The Tip! (not the rubbish kind)

After surviving the corrugations of the Peninsula Development Road, it was a relief to finally make it to Seisia, at the top of Cape York. We stopped in to the start of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) on our way up to see what that would be like – we had entertained the idea of doing that track but had been warned it was pretty “gnarly” (do people still use that word these days? Apparently so!).  And “gnarly” it was!

The initial track through to the first water crossing at Palm Creek was quite good with only a few little spots that required some caution. Poor Brandon – with such a sooky pants in the car (that’s me, not Charlotte – she loves everything to do with the car being on it’s side or bouncing around up and down) this small bit of 4WD-ing is probably all he’s likely to do on this trip 😦 We would have attempted OTT if the Palm Creek crossing was passable as that is apparently the worst. But alas it was just too risky for us. It really was quite bad – particularly for heavy vehicles towing heavy camper trailers! We stopped to watch two cars attempt the steep descent into and then climb out of the creek and I was cringing all the way. The first car was driven by the son, the second driven by the father. I was talking to the mother on the banks of the creek and she said her and her husband had done quite a lot of 4WD-ing. When I watched first her son and then her husband attempt to exit Palm Creek, I was able to see where his experience came in! The son gave his car too many revs at the top of the slope and ended up getting stuck (and, as it turned out, damaged his wheel or tyre and had to change it after winching himself free). Meanwhile Dad does it after him a more measured and steady pace and makes it look easy.

The son entering the creek…

The son leaving the creek…

Dad showing us all how it’s done…

Not surprisingly, we made the very adult decision to give it a miss. We had also heard that the road in to Elliot Falls (our next destination) was likely impassable thanks to deep water and while we could probably take a more northerly road to reach it, it would add a few hours to our trip. So we decided to just head straight to Seisia instead.

The infamous sign leading the way to ‘gnarly’ tracks

There are literally millions of termite mounds throughout the Cape. Every now and then you see someone has decided to make one stand out 😉
Brandon’s one and only 4WD attempt on the OTT 😉

It was drizzly and wet as we arrived so Brandon suggested as a treat we stay in a cabin – I think he felt sorry for me having to put up with all that red dirt and adding in the rain would have just about sent me stark raving mad! Setting up the camper and annex in the rain is certainly something we’re going to have to experience, but my capacity to cope with discomfort is being stretched a bit already, so let’s just take things one at a time. A cabin it was, for two glorious nights. Yes, I know, I’m a bit soft. But I have another 3 months to toughen up, OK?We were planning to stay at Loyalty Beach Campground originally because Brandon had been told they had palm cockatoos there. Brandon loves palm cockatoos and he would probably tell you he only had 2 things he wanted to achieve while we were up the Cape – (1) catch a fish off the Seisia wharf, and (2) see a palm cockatoo in the wild. Turns out, palm cockatoos like Seisia too 😉

We were driving back into the campground after a quick trip to the shops and suddenly Brandon brings the car to a screaming halt and says “palm cockatoo” – and voila, there on the ground right in front of us was this illusive creature that Brandon has waited most of his life to see! Just hanging out, nibbling on a nut. Right in front of us. And then, later during our visit, we saw another one just next door to our cabin! Brandon was able to get incredibly close to it, which I thought was pretty special 🙂

(Side note: alcohol restrictions in this part of the country mean you are limited to what you can buy at the bottle shop in Bamaga. When we saw the first palm cockatoo we were coming back from a trip to buy our allowable limit of alcohol – in this case, a 30 pack of cans of beer and a 2 litre cask of moscato (yeah, cask moscato – it’s a thing up here). You know your car is packed to the brim when you have to sit your carton of beer on your lap!)

Beer balancing
Our first night, we watched the sun set as we sat next to the water in Seisia – even knowing there were probably crocodiles in the water in front of us, we still enjoyed the ambience. We also made friends with the locals – tree frogs and wild horses. This little green tree frog parked himself outside our cabin for pretty much the entire time we were there. He was adorable 🙂 At one point, Brandon grabbed a grasshopper that was jumping about the garden nearby and held it in front of the frog’s nose. As soon as one of the grasshopper’s legs brushed against the frog – gulp! He was gone. So cool to watch! And if you come to Seisia you have to get used to seeing wild horses everywhere. They roam through the campsite and attack the wheelie bins in the evening, hunting for food. They were hanging out the back of our cabin. We were warned against approaching them – they have a nasty bite apparently.

