14 October – Cooktown

We continued south through Lakefield NP and saw the result of the big storm clouds we had seen last night – in some sections the road was almost underwater and the edges – as we found out as we attempted a U-turn at the ranger station – were very soft and boggy. There was a very big rain dump (for the apparent dry season anyway!).

Lakefield NP (6)

We had a break at Old Laura homestead which was once a bustling place but now is a set of abandoned buildings – the butchers hook and massive chopping block in the meat safe building was a highlight.

We stopped at Isabella Falls for lunch and could tell from the tannin stained water that the rain had extended this far as well. Shortly after we pulled into Cooktown and cruised the main street down to the waterfront. A beautiful town with incredible views across the Endeavour River to steep green hills.

Cooktown - Grassy Hill Lookout (2)

Captain Cook would’ve loved the view as he arrived back around 1770 except he was preoccupied with finding a good spot to beach his ship and fix the big hole he’d cracked open when he stacked it into the reef. What is of interest out of that is that this is one of the only places on land where Cook actually stopped for any length of time – 7 weeks in fact – otherwise he was offshore focused on mapping the east coast.

Cooktown (3)

What a spot for Joseph Banks to have time to explore the botanical diversity of north Queensland! The botanic gardens, on that note, are pretty good for a stroll around as well and they have a display of botanical paintings by Vera Scarth-Johnson which are incredible in their fine-scale brushwork and attention to detail.

Cooktown (2)

The gardens have some good sections with the orchids and diversity of palms a highlight but the butterflies – huge birdwing butterflies – take the cake. The foreshore walk is very similar to walking at The Entrance and there is a lot of work going on with a new kids water park and new bbqs and picnic tables.

Cooktown - Botanic Gardens

On the ocean side is Finch Bay which is a beautiful spot to wander along the deserted beach. The wharf is very popular with locals fishing and there are rumours of good size fish around brought in through the deep water channel maintained for the larger game fishing boats and luxury super-yachts that call in here. On the right tide, the giant gropers come in to be hand fed by anyone brave enough to risk losing a hand.

Cooktown - Finch Bay

We watched as a small, discreet police operation cleared the wharf to allow a non-descript van with no windows to reverse up to one of the very expensive cruisers – the Lady Audrey – to remove someone who didn’t survive the cruise. Josh has already started writing his first crime novel because this situation had it all.


Alongside the three-levels of luxury with the tinted windows and the sun-drenched decks and the team of on-board servants was berthed the “Little Audrey” – a huge game-fishing boat which travelled alongside the mothership chasing marlin and other monsters off the reef. A policeman sitting on the deck having fish and chips with the staff and being served iced water in a martini glass made it all very suspicious.

Cooktown - Botanic Gardens (2)

The lookout up at Grassy Hill is an amazing view in every direction. Cook and Banks stood up here trying to find a course through the reef to sail the repaired HMS Endeavour back out to open seas.

Cooktown - Grassy Hill Lookout

12-13 October – Kalpower Crossing – Lakefield NP

From there we headed out east-ish towards Lakefield NP and stopped in at a few spots along the way towards Kalpower Crossing campground. The first lagoon was pretty dry but the second had good open water and lots of birds – we saw Spoonbills, Magpie Geese and Jabirus all in a 5 minute stop.

We reached Kalpower Crossing on the Normanby River and we were surprised how busy it was. We chose a good shady site and drove a few minutes back to a large ranger station that had a campsite booking kiosk to book the spot. The river has a large concrete causeway which is the road out to Bathurst Head and Cape Melville. A resident crocodile patrols the area – not huge but we weren’t dipping our toes in the water!

Limmen N.P- croc

With a river of beautiful, clean freshwater, the campground has cold showers which were very popular in the afternoon as fellow campers tried to cool down and rinse off the days sweat – we were in there as soon as we had the chance! There’s a short walk near the campground through the woodland and along the river with some information signs mostly about the wet and dry seasons.

Lakefield NP (6)

We crossed the river for a day trip out to Bathurst Bay which is a beautiful spot with half a dozen campers set up. With a long calm beach, you can launch your boat directly into the bay and be out in the deep ocean in minutes. The drive was slow but that was perfect for the changing scenery as we wound around the estuary and through small pockets of rainforest amongst the woodland.

