Travels 2011- Cape York


We eventually got away from Cooktown at about 1000hrs after a cursory browse over their Saturday morning market and just remembering to refill the gas bottle.  Our initial route was to be the Battlecamp Road (gets its name from a 1890s deadly fight between local Aboriginal tribes and local pastoralists) which would lead us into the Lakefield NP where we hoped to spend a week fishing in one of its many navigable waterholes on either the Kennedy, Bizant or Normanby Rivers which eventually drain into Princess Charlotte Bay. 

One must first drive west over the Great Dividing Range and this newly bituminised section of the road was very scenic.  However, once over it, the road reverts to being a pretty average 4x4 track with some nasty washouts, scourings, corrugations as well as the odd river crossing. We handled it all well enough save from the bull dust which managed to seep into the vehicle and van from many unidentified sources. 

Lakefield NP at nearly 500,000 hectares is Qld's second largest NP (Simpson Desert NP is the largest). The land has been successfully claimed under the Aboriginal Land Act and ownership is in the process of being transferred to the traditional owners with a joint management agreement for the park being established.


                                            Crossing Endeavour River at Isabella Falls                                            Isabella Falls

Crossing Normanby River on Battlecamp Road

Very little traffic about no doubt due to the fact that the local Info Centre in Cooktown was telling all enquirers that most of the roads were still closed from the wet season rains. We had lunch by the interesting historical ruins of Old Laura Homestead (HS) circa 1880.  A cattle station lease taken up to provide beef for the Palmer River Goldfields - nearly 100 years later the Qld government acquired this and neighbouring properties for the NP.


This Blitz Truck - a reminder of the transport challenges of the past

Old Aboriginal stockman's Quarters and Meat house

 All of the camping in Lakefield NP is by on the spot self-registration ie you cannot pre-book a campsite a-la the Daintree.  Each waterhole may have anything from 3 to 20 campsites and one must register and pay at unattended ranger stations and also complete the registration blackboard to let other would-be campers know of your occupancy of a particular site.  Unfortunately, very few campers update the Registration Board as to their departures and so it can be quite a misleading guide to the camping area's occupancy rate.  Some in the know, also ring up the Rangers and get them to register their booking on their behalf prior to their actual arrival - its a dogs' breakfast.


Its hard to decide how to best manage camping in these NPs.  Lack of mobile phone reception at some  parks makes the centralised system farcical at times, while on-site self-registration can oft lead to costly disappointment.  I do believe, that if the Ranger stations were properly manned ie during normal business hours and equipped with  phones or online facilities and this info was published on their various pamphlets then everyone would be in a better position to gauge where they could camp on a given day without detriment to the overall management of visitor numbers and or income from fees. 

Unfortunately, because of the amount of closures in this NP campers had booked out practically every site on every waterhole we came to and thus we were forced to drive to the furtherest one open, only to find the only vacant sites were designed for tent camping - we could not fit in.  Just as we were about to drive back out, a sympathetic ranger appeared out of nowhere in her brand new Landcruiser and offered us a non designated area  beside the section set aside for commercial tour groups and said that contrary to the camp rule she would permit us to run our generator - albeit last some compassion was shown to a couple of exasperated nomads!

So it came to pass that the Burchetts' were registered at Kalpower Crossing on the Normanby River which has, toilets, cold showers, water, boat ramp and about 5km of navigable water to boat and fish on.  Those intending to visit in similar campervans and camper trailers should note that of the 18 sites here only a few sites are suitable for these types of recreational vehicles. The wilderness fishing potential of this NP is well described in Matt Flynn's: North Australian Fish Finder 7th Edition, pages 210-215.


Camp at Kalpower plus Maria's new stylish kitchen tidy in the annexe

We eventually got the boat into the water and pot set to catch some Cherabin (giant freshwater prawn) bait.  The Normanby river was still running quite strongly as evidenced by the crossing causeway which is usually dry by this time of year.


Kalpower Crossing 6 June 2011

Normanby River at the crossing



Maria caught a Longtom while I managed a juvenile Barra and a couple of Archer Fish.  During our subsequent forays up and down the Normanby River, we were frequently accompanied overhead by majestic sea eagles or by goshawks.  The main waterbirds sited were cranes and storks - no ducks. Azure Kingfishers were also frequently seen darting about for insects.  In the camp ground there was surprisingly little wildlife save for the odd wallaby and inquisitive goanna.

The Normanby River reminds one a lot of the Daly River in the NT not only because of its huge size but also because of the massive paperbarks that line its also accommodates crocodiles of equal stature.  While we were here, a camp of 3 brothers from Cairns and Ballarat managed to catch 7 good sized Barra  all on fresh Cherabin baits.  We have given similar baits ago as well as casting at the snags and of course trolling to little effect - water maybe too cold says some but I don't believe em.  Fishing so soon after such an enormous wet season should produce good catches.

During a normal dry season one can drive through Lakefield to the coast or else use it as a scenic route towards the Cape entering the NP in the south at  Laura and exiting it further north at Musgrave only some 100kms south of Coen.  Unfortunately, this time around, we must backtrack south some 80kms to Laura to join the main Peninsula Development Road to head further north.  The closure of this alternate route no doubt accounts for the lack of commercial tour groups in the NP - we saw only one stop for an overnight camp.  However, as in Cooktown, we noticed that here in Lakefield there were a disproportionate number of vehicles, caravans and camper trailers bearing Vietnam Veteran insignia - this retired demographic group do seem intent on getting out into the bush.  In fact Les Hiddens (former Bush Tucker Man) did help set up Pandanus Park - a Vietnam Veterans camp Mick Finn Water Hole on land adjacent to Lakefield NP.

