Friday, June 22, 2001

Cape York 2001

Cape York 2001 - Trip Report

Dates: June to July 2001
Group: Individual

The Cape trip started for me at 7pm friday night and was uneventful to Cairns except for getting booked for speeding near Mt Larcom.

I had been following a dull brown Pajero for an hour or so as he was sticking to the speed limit but we had both sped up on a steep downhill section and the cops saw him and started to pull him up but when they saw my lifted patrol about 60 metres behind him they decided to pull me up instead! One disadvantage to having a conspicuous car!!


On sunday i stocked up in Cairns and headed to Cape Tribulation on bitumen all the way.

The sea was a muddy brown instead of its usual brilliant blue colour which was a bit of a disapointment.

I made camp just north of the National Park boundary but was woken early by light rain so packed the swag and slipped and slid my way to Cooktown to fuel up.


Left Cooktown and stopped at Isabella Falls for smoko, a very nice spot to take a few photo's.

Four or five km's later i turned right towards Elderslie station then left towards Starke station.

After the overgrown Date Palm plantation you pass the Starke station ruins which is worth a look around if you can get through the undergrowth.

The last 81km had taken an hour but from here on it gets interesting and was to take me 8 hours to do 109km!

There's lots of dry creek crossings, river crossings and washouts to negotiate, be prepared for sore arms from the constant steering around things.

The track is very overgrown and hard to follow so i marked the way with white race tape after Starke River.

I met 4 other vehicles who had turned around at Jeannie River as they said they couldn't get past it so i thought i'd camp there the night before heading back but when i got there i found the river quite shallow but the right hand track on the other side was very boggy and the left hand track was badly chewed up, so i removed all the cut branches from the left hand track and with a bit of "If in doubt, go flat out! " i made it up in a big cloud of dust, then it was more creek crossings with big washouts to test out the suspension travel before i finally got to Wakooka outstation.

It was looking like rain so i cleaned out the ruins then hooked up my shower for a much needed hot soak.


Turn off S-14.22.390 E-144.30.005 to Ninian Bay

After a lazy start due to my washing still drying [thats my excuse anyway] i headed north for about 20km to the turn off to Ninian Bay and along the way came across a young couple broken down in their toyota four runner.

Apparently the electric fan mounts had worn a couple of holes in the radiator and the water pump seal had let go as well, they were just finishing temporary repairs so i gave them a jerry can for water and another vehicle going out agreed to follow them out via Kalpower.

Hope they made it out o.k.

Cape Melville is a remote and "unimproved" area which is just the way i like it but you have to be prepared for anything!

I turned right for Ninian Bay and the first creek was very boggy and chewed up as three other had tried to get in but had turned back at the swamp and come back out again and the crossing was now quite deep, i chainsawed some nearby logs and made a log causway and had no more trouble until the swamp.

In 1999 the swamp was over the bonnet so leo and i put a bypass in on dry ground starting about 30 metres into the water on the left, this time i drove into the water for 250 metres before the bypass and the bypass was 400mm deep. I'd made it through the deep bit last time but would hate to try it now!

When i finally got to Ninian Bay there was three other vehicle there. they had walked the 400 metres through the swamp and found the bypass !

talk about game!! the water is stained dark brown , perfect for croc's.

After setting up camp under a nice shady tree overlooking the beach it was off to the rocks for a feed of oysters before cooking up a lamb roast for tea

-life's hard!

I had a lazy day on wednesday with only a walk to the eastern end of the beach. while there i came across "croc highway", a low sand dune between the seaside mangroves and the swamp about 250metres long and criss crossed with dozens of crocodile tracks, needless to say it was a quick walk back!


On thursday i headed back through the swamp which is only 600mm deep if you go via the bypass and did the 46km to Bathurst Bay in about 5 hours.

I topped up with the excellent water near the unoccupied ranger base and headed to the eastern side of the creek outlet and set up camp as i wanted to try out the crab pot and fishing rod.

After chucking in the crab pot i noticed 3 sets of croc tracks near camp so decided to put up the tent this time, A swag might be a nice sized mouthfull around here!

I had no luck with the fishing rod but was treated to a magnificent sunset over the islands out to sea.


this morning [friday 29-7-01] i went looking for the monument and spent 4 hrs driving and walking around to no avail.

It was hard to find in 1999 but at least there was vehicle tracks heading inland to a carpark but this time i could find no trace .

