We drove through Weipa grabbing some fuel and supplies before trundling along the Peninsular Development Road which had some shockingly bad corrugated sections. We had people overtaking us because they were happy to bash their cars along carefree whereas we prefer to arrive in one piece with the bullbar and roof racks still attached.
We did a big day of driving – in terms of time, kilometres and challenging road conditions and made it through the Iron Range to Chilli Beach where we had booked a national parks campsite for four nights – actually we hadn’t booked for tonight as we thought we’d stop somewhere else but we knew that there were lots of sites unbooked so we were ok. Or so we thought – a group of five cars had booked after we’d last checked and the sites were full up. Luckily one of their cars in the convoy had been delayed with mechanical problems (sorry, not lucky for them of course) and they let us use their vacant spot.
They all left early the next morning and we could do a shuffle across to our proper site and we were set up in no time. Chilli Beach is spectacular – something you’d see on the cover of a travel magazine – white sand, coconuts fringing the beach, islands out across the twinkling blue sea, lush tropical rainforest, and high green mountains as far as you can see.
Our campsite was set back in the shady rainforest protected from the constant daily seabreeze (Captain Cook wrote about it in his memoirs). We had an access track onto the beach and a beautiful shady spot on the sand to sit.
Like we’ve found elsewhere on Cape York, you need that constant daytime wind to keep the tropical temperature under control. The high tide lapped right up to the tree line while the low tides receded each morning to expose the northern reaches of the Great Barrier Reef.
Josh caught one medium sized trevally which was crumbed up for the frypan but otherwise the fishing was slow.
We could see big fish jumping out of the water on the outer side of the reef (big as in dolphin-size Tuna) but for most people fishing it was quiet. Fortunately only a couple of kilometres down the road was a bloke selling local seafood from his shed and we pulled in there to supplement our fishing failure with some prawns – on his recommendation we got half a kilo of cooked king prawns and half a kilo of green prawns snap-frozen on the trawler. That was a great feed – the green ones with some garlic were superb. We also discovered oysters on the closest island when we could walk out at low tide and we chipped some delicious salty ones off the rocks.
A short drive away as well is the small settlement of Portland Roads which boasts the best seafood on Cape York – shocked by such a claim we decided they must be tested and we found ourselves on a verandah high above the bay where we had some great fresh fish and chips and the boys even got iced chocolate’s. Can’t complain – everything was pretty good!
The whole area has some great history – Portland Roads, like many tiny coastal settlements in northern Australia during WWII, quickly grew from a population of ten to 10,000 as the Australian and US military moved in to establish airstrips, supply ports and radar bases. While they were never bombed, the base at Portland Roads knew the Japanese submarines were always patrolling the critical channel that runs through the ocean here. Before that a gold rush had see another population boom and bust.
Another interesting story is that where we were camping was next to where William Bligh finally reached the mainland after the mutiny on the Bounty – a long trip in a small boat all the way from Tonga or somewhere like that. They only stopped off briefly to fill up water and cook up some stewed oysters (probably off the same rocks we collected ours). Explorer Kennedy who attempted to reach the Cape established his final camp here before he headed off on a last dash to reach his goal – only to be speared – makes us realise how lucky we are driving along in a four-wheel drive with the air-con cranked up!
There are some enormous trees that have seen many cyclones and wild seas over the centuries that they have called Chilli Beach home. Giant rainforest trees growing on the beach is an amazing sight to see
We spent some time bird-watching in the Gordon Creek area hoping for a Cassowary or a glimpse of the riflebirds which we could hear calling everywhere but they proved so elusive for us. The boys collected fresh coconuts and we de-husked and cracked for some surprisingly delicious and moreish coconut. The other great thing was –despite the crocodile warning signs – when the water was calm and clear, it was great for safe swimming to cool off.
There were two days where Captain Cook’s constant sou-easter swung around to a nor-easter and the calmer breeze made for beautiful clear glassy water.
As with many places up here on CYP, the birdlife is excellent with shorebirds, terns, rainforest pigeons and torresian pigeons nesting on the island – the Metallic Starlings have to be the highlight with huge flocks forming over the ocean and flying over our tent at dawn – we thought it was a fighter jet going over – the noise was incredible (in fact we didn’t know what the noise was for a couple of days!).
Our campsite was one of 25 and we chose no.20 based on shade and shelter from any strong wind – it was perfect and also was a stand-alone site while others had to share an area that would comprise two or three campsites. We also got our own private beach access with one of the best shady spots where we sat for hours each day in between beach combing, collecting driftwood for fires, and the boys playing on rope swings people had built. Overall, a 10/10 experience and we were glad we booked in for four nights early on so we could kick back on ‘deserted tropical beach time’.