As luck would have it, the Kalpower Crossing was opened the afternoon prior to our departure which meant we could have tried to drive to the coast at Princess Charlotte Bay (named after the only child of George IV).  However, we were advised that this track while open, was only suitable to non-towing 4x4 vehicles.  Instead we will  pursue our original plan and try and get to Chili Beach on the east coast of the Peninsula where there is the possibility of  some saltwater fishing to be had.  Beforehand we will have to stop at Laura or Musgrave for some additional supplies of fruit and vegetables, ice and fuel.  We did learn that the name Charlotte stems  from  Princess Charlotte of Wales back in the 18th C.

The Peninsula Development Road to the Cape varies in quality from an extremely well-formed wide gravel road on which you can cruise at 100kph to some very ordinary corrugated stretches where max speed for us was a little more than 50kph.  But the road is punctuated by the occasional 5km stretches of bitumen to assist faster traffic overtaking slower old farts like us - a little more safely - than screaming alongside hoping to glean some visibility through the bull dust. Years ago while driving on dirt roads in the NT it was always the accepted practice to slow down whenever you observed approaching traffic so as to lessen the dust for the oncoming vehicle - this practice does not exist up here and private and commercial vehicles alike just roar past you leaving you in a cloudy sea of dust.


Peninsula Development Road (PDR)


 The towns of Laura, Hann River went past in a blur while we decided to pull up for the night at Coen which is roughly half way from Cairns to the top.  We initially just pulled up at Mulley's store for fuel but were then persuaded to camp behind their adjoining pub - The Exchange Hotel which some wag has recently added a neon "S" in front of the name  on the roof.  At any rate we paid $1.77/lt for fuel and were to pay $5 for a  non-powered camping site  down the hill behind the pub with hot shower.  However, he forgot to bill us. 


(S)Exchange Hotel at Coen and a rum drinking patron 

Coen, like so many small towns, had an excellent albeit small museum which contained many old mining relics but perhaps more interesting was the collection of individual family histories recording the early pioneering days stored there.


Unfortunately, there was no story attached to this 16ft steel boat

The Mulley's also own the mechanical repair shop in town so really have all angles covered.  Nice blokes tho and ones who we are sure Harry S would love.  While camping at the pub we were advised to abort ideas of going to Port Stewart as it was lousy with sandflies and instead go to Chili Beach near Lockhart River.  Previous reports about this place had all been negative because of the prevailing SE winds. 

The next day we drove north to Archer River HS where I bought some Midstrength Beer for an amazing price of $65.  However, I later learnt that he was selling fuel for over $2.20/lt...a scoundrel but he did have an interesting piece of furniture on the verandah.

 Shortly after we left the PDR and turned east on the road to the Iron Range NP  and Lockhart River Community.  This is a 150 km trip through Aboriginal Land has an endless number creek crossings including two major rivers - the Wenlock and the Pascoe.  


Crossing the Wenlock River


Crossing The Pascoe River

We handled them all well but as soon as we reached the bitumen inside the NP we got our first blow out in one of the camper van's  tyres.  While fitting the spare I noted that it was only 6ply rated instead of the 8 ply we were running - bad oversight. 


 The final 50kms of the road into Chili Bay runs through the Iron Range NP which contains some magnificently lush rainforest very similar to that seen in the Daintree NP. 


The Rainforest and one of the many anti Wild Rivers signs nailed to trees

We eventually got to the NP Ranger Station to enquire about going on into the Lockhart River Community workshop to have the tyre replaced only to be told by the Ranger that it was already 1530 hours and everything would be closing down for the long weekend (QE2's birthday).  I was advised to go on into Chili Beach (Camps #924) and stay there until Tuesday when things would re-open.  He then added that he was not sure that the workshop would be able to sell me a replacement tyre as they generally only repaired em. 

With this cheery thought we drove down to the beach where there are about 15 pine-logged designated camp sites and only about half occupied.  We chose one right next door to a brash chap we had met at Lakefield who was from Morwell in Victoria and who was a very keen "ARB 4x4" enthusiast with every conceivable accessory one could imagine.  He drove a Holden  Colorado towing a later model camper than our own and had driven it over the Bloomfield track!  I found it hard to like him........we later caught up with him at the Cape where he advised that he had not only broken his rear window by a deflected stone, but had also broken a spring and shock absorber on his caravan - he must have been travellin a bit fast and furious.

Chili beach (spelling correct and  thought to originate from old 19th C  Chinese market gardens in the area) is absolutely beautiful with broad white sandy stretches all fringed by dense clumps of coconut palms all presumably washed ashore.  However, the bay also seems to be a natural funnel to collect countless pieces of plastic, rubber and polystyrene flotsam and jetsam and the high tide mark of the beach is awash with it - a real shame.  The beach has many Black Lipped Oyster encrusted rocks and boat tethering posts.

We spent 4 days down at this beachcomber's paradise.  The beach is relatively shallow shelving and therefore the tide goes out along way even though the tidal range does not exceed 3m.  During some unsuccessful fishing forays out onto the drying reefs we came across many rays, fish and crabs scurrying about in the shallows - so they were there - we just lacked the skill to catch em.  I even came across a moulting Painted Cray.



