by Andy and Hil
It was September 2013 on another trip ‘down under‘ to link up sections to complete our quest to drive roughly around the coast of Australia we found ourselves chatting to our tour guide on Fraser Island about Cape York. We hadn’t been sure if it had been feasible for us to get up there under our own steam (in a rental vehicle) up until that point due its formidable reputation.
He ran his own group tours and tag-alongs and assured us with our experience we’d have no trouble. We have a good deal of experience of good distances on dirt roads having previously done trips like along the Savannah Way and the Gibb River Road before. He explained the old Telegraph track is not the only way up there and that at the right time of year conditions can be fairly benign. What’s more he advised we should do it as soon as possible, before more bitumen went down and the nature of the Cape was changed forever. So we were reassured and we started planning from that point onwards getting hold of the (almost) mandatory Cape York Atlas & Guide plus Katrin’s excellent Destination Cape York Travel Guide. We had a lot of experience with Britz and the troopy so that was our first choice. We did sound out a couple of others but they were very restrictive. We planned our stops, fuel, mechanical repairs availability, stops (booking more than 50% of our camp sites assuming all went to plan) and flights were booked almost a year in advance and from there we were counting the days until the off. So, ‘fast forward’ to September 2015, we finally set off from the UK, via Singapore and Brisbane.
1. The Cape, Trailer
Arriving in Cairns never get’s old - it’s a beautiful and wonderful city. The only taxing part is when you’ve had to spend the best part of two days in airplane seats to get there, making you quite tired and grumpy. But I love it’s charm and we have a few of our favourite haunts there, having started or stopped a few trips there. We picked up the Troopy good and early, gave it a thorough inspection/test then did all our shopping before we set off for Port Douglas. We have a good set of kit we carry with us, quite a bit of camping gear accumulated plus a compressor and a few car bits and bobs. We always like to spend the first day not too far away and with civilization on the doorstep. You never know quite what condition the van will be, Britz are always well checked over, but before now other rental companies have left us scrambling for a new battery or replacement camping gear etc. The Tropical Breeze Caravan park was exceptionally busy, and with it’s good facilities and proximity to town understandably so. The other good thing about PD is there are plenty of pubs and restaurants and so we went back to an old fave at Iron Bar. They have the added bonus of Cane Toad racing for nightly entertainment. The following day it was off to Cape Tribulation via Daintree, with a river cruise (croc spotting) and all the rainforest boardwalks. The coastline is just breathtaking, hugging the spectacular coastal rainforest. Camping in the National Park at Noah Beach was a real contrast to the Tropical Breeze, as only a hanful of the sites we occupied so it was the start of the real adventure.
2. The Cape, Part 1: Cairns to The Daintree
After catching a glorious sunrise we headed north on from Noah beach we did the Bloomfield Track as the first bit of dirt road adventuring. We had done it before years before as a small group tour so we knew what we had in store. Bloomfield Falls (or at least the last of one you can see from the bottom) are a spectacular sight and marked the furthest north we’d been previously in Queensland. Then we moved on to the Lions Den Hotel, which on our map was dirt roads but we found had been sealed a couple of years previously. After a dunk in the river (which I found quite chilly - being a ‘big sook’) we had an interesting night with the accordion players, spicy pizza and finally some ‘bikies’ who kept the whole camp awake most of the night.
However I don’t think anyone wanted to say anything to them. We stopped at some lovely spots on the way to Cooktown, including notably the (tricky to find) Trevathan Falls, the sublime Archer Point (with views from the lighthouse) and many more beaches. Finally we had a poke around in Cooktown visiting the museum and finally a lovely meal in town.
3. The Cape, Part 2: Daintree to Cooktown
Heading north from Cooktown (after seemingly being on the menu of the local sandflies) we headed north again finally hitting ‘the gravel’ full time. We stopped off at Endeavour Falls which was more or less deserted. Then via more falls on the Battle Camp Road until we hit Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park. Old Laura farm was a pretty spot and you realise how tough they must have had it. There were lots of beautiful lagoons but sadly it was the wrong time of year to see them flowering. The other outstanding spot was the Nifold plains which made us start to think we were finally getting far enough away from civilisation. We stopped off at Musgrave to top up some supplies and then on to Coen through some spectacular cattle country. Coen looked a pretty sleepy type of place. The (S)Exchange hotel campground was pretty quiet, so we found a spot well away from the other campers. Lovely grounds but there was quite a few shards of broken glass seemingly scattered around liberally all over the site. We had a fun night in the pub with the hospitable locals (and finding some old classics on the free jukebox) until it shut around 10:30pm. Seemingly we missed the invite to the after-party because the sounds of Friday night festivities seemed to go on well into the early hours. Next day we headed off north again on a long stretch of dirt until we made it to Archer River Roadhouse for lunch with an enormous (!!) very tasty burger! Then off north again crossing the Wenlock and reaching our camp for the night at Bramwell station (calling in first at the Bramwell Roadhouse to fuel up for the coming days). We sampled some great BBQ food and Ken’s station talk over a few libations.
4. The Cape, Part 3: Cooktown to Bramwell
After a bit of a lie in and then a long chat with Ronny (the camp handyman) about his past and adventures, we headed off north again. We arrived at Fruit Bat Falls to find we had it all to ourselves. From the size of the car park (and coach spots) we felt very fortunate indeed and spent a good long time bathing and cooling off (although I still thought it was cold!). Then we headed along the track towards Twin and Eliot falls. This involved crossing over Scrubby Creek.
We walked it first to check it and then actually got to see someone go through in a Hilux. So we followed that line, which was probably not as good as our direct line we’d just walked. Also it was probably a bit beyond what we should have done in a rental. From there we found the pitch we’d booked through the Park's website at Eliot Falls Camping Area. Both Eliot and Twin Falls had a couple of other bathers but by the time we got to the Saucepan it was getting cooler and we had that to ourselves. It seemed there was only one other couple in the camping area that night and they were deep in the other section so it was a quiet night by the fire. The next morning we had a long chat with the couple of other campers, who’d dropped by, so we set off possibly a bit later than intended. So it was back across Scrubby creek and then back for another dip at Fruit Bat. We made it to the Jardine ferry and the guys told us the roads past the ferry were a (in their words) “bit rough”. They weren’t kidding, having done a fair few outback roads I can contest that it gave the suspension a good workout. There even a few car parts here and there in the road that had been shaken off (like lamps). It looked like it had been a long hard season and the grader hadn’t been through in a long while (heard it has been much improved since). Eventually we made it to the tar and then Bamaga, where we stocked up our supplies at the IBIS supermarket. There we met a young Brit (one of many we met in Servos etc) who was loving his time living and working in the town. Then it was on to Seisia and the shimmering gulf with a glorious sandy beach, a gorgeous sight after lots of red dirt and corrugations. We pressed on to Loyalty Beach and decided to treat ourselves to a cabin. We’d me a couple back at Lion’s Den in the neighbouring camp who had been acting as handyman and kitchen hand for the season, who had recommended it. It was a lovely change to have a cabin with clean sheets/towels, A/C, and a bit of room to stretch out. The view of the sunset was just sublime, it really was (as was painted on the facilities building) like stepping into paradise. The coloured lights and garden for setting for our sumptuous meal capped off a wonderful day and evening.
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