Lakefield NP (7)

We spotted some brolgas dancing around and stopped to take a photo – only then did we notice there was actually a procession of brolgas – hundreds of them loping along together across the dry saltpans. We had to get a video of them just to capture the sheer numbers we were seeing.

Bathurst Head

The Aboriginal owners of the land were out with their cattle mustering rigs – basically you just need to attach an old tyre to the front and sides of your vehicle and you are set to go bush cattle hunting. They had rounded up a bull and tied him to a tree and when we stopped for a look he was very, VERY angry and the dust he stirred up as he scraped his hoof was pretty menacing.

Bathurst Head (3)

The strangest thing we saw along the track was a fox, which was actually a dingo, which now we’re not sure because it had the fattest fox tail but as it came up to our car it was definitely a dingo (we think). As we were getting back to camp some ominous storm clouds were lurking and we got nervous that our nine months of travel so far with almost zero rain could be coming to an end. The thunder rumbled off in the distance but we were spared as the storm took a course off to the south of us. As we started to pack on our last morning at Kalpower, one dark cloud came over and unleashed a good solid morning shower which had us rolling out the side awning off the car and hiding under while the rain we aren’t used to fell. A bit damp but we packed up and hit the road.

Bathurst Head (4)

9 – 11 October – Coen River : Oyala NP

Leaving Chilli Beach, we stopped in at the ranger station where we could book camping sites and decided to head out to Oyala NP – one of the more central/inland areas of Cape York. There were some spectacular views as we drove back through the Iron Range and nice heathland scrub as well which was different vegetation.

Chilli Beach (3)

We drove into Oyala National Park on a nicely graded road and chose a campsite overlooking a billabong on the Coen River which is mostly dry except for these last billabongs which attract all the wildlife to the last water in the landscape. The first birds we saw were two of the biggest White-bellied Sea Eagles we’d ever seen – absolute giants that took off as we arrived and then cruised back through each day keeping an eye on us.

Shady Camp White Bellied Sea Eagle (2)

We didn’t see the multitude of freshwater crocs during the day but at night their eyeshine cruising the billabong was exciting to see. There’s potential for estuarine crocs here as it’s all eventually linked to the saltwater reaches of the Gulf of Carpentaria and we noticed one family of kangaroos who had dug their own water hole just away from the water’s edge so they felt safer during their morning and evening drinks.

Nearby we could walk to Mango Lagoon through the grassy savannah country. The variety of bird calls during the day and night – and especially at dawn and dusk – were incredible – flocks of finches would come down to drink at the water’s edge.

Bird - Oyala NP

We had a go at fishing and got some nudges on lures from smaller fish -and we could see fish – but no luck. Really the story here is the heat – after being on either the east or west coast of the Cape with sea breezes we were slap-bang in the middle of inland Cape York with no breeze and scorching heat (it seemed scorching for us southerners anyway).

Bird- Oyala NP

By 11am we were seeking the darkest shade we could find to escape the heat and spent our time reading books, playing with whatever toys we could extract out of the car and writing stories for you –our dear, loyal, devoted readers!. Our camp was a good spot to kick back but with the national park resembling a cattle ranch with hordes of free-roaming cattle and fires burning non-stop with smoke clouding the sky all day every day we didn’t explore any further than where we had driven in to. We hit the road, drove out and made our way south – always south now – not many sleeps now Uncle Nick!!

Not far south and we stopped in the small village of Coen where we had pulled in for fuel on the way up the Cape. The pub said we could use their laundry but the catch was Amy ended up having to help set up a new washing machine – the good news was the owner put in the coins for the $4 wash to make sure it worked; the bad news was the washing machine needed some more work because it was an ordinary wash. But the clothes were clean enough (after the dirt, dust and sweat we’d inflicted on them).

Oyala NP (5)

There was a heritage house that we’d missed on the way through and luckily we looked through this time because it was awesome – everything you need to know about history, incredible memorabilia and artefacts on open display, stories of settlement, survival, gold rushes, floods, boom, bust and everything in between.

