So it begins! Our Cape York adventure! We had arranged to meet our friends Dan & Em in Cairns so we could both set off to tackle the Cape together. Safety in numbers right! Our first stop was the Daintree for our first nights campsite. The main Daintree town was surprising quite small with only 8 shops in the main Street. The boys had a fish by the river in the afternoon, while Em and myself checked out the shops. Next day we headed to Cape Tribulation for a look. The weather was quite poor and unfortunately didn’t make it look very appealing. We did stop and get some locally made ice-cream at the Daintree Ice-creamery which was delicious! We had both talked about tackling the infamous Bloomfield track and with the weather being ordinary in Cape Trib, a snap decision was made to start it! We had been advised that caravans shouldn’t really attempt the track due to the steep inclines and declines, but after speaking to a few people who had recently done it, they assured us we should be fine with our car & caravan.
The first water crossing we crossed on the track, was the deepest – it only reached up to the side steps, so not really that deep at all. We had Dan & Em in front to let us know if any traffic was coming and they also gave us sit-reps on the grade / length of the hills. The first major incline (not concreted) was the biggest test. If we couldn’t make it up this, than we knew we would have to turn around. Kurt had to put the Navara into 4-low – first gear to get up, but we got up! The second biggest incline was concreted for maximum traction. Again the Navara crawled up it with no problems. We did stop at the top to let our engine cool down, because to be honest it was a steep tough climb. Looking back I think we both agree the concreted incline (the second one) was the worst on the track – heading northbound. There were a few more decent inclines throughout the track, but not as hairy as the first two mentioned. Descending down the hills was a breeze for us as we have confidence in our electronic brakes -realistically a break on every tyre of our car and caravan. We completed the Bloomfield track over 2 days, with an overnight stop at a camp, on a secluded creek about two thirds of the way in on the track.
I should mention that we emptied our water tanks completely prior to commencing the track. We knew it would be a challenge with the Navara being 2.9tonne and our Coromal at 2.2 tonne. Plus knowing we could refill our tanks at the Lion’s Den, it was a no brainer for us. If asked whether we would do the track again with our Navara and Coromal, we probably wouldn’t. There is no hiding the fact the inclines are quite steep and as we were travelling with another couple we knew we had support if worst case scenario. We were happy to accomplish it, but serious thought and planning should be taken to whether you and your car can handle it. [the weeks after we read that there had been a death on the track, where someone’s brakes failed]
So we arrived at the iconic Lion’s Den hotel to spend the night. We refilled our water tanks, had a shower and drink at the pub. I thought the overnight fee was a little steep for what it was but hey, we did stay and pay it. Next day we headed for Cooktown via Archer point. We had been told that Archer point was a nice spot but can be very windy. It is a little off the beaten path but the track was very do-able for us towing when we did it. Of course, with our luck of the weather at late, it was extremely windy when we arrived. Our friends stopped to get some photos at one of the points, while Kurt and myself set off in search of the lighthouse. There was one decent wash out on the track up to it and it had a fair bit of incline on the track up to the lighthouse, but once again, the Navara handled it fine and made it to the top – caravan and all! Dan and Em later joined us up atop at the lighthouse, telling us that had spoken to someone on the ground who told them to tell their friends aka ‘us’ that we wouldn’t make it to the top of lighthouse with a caravan. Well we all had a little chuckle as we infact did! We contemplated camping at the free camp below, but both parties agreed it was far too windy and to continue into Cooktown!
We arrived into Cooktown on a Friday, only planning to stay a night but we quickly learnt we had stumbled into the only event Cooktown has each year – the Cooktown festival, celebrating Captain Cook. We make the snap decision to stay and scored a spot right in town at a van park (last 2 spots! one for both parties). There were plenty of activities to keep us entertained and all within a 15 minute walk from our van park! After a few nights of celebrating and getting into the festive spirit we headed off – towards the ‘Battlecamp road’. The track was relative easy with minor corrugations and just lowered tyre pressure our only aid. The track ended at Old Laura, where we stopped to explore an old rundown cattle station. We tracked up through the Lakefield National Park eventually popping out at the Musgrave roadhouse for a night. A nice hot shower, top up of fuel and some TLC to the vehicles was a night well spent. Us girls had decided we wanted to see as much as we could heading up – so we decided to do the track Rinyirru to Port Stewart via Running creek as opposed to the PDR from Musgrave to Coen. We did a little research whilst at Musgrave and the track seemed do-able. We were told, that there was a fair few gates we would have to open & close as it ran through a few private properties.
Well although the detour was nice scenery, I wouldn’t recommend it a ‘must do’. Port Stewart was rather disappointing with not much there really. Nothing to see or do unless you had a tinny. It reminded us of a similar town to the gem-fields with long term caravan set ups and small dongas pitched everywhere. We decided not to camp there and also decided to give Silver Plains a miss, as we felt it would probably lead to similar disappointments. Instead we hit the track again with our eyes set on Coen for the night. I will say, the last 20km of the Rinyirru track heading to Coen was a little extreme. Lots of ruts, small crossings, small inclines and narrow corners. We did joke it was a mini Teletrack – putting the boys driving skills to the test.