Thong Tree

Our Chili Beach Camp

Sunrise at Chili

Low tide on this very shallow shelving beach - vehicles drive on it

One day we took a drive to a small local community at Portland Roads so named after a similar safe anchorage (roadstead) near the town of Portland in the UK.  This community would number less than 100 persons and would mainly be retired fisherpersons and people renting out holiday bungalows.  the only commercial venture appeared to be an incongruous cafe selling light lunches and morning teas to passers by.  The community's jetty was destroyed in a cyclone in the 1940s while the memorial to the explorer Edmund Kennedy who was killed by the Aboriginals by the nearby mouth of the Pascoe river was erected in 1948.  A very strange place.  The local beach was strewn with rocks covered in Black Lip oysters.


Cyclone destroyed Jetty at Portland Roads - lots of oysters nearby


However, the most exciting moment of our visit to this area was the brain wave I had about visiting the local dump just in case there might be a suitable tyre there for the camper.  Well I could hardly believe my eyes when I spied a rusted out boat trailer with what looked like one very useable tyre of exactly the right dimensions we needed.  I immediately set to and jacked the trailer up and removed the whole wheel and hub - the wheel studs were rusted on.  The tyre still had air in it!

Cannibalising the boat trailer - what a stroke of luck!

The next day we left Chili for the Lockhart River Community to get the blown tyre replaced by the tip tyre so as to give us at least 8ply rated tyres to attempt the return journey.  But first we stopped at the Ranger base to enquire whether we could leave our stash of alcohol with them while drove into the dry community.  They would not help and suggested that we stow it in some bushes which we did.  On entering the rather forlorn and neglected-looking Community, we quickly located the workshop and requested if they could fix our tyre problem.  Contrary to the Ranger's opinion, they could not have been more helpful and got straight on to it.  They even knew where the tyre had come from....that ol busted boat trailer down at dump.  They only charged me $25.  I also fuelled up there at their bowser - $1.88/litre.

We then nervously set about the return journey nursing every bit of rubber I had.  Maria counted over 90 creek and river crossings on that 3 1/2 hour 150km stretch of road and each one gave me a shiver as we slowed and changed down to first gear to carefully negotiate each one. 

Nervous Helmsman driving out of Chili Beach

On the way, we decided that for peace of mind we would drive straight across to Weipa (another 150 kms away and purchase two new tyres for the camper and be done with it.  We did this and were able to have a quick glimpse of the town before leaving it at around 1700hrs and head back on the road.  We found a good bush camp some 54 kms out of town and had an early night after a very full day of  driving and worry.

Next morning we awoke refreshed from the previous days traumas and bravely took a 40km short cut back to the main north (Bamaga) road - saving about 140kms.  Well this quickly brought us  to a particularly nasty creek crossing.  However, not to be thwarted again, I summoned all my 'Dutch courage', selected Low Range Low and gave it to her while Maria held her breath and photographed the attempt - we made it!.....god bless Low Range.

The 40 km Shortcut

Problem Creek on short cut

The road north remained pretty good for most of the day and so we kept deferring would-be camping spots of The Moreton Telegraph Station (nothing left of the Station) (Camps #927), Bramwell Junction (Camps #929) -nothing but a dunny in a paddock with a servo and store manned by a rather severe looking woman with loads of attitude selling cigs for $25/packet and fuel for $2.20. 


Moreton Telegraph Station with the only historic relic I could find (we later came across these old insulators for sale at the Seisia flea market for $20 each)


Bramwell Junction

Those 4x4 enthusiasts who choose the OTL route to the Cape do so for the sheer exhilaration of pitting the strength of their rigs and their own driving skills against the enormous challenges thrown up by the track which includes quite a number of very deep creek crossings and severely eroded jump ups which can require a winch to negotiate.  Its not for your average off-road camper but instead requires one that has been specially prepared with Treg hitches, 16 inch tyres, independent suspension and water proofing for the frequent dunkings its likely to incur.   I also noted that quite a few rigs towed a quad bike on a trailer to explore the less accessible areas of their journey to the top.

After Bramwell Junction, the Bamaga Bypass Road traverses some quite boring  flat topography (Heathlands Resources Reserve) which is covered with rather stunted shrubs, grevilleas, banksias and various acacias.  Apart from this patch of heathland, most of the Cape is very heavily wooded with quite substantial stands of eucalypts.  I did select a spot just off the Bypass Road on the OTL but found that it had already been claim jumped.  We then thought about camping at the very popular Twin & Eliot Falls but missed the turn-off. 


Telegraph Track on way to Twin & Eliot Falls - it got much worse so we aborted to find alternate route but missed turn off

As it was still only mid-afternoon we made the decision to run all the way to Bamaga.  This involved paying the $99 return fare for the 5min  ride on the car ferry across the Jardine River.  This same ticket pays for any camping you may wish to do on Aboriginal land up there.


Crossing the Jardine River

However, we had been a long time without showers or clean clothes and so we opted for the Loyalty Beach Camping Ground ( (Camps #933) about 6km north along the coast from the more popular and expensive camping ground at Seisia.  We booked for an initial 7 days of R&R for a modest $150.  Very friendly camp full of adventurous types most of whom were camped in tents and had come up the hard way along the OTL with its myriad of  legendary steep and deep creek crossings and jump ups.  However, there were about half a dozen off road campers like our own in the park and many more in the campground at Seisia.

