A Trip to Thursday Island

When we met Sue at Weipa she told us about the Thursday Island tour on a small boat that her group had done with Cape York Adventures.  

We booked the same tour, which took a maximum of 7 people (there were only 6 in our group, so it was perfect).  The tour took us first to Friday Island, where we visited a small pearling business, Koko.  I bought a lovely seed pearl necklace here.

Next, it was on to Thursday Island where we visited the Torres Strait Island Museum which had some beautiful arts and crafts housed in this very modern building.  It was very interesting.  

We had some free time walking around Thursday Island village and enjoyed an impromptu singing and dancing performance by a group of young Torres Strait Islanders outside a coffee shop, which happened to be their main sponsor when they attended competitions and displays in Northern Queensland.  

Then it was up to the Top Hotel for a good lunch of fish, chips and salad with a beer or wine.  After that, we were picked up by Mutti (Anthony) our guide, for a tour of Thursday Island.  It was very interesting, he told us a lot of the history of Thursday Island, took us up to the old fort (which has never fired a gun) and the cemeteries, as well as around the schools and many of the government buildings.

From there, we went to Horn Island and visited the WW2 Museum - lots of stuff to read, so Trev had a really good time there.  Our captain, Tom, showed us a crocodile on the way out of Horn Island, so everyone was happy to finally see one.

The trip back was much faster and MUCH choppier than on the way in.  We did lots of low flying over big waves, coming down with a big thump.  I loved it, as did all of us to start with, but eventually it was too much for Lorraine - she was not well at all, and had a very quiet night when we got back to shore.

Getting Closer - Jardine Ferry, Bamaga and Seisia

We had to retrace our route through Canal Creek and Sam Creek to get back onto the Bamaga Road - but this time it seemed so easy it was ridiculous!  Once you've negotiated these sorts of crossings and tracks a few times, it becomes easier, and nobody blinked twice at any of them - it was just straight on through!

We arrived at the Jardine Ferry Crossing, which cost $100 return per vehicle.  In the shop I spotted some stainless steel insulated beer mugs (with the Jardine Ferry logo on them) for only $7.50, so I grabbed a couple, then Bill and Lorraine bought one too.  This was a bargain, as once we crossed the Jardine we saw the same mugs for up to $22 at Bamaga and Seisia. 


Once we crossed, it was a relatively short drive over dirt road to Bamaga.  We stopped there for fuel and to stock up on groceries, then it was on to Seisia Caravan Park, where Bill had booked a couple of nights for us.  We were directed to the unpowered campsites, on the left hand side of the road.  We were right on the beach, close to the barge that comes in from Cairns, but also very close to the Fishing Club.  And of course, with all the beaches up here, don't even think of putting your toes in the water - you could lose them!

Throughout Bamaga and Seisia were wild horses, which are left to roam freely, and if you get in their way, you can end up on the wrong end of a hoof or two.  They come close to your camp area, and try to steal food, and are generally a bit of a menace, and quite dangerous.  And that's coming from someone who loves horses.

I hadn't realised that there were two sides to Seisia, but I think we got the 'wrong' side. People who have stayed there say it was either really good or just OK - and it seems to be the unpowered side that gets the 'just OK' comments.  On the other side are powered sites for twice the price, with better amenities and apparently a better side of the beach too.  Our side also had music and noise right through the night from the nearby Fishing Club - it literally didn't stop, so some people were not very happy.  Ah well, you get what you pay for, I guess.  

Fruit Bat Falls and Elliott Falls

Next morning, we headed back through the forest to the turn-off to Fruit Bat Falls. No camping is allowed there, so we were just popping in for a swim before heading to Elliott Falls for the night.

videoWell, Fruit Bat Falls was beautiful.  The water was crystal clear, reasonably easy to get into, and warm enough for Trevor to take the plunge (he's a bit of a wuss when it comes to swimming in cold water).  

Around the walkways to the falls were lots of tiny carnivorous sundew plants that exude sticky droplets to attract insects, which are then devoured by the plants.  I did get a couple of photos of them, but they were so tiny, I really had to work hard to find them.



After our swim we had lunch in the carpark then set off for Eliot Falls, our campsite for the evening.  We again ventured onto the Telegraph Track, where we negotiated two interesting/difficult crossings - Sam Creek and Canal Creek.  

