Tip Top!

Trip Start Sep 25, 2003
Trip End Apr 23, 2005

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Monday, September 6, 2004

Factoid: Toyota Manual states that a 4WD should be used to get you out of trouble, not to get you into trouble. Hmmmm....!

Abstract: Cape York, the last big trip the 3 of us would take. 3000km round trip to Australia's northern most tip, including creek crossings with eroded banks, 1000's of Kms of corrugations and an average speed of 30km/hour!Left Cairns travelling north via the coast then cutting inland, stopping at Laura at an extensive Qunikan Aboriginal artsite and meeting Mutt Mutt & the only gree tree frog we saw in the tropics...living in the drain in the camp sink.Detoured to the mining town of Weipa to fix Larry's wheel bearing and cooked our fist full meal on a campfire...without incinerating it. Opted to continue to the tip by the full Old Telegraph Track with its hairy creek crossings rather than taking the bypasses. Swam in crystal clear, emerald waters with not a croc in site. Crossed the Jardine on the ferry, and stood on the northernmost tip. After visiting a couple of beaches and penninsulas we headed south again stopping in at the Iron Range NP, and spent a week or more on Chili beach (idylic) and wandering through the rainforest. Reurning to civilisation we went on to Cooktown and the annual bullride brough tears to our eyes. We travelled back to Cairns through the Daintree and the Tablelands. We spent a few days sprucing Larry up and he was sold...sniff. Booked tickets home and a diving trip...

Nitty Gritty: Our only reason to stay in Cairns after crossing from Darwin was to collect Graham's camera, stock up with food for the trip and to find out where the Sunday car market was where we hoped to sell Larry on our return from the Cape. All of this took no more than a day so we wasted no time in heading north. We had opted not to get Larry serviced before the big trip, we soon regreted this!

The coastal highway north of Cairns was beautiful with views of sandy beaches and turquoise seas and it was difficult to keep your eye on the windy road. Luckily for us the campsites at Port Douglas were full so we headed in land to the small village of Julatten where we spent the night next to a goat stud at a lovely spot where we were joined by a bandicoot at dusk and beautiful yellow sunbirds in the morning (v. similar to hummingbirds). Closeby was a Barramundi farm (yummy fish) so we filled thefridge with thick fillets to sustain us on the long journey north.

And there it was, the end of the bitumen. And all that existed between us and our first port of call at Laura, was a very rocky road. Well this is what we thought initially and then having been to the tip and having covered some 2500kms of worse roads, this stretch of road seemed pretty flat.

Laura is the home of Quinkan art which is a distinct Aboriginal art form. The images depicted look like lanky big headed aliens and a little like ET. There were some pretty good examples to be found but the long, dusty and hot scramble up a mountain to reach them was pretty tiring.

It was at Laura that we had our first brushes with the wildlife of the Cape, in the shape of Mutt Mutt and a samll green tree frog that lived in the drain of one of the camp sinks. He came out at night and when you switched on the light to wash up, he squeezed himself back into the pipe leading from the drain. This is the only tree frog we managed to see in the tropics.

Mutt Mutt was an adorable large puppy who was more than likely a stray from the Aboriginal community, but who had been adopted by the foreman of a company buliding a new road in the area and who was staying on our campsite. She loved shoelaces and she and G had lots of fun messing about.

We hadn't planned to detour to Weipa, an aluminium ore mining town on the west coast of the Cape, but Larry needed his ankle looking at. We were aware that one of the back wheel bearings looked as though it were leaking grease, but instead of having it looked at in Cairns we waited until the end of a long drive after which there was a smell of burning grease before phoning a mechanic and driving a further 250km in the dark to reach Weipa in time to take Larry in the following morning at 7am. The highlight of that drive was seeing a tasty looking feral pig, similar to a wild boar digging up roots by the side of the road.

Our wallets 500 dollars lighter and only half a day behing schedule, we continued the journey north spending the night camping at Moreton Telegraph Station. Until the mid 80s, the only method of communication with the inhabitants of the tip was via telegram (now microwaves have replaced this)and the old telegraph track that we would follow was the support track for the telegraph line.

