We have now headed south back towards Toowoomba. Initially, we had aimed for the small township of Bell on the western side of the Bunya Mountains. Bell is on the road between Kingaroy and Dalby. Allthego thought it wise to check whether there was a dump point in Bell. These are quite important places to identify otherwise one needs to dig a hole in the bush somewhere to ‘dump’ the contents of one’s toilet cassette. There was no dump point in Bell. Just had to update my dear readers on this because we ended up in Jandowie not Bell. Yes, there was a dump point in Jandowie, it is around 80 km further west than we would have liked. Nice little town on the Southern Downs. We stayed at the town’s showgrounds/racecourse, economical spot and we had it largely to ourselves.
Except, for one particular chap who insisted on telling us about his ‘journey from Perth’. Had left Perth in 2014, rented the house out, and was travelling the country. Had his old V8 Falcon pulling an aging van, and swore by both being the ideal option. Fair bit of rev head talk and life on the road stuff. He seemed a little under the weather and kept repeating himself ad nauseum. Eventually wandered off to his van. Part of the challenge of road travel!
Plenty of agriculture and grazing around Jandowie. One of its claim to fame is that the Dingo fence starts nearby and there is a monument in town to the dingo and the fence. The fence stretches from here through to South Australia and we came across it on our West Australian trip a few years ago. There are plenty of Bottle trees in the landscape as well. A great big one spreads itself across a side street in the town.
After a pleasant night in the Showgrounds we headed off the next morning across country to Bell. We intended to have lunch there. Along the way we stopped off where the Dingo fence starts on its 5,400km run to South Australia. There is a tourist drive that follows the fence for around a 100 km as it heads west before turning southwest on its journey to South Australia. Another time, maybe.
Bell is a small village on the slopes of the Bunyas. Not a lot seems to happen in Bell. One of its major attractions is the small RC Church. It has developed a ‘Biblical Garden’ themed on the Stations of the Cross. Local artists have contributed various pieces; mosaics, wood carvings, metal work and pottery to illustrate the various stations. Plants from biblical times are supposed to be represented in the gardens. Quite impressive. The Church has its interior walls clothed in murals illustrating major turning points in the biblical journey, from Creation to the Cross. A bit ‘over the top’ and ‘in your face’ artistically we thought. It was like a modern day replacement for 18/19th century stain glass windows in European churches. Nonetheless, it was eye catching and thought provoking!
From Bell we made our way to Crows Nest NP where we were to stay two nights and attempt a couple of walks to the creek and lookout. Great little camping ground, 13 spots for tents, trailer campers and small vans (we qualify). We enjoyed our pork, bacon and maple syrup sausages on the BBQ as the sun set and lit up the late afternoon sky. It is quite warm and humid. We are heading off on the walk early in the cool of the morning, a couple of kilometres there and back.
It is a while since we were on the road and the call of western Queensland has come. Not too far west just out up along the Brisbane Valley to Kingaroy, peanut capital of Australia. Sir Joh lived not far from here, don’t you worry about that! We will then make our way back via Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley to Brisbane.
Kingaroy is about a 3 hour drive with the van behind. The trip takes us west along the Ipswich Motorway, Warrego Hwy and then north along the Brisbane Valley Hwy to Esk. Before getting there we stopped for lunch at the famous Old Fernvale Bakery, enormous chicken and salad roll and sandwich. Acquired some country fresh Easter buns for snacks. Back in the car we passed through Esk, Blackbutt (birthplace of Roy Emerson, great Australian tennis player in 1950/60s) and Yarraman.
The lure of Kingaroy was to spend some time in a local vineyard. They offer free camping out the back with the temptation of wood fired pizzas for lunch and a wine tasting at the cellar door. We are here for two nights. First up the next morning was a trip into town to learn about peanuts. There is a lot we didn’t know about peanuts. Learnt all about them at the Heritage Museum. From planting, growing, harvesting, processing and marketing, all steps were covered. From how it was done in the 1950/60s compared to how it is done today. We were guided through the 30 minute video presentation by a chap who worked in the factory for 42 years. Started as a peanut bagging boy when he was sixteen and retired as the plant manager 42 years later! Not bad for stepping up the rungs of the ladder. The museum is also full of old peanut planting and harvesting equipment through the ages. We now know all about the strange little green plants in the fields around town.
