Diary—June 2013





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4–10 June 2013

Cairns – Laura – Coen – Bertie Creek (OTT Sth) – Elliot Falls (OTT Nth)– South Jardine (OTT Nth end)

It rained! This is the dry season! But it rained. We are camped in a lovely spot but it is ages away from Cairns. Here we are doing final preparations and waiting for our friends, David and Kerrie Evans, who will be our traveling companions for the 4WD journey through the Cape York Peninsular.

They arrived Tuesday evening, after an epic journey covering Sydney to Cairns in 2.5 days. They are exhausted but we are all a bit excited about starting our adventure. We are surrounded by others campers who are planning to journey to the top of Oz. None of the others have camper trailers. And it's raining.

Finally we are off North in convoy. We visited Jacques coffee at the end of the ultralight airstrip aka the driveway. In more remote areas we visited Split Rock which has some ancient rock art. On to Laura and the campground behind the pub. At the Laura shop we bought a postcard for our niece Laura. We walked into the shop and the owner asked if I found what I needed and exclaimed with surprise when I said yes. "what, we have what someone needs?". They stamped the card and post marked from Laura and gave us a patch for Laura.

Finally find the dirt Peninsular Development Road (PDR) and stopped at Coen. We visited the Cape York Heritage house which held some of the history of the area. Then we found a beautiful camp spot on the banks of what we think is the Coen river. The boys swam and we had an early 5 o'clockers at the water's edge. Lovely.

Through the Moreton Telegraph Station and onto Bramwell Junction which is the start of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT). We have reached the part of our journey where creek crossings are measured in hours and it is hours per kilometre not kilometres per hour.

This was our first experience of the OTT decision process. We drove to Palm Creek, we got out and watched with many others and waited for over an hour for someone to decide to cross. The vehicle that went through scraped his side all the way down the entry to the creek and then had to winch out the other side. The entry and exit was steep and muddy with sharp step ups. With the trailers, we would have been really struggling. So, no point damaging vehicles on the first crossing so we took the bypass to resume the OTT near Bertie Creek. Our campsite was very pretty and we were lulled to sleep by the babbling creek.

We left the trailers in camp and crossed Bertie and Dalhunty creeks to check out other camps and to cover the part of the OTT between Palm Creek and our camp. This involved crossing rocky creeks with some sharp turns and steep step-ups. Much simpler without trailers.

Picking up the trailers we headed north on the OTT south. This included the infamous Gunshot creek. It is so renowned it has its own bypass. We crossed Gunshot. Not by the insane route—a 85 degree 4m drop into a mud-filled sheer-sided gully. Our crossing was not simple but both vehicles and drivers handled it very well.

In truth Cockatoo Creek, our final creek on the OTT south, was a much more significant challenge than Gunshot. The entry to Cockatoo was almost as steep as Palm Creek but with less side scraping. The creek crossing was deep with unpredictable rocks. Then you had to get out! With trailers on a really churned up steep muddy slope we both had to winch out. We were helped by a couple of excellent blokes we had met while they crossed Palm Creek. We found out later a 4WD magazine had been through and had chopped it up repeatedly to get exciting photos for their publication—stuffing it up for all who came after them.

A bit of the PDR took us from the OTT south to the OTT north. We started that by a wonderful swim at Fruit Bat Falls where Hutch found a natural spa bath and he and David had enormous fun under the falls. Our night was at Elliot and Twin falls camp ground. We swam again in the Saucepan and the warmer waters of the Twin Falls. It was so pretty and so very refreshing.

Heading north we crossed Canal Creek and Sam's Creek and looked at Mistake creek before taking the road that would allow us to bypass Nolan's Brook. An innocuous sounding crossing which claimed 140 cars last year. Robin was nervous and had banned this crossing before we left home.

We came back onto the OTT above Nolan's and watched a group of 5 cars go through—4 of them snatched out. And chatted with the people on the banks who were there drying out vehicles after crossing. We felt we had made the right choice.

We left Nolan's and headed north up to the end of the OTT at the Jardine River. It is simple things that catch you out and David got stuck in a creek crossing. Hutch had to drop Tim at the camp and came back to snatch David and Kerrie out. This proved that the snatching process was surprisingly simple and effective. It also meant we had used another of our recovery 'toys'.

We camped on the southern banks of the Jardine River. The boys fished for Barramundi without success—they had probably been eaten by the crocs who weren't coming out because of the mosquitoes, sandflies and wind.