Although the trip to Cape York was an adventure, it was not the adventure of years ago before some of the larger rivers had causeways built across them, and it was not unusual for the water in rivers and creeks to be bonnet deep on a landcruiser.

The Wenlock river near Moreton Telegraph Station was one such river that used to cause people to turn around if the water was too deep, but as there was a lovely causeway across it, it was easy for us. It was hear that we spied a sign some 15m up on the trunk of a huge tree. It read "we were hear in a boat in February during the wet of 2003". It was impossible to imaging what the area must have looked like under 15-20m of water. At Moreton we had a lovely camp with a fire and managed to cook our entire meal of barramundi, jacket spuds and baked onions on the fire, without incinerating them - a first for us!

Bramwell Junction was the point of no return and marked where the old telegraph track (OTT) and the bypass separated. With no hesitation we continued up the OTT and at the first creek crossing at Palm Creek, we nearly regreted it. There were 2 vehicles ahead of us which mean't we didn't have to wade the water as we watched them cross first. The bank down into the muddy water was really eroded and it looked inevitable that we would do some damage. Not so. Unlike the other vehicles who had too little air in their tyres, were in too high a gear thereby necessitating having to change gear in the water (a definite no no), and bumped and scraped their way through, Larry took everything in his stride. Graham drove and I was photographer. Creek 1 crossed, goodness knows how many more to go!

At the first crossing we had the good fortune to meet Peter, a tour guide, with his 4 clients and their landcruiser with trailer. They were great fun and with Peter's assistance as to which line to take, we crossed the rest of the days creeks with no problems. In fact, the creeks themselves were fine, it was the banks which had become very very eroded due to poor driving techniques (people not understanding the difference between speed and power)and these were quite forbiding at times.

The water in the creeks was crystal clear and refreshing and walking the beds to decide where to drive was good fun, especially with lots of other people around to discuss things with. And better still, there were no crocs around as most had small cascades in them which acted as croc proofing.

Gunshot creek crossing is notorious and word had it that this year it was unpassable by conventional methods so we took the bypass and then headed south to take a look. The creek itself was shallow bu the banks on the southern side were near verticle and without a winch there was little point in attempting it. We had seen a vehicle at the garage in Weipa which had the top squashed down and we subsequently discovered that it had rolled over whilst attempting gunshot. Apparantly it was rented! We saw our first Ulysees butterfly at gunshot creek They are unique to Cape York and are huge black butterflies with electric blue wings.

Potholes in the creek beds became a theme for the afternoons crossings and you had to be pretty sure which line to take to avoid losing a wheel down one of them, but G and Larry were doing really well and by the time we reached the end of the that day we had navigated the first section of creeks. We camped next to Pater the tour guide and his mob and took a refreshing dip in Saucepan falls before joining them for predinner drinks. The water was really refreshing and so clear. We ended up having dinner cooked for us too as there was too much shepherds pie for the punters so we obliged by scoffing the left overs.

The following morning we took a dip in Elliot Falls which consisted of 3 levels each with an emerald pool at the base of a short waterfall. The surrounding vegetation was covered in huge pitcher plants with huge stomach shaped recepticals awaiting a juicy fly to drop in to.

We had been lulled into a false sense of security...Canal Creek was awful.....The banks looked like a chalk quarry and where the banks had got wet the surface was really slippery.....but faithful Larry made it look so easy as he creaped slowly from eroded rock to eroded rock, creeking as his suspension stretched.

And them the scraping sound started......

Luckily a mechanically minded chap decided it was nothing to worry about as it was more than likely the sound of the new back break shoe bedding down (we had to have that replaced in Weipa too!). Phew.......

Sam creek was our favourite crossing as although the banks were eroded and you needed a bit of welly to get out successfully, the creek itself was beautiful with a series of cascades to the side and wonderfully clear green water. We earmarked this for a camping site on the return journey.