I did find the remains of a ww2 aero cobra buried in the beach

[ S-14.12.415 E144.28.544 ] under a small she oak on the eastern side of a small creek outlet near Cape Melville. If its hi tide you can wade across to the the spit of sand across from the creek outlet.[ i think the monument is around here somewhere as well! ]

I left Bathurst Bay at 2.15 for the 108 km run to Kalpower Crossing passing the lonely grave of a young boy who drowned in a nearby billabong, then on through the easy crossing of sandalwood creek and on to the tight crossing of barramundi creek.

Even though someone has trimmed the bases of two large trees to make a wider path, i got jammed by the rear wheels and had to rev it up and drop the clutch to squeeze through.

the next 36km to the crossing was quite fast and i got to the Normanby river at 6.30. Crossing the causway at night is very scary as your lights just reflect off the water and you can't see a thing, I just went very slow and took a guess.

I set up camp on the other side of the river at the kalpower crossing campground where i found a group of people looking at 2 brown snakes over the entrance to the toilets in the rafters, when i came back for a shower they were gone so i searched the mens very carefully before my shower.

just as i was stepping out of my shower a young lady came running in to the wrong side and copped an eyefull [well, maybe not an eyefull as it was freezing cold water! ] and i had to lend her my torch to check the ladies for snakes- they wern't there either.


With an early start i headed through Lakefield national park with the sun rising over the vast plains to the east and stopped at Hann River for breakfast then travelled on to Musgrave Roadhouse where i checked in with the missus by phone before she sent any one searching for me.

I had given her my trip plans and she was marking it off whenever i checked in.

I filled up with 101 litres of diesel and headed to the west coast at Pormpuraaw then turned north towards the Holroyd river to find Peter and Mick Christie but after doing over 200 km trying out different tracks through the mud flats i gave up and headed back to Musgrave Roadhouse to fill up again then camped about 10 km north on the road to Coen.


It was an easy run to Coen where i restocked and headed for Archer River

on bitumen for the first 20 or so kilometres.

Every time i come up this way there is more and more bitumen.

I topped up the stomach and diesel tank [at $1.14 per litre] at Archer River roadhouse then headed for Chilli beach.

Just after crossing the Wenlock river i turned left and checked out the abandoned mine site, lots of old machinery lying around and if you take the first right turn on this side track there is an old hut you can stay in.

while checking out some of the old gear i noticed my rear diff housing cracking again!

The rough road was made worse by recent heavy rains and was packed with numerous mud bogs so by the time i got to Chilli beach i had lost the cap off the pole holder, the spare wheel fixing bolt on the roofrack had stripped its thread and the diff crack had gotten worse.

I searched the campsites for guy north with no luck so set up camp at the far left clearing which was well protected from the constant wind.


I checked out some tracks to the north of the camping area but they all lead to private property, by this time the tide was going out so i drove south down the beach to see if guy north was camping down this way but saw no one else.

After ringing from Portland roads i headed to the Frenchmans road and found the Pascoe river crossing at 1.2 metres deep and flowing fast.

A bloke on the other side driving an MK patrol TD wagon had decided to try driving the rock wall above the crossing and asked me to wait around, Hugh and crew spent a couple of hours moving rocks to make a fairly level couple of wheel tracks under the 600 mm deep water and i set my patrol up as best i could for winching although i was at an acute angle to the river in deep mud so i dug a couple of holes for the front wheels to anchor in.

Hugh slowly crossed to about half way and then got washed off his wheel tracks and bellied out on the rocks.

We connected up the winch and dragged him to about 3/4 but the sideways force sheered the high tensile winch mounting bolts off the roller fairlead so we had to resort to the snatch strap.

With lots more rock moving and between 30 and 50 hard snatches we finally got him out of the water. It then tok me half a dozen goes to reverse through the mud and up the bank but hugh couldn't get through the mud due to the ruts from my 35 inch muddies so i went back down and dragged him out of the mud and up the bank to dry ground.All up it took

4 1/2 to 5 hours to get him out...great fun though!

I headed back out to the mine ruins on the wenlock but the hut was taken so i camped over looking the river up past the old grave site.

the next days run into Weipa was fast and easy and i got the diff welded up [two cracks by this time] at Goodline fabrications at edens landing.

Shortly after this i ran into Mick Christie's girlfriend and found Peter and Mick were working at Weipa Welding! Apparently the boys had left Holroyd river a few weeks previously so after setting up camp at the caravan park i headed to the pub to meet up with them.


Corrugations all the way!! Stone Crossing is closed on the Bertiehaugh station side of the wenlock-NO ACCESS- so i had to head out through Batavia downs to the telegraph road which now has a concrete bridge across the Wenlock river so the family sedan could make it to the top now.

The beginning of the end!!!

Then it was on to the telegraph track and the first obstacle at palm beach.