Someone else crossing Nolan's, just South Jardine camping

Week 4

Cascades near Cairns

On our way

Laura camping behind the pub

Coen River—the Bend

The start of the OTT

Palm Creek crossing

At Bertie Creek

Gunshot creek—the hard way

Us crossing Gunshot Creek—the easy way

David winching out of Cockatoo Creek

Scrubbie Creek

A natural spa at The Saucepan—Elliot Falls

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11–17 June 2013

Punsand Bay – Loyalty Bay – Noname Creek nth of Vrilya Pt – Capt Billy's Landing – Weipa

We apologise for not updating this as much as we would have liked but we have been bush and usually don't have power other than our batteries. While that is enough to keep our food fresh the laptop we brought with us is old and uses each charge very quickly and we don't have enough power in the camper batteries to keep it charged. Couple that with the fact that we have been visiting the 2% (so they say) of Australia that Telstra doesn't cover, and we can't post updates even if we want to. May I mention that that 2% is an enormous place.

At the South Jardine we had been pleasantly surprised by not having any rain during the night so we packed up and headed back to the PDR. We traveled in a surprisingly short time to the Jardine River ferry—the road was in very good condition. We didn't have to wait for the ferry very long. From then on, all the way to Barmaga, it rained. That makes the road more 'interesting' to drive on according to Hutch. We refueled and headed north to Punsand Bay.

The Bay is the last camp site before the tip of the peninsular. But on the way the road passes a surprising sight, a souvenir shop in a tent. The Croc Tent is renowned so we stopped and bought stainless steel goblets to toast our journey. From there we turned onto the Punsand Bay road which was a bit like the best parts of the OTT. But the resort was a beautiful spot on the Gulf of Carpentaria with a rustic finish and a friendly feeling. We could have a fire so Hutch cooked a camp oven pork roast.

The next day after a hot shower—luxury—we headed along the Roma Flats shortcut to Cape York. It is listed as impassable in the wet but Jack, from the resort, and Alan, who we had met in Cairns, said it could be done and we would only be bogged a few times. At the first water crossing we were held up as we and other travelers had to help get a 4WD ambulance out of a bog. Lucky he wasn't going to an emergency. Then on to the tip.

After a 200–300m walk over a rocky ridge we reached the sign that announces we are standing at the northern most part of Australia. Lots of photos and a toast in our goblets. It was great to have made it this far. We were then privileged to watch a young man propose to his girlfriend. They were part of a group we had met a few times on the track and we were thrilled for them.

We left there and visited Somerset. This was a station that was no longer in use but had been intended to be the hub of north Queensland. The rainforest was reclaiming that. We drove a track called the Five Beaches Loop. This took us on a narrow winding track through encroaching trees to drives along five beaches. Each was pretty and all were covered in mounds of flotsam—mostly plastic. It was breathtaking and depressing at the same time. We have a lot to answer for. These beaches are covered in our rubbish which is blown ashore by wind and tides.

The next day we moved camp an hour or so south to Loyalty Beach campground. We set up camp, had lunch and we wandered off to talk to a few of the 8 or so other travelers who had their Ultimate campers there. We hadn't seen so many of them in one place for a long time. They were not all traveling together. But our conversations were interrupted by a shout from David. He'd been kicked by a wild horse that was being a nuisance in the campground. It had grabbed a loaf of bread from David and Kerrie's table and as he tried to stop it eating the plastic bag it deliberately turned it's tail to him and kicked him. Thankfully he was only bruised. We hated to think what would have happened if that had been a child.

Later we drove to visit some WWII plane wrecks in the area and tried to find Muttee Head. After a long and very sandy track we found ourselves at the mouth of the Jardine River. The track almost outweighed the beauty of the river flowing into the sea. But only almost. It was a wide and unpredictable river mouth that early residents had to drive across.

Friday we went to Seisia and joined a tour to Thursday Island and to Horn Island. Thursday Island was impressive and lovely but it was Horn Island that really captured our attention. It had been a strategic air base during WWII but little had been recorded about that time. Our guides, Vanessa and Liberty, had realised that that story was missing and so she wrote her PHD on the history of the place. Together they have written a book and built a museum to record the stories of those posted there. It was a fascinating tour. After we returned to camp we ended the day having a very slow dinner back at Loyalty Beach watching the sunset over the gulf.