Bird - Cape York

We picked up some basic meat and groceries in the small general store (needless to say- an expensive exercise) because out next sector of travel had no other options for supplies. Since we’d passed through on our way north, the fuel price had increased by 20c/L – all understandable – we’ve been out of contact on Cape York and Australia must’ve declared war with the Saudis and our oil supplies have dried up – that must be it. We didn’t buy fuel and luckily have the luxury of plenty of reserve supplies so we don’t get screwed (keep in mind our fuel refills of 120litres or more sees a blow-out of 25 bucks).

coen 2

A local bloke pointed out where we could easily fill up out water tanks and we left Coen fully loaded for the week ahead. We stopped in at Musgrave Roadhouse only an hour or so south instead for fuel and weren’t the only people chased by the rogue cattle that hang around the roadhouse petrol pumps!. As a reward for cheaper fuel, we splashed some cash on a few burgers and chips and spent some time looking through the heritage information about the telegraph line that established all these stations which are now roadhouses for travellers to stop in at.

coen 1

4 – 8 October – Chilli Beach & Iron Range

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.

Chilli Beach- Island

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.

Chilli Beach (4)

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.

Chilli Beach (2)

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.

Chilli Beach

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.

Chilli Beach Island

Josh caught one medium sized trevally which was crumbed up for the frypan but otherwise the fishing was slow.

Chilli Beach

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.

Chilli Beach Island- Oyster Hunting (2)

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.

Chilli Beach Huge leaf

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!

Chilli Beach - palm tree racing

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

Chilli Beach - most amazing tree

Chilli Beach - most amazing tree (2)

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’.

Chilli Beach Camp - SwingChilli Beach - rope swings


1-3 October – Weipa & Western Cape York

Back across the ferry with minutes to spare before the immovable, unstoppable lunch hour commenced and we were back onto the corrugated main road – it’s just the traffic volume that sees the track deteriorate to such terrible corrugations. A respite was the short cut road across towards Weipa from Batavia Downs which, again due to less traffic volumes this time, was pretty smooth driving as long as you were alert for dips, creeks, washouts and very large free-roaming cattle. We camped at a dry river crossing which had a small side trail which we could duck down and get away from the road.

Moonlight Creek Camp

The next day we were on the road early and made it in to Weipa – quickly noticing that it was a town built around mining. There’s a Woolies and we did a pretty big shop having not had a decent supermarket since Mt Isa a few weeks ago. We decided to head north from Weipa up towards Mapoon hoping to find a nice camp where we could watch a sunset out over the Gulf of Carpentaria.

We drove in to Red Beach and then up to Bouchat Beach really just to have a quick look around but we realised that it would be a great spot to camp right on the beach. There were incredible shorebirds – large flocks and individuals – all over the mud flats. The frigate birds were also a new sighting for us as they flew in to roost.

Bouchat Camp - Beach Brolgas

We levelled out an area of sand on the beach for the tent and there was plenty of wood for a fire. The sunset was pretty impressive even though there was a bank of cloud but as it got down below it was spectacular.

Bouchat Camp - Sunset dinner

Bouchat Camp

Off the next day towards Mapoon which has some interesting history – one of the earliest encounters with the Dutch back in the 1600’s – an important moment in Australian history as hostile as it was. It was also an area that saw the Aboriginal people removed from their land – this is only going back to the ‘60’s – conveniently this was about the time that bauxite mining was just starting to be investigated. We did a great walk along the beach at Cullen Point which is just beautiful.

Mapoon Beach

Unfortunately, like we found at Gove Peninsular across the other side of the Gulf, the rubbish from Asia gets carried in on the current each year and the result is a mess of plastic litter clogging the beaches. One clean-up they counted 12,000 thongs….that’s each year washing up on one section of coastline…incredible and unstoppable.

Fortunately, like when we were up on Gove, the rubbish clean-up had taken place and we saw the beaches and ocean in their best condition. We backtracked in the afternoon and headed off towards the upper reaches of Port Musgrave inlet – a bay with various rivers entering. Near a spot called Batavia Landing we found a cleared camping area that had sweeping views up and down the wide river.

Batavia Landing Camp

The camp was around ten metres above the river so nice and safe from the big cruising crocs we saw patrolling their territory. A few small boats came past quietly trolling lures for the monster barra that would be in there somewhere. Out of nowhere a dog showed up – we looked around expecting someone to be walking him but no one came. We called him “Camp-Dog” because we are pretty sure he gets left out at an Aboriginal camp while his owners go back into town and he has to fend for himself for weeks at a time. He survives by moving in with anyone who sets up camp. In the end he slept against the wall of the tent for some of the night before realising we left our camp chairs set up so he got nice and comfy up off the ground (we had to wash the chair because Camp-Dog ain’t very clean).