All of the land in the Northern Peninsula Area has been handed back to the local Aboriginal owners who comprise a mixture of the local Injinoo clan with people who moved north after the discovery of bauxite at Weipa, those that left the former Anglican mission at Lockhart River and itinerant Thursday Islander people who frequented the mainland coast around the Cape.    A large percentage of these Islanders came from the Island of Saibai which was hit by a tidal wave in 1948.  Their Chief (Bamaga) brought his people to the mainland for safety.  There remains a very strong Christian culture up on the Cape with many denominations represented.  There were some very elaborate and ornate graves in the Bamaga Cemetery.


Torres Strait is an island-studded sea passage between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, with the Arafura Sea on its west and the Coral Sea on its east. The strait is about 160 km wide between Cape York and Papua New Guinea, with numerous shoals and strong tidal currents.  Many Torres Strait Islanders are of Melanesian origin.

The daily temperatures vary from 23C to 29C while the tidal movements are surprisingly small; less than 3m and we are here during a full moon.  Some days there are only two tides - unfortunately the timing of the useful high tides are during the early hours of the morning ie 0200 hours or mid afternoon - not very convenient for boating.   Not surprisingly, we have been told of yet another large crocodile sighting out the front of our camp.  Just about everywhere we have camped by water, we have been breathlessly advised by some interstate visitor of  recent close encounters with 'crocodylus porosus'....we've yet to sight one!


Loyalty Beach (low tide) Camp

Sunset over Prince of Wales Island in front of camp


                                                                             JWB catches another  sunset                           Up early for Journal duties while bush fowls terrorise the camp for scraps


Early morning with typical oily sea in the Strait

Loyalty Beach Caravan Park taken from the TI Ferry



                                                Keen fisherperson launches his tinny with aid of a quad bike           Victim of OTL awaiting shipment back to Cairns

Seisia all tidal boat ramp and shipping wharf

The people next to us had their whole Hilux Cabin awash with water in one of the crossings.  That night, the second State of Origin Game was televised and the camp restaurant put on a sausage sizzle and a large TV screen  for their guests.    However, they were charging $5.50 for any can beer. It was a fun night preceded by a sunset over the Torres Strait which was probably the best we had seen since leaving Fannie Bay.

The local Bamaga Tavern is selling a 30 block of Midstrength for $58 cf Archer River HS's price of $65 a couple of weeks ago. Throughout the Northern Peninsula Area one is only permitted to possess 1x30 cans of mid-strength beer plus 2lt of wines and a complete ban of the consumption of alcohol in public other than in designated camping grounds, the Tavern and Fishing Club.   Fuel up here is $2.20/lt - fair enough considering the distance it has to be trucked from Cairns.  A lot of  Bamaga's freight comes via the twice weekly shipping service it has with Cairns.  The same ship can carry a limited number of passengers and their vehicles $700 pp twin share cabin and $800 each for vehicle and camper for a three day two night cruise one way - I would love to do it sometime.

MV Trinity Bay loading cargo at Seisia wharf (NB vehicle)

Our first full day on the Torres Straits was spent on draining the camper's water tank which had somehow managed to swallow some dirty river crossing water and dust.  I then had to borrow an electric drill and rivet gun to replace some broken door hinges on the camper and then do some exploring of the local and very well-stocked supermarket at Seisia,  the town boat ramp, town tackle shop,  fuel the car, and then spend some hours catching up with my travel notes.

The next day we went exploring.  first we visited the up market Punsand Bay Resort - 28km from Bamaga but only 5km from the Tip.  It looked quite swish with its aircon safari cabins and tents ($200/night twin share) but a couple can also camp in their budget section at $25 for a powered site.  This would be a good spot to camp for those with small boats.


 Punsand Bay Resort

Punsand Bay Beach - their best aspect

Native canoe on the beach (in need of some repair)

Then we set off  for the Tip of Cape York and to one of Australia's most expensive photographic locations.  The route to the Tip passes through some magnificent dense rainforest through which you must negotiate along a very narrow bush track until you come to a car park.


You are then confronted with a twenty minute clamber over rocks until you come to a rocky point on which is mounted the iconic sign to advise that you have reached the northern most point on the Australian continent.  The route is marked by a series of ad hoc stone cairns erected by visitors over the years.


Maria decided to have a cooling dip at the Tip


                                                            Swirling waters in the Strait                                                                                        Punsand Bay Beach

It was very windy and wild at the Tip with the waters in the Strait full of swirling eddies due, no doubt, to submerged rocks but also to dangerous confluence of currents.  However, you do get magisterial views of the two islands opposite (York and Eboric) and of the aforementioned Punsand Bay.  We had lunch in the ruins of Pajinka Wilderness Lodge which had opened in the 1980s but handed over to the local people once they re-gained control of the whole Northern Peninsula Area  - north of the Jardine River

At the Tip you are not far from Possession Island on which Capt/Lt James Cook in 1770 rather belatedly landed and hoisted a Union Jack  claiming the whole east coast of then New Holland for his majesty King George III.  Today Possession Island has a small memorial plaque on it to commemorate that  audacious act. 

