It’s time to start our next offroad adventure, and since our last effort in the Kimberley, we’ve bit the bullet and hired a camper trailer for 3 weeks rather than having to tent it.  Yes I know, I can hear already some of you saying that we’re soft, but the sleeping so close to the floor caper on a one inch mattress in the Kimberley was getting a bit much, so a camper trailer it is.

The trip itself is going to take just under three weeks.  Our itinerary is semi-fixed and we’ll head up the coast first to Port Douglas, Daintree and Cape Tribulation.  The road then turns to dirt as we take the Bloomfield Track route to Cooktown, and then make our way up to the Tip hoping to do some of the Old Telegraph Line (OTL) Road as we go rather than the “Bypass” Road.  As I’ve previously visited the Cape a number of times, this is Grant’s first. So he’d like to do the OTL all the way, but I don’t think he fully understands what he’s in for…time will tell!  Here’s how the first 10 days of the trip went.

Days 1 – 10

Day 1 – When it’s time to leave and we’re all packed, it’s really surprising but we have room to spare in both the car and the trailer!!!  Leaving the van behind so it could have another holiday in the park, we headed north towards Port Douglas.  Not a long drive, we had a quick look around before stopping for some lunch.  Setting up for our first night in the camper trailer wasn’t too bad, however the rain was back!  Waking up during the night to rain on the canvas which sounded like popcorn popping was enough to keep both of us awake for half of the night.

Day 2 – More rain!  Packing up wasn’t so bad – definitely quicker than the tent!  On the road fairly early, we drove up to Daintree.  Taking a look around the quaint village, we then crossed the Daintree River with the ferry and continued on our journey to Cape Tribulation.  We noticed many businesses for sale or had closed down around the area, however we managed to find a great stop for ice cream….we had wattleseed (tastes like coffee), mango, blueberry and sour sop (very unusual , a bit like a fizzy, floury, vanilla taste).  Although the rain has stopped at this point, it continued once we’d set up camp, but at least it didn’t keep us awake.  One thing we did wake up to was a heap of bats overhead of our neighbour’s camper trailer (unsure whether I would be happy to stay in that spot given we’ve seen what a mess they can make!!)

Day 3 – We managed to pack up and get on the road before the rain returned.  The road had now turned to dirt as we were on what’s called the Bloomfield Track.  Driving this morning, we were in the Daintree National Park and stopped at Marrja Walk.  The walk was on a great boardwalk which started off through rainforest, but then the scenery changed to mangroves.  Having the place almost to ourselves, it was surprisingly very quiet, almost eerie like, with the rainforest canopy high above us….and then more rain.  Not just a shower, but a torrential downpour, so it was a quick bolt back to the car!  The road in places was now very wet, but also extremely steep in spots which gave the Paj a pretty good workout, however the rainforest scenery was still terrific.  The “fresh” smell of the rainforest was invigorating and made driving a pleasure.  Just before reaching the end of the Bloomfield Track, we reached the Lions Dens pub which is an institution.  Stopping for a beer and snack, we then completed the last 20kms on dirt before meeting up with the main Cooktown Road.

Day 4 –Off to the markets first thing this morning, but it turned out to be more of a garage sale.  Doing some of the touristy things here, we visited the Captain Cook statue, drove up to Grassy Hill to see some great views of the Endeavour River (where Captain Cook moored his ship for repairs in 1770) and Cooktown itself.  Cooktown also boasts a Magazine House which stored ammunitions for the Palmer River goldfields (the building still stands), but also, Cooktown has fantastic Botanic Gardens which we visited. Originally started in 1878, the gardens fell into disrepair in the 1920s, but were re-established in the 1960s, with many of the plants from those original days still thriving.  Finishing the day off at James Cook Museum, this is one of the best museums we’ve been to on this trip.  The building was originally a convent (and is stunning), but incredibly, the museum also houses a cannon and an anchor from Captain Cook’s ship, the Endeavour.  The museum’s collection is varied and we found it really interesting.