Back at Kingsley Estate Vineyards we enjoyed our pizza for lunch, along with some ‘nice’ red. We can recommend dropping in here when next in Kingaroy, even if you don’t stay out the back. A little later in the day it was out with the corn bags game in the paddock, where we introduced the game to some fellow travellers. Seemed to amuse them as it did us. Great talkers though.
After two nights in the vineyard we are now heading south towards Ipswich
After leaving the gravel at Laura we headed off down the bitumen for Port Douglas, stopping for the night at the Palmer River Roadhouse. Palmer River was the location of a large gold field in the later 19th century. Not much remains of the gold field infrastructure, although there are a number of 4WD tracks out into the scrub that take you to the old workings and building remnants. One runs for an 80 km round trip from near the Roadhouse, but there is not much enthusiasm to do it at this stage of our journey. Palmer River is at the northern end of the Atherton Tableland and as we continue south we pass by vast banana plantations beside the road. The country is flat here and the bananas just stretch away in some places as far as the eye can see. This in part explains why the bananas got killed off on the hillsides down around Coffs Harbour, no longer economic with this sort of competition. The road down to Port Douglas involves descending the Great Dividing Range to Mossman, a rather twisty and steep descent in places. Once through Mossman we reach Port Douglas and book in at the same place we were a few weeks back.
Homealone and I are quite taken with the ‘Port’ and find it a comfortable spot to stay. There is a particular attraction here to keep bringing us back. Prawns in a bucket on the deck of a place called the ‘Tin Shed’ (or something like that), Allthego confuses it with the Yacht Club. One sits on the deck and looks out over the inlet and boats towards the Daintree and Cape Tribulation. Nice spot to while away some time! Homealone hasn’t seen prawns (her favourite seafood) for a few weeks and can’t resist, Allthego goes for the seafood basket. The establishment though has changed the prawn presentation, they used to hang on the side of a bucket over ice, now they are sitting up, tightly packed in, looking at you from a bowl. Where to start! Homealone had no problem. We also managed to get a vanilla slice in town, the one that we saw last time and claimed to be the ‘best’ vanilla slice. We will see.
After R & R in the Port we packed up and continued south to Brisbane, one night stands in an unrushed way. Stopping the night at Ingham, Bowen, Sarina and then a free camp beside the Boyne River near Gladstone. Morning tea along the way was adequately catered for as we picked up some vanilla slices at Ingham and also Bowen. Interestingly, the one at Ingham was not sold as a ‘vanilla’ slice but as a ‘custard’ slice. Allthego has tried to find out if there is a difference, quite a lot of stuff on the internet about vanilla slices. Authorities suggest the ‘vanilla’ slices are made from ‘vanilla custard’ and that the ‘custard’ nomenclature is an ‘Australianism’ compared to ‘vanilla’ which harks back to the French. I don’t know and have given up on this. The one from Bowen came from the town’s famous Jochems Bakery. Of these 3 Allthego favoured the Jochem’s, it was nice and creamy. The so called custard slice was a bit stiff and the pastry wasn’t flakey. The Port Douglas one turned out to be a ‘ring in’ and had actually been made in Cairns, it too was nice and creamy but it was a bit loose and oozed out the sides. Maybe we had mistreated it as it had been in the truck awhile before being eaten!
So in the big vanilla slice taste off it is hard not to go past the one from Gillian Brown’s Artisan Bakery at Springfield Lakes, closely followed by the Jochems and Port Douglas. The over all reason is because all three were nice and creamy with a good white icing and not too sweet. Maybe, Allthego needs to see if there has been any change in the Springfield Lakes version since the last tasting, it was a while ago.
