Saturday, July 24, 2004

Cape York 2004


I looked up at the huge ruts in the red clay hill, gazed at the rain softly falling and turning the red clay into the consistency of ice, pointed the 38" swampers up the hill then mashed the accelerator pedal to the firewall...

It was good to be straight into the hard stuff after a couple of thousand kilometers of boring bitumen and both Brent and i were looking forward to driving the CREB track but doing it in the rain at night was not exactly how we had planned it!!

I had picked up Chris who was occupying my passenger seat and we had met up with Brent at Caboolture on the Friday night before beginning the long drive to Cairns where we changed our wheels over and fitted the 38" Super Swampers.

Brent's truck was a cut down 4.5 litre petrol powered Nissan GU patrol wagon with a Wizard Performance 7" suspension lift, five link front end, "A" frame rear end and custon tube tray while mine was a 4.2 litre turbo diesel powered Nissan GU patrol tray back ute with Wizard Performance 7" suspension lift, Radius Arm Drop Brackets on the front end and Adjustable Trailing Arms on the rear end. With the 38" swampers fitted we were looking forward to trying as many of the neglected sections of track as possible and decided to just keep left no matter how bad the track got.

On Sunday morning with swampers fitted we headed north from Cairns to the picturesque little village of Daintree where we took Stuarts Rd out of town and shortly after turned right over a narrow bridge and followed the gravel road which loosely followed the Daintree River until we came to the rusted remains of an old barge which indicates the River crossing at the start of the CREB [Cairns Regional Electricity Board] track, the track which follows the electricity lines north across the rainforest shrouded mountains towards Cooktown.

We paced the bank of the Daintree trying to gauge the safest way across but as the water is incredibly clear it was impossible to tell how deep it is and since no one was going to walk out and test for depth and [crocodiles] we just attached a strap to the rear of my truck in case it got too deep so that Brent could tow me out.

I eased the truck down over the sandy bank and worriedly watched as the bonnet went under but as the rear end came down the bank it leveled out to only 600-700mm deep and with a firm gravelly bottom we had no problems completing the crossing.

Brent joined us on the other side and we followed the very indistinct track as it curved to the left across the paddock and up beside the river until the track became clear as it moved away from the river and turned in to a series of deep bog holes.

I tried to keep on the high ground to the left but the truck started to slip into the bog hole on a very steep side angle so i had to floor it and turn in to the deepest part as it felt like it was about to tip on its side... we just managed to slowly creep out under a shower of mud!!

Brent decided the safest way was to drive straight through the middle and so with his rear Airlocker on and front Detroit locker he just ploughed straight in and almost didn't make it but the swampers managed to claw their way through leaving a huge grin on Brent's face.

Another small mudhole was encountered before we started the long uphill climb out of the valley with the sun keeping the tracks nice and dry in the open spaces between the trees.

Someone had been through and had cleared the track but they must have been in something without a roof or windscreen as we had to chainsaw a few trees off the track to get our trucks through.

Pretty soon we could see where they had turned back and it became obvious that no one had been through since last season as the track was completely overgrown in places and there were numerous trees fallen over the track .

We pushed on stopping every few hundred metres to chainsaw another tree out of the way and then to make matters worse it started to rain so the decision was made to keep going as we didn't want to be stuck in here but still wanted to drive the track.

One section we came to had a very steep climb of wet rutted clay, I looked up at the huge ruts in the red clay hill, gazed at the rain softly falling and turning the red clay into the consistency of ice, pointed the 38" swampers up the hill then mashed the accelerator pedal to the firewall trying to stay on the high points and avoiding the ruts but about halfway up the truck slipped violently sideways into the ruts and slammed me against the door as the wheels hit the other side of the ruts, the diffs were dragging but we kept forward motion up and made it too the top leaving a trail of graded dirt from the diffs.

Brent once again just went straight up the middle and with a fair bit of bucking and bouncing, made it up as well.

Tree clearing had slowed our progress considerably and wet leaves were clogging the snorkel intakes as day turned into night making it hard to see, by this time we had done about 12 k's in 4 hours since starting the track and the red clay hills were really putting up a fight as the swampers could not dig into the hard slippery surface.