Day 5 – Today we first stopped at an Aboriginal artist’s place (Lea Stevens) to look at some of her artwork.  Having been born in the area, Lea’s style resembles her surroundings, both the rainforest and the bush.  We enjoyed her work and decided to order a piece.  Leaving Cooktown and making our way north, we arrived at Lakefield National Park.  It’s a park which you can drive through to get to the Cape with many places offered for camping.  In the park is the Old Laura Homestead (an old pastoral station from the 1800s).  Stopping for lunch and a look around, the old homestead has been refurbished and was a great place to stop for a break.  On the western side of the park, the landscape significantly changes with many termite mounds and savannah land now forming the landscape.  Once outside the park, it wasn’t far and we came across a sign to Lotus Bird Lodge.  Camping was not permitted here, but I’d read it was a great place to see birds, so in we go.  What a place!  We pulled up and found a huge lagoon surrounded by some cabins, but the lagoon was beautiful as it was covered in Lotus Lillies.  We are starting to learn more about the wildlife and saw some pygmy geese, magpie geese, some herons and brolgas.  The owner is also breeding the endangered Gouldian finches and releases them back into the wild.  Not wanting to leave this great place, but unfortunately it was getting late in the day and we needed to move on to Musgrave for the night.  I’m unsure whether it was surprise or dismay that when we arrived there, all I saw was heaps of tourists camping.  I very soon realised that the trip to the Cape is no longer the last frontier and that it was going to be busy…not what I wanted.

Day 6 – We had a relatively early start this morning and drove to our next stop, Coen.  The corrugations were pretty atrocious…at one point we slowed down to under 30kms/hour.  Just a quick coffee stop and more fuel and we drove on to Archer River Roadhouse to have another stop.  At this point, we decided to go east to Iron Range National Park and perhaps stay at Chili Beach and get to Lockhart River to see the Aboriginal art centre (I hadn’t been here on previous trips).  It ended up being a long day of driving, we crossed the Great Dividing Range and arrived late afternoon.  Unfortunately (which ended up being fortunately) the Chili Beach campground was full, so we drove back about 15kms to Gordon’s Creek Campground for an overnighter.  Gordon’s Creek was in the rainforest and many years ago was a gold mining area.  We had a fun evening – hearing “things” being dropped on the camper trailer roof, so we went out to investigate and found a spotted cuscus (this is not the couscous you eat)!! above us in a tree.  He was busy (we think) finding something to eat so we left him to do his thing.  We went back into the camper trailer and whilst catching up on some reading, we heard a lot of what sounded like water hitting the camper trailer.  However, we soon realised it wasn’t raining.  What the????  Heading outside again and shining the light back up in the tree, we realised the cuscus had taken aim and urinated on us!!!!  Not nice!

Day 7 – Waking up today in the rainforest was just one of the nicest things.  There were so many birds singing it was just a chorus of song (even though I had no idea what types of birds they were).  It was just a fantastic way to wake up.  As we packed up, a bush turkey hung around before moving in and out of the forest.  A great stay!  Driving in to Lockhart River we stopped at the Iron Range Airport which is steeped in World War II history.  Many Americans lost their lives here at there were a few memorials which we stopped to look at.

Driving back towards the main Cape York road, we were on the Portland Roads Road (yes a weird name) – the landscape continued to change, from rainforest to open savannah.  The weather had warmed up again (around 32 degrees) as we made our way into Weipa.  Checking in to the camping ground for a couple of nights, we witnessed a speccy sunset before deciding to have an early night.

Day 8 – Staying another night in Weipa we didn’t have much planned except some R&R.  A quick look around town (not a huge amount to see), and a bit of shopping, so that’s it.  We experienced another speccy sunset, today’s was rather unique with the sun turning pink as it lowered.

Sadly we heard today that since we’ve left Cairns, that there have been three deaths on the Cape York roads.  Two were motorcyclists in the one accident on the Captain Billy Landing Road (for those of you that know it), and the most recent occurred only 2 days ago when a 4wd tried to overtake a truck and hit another car head on just north of the Archer River Roadhouse.