Our last stop off was at Tiaro, near Maryborough. Tiaro has a nice free camp facility for RVs and also has a great butcher. Pork products in particular, so we made room in the esky for some ham, ordinary bacon and some bacon chops. These bacon chops are just what you need for a good brunch. If you ever pass through Tiaro this shop is strongly recommended for Pork lovers.
The journey to the Tip and back has now finished. We had a great time and are now home after travelling around 8,600 km, the direct road distance from Brisbane to the Tip and back is about 5,300 km, so we have also done 3,000 odd km in side trips and chasing down vanilla slices. Until next time I will leave you with a little thought, from someone else “if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there!”
The drive out along the 130km Portlands Road (which is what the road to Chilli Beach is formally known as) to the Peninsular Development Rd did not seem nearly as ragged as when we drove in! Familiarity breeds contempt they say! It was then another 40km or so to the Archer River Roadhouse where we had decided to stay the night. It is all bitumen so a pleasant change from the gravel.
The Archer River is another one of the significant waterways that the PDR has to cross. The bridge here is more of a causeway so it gets flooded quite early in the wet. The Roadhouse has a pleasant campground beside the river but well above the water line, except in major floods. There is also a clever use of relics from the old Telegraph line infrastructure, the clothes line. Apparently, they periodically have some of the white porcelain cap things pinched as souvenirs by tourists. But they have plenty in stock to replace them, having raided the poles themselves when the line was closed down!
On the way back we stopped for a series of one night stands at the various roadhouses down the Cape. The next stop along the way south from Archer River was our ‘favourite’ spot of Coen, this is where we had the flat van tyre and discovered the problem with the fridge. No dramas for us this time. But, it was our turn to help someone else. A couple traveling to Weipa had pulled in for a lunch stopover in the van park and when upon restarting their car, lo and behold a flat battery. Allthego’s jumper leads got them going ok. He was an RACQ guy, just like the fellow who helped us a few weeks back. Coincidences!
We are not yet in ‘real time’ with the blog because we are actually considerably further south than Coen, Sarina (to the south of Mackay) to be precise.
After Coen we had a night at the Musgrave Station Roadhouse, another one of the former repeater stations like Moreton Telegraph Station. A bit of light entertainment here with the crocodiles in the dam beside the campground. They get fed daily by the station workers, probably left overs from the Roadhouse. They are the ‘harmless’ freshwater crocs, pretty snappy still though!
We topped up with fuel and the chap advised us to go through Lakefield National Park to Laura, which we had done when we came north. Same reason, road from Musgrave to Laura was terrible, road works and corrugations a plenty. So we did, saw some brolgas and magpie geese. The road through the park is really quite good, some pretty scenery.
We finally hit a landmark coming into Laura, THE END OF THE GRAVEL.
It was now all bitumen to Brisbane. We made for Port Douglas for some R & R after all the red dirt and corrugations!
Chilli Beach is a remote stretch of the Cape’s eastern coastline about 30 km north of the Aboriginal community at Lockhart River. The road out to Chilli Beach from the turnoff is a bit of a slog. 135 km of mostly gravel, there is about 25 km or so of bitumen along the way and a few patches of bull dust. Corrugations here and there . Plenty of road work is going on to improve the experience or take away from the experience depending upon your point of view. Some low bridges across the creeks to compliment a few shallow gravel crossings. Chilli would be inaccessible in the wet. The distance from Moreton Telegraph Station, then into and out of Chilli plus the distance south to the next fuel at Archer River places a little stress on our range. So, we made a trip into the Aboriginal community at Lockhart River to fill up and get a few food supplies.
