Aus Update 39 - Cape York

<Paula> 6th May 2007 - 12th May. So Cape York Peninsula is Queensland's last frontier, or so the brochures say.   We were warned that it is remote, rugged, and supplies of any sort are not guaranteed.  Cape York is actually the tip at the top of the Cape York peninsula and from the nearest reasonable sized town before entering the Peninsula it is a 1000km drive on rough tracks.  The Cape is the northern most point of the Australian continent and a pilgrimage that people make because of the conquering spirit within and the beautiful untouched desolate landscape along the way.  A lot of people are telling us that the Barra fishing is very good up here too, especially right now at the end of the wet season.  Apparently where there are crocodiles the Barrumundi are in plentiful supply too.  

We headed out from Cooktown and because we were not going to be able to purchase Autogas (LPG) along the way we were going to have to rely on our small petrol tank and jerry cans to get us all the way there and back, with only our tank of Autogas as a backup for the longer distances.  That is all fine, we had looked at the distances and knew where we were going to re-fuel etc.  We hadn't counted on dirty petrol blocking the fuel filter and not allowing enough petrol through to keep the car running.  We had run off petrol intermittently over the last few months so as to not let the petrol in the tank sit too long, but this was a problem.  We limped to Musgrave Roadhouse where we camped for the night while we decided whether to continue.  We could keep going until we were 400km from a place that sold Autogas and still turn around and not risk being stuck waiting for parts for weeks.  Musgrave was only 300km from Cooktown and the car was not going to go any further.  During the evening and early the next morning Chris checked the car over.  He drained the petrol tank, flushed the fuel lines, flushed the filter multiple times (because we didn't have a spare and couldn't buy one here), and he cleaned the little filter that covers the place where the petrol enters the carburretor.  He cleaned out a lot of rubbish, question being, was it enough to keep us going?

The start of the Peninsula Development Rd up to the Cape

Brief pause on the way to clean out the fuel filter.

Musgrave Roadhouse. It used to be one of the old telegraph stations

Sign showing distances from Musgrave.

We decided to head to the next town, Coen, 100km away, it had a workshop and spares.  It was the limit of our Autogas to get out and we might be able to get it sorted there.  We realised that it was a public holiday in Queensland, May Day, and the mechanic wasn't around. Fortunately the shop was open but they didn't have the right fuel filter for us. They did make some calls though and let us know that we could go on another 263km to Weipa where there was an autoparts store.  We decided that we wouldn't get the chance again to come back to the Cape so we would risk it.  While in Coen the people there let us pull into the workshop out of the sun for Chris to clean the filters again, which was very nice of them.  

Looking down the creek at one of the many creek crossings along the way

Coen Garage, another clean out of the filters.

We decided to run off petrol as much as we could to Weipa, just to see how it would go.  Surprisingly it started running better, we must have got rid of most of the rubbish by now.  We had a look around the town of Weipa when we got there.  Everything was shut, except for the mine of course.  A beautiful little town that has been built around the Mine.  They mine bauxite for aluminium. We set up camp in the only caravan park in town.  We got a site right on the beach, well not too close to the beach because of course there are crocodiles.  Chris lifted the bonnet and had a look at the petrol that was coming through, still a bit dirty.  A guy noticed and came over to have a chat.  It so happens that he was a mechanic from Melbourne and just moved up here to start working.  He also drives a Nissan Patrol, identical to ours except diesel.  They had a chat and he thought Chris had done all the right things and suggested that we buy a handful of filters and change them regularly till the problem goes away.  That gave us a little more confidence to keep heading for the tip.

Chris cooking tea while the sun sinks into the Gulf of Carpentaria

I mentioned before the rough rugged roads.  So far they have been graded and the gravel roads are so smooth.  They have also sealed parts of the road into Weipa, it was a rather smooth drive, only a few creek crossings that will dry up in a couple of weeks.  Here's hoping the rest of the way will be like that.