It was time to say ggodbye to Peter as he was continuing north by the second bypass thereby avoiding the second stretch of creeks and we, well we decided to keep going. We were on our own as most people missed out this section. Probably something to do with the fact that it took us 3 hours to drive 19kms! But what fun it was. Mistake creek was fine, Cannibal creek was curved and as Larry had a poor turing circle there was nothing for it than to do a 3 point turn in the water, which luckily wasn't that deep. It did have a sandal eating stretch of clay on the bottom of it and it took sometime to retrieve my sandal and clean it up - lucky it wasn't a wheel!

And then it was Cypress creek with its legionary log bridge.This consisted of huge logs spanning a deep, narrowish creekbed, but you couldn't drive on all the logs as some of them wouldn't support the weight of a vehicle so it was tricky. Especially when the driver is less concerned about asistance as to which log to cross on and more concerned about a photograph - Larry nearly lost his backend through the middle of the bridge.....

Nolan's Brook was the final creek to cross. It was beautifully clear, very deep in places and caused no great problems. We had lunch there watching a group of female dirt bike riders push their bikes across what was left of an old log bridge i.e. 2 logs. Their guide had amazing balance and managed to ride over no sweat.

That was it, we had successfully completed the 2 sections of creek crossing and lived to fight another day! The rest of the track to the Jardine River consisted of numerous washouts where water had cascaded downhill and required Larry to drive at a 45 degree angle which was pretty hairy. The vegetation was lush and green and the grevillias were in bloom which mean't many of the bushes lining the track were covered in bright orange flowers that looked like loo brushes.

Reaching the Jardine River was a milestone. The track used to continue across the Jardine which is a proper river some 100 feet across and would have been really deep. However the crossing had been dug up to ensure you used the ferry and paid 88 dollars for the privilage. A bit steep considering that 2 ferries would have spanned the river.

We camped on the southern bank of the Jardine having the place to ourselves and as the stretch of water infront of us was a huge sandbar we could collect water for washing without fear of crocs. We were treated to one of our best sunsets in Australia here and as it got dark the sky filled with thousands of fruitbats. Some of them landed in the tree above Larry and they had really cute red furry faces. We also saw a Papuan Frogmouth here, a huge bird that hunts at night similar to an owl and was sat on a post close to Larry when we went for a walk with the torch. A really beautiful spot....so beautiful that we stayed another night too.

Back on the main road we were reminded of what we had been missing - corrugations...We crossed the Jardine and the end was in site so stuffed full of chocolate muffins collected from the bakery at Bamaga we pushed on to the tip.The coastline was dotted with small islands and the sea was an amazing aqua colour and after 25km of winding road through a patch of rainforest, we were there, Cape York. The map mentioned a resort at the tip, but what we found was an abandoned camp and lodge. Aparantly the area was returned to Aboriginal ownership and they have let it go....

A short boardwalk and we emerged onto a huge expanse of sand, a rocky outcrop to climb over and there it was, the sign we had read about signifying that we were there, at Cape York, the northern most tip of the Australian continent, from where we were a stones throw from Papua New Guinea, closer to Singapore than Sydney. There was a trutle in the sea to meet us.

We were there, and it was.....an anticlimax......the campsites were full of noisy people and we yearned for the solitude of the journey here. Unless you fish or are keen on taking blisteringly hot walks along the beach, there is little to do and neither of us could relax with noise, so we only spent one night near the tip and headed to Muttee Head, the mouth of the Jardine River where we found a great campsite all to ourselves, negotiated a very deep sandy track to get there, saw a bitern fishing on the river bank at sunset, had fruitbats for company and met an old chap with a vehicle similar to ours who had bought one of our old tyres from Bridgestones in Adelaide a few months earlier - what a coincidence!

Vrylna Head on the west coast of the Cape was a bit of an anticlimax after Muttee Head as the sea wasn't as blue and the sand wasn't as white, but we did have it to ourselves and we had a top camping spot right on the beach with the waves for company.The mangroves along a small creek to the side of us were particulary picturesque and another Bitern joined us at dusk. Chili beach was beckoning.