We are camping at the National Park area just back from the beach. There are 25 sites and you need to pre-book them. No ‘walk in camping’ here. So you have to be pretty sure of your timing, as usual we were spot on and took up site 25. Just perfect. There were only 3 other parties in camp. So it was rather quiet after dark! Just the wild pigs rooting around in the scrub, crocodiles grunting as they slowly consumed their prey and dingos baying at the moon. Hard to sleep! Just kidding! It was very quiet! Despite the mini gale blowing from the southeast, the south east trade winds at their best. But we were in behind some vegetation and well protected.
Chilli is also positioned within sight of the inner reef shipping channel and we saw a number of ships making their way down the coast. It was this channel that Cook took after he left Cooktown and enabled him to round Cape York. William Bligh some years later also took this channel north to Java after being set adrift following the mutiny on the Bounty. Restoration Island on which he landed and named is just off Chilli Beach, and can be clearly seen despite the weather conditions. Bligh named it ‘Restoration’ not because of Bligh’s crew being ‘restored’ by a diet of oysters, but because it was the anniversary of the restoration of the Stuarts on the English throne.
We had two nights here, no power or water laid on so we relied on the solar and our water tanks. No worries. The weather was not great, apart from the wind there was thick cloud cover and plenty of sea mist. It was not the clear blue sky, crystal clear water, white sandy beach and arching coconut palms of the promotional material! But, it was still remote and the prevailing weather showcased a Chilli beach that may be more the norm than the unusual. The northern end of Chilli is also positioned such that it is in the way of a never ending stream of junk material floating in from south east Asia, plastic bottles and caps of all descriptions, ropes, netting, rubber thongs and toys, plastics. Teams do periodic clean ups and average 5 tonne of material a year from the beach.
We had some snags over the fire one night and were entertained by a couple of scrub turkeys. They are different to the ones you see in Brisbane; they have a purple gobbler (is that right, the loose skin around the neck?) rather than the yellow one we are familiar with. On the morning we left Chilli the weather gods came good and we had a couple of hours of early morning sunshine and blue skies. The beach looked like that promotional material!
Some minor drama on the road out with a tree trunk across the road, held us up for a short time. Fortunately, some fellow nomads came the other way and assisted Allthego in clearing the road of the obstruction! Homealone took pictures and a video for laughs. That is a good place to leave the story as we now head back and resume the route south to Archer River and Coen.
Leaving Seisia the road south takes us the same way when we came north. No alternative route south! First obstacle is to navigate the corrugations and get across the Jardine River, which is Queensland longest perennial river. It flows huge volumes of water. Thankfully, we had safe deposited the return ferry ticket. No worries here and after the crossing it was along the Bamaga Bypass Road down to Bramwell Station for the night.
It was a reasonably sunny day, a bit of cloud but all clear so we pulled into Fruit Bat Falls for another look. It was mid morning and not a lot of people around so the swimming pool was quite clear of fellow bathers. Allthego took the plunge and swam around, more like a paddle as the pool of water is about waist high in most places. The bottom is covered with several centimetres of loose sand and the odd rock or two. Water quite warm. Invigorating. No crocs here. Above the waterfalls it is quite shallow but there are a number of spar like holes in the rock platform, Allthego found one that was neck deep, plenty of sand on the bottom.
Time got on though and we needed to head off to Bramwell, arriving late in the day but in time for the station dinner which we had pre booked. Again, not many in the campground. We had 30 for dinner and the interesting chat about the history of the station and some of the former owners and characters who had lived and worked there over the years.
Next morning we moved on a short distance to Moreton Telegraph Station for the night. This is actually one of the former ‘repeater’ stations for the old telegraph line. There are some telegraph line relics here to look at, including 3 (could have been more) original poles lined up down a paddock as they would have originally appeared. The camp ground here sits beside the Wenlock River, one of the major streams that floods and cuts the road in the Wet.
Plenty of water is broadcast over the camp ground and we have some green grass for a change rather than the usual sand and red dust. There is now a bridge across the Wenlock but as late as 2006 one had to ford the river on rafts, particularly when the waters were high. Lying in the paddock is one of the old rafts. Numerous fuel drums were carefully joined together either side of some steel grating which one drove onto for the trip across the river. Scary stuff!