We thought that we would head straight for the tip and stop at the sights along the way on the way back.  We figured that if the car wasn't happy, as long as we got to the Cape we could always put it on the vehicular Ferry from Seisa to Cairns, it runs weekly.  After stopping at the autoparts store in the morning, Chris changed the filter in the carpark and we set off on our way.  We travelled 300km of bone jarring track, but we did it in pretty good time, it only took us 6 hours.

There is actually two ways north, the original telegraph track and the bypass road.  Both are divided into northern section and southern section.  The local owners of the land do not want people crossing the Jardine river at the end of the northern telegraph track because even at the end of the dry season it can be 2 metres deep and very swift.  Many cars get washed away.  The southern Telegraph track we were told that a local went through the day before and the two rivers that have steep slippery banks, one being the famous Gunshot River, were still too full and slippery, and a winch is required at both crossings to get yourself out of them.  We decided that the bypass route sounded great.  We made it to the ferry on the Jardine River and they had just closed for the day, so we set up camp.  We were warned no swimming in the river, a couple of the locals had met their fate with the resident crocodile. Below is a couple of pictures of the road and a picture of the Jardine River as we crossed it on the ferry.

It has only been since the 1950's that there has even been a vehicle track through to the Cape, prior to that horses were the preferred mode of transport.   We did notice that all the Roadhouses and Stations that we saw along the way had their own airstrips as well.  The telegraph line came through here in 1887 and during the second World War General McCarthur sent 1200 troops and Australia sent 500 linesmen to upgrade the line from one to three wires.  This part of Australia, like Darwin, was very important through the war defending Australia from the Japanese.  There are multiple airstrips up here that were used by the  American Air Force.   We were told by some locals that they are in the process of putting fiber optic cable through now.   Times do change.

Just before we arrived in Bamaga we took a short detour thought the bush to find a couple of plane wrecks from WWII.  One being a Beaufort Bomber and the other being a DC3 enroute to Papau New Guninea from Brisbane.  It took us a while and a few dead ends but we eventually found them.  The vegetation grows quickly around here and being the beginning of the tourist season the tracks weren't very clear.  They aren't big into tourists up here much either, very few signs for anything, including the turnoff to go to the Cape.   The first couple of photos are of the DC3, all the people on board died in the crash, there was a memorial plaque to them at the crash site. The 3rd and 4th photo is of the Beaufort Bomber.

We then headed for Cape York, I have to pause here and show you a couple of photos because we simply couldn't believe what happened and had to take photos of it.  This one is the road ahead,  looks clear, slight rise nothing else.

This photo is taken from the bottom of the rise showing the washed out road that we flew into at 80km/h the drivers side landing right into it.  The 80km/h because the road had been pretty good and still looked good ahead.

Driving up here is very tiring, you not only have to look ahead (no point in looking behind, it is just a dust cloud), you also have to look right in front of the car too.  The changes in colour of the dirt may be a wash out and not just a change in colour.  Both changes in colour and wash outs are very common, although you usually get more notice of the washout than the one above.  Here is some more pictures of washouts that we encountered, I call them 'ravines', it is a more appropriate term for some of them.  You also have to be careful of dust holes.  This is where the road is flat and you don't see any holes only slight discolouration.  When you hit them the dust flies and depending how deep and severe they are to the consequences.

To get to the point, after getting to the end of the road and scrabbling over the never ending rocky headland, we made it to the tip and here are the photos to prove it.

We decided to take a scenic route from here :)  Here is a photo of the best pair of shoes for checking creek crossings, $8.95 from Kmart (he wears them all the time, I want to show you the tan they leave but he wont let me take a photo of that).  Also  a photo of Chris checking a creek before crossing (as you do).  This one is a bit blurry but you have to notice the sideway glance, he is also checking for crocs, he wasn't too comfortable.