We finally got to a point where someone else had got to from the northern end of the track and didn't need the chainsaw anymore as they had cleared the track except for a couple of places where they had made a new track to get around 1.5 -2 metre thick trees across the track.

We started to make some pretty good time with only a couple of extremely steep red clay hills requiring a second go and arrived at our campsite near Roaring Meg Falls about 6 hours or so after we had crossed the river.

Definitely one of the best days driving ever ... awesome fun !!

Next morning we went for a walk down the rough track to the top of the falls and found the wet rocks very slippery and great care had to be taken to get into a good position for photo's, you wouldn't want to slip off here as its a long way down over bare rocks to the bottom and it would be a sudden stop at the end.

We headed back to camp and met the guy from the wet tropics world heritage department who told us the area would be closed off to camping and walking as it was an Aboriginal womans sacred site... another spectacular place going !!

We drove out towards the northern end along a pretty easy road then turned right and headed through Wujal Wujal to Bloomfied Falls to view the small amount of water flowing ... it would be very spectacular in the wet season.

Our next stop northwards was the historic Lions Den Hotel where we stopped for lunch and a chat with the new owners before continuing north to the Black Mountain lookout to marvel at the piles of white coloured boulders covered in a black algea which gives them their spectacular black colour.

The Mt Amos road was taken shortly after and we drove several kilometers until a handmade sign indicated the right hand turn into Trevathan Falls, we followed the narrow winding track to the small parking area then walked the last few metres to one of the best sight on the trip.

Its very hard to capture the full beauty of the falls as they drop through the rainforest canopy to the plunge pool below with a camera as it is so closed in.

Its also very dark as the water continues down the creek over the rounded boulders under the heavy canopy.

The hard climb up through virgin bush to the top of the falls is rewarded with another series of smaller falls continuing upwards and spectacular views down the creeks course and over the valley.

We reluctantly left the falls and headed into Cooktown to refuel before continuing north to Isabella Falls where we set up our camp for the night in the light rain.

Tuesday morning didn't start off too good... We had driven back across the creek crossing to take some video of the falls and as i walked towards the top of the falls i slipped on the brown slime covered rock landing heavily on my butt and slid across the rock slab and straight over the edge of the falls with video in one hand, camera in the other and no idea how far it was to the bottom!!

There was a rock sticking out near the bottom which i used to push off and changed my direction of travel from vertical to horizontal so that when i landed in the water i had enough momentum up to step through the knee deep water back to shore without getting my boots wet and the only damage being the brown slimy patch on the back of my shorts [that was from the brown slimy rocks...honest !]

Naturally being the good mates they are, Brent and Chris laughed there heads off and gave me heaps about the brown stain on the back of my shorts!

A quick change of shorts and we were once again on our way to Old Laura Station, The termites are making a real mess of the place and i doubt it will be long before they fence the place off to prevent anyone gaining access.

We headed in to Lakeland National Park stopping at White Lilly Lagoon before driving through Lakeland Ranger Station and stopping at Red Lilly Lagoon for lunch.

It was still drizzling rain as we drove on to Musgrave station to refuel then once again headed northwards up the main gravel road until just north of Coen where we made camp beside the river and caught up with a bit of washing.

The yabbie pot had looked real promising last night with 8 or 9 medium sized maron inside it and heaps more surrounding it so we were rather disappointed to find only two large ones in the pot, we quickly cooked them up and i must say they were delicious with a taste very like unsalted lobster.

In the meantime Brent had started up his patrol to run the shower and it was making a strange noise which turned out to be two blades broken off his motor fan, he removed the fan and unplugged the air conditioning compressor so he could run both electric fans then we rang up and ordered a new fan blade which was to be sent to Top End Motors at Seisa.

We headed north to Archer River with no sign of overheating and stopped there to refuel the patrols and our bellys with Brents truck using about 25 percent more petrol than my diesel.

Sherrill showed us the Tiapan she had caught on the floor of the shop recently, she had named it "jason" ???

On the road again it was not long before we turned off towards Bamaga and found that the 38's soaked up the corrugations so well that the extremely bad ones were the only ones we even felt... these same corrugations last year had my truck dancing all over the road with the 35's on. I was very impressed.

We called in at the new servo at Bramwell Junction where the old fella there was asking all sorts of questions about our trucks.