As the journey continues we are going to make a side trip out to Chilli Beach on the east coast. We had originally planned to do this on the way up, but had to head off to to Weipa instead to try to get the fridge fixed. The turn off to Chilli is about 40 km of corrugations south of Moreton Telegraph Station and we will do that in the coming morning.
We have now moved south a short distance to Seisia and are set up at Loyalty Beach, this place is a bit like Punsand Bay. It is right on the waters edge, some nice shady campsites, there is an evening restaurant (simple menu items) and a bar set up. It is also the stepping off point for day trips out to Thursday Island and Horn Island. Birds were all over the ground here, going around snapping up seeds and grubs. Our esky is holding up well and doing a good job, one minor problem being that it was acquired from Mitre 10 in Wiepa and they remove the bungs and keep them behind the counter. There was a smallish sign that said something like ‘please ask for the bung at the front counter’. Allthego was so excited at getting this esky that it must have gone from his mind that he needed to get a bung. This explained why the back seat of the truck was so wet, water had leaked out through the drain hole. So ever since Weipa we have been looking out for bungs and making do with duck taping the drain hole. Works ok. But why take the bungs out? Maybe some people lose bungs and go into Mitre 10 and pinch the bungs out of the eskies on display. No Mitre 10 till we get to Cairns.
We took the Thursday and Horn Island day trip. You can almost see Thursday Island across the water from Seisia, you certainly see Horn Island and the much larger Prince of Wales Island. TI is about 3 sq km and has 3000 people on it. HI is about 50 sq km and has around 700 people. TI was established in the late 1880s as a replacement for the settlement at Somerset which the Jardines had set up. Somerset had proved to be a failure logistically, enough ships simply did not go there, or past it, and it only had a small harbour area. So TI replaced it as the administrative centre. The Old Telegraph Track, which Allthego has mentioned previously, was the route taken by the Telegraph Line from Cairns to Thursday Island (via an underwater cable). It was completed in 1887, linking Brisbane and TI, and was closed down in 1987, exactly a hundred years later. Today there are ooddles of public servants here, upwards of 20 departments are in operation. Enough said.
The ferry to TI takes about an hour and covers the relatively short distance in a sweeping ‘S’ shape so as to avoid the reefs in the Strait. It is a journey in its own right! Once on the Island we board a bus, socially distanced seating of course, and head off to see the sights. First stop is on Green Hill overlooking the harbour. It is here that a fort was built in the late 1800s in response to a perceived Russian invasion threat. The restored, but decommissioned, guns point down the channels into the harbour and have a range of 10km. The fort was also manned during both the World Wars. TI was, like Broome on the west coast, a centre for pearl shell harvesting from the mid 1860s. The cemetery has a memorial to the many Japanese divers who died in pursuit of the pearl shell. Also, on TI is Australia’s most northern hotel.
It was then off across the bay to Horn Island on a ferry to continue the tour there. The local museum was chockers full of WW11 material detailing the role of HI during the war, as well as local cultural pieces. HI was the closest Australian airbase to PNG and was used by the Australian and US air forces as a base for operations. As a consequence it was a target for Japanese air raids, of which I think there were 7 or 8. This made it the second most bombed place after Darwin. Interestingly, TI was never raided because a Japanese princess was buried there! We then toured around a number of the former gunnery installations that are being restored. There is also a team of archeologists undertaking ongoing digs to document and preserve this part of our history.
The following day we had a lazy time around camp. Allthego went off for a short drive to see some of the WW11 aircraft wrecks in the bush. There were also numerous remnants around the Bamaga Air strip of WW11 fuel dumps. Old fuel drums rusting away slowly in the scrub. Bamaga was also an air base during WW11.
There were no vanilla slices at Bamaga or Seisia for that matter!
And as the sun sets slowly in the west we are now preparing in earnest for the trek back down the Cape. Bramwell Station the next stop.