On the way south we missed out the upper section of the OTT, taking the bypass track, but joined the OTT for the lower creek crossings which Rach drove. We camped at Sam creek, and from our camp watched people attempting the crossing and getting themselves into trouble on the banks - all going too fast. Once the traffic had stopped at around 5pm we went for a swim in the pools at the base of the cascades which was wonderful as we were surrounded by pitcher plants and ferns and the water was so clear and warm.

In the week since we had travelled north the water level in the creeks had dropped making them easier to cross, but the banks still caused some problems especially those that were wet and slippery and Larry's wheels span a little on Cockatoo creek but only for a second.

We could see a lot of smoke in the distance and several vehicles stopped to let us know that there were bush fires ahead. In places the fires were burning on both sides of the track and the heat could be felt throught the car doors, but these were fairly isolated. We had intended to camp at one of the other lovely creeks, but there was lots of ash in the air and it was difficult to tell which direction the fires were travelling in. To avoid being engulfed by fire in the night we ploughed on camping at the penultimate creek where we were well away from any fires and had the place to ourselves.

Palm creek heading south was pretty hairy due to the ascent from the creek bed which was now absent of water but instead full of mud. Larry made it up but his wheels slipped a bit. We had made it and celebrated by scoffing chocolate a Bramwell Junction.

What we hadn't anticipated was that the Frenchman's Gap track to the Iron Range National Park would be worse than the OTT and that the Pascos river crossing that we had been warned about was easy in comparison to other bits of the track.....

The Iron Range National Park is half way up the east coast of the Cape and is an area of wild rainforest and eucalypt forest and is home to some rare birds that only live in that region. We had aslo been told to go to Chili beach and to go in via the Frenchman's track which is proper 4WD.

The start of the track was a bit hard to find as it wasn't sighnposted, but the GPS helped and we were soon on our way. The first part passed by some amazing magnetic termite mounds which were huge and aligned perfectly with magnetic north and south. Heaven only knows how the termites know...The vegetation changed to lush dense tropical trees and flowering plants and in places it was pretty slow going due to numerous washouts on the track. We passed a few vehicles who told us the Pascoe (notoriously deep) crossing was OK so we continued.

We crossed the Wenlock with no dramas, but unlike the OTT the banks of the river were steep and long and eroded, but Larry did fine. Further and further we travelled until we came to a severely washout section on a steep downhill and Rach didn't choose the best line and the car lurched at a very precarious angle and our hearts pounded......We were OK though.

This was the start of the descent to the Pascoe river and before we knew it we were there and travelling down a really steep track and luckily there was an area to pull off or we would have been in the water without having walked the river bed. The track deteriorated into a boulder field which had to be negotiated before the water was reached. The water itself was thigh deep if you took the right line and the ascent up the north bank was very steep but OK. G elected to drive and I had the camera. There was a chap having a swim who had driven it about 4 times so he showed G which boulders to aim for in the water - there were 2 you had to get your right and left wheels aligned on - if you straddled them you'd lose your differential and there were plenty of scrapes as testiment to this.

After a nailbiting approach Larry was in the water and up the other bank - we had successfully navigated the Pascoe. The chap in the river told us how the telephone engineer had come through in the dark the night before, so it can't be that bad!

The last section of the Frenchman's track was easy in comparison and we were soon in the Iron Range NP and en route to Chili beach. The road there was horendously potholed and took ages. It passed through wonderfully wild rainforest with huge trees with butress roots and vines and tree ferns and everywhere was deliciously damp.

Chili beach was deserted when we arrived so we had the pick of the place and chose a spot right overlooking the sea and in between the coconuts, but not so close that Larry might get one on the head. And there we stayed for 6 nights!(we ran out of drinking water then!) It was a beautiful place, but apparantly the first few days we were there was untypical as it was calm with hardly a breeze - usually it blows 20-30knot winds.

The sunrises were wonderful and Robinson Graham spent ages finding coconuts for us to eat and feed to the bush turkeys and we spent our days walking down the beach, reading, searching for rare Palm Cockatoos (which we eventually found) and generally hanging about. Paradise. And then we met Avan & Heather and the Rooster!

