A Travellerspoint blog

Wallabies, Snakes and Batteries

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When I was having a shower some wallabies came to visit (back at the camp, not in the shower with me!). Cherie still had kangaroo pellets left from the non-existent wallabies at granite gorge so they were chowing down on that. Very cute and quite tame.

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We checked out the thermal pools by daylight. A tour bus had come in and they were having a great time enjoying the pool as it was a beautiful sunny day.

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We were a little early getting ready (we needed to be in Katherine for lunchtime to pick up the new battery) so I thought we could go and find the Elsey homestead, a replica built and used for the We of the Never Never film. I didn’t realise it was within the caravan park so we set off further into Elsey National Park to find it.

We had driven about 15km and Jeff wanted to leave as he was worried about getting to Katherine in time. He did a u-turn but went off the road a little in doing so. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem but we didn’t realise that the seemingly dry crust on the side verge was hiding an absolute quagmire destined to bog us up to the axles in slimy black mud. Nothing we tried was getting us out of the hole just a metre from the road. As Nev wasn’t there we were on our own and we hadn’t seen any other cars. We ended up having to winch ourselves out using a tree on the opposite side of the road almost directly opposite.

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When he was packing up the winch a 4WD came past to see if we needed any help. Great timing...

We got back onto the road and headed straight for Katherine.

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We made good time with the 130 km/h speedlimit and were there in plenty of time to get the new battery. We also got 2 new oxygen sensors at Repco so that gives us a bit more peace of mind.

Now to relax and look around the town a bit before Cherie and Nev met up with us. We checked out the markets, not much there to be seen. Next stop the shopping centre for a couple of supplies from Woolies. There was also a great little newsagent and a Brumbys was there so we got some goodies for lunch.

Cherie and Nev had also decided to go to Woolies so we met them out the front. We also checked out the Tourist Bureau and then headed out from there.

We decided to go to the Cutta Cutta Caves and Cherie and Nev checked out the local playground.

We got there for the last tour of the day. It was a short 15min walk out to the cave along with the other visitors. The local Aboriginal word for stars is cutta, many stars being cutta cutta. The cave was so named because of the incredibly sparkly pure white calcite deposits made when the water drips down the flow stones and stalactites. The cave is 700m long, with the tourist path leading in to about 250m. After that the path becomes very narrow and a bit more dangerous as it has a rock pool right at the end where there is not much oxygen. The same hot spring that feeds the Katherine thermal springs also feeds the pool at the bottom of the cave. The guide warned us that due to the thermal pool it was much hotter in the cave and could get to 35C. It was cool as you entered the cave but it did get warmer and more humid as you got closer to the end of the path.

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At its highest point the cave is about 30m high. Snakes and bats make the cave their home and we saw one brown tree snake coiled up on a high ledge.

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After leaving the cave we headed back to Katherine and out to Katherine (Nitmiluk) Gorge to stay at the camping ground overnight. The wallabies came visiting around the camp to see what was on offer.

Jeff found we had two fuel leaks, that would explain the fuel smell which had been quite strong. He fixed one but really needed to get some washers for the other one.

Posted by Nezabella 21:16 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Onwards to Mataranka

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We were up early as we'd forgotten we were now back on NT time – 1/2hr grace! The fire was still warm as we’d put in a big log the night before, so Jeff had a go at restarting it – with success! The birds had been chirping early and the sun was shining so good to be up and doing.

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The tire had flattened itself again overnight so Jeff pumped it back up and we crossed the Wearyan River, heading towards Borroloola.

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It’s a small, mostly Aboriginal town along the Savannah Way. We were hoping the police station could give us some information on the condition of Nathan River road but they didn’t know.

Jeff discovered a second puncture so that got fixed and off we went again. We had found a Century battery dealer in Katherine so we needed to get there by lunchtime the following day in order to get a replacement. In the interim he rigged up a bypass circuit in the car that used the second battery so we could start the car from inside.

On the way back out of town we stopped at the mini mart and had some lunch. A very tasty fried egg, tomato and cheese toasted sandwich later we headed back out onto the highway.

Not far from Borroloola, a shortcut track takes you to the less travelled Roper Hwy component of the Savannah Way. The Roper Hwy turned out to be quite a slow track - rough, corrugated, rocky and windy with lots of steep dips requiring close to a complete standstill to exit them, not to mention the numerous small creek crossings. We were still being precious about the oxygen sensor until we could get brand new ones in Katherine so each crossing was still approached with some trepidation.

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One of the major attractions of this route is the Southern Lost City, a collection of deeply coloured rock formations reminiscent of a long lost city. One does feel like the intrepid explorer discovering these structures for the first time, particularly when the paths lead you through scratchy Spinifex grass and you’re wearing your safety thongs! The path also wends its way through the rocks so you can appreciate their timeless magnificence, especially in the afternoon sun.

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We headed out towards Roper Bar. After passing Nathan Ranger Station the track improved with more long sections where you could get some speed up.

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We crossed the Roper River known as Roper Bar which had significant water gushing over the causeway. After crossing back we checked out the historic police station in the dwindling afternoon light. The old station house and the lock-up are still standing.

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About 40km after leaving Roper Bar we reached blissfully smooth bitumen! Ok, it was only single lane bitumen but we were still excited about it! There were heaps of skippys on the road, we almost hit a massive one that bounded out of the dark almost on top of us. I think we missed his tail by mere cms. Another one was sitting right in the middle of the road and we skidded to a halt in front of it, at which point it calmly hopped off. Being on skippy alert makes you extremely tired as your eyes are constantly darting from side to side scanning and left and right road banks for potential hazards. If the skippys are eating they generally won’t jump but if they are watching you they could jump anywhere.

There was also a reasonable-sized bushfire on the left hand side of the road as we drove along – these are definitely starting to be commonplace.

We finally reached Mataranka homestead where we were planning to camp for the night. The one-girl band was still playing and we were able to book ourselves a site.

The homestead is within Elsey National Park and includes the beautiful Rainbow Springs thermal pool. The springs are open 24/7 so Jeff and I decided we’d go for a late night swim. It was a little scary walking out there as the fruit bats were having a field day up in the tops of the palms. They are in plague proportions here, apparently a flock of 250,000!