We then back-tracked about 15km and took another rain forested track to the historic area of Somerset.  Established in 1864 as the site of the official  government residence with John Jardine (former Police Magistrate in Rockhampton) as the first representative of the Crown in the area.  This position was later assumed by his son Frank who with his brother Alex had driven a herd of cattle to the Cape to establish a cattle station up there.  Their 10 month arduous journey from Rockhampton to the Cape was undertaken only 16 years after Edmund Kennedy had first explored the route and like Kennedy was punctuated by frequent fierce altercations with the local Aboriginals.  However, the entrepreneurial Jardine and his brother were also  to get involved in copra plantations as well as pearling - they had poor relations with the local Aboriginal people throughout their period up there. Frank was, in fact, referred to as 'debil-debil Jardine'.  In the 1890s  Herbert Vidgen moved into the area and married one of Jardine's daughters and this family connection with Somerset and later Thursday Island continued until WW2  when the area was evacuated.  Graves of Frank Jardine and his wife (a Samoan Princess named Sana) together with Vidgen and some pearl divers can still be seen at Somerset which also has a small campground with ablutes and a fresh water well.


Vidgen family graves

Grave of Frank and Sana Jardine


I also came across this romantic historical titbit while surfing the net: ' Jardine's eldest son "Chum", and grandson, buried Frank's diaries and family treasure in an iron trunk. Chum lingered on Aru Island to radio information of Japanese movements during WW2; his young son stayed to fight. Both were beheaded. The diaries, and the treasure, have never been found.'

Beach at Somerset flanked by some good crabbing mangroves (campers spotted a croc on the this beach the day before - you can't have everything)

Primarily because of the unfavourable and dangerous currents surrounding Somerset, it was decided in the late 187os to move the government outpost to the more congenial harbour on the southerly coast of Thursday Island.  At the time the island was uninhabited but shortly after the official residence was transferred here pearl shell was discovered to be in abundance in the surrounding waters and islanders were persuaded to come and live on Thursday Island and work on the pearling luggers.

We decided to further explore the Cape's many WW2 relics such as plane wrecks, gun emplacements and radar installations - the US Air Force had a base here.


                                                                 DC3 Aircraft which crashed in 1945                                     WW2 Jetty to service the Mutee Heads Radar Installation

Mutee Heads radar installation about 35kms SE from Bamaga

We arranged to do a tour of Thursday Island (TI) on our last day and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our visit to the Cape.  TI lies only about 30km NW of Seisia and the ferry ride takes a little over an hour.  Since the late 1870s there has been major fortifications on the Island in order to monitor shipping passing through the Torres Strait and more particularly through the Prince of Wales Channel.  Today TI has a population of about 3500 and is home to the Torres Strait Pilot service which supplies shipping pilots for trips south through the Strait and Barrier Reef.  While the indigenous people are essentially Melanesian and have strong cultural links to the people in neighbouring Papua New Guinea, there are today many from mixed racial heritages eg Malayan, Japanese, Chinese, Aboriginal and other South Sea Islander communities.  However, the people made a decision back in the early 1900s to throw their lot in with early Qld colonial government and later the Australian Government while at the same time retaining quite strong system of local government.


                                                                            Esplanade of TI                                                                                    Looking across town to Horn Island


Sculptures on TI's Esplanade


Six Inch Guns on Green Hill Fort TI

Town (Federal) Beach


                                           Divers Suit on display in TI Museum                                                        TI Cultural Centre



Graves and Memorials to Japanese Pearl divers


                                                                                    TI's Federal Hotel - Oldest Pub                                                Australia's most Northerly Pub

The return  ferry trip together with a one and half hour bus tour of the TI cost about $170 each and only later did we discover that for only a small amount more we could have had some fishing thrown in on the return journey.  We also discovered that many Cape York tours end here in TI with the punters all catching planes from Horn Island back to Cairns.

TI was well worth it with informative video of TI history and culture played on the ferry as well as lots of music  by Seaman Dan and the Mills Sisters to get us all prepared for the Island's sights and flavours.  You are given lots of time during the day to wander about the TI shops and cultural centre on your own as well as to source your own lunch.  I had not known that Thursday Island is flanked east and west by Wednesday and Friday Islands - all named by Cook.  The harbour is still quite busy with Customs and Naval patrol boats as well as local shipping and of course the the piloting service which operates out of there.  There are two pearl farms operating in the area and there are shops in the town where you can purchase some of their expensive jewellery.    TI  also was a quite flourishing trade in Painted Crayfish - mostly exported. 

During our quest for a suitable luncheon venue we stumbled across TI's oldest hotel - the Federal which has this most amazing mural on its bar wall - painted I guess sometime in the 1960s by a chap called Don Gray from Oregon USA (I think) - no one seems to know -  its a ripper and entirely politically incorrect.  Unfortunately, it is not being well-looked after and if not protected soon may well fade away.


Only clue as to the artist

This young lady bears surprisingly little resemblance to the local TI girls

After a very enjoyable week at the Tip we set off down the Cape to the mining town of Weipa where we hope to have more success with the fishing.  One slight hiccup had first to be overcome and that was the state of two of our tyres on the Nissan - I had hoped they would last till we got back to Cairns but the rough roads have taken their toll and we were forced to purchase a very poor second in Bamaga to help us negotiate the worst of the corrugations back into Weipa. Another second-hand tyre was subsequently purchased in Weipa together with a further rim to ensure we got back to Cairns in one piece.