In drove Larry's brother and A & H came to chat to us and we hit it off. They had arrived on one of the really nice days and had only come for lunch but ended up staying 2 days. They had a collapsable boat on the outside of the vehicle and Avan and G went fishing - not catching anything on the first day, but having more luck on the following morning. They arrived home holding a reasonable sized shark which would be lunch and minus A's fishing rod which had taken off at high speed with a fish attached to the other end! We were invited to lunch and had shark steaks which were delicious and spent the rest of the day chatting. They are heading to London next year so we invited them to stay.

Nearly out of drinking water we headed into the rainforest part of the park and spent another 4 nights tucked away in a rainforest camp beside a creek where we could get water and where the frogs croacked at night in a deafening chorus, and that's where we met our friend Turkey. He was a bush turkey who had somehow got fishing wire twisted around one of his feet and this caused him to limp. We spent the 4 days trying to catch him to remove it, but he was too quick, so it can't have been doing him too much harm. We tried throwing towels and duvet covers over his head, a box suspended with e twig with string attached to it and nothing worked.

On our first day, whilst our backs were turned, he helped himself to our crackers and I turned to see him dashing into the bushes with the plastic cracker wrapper in his beak. I then had to negotiate the thick undergrowth the retrieve the rubbish and crackers which had peck marks through them...In the mornings he was up at first light and you could hear him shuffling around outside...very sweet.

For those bird enthusiasts we saw amongst others a Magnificent Rifle bird, Trumpet Manicode, Yellow Oriole & Eclectus Parrots (male and female) and Frilled Monarch. The Eclectus Parrots are really rare and we were really chuffed to see these - we found a tree where they were nesting and saw loads of them - they are large parrots, the males are green and red and the females crimson and electric blue.

It was time to leave and head south to sell Larry. We decided to take it easy on the way back to Cairns as Larry had done his shackle bushes which are essential for suspension and steering and we were mindful of selling him. Taking it easy mean't sticking to the corrugated road rather than any more 4WD tracks.

We arrived in Cooktown and booked into the campsite nearest town. The first priority was to get an advert for Larry posted to Trading Post. As we were walking towards the sea, a voice rang out from a cafe, it was Heather from Chili Beach. What followed was a toe curling tale of misfortune. Having left us in the Iron Range everything had gone to plan and the trip to Bathhurst Head had been enjoyable, however after they left things went pear shaped. A fairly innocuous wash out gutter turned out to be very friable and the rear wheel of the bushcamper, 'Rooster' sliped in. With the momentum of the vehicle the whole thing slewed round and slowly tipped on to its side. The engine was racing and turning off the ignition did not stop it. Unable to get out either door, they had to crawl to the back and jump out the rear window after smashing it. Fortunately, apart from minor scratches and bruises they where OK. The Rooster was righted the following day by the first car along, but it was another day before the next vehicle came, by which time water was very short as the water tank had ruptured. Word got back to their friends at Bathhurst and they came to the rescue. A long tow to Cooktown followed and the car was on its way to Cairns, with them following on a bus.

[Update: after weeks of waiting around the Rooster is to be fixed not writen off, thank god. By mid Oct, it should be back on the road :-) ]

We saw them to the bus in a state of shock then wrote Larry's ad. After a pleasant wander along cooktowns esplanade, we got some provisions, went for a swim at the pool and cooked dinner.

Cooktown was the site of the first white 'settlement' in Australia when Captain James Cook, having accidentally struck the Great Barrier Reef off the coast north of Cape Tribulation, struggled up the coast and beached the Endeavour on the shores of the Endeavour River. Cook and his crew were to stay on the river's edge from 17 June to 4 August, 1770: the greatest amount of time they were to spend at any one location in Australia. There are dozens of statues and so on commemerating this around town. How the Aborigonals feel is uncertain but there is a great wall of ceramic tiles on the waterfrount made by the local communities illustrating there culture and way of life.

