Cairns to The Lions Den – Sun 11th Oct to Sat 17th Oct

Cairns – Sun 11th to Wed 14th Oct

We were not originally intending on spending so long in Cairns, but I had to fly briefly to Sydney.  The girls made good use of my time away, heading out to the Great Barrier Reef for a day snorkelling.  So over to Hils:

With so many companies offering Great Barrier Reef cruises it is hard to pick which is best value for money and offers the best range of activities.  In the end we went with Reef Magic and were so glad we did.

We checked in at the reef terminal just before 8am having parked the car in a $3 all day car park just around the corner (the car park at the wharf is per hour), thanks to the staff at Lake Placid for that advice.  Our departure time was 9am so plenty of time to get a quick coffee and choose our seats.  Now I’m not the best sea traveller and should have thought about this before and armed myself with sea sickness tablets, not to worry as they sold them on board for $2 a dose.

The trip took 90 minutes and towards the end, having got blown to pieces outside, it seemed the fresh air and sea sickness tablets had worked.  Unfortunately the same could not be said with Pippa and Charlotte who hadn’t taken anything and were feeling a bit nauseous.  Again the Reef Magic crew were very helpful, directing us to the lower deck and towards the back of the boat which didn’t have as much sway as up top.  I think we reached their floating platform, Marine World, on the outer reef, just in time…..

We got off the boat and found a table to put our bags then headed straight to get our snorkel equipment before the rush.  The snorkelling area is marked by buoys, basically a large circle around the platform.  You can spend as much time as you like in the water, we went in 3 or 4 times, and the variety of fish and coral was amazing.

In between the awesome snorkelling we filled our 5 hours on the reef with sun bathing on the top deck to warm up, eating an amazing lunch and afternoon tea, taking a trip on a semi-submersible, viewing giant trevally from the walk-through underwater platform and sitting on the dive platform, dangling our legs and feeding the fish, including Wally the giant Maori Wrasse.

Wally is big, and very very friendly – as he unexpectedly brushed past my legs I let out a little shriek of surprise!

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A fantastic day, but a long one; everyone was exhausted – luckily the trip back was a lot smoother.

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Barron Gorge

Barron Gorge, at whose mouth Lake Placid Caravan Park is located, runs inland into the national park of the same name in to the direction of Kuranda.  A hydro-electric station is located in the gorge, taking water from above the Barron Falls.  In the lower section of the gorge there are various rapids, with tour companies offering white water rafting.

15-10-10 Barron Gorge 1 15-10-10 Barron Gorge 2

Wonga Beach – Thu 15th Oct

Time to briefly head north again, before the long journey down the coast – the home leg of the trip.

North of Cairns, to Mossman, the road hugs the coast, winding its way over headlands and behind white sandy beaches, one of which was a lovely spot to stop for some lunch.

15-10-15 To Daintree

Wonga Beach is a small place just over 10km south of the Daintree river.  Unfortunately the weather did not do it justice, the south easterly blowing in off the sea and bringing showers.  With sunnier weather this beachside spot would be great.

The Lions Den – Fri 16th to Sat 17th Oct

A short drive north of Wonga is the town of Daintree.  At this point you have a choice; take the CREB track inland or the coast road, which becomes the Bloomfield Track north of Cape Tribulation.

Although the CREB is the road less travelled, in this case common sense ruled – yes it possible to get a trailer through, but it is also very likely you will end up stuck.  The slopes are incredibly steep and the surface clay, so the tiniest bit of rain and it’s a slippery dip.   Talking to the manager at Wonga Beach the story was a local guy, travelling alone, got stuck in a dip – four days later someone came by……

So the Bloomfield Track it was, but first the ferry.  It feels like a bargain after the Jardine River ferry – a third of the price and three times the distance.

15-10-16 Daintree Ferry

As soon as you are across the river you are into the rainforest, the road winding through what is in places a tunnel of green.  As it climbs over the first hill, there is a fantastic lookout to the coast.

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Shortly after the lookout there is what advertises itself as an information centre plus canopy walkway – in reality there seemed to be little information on offer, and the canopy part of the walkway was just a small tower, the rest a ground level boardwalk.  With rain also closing in, it made it an easy one to pass.

Just before the bitumen ends is Cape Tribulation, this is the last accommodation along the track heading north until you leave the national park.