Doesn’t get much better than this!

Charlotte’s new friend

Seisia beach looking towards the jetty

Charlotte thought this bush turkey was trying to get away with having us believe it was a palm cockatoo.

Horses hanging around camp
We left the camper at the cabin and headed for the Tip proper on our second day. (Charlotte took great pleasure in pointing out we were going to the Tip of Cape York and not a rubbish tip.) Despite the volume of red mud we brought back with us, it was great to finally get to that illusive sign I had seen on so many television programs about the Cape. The tip of the continent of Australia – pretty cool really. It required a bit of climbing up a small rocky mountain but I heard not one word of complaint from Charlotte about all the walking and climbing. It was marvelous 🙂

These rock ‘mountains’ are all over the path as you climb to the tip. Charlotte insisted on putting a rock on every. single. one.

We made it!
On our second morning, Brandon headed off to the Seisia wharf nice and early for a spot of fishing. While I suspect he had hoped for more variety in his catch, he came away having caught three quite nice sized trevally. Apparently the highlight was watching the 6 foot shark chasing his trevally in, and then also seeing a 5 foot grouper following too!

The catch

Happy camper (see what I did there?)
We initially planned to stay 3-4 nights up the top but we’d pretty much seen all there was to see, Brandon had been for a fish and the palm cockatoos had made an appearance, so we decided we might as well start our trek back south. Obviously Brandon would have been happy to fish for days more and I would have been happy to lounge in a cabin for days more, but we needed to keep moving. Too much to see in a short period of time! We have a few places we want to add to our itinerary so being a few days ahead of schedule isn’t a bad thing. On the way south, we stopped in at Fruit Bat Falls. This is a day use area only, no camping allowed. There’s a walk of about 200 or so metres from the carpark to the Falls and then you reach this glorious freshwater water hole along the Elliot River where you can swim and paddle around. Charlotte was in heaven – she’s such a water baby. Some people were swimming but we hadn’t brought our swimmers down from the car so we settled for a quick paddle before hitting the road again. I pointed out an orchid flower I hadn’t seen before which was also a new one for Brandon too. I can’t remember what it’s called now, but no doubt JH will tell me.

Fruit Bat Falls

Fruit Bat Falls

Fruit Bat Falls

A new (for us) orchid

Fruit Bat Falls
After this we made our way to Bramwell Station. We had heard that this place had a good atmosphere and had live music etc each night, so we thought it would be a good place to stop for the night. Like most places here, it was a little rough around the edges but the beer was cold and during happy hour the manager, Ken, put on a talk about the history of the Station, the current owners and the surrounding area. If you wanted to join in the buffet meal (for $35/head) at this point you could but we retreated to our campsite as we had just splurged on the cabin and didn’t really need to spend more money. We packed up in the morning and continued our journey south, returning to Musgrave Station for a final night on the PDR before beginning our trip west. Unfortunately, after arriving at Musgrave some 5 hours later we realised we had left behind a rather integral pole for our annex at Bramwell. After a nervous few hours, we were able to get the Station to confirm they had our pole (which also has our LED lights attached to it) and had put it in their office for safe keeping. Now as I write this we are waiting to hear if someone is heading south from Bramwell tomorrow who can bring the pole to us! If not, we’ll ask them to hold on to it and arrange them to send it back to us COD once we return to Brisbane. Brandon has found there’s a camping supply place in Katherine so we may just have to make do until then. We plan to get up early in the morning to ring the Station again to see if they have found anyone to send the pole with. If not, we’ll head off without it. But if they did, we’ll wait around here another night to get our pole back. Stay tuned for more news I guess!

EDIT: Pole was found by the manager of the station but no-one was heading as far south as Musgrave the next day so we pushed on. The manager, Ken, lives in Brisbane and will be returning home at the end of October. He is bringing our pole home with him and will contact us to collect it 🙂 Meanwhile, we will have to make do with what we have and will buy another one at the next camping shop we find.

I suspect it will be a little while until our next blog post as we head off into unchartered territory and do some bush camping on our way to the Burke Development Road and Normanton. From there we are heading to Lawn Hill Gorge for a few days and then across into NT and Katherine. We have ordered some Clearview mirrors through a supplier in Katherine so they should be there when we arrive and who knows – we might have to source a local camping shop to buy a new annex pole if we’re not lucky!