The spring water fills the pool at 32C, just lovely on a cool night. No one else was there so we could enjoy it on our own. The pool is basically a widened section of a natural creek and has a sand floor with tree roots etc. Small fish came to investigate while we were floating near the steps. Neither of us wanted to get out as we knew it would be absolutely freezing in the cool night air!

Posted by Nezabella 12:07 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Leichhardt Falls to the Wearyan River

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The day dawned bright and sunny but also very windy! During the night it had started blowing quite strong winds (around 40km/hr) which were shaking the tent quite a bit. At one point I had asked Jeff what wind speed the tent fly was rated at as it did seem like it was going to blow away. The wind gusts were strong enough to lift our ladder and half close the tent in on itself!

We decided to pack up camp quick smart and not hang around. We were sandblasted by the fine sand near the rocks but not as bad as the people who had camped in the sand!! They didn’t hang around long either!! The brown falcons were having a great time taking advantage of the strong air currents over the cliffs near the river, circling around looking for any morsels they could scrounge.

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It was windy most of the rest of the day which gave us a good tailwind for driving. It was bitumen from the falls to just past Burketown so we enjoyed it while it lasted.

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We headed down the road towards Burketown, a small and neat town.

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We stopped for some wake-up coffee at a little shop and admired the pig hunting dogs on the back of a nearby ute. They had jackets on that went right up to the top of their necks to prevent throat damage when hunting. Beautiful dogs – one was an O’Hallaran breed (with spots on his head), the other was a bull mastiff x wolfhound.

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We went to the post office to see what souvenirs were there. While there I picked up a magnet that showed an artesian basin. We asked where it was and we’d passed it on the way in but had been distracted by looking at something else.

Water gushes out of a hole in a rock at 68C directly from the artesian basin 700m below. The Bore was sunk by the state government in 1897. Unfortunately the water was unsuitable for drinking . At one point, up to the 1960s, a bath house was operating but this is now long gone. All that remains is the mineralised rock and the gushing water. What is interesting is that a new ecosystem now exists where waterbirds take advantage of the small lagoon that the leaking water has created and the life it harbours.

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Back on the road we headed towards Borroloola. There were heaps of animals and birds about – more wedgetails, brown falcons, some sort of starling, one lone skippy and more Brahmans. The section of road between Normanton and Borroloola certainly was the place to do a spot of bird watching as the numbers were prolific.

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We crossed Gregory River via the concrete causeway. Even this late in the dry season there was still water on the causeway. It would be a fun river to cross without the concrete!

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The bitumen ended and the corrugations began. Lovely. The bitumen was good while it lasted!!

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We stopped at Hells Gate Roadhouse for lunch. There was very little on the menu or for sale for that matter. The sandwiches were a bit dry but mostly edible. They had themed the toilets with angels and demons on the doors and the washing machines were the cheapest we’d seen at $2/load (most expensive $5/load).

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Not far from there we crossed back into the Northern Territory.

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We crossed various creeks and rivers along the track, of varying depths and entries. Some had quite steep descents which made for exciting entrances.

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We had decided to camp near the Wearyan River where a bush camp site was supposed to be. We had been crossing all the creeks with some trepidation, waiting for the second-hand oxygen sensor to also fail. We gingerly crept through the river and stopped on the other side to wait for Cherie and Nev before finding the bush camp. It was then that we noticed we had a puncture so Jeff got out his kit to fix it. When we tried to start the car to move to the campsite we then had a flat battery! Brand new, just 4 weeks old. Not happy Jan! We roll started the car and moved to a campsite east of the river.

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Nev got a fire going while we foraged for firewood. For once it was easy pickings so it didn’t take long to collect what we needed.

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We were close to the riverbank but not too close in case there were crocs hiding. We did go down to the river after dark and saw some eyes gleaming some distance away.

While we were cooking a sand frog came and jumped up on the table to see what we were making for dinner!

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Posted by Nezabella 19:17 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Normanton to Leichhardt Falls

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Noisy birds again this morning. Ironically they are noisiest just before dawn when it is still dark but then they get quieter once the sun is up.
We left about 9.30am to see Mitchell River from the south side. The weather was cloudy with sunny patches which makes it cooler for driving.

The Mitchell sparkled in the morning sun and bid us adieu as we started on our way.

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Today we were heading towards Normanton and from there it would be the Savannah Way all the way to Mataranka in the Northern Territory. We travelled over a good gravel road, that wasn’t too rutted or corrugated like some we had driven. I noticed that the fly plague of Cape York was mostly over, with now the occasional fly to swat rather than constant Aussie salutes.

Along the way to Normanton we saw lots or skippys, brown falcons, many more cows, quite a few wedge-tailed eagles reluctant to abandon their meals, brolgas, grey and pink galahs, great egrets and jabirus. It was probably one of the most prolific wildlife sections of track we’d been on since leaving Perth.

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It was around lunch time when we reached Normanton, a gulf of Carpentaria town that was very important in the early days of the mining boom. It’s a nice looking town but some of the locals leave a lot to be desired in the friendly stakes.

We checked out the auto repair place for an oxygen sensor but no luck. He advised us to check out the tip if we weren’t able to source one from the BP. We decided to have lunch first and picked a shady spot near the replica of an enormous 8.6m crocodile shot by Krystina Pawloski in 1957. We made salad sandwiches using the bread we’d bought from the Weipa bakery, beautiful and soft and very tasty!

We got back on the road and headed towards Burketown.

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Not far from Normanton we came across the turnoff for the Burke and Wills camp 119 monument, their most northerly camp. It’s quite a sad story with a tragic ending - both Burke and Wills the first explorers to cross the continent became victims of the inhospitable outback and only King remained from their original Victorian Exploring Expedition which left Melbourne in August 1860.

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Back on the road we continued driving until it was late afternoon. We checked the 4WD map book for possible camp options – Leichhardt Falls looked promising. We plugged it into the GPS and began the countdown. We reached Leichhardt River which was enormous and had a concrete causeway wending its way through the boulders and trees in the river. The GPS indicated that we had reached our destination but we couldn’t see waterfalls anywhere. There were lots of people camped on the rocky river bed and in the sand so we headed off past the river and followed the sign that led to the falls.

It led onto the river bed and there were the falls, they plunged off the edge of a cliff into another part of the river far below. That explains why we couldn’t see them from the road as they fell from the same height as the road.