The following day was a big day in town. It was the annual Bull ride at the racecourse. At midday the town shut down and everyone trapsed down to the course to watch lunatics attempt to ride bulls who have had there testicles tied up to make them 1) Buck and 2) bloody angry. For the next few hours we watched in disbelief as riders where thrown, toss, trampled, gored and generally kicked around. The fact there was only one broken ankle all day is a minor miracle. Even as spectators we were nearly squashed when one particularly large bull charged the (very substantial) fence where we stood, driving it two feet back towards the trailer we were proped against, the kids all cowered beneth the trailer but us older kids where too big/slow to get underneath and where left covered in dust squashed between trailer and fence. There were other events including womens brush throw, mens 100m dash (several contestants didn't even put their XXXX beer down to compete), a hobby horse race for the kids etc etc. The commentator liberally sprinkled his discourse with bloodys, buggers and groans, as well as describing the bulls as either mongrels or wusses depending on how they reacted to having their balls tied up and being zapped with a cattle prod.... The eventual winner was an Aboriginal chap in colourful Champs who had sensibly lost the traditional 10 gallon hat and was wearing a helmet... We left before the evening dance as the crowd was getting lively and I didn't fancy being the only 'bloody pomme' around.

We had heard of the Lions den pub from several people on the cape, and figuring we had earnt a beer or two we stopped to camp. Figuring we would get a swift one in before setting up camp we went to the bar. 5 hours later we left having had several 'swift ones' and a pizza. The olymics was wrapping up and we had to endure the 'highlights' ie all the bloody aussies winning gold medals. A stag night was also in the bar and the poor groom was being forced to drink prodigeous amounts of strange alcoholic concoctions... he was carried out in the end... a good night was had by all...

We woke feeling a bit worse for wear and negociated a fabulous stretch of coast 4wd track down to Cape Tribulation through the World Heritage Daintree NP. The rainforest truly does go right down to the beach and it is very beautiful. The track was pretty steep in places and views out onto the sea were spectacular. Our only complaint was that the walking tracks where too short and we had completed most of them in half an hour each. We decided to camp back in Julatten that night for some peice and quiet.

Over the next couple of nights we ambled around the Atherton Tablelands and watched birds, ate cream teas, and went on a night walk looking for wildlife. Rachel was delighted with the white tailed tree rats and musky rat kangaroos! They were very cute. We also saw a Boyds tree dragon who ran across the camp site on his rear legs with his frilled neck skin out.

Upon our return to Cairns it was down to business... We had a few days to get Larry spruced up for the advert had gone in the Trading Post and the Car Market was on Sunday. The red dust was first assaulted with high pressure hoses, the the traditional bucket and sponge and finally T-Cut polish. The inside was even worse even after three scrubbings the dust was still there but after all thats what he was built for so any buyer was unlikely to be put off... I think all the people on the campsite thought we were mad, but after the forth day of cleaning he looked great! Of course the birds from miles around came to mess on him once the word was out in the avian world, and the weather conspired to cover him in dusty rain whenever possible.

After receiving no replys to our advert we were feeling pretty down when we arrived at the car market, descovering it was very quiet as it was Fathers Day. However we got pride of place at the front (on account of how shiney he was I reckon) and there was quite a bit of interest, some were 'tyre kickers', one girls took him out on a test drive, then took out a saloon then a ute... hmm... one German man offered us half in cash and the other half in 'quality gold jewelry' pointing to the chain around his neck that had left a dirty grey nickel mark..... Anyway one chap, older and genuine, Merv, was very interested and came back with his son later. He invited us round to his place later so his other son, Scott could see it (he was the one with the cash), and a deal was struck!!!!!! We still didn't count our chickens, but were very happy.

Despite problems caused by Travellers Autobarn not properly transfering the title to us, the sale was sorted out and on Friday we exchanged Larry's keys for an envelope of cash. We watched inconsolably from the pavement as he was driven off into the distance... tears were shed.....

During all the arrangements for the car were apace we also booked our tickets for our final leg. We would be flying out of Cairns, to Brisbane and Kuala Lumpur and onto Hong Kong. Then from Hong Kong to Kunming. Overland to Madras, fly from Madras to Columbo, from Columbo to Nairobi, from Nairobi to Cairo and finally from Cairo to Heathrow arriving back on the 23rd April!
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