We had to check each of these crossings out on foot before we attacked them, and Trev guided and directed the other two vehicles across - I did hop out a couple of times to photograph and video our cars coming across, so that was a lot of fun.  It's amazing what these vehicles will do once you've worked out your path.

 After conquering the crossings, we found our allocated site, set up our tents, then walked to Elliott Falls and Twin Falls, both very pretty areas where we again had a swim.  I must admit that Fruit Bat Falls was the prettiest and the better area to swim.  

On the way back to camp Trev and I also had a look at The Saucepan, another swimming area with a really deep swimming hole.  Then it was back to camp for drinks and nibbles before dinner and stargazing.  


Captain Billy Landing

 Following our entertainment at Gunshot Creek we drove back via the Heathlands Ranger Station so we could book a night at Captain Billy Landing and a night at Elliott Falls.  Well, we were up against the abysmal Queensland National Parks booking system again.  They want you to book ahead using the internet or phone, when you are in remote regions where there is no access!  And you don't always know when you'll be arriving at the places you want to book into, because on the road lots of things can happen to delay your arrival - bad weather, car or caravan problems, change of plans etc. 

We arrived at Heathlands and were directed by the ranger to use the online booking system outside the office - as there were three groups of us travelling together we were supposed to do an individual booking for each group for each night at each place, on separate credit cards.  What a nightmare - Trev got so frustrated with the slow, antiquated system, that the ranger told us to just do one booking for 6 people on one card and that would be enough.  He also agreed that the booking system was pathetic, and that the old honour system, where people turned up, found a site and put money into the envelope worked much better and rangers had far fewer complaints.  It's a headache for them too, having to field all the complaints from travellers.

So, we finally got our booking, and off we went.  Captain Billy Landing is on the eastern side of the cape and is known to be very windy.  The drive down there was lovely - lots of green rainforest, bright red dirt and several river crossings.  

Yes, there were a few corrugated and rough patches but it was a really pretty drive.  Our camp was on a beautiful white beach, with the remnants of the landing jetty, surrounded by cliffs and a rich green rainforest.  And yes, it was very windy.  This was our first night camping, so it was interesting getting set up, and it was noisy with the sea and the wind, but it wasn't too bad.   

Gunshot Creek Entertainment

OK, our 3 vehicles, minus caravans headed up the Bamaga Road toward the turnoff to the infamous 'Gunshot Creek' where many a vehicle has died at the crossing, and those which survive wear a badge of honour (or stupidity, depending on your perspective).  The road out there wasn't great, some parts very narrow(which meant giving way to oncoming traffic) but we all managed without any trouble.  

There are several entrances to Gunshot, because when one entrance becomes completely wrecked and chewed up, drivers just create a new one.  A winch was already set up at the exit, which was just a huge, deep, muddy mess.  We spent an enjoyable morning watching many vehicles attempt the exit, but few did it without the winch, and without at least some damage to their cars.  The most successful crossings were by a group who were travelling to the Cape on 'posties' bikes - yes, they managed to get through because they were so small and could take the least muddy option right on the edge of the exit.  Great fun to watch.

video

Bramwell Station and a look at Palm Creek

The entrance to Bramwell Station
Leaving Weipa, we took the Batavia Downs track, which was shorter and much easier on the vehicles.  We stopped for morning tea at Moreton Telegraph Station, which looked like a good place to stay, with big open GREEN grassy areas.  Haven't seen a lot of that!

We had all made the decision to leave our caravans at Bramwell Station, and do the northern part of the cape in our tents.  A very brave move, as we haven't been camping in tents for quite some time.  So, we arrived at Bramwell and booked in for 2 nights so we could reorganise our vehicles for a camping trip rather than a caravan trip.

Oh, the agony of deciding how everything we needed was going to fit into just one car; what to take, what to leave behind, what goes in the car, what goes on the roof, what clothes/shoes we needed, how can all our food fit into one fridge instead of two.... it was nerve-wracking!  But we got there!

On our first evening at Bramwell we booked in for the dinner and entertainment package at $35 per head.  The meal was;  steaks, sausages, rissoles, baked potatoes, several vegetable bakes, salads, gravy, sauces.  It was delicious, and once everyone was fed, you could get a second helping if you wished.  Dessert was apple crumble and custard, but that was very small, the only criticism we had.  