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We took some nice pics in the dwindling light and set up camp. Nev had a great fire going which was lovely. We cooked dinner amongst an absolute horde of bugs, haven’t seen this many the whole trip. We had to set up a lamp as a decoy some distance from where we were cooking otherwise we would have ended up with some additional unwanted protein in our tucker. Other insects committed suicide by drowning in our citronella candles.

Posted by Nezabella 20:11 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

On the Way to Normanton

We left around 9.30am with the sky not looking particularly promising.

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It was cloudy and rainy though still quite warm when the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. My sandfly bites have been incredibly itchy and have come up as huge welts. We headed down to Coen where I did some internet research to see if my bites sounded like sandfly bites. Seeing that they did I bought some vinegar. Definitely helped to stem the itchiness.

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We continued on the road towards Musgrave where we stopped for lunch. Definitely not as busy as last time we were there. We ordered hamburgers for the boys and salad plates and chips for the girls and watched some telly while we were waiting.

We continued down the Peninsula Developmental Road and turned off at one of the tracks. Some of the sections were definitely like goat tracks with others just two wheel marks of pushed down grass. We saw lots of cows and birds on the road plus monitor lizards. There were lots of cattle gates to open and close along the way and some surprise! dips which made the tubs bounce in the back.

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At one point we reached a river and couldn’t see how to get across. We found a boggy track through the sand and came out the other side but the tyre tracks pretty much disappeared. We tried a couple of different directions and then found two faint wheel ruts which we followed. It certainly would be difficult to find the right way in the middle of the night!!

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By the time we got out to Mitchell River, it wasn’t far from sunset. The Mitchell would be absolutely majestic in full flood. The river banks are hundreds of metres apart and even now at the height of the dry season there is still a significant amount of water left in the river bed and a strong current plus the risk of crocs. We let down our tyres and drove across the sandy pebbly river bed to the best position for a river crossing. If we could cross here we would cut almost 200km off our travel distance.

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On the other side of the river was a station worker on his day off. He waded across to see what we were doing. He said he’d never see anyone cross but a few had attempted and been rescued. From one side of the river it was $500 and the other side $1000 – go figure.

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The boys waded in to see how soft the sand was, seemed ok so we thought we might try it. Nev had a go at crossing to a nearby sandbank but became bogged almost immediately. Jeff dragged him out with a snatch, then had a go at crossing himself. Now it was his turn to be rescued!! As the sun was quickly setting we decided the best thing to do would be to drive the extra distance. Jeff had taken out the working oxygen sensor and replaced it with the bung one just in case. Got a little dirty changing it back in the very fine dust!

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The station hand waved goodbye and waded across the river again. We drove back up to flat ground and started the process of blowing up our tyres again. On the track again we headed up the road to find the causeway river crossing. We had to be alert for the wallabies which were jumping wildly all over the track. At some point I think I saw an echidna or something similar that looked like a rock, just sitting at the left hand side of the track.

Finally we reached the causeway, where Cherie spotted some freshwater croc eyes gleaming in the dark. We continued driving back towards the direction we wanted to be, towards the Mitchell River crossing we weren’t able to make. The moon rose quite late but it was enormous. About 5km from the opposite side of the banks we’d been previously, we stopped for the night and just pulled off the road into the tall grass. It was about 10pm. 10 min later we were organised and rugged up in bed. Jeff and I were both sleeping with earplugs so we went to sleep quite quickly. Nev and Cherie said that about 10mins after we pulled off a car went by very slowly (bearing in mind that the road we were on was very quiet and probably only used by station hands as it lead to the river) and a little while later was followed by another car with no lights on! Lucky we weren’t awake to worry about it!!

Posted by Nezabella 00:16 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

On the road to Archer River Roadhouse

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When I got up in the morning I noticed that there were massive bites on my toes, legs and arms. Most probably cause was sandflies – tiny insects somewhat like mozzies. Turned out our washing attempt was quite successful, there had been no dew or rain so everything we’d left out was dry. Everything was lovely and fresh smelling!

We packed up and headed off to Woolies for a restock of essentials. The milk delivery hadn’t arrived yet which meant we couldn’t get any milk. But we were able to restock on essentials such as snacks and lollies, our snack bag must have weighed about 12kg!

We had luck at the small bakery inside the shopping centre. It was doing a roaring trade and I picked out a nice looking loaf of bread for our lunch at a later stage. Cherie and I ordered potato scallop burgers with salad which were quite tasty.

We headed off to the wreckers to try and find an oxygen sensor. We went to about 5 places before we got lucky – second hand one but surely better than hours which was completely cactus. We found a shady spot so that Jeff could change it over then headed out of town around 1pm or so after getting some pics of the bauxite ship being loaded.

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The trip was relatively uneventful until we almost flattened a massive monitor lizard on the road. He had run back towards our car as we tried to avoid him. His lucky day.

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We stopped for the night at the Archer River roadhouse. They had a small dinner menu so it was bacon and eggs on toast for JB and spaghetti and eggs for moi – great to have someone else doing the cooking and cleaning for a change.

Posted by Nezabella 18:26 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Weipa

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Sunday dawned cloudy but sunny. The managers told us that the joey had survived the night and was let out for a hop around but was mostly interested in being back in his bag. She took him out for some pics before a couple who were also heading to Weipa were ready to leave.

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He was hung in his bag in the bag seat and off they went. I had wanted to drop him off but they were ready way before us and it was better that he reached the carers as soon as possible as he hadn’t had anything to eat or drink since we’d picked him up.

More fires were about as we set off to Weipa. Burnoffs are fairly constant here in the dry months to control the huge amount of growth that occurs during the wet season. The gravel road to Weipa wasn’t too bad except the last section before the mining lease started. That had some really bad corrugations and then as soon as we reached the Comalco mining lease it became as smooth as bitumen.

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Weipa is a true mining town with most infrastructure provided by Riotinto. There is no government-run local council and until recently no cemetery which meant you couldn’t be buried at Weipa, but would be flown to Cairns. The hospital has no maternity wing so you couldn’t be born in Weipa either. The town has a population of 3500 (25% Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander) with 900 children enrolled in the local school.

Situated in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Weipa is primarily involved with the export of bauxite and cattle. The Andoom bauxite mine is the world’s largest with a mining lease of 2590km. We booked ourselves in for a mine tour when we checked in to the caravan park. Cherie stayed behind with Jack as no kids under 6 were allowed on the tour even though we weren’t allowed to get off the bus at any stage of the tour. The rest of us filed onto a large bus.