Telegraph Track :

Our first crossing was Palm Creek which we found quite shallow, a few family's had set up camp on the other side and they all trooped down to watch us drive through, we drove on to Ducie Creek and took the line straight through the middle section which was about 1.0 metres deep and then took the hard line out before setting up camp on the other side, Brents truck was running hot in the slow going so he cut another blade off the fan to try and balance it a bit better then bolted it back on.

I cooked up a lamb roast in the camp oven to finish off a great day!

Our gear was a bit damp from the morning dew so we didn't leave until about 8.30 and it wasn't long before we crossed South Alice creek which was only about 500mm deep then we continued on to North Alice creek which had a small dropoff over a rock ledge but was only about 100mm deep.

Delhunty River was our next crossing and after taking pics of the small waterfall there we drove across the 400 deep water and decided to have a bit of a play on two of the old exits there.

I entered the left exit and drove through the deep muddy slop between the side banks to the bank at the end but the bullbar just slammed into the bank and i only managed to get the rear wheel to the bottom of the bank before losing traction and as the steep bank prevented getting some momentum up and we had made a rule about stacking or digging to make it easier i had to give up after a couple of goes and moved into the next old exit to try that one.

The middle exit had a big side lean and was full of muddy slop and i had the side rail rubbing along the left bank as i drove up to the end, the front diff was dragging on the high centre of the end bank and after a few different lines were taken i had to give up on that one as well and backed out to give Brent his turn.

Brent tried the middle exit without any better luck than me and as he was reversing out the side lean pushed his left mirror into the bank and shattered the glass, he turned his attention to the left exit and had a couple of good goes at it but ended up filling up his winch slot with the white sandy clay just the same as mine.

We then took the right hand exit and drove on to Bertie Creek to wash the mud out of the brakes in the 400mm deep water.

There are some very deep holes in the rocky bed of the creek but there is a couple of places you can cross to dodge them.

Our next interesting section was Chalmondeley Creek which at 450mm was an easy crossing and we continued on until we came across an almost complete telegraph pole complete with guy wires, cross braces and everything except the insulators, naturally we had to stop and take pics of this very rare sight.

The next crossing was the one we were looking forward to the most...Gunshot Creek, the most infamous crossing of all!

We parked at the top of the crossing and got out to check out all the options, the old exit was a deep hole "almost" as wide as my truck and about twice as deep as the patrol is high with a bottom full of deep mud and the climb out almost vertical, beside that is the current exit which has been cut into the bank at a shallow angle with one side a straight up wall and the other side a straight drop over the side into deep mud pit.

The track surface was not level either but sloped towards the mud pit and had no edge to keep your wheels on it, I eased the patrol down the new exit with the left tyre hitting the wall and the right tyre running along the edge [i was running 38"tyres on 10"rims so its a fair bit wider than stock! ]

When i reached the bottom i turned sharp right and lined up to enter the old exit, i eased the truck into the slop with each side rail scraping the bank on each side and leaving deep impressions in the walls.

The front of the patrol finally forced its way the the near vertical exit but then as it tried to climb, the rails were gouging the dirt from the vertical walls and it took several tries to force their way clear, the walls were now about 150mm wider apart and i could start to climb the track.

I dropped the front wheels back down to the bottom, revved it up and with both lockers engaged i tried to punch it up with no luck, i kept trying and got higher and higher with each try until the chassis was hitting the ground on top of the bank, the front wheels were waving uselessly in mid air and the rear wheels were spinning uselessly part way up the bank.

I couldn't change line as the truck was running on the rails anyway and turning the wheels left and right made no difference, i was trying different gears and different revs but nothing seemed to work and had to give up....damn i really wanted to conquer that climb!!

When i reversed out i had lost the paint off the side rails, bullbar, rear bar, rollbar, rear support bar and even the roofrack!!

I decided to drive back up the top via the new exit and drive down the old exit but as i drove up with tyres full of mud and clay it started spinning and was about to slide off the side until i quickly let it roll back to the bottom, i tried again with the lockers in but it did the same thing so i tried it with a fair bit of revs and the back left wheel slid over the edge and i was stuck there.

as soon as i tried to go forward the rear slid further over the edge so i reversed over the edge until i was in the mud pit on an extreme angle and was thoroughly bogged.