Our journey now continues south. Back across the ferry at the Jardine River and down the PDR to an unmarked track. This headed to Vrilya point. It was 27km of track that took us a little over an hour to cover and included our first log bridge. The bridge is made of large trees and was in places a little unpredictable. At the end of the track we found an overused camp site and so turned north again for a 10km drive up the beach. We needed to do this while the tide was out so we could drive on the firmer sand at the high tide mark. Even so it was slow going and eventually both vehicles stopped to reduce tyre pressure even further. We passed a collapsing wreck of a light ship (a lighthouse on a ship) and found an attractive camp at the end of the beach. There were lots of others camped there—for the fishing—including the newly engaged couple.

On Sunday we left before high tide and snuck along to top edge of the water back to the track. Surprisingly that journey seemed easier than the one the night before but still took about an hour. After the beach and Vrilya track the PDR again seemed like a highway. Then we turned off it onto the track to Capt Billy's Landing. It was an interesting 30km drive through lush rainforest only interrupted by over 155 speed bumps—rises to divert water off the road. The camp at the end was very pretty. But the wind was gale force and then it rained. We played 500 in David and Kerrie's camper. Our sleep was disrupted by the constant howling wind.

We packed up in the rain the next morning and drove out. We reached the PDR and the road was in such good condition we could listen to music. Usually we are entertained by the scenery and the road conditions are either engrossing or too dominating to allow us to hear music. This road continued, with some corrugations, all the way to Weipa. Just outside of the town we were stopped by traffic lights—which were unexpected. They designated a haulway for the big mining trucks that give Weipa is reason for being.

After we had set up, it rained.

Week 5

Our Punsand Bay camp

What the signs said about the beautiful water behind our camp

An ambulance, bogged!

We made it to the top of the Australian continent

The furthest north Yoda was going to go, the beach at Cape York

David on one of the five beaches

Typical rubbish on the five beaches

Our camp at Loyalty beach

Mosaic on arrival at Thursday Island

A dinner at Loyalty watching the sunset

A log bridge on the road to Vrilya Point

The light ship wreck on the beach track to noname creek north of Vrilya Point

The road away from our noname creek camp

The stark beauty of Capy Billy's Landing—wind and rain not to scale

Our vehicles at Moreton Telegraph Station on the way to Weipa—see the colour they used to be in the car behind them

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18–24 June 2013

Weipa – Chilli Beach – 10 Mile (Archer River) – Top Whiphandle camp (Lakefield NP) – Cooktown

Our rest day in Weipa involved restocking and touring round. We lunched at the local cultural centre which has gorgeous views over the harbour, and loading docks.

In the afternoon we joined a tour of the bauxite mine. It involves lots of red dust, lots of really big trucks and digging machines and our local guide made it fascinating. It was encouraging to see the way the areas they have finished with—they scrape off the top soil and put it back once they have removed the layer they want—was regenerating into what seemed to be quite natural bush.

A lovely drive through the rainforest. Instead of speed humps this road had dips—lots of them, 106ish, and some with water. This included a crossing of the Pascoe River. The alternative road had a crossing of the same river but it was marked as very deep and the trip notes said you may have to wait for the level to drop before crossing, so we chose this road.

We had a wonderful sheltered spot in the campground of this notoriously windy beach. It was a lovely beach with a very low tide and was palm-fringed which proved a good spot to string a hammock. Hutch used it for croc and tide watch—a tough gig.

Just north of Chilli Beach we followed a sign for a cafe! It lead us to the little community of Portland Roads. About as remote on the northern coast as you could get but sheltered from the relentless wind and simply wonderful. We had a morning coffee and watched sunbirds dance through the trees.

On our way south we stopped at the Archer River roadhouse and had Archer Burgers. They were very good. And then drove 180km over 2.5 hours to get to our camps site—which was only 10 miles west along the Archer River from the roadhouse. The track in was a 'Hutch special road'. It went from the PDR to a wide access road to two wheel tracks through burnt out bush, to a faint impression through grasslands.

But the camp was lovely. Our site was on the junction of a shallow creek and the Archer River, also at a shallow point, which meant we could wade—the boys swam—while keeping a wary eye out for crocs of course. The water was clear and pure. We have two nights here.

We visited some of the other campsites which were beside lagoons. These were stunning and bejeweled with white or pink lilies. But all of them seemed more hazardous from a croc watching perspective. So Hutch strung his hammock and took on the duty of croc watching—while he could keep his eyes open.

We cut back through Coen to Lakefield National Park to a camp called Top Whiphandle. This proved to be another Hutch special road in. It was a beautiful site on the banks of the Normanby River. The river was clear but deep and wide so demanded more respect in terms of being croc aware. We could gather water from a shallower part of the river but had one person on watch while the other dipped buckets into the water.