On our return to Loyalty Beach we noted that the Park was again filling up with new arrivals and the number from NSW is staggering - many come in groups of 2-3 equipped with brand new 4x4 vehicles with CB communication and every other conceivable off -road  accessory.   We decamped early the next day determined to put the 40km horror stretch of road between Bamaga and the Jardine River behind us as early as possible.  As it was, we were able to cross the Jardine on the 0900 ferry and drove on down to Fruit Bat Falls for a look. 


The guide books advise you to get there early as it quickly becomes overcrowded with tour groups who stop there for morning tea or at lunchtimes. On this occasion we were able to beat the lot of em and had the beautiful place all to ourselves only to be met by two coaches and 6 private 4x4 loads of punters driving in as we were leaving.  The Falls are noted for two unusual plant species: the insect-eating Pitcher plants (Nepenthes mirabilis) and tall native ground orchids (Bromheadia venusta)


We utilised the free camp (54kms from Weipa) we had discovered during our first impromptu visit to some weeks back and this allowed us plenty of time to the next day arrange with Terry of Kowari Motors for our tyre business to be scheduled for the following workday.  We then booked into the quite expensive and sole camping ground in Weipa for 3 days R&R.  Weipa has a population of 3500 and has a Bowling and Golf Club, one supermarket, a hospital and only one pub. The camping ground has recently been sold and the staff there were less than helpful with information about the sights around Weipa despite the fact that they are the agents for local Aboriginals to sell their entry permits to visit and camp on their lands which surround the town.  They seemed more interested in flogging the mine tours than anything else.


Welcome to Weipa and its Haul Truck Crossings and Ore trains


Bauxite Everywhere


Crowded Campground but it did hire boats with 50hp outboards for $160/day plus fuel


                                         Shopping for supplies at the Bowls Club (alas no Dan's)                           A couple of girls from Adelaide we dined out with

Weipa has excellent boat ramps into both the Mission and Embley Rivers whose mouths form  Albatross Bay which  engulfs the town. However, at low tide practically the entire area appears engulfed in endless mud flats - that is except for the ore loading wharf and shipping channel. 

Everywhere you drive you see evidence of Rio Tinto (Alcan) mining operations and the red pebbled bauxite lies all over the place.   Every Queens Birthday weekend, Weipa plays host to an annual Fishing competition with prize money of approximately $100 000.  This year the Competition attracted 1500 punters and booked out the caravan park. 

However, the wind was blowing everyday we were there and so we made the decision early to get out of the suburban caravan park and head for the wilds of Old Mapoon some 85kms north of Weipa   and try fishing in Musgrave Bay which is formed by the confluence of the mighty Wenlock and Ducie/Dalhunty Rivers.  Once again the caravan park had no information about the conditions up there but were not backward in taking our permit and camping fees from us (strictly cash too).

Welcome indeed - the alcohol restrictions across the Cape vary alot and one must be on the ball to ensure you are not carrying any excess at any time.  However, there are two constants for travellers through these Aboriginal lands - no spirits except UDL mixed cans and a limit of one 2 lt cask of wine - the beer must all be light or mid strength but the amount varies from 1-3 cartons.  We did not find it a hassle - except that you are not allowed to purchase any wine before 1700 hours.

The drive to Old Mapoon was on a fairly good gravel road which only disintegrated into sandy tracks once you had passed the settlement and were driving towards the permitted camping areas at Cullen Point.  Here we met a couple of camps who were looking most forlorn as the gusty wind conditions on the Bay had prevented them from doing much fishing and they had much larger boats than us.  Coincidently, our trip to Old Mapoon coincided with the due date to pay our monthly Amex account.  As luck would have it, Old Mapoon had arranged for Broadband coverage and I was in the throes of setting up my laptop when the local European manager of the local store walked past and invited me to use the Store's internet connection.  What an act of commercial camaraderie.  Notwithstanding this act of kindness, there was nothing for it but for us to retrace our footsteps and try and find a sheltered spot and decent launching area back up the mighty Wenlock River.  At first we tried the landing at Batavia Out station but it was all mangroves and deep oozing primeval mud viz:

and then further back upstream we came upon Clough's Landing -

Clough's landing with a generous load of bauxite dumped over the mud - excellent

probably 15kms from where the river entered the bay but where it was still a good 200m wide.  This was our third encounter with this River which we had first crossed as a crystal clear stream on the way to Chili Beach , then again we had crossed it by bridge near the Morton Telegraph Station on the Bypass Road to the Cape.

So we made camp here nearby a couple of boat trailers belonging to day trippers.  The camp turned out to be good but the fishing very poor.  We caught 2-3lb Grunter  which we quickly filleted and ate while reserving the frame and head for bait for our crab pots.  The crabbing turned out to be excellent with crabs in all pots and all were males and most were of 'keepable' size.  One local we met at the landing reckoned that:..."there were no Jennies in the Wenlock".   On the fishing front, I tried vainly to catch some live bait to no avail and had to fall back on some squid we had bought and then we cast and trolled lures up and down that River for nothing more other than a small Estuarine Cod. 


                                                                    Maria attends to the fire pit while I display our sole Grunter


Wenlock River - much bigger than South Alligator River with beautiful mangrove -lined muddy banks plus the odd Saltie to keep you honest


Show Off Bait Catcher - all style and no result!