Batavia Landing - Camp Dog

As we left in the morning he started running along behind the car – the track was slow to start with and he kept up but finally we got some speed and he disappeared in the dust. We stopped to have a look at another river view spot and, amazingly, along came Camp-Dog huffing and puffing but looking surprisingly fit for an old scruffy dog. This time we didn’t look back – as much as we realised we’d bonded – we needed to leave Camp-Dog behind asap so he didn’t have a huge distance to get back to his ‘home’. We hit the pedal and got some speed up to get away. Some say Camp-Dog made it to the bitumen outside Weipa before he realised he’d lost us – some say he’s still making his way down the Cape York Peninsular hoping to find us camping along a river somewhere. We hope Camp-Dog has gone back to welcome the next campers to his home and keep them company like he did with us.

Mapoon (3)

30 September – Jardine River

After some great days at Wroonga Point gazing out at the Torres Strait it was time to hit the road – not before a dark cloud came over the top of us and rained on us while we were packing up. Rain! Yes, rain. After months of not seeing a cloud in the dry season skies – we got dumped on.  We decided to stay one more night on this side of the Jardine River ferry before we crossed back to begin the journey south.

Bird- Jardine River Mouth

We started on the track out to Ussher Point but it was so rough, overgrown and damaged that we made 10kms – very slowly – before we decided it was just too bad and just wasn’t worth the effort and bone-rattling to keep going along the rest of the 60+km track (and we’ve rattled our bones along some rough tracks – this one broke our spirit!). We drove back and then out to the west to Mutee Head which was much easier to access – there was even a road crew grading the track so it was smooth sailing. The radar installation here is interesting partly because it’s the only one of its type from WWII still standing today but also because of the size of the operation with a large team of people using the new radar technology to identify enemy planes.

We headed out along a sandy track to the mouth of the Jardine River where we hoped to find a campsite. We got side-tracked onto a very boggy sand track which we eventually pushed on through to make it to the river and found a great campsite up high overlooking the expansive Jardine River estuary.

Jardine River Mouth

We walked out to the beach overlooking the river mouth and found some recent turtle nesting activity.

We through a few lures out across the river channel closest to our camp and eventually Josh hooked on to a good size mackerel which hit the lure on the surface with a spectacular splash and then dragged off some line from the reel like a freight train. Slowly it was reeled in amongst great excitement. Moments after it touched the sand the line went slack, the fish flip-flopped back into the water and in a flash it was gone – so was yet another lure.

The rest of the family braced themselves for Josh’s standard three days of mourning where he doesn’t talk to anyone and mopes around sullenly. We found a better track out which avoided the dreaded seep sand and we were on our way.



26-29 Sept – Cape York – The Tip!

We got to the Jardine River ferry early and got straight across – the river is all of 50metres wide and the ferry operators have the market wrapped up so you have no choice but to pay the $100 ferry fee for the 90 second ride across. Don’t forget that ferry operators get peckish too and the ferry shuts down for their hour lunch break from midday.

We drove through the town of Bamaga and grabbed some basic supplies at the small supermarket. Punsand Bay seemed to be the camping destination that many people were talking about as they planned their final stages towards the northern tip of Australia. We decided to play it by ear – as much as a pool sounded great for the boys to play in – the photo we’d seen was of a pretty small backyard pool that was hardly going to fit the influx of kids as a result of the current school holidays.

Bamaga - Frilled Neck Lizard

We wanted to check out Wroonga Point which was a few kilometres away from Punsand and we weren’t disappointed – a long stretch of beach with uninterrupted views out to Horn Island and Thursday Island and great informal camping spots.

Cape York- Roonga Point

Best of all it was free and casual and not chocker-block with people. As it turned out Punsand was booked out anyway according to one fellow camper who had been directed to Wroonga Point by Punsand when they couldn’t fit him in.

We camped here for four nights and used it as a base camp to explore the area and, of course, make the final short trip to “The Tip”. Once you are up the top of the cape past Bamaga, it’s a fairly small, compact area that can easily be explored.

Cape York- Roonga Point (7)

The Tip is pretty rugged with the wind blowing strong and the deep water rushing past with incredible currents – not to mention the sharks and other big fish that can be spotted which makes it all a bit awe-inspiring. A few people brought their fishing lines to have a go but the wind, currents and fish that were much too big for their lines ensured no one caught anything.