1.5km later the dirt kicks in.  However after the heavily corrugated roads elsewhere it was hard to tell the difference, there is a lot of work going on along the track so the surface was excellent.  The only danger was being taken out by the convoys of trucks hauling dirt about – just of the ferry half a dozen flew past, cutting the bends in a crazy way.

Although it is a lovely drive it is not really one for the views, there are glimpses of the sea but in the main the track is closed in by the trees, even on the ridge tops.

Ah yes, the ridges.  The track goes over a couple of ranges, Donovan and Cowie.  These bring a new meaning to steep, yes there are mountain tracks which are steeper, but a graded road, 1 in 3 anyone?  Very apparent early on was not to attempt too high a gear, after a tricky hillstart on the first one as the revs ran out. Low 2 seemed about right.

The council has helpfully put concrete into some of the steeper sections, which is very helpful but presents a challenge going up – typically the surface reverts to dirt as the gradient eases but before the top.  So the question is whether to attempt the climb with the centre diff locked, risking transmission wind up, or go open and risk wheel spin at transition – at times like these traction control is a comfort.

At the head of the track is the Aboriginal community of Wuja Wuja, with a café and art centre.  Just along the road from the centre there are the Bloomfield Falls, which are definitely worth the short walk (and better if you scramble another 150m over rocks to the base of the falls).

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From here on it is bitumen all the way, a delightful meandering drive through every shade of lush green imaginable until you reach the Lions Den.  Built in 1875 on the banks of the Little Annan River, it was named after the nearby tin mine.

Wikicamps is a very useful app which we have used extensively in choosing places to stay.  However the posted comments need to be read with an eye to things like time of year etc.  For us this was a very peaceful couple of days, the extensive and well shaded campsite behind the pub not at all crowded – however in school holidays you can see how it could be noisy as some comments had flagged.  At the end of the day you can’t expect a pub to be silent, unlike a bush site.

The pub has a great deck for those lazy afternoons, and a swimming hole on the other side of the river.  An interesting feature is the writing covering every wall.  Harking back to its origins, it is said the writing first started with miners who left their pay for safekeeping – as they spent they kept a total on the wall.  The oldest writing now is only 30yrs old, and in any other context would be called graffiti; here it lends an interesting charm.

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Mapoon to Cairns – Sun 4th Oct to Sat 10th Oct

Mapoon – Sun 4th Oct

Our wedding anniversary, so what better thing to do than disappear all morning for some fishing……..thanks Hils.

About 5km south along the beach Janie Creek joins the ocean.  Inside the creek mouth the reef is a great spot for some fishing with bait balls visible in the tide.  It was also the only place in the Cape where we saw a croc – there was a 4m+ cruising the far bank.

The best time seemed to be just after high tide, serving up some decent Mangrove Jack for our final dinner here.  Cooked over coals in foil with some lemon they were delicious.

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Coen – Mon 5th Oct

OK after the last, noisy, time we had said we wouldn’t stay here again.  Actually we were intending to drive further on as the school term was starting and the girl’s schoolwork was waiting in Cairns so we faced a couple of days of long drives.

After a few great weeks it was also time to say good bye to Fifty Toes (or so we thought) – they were heading for Oyala Thumatang national park for a few more days in the wild.

Stopping at the tip on the way out of town there was a sad sight, an old Land Rover crashed and abandoned to rust away in a corner.

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From Weipa the road worsened once outside the mining lease, making for a bumpy trip pretty much all the way until it joined the main Development Road.   From there to Coen was in much better condition, with a lot of work roadbuilding work going on.

Reaching Coen around 2pm it was a surprise to see Fifty Toes filling their water tank (there is a tap on the north side of the town).  Apparently the park was shut for fire, shooting and what sounded like pretty much the horsemen of the apocalypse.  Anyway, all plans of driving on went out the window and we all checked into the sExchange Hotel – wonderful name, they even have t-shirts you can buy with that printed on them.

The camping behind the pub is probably the cheapest on the Cape, $5 an adult and kids go free.  For that you get a level spot, hot showers and a shade area with table and running water.  Fortunately the party crowd from our last visit must have been all worn out after the long weekend, a quiet night was wonderful.

Cairns – Tue 6th to Sat 10th Oct

So, it was goodbye for the final time.  We were heading to Cairns and they were going back into Lakefield National Park for a last Barramundi hunt.