Night on the road: 16


I love a sunburnt country…

Australia in all its vastness and changing scenery. Wow.

I think I am only just realising now how big this place called Australia really is. We have driven for days and days and have only made it to the tip of the same state we live in. How is that possible? If we were in Europe, we’d have crossed the continent by now. Having said that, whilst we have spent many hours in the car, we haven’t exactly been barrelling along at 100km/hour all that time. When we were still on the bitumen we were sitting around 90km/hour as that was the most comfortable for the car pushing so much weight. But once we left Cooktown, we hit the corrugations of Battle Camp Road and what would eventually become the PDR. Throw out everything you know about driving and start from the beginning again. The corrugations, dips, rocks, potholes, dust holes and pretty much everything else on this road really make for some of the most uncomfortable driving I have ever experienced. In all honesty, I’m not actually doing any of the driving because I really just don’t think I could manage to keep us safely on these roads – full credit to Brandon for doing such a great job with that.

How can I begin to describe what it’s like to ride these roads? You know those deep tread marks that giant tractor wheels make in the mud? Ruts deep enough they’d go up past your ankle if you were walking through the tracks. Now imagine instead of these tractor-type ruts being in soft mud they were hard and rocky. And instead of gingerly picking your way through on foot, you were driving over them, kilometre after kilometre. Imagine they weren’t just in one predictable line down the road either but they stretched the entire width of the road so there was no escape. And also imagine that you can’t predict the direction these rock-hard tractor tread marks will go from one 10 metre stretch of road to the next. One minute you’re on top of some smaller ruts by doing 80km/hour, the next second you have to slow because the ruts suddenly changed size or direction or there was a dip in the road and you can’t see where the ruts are on the other side, or you have just spotted a dust hole at the last minute and you can’t risk driving through that in case you lose control of the car. Oh and don’t forget the road trains.

There’s no suspension in the world that can manage that type of abuse without letting you feel it in the cabin of the car. And feel it you do. Every bone jarring second. The sound of metal shaking, rattling, knocking. Phones get knocked out of their holders; plugs get knocked out of their sockets; switches pop out of dashboards; and, in our case, your indicator light can pop out of its housing! Relentless, hard, knocking, bouncing. The car sounds and feels like it is being shaken apart, one bolt at a time. You become acutely aware that you are riding in a giant metal bucket. But I should be clear. I’m not remotely concerned about my own well-being. That’s why there are so many handles in the car, right? For this sort of driving. The ‘holy shit’ bar has come in handy more than once. My body certainly has enough padding on it for bouncing like this, and our new sheepskin seat covers (thanks Mum!) make for a comfortable base from which to bounce. My one concern, my only concern, is the well-being of our car. How long can it withstand this abuse? It hasn’t exactly been showing us its good side these past few months – we have spent just about every spare cent we have keeping that car on the road and while I get that the 80 series Landcruiser is seen as a great workhorse, there’s always the possibility that the horse is ready to be put out to pasture, yeah? So every bump, bounce, knock, roll or thump has me in fear that we’re about to damage something on the car that will spell a premature end to this trip. I’m petrified the car is going to fall apart like something out of a cartoon – I can picture Wyle E. Coyote driving a car and something happening that causes his entire car to fall apart one nut and bolt at a time while he sits there, maintaining his pose. I don’t want us to be Wyle E. Coyote.

This is a road that is known to be tough on cars – there are a few car bodies strewn along the road, the camp grounds are rife with people telling stories about the damage done to cars, their own or someone else’s. But what I have so far failed to understand (and probably never will), is the brag-ish pride that I seem to hear in the voices of people who tell war stories about what has happened to them on the road. Surely they can’t actually enjoy damaging their cars? Why? How is it possible to take so much pleasure out of doing something so (avoidably) stupid? Like the people who attempt to climb what looks to be an incredibly difficult 4WD-only hill and end up denting just about every panel on their car, leaving bits and pieces behind in their wake. I don’t get it. Or the fools who look at the 90 degree angle of Gunshot Creek and think they are that one special person alive on this planet that can defy just about every law of physics or whatever relevant science there is to actually make their car practically fold in half and successfully climb out of said 90 degree angled hole in the ground. Am I the only person who looks at these tossers and thinks “Why?” I’m probably the only person I know who actually reckons bitumen all the way to the Tip is a good idea – but I guess I just. don’t. get. it.