Roonga Point - Fishing

A good day trip was a loop along the western coast passing by Loyalty Beach campground, the small port village of Seisha which has the main ferry/barge wharf, a stop in at the Bamaga Tavern for some lunch.

Over on the eastern side of the peninsular there is some windy, rugged coastline with some nice spots to stop and take in the view, nice patches of rainforest and a bit of history about the area.

It’s burning season of course, and while most of the fires we’ve seen in northern Australia have been pretty tame, the fire that was burning around us for the days we were here was intense with police patrols and even a chopper monitoring it’s spread towards Punsand campground.

Cape York- Tip (2)

We had no luck fishing but like so many other places we didn’t see anyone else pulling in anything in either! Our spectacular, uninterrupted view out to the Torres Strait also meant we picked up mobile coverage from Thursday and Horn Islands – Telstra was good and even Optus – after very little coverage overall on Cape York – popped up a few bars if you stood on the right blade of grass.

A new avian sighting for our bird list was the Torresian Imperial Pigeon which occurs in large flocks that fly from the islands to the mainland and back.

Bird- Chilli Beach

Near Bamaga airport there are some WWII plane wrecks which are a reminder of how central this very northernmost part of Australia was in the war.

21- 25 September – Cape York – Telegraph Track

Our first camp on CYP was nothing special – a small track off the main Peninsular Development Road and we set up where many others had before us for an overnighter. It was the Kendle River – dry except for a small remaining billabong that had cattle hanging around it. The spectacular Palm Cockatoos that came and sat right above us were a great new addition to our bird-spotting list.

Bird- Cape York (2)

We stopped in Coen for some fuel which was pretty reasonably priced and then headed off up the PDR turning off where it keeps heading for Weipa and the road to the tip of Cape York begins. A quick lunch stop at the Old Moreton Telegraph Station where we discovered they had a pie oven which hit the spot. A small but informative display about the telegraph line and the history of flooding in some of the wetter seasons was interesting.

Cape York (3)

At Bramwell, the main road heads off to deviate around the headwaters of a series of creeks while the Old Telegraph Line keeps heading straight ahead, due north. An executive decision was made at a very high level in the management structure within the Hilux that we’d potter up the Old Telegraph Line and see what condition the track and creek crossings were in.

Cape York (4)

Not far in is Palm Creek and the choice of steep narrow entry and exits were all bad. Eventually we found the easiest and slowly made our way through – luckily the creek is dry so there wasn’t the need to navigate water as well.

Cape York- Palm Creek (2)

We pushed along the track pretty slowly – it’s not just the creek crossing that are the challenge, it’s the washed out, narrow track as well.

Cape York- Palm Creek

Through a fairly easy crossing at North Alice Creek and we spotted a good camping spot off to the side and decided we’d set up for the night. A group of three NSW cars came through late in the arvo but otherwise it was very quiet on the track.

Cape York- Telegraph Track

Next morning we were off early and made it to the next creek crossing that was shallow but had some good swimming holes. It was warming up already so a swim was perfect near the small waterfall.

Cape York- Telegraph Track (4)

We chatted to the NSW convoy, Mark and Mary and Bel and Brad and decided we’d tag along with them – either safety in numbers or more brainpower to chart the best course through the more serious creek crossings to come.

Cape York- Telegraph Track (11)

We made it through the iconic and notorious crossings with Amy pulling out some pretty impressive 4WDing to show up some of the blokes who were getting stuck with no traction and giving their vehicles a good bashing.

Cape York- Telegraph Track (15)

Gunshot was relatively simple (we didn’t do the ‘drop’…!!..there was a chicken track) although there was one scary moment when Amy launched up out of the creek but took the wrong track and nearly went over an embankment – luckily two of our travelling friends were up the track and made her stop and reverse back to safety.

Interesting that we heard an account of a vehicle making the same mistake a day later only they didn’t stop in time and rolled their Prado down the embankment – end of the holiday for them plus the reputed $6-8k towing fees to get your wrecked car out of there. In fact, the daily stories of damage and destruction of cars along the Tele Track is almost unbelievable except that when you arrive in Bamaga you drive past the wreckers and see the most recent cars that have been towed in – some with obvious damage; others that have less exterior damage but there are wheels bent in weird angles, engines and electrics flooded from deep creek crossings and axles that have failed the test under immense strain.