Heading out of Coen the road was in poor shape after the school holidays, in places getting close to undriveable without slowing to a crawl.  To add to the fun the weather also turned, becoming showery; thankfully not enough to turn the road to mud, actually it helped a bit in keeping the dust down.

At Musgrave Station the road forks, heading south is the Development Road and to the east is Lakefield National Park.  Unlike the trip up we stayed on the Development Road, gambling the potentially worse road surface would be offset by the c.50km shorter distance.

Midway along this stretch is the Hann River Roadhouse, for us a useful late morning snack stop albeit under the close eye of their inquisitive emu.  There is also camping here, but pretty quiet now the school holidays were over.

15-10-05 Hann River Roadhouse

So far the gamble on the road had paid off, until we hit the sting in the tail, the last 20km.  The only place to get away from the horrendous corrugations and dips was along the shoulder; but then you had to keep an eye out for washouts, soft sand or getting trapped and unable to climb the camber back up to the road.  There was great relief on reaching the bitumen at Laura.

From there it was just a very long drive, 550km by the time we reached Cairns.

Lake Placid Caravan Park

This is a lovely little site at the mouth of Barron Gorge.  If full it would be a bit tight, but being less than half full was great.  As well as a small pool there is a huge undercover camp kitchen, with the weather remaining showery this was perfect for meals (and schoolwork).

Located about 10km north of Cairns centre this is a great base to travel into town without having to stay there and has a shopping centre a couple of km away to deal with supplies.  For us it was a great spot to pause for a while after the travels of the Cape.

Kuranda Butterfly Sanctuary

The butterfly sanctuary is about a half hour drive back up into the hills west of Lake Placid, in the direction of Mareeba.  Behind an unassuming shopfront is a wonderful enclosed space, beautifully laid out with plants and water and teeming with gorgeous native butterflies.  Unfortunately the Ulysses, which is a vibrant blue on black, never stays still, making it almost impossible to photograph.

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Included in entry was a guided tour, making it excellent value.  Fascinating facts included the more active a butterfly the shorter its lifespan (their wing scales degrade), the Hercules Moth can reach a wingspan of 30cm – sadly they only come out rarely and live for just a few days so there were none on show.

The centre breeds the butterflies, with the tour taking in the lab facilities and showing all stages from newly hatched caterpillar to pupa and then newly hatched butterfly drying its wings.  Out the back they have several acres of land devoted to growing the various plants the caterpillars feed on; the butterflies get a sugar solution.

Coffee Works

Whilst Cairns sits at sea level this is just a narrow coastal strip.  Inland rises sharply, through the World Heritage wet tropical area to the tablelands beyond.

Being above 1000ft altitude this area, we learned, is great for growing coffee, indeed it produces over 80% of Australia’s crop.  However compared to annual import of almost 90,000t volumes are not large and are pretty much solely Arabica.

Coffee Works is located in Mareeba, about 45 minutes from Lake Placid and is like a shrine to all things coffee (and a bit of tea).  Whilst you can just got to the café and have a coffee the main game here is the tasting and the Coffee World museum tour.

The tasting offers up three single origin coffees, nearly a dozen blends and half a dozen coffee based liqueurs.  It is all on a help yourself basis, so if you want to revisit you just go back to the pot.  Alongside this are various flavoured handmade chocolates, also for unlimited tasting much to the girls’ delight.

The museum contains more coffee grinding and making machines than you could have imagined existed, all with an explanation of what they were and some with a recorded explanation by Ian Bersten, founder of Belaroma Coffee and the original collector before he sold his collection to the owners of the museum.

As well as the machines there is a ton of information about the history of coffee, from the smuggling of 5 beans out of Mecca to India in the 1600s to how coffee cup size in a country is directly related to what they drank before.  For example Italy and Greece developed very small cups as coffee replaced grappa and ouzo, Britain had large cups as coffee replaced beer.  To complicate things further historically Britain had access to sugar but not milk (it was either made into cheese or was likely to poison you) so enjoyed sweet black coffee, whereas France had milk but no sugar so developed a taste for large milky coffees.

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It is fascinating how many ways people have, over time, tried to brew coffee, from simply pouring water onto grounds up to intricate machines, and even a samovar type into which coals are poured provide heat.

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It took the girls all of about two hours to shake off their chocolate tasting binge and ask for something sweet!