The entry was through a 3m wide by 2 1/2m deep washout where the road used to be and the track went over the side of it at an angle, Well you know how much i like side slopes so i drove straight over the side up near the top of the washout then through the mud to the creek. On the other side is a steep clay bank so i waited for the water to drain off the car then gave it a bootfull and flew up with no problems.

Next up was Alice creek which was 1.1m deep through the centre but is probably shallower around the edges and then it was on to the Delhunty river which was only 300mm deep .

The toilets have been removed from here and the whole camping area was thick dust.

Bertie creek was next and a line from the small creek to the upstream track misses the deep holes in the bed of the creek.

I turned right for the Heathland ranger station and left up the southern bypass track before turning right again into the Captain Billys track.

There is now a concrete causway near the bridge hut and its only another 6km to Captain Billys Landing [named after an aboriginal man who gave himself the grand name of Captain Billy] but when i got there it was crowded and they have closed access to the headland camping areas so after a walk down the beach in the rain i headed back to the old bridge hut which had plenty of wood, no wind and no rain. Not a bad place to camp.

Next morning i collected some firewood and headed back to Captain Billy's and claimed part of the shed.

When the tide had dropped i explored the caves around the headland, the caves occupied by the bats sure stink but the others are o.k.

Later on i walked [dunno what's come over me with all this walking, i usually drive every where, even to the letterbox at home! ] north up to the second creek and was tempted to have a swim until i got scared off by a large splash, a few more steps north i came across two sets of fresh crocodile tracks, one with feet 350mm apart and the other with feet 650mm apart!

Back at the shed i read some of the poems and messages on all the junk found on the beach and hung from every possible spot, it would take a week to read them all. [mines on the inland door frame]

As usual there was a gentle gale blowing the whole time but i was as snug as a bug in the shed and there was only four other camps behind the shed.


I backtracked to where i'd left the telegraph track and turned right for gunshot creek crossing which kept up its reputation, there is two tracks at this time, one into the creek then through deep water going down the creek before a sharp turn right out of the creek or a side slopeing one beside a truck sized hole, i chose the side slope one...bad move with wide wheels as it puts you to far to the right and as i was inching [maybe i should say millimetering] my way down i only got 1/4 of the way down when it started to slide sideways over the edge and i had to give it a bootfull to get it down to the bottom before it landed on its side. I now hold the land speed record for going down Gunshot!

Next up was cockatoo creek at 600mm if you do a dogleg course across it and then it was on to Fruitbat Falls for a look before a swim and lunch at Elliot Falls, if you intend on camping there get there early or you'll miss out on a campsite.

Next up was Canal creek and i chose the right hand track and wondered why a couple of guys walked behind me with their camera's, you need extreme wheel travel to get through the big holes and bogs up this way-they got some good photo's!

The next boggy section near Logan creek required some track building as a Hilux dug into the bog on the downhill side and went up on two wheels and i jumped on the side and held it until some more people jumped on and bought it back down on all four wheels, it was then driven out.

I picked another spot over the bank in front of a large tree and a couple of us dug a level track over the edge and i drove down it and into the bog to pack it down so the guys going the other way could winch up it, if you tried to drive it you would just dig it out.

Next up was the one i had been dreading, Nolans Brook. I had drowned my car here in 1999 but this time it was about 400mm shallow and the steep underwater sandridge had leveled out though the northern exit was a doozy! It had a large bog before a steep bank and the hilux nearly rolled again as he tried to dodge the bog and go up the bank on an angle but had enough speed up to make it. I went straight through the bog and hit the bank straight on and made it up o.k.

It was then on through the swamps to the Jardine river but as i was snatching the hilux out of a bog i noticed the rear end sagging and when i checked it out found the rear spring mount had ripped out of the chassis on two of its three sides and badly damaged the shockers as they were stopping the springs from popping out. When i checked the other side one side of the spring mount had also ripped out and on closer inspection there was big holes in the chassis rails and the left hand spring mount had nearly punched its way through the floor...bugger!!!

The guys in the hilux and i set up camp beside the vehicle ford , nice spot but the mossies were horrendeous!


Saturday 7-7-01. Most of the day was spent bending, bashing and welding the spring mounts back into place but i could not get good penetration with the welder, i think i needed smaller rods and to learn how to weld!

I headed off but on the first side slope the right hand side mount broke again so i hammered a peice of 4x2 in between the floor and the mount and kept going in first gear. any one who knows me knows i hate to go slow so the 40 km to the ferry nearly killed me! [even worse, i got passed by a toyota]

I was too late for the ferry and camped in the campground.

