Julatten – Sun 6th Sep
Heading north from Cairns you can go along the coast road, or take the Black Mountain road slightly inland through the bush. With a chance (OK a remote one) of cassowaries, the Black Mountain road was an easy winner. It is not a difficult drive in the dry but with a little rain the middle section could be tough.
Sadly the cassowaries were all hiding and the track runs through the rainforest so there is not much in the way of views; but it is still much more fun than the bitumen.
The Julatten Caravan Park is an interesting little place, about 30km inland from Port Douglas, with very welcoming owners. It is primarily a permanent site, but has a couple of powered spots and an unpowered area for those passing by. Just outside the site is the local garage, where the homemade pies are excellent.
Old Laura Homestead – Mon 7th to Tue 8th Sep
Heading north from Julatten the green fields and trees slowly give way to drier climes, the road passing through Mount Carbine with the local hillside broken into mining tiers, before climbing over the Sussex Range near Palmer River. From the top of the range there are great views of the surrounding area.
From the roadhouse at Palmer River the Development Road turns north west at Lakeland and heads to Laura from where Lakefield National Park can be reached. The Old Laura Homestead is just inside the park, with a couple of camping spots nearby, booked via the Queensland Parks website. Site 2 is the pick, enormous and set a short way back from the road; actually it is so big that people who haven’t bothered to book think its OK to pull in and set up, which happened to us on the first night.
The homestead is a fascinating slice of history. Set up to provide meat to the goldrush, it was eventually abandoned in the 1960’s before being restored a couple of decades later. Before it was abandoned the cows were switched to Brahmas as they were more resistance to ticks and had longer legs for moving in the bush. In the old meat shed remains the metal rack on which joints were hung, and a huge round of tree trunk which still bears the marks of the butchery knives.
Just up the road a short way is the New Laura Homestead (no prizes for guessing this replaced the old one…), handily it has phone signal just outside as there is no other mobile coverage in the area.
Coen – Wed 9th Sep
Heading north you can either go through the national park, or backtrack to Laura and take the Development Road. Local knowledge was the park road was in much better condition, in all it was not a bad surface most of the way through. Where the road approaches the coast, before bending west, the trees disappear, replaced by grassland with thousands of termite mounds – strange how they haven’t worked out building north / south like the mounds in Litchfield, its certainly hot enough to need it.
Coen is a small town on the road north, offering fuel, supplies, post office and pub. It is possible to camp behind the pub, or as we did behind the guest house. Unfortunately what would otherwise be a lovely place was marred by the noisy neighbours.
Archer River Roadhouse – Thu 10th Sep
Pressing northward the roadhouse is only a short drive up the road, however the corrugations made it seem rather more. The camping here is on a sloping mainly grassed area alongside the roadhouse, best camp away from the generator as it seems to run all night – we had been forewarned. The large trees dotted around provide plenty of shade, and some fun for the girl.
Setting up early, the girls had plenty of time to get though some schoolwork before their friends arrived, the Whitemans who we hadn’t seen for some time but were heading back down from Chili Beach. Always great to catch up and swap experiences from the road.
The roadhouse offers food, and has a small licensed bar (a hole in the wall with a small fridge on the counter). Their signature dish, the Archer Burger, is quite a construction and rather tasty, just don’t forget to order fries as they don’t come as standard.
Chili Beach – Fri 11th to Sat 12th Sep
North of the roadhouse, after about 10km, the graders had been active so the road was in good condition to the turn for Iron Range NP and Chili Beach. After the turn the road, although relatively smooth, rollercoasters through sharp dips; as most dips have rocky bottoms it is not wise to take them too fast.
Along the way the road crosses the Wenlock and the Pascoe Rivers, both have concrete causeways and this late in the season have minimal water.
For anyone heading north after Chili Beach the main route is a backtrack to the development road, a long triangle south then north again. The logical alternative would be to take the Frenchmans Track, which cuts off the top of the triangle, saving almost 100km.
However it is easier said than done; the first part of the track is narrow and winding across corrugated firm sand, becoming deeply rutted near to the Pascoe River. There are some great views over the surrounding area
Approaching the river the track dips steeply downhill to the crossing, it wise to stop and walk down as once you start descending you are committed, as the trail closes in and cuts a path to the river. The crossing is not overly long, but a car heading the other way reported it as over a metre deep in the middle. The climb out on the east side is bare and rocky, probably very slippery with wet tyres.
With the water depth and the rocky climb this was not a short cut for us.
Chili Beach is strung out along the oceans edge just north of Lockhart River on Cape Weymouth. With its white sand and coconut palms it could be a beach in the Madives, just a shame swimming might get you eaten, lots of crocs around here.
The sites are spacious, but in some places are very exposed to the trade winds which were blowing constantly and strongly from the southeast. To get shelter from the wind can mean a trade off on how much sun your solar panel will get.
With the strong wind there was the occasional coconut coming down, wonderful to take the top off and enjoy the fresh water and flesh inside, either straight from the shell or baked into a cake. The bush turkeys are a fan too.
Whilst the beach above the tideline is not wide, it stretches for several km to the south (to the north is aboriginal land, which is private). Walking the beach there is plenty to see. Some of the trees have been bent and twisted by the wind and tide, forming fascinating shapes, and there is the chance of finding chambered nautilus shells. Sadly there is also a lot of rubbish washed in, mostly plastic and a large proportion from Asia.
To the north of Chili Beach is the small settlement of Portland Roads, boating a café and very expensive ice cream. An interesting place for a short trip out.