There was heaps of water on the track, and it was all sand some with no firm base.  Thankfully we have better tyres than what we had on Fraser Island and the Mighty Maverick was doing great.  Sand has the ability of taking you where ever it feels like, which can be fun, except when there is no firm base underneath and you are in a slow moving black water creek and your tyres find some big holes.  We were not going to get out of this one easily. It did look good.  The axles on the bottom under water and the exhausts blowing bubbles.   First Chris tried digging us out.  Putting something for the tyres to grip under them. Neither worked.  Time for the recovery gear.  Which is really good because we had never used it, a great way to finish our trip.  When I say we had never used it, we brought all the straps and links new (still in the wrappers), and we purchased a second hand winch and cable on ebay (which Chris had been meaning to test sometime, but never got around to).  The possibilities were, everything worked, or we would be camping in the middle of a creek till the next car came along to pull us out.  I will show you the photos so you can find out what happened.

Yes of course we made it, no one would ever doubt Chris's ability to pull a 2.5tonne vehicle out of a boggy creek bed - would you?   Or should I say, that his 5 month pregnant wife did not want to camp in the middle of a mosquito infested creek. Come to think of it, I wonder where his motivation came from?  

Moving on before I get myself into trouble here.  A little bit further down the road and a couple of more creeks later we came to this sign and a welcome campsite for the night. (Excuse the language.)

 On our way back down the Peninsula we stopped to camp at Elliot and Twin Falls campground.  The falls had a great fresh water swimming hole and it wasn't crowded, it was great.  I also have to show you the warning we saw when signing into the campground.  Australia has deadly almost everything, from the obvious snakes to plants and insects!  It didnt deter us from enjoying this magnificent spot though.  The first two photos are of Fruitbat Falls just down the road - we stopped there for lunch.

The way out was long and we stayed at Musgrave Roadhouse again.  The car was filthy and Chris drove through this creek a few times to try and clean it off a bit so I thought I would take a photo.

The Peninsula was really beautiful and we hardly saw any of it.  There are so many side roads with amazing places to see and we didn't see them because we were running short on time.  But what we did see, from the rainforests and wetlands in the north to the savannah grasslands in the south was incredible.   The Peninsula has a fifth of Australia's rainforests and 70 different types of rainforests.  It actually rained everyday we were there.  This unique part of the country also has a quarter of the country's frogs and reptile species. I think it was something like 15 different species of snakes.  Also a half of the countrys bird species.  Something we noticed about the birds was that their colours seemed so much more brillant than anywhere else we had been in Australia.  If you are into bird watching this would be a great place to come. The marine life is something we didn't experience but have heard it is amazing too.  The Barrier Reef Marine Park is all the way up the east coast of the Peninsula, offering reefs and coral islands to explore. And they tell us the Barra fishing is the best in the country.  Cape York Peninsula has so much to offer people with  lots of different interests.  Getting there however is more of a challenge, 4wd or dirtbike is needed, and supplies, supplies and more supplies.  Oh the other thing you need lots of is money.  Our fuel bill for the week on the Peninsula, keeping in mind we didn't do any of the side trips, was over $600.  The Jardine Ferry is $88 return, and if you have to buy food supplies while there, they are expensive, everything is shipped in.  Then you have seen the size of some of the holes in the road, most people will need at least one tyre repaired before their holiday is ended.  Apart from all of that we highly recommend to anyone that has ever been tempted, to give it ago.  If you don't have 4wd experience before you go you will before it is ended, might be a good idea to check your winch is in good working order too :)

The end of the telegraph track on the way out. Junction with the Peninsula Development Rd.

The photo doesn't come out too well. It is an old Telegraph station built in 1887, with a new payphone in front, and a sign showing underground cables.

Just a nice view of some water.

A 42 wheeler approaching with a wall of dust in his wake. You simply can not see a thing when they pass.

It might not look like it but the water truck (road works, not a daily convenience) was definitely making a difference.

Another view of the road ahead. Lots of road and not much to do but take another photo.

The car was very muddy by the time we got off the Peninsula.  There was dust and mud everywhere.  When I say everywhere, it gets in everything somehow, including inside containers inside the car!  We managed to get the caravan park we were staying in to allow us to wash the car.  You will notice the back of the car, we washed the back windows everyday so we could see out.

<Chris> Thank you to Paula for writing all that about Cape York. I do provide input. Photography, editing, and publishing. Oh, and you might have noticed me keeping us moving too... :-)