They took us on a tour of the town first, then off to the mine. It’s not like a gold or iron ore mine with a massive hole dug in the ground, rather it covers a very large area as the bauxite is found in fairly thin layers just beneath the top soil.

No rock crusher is needed as bauxite is found naturally as small pebbles and any large deposits break up quite easily. Belly trucks are filled by dozers in 7 minutes and carry 170 tonnes back to the mine centre where it is loaded onto a train.

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The train makes its way back into town to the port via the longest single track in the southern hemisphere built over a bridge. The track is made from steel constructed as long single pieces which makes it strong enough to carry the weight of fully loaded carriages crossing the Mission River. The ore trains that use this line travel at speeds of up to 80kph, the locomotive weights 150 tonnes and pulls 33 cars with 100 tonnes of bauxite in each when they are fully loaded. Once the bauxite reaches the port it is washed then loaded onto ships and sails away to Townsville to be refined. The same quantity of water is needed as bauxite to refine it to aluminium.

After the tour we finished off the washing and had it hanging up all over the place, it ended up looking like a circus tent with all the cheery colours waving in the gentle breeze.

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The water is beautiful, bright blue and sparkling but forget about swimming in it – you have to contend with estuarine crocodiles, marine stingers, venomous sea snakes and sharks!We witnessed a west coast sunset over the ocean which was lovely. I went down onto the beach to photograph some seagulls against the sunset and assume that’s where I got done over by sandflies. More about that later!

Posted by Nezabella 21:26 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Returning from the Tip and a Sad Ending

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I woke up fairly early to the sound of waves. I wasn’t that sleepy so decided to get up and have a walk along the beach before the others got up. The sun had risen a little while earlier and was warm on my face as I walked along the waters edge to see what the tide had washed up as it was now low tide. There was no wind or other noise save the sound of water lapping gently at my feet...oh and the barking dog who was with a fisherman.

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Cherie and I had decided to partake of the breakfast option in the open air restaurant. We chose a table overlooking the beach and enjoyed eggs with hash browns, baked beans, toast and poached fruit. Delish!

We needed to make sure that we back at the Jardine River ferry by 5pm so we could catch it across to the other side. We packed up camp then it was off to see Seisa, in particular the supermarket for which we had seen a sign way back down the cape, advertising the supermarket over 250km away! Seisa (pronounced say-sha) is a seaside town popular for fishing and for accommodation options for the 4WD tourists who generally stay at Loyalty Beach.

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Driving back through Bamaga we visited the bakery for lunch again. I had a feta and spinach quiche followed by a blueberry scroll with almost markmallow like pink icing. Very nice! I saved some bits again for the dog who was there again today.

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From Bamaga we headed east to see some relics from WWII. First stop was the Beaufort Bomber which crashed during WWII killing all occupants on board. The plane had broken into many pieces though was still recognisable. Over the years anything of value has been souvenired so there isn’t a lot left.

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There are also a number of fuel dump sites in the area full of empty rusted 44 gallon drums, many stamped with Rheem Australia and USN (United States Navy) 1944.

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Next stop was the C-49 (DC-3) VH-CXD wreck which crashed in 1942, killing all six crew on board.

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Back on the western side of the Tip is Mutee Head, a sleepy bay used for camping and fishing. It wasn’t so quiet in 1942 when it housed a radar tower high up on a hill. Not much remains, just the foundations of the tower. (NB – we assume we actually found the radar tower and it now has just a foundation stone. Other pictures we’ve seen actually show the radar tower in place on the foundation. If it is the right site perhaps it was damaged by a recent cyclone).

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We started heading back towards the Jardine River. It was only mid afternoon so we decided to see if we could find the northern side of the old Jardine River crossing (we had found the southern side two days prior). We found a track leading in the right direction about 1km prior to the crossing. A track off that took us to the river to the opposite side of the river we’d stood previously. A little further along was the northern side of the river crossing. We drove in a little way just to see what the river bed was like and to admire the waterlilies floating nearby.

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Unfortunately, it turned out that getting the car wet again underneath was a mistake as soon after the oxygen sensor died again! We had to try and force a fault code from the ECU so that it would use limp home fuel/air mixture around 12.5 (normally we operate at 14.6). Jeff was NOT amused!

To top it off inside the car was still mooky and wet from our previous submarine adventures and was now beginning to smell musty as well as dusty – great!

After crossing the river again we filled up with fuel and icecream then headed back down the Peninsula Development Road to Bramwell Junction. Unlike our first sojourn to Bramwell this time it was completely deserted!

Couple of pics with some obliging termite mounds and we were back on our way.

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We had decided to drive to Moreton Telegraph Station, some 40km further as it wasn’t quite sundown. Just one km from the campsite I was down in the bottom of the car trying to find some wires when we hit a wallaby. We were only going about 60km or so when it happened. Jeff thought he’d run over it properly but when we went back to make sure it was standing stunned in the middle of the track, blood everywhere. Absolutely horrific and gut-wrenching to see. We had it lined up with the car to put it out of its misery when a joey crawled out of its pouch. The mother took off in one direction back towards the bush and the joey hopped the other direction, taking refuge under tangled branches right near the drop off to a mooky creek some distance below. The boys went to follow the mother to put it out of its misery but couldn’t find her. I was trying to catch the joey with my towel but it wouldn’t come out from under the bush, just looked at me with these big brown eyes. I was worried it would end up in the creek and drown. I couldn’t walk away knowing it was there and would eventually starve to death. Jeff had a go at catching it and managed to get a hold of it. I quickly wrapped him in my towel and we drove to the campsite, hoping someone there was experienced with wildlife.

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Fortunately we were in luck as one of the managers there knew what to do. She identified him as an agile wallaby, common in the area. It was lucky he was old enough to be able to survive without his mother. It made me feel a little better to know we’d been able to save one life. She rang a wildlife carer in Weipa and it was organised that he would be dropped there the next day by the first people to leave (we found out in the morning that there were three groups going to Weipa that day including us).

Further inspection of the car at the Moreton Telegraph Station campsite revealed more carnage – the snorkel is busting the top of the car as it doesn’t have enough flex and we’ve broken a body mount somewhere along the way (I had noticed that the car seemed awfully flexible over some of the rocks) which means we’ve cracked the engine bay in about 3 places, one we’ve already fixed (bit of a botch job but it will get us home).