Ken, the manager, gave us a very interesting talk about the history and operation of Bramwell Station.  Our entertainment for the evening was 'The Bagman' - he was excellent, a singer, musician, raconteur, poet and comedian.  A good all-round entertainer.  We all had a great night. 

I forgot to mention:  earlier in the day we had noticed a group coming in, and one of the faces looked familiar.  It was Pat Callinan and his crew from Pat Callinan's (Mr 4x4) 4WD Adventures - those who read 4WD magazines will be familiar with the name.  He and his family were at the dinner that evening, so Trevor and I introduced ourselves and had a photo taken with him.  I mentioned to him that, as a female,  I really enjoy his magazine, as all the other magazines that Trevor has bought have become too 'blokey', and I like the articles and LOVE the photography. He was quite impressed with that comment and thanked me for the feedback.  I hadn't realised until then that I was a 4x4 Adventures groupie!


Next day, we took a short trip up the road to Bramwell Roadhouse to refuel, then ducked into Palm Creek to check out one of the crossings.  Well, that was entertaining. When we arrived there was a 4WD almost vertical trying to get out of the crossing - the exit was pretty close to 90 degrees, and he was well and truly stuck.  There were people at the top of exit with a winch, but I didn't think anything was going to get those vehicles out.  Tyres were spinning, smoke was coming from the front of the 4WD, it looked hopeless - but, after we watched for about 30 minutes, it finally crept up the side and was out.  A big scream of relief from the owner and his friends, as  they reached the top. 

Further on, we watched several vehicles do another of the crossings - it is amazing what you can do with 4WD vehicles, but only if you're not too bothered about damaging them.
Trev towed this one out!
Bill and Lorraine returned to Bramwell, and we continued with Danny and Margaret through some of the tracks around Palm Creek - we went through a couple of interesting crossings, then Trevor had the pleasure of towing a Toyota and trailer out of one of the creeks.  He was a happy man!
Sad goodbye to our vans... 

The rest of the afternoon/evening was spent fine-tuning our packing for the camping trip ahead.  In the morning we moved the vans to the side of the huge camping area where we would leave them (at no charge) until our return from The Tip.   It was sad to wave goodbye to our little van - but we do want to keep it in one piece for the rest of our trip.

Meeting Friends at Weipa

Next morning, we headed to Weipa on the western side of the cape.  This was along the Peninsula Development Road, and it was a very rough stretch of road, again with a lot of roadworks.  The corrugations coming into Weipa were some of the worst so far.   There was no such thing as 'the right speed' for these corrugations.

On our travels I had noticed on Facebook that a friend I worked with several years ago, Sue, was currently doing the trip to Cape York.  I had messaged her to say we might cross paths.  The last message I got from her said she was in Weipa, and as we drove into our site at the Weipa Camping Ground, a strange lady started to follow us - yes, it was Sue!  The last time I saw her in Canberra, we said we must meet up and have coffee - well, it was long way to meet for a coffee, so we had a champagne instead.  It was lovely to catch up with her and Doug, her husband.

Continuing on with our 'hot tip' on the horses that we got in Cooktown, Trev and Bill took a drive into the local pub to see if there was a TAB.  The horse was supposed to be running that Saturday, so we were keen to back a winner.  Sadly, when the boys got to the TAB, they found the horse had been scratched, so we have to keep working for a living. One bonus, though, is that Trevor finally managed to find a barber in the shopping centre, and his untamed tresses, which were growing out at all angles, are now tamed and shorn.

Weipa is quite a large town, primarily because of the mining industry.  We stayed at Weipa Caravan Park for a couple of nights, caught up on washing, replenished our supplies.   Sunsets were pretty here, but again, no swimming, except in the lovely swimming pool on site.  Even Trevor had a dip.

The weekend we were there was the 50th anniversary of the town.  There was a celebration and markets at the local park, where John Williamson was the star attraction. We listened to him while the sun set - very nice.

Hann River to Archer River


The road to Archer River was about a  200km stretch of either decent bitumen or indecent corrugations.   The temptation is to speed up on the bitumen, but with lower tyre pressures, you can't because the tyres heat up and could blow out.  So slow and steady is the way to go...  