Ussher Point to Mapoon – Sun 27th Sep to Sat 3rd Oct

Ussher Point – Sun 27th to Tue 29th Sep

A short drive out from Bamaga lies the airport, a strip of tarmac at the end of a long slash through the forest.  Also here are a couple of crash sites from the second-world -war – in bad weather, without modern instruments this would have been a terrible place to fly into.

The first and best preserved is a DC3, en route to New Guinea when it crashed with no survivors.

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Further out are the remains of a Bristol Beaufort, although much less remains of this one.

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Plane wrecks aren’t the only things left in the bush, presumably the large dumps of rusting 40 gallon drums also date back to the war.

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Ussher Point according to Hema is 60km of paint stripping, overhanging and almost impassable jungle track.  It must be hard keeping up to date, the road has seen work in the last 12 months and is now a relatively simple drive – although you wouldn’t take a large van down there.  It is fair say this place is remote, there are no facilities and no phone signal; this is not somewhere to break down alone, we travelled in with Fifty Toes.

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There are only 4 sites here, all booked through Queensland Parks.  The first is a scar in the bush a couple of km from the beach.  The second, ours, is large enough for two cars and trailers and enjoys some shelter from the wind – the beach is a 5 minute walk away.  The other two sites are laughable, one is just a sandy patch behind the beach whilst the other is perched on the edge of a cliff – no sleepwalking now….

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Also along the cliffs are some great termite mounds, although a couple of them may soon find out about coastal erosion.

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As with all the beaches around here it’s a tease, too many crocs about to enjoy a long swim.  We did not see any, but did see several tracks – the zig-zag here is its tail heading down the beach from the lagoon.

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The beach stretches north and south, uninterrupted aside from a few rocky headlands.  To the north rise some wonderfully coloured cliffs, whilst to the south the coast is lower and the beach wider.

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All along the beach the cliffs have large clay bands with some wonderfully different colours, great fun for the girls to get messy and make things from.

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At the far south end of the beach there are a few coconut palms scattered around.  It is incredible how hard the nuts are to dislodge, but they do make a good camp oven cake.

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If there is a negative to the area it would be the amount of rubbish pushed onshore by wind and tide; innumerable bits of plastic, thongs, shoes, ropes and other flotsam, much of it coming from Asia.  It is incredible what a bit of imagination can do though, the kids had hours making billy carts.  Also incredible how much embodied energy there is in the waste, burning may not be the best disposal but is too far to cart it all out and better than leaving it on the sand.

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Saad Point

At the end of a side track, to the north of Ussher this is more remote.  With a couple of sheltered campsites a few hundred metres from the beach it is a spot to get away from everything, with the bonus of a freshwater lake a few km up the road.  There is no booking for these sites, so whilst free it could be a long drive to find them occupied.

Moreton Telegraph – Wed 30th Sep

Originally the plan was for a couple of nights at Vrilya Point.  Sadly it was closed.  Seemingly last year it was wrecked by idiots leaving rubbish (and worse) all over the place, plus there is an ongoing dispute between the mining lease and local community over who should maintain the log bridge.  Such a shame to see it closed off, too many places are already locked out.

An alternative further south is Captain Billy’s landing, however this is back on the east coast and open to the wind; not what we wanted after Ussher.  The next west coast area is north of Weipa, with Moreton handily half way there.

Whilst it is possible to drive North / South along the Old Telegraph Track it is not ideal, as much of the traffic heads north – which leaves the Development Road.  Aside from a few places where the road traverses Heathland NP this was a pretty good drive, not too rough and leaving Ussher just before 9am put Fruit Bat Falls as the perfect lunch spot and a long overdue swim

15-09-30 Fruit Bat

About 40km before Moreton the Development Road passes where it all began a few weeks before, Bramwell Station and its rego tree.

15-09-30 Bramwell Rego Tree

Pennefather Coastal – Thu 1st to Fri 2nd Oct

Weipa, servicing Rio Tinto’s bauxite mining lease, is a reasonably sized town on the west coast about 135km from Moreton.  The week before saw it host the annual pig hunting convention, whilst there is a Woolworths it is no to a Haighs chocolate but yes to fishing tackle shops.

Heading into town the first thing you come across is the haul road for the mine.  In case you are tempted to jump the lights, although the trucks are rather slow moving their tyres stood taller than the Land Rover – there is a photo in town of an impatient station wagon, its engine is flat to the deck under the truck.