Posted by Nezabella 19:15 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Conquering the Tip

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I had a nice shower this morning to wash off some of the red dirt. I think it is now ingrained in my feet as a stain as it doesn’t come off even with soap!

Jeff replaced the air flow meter as it seemed it had an issue since the numerous water crossings. He got most annoyed trying to find a spare light bulb we apparently had somewhere in the car. He’d already chucked the broken one away so he couldn’t put that one back on and had to make a tape covering for the lightbulb socket so it didn’t get dusty.

I purchased a few souvenirs from the tiny shop that also served as the petrol station, got some fuel and we were on our way. The Jardine ferry only carried two cars at a time but the river at that point was around 50m wide so it didn’t take very long to get across to the other side.

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We started up the track towards Bamaga but had only gone around 5km before the engine was running rich again. It obviously wasn’t the airflow meter then, which only left the oxygen sensor as the likely culprit. It now meant we were burning somewhere between 2 and 3 times the fuel than normal.

Bamaga is quite a reasonable sized town and has most services you would need. We headed out to the industrial area to see what wreckers they had and managed to get the lightbulbs we needed. The oxygen sensor was another story and we had to make do with trying to get the ECU to throw the right code so it would be in limp-home mode – still rich but not as bad as what we had been experiencing. Jeff actually got offered a job at the wreckers as their normal mechanic had broken his leg!

We had arrived at Bamaga around lunch time so we decided to see what the Bamaga Bakehaus had to offer us. There were pies and quiches and they could make up wraps so we had salad wraps and the boys had meat pies. Hanging around the bakery were some poor sad dogs who looked like they needed a good feed. I gave some of my iced finger bun to one who came and sat patiently near my feet. It seemed to have a really nice nature and it would have been nice to take him home even though he was a bit beaten up looking.

We headed out towards the Tip, the most northernmost part of mainland Australia. Cape York (including the Tip) is the ultimate mecca for 4WD enthusiasts. Although an alternative, more accessible route to the tip is now available with the addition of the Peninsula Development Rd, the majority are there to do the iconic telegraph track. As such it is still a feat to actually reach the tip, as many do not make it due to mechanical failure, crashes etc.

Along this last part of the track we found the Croc Tent – literally a canvas tent in the middle of nowhere selling a huge variety of souvenirs. From there the track narrowed and became quite windy, wending its way through scrubland and rainforest. We reached the carpark mid afternoon. All the tour buses had left so it was easy to find parking. The space available for parking was surprisingly small considering 50,000 cars attempt the pilgrimage to the Tip each dry season.

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The tide was out so we were able to walk along the beach then clambered up the rocks to reach the very tip. Lance and Tai were there so we caught up with them for a bit before capturing the all important photo. For some, reaching the tip can be somewhat anticlimactic as if they expect a fanfare for what they’ve gone through to get there and not just a sign in a rock marking the spot!

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It was a lovely afternoon to be there with blue skies and a gusty breeze. The serenity was somewhat broken when the first helicopter arrived, followed by another and another until there were 5 hovering overhead. The closest one was almost on top of us! Eventually all 5 were lined up next to each other before they all left one at a time.

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We added a rock to the largest cairn on the top of the hillside, then made our way back down to the car. I decided to go and check out a nearby boardwalk which looked interesting.

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On the way back something went 'thump' on the boardwalk and then the nearby ground - see if you can spot it...

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We decided to follow a 4WD route that went from Sommerset Rd out across 5 beaches. What a crappy track! Boggy, rocky and the beaches weren’t that great anyway. A shortcut back to Punsand Bay was noted on the map so we decided to take that one back. It turned out to be quite a challenging track too with lots of soft sand. Neither of the routes are used much and are single lane only.

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Punsand Bay has an established camping ground so we were staying there that night. It’s right on the water and we had a campsite one row back from the beach. The sun had just gone down so we snapped a few pics of its remains.

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We set up for the night, spag bol on the menu. There are no lights in the toilets so you have to take a torch with you. I went over to investigate and was greeted with a little friend in the bottom of the bowl – a white lipped green tree frog! He was quite happy living near the toilets even if it wouldn’t be my choice of accommodation! We coaxed him out of the bowl and then he moved around to the back of the toilet where the pipes go through the wall. He was able to grip onto the porcelain with his sticky feet.

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Posted by Nezabella 02:14 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Old Telegraph Track Adventures and Mishaps

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The smoke was still there when we got up but started to dissipate once the sun rose. I had expected early traffic to come past our campsite but the first car didn’t come til after we’d gotten up.

We decided to go down to the creek for a morning swim before leaving. In the daylight we could see the chicken track creek crossing which was to the left hand side. The bottom of that section of the creek was like a shallow swimming pool with a sandy bed. The water was cool and refreshing in the deep rock pool just next to the shallow section. Nev had taken Jack to go exploring and found there was a waterfall further up on left hand side. I went up to have a look and decided to get in at that end and float back towards the rock pool. There was a deep but narrow channel in the rocks (like a natural lap pool) which was quite easy to see from the edge of the creek. I jumped in the water and started making my way back down the stream. The current was quite strong and was pushing me along quite quickly so all I needed to do was negotiate all the rocks which were now relatively difficult to spot as the water wasn’t still!

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Cherie came down once she was ready and we continued to enjoy the water and watch some of the chicken track creek crossings from the earlybirds. One more dip then we had to leave and continue up the track.

At the second creek crossing, Mistake Creek, the water was clear and relatively shallow (knee height) so I was able to cross to the other side and take photos of our cars fording the creek.

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Next up was Cannibal Creek. At this point we had caught Lance and Tai who were filming themselves crossing over. This creek was about 1m deep and had a sharp right hand bend which you couldn’t see until you were in the river. As Lance had just gone through before us we barrelled through assuming all would be well which it was.

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They then followed us to the next creek, Logan Creek, which looked very deep and rather mooky with lots of reeds around the banks . It looked like an ideal croc breeding ground!!! It was a very long crossing too and we hoped we wouldn’t get stuck halfway across! More preparation for the car was needed. We were getting quite practiced at getting the car ready to ford water and it didn’t take long to suit up. We were first to go across the lagoon. With the engine revving we charged into the water. A huge wave came and washed over the front of the car and stayed about bonnet height as we passed through. Nev was next, followed by Tai in the Courier and Lance in a Landcruiser. At one moment it looked like the Courier was going to float away but he managed to save it.