Next morning after paying my $88.00 for the ferry ride i made my painfully slow way towards Bamaga and even got passed by a pushbike! but he fell off [i had nothing to do with it, honest]

I have to admit i was glad to see the bitumen at the airfield intersection and had a quick run to the Seisa campground where i will have to stay untill Top Form Engineering can fix it up on tuesday. I had a nice spot overlooking the bay from my beachside camp-life's tough!


On tuesday the guys at Top Form Engineering got stuck into the repairs and i walked back to camp to check my crabpot- 3 mudcrabs, all too small and all female- just my luck!!!

I picked up the nissan at midday [$250.00] and with the brace over the top, should be o.k.

I drove along the telagraph line route from Seisa to Punsand Bay and the ruins of the Cape york Telegraph Station at Cable Bay before parking at Pajinka then walking to the tip of Australia [about 750 metres]

When i got there i had to wait while the WIN 9 news crew finished filming the guys who had ridden 6 ride on lawn mowers from cairns to the tip of Cape York...and they reckon 4wdrivers are nuts!

[told you the bridge over the wenlock would make it easy]

I then had a quick drive back to Bamaga to test out the repairs on the corrugations...all o.k.

Next morning i checked out Umagico and Injanoo then drove out to Somerset and checked out the ruins, graves and caves before taking the east coast beach run back towards Bamaga.

So far i had driven the Overland Telegraph Line route from Bamaga to where the line went into the sea to Thursday Island at Cable Bay so decided to try and follow the route to the Jardine river.

I set out to the south of Bamaga passing the only pole left near the cemetery and a short time later entered the swampy area, one section i drove through was 1.3 metres deep but had a firm sandy base.

After the swamp i followed a power line and water line but this was not the OTL so i decided to go to the Jardine and follow it north but as the Usher Point track was on the way i thought i'd go there to make camp and have a look. What a mission!!!

This 59 km track is so overgrown i'm sure the army uses it as a " drive in camouflager" and as it was getting dark i thought i would camp in the first clearing i came to, turned out to be 1 1/2 hours after dark at the 58 km mark. next morning found the end of the track at the beach only 1 km away. I found crock tracks here with feet 650mm apart.

After a few photo's i drove back to the linesmans hut at the OTL crossing of the Jardine, had lunch and a quick swim then followed the OTL north crossing the bypass road before they join up for a while then turning left and following the OTL to a wide swamp with no track through it. I skirted around to the other side and the OTL followed the Injanoo road for a while and then i followed the OTL along a fence line until the track ran out just near the 1.3 metre swamp.

I reckon i'de driven as much of the OTL as you can on the north side of the Jardine so next up i visited 3 plane wrecks near the airfield then the radar tower at Muttee Heads before camping on the beach at the little camping area there.


On friday morning i drove down to the mouth of the Jardine river for a look, nice campsites but on the way back out the track which ran along the bank gave way as i drove over it...close one!

I drove to the ferry and filled up with diesel then drove out to Vrilya Point.

About 8km up the beach is the wreck of a light ship so i headed north for a look then continued on as far as i could go until a came to a wide creek and stopped for lunch. There is some 44 gallon drums sunk into the sand in which fresh water seeps in and plenty of shade under the she oaks. All in all a very nice spot.

After lunch i drove back to the top of the telegraph track where i noticed the front diff had cracked and the rear one had cracked again.

I headed south which is a little harder than going north,excellent!!

When i got to Nolans Brook i crossed to the other side then watched an 80 series toyota going the other way but he got stuck with the rear in the exit boghole and the front half way up the bank. He was cursing the spare wheel placement under the car. A few more cars arrived on the scene so i headed off to Logan creek where i found the track we'd put in down the bank had been chewed completely out. I dug the left bank a bit more level and with a bit of a wheel lift made it up o.k.

I had no trouble at Cypress creek but had to get out half way across the log bridge to check that i was still on the log. Next up was Cannibal creek which tests out the wheel travel then it was on to Mistake creek, Turkey creek and finally Canal creek where i camped in the old linesmans hut.

This section of the telegraph track is great fun with lots of challenges.


Shortly after starting i came across another 80 series whose battery tray had come loose so with a few bolts and zip ties, was on his way again.

The old couple were having a ball and had been stuck a few times but didn't have to wait long for some one to help. I guess thats what makes it a great place for a holiday, everybody is happy to help and have a yarn!

After a short trip down the corrugations of the bypass road i turned right into the southern telegraph track and once again enjoyed the creek crossings until the crowd at Gunshot creek halted progress.