15-10-05 Weipa

Pennefather Coastal is a loose collection of camp spots along the back of the beach to the south of Pennefather River, which splits the coast about 50km north of Weipa.  Once at the beach you can drive either behind the dunes or along the beach, neither is overly challenging but if towing its best to stay behind the dunes.  Every few hundred metres there are small stands of trees, providing shade plus a gunbarrel view of the sunset.

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A great feature is how people have taken stuff washed up on the beach and turned them into adventure activities for the kids; an old tyre into a swing, a net into a hammock etc.  A bare tree trunk towed up the beach made a great wobbly climb addition to the fun and games.

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Techically a camping permit is required from the local land office, but given they weren’t answering the phone and no ranger came by, getting a couple of night’s free camp was a bonus.

Mapoon – Sat 3rd Oct

Whilst there are fish cruising the beach at Penne-father they were immune to anything we could put in front of them; live bait, lures, perhaps the best way would be to just spear them……

Between no bites and the rampant flies (there is no stock for miles, so the only reason for them seems to be people unable or too lazy to bury their waste properly) a couple of nights was enough –time to move on and great things had been said about the fishing at Mapoon.

At the tip of the headland where Port Musgrave joins the ocean, Mapoon is an aboriginal community.  Many of the original inhabitants were displaced when the area was opened to mining, hence the settlement of “New Mapoon” up at the tip, but many have apparently since returned.

There are a couple of places to camp here, Cullen Beach to the east of the headland or Back Beach to the west.  Back Beach offers better shelter from the wind plus great shade under towering paperbarks just behind the beach; a good place to also watch the local horses wander by or see the sun rise.

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South Jardine River to Loyalty Beach – Sun 19th Sep to Sat 25th Sep

South Jardine Rover – Sun 19th Sep

Heading out of Elliot Falls you come immediately to Canal Creek.   Although it has some holes to catch the unwary it is very clear with a solid rock bottom, so no problem getting across and no wet feet for the kids this time.  The seemingly obvious line is not the best, to the left is an easier and shallower crossing.

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On both sides of the creek are some lovely free camping spots, which seemed the pattern for each creek thereafter.  Elliot Falls was handy for swimming at the falls, but otherwise it is perfectly possible to free camp all the way.

After Canal is Mistake Creek.  Not very long but deep in places; being crystal clear it is easy to pick a line.  Just before Mistake is a track out to the Development Road, allowing you to bypass the last of the OTT, after that the next exit is after Nolans Brook.

15-09-20 Mistake Creek 2

We were keeping an eye on the descents, making sure we could climb back up them if we had to if Nolans Brook or before it Logans (again just shown as “ford” by Hema) proved to too deep – being a new car we weren’t keen to drown the 110.

After Mistake comes Cannibal Creek, which became our turnaround point.  Not only would we have been unable to get back up the steep rutted descent (OK we could have, but only with the hand winch, too much like hard work), but the entry to the water was over a vicious rock step – the step claimed a stabiliser leg from Fifty Toes who were travelling ahead of us.  Perhaps we could have made it across without damage, but did not think it was worth the risk.

So it was back over Mistake, where the initial climb is fine but the deep wombat holes at the top add some spice, and around via the Development Road to meet back up with Fifty Toes on the north side of Nolan’s brook.  As it turned out Logans was shallow, and Nolans was only waist deep for a couple of metres so we probably could have got through them fine – hindsight is wonderful thing, but still wouldn’t have helped with that rock step.

The water at Nolans is wonderfully clear, with a sandy bottom (if crossing in a group be the first or second through, or let the sand settle for a while).  The kids had great fun on the rope swing at the crossing, and jumping into the deep water where the old log bridge used to be.

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The campsites at South Jardine, along the bank of the Jardine River are basic, just sandy patches amongst the trees.  The river itself was much shallower than anticipated, clear with a sandy bottom; all in all it was very pretty, especially at dusk.

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Somerset Beach – Mon 20th to Tue 21st Sep

A few km from the camp is where the OTT used to cross the river, although it is not recommended to cross now and there is precious little evidence of the crossing.  The drive to the ferry is a backtrack to the Development Road and then 24km of very rough road – in places even the soft shoulder has been heavily corrugated.

The ferry makes Sydney’s road tolls look cheap on a per km basis, $129 for a 60 second crossing.  We didn’t have to queue but it is easy to see how there could be delays in peak holidays, the ferry only takes half a dozen vehicles.