So imagine you’ve come to terms with the corrugations (you’ll have to really use your imagination there because I don’t think it’s possible to really come to terms with them). Then there’s the ‘sunburnt’ bit. I have come to realise that Dorothea Mackellar was really talking about the horrid red dirt that seems to accumulate over, in, under, through and outside EVERYTHING that touches it. The shade of red is really unmistakable – think of what it would be like if Uluru suddenly became powdered and coated half of everything you owned. And then think of what it would be like if it rained and the once-powdered, now-liquid Uluru spread to cover the other half of everything you owned. So now you have half your worldly possessions coated in powdered Uluru and the other half covered in muddy, liquid Uluru and you know the best bit? You are driving in a car that is carrying half of this powder-liquid Uluru around with you, rubbing it against you every time you try to get in or out of the car. AND you are sleeping, cooking, lounging and generally just living in a camper trailer that is also covered in powder-liquid Uluru. You can’t open your fridge without rubbing up against it. You can’t get a cup or plate out without rubbing up against it. You can’t make yourself a piece of toast, brush your hair or put your pyjamas on without coming into contact with it. You can’t reach for the toilet paper without rubbing up against it. And if that wasn’t bad enough? YOU HAVE LIMITED WATER!! There’s no such thing as a car wash when you have to survive on only the water in the tank, the best you can hope is that the meagre dustpan brush you brought along will allow you to brush off some of the driest powdered Uluru to give yourself the fantastical illusion that your nearest surfaces are just a little bit cleaner than the rest of your environment.

Brandon’s car after we came back from The Tip. Honey, the Cape called – it wants its red dirt back.
Caked on – looks like icing on a very unappetising cake. It flakes off if you shut the doors hard enough, but leaves a dusty red powder behind that is oddly attracted to just about everything it comes in contact with!

Yeah, I love a sunburnt country.

Nights on the road: 14

Bouncing up and down in an old Landcruiser…

We had a lovely rest in Cairns but in some ways this was the calm before the storm. Our journey northwards would see us start the infamous corrugations of the Penninsula Development Road (PDR), complete with dust and dirt. In and around Cairns, Charlotte was very taken with the quantity of sugar cane fields and this became a little running joke with her – along the lines of “I bet you can’t guess what I’m thinking of now?” We waited for a lengthy sugar cane train to cross in front of us, saw a hopper in action, and even saw one field on fire which was a special treat. The cloud cover around the mountain ranges coming into Cairns were also quite spectacular.

One of the cane fields on fire

Beautiful cloudy ‘misty mountain’ outside Cairns
Leaving Cairns we headed north towards the Daintree and our first little test run of a 4WD road, the Bloomfield Track. Some people say it’s not really a proper 4WD track because it’s quite easy and many 2WD vehicles can do it. This is probably true but it had a few nice little creek crossings and a couple of exceptionally steep ups and downs. The worst of these were concreted for easier traction but it was more than enough off-roading for me. I’d be happy with roads like that for the rest of the trip! At the end of the track was a little pub called The Lion’s Den which seemed like a great place to stop for pizza and a beer 🙂 We also drove past a mountain range called Black Mountain where all the mountains were made entirely of boulders! It was surreal and very pretty.

Crossing the Daintree River by ferry
Video footage of the Daintree forest at the start of the Bloomfield.

Mountain made of boulders
More boulder mountains
Relaxing at the Lion’s Den

Charlotte was quite taken with the lion
We were heading for Cooktown, specifically a bush camping spot we’d found on WikiCamps called Endeavour River Escape. We got there are 4.30pm and set up for one night. It was a great spot – we rang in advance to book and the homestead owner met us at the gate and personally escorted us (on her motorbike!) to our bush camping site. There was hot showers, flushing toilets and grass under foot. Each site had a rubbish bin and fire pit. We had our first marshmallow roasting that night 😉 Tranquility. Given the fishing and walking tracks on the property, we’ll be back for sure!

A guided escort!