A couple of decent Muddies - courtesy of the fresh Grunter bait

Maria - pleased with her Crabbing foray


Processing the Catch (including a trial Cryavak of the meat)

Baked a loaf of (multi-grain) bread in the camp oven to celebrate our Crabbin success! - it was great... NB the wooden testing skewer - I think sister Stephanie would approve

Other local day trippers were catching Fingermark, Mangrove Jack and Barra - not us....bugger.  We gave it three nights on the Wenlock before packing up the boat and trailer.  However, on our last night the sighting of a venomous Qld Taipan snake around the camp gave us cause for some alarm.


The Taipan and subsequent vigil around the camp fire

We made an early start the next morning first back to Weipa to fuel up and then onto the PDR for the trip south.  This time the road was crowded with punters all heading north in their massive 4x4 rigs thundering up to us and burying us in clouds of bulldust.  The car, and to a lesser extent the camper, are full of this fine powdery red dust.  Every wayside river crossing and camping spot beside pubs such as the one at Archer River were chock-a-block full of happy campers.  This could partly be attributed to the fact that we are in a school holiday period.  However, thankfully there is surprisingly little road train traffic on this road - perhaps the bulk of goods is freighted up by ship.  We pulled up at Coen and while we checked out the free camp at The Bend (Camps 6 #918 -  too crowded now) and Charlies Mine (Camps 6 #916 - too expensive) we again opted to stay behind the (s)Exchange Hotel in his free back paddock with a $5 donation for a hot shower.

The next day we tackled probably the roughest section of the PDR from Coen to Laura which, because of the increased traffic had become quite badly corrugated in places as well as pot-holed.  The 4x4 traffic driving north was something to see with every stop be it a roadhouse or river crossing packed with happy campers having stopped for snacks, coffee or just  refuelling.  The obligatory hand-waving to passing traffic definitely got a little tiring.  Twelve kms south of  Laura we decided to lunch at an Aboriginal rock art site called: Split Rock.  While this site has been World Heritage listed it does not compare to those thast can be seen in Kakadu - alot have been badly weathered and conservation appears minimal.


This rock art site is directly opposite the Laura Dance Festival site which is used every second year and attended by Aboriginals from all over Qld and the NT.

The final 65km stretch of the PDR between Laura and Lakeland is now 50:50 bitumen and gravel with lots of road work being carried out.  I would imagine the bitumen will cover the lot within a year or two.  Arriving at Lakeland we both felt a little flat after realising that a key segment of our adventure north had come to a close.  Still we both agreed it had been a wonderful experience and one which could be repeated differently in a couple of years time.  In particular, I was interested in a pamphlet I picked up in Coen advertising a Wilderness Camping Experience on the Archer River within the Aurukun lands - 200kms west of the PDR 7-4 nights with local guides (  Also to go back to Lakefield and explore all those closed waterholes and the coast.

The collateral damage we must record includes the need for replacement tyres on both camper and vehicle and for the need to purchase a second spare for both.  We have also bent out collapsible boat trailer by catching its guards a few times while crossing a couple of creeks - this can be bent back.  But I have now turned the tow hitch upside down and gained perhaps an extra 100mm of clearance.  We have broken a roof latch on the camper which will have to be replaced in Cairns and the rivets holding the door hinges have worked loose again.  We will just have to live with the intrusion of red dust into everything including our clothes and even my beard!

From Lakeland we headed south towards Mareeba along the Mulligan Highway and eventually found a 'secret' spot someone had advised me of weeks before just 14kms nw of Mount Carbine along the banks of the McLeod River - a tributary of the much larger Mitchell River - it was idyllic as promised with only one other punter coming anywhere near us all night. 

This is the sort of free camping you most enjoy compared to the more popular version of free camping an example of which you find just one kilometre outside of the town of Mount Malloy; viz:

It appeared as if these Winnebago owners were having a bloody convention

It was then onto Mareeba once Australia's biggest tobacco growing region but today a much more diversified horticultural landscape can be seen with vast mango, avocado, citrus and other fruits being grown along with the ubiquitous cane fields.  It was hard to realise that just over the mountain range lay Cairns some 70kms away.  After some essential supermarket shopping we headed back out west along the quaintly named Wheelbarrow Way (the initial section of the Burke Development Road which also doubles as part of the Savannah Way) towards the former mining towns of Chillagoe and Mungana.

Marvellous sculpture in Mareeba to celebrate the beginning of this route



Enroute we paused at Dimbulah for a picnic lunch and later, at the bullock-roaming town of  Almaden,  for a beer.


We finally got into Chillagoe and set up camp in their pretty sparse caravan park and set to to prepare a tasty dinner of  Thai Green Chicken Curry with limp Bok Choy and rice.  Chillagoe today has a population of less than 500 but still has an active gold mining operation albeit on a fly in- fly out basis.  The main street boasts a caravan park and servo, souvenir shop, Info Centre, general store and butcher.

Next morning was spent doing a little spring cleaning including the washing of all the camper's seat covers.  Maria made some bread and in the afternoon we took a tour of the Royal Arch Cave - the biggest around.  I think after this last sortie down a cave that I am at last cured of future interest in such activities - they all tend to look a little alike and the guides cannot help themselves from trotting out similar rather trite jokes about the shapes of certain stalactites.  However, we did join a group of more adventurous souls who volunteered to crawl on their bellies through a tunnel before falling out of the other end - a bit like a dry and dusty water slide.  For what they are worth I'll include a couple of snaps from down under.  The white spots in the snaps are simply the beams from the individual lamp light which everyone had to carry - at times you felt as if there was a strobe light activated somewhere.