We camped just North of Coen, at a free camp by the creek. We all decided to setup camp here for 2 nights to have a rest and catch up with the world (phone reception!). Em and myself walked into town for a look – there was 2 main shops which had a variety of basic stock. Fuel station had diesel for; $1.60L. After 2 nights of RnR we headed back on the track and did our first batch on the PDR (peninsular development road). The first 20km after Coen was pretty rough with corrugations. If you just drive to the conditions you’ll be fine! We stopped at Archer River Roadhouse for lunch and to try the famous Archer Burger (best burgers on the cape apparently). With our stomachs all full we continued along the PDR until we came to the ‘Iron Range’ track, which leads to Chilli Beach & Lockhart. We camped approx. 20km in on the track near the Wenlock River – at the old Botavia Goldfields for the night. There was so much dead wood lying about that we had a raging fire that night! Our biggest one on the trip yet! I spent the after gathering quartz to put around the fire to ensure it didn’t spread. It was quite a big ring – I hope it stays there and many other people who camp there utilise it. Would be cool to come back in a couple of years and for it to still be there.
After an amazing night under the clear skis, watching the stars, we packed up and headed to Chilli Beach. The drive out to Chilli was approx. 3 hours – if felt so much longer though! The road is not tough but you have to keep concentration all the time as there were many ruts, potholes, small river crossings, bumps and lumps in the road. Once again, very do-able with an off-road caravan. We stayed at Chilli for 2 nights – best to pre-book before you go as the sites are allocated! We did pick up a touch of phone signal with Telstra, so you could touch base with loved ones. Chilli beach itself was full of washed up rubbish. Scientists believe something about the ocean / tides the way the moon shines etc…. anyways most rubbish from the sea washes up along the top of the east coast beaches. I couldn’t believe how many thongs we found! It was amazing to see what was washed up. The weather was far from great over the 2 days we were there, but we made the most of it and decided to build a bar and shelter out of the materials washed ashore. This kept us all amused for the afternoon. A special mention to the seat Kurt made! It was sturdy as! I did ask if we could take it with us – his answer being no.
After unfortunately no sunshine at Chilli we started heading back to the PDR. Initially us girls thought we could just cut across on a track on our map (so no back tracking) but the boys kindly pointed out that our ‘shortcut’ was actually a hard-core 4wd track. Slight mistake, so we did end up driving back the 3 hour trek to the PDR where we could then head north to Moreton Telegraph Station for the night. It was a BIG day of driving for the boys, with both being knackered that night. It just goes to show how exhausting the driving and constant concentration can be. A good night’s sleep and everyone was feeling refreshed and ready to go. It was only a 30km drive to our next stop at Bramwell Roadhouse – where we were expecting to watch the second game of Origin.
We topped up our fuel tanks and enquired where the TV was to watch the origin. We were told that we had to go (back) down the road to Bramwell Station. We thought okay, and headed down. Upon arrival I was told that they were having a buffet dinner at $35 a head and camping was $25 for 2 people. I asked a few other basic questions to which the staff snapped at. We didn’t feel welcome with the male supervisor being very blunt and female also snapping at responses. We waited for Dan & Em to arrive as they were a few minutes behind. Em approached the counter asking if we could possibly have an end table as Dan wasn’t feeling well and that us other 3 would purchase the buffet. The male supervisor was quite rude. I understand it was going to be a big busy night for them, but there was no need to be rude or spoken to like that. We left rather not impressed and headed back to Bramwell Roadhouse. We asked why they were not showing the origin as they clearly had a TV cable out front and a satellite on the roof. We later put two and two together to discover that both Bramwell Station and Roadhouse were owned by the same owners and they were trying to push everyone to the Station to get more $$$. We were all quite disappointed – it felt like a very unAustralian thing to do.
We decided to suck it up and entertained ourselves for the night. We made plans to leave early in the morning to head right up to the tip as the start of the school holidays were approaching and we wanted to make sure we got a good camp spot up at the tip. We were on the road by 7:30am heading up the PDR. We stopped in at Fruitbat falls for a look and some brekky around 9:30am. When we arrived there was only one car, when we left there were 14! Back on the PDR and headed towards the Jardine Ferry. The corrugations were quite bad leading up to the ferry, definitely shook a few things up! We purchased our ticket for the Ferry - $99 return for a car & $130 for car + trailer. Let’s be honest, it is quite expensive for the small crossing but it is the only way across. We powered up through Bamaga straight to the tip! Arriving around 1pm. The weather wasn’t the best when we arrived in the carpark, it started to rain as we decided to walk to the famous tip sign. We turned around and decided to set up camp. Luckily the tide was out, as there is free camping on the beach up at the TIP! Only access is via a low tide. The boys went ahead and sussed it out, found a good spot then we all headed up. We set up camp and relaxed for the rest of the day, with the sun popping back out later in the afternoon. We all sat around the campfire that night, cheering we had all made it to the top!