We are now on the last leg of the journey to the Tip. Heading for Punsand Bay camping ground which is about 15km from the top. There is nothing much north of there, but for a narrow winding road to the parking area from which one has to walk about 750 m or so, but more on that later.
We are taking the Bamaga Bypass Road from Bramwell, which does a wide loop to the east before coming back west to meet the ferry at the Jardine River crossing. It cuts the Old Telegraph Track at a half way point. The Old Telegraph Track was constructed originally when the telegraph line was extended up the Cape in the 1880s. It is now a 4WD haven, but not for vans. Along the Bypass Road we stop off at the short detour to Fruit Bat Falls. This is another one of those iconic postcard photo places. Water tumbles over a 1.5 m ledge into a broad croc free swimming hole. But the weather was a bit unpleasant, cloudy with a bit of scatty rain. Allthego didn’t go for a plunge. We will return here on the way back, hopefully in better weather. There are a lot of those carnivorous pitcher plants around the track to the Falls. Pigs also plentiful as the ground has been rooted up extensively among the scrub beside the track and boardwalk.
Back on the road it is a short drive through to the ferry crossing. $135 return ticket! It is like a stones through across the river, but no alternative. The Bypass Road has been a fairly good drive with a long stretch of bitumen in the middle. The other side of the ferry is a different story, plenty of corrugations for the 40km into Bamaga and Seisia, twin towns and the most northerly settlements. It is another 30 km onto Punsand Bay. On the way back we are going to stop at Seisia (pronounced She-sa), it is the spot for the ferry out to Thursday and Horn Islands.
Punsand Bay is a very pleasant spot beside the ocean, quite a good restaurant and bar area. Their speciality is wood fired pizza, done in an enormous oven. But no pizza currently available as the Pizza chef has gone. Looking for a replacement. Allthego was tempted and disclosed his amatuer interest, but also lost interest quickly when it was indicated that they did 120 or so pizza a night, no time for a red while cooking!
The main game here was to go to the Tip. This is a half day type exercise involving a drive up through the rainforest to the carpark. There is then a choice of two routes. The first up and down along a rocky ridge line. Not an easy walk for people with knee afflictions and an aversion to heights. Homealone aborted the trek half way and awaited while Allthego continued on, finally returning after reaching the Tip. Given the time we had taken the tide had receded allowing us both to go back and make it to the Tip, along the shore line among the mangroves. An eye was kept out for crocs but none bothered us. The weather was the only disappointment, a pretty strong wind and scatty rain. But there were patches of blue and sun in between showers. Plenty of sea mist around.
On the way back to camp we detoured to the location of an abandoned settlement called Somerset that had been established by John Jardine as a trading type post in the 1860s to service ships sailing across the top. HIs son Frank later moved here. He and his wife are buried in remote graves along with a number of others. Not much is left of the settlement, apart from the graves and 3 forlorn cannons and a flag pole being swallowed up by scrub.
At Punsand there is a track off along the Tip coastline that gives a lookout down the west side of the Cape. Not far out to sea is Possession Island, Cook stopped here after rounding the tip and establishing it as the most northerly reach of the east coast. He went ashore there and raised the English flag claiming the east coast for the Empire. There is a lonely memorial there commemorating the event.
On a final note Allthego located the most northerly vanilla slice he could find. It was at Weipa, one had not been sighted since the street markets at Cooktown. What these Cape residents miss out on! The Cooktown slice was unusual, it was homemade with those lattice biscuits and came with a chocolate mouse stuffed cigar thing as a bonus, perhaps to justify the price of $5. Not memorable, but gets an honorable mention for initiative! The Weipa slice was standard stuff. We will see what we find heading home!
We had 3 nights at Punsand before starting the slow journey back down the Cape. First stop is Loyalty Beach at Seisia for the trip out to Thursday and Horn Islands. Before leaving we had a morning coffee at the bar and Allthego spotted a Cooktown Orchid in the garden. Have been looking for these without success, later learnt that they flower after the wet in March and April. So we have been lucky! Thanks for irrigation in the garden it seems!