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Buoyed by our previous success we approached the next crossing, Nolan Brook, with confidence. Some people camping there told us that they had seen someone towed out just recently. In the middle it was quite deep, more than waist high and the river floor was fairly soft. Tai was first to try his luck. He got out to about one third the way through and started floating. We all stood around going hmmm....the campers ran and got their Cruiser to snatch him out. By the time he was dragged out the water had seeped in up to the console and it absolutely poured out when he opened the door. Nev was next, got a little further and then also floated. The crew were now more practiced at retrieval so Nev wasn’t out there as long. Water still got in but not as much.

Then it was Jeff’s turn. The entry looked impressive but he suffered the same fate as the other two, swamped! It wasn’t sitting in the water very long as Nev was quick to get him out but still the water had reached to almost the top of the seats!!

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Everything on the floor was drowned so it was lucky that we had moved everything of value to higher ground. The water had reached the bottom of the floor at the back of the car and soaked into all the carpet. We parked the cars on a hill to help them drain. Everything had to stay packed up high for days afterwards until the carpets had dried out. Lance was last to attempt the crossing and the only one successful. He was jubilant!

By the time we were finished another lot of cars were coming through. The first was a Landcruiser driven by an old guy wearing denim jeans who waded straight into the creek not caring about his wet jeans at all. He got through ok and then towed the other two through, one with a camper trailer on the back.

Not far up the track it forked with the right hand track going to the Jardine River. Straight away it was clear that the track was going to be a bit more challenging, with deep ruts that saw us on 60 degree angles to get through. When we finally reached the river it was very clear that we weren’t going to be crossing it!

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A wide girth, an unknown depth and a strong current made it certain that the Jardine would not be beaten today. We drove down around the corner to find the old crossing which was in the middle of the bush camps. You could see the track leading down to the water but options at this point were no better than at the first point we’d seen the river.

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The price for crossing the Jardine via ferry is the most expensive we’ve seen so far - $88 return which apparently also includes an allowance for camping in the parks. We camped at the ferry crossing site as the ferry only operates between 8.00 and 5.00 each day. The people who crossed Nolan’s behind us were also camped there and Jeff was able to use their welder to patch some of the cracks that had appeared in the engine bay. Lance and Tai also camped with us.

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Being Tenille and Mum’s birthday today I sent them both texts from the satellite phone as I wasn’t able to get mobile reception. Hope they go through ok!

Posted by Nezabella 16:36 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

The Real Challenge Begins

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There were certainly some early risers in the campground – some people were up before the sun and packing, long gone before we even got out of our tent. With everything packed we took the left hand track leaving Bramwell Junction to the start of the southern leg of the old telegraph track. It’s mostly single lane, average speed 40km compared to development road normally 85-90km/hr.

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The telegraph track runs alongside the old telegraph line that was laid all the way to the tip of the cape. There are 14 creek crossings and challenging surfaces to drive over as its primary purpose was to be the shortest route. It was laid in 1887 and was in use until 1987. The vast majority of 4WD tourists to the cape are there to follow this original track (the Cape has over 50,000 cars visiting in the dry season!).
The peninsula development road also goes almost to the tip but follows a much more convoluted route as it is designed to be as all weather as possible and therefore is built on the highest ground (top of the hills) to avoid creek crossings that flood in the wet season. It is a standard gravel road although it does have some very nasty corrugations to keep you from falling asleep.

The first creek crossing after Bramwell is Palm Creek crossing. It has a muddy steep entrance where you need to pick the right line to get down the drop-offs to the creek which has mooky green but relatively shallow water.

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Along the way, people have left messages regarding their mechanical failures.

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At some points along the track we were on quite an angle.

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Not much further up the track we reached the infamous Gunshot Creek, where many a 4WD has come to grief. There were lots of people hanging around waiting to see if someone would try coming down one of the many entry points that were now rutted, steep and not attempted by the vast majority of intrepid travellers. The boys started inspecting one of the entry points and people started whispering and pointing, ‘surely they aren’t going to try THAT one!’

Well, we weren’t there to be gun-shy so Jeff got into position poised at the top of the hill, I was in position with camera in hand, Nev was in position with video and walkie talkie and the crowd looked on, holding their breath... secretly hoping for disaster to befall these bold sandgropers and for one of our cars to turn turtle!

Inch by inch the Jackaroo crept down the almost vertical drop towards the muddy pond at the bottom. With a thud it was in the hole and on full throttle to get out of the mud, sending out a huge bow wave that scattered the crowd. A huge cheer went up from the waiting throng to salute our success.

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Nev was quick to follow, also a resounding success – go the West Aussies! In the crowd watching was Lance from the 4WD show and his friend Tai. They were very impressed to see that the feat had been attempted by us as they were also from WA.

For the majority of other cars at the creek, it was down the chicken track for them. Lots of people were towing trailers so they really needed to have an easier option.

Gunshot Creek and the Cape itself have claimed many victims in terms of broken objects and Gunshot Creek has become the final resting place for many such items including chairs, plastic tubs, mechanical parts, clothing, thongs and more.

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After us a bunch of young Queenslanders egged their mate into trying on of the other entry points. This one was less vertical and very muddy at the bottom before heading into deep water. They were all drinking heavily and of course he got himself quite stuck in the mud. It took them about an hour to dig then try and snatch him out.

The crowd had dissipated so we headed off to the next creek crossing – Cockatoo. This one also had a bit of a reputation for some people getting stuck but as long as you pick the right line through the rocks it’s all good.

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At this time of the year there are a lot of burnoffs and you get used to seeing smoke and sometimes small fires as you drive along.

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North of Sailor Creek the southern section of the telegraph track ends as the Development Road takes over for about 9kms.

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The northern section of the telegraph track begins at Fruit Bat Falls. There are three main sets of waterfalls in this section of the telegraph track, all of which are suitable for swimming as there are no crocs. The first of these is Fruit Bat Falls. An easy 2.6km drive off the track it is visually stunning with a wide waterfall spilling into a crystal clear green pool. The waterfall is on a rocky shelf and it is possible to climb up to the top and stand in the shallow rock pools of the river above.

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After the dust of the road it was very refreshing to have a dip, get massaged by the waterfall and explore the rock pools. This is also one of the only areas in the cape where pitcher plants grow and you can find them here just by the side of the boardwalk. They are about the size of your hand and would have a field day in the wet season when there are masses of insects around.