The boys fished with some hope of Barramundi. Hutch set up the now required croc watch hammock. We spent two nights in this camp. One morning David caught an Archer fish. On our day in the area we drove out to Bathurst Head.

This was supposed to be a day off but proved to be a longish drive. It took 6 hours and probably the last 50km of that took 3 hours there and back. The road claimed one of David's tyres as victim and allowed the boys to use another toy—the high-lift jack. It was a challenging drive to a fisherman's paradise but it wasn't particularly rewarding as a day outing.

On our way back to our camp at Top Whiphandle we stopped to look at white lily lagoon and red lily lagoon. White lily lived up to its name and was covered with green lily pads dotted with white lilies. Red lily lagoon would have been amazing if we had been there a few days earlier—enormous lily plants put out deep pink flowers which open at dawn and drop their petals by midday.

On our way from Lakefield NP to Cooktown we crossed Isabella Creek which had a lovely tier of falls just off the road. It was a pretty and restful stop for lunch and would be a safe place to swim because of the falls—we paddled.

We arrived at the busy township of Cooktown realising that it was Queensland School Holidays. Everything was busy and most campsites were booked out. But we found a great spot in the grassy camp area of the Peninsular Caravan Park. This was a chance to get some washing done and restock a bit.

The pleasant rest of Isobella Falls on the road to Cooktown  Cook in Cooktown

Week 6

Weipa—the scenic side

Weipa—the business side

On the way to Chilli Beach—the shallow crossing of the Pascoe River

The road to Chilli Beach with oncoming traffic

Our camp at Chilli Beach

Hutch set up for croc watch at Chilli Beach

The surprising cafe at tree-top level in Portland Roads

The Archer burger

Our bit of the Archer River at the 10 Mile camp

Our 10 Mile camp

Hutch set up for croc watching at Top Whiphandle camp

Our rest day drive to Bathurst Head involved using more toys

Our rest day drive on a Hutch special road—that is the roof of David's car

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25 June –1 July 2013

Cooktown – Cape Tribulation – Cairns

On our rest day this time we walked. We walked to the township and along the heritage walk to the end of the jetty. Then we visited the sensational museum largely celebrating Captain Cook's sojourn there but also showing the history of the town from gold rush to regional centre. It was in a convent built with the expectation that Cooktown would be the northern capital but which had been abandoned after WWII. It had been so well built that the locals lobbied for its restoration and it was handed to the National Trust to use as a museum. It now houses the Endeavour's anchor and one of her canons.

We celebrated the end of a good day by toasting sunset over the Endeavour River. Cooktown has a brilliant lookout, the Grassy Hill, with a 360 degree view over the ocean, islands, township and river.

Heading south we left the bitumen to drive down the coast road of the Bloomfield Track to Cape Tribulation. We had been warned not to try the Creb track with trailers so took the gentler road. This gentle road was a winding, narrow, gravel road with descents and ascents of 12% gradients. But it lead us along some beautiful coastline which has been equated with the Great Ocean Road.

We'd been given good advice to arrive early to get a spot in the Cape Tribulation Camp ground. We did and we set up in pleasant grassy sites with plenty of space and the beach just a tree-line away. We had intended to stay two nights but quickly changed that to three as it was so pretty. Using our afternoon wisely we headed off for an exotic fruit tasting at a nearby organic farm. We were introduced to 10 different fruits—one Australian, the Davidson Plum—and given tastings and shown the trees in the orchard. We completed our day with a walk along the Dubuji boardwalk through rainforest and mangroves.

We set ourselves the task of seeing a cassowary as there were lots of signs warning about cassowaries crossing the road and even signs telling us one had recently been seen in that area. But we began to think they were a bit like the Lock Ness Monster. We also had yet to see a crocodile so drove to Daintree and joined a croc tour of the river—we saw three on the banks or in the shallows. Makes all our not swimming seem almost worth it. The village of Daintree is a quaint touristy little village.

We went back towards our camp stopping at the Daintree Discovery Centre. We got to walk through the rainforest from different levels—ground level, mid-canopy and from a tower at the top of the canopy. There were lots of excellent explanatory notes and talks. And at the top of the tower we watched some green ants struggling to form a bridge from the tower railing to a tree nearby. They were thwarted by the wind for ages and then it dropped and they piled four deep to cross the gap and move colony members onto the tree.