I tried revving it up and moving forwards then backwards until i got enough movement up to finally get out and parked out of the way to repair the damage to the track.

Brent decided to try another track on the far side of the new exit and dropped down over the rock face with no worries and drove through the mud at the bottom easily until Chris said he missed the photo... Brent reversed back up but the truck sunk immediately and as soon as he tried to move it got worse.

I moved my truck into position so he could use it as a winch point and he winched out then lined up "just to take a photo" but he couldn't help himself and had to have a go, he didn't make it either but did manage to put some deep scratches in his door and guard as well as lose paint of siderails and tray.

We did a bit of digging of the track to stop people sliding off the side and helped one guy to get his ute up the new exit, the digging we did stopped him from sliding off the edge but he still had to be winched up by the next bloke that came along.

We drove on too Cockatoo Creek and checked our line on foot before heading across as it was about 700mm deep in places, if you were worried about the depth you could pick a path through which would be a couple of hundred mm shallower.

We crossed and hung around to watch a few others go through before heading off to the end of the southern telegraph track then drove up the main road until the turn off to the northern part of the telegraph track then immediately took the right hand turn to Fruit Bat Falls for a look.

There is no camping allowed at Fruit Bat Falls and we headed off to the crossing of Scrubby Creek where we decided to take the hard line up the steep bank to the left.

There is a deep hole in the right hand wheel track at the bottom of the bank so i carefully nosed the front wheels through the hole before punching it up the bank with the front left wheel leaving the ground for most of the way up, i also left a bit of red paint on the right hand wall of the climb.

Brent lined up for his go and put on an magnificent display of three wheel driving while kangaroo hopping up the bank... he lost some paint off the roof of his truck on the wall because of the extreme side angle he was on as he drove up...totally awesome display!!

We collected some wood and drove on to the campsite at Twin Falls/Eliot Falls where we quickly set up camp and raced down to twin falls to soak away the dirt and dust...pure luxury!!

Twin falls is on Canal Creek and is a few degrees warmer than Eliot Creek so standing under the falls letting the water massage your shoulders is great way to unwind after a long hard days driving, its pretty hard to beat!

A lack of overnight dew meant we could pack up and be on our way fairly early but Brent had a flat tyre due to mud in the bead, he broke the bead and removed the mud before we headed off but only made it as far as the Canal Creek crossing before we were halted by the sight of a dual cab hilux with trailer stuck in deep water .

Brent winched him out and we reversed back and took the hard line up the right hand side over the rocks then up through a boggy rut to the top where we rejoined the main track and continued on to Sam Creek.

The water was about 450mm deep and we took some pics with the wheels up the bank showing off the suspension travel then drove on to Mistake Creek where we had no trouble crossing the 400mm deep water.

We arrived at Cannibal Creek to find a GU patrol with a large trailer stuck part way up the exit. Ron was halfway around a steep uphill corner when he ran out of wheel travel and his trailer prevented him from reversing back down and he couldn't go straight ahead as he was close to a very deep rut.

Brent and Chris hooked Ron's winch up to a tree using one of our tree protectors then he winched himself clear and left room for us to pass.

We both drove up and round the corner easily then drove on to the hairy looking log bridge at Cypress Creek

We lined up on the 2 decent logs and slowly crossed over by which time Ron had arrived so Brent guided him across before we drove off, we then waited while Ron got clear of the jump up over a tree root before driving on to Logan Creek where we took time out to get some pics driving through making a big splash in the 400mm deep water.

We drove on again crossing some muddy swamp water before arriving at Nolans Brook, the crossing where i had drowned my GQ wagon in 2001.

This time the crossing was virtually flat with about 500mm of water in it so we drove it easily and stopped on the other side for lunch while i broke the bead of my left front tyre to remove some mud from the bead area .

After lunch we drove through some more swampy tracks before making a left hand turn and crossing over to the Bypass track to get to the ferry crossing at the Jardine River.

We paid our 88 bucks to cross the ferry and drove up the corrugated road to Umagio where we turned right on the tar road and headed to Top End Motors at Seisa to pick up Brent's new fan blade.

We took the back way out towards "the tip" and joined up with the main track a short while later then pulled up at the souvenir shop for a spending spree.