What is more interesting are the number of limestone rock outcrops or karsts which surround the town of Chillagoe.  These are most impressive.

This was taken on the approach to the Royal Arch Cave

This one is in the centre of town


It being Friday evening, we later had a drink and a chat with some locals at the Post Office Hotel - which is another of those bush pubs where you are invited to scribble some immortal or witty  epitaph on the walls.


The following day we took a self-guided walk through the historic Chillagoe Smelters.  Now the sale of the smelters  to the Queensland Government in 1919 were at at the centre of the so-called  'Mungana Affair'.   A Royal Commission into the sale 10 years later ended the political careers of two former Queensland Premiers, 'Red' Ted Theodore and William McCormack.  At any rate these smelters operated more or less successfully from 1900 to 1943 and served to greatly boost the profitability of Qld's mining industry in the far north.  Nearly 1000 workers were employed in the dangerous work of extracting copper, lead, silver and gold from the ore mined in the surrounding districts and their ruins stand sentinel over the town today.



Chillagoe smelters


We then went and looked at a particularly imposing limestone karst titled 'The Balancing Rock' for obvious reasons.


Then, contrary to earlier protestations I decided we should drive 16kms and visit the ruins of the neighbouring town of Mungana where, in fact, a new large gold mine has begun operations and visit one last cave......well we need not have bothered although there were some interesting limestone karsts and an Aboriginal art site in the same vicinity which warranted some further snapping.



Finally, before leaving Chillagoe we sought out the marble quarry and where they prepare the 20+ tonne blocks for shipment to Cairns for cutting and polishing.  The area produces a surprisingly wide range of colours from black, browns and various shades of cream.  Maria subsequently bought a souvenir marble mounted thermometer while I grabbed an off-cut off from the scrap heap.


The time had come to turn our attention to our rendezvous with Harry Stapleton - pre-arranged months before for the 12 July in Cairns....but there was a problem it was only 2 July and so we agreed to fill in some time touring the Atherton Tableland which we had last visited some 20 years prior.  We also decided on an alternative route back to Mareeba via the historic mining towns of Irvinebank and Herberton.  This very windy gravel road is very picturesque as it winds its way up the western side of the Great Dividing Range to the Tablelands.  We stopped on route to inspect the very worthwhile museum at Irvinebank which is housed in the restored home of the town's founder and mining magnate John Moffat.  But then the drizzle started and stayed with us all the way into Mareeba.

Enroute back into Mareeba we passed the rodeo grounds which are leased by the Council as a rather unusual van park.  During the winter months (excluding the week of the Mareeba Rodeo) literally hundreds of southern grey nomads flock here like "bogongs" to see out the chilly season back home.  Now for $15/night you get full toilet and hot shower amenities, water and power.  However, the 15 acre treeless area is very tightly  marshalled into very straight rows presumably to allow as many in as possible - its certainly very cheap but many seem to sit inside with aircon going and presumably with their TV remotes not too far away.  I managed a couple of furtive snap of the park for the record:


We then made our way down to Atherton and to one the camping areas (Camps #226) within the Danbulla National Park and Forest which completely encloses Lake Tinaroo - one of Qld's fishing impoundments which requires a permit to fish in.  We later learnt, to our regret, that there are in fact two camping areas within Danbulla NP that permit generators, namely: Downfall Creek  (Camps #225)and Fong-On Bay (Camps #228) all are equipped with brand new toilet facilities.  This lake was built on the Barron River in 1958 for irrigation and hydro purposes and is now responsible for the thriving horticultural enterprises up on the Tablelands.   There seems endless Mango, Avocado, Banana, Custard Apple and citrus orchards.  The misting rain kept up for two days while we propped at Lake Tinaroo but the grassy camping spot was OK although we did have to put up with a party of noisy water skiers camped on the bank below us.   We took the opportunity for a Cook's tour of the Tableland whilst here visiting Malanda and Yungaburra.  What seems to be missing now-a-days is the once thriving dairy industry. 

The camp's ablution blocks sported a very unusual sign which I feel should be shared with those of you who might take delight in the discovery of new and varied fauna; viz:

Needless to say I have neither sighted the blighters nor taken any of the recommended actions to thwart their nocturnal attacks.  However, most of the other campers  have wisely followed QPWS advice.

During our stay at Lake Tinaroo, we took the opportunity to visit one of the local smaller coffee producers here.  This one is run by an old Italian Bruno Maloberti and his daughter Maria who originally came to the Tablelands in the 1960s to grow tobacco.  Bruno ( will take you on a personalised tour of his farm and processing shed, we both found it enormously informative and the coffee great.  We bought a couple of kilos plus some of his beautiful old gold chocolate coated coffee beans - he sells most of his product by mail order and advised us that 3kg shipments were the most cost effective post wise.

Just prior to departing Lake Tinaroo for Cairns and our rendezvous with Harry Stapleton we were treated to this magnificent sunset .......and an absolutely freezing night.

 We have also done some budget calculations for our first 14 weeks away and it appears that we have travelled a whopping 10 500kms, averaged $97/week on accommodation (utilising a lot of National Parks) and $164/week on fuel.  These figures should remain pretty constant given the varied terrain we have covered ie from the urbanised (?civilised)  East Coast to some of the most remote districts in Queensland.

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