We are off to Weipa to get the fridge fixed. We were originally intending to do Weipa on our return south. A call to a local electrical fridge type person had revealed that YES he could help us and that we should contact him upon arrival. Weipa is a 265 drive from Coen, through Archer River and then following the Peninsular Development (PDI) into Weipa. The road is a bit variable, sealed for a while after Coen, followed by some terrible gravel, corrugations and patches of bull dust. Some more bitumen before Archer River, then gravel, creek crossings etc. All part of the journey, one is reminded of the saying that travel ‘is more about the journey than the destination’, famous last saying!
The PDI veers west out to Weipa whilst the main road north to the Cape is called the ‘Telegraph Road’, it goes to Bramwell Junction. We head to Weipa, along the way we make a call and find that our man who can help ‘can’t for a few days’ as he is off ‘on country’. This is code for almost anything up here. So, a couple of calls later we find someone else who can help us. He will call back and make a time. Encouraging, as he is a Dometic authorised repairer, he does call back and we make a time for the next day.
Meanwhile, after grinding along a stretch of corrugations into Weipa we book into the Caravan Park fronting the beach. Weipa is a ‘Mining Town’ that is trying to discover tourism beyond fishing. Bauxite is the main game, however, and red dust is everywhere. The tourism things are closed down for COVID reasons. Numbers are obviously down and the park is about half full. A nearby camper also has fridge problems which we hear about fairly often over the next couple of days. We take the opportunity to share the love and retell him our problems as well. He still comes back for more!
There is a great spot here overlooking the Gulf where one can sit and eat cheese and biscuits, whiling away time as the sun sets. We have had two sunsets of different character, one clear and the other shrouded in smoke haze (from the traditional country burning practices).
Our fridge man shows up and diagnoses compressor problems, a snapped hose and escaped gas. Still hopeful of a fix he is to call Dometic for the part. Next afternoon Allthego is frustrated and calls him back. NO GO it can’t be fixed here. Closest spot to try is Cairns. Hmmm. Time for an Eskie, after a dry call to one shop where the best option was $600 job, we dropped into Mitre 10 and acquired their 30 can option. 27 litre job. So begins the ‘new journey’ north reliant on the eskie and periodic ice refills. Sounds a bit grim but has worked out fine. Washed a bit of the slippery slimy stuff off the bacon, cabanossi etc and the brie cheese held up well.
After three pleasant nights in Weipa we turn our eyes north to the Cape and head off back down the PDI, after about 70 km we take a short cut along the Batavia Downs Rd and rejoin the Telegraph Road 57km short of Bramwell Station, our stop over for the night. The short cut saves us about 120km of backtracking down the PDI. It was a good road! Bramwell Station is famous for it’s dinners and night time live entertainment. Hardly anyone there though. COVID has hit them hard. Instead of 120 for dinner, they can only have 30 (booked out though) and no live music. This spot is, basically, just down the road from the middle of nowhere. Management is particularly cautious the night we are there because the next day they are facing an inspection by Qld Health inspectors on COVID compliance requirements. Obviously, the bureaucrats are focused on the risky spots. Originally, we were planning to stay here for two nights but pulled back to one and rebooked for a spot and dinner in a weeks time.
Next morning we will head for the Jardine river ferry crossing. The famous ‘Old Telegraph Track’ starts a few kilometres north of Bramwell Station and whilst it is tempting the terrain and creek crossings are not suitable for caravans.
Instead, we will head along the more genteel Bamaga Bypass road to the ferry crossing. We are about 310km from the Tip! Almost there!
We are now at Coen on our way back down the Cape. We were here 16 days ago on our way up the Cape. The internet is quite good here and allows the downloading of files, hence the ability to resume the blog after 16 days! North of Coen things are a bit problematic internet wise and depend on timing and where one stops.
