Cairns - Birdsville (28/04/2015 - 17/05/15)
Cairns - Cooktown
Goodbye to the highlands and back down to the coast, back into the heat, humidity and populous. The coastal drive north from Cairns to Port Douglas is stunning and although Port Douglas is beautiful it is very much a resort town and seemed to comprise mainly restaurants and bars, not what we were after just now but nice for a quick visit and some photos. Then to the Daintree ferry which was fun and pretty and provides the only access for continuing up the coastal road to Cape Tribulation where Martin had stayed 25 years prior and where we camped in a lovely peaceful spot in the bush right beside the beach, apparently nothing had really changed in that time.
Next the Bloomfield (4WD) track through to Cooktown, which only opens in the dry season, dusty, corrugated and very steep in places but otherwise not stressful and a gentle intro to four-wheel-driving for me in preparation for Cape York.
Cooktown is a neat relaxed little town with obviously a big focus on Captain Cook who had visited to repair his ship
after bumping into the Great Barrier Reef! Lots of history, great historic buildings and an old lighthouse, no longer functional and which was to be demolished
but was purchased by the locals, restored and now kept maintained. Other highlights for us were the very friendly locals, fish & chips down at the wharf, a band playing great music
at the pub over the road until the wee small hours and it being the start point for our Cape York adventure.
The Old Telegraph Line
Having never really done any serious 4WDriving before I had no idea what a shock I was in for!!!We left early from Cooktown luckily having found out at the last minute that our planned route through the Lakefield National Park to meet the Cape York track was still closed, so a few alterations to the plan were needed.
The main track to Cape York is a 4WD dirt road, closed for most of the summer and usually opens about May, we set off on 01 May and luckily were among the first wave of visitors, apparently it goes crazy in June/July and the dust must be hideous as it was bad enough for us when the road had only recently dried out. It is dotted with Road Houses which offer food, camping, accommodation and fuel at crazy prices but we only stayed at these twice and camped in the bush beside a creek the other nights.
The Old Telegraph Line (OTL) is a section remaining of the original telegraph track to Cape York, it deviates from the main Cape York road, isn't maintained and is used by 4WD enthusiasts I think mainly to challenge their skills and is a feat to boast about over a beer.
Martin felt the need to conqueur the Old Telegraph Line and being mainly unaware of what it involved I happily agreed – that is until we came to the first creek, one look and I was ready to turn back!
The pictures will tell the story better than I can – as you will see Priscilla wasn't often dry, level or on all four wheels!!! Each creek required a careful assessment prior to attempting it but for some unknown reason little attention was paid to the nearby Crocodile warning signs!
My main task was to take photos, this I attempted with varying success – fear tended to cause a freeze or the pressing of the wrong button on the camera!!! Not always popular!!
Despite all the drama it was with a little sadness that we finally farewelled the OTL and continued on the main track, another ferry crossing at the Jardine river then on to the tip.
Part of the fun of the whole trip was the people we met and would bump into again randomly, sharing stories of the adventure, laughing, discussing tactics and planning the next phase.
It was magical to finally camp at Loyalty beach, a tropical paradise, sitting with wine in hand looking over the white sand at the islands between us and PNG after standing on the northernmost point of Australia.
Cape York - Birdsville
Sadly, knowing we would probably never return, we left The Tip and covered the dusty miles down to Mareeba in two days. The entire first day in Mareeba was spent cleaning Priscilla, dust had found its way into pretty much every corner and everything we owned!
Once Priscilla had been given the okay following her routine service we pointed her east and found dust yet again on the Burke Development road across to Karumba and the Gulf of Carpenteria. First stop Chillagoe, famous for its caves, marble and the remains of the State Smelter plant, then dust and corrugations all the way to the gulf. It was broken by a few highlights like the beautiful Cranes striding elegantly away from our noisy approach; in the middle of barren arid land coming upon a lake covered with hundreds of Pelicans; and then a huge glamorous homestead with a lush green garden appearing suddenly in the middle of semi desert.
Karumba seemed like a lovely little sleepy fishing town but sadly it had been invaded by grey nomads in their thousands, each of the 4 campgrounds full to overflowing. Being tired from a huge days driving we opted to stay one night and left as early as practical, checking out the replica of the largest crocodile ever shot in nearby Normanton, then on to Mt Isa.
The area south of Mt Isa is known as the Diamantina and is described as true “frontier” country, we drove three days on gravel roads through wild desert country, striking, beautiful, and stark. Finally arriving in Birdsville, famous for its annual races, second only to the Melbourne Cup, its pub and more recently its bakery the “Hard Road Cafe” and it didn't take long to work out where the its name came from, there were literally thousands of raucous Cockatoos rattling around in trees by the local water hole. Also impressive were the flies followed by an icey rain/wind storm so we retreated to the Hotel for beers and the Sunday night roast!