An 80 series had slid off the side of the track dug into the side of the large hole but luckily stayed on its wheels. After they got him out no one wanted to move until the 100 series a couple of cars in front of me had a go and drove up it, his skinny wheels allowing him to keep close to the bank and with only a little slip of the wheels made it o.k. His mate in a similar car slipped a bit more as he went up which made everyone else hesitant again so after moving a few cars out of the way i had my turn but after nearly rolling my car on my way north i had decided to go another way.

I turned left in the creek and drove up the creek through the 1.2 metre deep water then turned right up the bank with no problems, the lift kit comes in very handy on these deep crossings!

When i got to Palm creek i snatched a 40 series up the wet clay bank and got out of the way as a troopy and an MK patrol blasted up at high speed dragging a heap of water up with them. I slid down the bank drove across the creek and had a go at the side slope exit with no luck so reversed back and drove straight through the bog, up the 600mm high mud bank then up through the top bog and through to the end of the washout and up the track i had made on the way north.

The two 100 series toyotas turned up and had a go and after we dug out the mud bank they got up o.k.

Shortly after i turned right onto the telegraph road and suffered the corrugations until the Frenchmans road. I checked the diff cracks but they were getting bad so kept going to Batavia downs and turned right for Weipa to get them welded up.

Along the way i came across 3 young blokes in a broken down 40 series tray back and took a message into Weipa for them. I delivered the message and set up camp at the caravan park as it was saturday afternoon and nothing was open. On monday Goodline fabrications welded up both diffs and a crack in the exhaust and they had an oil pump to replace the watered down oil in the rear diff. I had picked up the oil at Weipa 4x4 parts in the shopping centre near the caravan park.


I drove back to the telegraph road and headed south to Archer river and checked out a few tracks about 3km to the south which led to some excellent campsites along the Archer river.

Next i headed to Coen and made camp about 3km north on the white sands of the Coen river and chucked the crab pot in the crystal clear water.

Next morning i had one red claw yabbie but that doesn't make a meal so i let it go and headed southwards again but a short time later the steel brake line to the front left wheel broke and all the fluid pumped out and of course when i ripped on the handbrake to slow me up something let go and the handbrake lever pulled up to the max without slowing me at all!

I broke out the welder and welded the line shut but naturally couldn't find the brake fluid [must have used it on something else] so headed off for Musgrave and several of the large dips were traversed at somewhere near the speed of light or so it felt like and by the time i got to Musgrave the front shocks had come loose and one of the bushes had split. I fixed them up and bought the last bottle of brake fluid then filled and bled the brakes.

I again headed south but every time i braked the car swerved violently to the right and then when i took my foot off the brake it swerved even more violently to the left and i'd end up sliding sideways into the dips! took awhile to get used to it!

I swerved and slid my way to Lakeland stopping at every car wreck to see if i could find a suitable brake line [with no luck] then turned left to cooktown and then right into the Bloomfield road .

I drove south until just after Granite creek and took the uphill track to the right which is the Creb track.

The track to the community has been fixed up and it didnt take long to go the 20 odd km to the left hand track to Roaring Meg falls. There is a monument here in the clearing which is worth a look and building material at the newly cleared site so there might be a building there shortly.

I tackled the washed out track to the river and camped near the small falls [minimeg?] at the "up river" end of the track and chucked the crab pot in again.

I was woken early by a very light drizzle which only lasted a couple of minutes and decided to check the crab pot and got a nice feed of yabbies for breakfast. When dawn arrived i headed to the down stream end of the track and took some photo's of Roaring Meg falls then headed back out to the Creb track.

Heading south again i had an "interesting" time sliding down the red clay hills after first checking for safe sliding routes, its amazing what a light sprinkle of rain does to this track!

A couple of deep creek crossings ,bogs and muddy hills kept me on my toes until the last long hill on a ridge line down into the Daintree river valley. As there was no safe run off areas i stopped in a "whoa boy" [remember no hand brake and the front left brake was disconnected]

and walked down the 250 metres to the sharp left hand corner at the bottom to check it out and naturally it poured rain as i was walking back up so i had no choice but to winch down.

As i couldn't reverse back up i turned into a fallen tree and in 2 wheel drive the back slid around nicely although the uhf aerial broke off in the branches.

I winched down the 4 stages of the hill and then headed of on the 1 1/2 km to the 600mm deep crossing of the Daintree river. After that it was back into 2 wheel drive and i drove to Cairns for a new brake line then hit the road for Brisbane.

Just after dark i grabbed the spotlights that had broken off the bullbar and welded the bullbar tabs back on so i could have some decent lights. It was funny to see the cars slow down when they saw the welding flashes, they must have thought it was cops!

A few minutes later i was back on the road again for a couple of thousand k's of boring bitumen to get back to the real world.

Life really is tough!

Shane Gerrish