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