Remembering back we left Cooktown for the next stop at Laura. We decided to take the Battlecamp Rd from Cooktown to Laura rather than back track south down the Mulligan Highway to Lakeland and then head north to Laura, this is all bitumen. The Battlecamp Rd is all gravel, not too bad though despite some roadworks along the way. Red lights out in the middle of nowhere. Allthego had done some calculations showing that it was a shorter route, it was by about 4km.
It was a pretty drive up and over the Battlecamp Range. It was along this road somewhere in the late 1800s that there was an aboriginal massacre. The details of this are all a bit sketchy and there are a number of versions and anecdotal evidence of the extent and responsibility for the massacre. The general claim is that upwards of 150 aboriginal ‘fighters’ made a ‘last stand’ armed only with spears against whites with guns. It is an event that has spiked Allthego’s interest and he is going to look further into the event on return to Brisbane. The road passes by the National Trust’s old Laura Homestead, one of the first cattle properties in the region and then turns a bit south and west to arrive at Laura. We are here for the night before heading for Coen the next day.
Near Laura is an extensive area of Aboriginal ‘Quinkan’ rock art. The interpretation Centre is unfortunately closed due in part to COVID, so we are limited to have a look at the Split Rock art gallery which is about 10km to the south of Laura. This involves a bit of a trek up from the road to rock art sites, a few steps to climb. Quite interesting spot to ponder the work. Quinkans are supernatural spirits that live in the surrounding sandstone and are painted in the rock art. They do their work at night. Timaras or Tall Spirits are the good spirits. They are long limbed and thin bodied providing camouflage among the trees, and allowing them to slip into rock crevices. Imjims are the bad spirits and have long bulbous tipped appendages. They bounce like kangaroos and live like frogs. There are also paintings of animals and human figures on the walls.
Allthego received some local intelligence in Laura that one should take the bypass road up through the Lakefield National Park rather than go straight up along the Peninsular Development Rd (the main route north to Weipa). Terrible stretch to Musgrave Roadhouse (corrugations and roadworks a plenty), much prettier and quieter to head through the Lakeland National Park and rejoin the PDR at Musgrave Station and the onto to Coen. It seemed good advice and this time it was. Lakefield NP is very pretty country, towards the end of the dry things were not as green as they would be after the wet and the creek crossings were quite benign. Had a BLT for lunch at Musgrave Roadhouse before pushing onto Coen for the night. We had two nights at Coen.
It was here at Coen that we had our first side trip off into the bush in search of Mango Lagoon. This Lagoon is a bush camp site about 60km off into the scrub along roads of varying quality. It was described in our guide Hema Guide book as a must see type location in pristine country. Well, maybe after the wet and things have dried out a bit this might be the case. But it was a long dusty winding road to nowhere and back of course. Some dirt tracks thorough forest. A bit disconcerting though when it dawned on us that we had headed off into the scrub alone. In the event of mishap things could have been interesting to say the least. We saw only one other vehicle in the entire day! Lesson learnt here, not that it really had to be, carelessness more the issue I think.
Coen has also marked two minor dramas on our journey. A flat tyre on the Van, easily fixed with assistance from the campground repair team descending on us from out of their vans. One of whom was a retired RACQ road guy. Even repaired the tyre for us. Cost Allthego 3 tins of lager and they almost wouldn’t take those. The tyre gremlin was a bolt straight through the tread. Allthego had noticed this tyre tended to stay a little deflated before we had left Brisbane. The bolt head seems to have ‘sealed’ the hole and the rugged roads since Cooktown (also running on lower tyre pressures) have flexed it letting the air out. No great issue in the end. The other problem was of more consequence. A blown compressor in the fridge, freezer slowly defrosting and things thawing out.
We changed plans and are heading into Weipa to see if we can get it fixed. We had planned to see Weipa on the way back. In a way lucky, if we had been further north there are no ‘fixing options’ and we would have had to backtrack to the Weipa turnoff.