Day 9 – Well the true adventure they say was about to begin.  Taking the road to Batavia Downs and then onto the Developmental Road (Bypass Road), we soon experienced some horrible corrugations slowing our speed down considerably.  I’m talking about the bone rattling, teeth chattering kind! At one point, I could see we were only doing around 28km per hour.  Everything was shaking!  We soon arrived at the Wenlock River before we knew it.  Arriving here, I had mixed emotions as on one of my previous visits here, we actually got stuck in the river and the car began to fill with water.  Unlike the traffic seen on the roads today, back then (1991) the number of vehicles was few and far between.  Trying to get the car out ourselves didn’t work (we had no winch back then), however it was just our luck that we only had to wait around an hour and half before some locals came through and managed to retrieve the car and our trailer.  Well times have changed, and now there’s a bridge to drive over the river! Aaaahhh, where’s the fun in that!!??? Hmmm….

Continuing past Moreton Telegraph Station, our next stop was Bramwell Station Roadhouse where we stopped for lunch.  Whilst there, we had heard a car rollover had only just occurred around 28kms north of where we were.  A motorist brought the driver from the accident into the Roadhouse and we could see he had shoulder injuries.  Explaining he thought that either the steering had gone from the vehicle or he’d done a tyre, he lost control of the vehicle and rolled.  As we drove on, it wasn’t long before we came across his vehicle – he was pretty lucky to have been able to walk out we think.

Deciding to take a look at the infamous Gunshot crossing, we turned in to Heathlands and then down the OTL track to see the crossing.  Wow, has the crossing changed from years gone by.  Originally there was one track to cross, and one “chicken” track to drive around.  Today we saw at least 7 entry points, with the original track and the original “chicken” track impassable.    It definitely didn’t look as hairy as it used to.  Just as we arrived, a couple of cars pulled up and happily ventured into the crossing.  As it was getting late in the day, we camped on the northern side of Gunshot, and we actually managed to score the whole campsite without one other vehicle!   Having the whole place to ourselves was extremely surprising given the amount of people we’d come across previously staying at Musgrave and again at Weipa.  Unfortunately, one downside of staying here is all the rubbish that people have left behind – many think they are leaving memorabilia of their trip because they feel “they’ve beat Gunshot”, but basically it’s all crap….broken chairs, bottles, hats, just about anything you can think of….it’s all just rubbish, and if they had only left their address and not just their names on the stuff, I would happily post it back to them!

Day 10 – Leaving Gunshot camp this morning we drove to Fruit Bat Falls.  We stopped and had a quick look around and decided to move on to Eliot Falls which is back on the OTL road.  This is where the OTL road becomes interesting as you now have many creek crossings compared to the Bypass Road which either has shallow crossings or bridges.  To get to Eliot Falls we needed to cross Scrubby Creek first.  It had a steep drop in and was about 600mm, so we crossed it ok and made it to the Eliot Falls campground.  As the campsites in here were limited, we were previously advised to arrive as early as possible in the day.  We arrived before midday so we had a great camp choice and set up fairly quickly.  Unfortunately, disaster struck as Grant found that a cordial bottle had leaked in a drawer where we kept our electronic equipment!, so we spent the next couple of hours cleaning up the mess and checking that everything was still working (thank goodness). Lesson learned!  Later in the day we walked to The Saucepan (some falls), and then on to Eliot Falls where we spent some time swimming.  Before we knew it, we had the place to ourselves (again an almost rare thing to have on this trip given all the tourists!)

Well that’s the first instalment of the trip.  No major issues to mention yet.  The dust and corrugations have been a plenty, but it is all part and parcel of a trip like this.  Some of the drivers we’ve come across drive on the dirt just like they would on bitumen at around 100+kms, and some overtake without knowing whether there’s anything coming ahead. Not the safest way to travel!

Stay safe,
Grant & Linda.

Kms Travelled Total  25,308