Cape York- Telegraph Track (12)

We camped at Scrubby Creek near Fruit Bat Falls so we could have a swim in the afternoon and then get back in there early before many other people the next morning. Fruit Bat Falls are amazing. Below the falls is the most incredible crystal-clear swimming pool with a solid flow of water that gives a great shoulder massage!

Cape York- Fruit Bat Falls- massage time

Above the falls are some cool little holes where we sat and lazed about as the fast-flowing water rushed by. The boys could jump off the rocks and had a great time.

Scrubby Creek is one of the deeper creek crossings along the Telegraph Track and we watched about ten cars go through – finding out the next day when we caught up with them that most had water leak in to their cars and/or camper trailers. After a swim the next morning at Fruit Bat Falls with no one else around we got through Scrubby Creek too – but by taking a steep but fairly easy track around the main deep pool.

Next stop was Edith Falls and Twin Falls – incredible places both picturesque as well as fun swimming holes. Twin Falls is great for kids to play in and for adults to float in the shallow water.

Cape York- Twin Falls (2)

Edith Falls is just around the corner and has to be one of the best waterfalls in Australia. There are lots of safe spots to jump off high rocks into deep water and Lachie and Cammy both showed some bravery in leaping off (with Dad cautiously waiting in the water below).

Cape York- Elliott Falls (2)

Cape York- Elliott Falls

Lach and Josh also did the ‘drop’ into the main Edith Falls – it’s not so much a jump because it’s such a narrow gorge but rather you step off the top and pencil dive into the deep water. The force and mist and noise are fantastic.

We made it through a few more creek crossings before we reached a point along the track that is the last chance exit point to the safety of the main Cape York road – once you go past this turn off it’s very difficult to return back through the creek crossings ahead if you reach one that is impassable or too hairy. You know how brave and fearless the JALC-OZ team is – we don’t take the easy options…..but today we were out of there like a flash.

Word on the street was that at least one of the creek crossings ahead were deep water and on a daily basis claimed the scalps of anyone making the slightest mistake. The NSW group we were with made the same decision – as did many others. The track had gotten quite busy since we’d first started out and many people still pushed on along the track – typically in larger groups that could work together to get through what lay ahead.

Bird- Cape york (3)

We drove out onto the main road and then back in the final creek crossing at Nolans Brook where we found a great campsite and superb swimming at the crossing – crystal clear water except for when a car would come through for the final crossing of the Tele Track and the water would get stirred up. There would have been 20 kids all in the water playing together which the boys loved! We watched dozens of cars come through over the two days we camped there with little drama really – most spent some time checking it out and making their decision on depth and steepness and then got through with water mostly only just getting over their bonnets.

Cape York- Gunshot (3)

18-20 September – The Gulf: Normanton – Karumba

We left Mt Isa and headed east, sticking to the bitumen as we passed by Cloncurry. From there it was due north towards the Gulf of Carperntaria. We stopped off at a random track off and found a nice campsite with the best bird life throughout the grassland.

Karumba Camp

Maybe it was because the area was a wide road reserve and was fenced off from cattle and wasn’t heavily burnt like many areas – so many birds calling it was amazing. We reached Normanton and had lunch down near the river. The “Big Croc” is a bit of a tourist attraction and is monstrous – pretty scary considering it’s a replica of one shot by a hunter a few decades back.


The visitor information centre is great with so much history about the area and good advice from the bloke there. We asked about the possibility of taking a track that Josh had found on the map that cut almost perfectly diagonal north east from Karumba to pop out half way up Cape York which would save us unnecessary time and distance heading over towards Cairns and then up. Not expecting him to even know what we were talking about, we were amazed when he gave us the thumbs up that it was indeed a good track to choose and was in good condition with little tourist traffic being mainly just a track for the cattle stations.


He also pointed us towards Walkers Crossing as a good riverside campsite halfway out to Karumba and gave the positives (barra are on the bite with some warmer weather) and the negatives (don’t go near the water because there are other things on the bite….).

Karumba (2)

We didn’t have any luck with the fishing but did see a small freshwater croc who was confident enough to come cruising past us as we were fishing (happily up high on the bank). The short drive out to Karumba was dominated by brolgas – single brolgas, pairs of brolgas, flocks of brolgas, one brolga distracted us off to the side while his mate did the old ‘stand in the middle of the road’ suicide dance.