Lovely bush camp
After Cooktown we followed Battle Camp Road (hello corrugations!) towards the Old Laura Homestead. We stopped to make some sandwiches for lunch at the old homestead and give Charlotte a chance to stretch her legs. Then it was on to our next camping spot, the Hann River Crossing. We were expecting something a little more rainforest-like and less dust bowl but we made camp as per our plans. There are about 14 sites here and each one is some distance away from the next, except ours (site 12) which joined site 11 and was therefore a tad bigger. We ended up with some lovely neighbours, a retired couple from Broome and we chatted to them a while about the road further north.

Despite not meeting expectations, the site was picturesque in its own way and gave us a chance to refresh ourselves. We were close enough to the (freshwater) river that we got to test our Joolca river water pump. Brandon hooked it up so that we used river water for our showers and dishes which was a real treat. We are having to become very water-wise on the road and are constantly trying to find ways to reduce usage. We have run out a few times which makes me nervous (we have a 60 litre water bladder in B’s car as a back up which has come in very handy!) I stopped short of washing clothes in the river water however! But I did use our Scrubba bag for the first time and I was pleasantly surprised at how good that works. It takes a lot of effort because the bag only fits a small amount of clothes but for life on the road in between caravan park washing machines, it will do nicely.

Fishing at Hann River
Charlotte Trinh out the wash bag
Judging by the colour of the water, I’d say the clothes were getting clean!
Proof the bag worked!
Cherubin caught in the Hann River – B said they tasted like a banana prawn

Stretching out at the Old Laura Homestead

Let’s hope our truck doesn’t end up like this!
Brandon was constantly reminding Charlotte and me to keep things closed and up off the ground. Just on dark on the first night, our neighbours in the next site came over to let us know they just saw a brown snake at their site! Yikes! My sleep that night was disturbed and I became very nervous of our movements around camp. I was kind of happy to leave after that!

Spidery wildlife at Hann River
After two nights beside the Hann River it was time to hit the PDR and Musgrave Station Roadhouse. This was only a short trip down the road from Hann so we had a relatively easy drive that day and managed to snag a good camp site before the hoards arrived. We had good neighbours who shared stories of their trip with us and it was nice to have a grassy campsite again. The Roadhouse slowly filled up during the course of the day and that night the bar was full of cries of delight as the final State of Origin match beamed over satellite. Despite the volume of people, the camp site was surprisingly quiet and made for a peaceful night’s sleep.

Musgrave fills up each night
The freshwater lagoon behind Musgrave Roadhouse was home to a number of freshwater crocs and turtles
The PDR in all her corrugated glory
This horse was intent on eating our Wild Boar flag!

Musgrave is a typical one night stopover on the way north or south so everyone started clearing out early the next morning, including us. Our next destination was originally the Archer River Roadhouse but this wasn’t that much further down the road and our neighbours from Hann River had mentioned the Moreton Telegraph Station as a peaceful place (with grass!) so we pressed on and ended up there instead. And that is where I am writing this post from. We were originally only staying one night but we are a night ahead of schedule for our next national park booking at Elliot Falls so we have decided to stay here tonight and set off early tomorrow.

We have pretty much survived the worst of the PDR although we have to go back that way in a week or so! We had a few moments where we came close to being air-born and we hit bottom a few times but other than some bone-shakingly, boob-jiggly corrugations, we have travelled unscathed.

One thing we are having to learn as we go is how to best set up camp for one, two or three night stays. For the quick overnighters we don’t bother with the big annex but that then leaves us with no protection from sun or rain. So we have started to use the annex from Brandon’s car to stretch over our sitting area and giv us some quick and easy shelter. Those roof-rack mounted annexes are definitely something to add to your kit if you’re planning a trip like this!

Our luscious camp site at Moreton Telegraph Station

We are seeing lots of different frogs everywhere we go 🙂

So from here we hit the Old Telegraph Track (and possibly a few hairy 4WD moments) on our way to Fruit Bat Falls and Elliot Falls. After two nights there it’s on to the top! The reports on the river crossings seem to change every day so we need to just go and check something out first and maybe we go that way or maybe we don’t. While the distances between spots isn’t huge, the road conditions can mean it takes some hours to get anywhere so it’s important to be stocked with water, fuel and food in case we end up camped by the side of the road. So far, so good.

Nights on the road: 1 week, 3 days