15-09-21 Jardine River

Once over the ferry the main town is Bamaga, 45km away, but heavily corrugated.  With water and fuel available at the BP and a decent supermarket (the prices less decent) it is a good place to stop for supplies – although if you want beer the bottle shop doesn’t open until midday.

There are plenty of places to camp, ranging from basic camps covered by the ferry fee through to private campsites.  Somerset Beach is one of the basic ones, but in a fantastic location on the north east corner of the tip.  With a golden sand beach between two headlands, and partially sheltered from the wind, it is lovely but such a shame there is no swimming.

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The campsite is handy for the five beaches drive, which runs down the east coast until Nanthau Beach – it is possible to drive further on, but the track is very tight and overhung, we needed a pole to lift branches out of the way.  The hardest bit of the drive is a soft sand section in the first km, after that it was pretty easy, just needed good clearance and low range in places.

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One of wider beaches was a great spot for Pippa and Charlotte to try their hand at Land Rover driving.

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Behind the beach are several graves including those of Frank Jardine and his wife Sana.  A son of John Jardine, Resident Magistrate from 1864, Frank took over Somerset after the government abandoned it in 1877.  At the top of the hill are more memorials, including for Gudang Ancestors who were returned from Germany to country in 2013.

Punsand Bay – Wed 22nd to Thu 23rd Sep

Heading west from Somerset the tip of Australia, or Pajinka, is a fairly short drive away.

15-09-23 Road to Tip

The track winds through the rainforest and was generally in good condition.  It is not possible to drive all the way, after parking up it is about a 15 minute walk up and over a rocky headland, with numerous cairns marking the route.

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At the highest point of the headland there is a brass plaque showing direction and distances to various places.  Very interesting, although FUD and QQ perhaps were too thick to appreciate it.

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Along the walk there are wonderful views of the differing coastline, to the east the sheltered sandy bays and to the west the rugged windswept cliffs.

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Just inland from the tip there is the old Pajinka Wilderness Lodge, gone to ruin in the bush.  The story goes it was handed to the local people as a going concern only to be trashed and abandoned shortly after.  It is difficult to find any verification on Google, and one would hope that wasn’t the case.  In any case it is a sad sight, with the decaying buildings and pool.

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From the tip to Punsand you can either take the track down and via the Bamaga road, or you can cut along a minor track which runs a few km inland and parallel to the coast; the minor track is much more fun.  Impassable in the wet, in the dry the only obstacles are a heavily rutted section, and a couple of hundred metres of soft sand. All in all it is a very pleasant drive emerging next to the Punsand campsite.

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Punsand Bay is set along a lovely sandy beach facing due north, the sunrises are great but the sunsets less so whilst we were there.  The prime spots front the beach; as well as pretty the beach is reasonable for fishing, although we got no bites our neighbour shared a blue threadfin which was delicious.  To the girl’s delight Punsand also has a pool, they were not so keen on the amusing sign whose first instruction is “No Marco Polo” – someone values peace and quiet.

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Loyalty Beach – Fri 24th to Sat 25th Sep

Loyalty Beach is another private campsite, on the east coast a few km north of Seisa.  From Punsand the road goes to the Croc Tent and you then have a choice, via Bamaga or take a minor track direct.  Not only is the track quicker it also cuts out a corrugated stretch, a double win.

Loyalty, much like Punsand, lies along the beach.  Unlike Punsand you cannot book ahead, so an early arrival helps – the sweet spot seems to be just after 10am.  For an extra $5 there are a few shelters with power, it was worth it.

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The beach here is rocky in places, but then given no swimming it is a bit academic – what it does have is a perfect view of sunset.

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Being rocky, with very shallow water, the beach is not great for fishing.  However it is only a couple of km to Seisa jetty, which is reportedly a decent spot.  There are certainly plenty of bait fish under the jetty, but on the day we were there nothing was biting – probably something to do with the 2m shark John of Fifty Toes hooked into; an amazing sight to see it leaping and spinning until it cut his line.

Chili Beach to Elliott Falls – Sun 13th Aug to Sat 19th Sep

Time to head for one of the major tracks in Australian 4WD.  The Old Telegraph Track, running up the middle of Cape York, is a perennial in any list of must do tracks.