Bird- Karumba (5)

Just a big expanse of low swampy, grassland and saltmarsh – the Brolgas couldn’t get enough of it. Up at Karumba there were good birds on the lowish tide too with a wide expanse of estuarine Norman River mouth as far as you can see.

Bird- Karumba

We did a wander around the village and had some nice fish and chips. It was a pretty sleepy place but from the size of the boat ramp carpark it was clear it gets very busy when the peak season is on and the barra and other fish are biting. We camped out along the Burke Development Road at the Staaten River where the boys had fun playing in the dry river bed that has deep erosion cliffs.

Bird- Karumba (3)

At Dunbar Station we deviated off onto a much quieter, less-used road that was our diagonal route which should land us near Musgrave Station on the Peninsular Development Road half way up Cape York. The first sign that it wasn’t a well-used public road was a gate – Josh was in the passenger seat and assumed the role of gate-keeper. Gates are fine except when there’s lots along a road and they are all closed. Josh got his exercise for the week!

Cape York

We crossed the Mitchell River which must be the longest vehicular river crossing in the southern hemisphere – it would have to be 100metres at the moment and flowing well. It seems all good while driving on the plastic lattice structure that has been laid down for much of the crossing but when that ends and the depth seems to be increasing it’s difficult to know whether to plough on or stop and risk being eaten by a crocodile to check what’s ahead. We ploughed on and made it through realising why we put the snorkel on!

Bird- Karumba (2)

The next hurdle was a small pig eating a dead kangaroo in the middle of the track – he got a good whack of bullbar metal and spent some time rolling along the road but managed to run off into the bush. We eventually popped out onto the Peninsular Development Road – the PDR – and realised we’d officially travelled onto Cape York Peninsular.

Karumba (3)

16-17 September – Mt Isa

A few fun river crossings as we crossed the Gregory River to leave Riversleigh behind – the water wasn’t too deep but had a good strong flow and a slippery causeway added some excitement.

Riversleigh- creek crossing

Finally we hit the highway and we were back on the bitumen after what felt like ages on the rough, corrugated back roads through the gulf savannah. Mt Isa loomed closer – or more to the point – the massive mine infrastructure on the very edge of town grew larger.

Birds- Riversleigh

We headed out to Bridgestone just out of town to see what our tyre replacement options were – we decided our spare Bridgestone Dueler would be matched with the same to have two Duelers as rear wheels and the Mickey Thomson would be relegated to the reserves bench – not quite early retirement but rather a good rest up under the hilux as the No.1 spare after some hard yards across 40,000kms of the country’s harshest tracks and trails.

GRR sign 53m road trains

Some shopping/restocking in town and a pool for the boys plus a good playground kept us busy – the mine is always in view and you look out of place if you aren’t wearing orange work clothes – it’s a mining town!

The Riversleigh Fossil Centre is at the information centre that has various exhibits but we went with a family pass to the fossil display plus a small extra fee to have one of the fossil experts take us on a tour behind the scenes. In fact, we didn’t do any of the fossil centre ourselves but rather had our guide, Peiter, take us through the whole place on an exclusive VIP tour.

Mt Isa- Riversleigh Fosssil Centre

Peiter not only works in the lab separating, sorting and identifying fossilized bones and teeth but she is also one of the researchers who collects the fossils in the field so the knowledge and passion for her work was fantastic to hear.

Mt Isa- Riversleigh Fosssil Centre (6)

It was perfect that we had been out on the Riversleigh site the day before so we could relate to a lot of what she was talking about. Looking through the microscopes to see all the tiny microbat teeth and bones was pretty cool.

Mt Isa- Riversleigh Fosssil Centre (4)

Seeing the processes they are using to treat and separate the bones was good too. The boys had checklists to work through trying to find some of the megafauna that Riversleigh has uncovered and they scored a pack of stickers and pencils and lots of stuff to keep them amused – plus lollipops to keep their sugar levels up high….

Mt Isa- Riversleigh Fosssil Centre (2)

Mt Isa Kmart had the next few Harry Potter books Lach needed so we bought the next three because of the pace he is pushing through the reading. Otherwise, it was a good spot to reload and refresh and be ready for more travels.

Riversleigh- Big Bird