Plenty of roadworks, well organised
There were long stretches of roadworks along here, so several stops, with plenty of time to admire the amount of work and infrastructure that is going on under very difficult, hot, dry, dusty conditions.  It is all very well organised, and people are patient, because there is no point getting annoyed about it. 

We stopped for morning tea at Musgrave Roadhouse, then on to Coen where we stocked up on groceries.  We checked the pub to see if there was a TAB in town, as we had been given a hot tip on a horse when we were in Cooktown and we wanted to make our fortune.  Unfortunately no TAB, but we did give the publican the tip as he had a sportsbet account, and he was very happy with us.  We would try again when we got to Weipa.

Starting to collect a little red dust
Then on to Archer River Roadhouse for the night.  This was a huge open dusty (and prickly) area on the edge of a river, also with resident emus and plump guineafowl.  Again, the facilities were rustic but welcome after a hot, dusty, bumpy ride.  Rio Tinto had a 'welcome tent' with a guy distributing maps and he gave us a good overview of the current road conditions, roadworks and general info about the road to Weipa and the telegraph track.  He advised us on protocols re roadtrains - if they're on the dirt coming towards you, get off the road;  if you're on bitumen, call them on channel 40 to let them know you're going to pass.  A very good PR exercise for the company.

Battening Down The Hatches

We drove to Laura, where we met a young guy and his son who had just returned from their adventure -  they had a camper trailer, and had done the Telegraph Track as well. They did a bit of damage to their drawbar which had to be welded back together, but it looked like they'd had a great time.  After chatting with him, we set about deflating our tyres to about 30psi. 

As this was Danny and Margaret's first serious off-road trip, we advised them to put a board between their flyscreen and door, put plugs in all of their sinks and drainholes, and tape or cover up any other areas where the bright red dust might find a way in.  At this point Margaret started to get a bit worried, saying, 'You're starting to scare me, Sylvia', but I told her that we had all learned these tricks from previous trips, and were just happy to pass on our knowledge.


So, we all battened down the hatches and set off for for Hann River Roadhouse, about 200km up the dirt/gravel/bitumen road, our first overnight stop on the track.  We kept in contact through uhf radio, warning of dips, corrugations, oncoming vehicles (OCV) and general hazards.  



We arrived generally intact, relatively dust-free, refuelled, and we were greeted at Hann River by the resident Emu. 

We finally had our first campfire here.  Hot showers and flushing toilets are always welcome when on the road, no matter how rustic, and we all got ready for the next section of the trip.

Cooktown

We booked sites at the Peninsula Caravan Park in Cooktown, just on the edge of town.  It was a 'bush feel' caravan park, but it did have a swimming pool, which we were looking forward to using.  Cooktown is a pretty area, with amazing views of the bays from the lighthouse lookout.  The colours of the water are fantastic, but it's definitely a no-go area for swimming.

The night after we arrived was the State of Origin final game, so we booked into the RSL Club for dinner and football, and we arranged to be picked up by the RSL courtesy bus so we could all have a drink.   We had two traitors with us, Lorraine and Margaret, so the rest of us were little blue people in a sea of maroon!  I'd bought Trevor a Blues polo shirt, which he proudly wore, but to no avail - the Blues let us down, and Qld scored a well-deserved victory.  The evening cost us a fortune:  bottles of bubbly were $30 each (and we had 3) and the boys did have a drink or two.  But the best part was my delicious crayfish mornay, and Trev had American style ribs, which were so big that he shared with our group.  Yum!

Next day we drove two of our vehicles into Cape Tribulation to get a feel for some of the types of roads we would be travelling on up to the tip of Cape York.  We stopped at the beautiful Bloomfield Falls, took some photos, then carried on through some challenging tracks and a couple of small water crossings into Cape Trib.  We ate at Mason's Cafe, where Trev and I tried the sample plate of roo, croc and emu sliders.  I have to say they were overpriced and underwhelming.  The rest of our crew decided to head back to camp, while we went for a quick dip in the swimming hole at the back of the restaurant.  It, too, was disappointing.  It was a very difficult, slippery and rocky climb down into the pool, which was murky and not too pretty.  But at least it was cool and wet.

We caught up with Bill, Lorraine, Danny and Margaret at the Lion's Den Hotel on the way back to Cooktown.  It's a quirky pub with a lot of character, and has camping available onsite.  After a couple of drinks, it was back to Cooktown to prepare for our assault on 'The Tip'.