Chili Beach – Sun 13th Sep

The last day was just as windy as the first, no wonder these winds powered trade in the days of sailing ships.  Good for walking along the beach.

Moreton Telegraph Station – Mon 14th to Tue 15th Sep

With Frenchmans Track clearly not a viable short cut the road north began with a retrace to the south, picking up the Development Road where we had left it a few days earlier.  From there the road was in pretty good condition, being the end of the season we had expected it to be flogged out from all the traffic – a pleasant surprise to be on a smooth surface.

Moreton Telegraph Station was built in 1887, one of many stations along the way.  Now offering camping it is a great little spot to spend a few days, a far cry from its original design when the stations were built like forts to protect the people and equipment from “wild blacks”, complete with gun ports on two corners.

Powered sites are the same price as unpowered so an easy choice there. Slightly unexpected are the cows which wander in at dusk, seeking the well watered grass and the fallen mangoes from the trees.  The girls certainly enjoyed the sprinklers.

15-09-14 Moreton Telegraph

Positioned alongside the Wenlock River, Moreton is a decent spot for fishing.  Although the barra hole does not look like much at this time of year there is plenty in there, producing my first barra of the trip (sadly undersized).  John of Fifty Toes had better luck, pulling out two keepers – amazing how good it tastes when so fresh from the water.

It is incredible to think the river, now shrunken into the base of it deep course, will rise over 15m in the wet to flow through the campsite.  Outside the office is a pole with historical flood levels marked on it, the volume of water in 1907 would have been stupendous.

15-09-14 Moreton 2

Cockatoo Creek – Wed 16th to Thu 17th Sep

Moreton is just over 40km from Bramwell Station, the start of the Old Telegraph Track (OTT).  Here the Development Road veers to the east, whilst the OTT heads directly north.

15-09-16 Bramwell Station

The first crossing is Palm Creek, the track approaches from an angle so the crossing is hidden until the last minute.  When we arrived there was a tour bus parked up, cups of tea in hand waiting for entertainment, no pressure then.  The drop in is a two stage affair, the first a steep drop, the second stepping down abruptly into muddy tracks.  Best taken at low speed, unlike the guy ahead of me who went in fast, smacking his trailer into the wall in a couple of places.

15-09-16 Palm Creek 115-09-16 Palm Creek 3 15-09-16 Palm Creek 4 15-09-16 Palm Creek 5

 

The crossing itself is dry at this time of year, which would normally assist with the climb out; unfortunately a sharp rain shower ensured this was slick.  With all terrain rather than mud tyres the winch was needed to get us over the lip, although with hindsight perhaps a little more speed into the climb may have bounced us up (and increased the chance of breaking something).

15-09-16 Palm Creek 6 15-09-16 Palm Creek 7

From here the OTT is a delightful single track running through the trees, and thankfully lacking in corrugations; a real pleasure to drive.

15-09-16 OTT 1

Along the side of the track are many of the old telegraph poles.  Most of them are bent to the ground, presumably by people trying to get at the ceramic insulators for souvenirs.  A rare few have survived, it must have been quite a sight to see them marching into the distance strung with wire.

15-09-16 OTT 2 15-09-16 OTT 3

Almost immediately comes Ducie Creek.  At the start of the season this would be a deep pool, needing a hard left line to the exit.  However it was now just a muddy puddle and a straight drive across to a simpler short climb on the right.  All the more puzzling to stall at the lip; check gears, oops, low range may help……

North Alice Creek comes next, a simple dry but rocky crossing.  Even early season it is reportedly only shallow.

A further 11km on there are two crossings in quick sucession, both with water albeit it currently very shallow.  First up is Dulhunty Creek – this has a long entrance sunk deep into the bank, as you cross the far bank looks impossible but once there the hard right becomes visible providing a shallow exit.

15-09-16 Dulhunty Creek 1

Then comes Bertie Creek.  This is a hard right along the bank then a dive over to the left further up, being careful to avoid the deep holes in the river bed.  With the water level low the holes were easily visibly, making this easy (aside from the 110’s turning circle putting us close to the first hole – check the video); with deep water this would be much more of a challenge, requiring first a careful walk across.

15-09-16 Bertie Creek 115-09-16 Bertie Creek 4

The next crossing is the infamous Gunshot – more on that later, discretion overcame valour and we took the bypass, all 25km of corrugated misery a penance for not throwing caution to the wind.