On the road back to camp we finally saw a cassowary crossing the road. By the time we had called David and Kerrie and we had all turned round it had melted into the rainforest. Hutch and I finished the day with a glass of wine on the beach watching the tide and the night flow in.

The next day day we headed back up to Bloomfield track to a creek just at the southern end. There is a big fig tree there and a track that lead through the forest to the beach—so we went for an explore. As we reached to head of the track we heard an enormous crack and rumble and smash as a tree fell in the forest. We heard it. We dashed along the track to find a tree with a diameter of over a metre had given up and fallen. The upper branches reached the track. The sound was awesome, the tree enormous and light now flooded the forest where it had stood.

We drove to the tea farm—which wasn't open and just had a roadside stall of information. So we made do with a visit to an icecream factory and tasted some pleasant exotic fruit icecreams all made onsite. The factory, orchard and house were for sale—as was the icecreamery we visited the day before. We drove to a coffee place which also wasn't open and so admitted defeat and returned to camp. We consoled ourselves with a sunset sea kayaking tour. We paddled in double kayaks, with a knowledgeable guide, out over a reef and across to a headland. We then let the wind and current carry us back as we looked for turtles (we saw three), dugong (we didn't see any) and whales (we missed those too). All that exertion needed to be rewarded so we shared wood-fired pizza with Chris and Julie who were camped in an Ultimate next to David and Kerrie.

On our way south the next day we stopped for another walk in the forest near the Discovery Centre. It was a lovely quiet walk along a boardwalk. And Hutch and I were given the rare gift of coming within metres of a cassowary. It was just wandering through the forest looking for cassowary plums—testing each one and throwing away the ones it didn't like and swallowing whole the ones it liked. It seemed unconcerned by us but as it got closer it did look at us carefully and we realised how big this bird was. After we had passed it, we hurried to find Kerrie. But when we took her back to where it had been, it had melted into the forest—amazing for such a colourful bird.

From the rainforest we stopped in Mossman to visit the markets and then, a little reluctantly, we headed for the bustle of Cairns. We thankfully had booked sites in the camp ground before we left, at the beginning of the month. And we were tucked into those sites, uncomfortably close to our neighbours. We had been spoilt by lots of room almost everywhere else we had stayed so this seemed like overcrowded suburbia. Hutch washed Yoda, who was an interesting shade of orange, and Robin gave Tim a sponge bath so we could open doors and hatches without getting everything stained red. Then we caught up with our friends Greg and Lisa. They had flown to Cairns for a holiday timed to meet us on our return.

We headed in convoy and, with the luxury of driving without trailers, on a tour of the Cairns region. We stopped at a museum in Mareeba and then rewarded ourselves with a coffee in the tourist trap of Karunda. We lunched at an excellent cafe attached to a marvelous woodwork gallery. The handiwork of the craftsmen was beautiful. The food from the chef was great. We headed through Atherton to the Gallo chocolate and cheese factory where we tasted lots and bought a bit too. We stopped at the Malanda falls which were not very high but had been used to create a fantastic swimming pool for the town. Our final stop was at the Barrine Lake Teahouse for a devonshire tea. While we waited we saw, through the crystal clear water, tortoises and eels and plenty of fish. The road back felt long and was very windy down to the coastal plains.

Greg and Lisa were booked on a reef tour on Monday so David and Hutch took the morning to find spares and replacement bits for the trailers. David needed to repair both his trailer brakes. We were hunting for thicker cable to make the solar panels more effective. After had a successful morning so decided to catch the skyrail back up Karunda. The cable cars gave us a birds-eye view of the rainforest and magic views of the coast and islands. It included two stops—one to walk through the rainforest and learn from a guide and one to look at the awesome Barron Falls. After lunch in Karunda we caught the scenic railway back down the hill. Kerrie and I had upgraded our tickets to Gold Class so we enjoyed wine, local cheeses and local macadamias as we traveled down the extraordinary railway line. It curved and teetered over gullies and ridge lines. It included a stop to look at the Barron Falls, and the hydro scheme, from the other side of the valley. It was great. So now we have had the multilevel walk at the discovery centre, the tree-top view from the cable cars and the steep run down the mountains on the railway.

And so we come to the end of our shared adventure with David and Kerrie. To mark the end of this part of the journey we headed out, with Greg and Lisa, to the Cock and Bull pub for enormous meals. It has been a fantastic journey and David and Kerrie have been great to travel with. It is hard to go our separate ways. It has seemed so much longer than four weeks—it feels like we have done a lot—but also so much shorter than four weeks as it doesn't feel anywhere near long enough.

Week 7