we were and the View was just amazing!! Looking out from high in the mountains, to the mouth of the Daintree River Mouth, the inviting blue ocean and surrounded in lush ferns, palms and massive trees!

(Crossing the Daintree River via Cable Ferry)

(The lookout just after the river crossing)

To get amongst the rainforest we next called into the Daintree Discovery Centre, which offers an introduction to the flora and fauna of the region with a series of boardwalks, Ariel canopy walk and a five level canopy tower that takes you to the top of the trees! It was pretty interesting and gave us a glimpse of what was to come!

(Canopy tower @ the Discovery Centre)

We pushed on stopping off at various boardwalks along the way. The road continued to wind & climb through the mountains, we had to slow down many times for speed humps, also known as Cassowary crossings. (For those who don’t know a Cassowary is an endangered bird about the size of an emu, known only to be found in Far North Queensland rainforests) Unfortunately the whole time we were here we didn’t come across any, perhaps highlighting the issue of how rare and endangered these exotic birds are!

(A rare sighting of Boyd's Forest Dragon )

(One of the many 'Cassowary Crossings'.)
We followed several tracks down to visit secluded white sandy tropical beaches, lined with coconut palms, crystal blue water, ‘where the rainforest meets the reef’. Cow Bay, Thornton Beach to name a few, they were amazing! Finally that afternoon we made camp at Noah Beach (which we had to pre-book via email before leaving Mossman). How spoilt were we? We set up camp nestled behind the palm trees with a short walk onto a pristine white beach, surrounded by rainforest clad mountains and sparkling turquoise Blue Ocean! And the added bonus, we had practically to ourselves!! Pure heaven!!

(Thornton Beach!)

(Noah Beach where we camped.)

(Sunrise over Noah Beach, what a way to begin the day!)

The next morning we drove into Cape Tribulation to explore for the day. Cape Trib is a tiny community hidden amongst the rainforest, complete with general store, backpackers, tourist info and a few secluded resorts and campgrounds. We wandered around the local beaches, followed boardwalks to the lookouts etc. We decided to take one of the local tours, The Exotic Fruit Tasting and farm tour. We tried about 10 different fruits, most we’d never even heard of! Some were really nice & sweet… but there was a couple I’d rather forget! But most of all it was fun & interesting! We spent the remainder of the afternoon back at Noah Beach swimming & soaking up the sun!

(Some of the Exotic fruits we tried in Cape Trib.)

(Us on a beach at Cape Tribulation.)

The next morning we packed up the car and headed north towards Cooktown via the Bloomfield Track. For all we read about the Bloomfield, we looking forward to a 4wd adventure however perhaps due to the time of year the major challenge was getting the car up the extremely steep hills!! The river crossings were all dried up and the road had been recently graded making the drive relatively easy. We called into a place called Home Rule to walk to the “Home Rule Falls”. With only a few signs to guide us we trekked up and down steep ravines through the mountainous rainforest. It was quite challenging in sections, however we were rewarded for our efforts with a beautiful waterfall all to ourselves! We stayed a while enjoying the serenity and ultimately recuperating for the return trek! Further down the road we called into the famous Lions Den Hotel to camp for the night.
(Steep climb on the Bloomfield Track)

(Home Rule Falls, well worth the effort!)
The next day we headed of early to take in the sights of Hidden Falls, Trevethan Falls and Black Mountain National Park before we headed for Cooktown.

(Enjoying the Hidden Falls)