Cockatoo Creek was the last crossing of note in the southern section of the OTT – Sailors Crossing was little more than a dip.  Aside from a steep slope at the start the entry is gentle; however the crossing needs a careful line as it is rough with deep holes – would be scarier if the water was deep enough to hide them.

15-09-16 Cockatoo Creek 1

Cockatoo is a wonderful free camp on the north side of Cockatoo Creek.  It goes back a lot further than it looks, with a track running into the woods behind the campsite giving access to fishing holes downstream.  The campsite is set amongst trees, and raised above the river which provides some great swimming for the kids, as well as a fine spot to look over whilst cooking dinner.

15-09-17 Cockatoo Creek 1

Now back to Gunshot.  A short drive back down the OTT brings you to the north side, a fine place to chill out and watch the action, and admire the broken bits hung in the tree at the bottom.

15-09-17 Gunshot 4

Gunshot number 1 frankly is unnerving, a vertical drop taller than the 110 into water – people who have done it say the run out is curved so your wheels naturally take you out, but we also heard horror stories of trailers ending up on roofs and someone having to be winched out backwards.

15-09-17 Gunshot 2 15-09-17 Gunshot 5 15-09-17 Gunshot 10

Gunshot 2 and 3, to the right (looking north), don’t look much friendlier, although 3 does seem to have a slope in rather than a drop.

To the left (looking north) are the chicken tracks, if you like your chickens on steroids…..all sharp drops into deep mud.  Sadly whilst we were there no-one took on the main drops, just the chicken runs.

15-09-17 Gunshot 7 15-09-17 Gunshot 8 15-09-17 Gunshot 9

The chap in the photos above made it look easy, but then a 4” lift and huge tyres do help – it seems he only backed away from Gunshot 1 under threat from his wife.  The vehicle before him left both tail light clusters shattered in the mud.

Slightly up the track from the crossing there is a grave, a memorial to WJ Brown, one of the linesmen who maintained the telegraph line, found dead in his swag in 1945.

15-09-17 OTT

Elliott Falls – Fri 18th to Sat 19th Sep

North of Cockatoo the OTT becomes a straight dirt road, not nearly so much fun as the corrugations make a return for the 15km to the junction with the Development Road.

The north section of the OTT starts 9km further on with a side trip to Fruit Bat Falls.  This is a place not to be missed, twin falls tumbling down into a perfectly clear pool; perfect for swimming and relaxing.  Swimming up to the falls you get a fantastic back massage from the water tumbling over.

15-09-18 Fruit Bat 3 15-09-18 Fruit Bat 4 15-09-18 Fruit Bat 7 15-09-18 Fruit Bat 8 15-09-18 Fruit Bat 9 15-09-18 Fruit Bat 12

A couple of km to the north you come to Scrubby Creek, don’t look for the name on a Hema map as they just show it as “ford”.  Seems strange this one is not marked by name as it is long, deep and definitely not clear.  Deeper in the middle its best to hug the edges, for us that was the right hand side to keep the air intake nice and high – the girls all got wet feet in the back but nothing serious.

Elliot Falls is a campsite with three distinct waterfalls on offer.  Nearest the camp is the Saucepan, more of a rapid than a waterfall; as the mist rose in the early morning this was a lovely place, a few hours later it was rather too popular with people cooling off with stubbies in hand.

15-09-19 Saucepan 1

Elliot Falls is next, where the river drops into a long “v” shaped gash in the riverbed.  It is possible, but hard work, to swim up to the base of the falls.

15-09-19 Elliot Falls 3 15-09-19 Elliot Falls 5 15-09-19 Elliot Falls 7 15-09-19 Elliot Falls 9

Both the Saucepan and Elliot Falls are on Elliot Creek.  Twin Falls is just around the corner, on Canal Creek, just before the two join.  This is probably the best known image, a two tier waterfall with pools between – a beautiful place and just far enough from the camp it was never too busy.

15-09-19 Twin Falls 1 15-09-19 Twin Falls 2

In many ways Elliot falls is a wonderful campsite, it’s just a shame people let it down.  The second night the crowds arrived, along with the feral behaviour – since when has it been acceptable to tear down standing trees for firewood, run generators when they are not permitted (one was to power the saw to cut up the trees!) and take a good soapy wash in the river ………..The rangers were conspicuous by their absence, do Queensland Parks even care about the site being trashed, or do they only care about the $$$$$