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Not far up the track is the turnoff for Elliot and Twin Falls. It’s also a very popular camping spot as it has marked out bays and toilets. In the peak season it fills up around lunchtime so it was well and truly full by the time we arrived. The two sets of falls are a short walk away from the carpark. Elliot Falls cascades off the edge of a deep and narrow chasm cut into the rocks.

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The water meanders down the channel and meets up in a u-formation with the flow from Twin Falls situated a short distance away, then flows downstream together towards the ocean.

Twin Falls is as the name suggests, a series of short falls cascading in two main sections. There are a number of pools here for swimming but not as nice or extensive as at Fruit Bat Falls. When we arrived it was just before sunset and the lighting was lovely for taking photos.

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As the campsite at Elliot Falls was full we drove on to find a spot for the night. Just up the road was Canal Creek. It was almost dark so it was a bit hard to figure out exactly where the crossing was. We took the right hand option which led across the rocky river bed and across to the other side where there were about 4 different tracks leading out. The one we chose turned out to be the hardest as the roobar hit the front wall of the entry point with a loud thwack before we lurched up it and teetered on the edge before coming to a rest at the top. We drove around the sand for a bit to find a spot to camp. The sand near the creek was quite wet so we headed to higher ground and discovered a nice little spot off the main track in amongst the trees.

There was still a fair amount of smoke in the air from the burnoffs which were scheduled for at least the next 2 days. During the night I could smell smoke and hoped that the fires weren’t getting closer! Around dawn there was a thick white cloud hanging in the air, quite eerie.

Posted by Nezabella 15:19 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Frenchmans Track

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In the morning we found that the brush turkeys had discovered the potatoes and pretty much demolished them!! Those that were left were burnt beyond recognition so we wouldn’t have wanted to eat them anyway.

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Our plan for the day was to find Frenchmans Track and traverse it. We hadn’t seen a turnoff for it on the way there so we kept our eyes peeled on the way out. Turned out the track was tucked in on the right (returning) just after a dip in the road which explains why we didn’t see it.

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The track was fairly much single lane and much less used than the main track. It changed from sand to rock to red dirt as we drove along and had lots of bends and turns. These pics show you how different the track is along its 52km.

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The first main crossing was at the Pascoe River. When we arrived there were 2 camper trailers there deciding whether they would be able to do the crossing. It had steep drop-off entry and exit points and looked quite challenging (that’s not even counting the river itself!) The boys went down to check it out and see how deep it was. It seemed to be about 1m with a sandy and rocky creek bed and higher rock sides.

We started getting the car prepped for its first major water crossing. Anything that wouldn’t survive getting wet was moved to as high ground as possible. This included lots of electronic stuff under the seats, the ecu, laptop, map books and other such items. The front end required tarp application to help direct water away from the car.

I changed into my bathers to wade across and capture all the action (or disaster!) The water was about waist height and it took me ages to get across as I was trying not to slip on the rocks and drown the camera. It was pretty cold water and I was also looking out for potential crocs!! Once I was set up ready to go Jeff drove across first (the campers had moved out the way to see how we went). He made a flawless crossing, making it look effortless before climbing the steep gully on the other side. I was using both the video and camera which made things interesting! Cherie was capturing all the action from the back side and the go pro was giving a birds-eye perspective so we had pretty much every angle covered!

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Nev was next and then the campers decided to come through – all were unscathed. We also took the opportunity to have a proper dip and wash off some of our dust but unfortunately we were in the sun for a while all up and did get quite sunburnt.

We continued up the track, certainly the most exciting since we got to the Cape. We stopped for lunch at the Wenlock River crossing (second time we have crossed the river but now in a different spot about 50km north). Out came the 2 min noodles, easy option. We were soon joined by the bikes and campers as they weren’t that far behind and also thought it was a good place to stop. With Frenchmans Track being single lane it meant there weren’t that many spots to stop for a break.

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During August a lot of burning off is conducted in the area and we drove past a few fires.

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We continued along the track until we reached the peninsula development road and headed north.

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Next stop was the Moreton Telegraph Station. Although as early as 1939 Australia was ranked 7th in terms of telephony traffic, Cape York was still very much disadvantaged in this regard, with mail being delivered by pack horse until after the end of the Second World War. It was only in 1987 that the construction of microwave telecommunications links allowed residents throughout Cape York to at last be able to communicate via dial telephones. In the 1860s construction began on the Overland Telegraph Line. The northern section ran through very difficult country, Moreton Telegraph Station was completed in 1887. All the stations were built like forts to protect staff and equipment from attack as tension between the Europeans and Aboriginals was a significant concern.

The station has a lovely grassy camping area not far from a river. As it was still fairly light we thought we would continue on to the next main camping ground being Bramwell Junction. On the way we saw a dingo who raced across the track – almost din-gone! We got in to Bramwell late afternoon and checked in. The grounds were pretty busy and we recognised the camper trailers from earlier in the day. At reception they had burgers on offer for dinner so we decided that we’d just do that as it would be instant dinner with no washing up! They actually came out on toasted bread which was a bit different but quite tasty.

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(Ed - managed to sneak another one in just as we're leaving Weipa - enjoy!)

Posted by Nezabella 22:40 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Iron Range National Park

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We went for a morning dip in the Wenlock River, keeping a close eye out for any crocs that might be hiding in the pebbly creek bed. The pebbles made quick work of our dirty feet and scrubbed them till they were pink. The water was cool and refreshing after being sweaty for the past couple of days.

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After packing up we were on our way again. We crossed the Wenlock River, then headed up the track. At Mt Tozer we stopped to have a look at the lookout. The weather had been a bit crappy so the views weren’t the most riveting.

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At the turn off we decided to take the right hand road which would lead to the Lockhart River community. Along the way was a WWII display which was located at the airport. It had some very interesting information on the war games at the time.

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We drove into Lockhart, a typical Aboriginal community in this area.

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Next stop, Chili Beach. It’s a lovely spot on the cape, known for its wind! We decided to have lunch there and pulled out the awning for some shade. The coconut palm lined beachfront was very tropical and had the feel of a castaway movie set. Campers are warned not to park under one of the trees unless they would like a coconut on their car or head! The boys decided to see if they could open one by skinning it then making a hole for us to get the coconut milk out. Another coconut provided fresh pieces of flesh – yum!

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The tide was all the way out so we were able to fossick on the shore and check out the different sand homes created by the crabs – spaghetti and peas!

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Afterwards we went to check out Portland Beach, not far around the corner.

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We camped not that far back into the rainforest in a nice shady, grassy area known as Cooks Hut campsite, complete with picnic tables and toilet! Utter luxury for us at this stage! No one else came and camped where we were so we had it all to ourselves.

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The brush turkeys came to investigate what we were up to while we got food organised – spag bol using macaroni. We also decided to throw some potatoes in the camp fire as we had some pretty good coals going. They were actually cooked before we went to bed but we decided to leave them in the fire till morning except Jeff who still had room and ate his.

Posted by Nezabella 21:37 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Musgrave, Coen and the Archer River Roadhouse

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Up early. We figured that the reason the site was so quiet was because of the construction site across the river and their loud generator starting up early! We organised brekky then packed up our site and got on the road towards Musgrave roadhouse. We arrived around early midday.

It’s definitely an oasis with grass and sprinklers keeping everything green. Musgrave has been an important station with use as an airport, telegraph station, post office and more. We had icecreams and a pit stop moment.

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We headed up the track towards Coen, another isolated town towards the top of the Cape. We followed the signs towards picnic tables and found one under a tree. It looked like the area had been used as a caravan park in the past as there were powerpoints scattered around the grass. In the trees near the river large fruit bats were hanging from the branches. Cherie was feeling rather naff from the twists and turns in the track so she stayed in the car to have a bit of a rest. We made some salad sandwiches and sat at a picnic table that said ‘no food’ and ‘smoking’. Very strange. Well we weren’t going to sit in the sun so we sat at the table anyway. The sun was quite warm so it was much better in the shade.

After lunch we went to the general store to get more icecreams and bread. The Exchange Hotel next to the general store had been renamed to the Sexchange Hotel – someone couldn’t resist a laugh!

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Next stop was at Archer roadhouse. After Archer River we took the next main turn to the right which would take us to Iron Range National Park, noted for its birdlife and beautiful Chili Beach.

It was starting to get late so we looked in the mapbook for a camping spot. There was one noted near Wenlock River so we headed there. It was a lovely little spot tucked in on the left hand side before the river crossing. Big shady trees and a few steps down a steep hill to the river. It was quite shallow at the spot we’d picked so we thought we might have a swim in the morning as our shower.

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(Ed - I may get a chance to upload one more post today but if not you may not hear from me for a few days as we'll be going out of a service area again.

Posted by Nezabella 16:13 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Lakefield National Park

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Well, last night was pretty much the worst sleep ever. The people across the way were having a big party with the most dreadful music. All we could really hear was thud thud thud. It went on for hours and hours. Around 5am the last few stragglers were coming back from the pub – noisy critters. Then early morning the kids from a nearby cabin were playing in the mud near our cars, screaming and shouting. And that was what we heard through our earplugs!! Cherie and Nev pretty much didn’t sleep at all with all the racket.

We staggered out at about 8am and started trying to get ready amidst the rain showers that were still having around. I put on warm clothes as I was quite cold. We packed up just before the next rain cloud came through (the tent got packed up still fairly wet) and had a look at the pub during the day. Much tamer! I added our names to the wall in a tiny space that was left behind a door (Jeff, Boo, Cat, Nev and Jack – Cape York Roadtrip 2011) – we’re immortalised! Only those who stayed at the hotel and donated to the RFDS can write on the wall.

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On the road we headed back to Cooktown for a look around. The boys filled up with fuel and we checked out the local art and craft gallery. Down at the info centre we stocked up on maps for Cape York and Lakefield NP.

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From there it was short drive to get to Finch Bay, a pretty little coastal bay, but watch out for the crocs!

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We drove up to Grassy Hill to the lookout and to see the lighthouse. It was pretty windy at the top but the weather had gotten quite warm so an outfit change was required.

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From Cooktown we headed northwest. It isn’t long before you reach Lakefield National Park which an extensive park situated in a flood basin, one of the most remote in Queensland and renowned for its rich birdlife. The second largest national park in Queensland, it has a vast river system creating a wetlands area of permanent waterholes and lagoons.

The first real creek crossing was Isabella Creek and its cascading waterfalls. Beautiful small gushing falls and a welcome dip for our hot and feet in the crystal clear waters.
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The next major creek crossing was Normanby. Known for crocs, I definitely wasn’t getting out and paddling my feet!

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We crossed Laura Creek and had a look around then stopped at the Old Laura Homestead. The building is still standing although you can’t actually tour inside. Some information boards tell you stories of the area. Back in the day when the homestead was occupied (as late as 1960) it needed to be incredibly self-sufficient as the Cape York area could be cut off for months at a time in the rainy season. A rusty truck corpse and a couple of outbuildings complete the picture. Some enormous mango trees that must be over 50 years old were covered in tiny mangoes, if only we were here in 4 months time to eat them!

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We also stopped at White Lily Lagoon. As it was now late afternoon there were lots of birds around. The lagoon was fairly densely covered with lily pads and small white flowers. Up in the trees the birds were getting ready to roost for the night. I didn’t stand too close to the water’s edge – also a great spot for crocs!

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Next stop was Red Lily Lagoon which, you guessed it, has red lilies. Unfortunately none were open though we were able to snap some buds and seed pods. This lagoon is much bigger and has a boardwalk out to partway through the lilies so you can safely see a bit more. The egrets were careful to stay some distance from us though the magpie geese were happy to let us come a little closer before they flew away.

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In this park we’ve noticed 2 distinctive types of termite mounds. One is grey and often has a castle like appearance. The other is red varying to brown or gold and is usually fat and dumpy. We’re assuming they’re made by two different types of ants, have to do some research on them when we get back!

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We made our way to Hann’s Crossing where we planned to stay the night if the campsites weren’t all full. It was surprisingly quiet and we were able to pick a site close to the toilets. It was also close to the river and I kept my eye out most of the night just in case any crocs decided to climb the bank! The toilets were still some distance away so it was a bit of a trek to get there along what looked like a cow trail. If you shined your headlamp just right (mine was too dull) you could see lots of shiny dots as you walked along – they all belonged to the eyes of spiders! Spider eyes, they're watching you....

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Posted by Nezabella 15:43 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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