Time was a bit against us so we quickly drove out to the old campground at Pajinka and walked the 750 metres or so out to the tip in time to get some photos before the sun went down.

We realized that it had taken us exactly a week to get here from Brisbane and had done it with minimal dramas especially since we had taken every hard track or disused crossing we could find and only 3 sections had defeated us.

We took a few sunset shots and walked back via the abandoned Pajinka resort in the fading light and found the Army had moved in to clean it up after the "locals" had walked out leaving everything behind, it sure has gone downhill since the government bought it for them a few years ago!

We fumbled our way back to the trucks in the growing darkness and set up camp, we had the place to ourselves except for the mosquito's.

While waiting for our gear to dry off the dampness the next morning we had a look around the deserted campground buildings at the mess left behind then drove up to the campground at Somerset.

Walking west along the beach and over the rocks for a few hundred metres brought us to a cave with lots of aboriginal painting on the walls with one supposedly of the master of Somerset, Frank Jardine, whipping one of the locals. There is a story going round that because Frank Jardine was a man who wouldn't lay down for anyone they buried him standing up looking out over the ocean but the aborigines hated him so much they snuck in that night, dug him up and turned him upside down !!!

We climbed the cliff and walked back along the cliff top through the tangled undergrowth until we stumbled across a gun emplacement carved into the rock and overlooking the western end of the beach.

We descended the cliff and had a look at the Jardine Family Graves noticing that a couple of the plaques had gone missing ! That's got to be one of the lowest acts possible.

We drove up to the site of the old Somerset Homestead and had a look at the cannons, old outbuilding and an old winch, not much else is left on the site.

We followed the track to the eastern beach at fly point where i broke the UHF aerial off when it got caught in the fork of a low branch...funny thing is it worked better after that !

We headed south along the beach track keeping a watch out for the "impossible to get through" section we had been warned about but must have missed it as we didn't spin a wheel all the way through, these eastern beaches sure get a lot of junk washed up on them and we had to thread our way through each time the track dropped down onto the beach itself.

After the track headed inland again we drove back to the souvenir shop for a more leisurely look around and then some shopping at Bamaga before heading to the airport area to have a look at three of the old plane wrecks then drove across to the western side of the cape to check out the old radar tower at Muttee Heads.

We continued westwards to the mouth of the Jardine River for a look then turned around and headed to the old vehicular crossing of the Jardine and made camp at the old Linesman's Hut at the telegraph line crossing and caught up on some washing.

We had to wait a few hours next morning while our washing finished drying so we just lounged around with our chairs in the shade watching the crystal clear waters of the Jardine flow gently past.

Our gear finally dried so we drove the few kilometers down to the Ferry and refueled the trucks on the other side before heading south on the main road to the track which leads back across to the the telegraph line then turning north and driving up through the Jardine swamps to the old vehicular crossing.

We drove out into the river to take some photos then drove back to where the telegraph line crossed where chris did some fishing after he spotted some sizeable fish.

Brent and i were speculating if we could drive across here if the water got low enough late in the dry when we noticed the foundations of the old world war two bridge had been uncovered not far out from the southern bank and as usual you could see the foundations in the middle of the river but it looks more like an island with some growth anchored within the framework.

Reluctantly we pointed out trucks south and drove back down the telegraph track until we reached Mistake creek where we decided to have a try at the old exit which turned out to be a mistake.

The old exit heads off to the left and is made up of white sandy clay with a bog hole in the left wheel track just before a steep hill of very loose white material, i tried to skirt around the right hand side with a fair bit of pace but as the back wheels hit the bog hole it pivoted the truck and slammed the wheels into the wall and filled the beads with dirt, i had a few more goes without success and moved out of the way for Brent to have a go.

Brent tried all the same lines and some even faster but had no luck either so we quickly drove back through Sam and Canal creeks to the campground at Eliot/Twin Falls before the two left tyres went completely flat.

We broke the beads and cleaned out the dirt then headed down to Twin Falls for a swim.

We walked over to Eliot Falls and i showed Brent where to walk under the falls without getting swept into the deadly hole near the upwards end while Chris videoed us disappearing under the water and reappearing again.

A light sprinkle of rain next morning convinced us to get out of the swags and break camp then we decided to brave the southern bypass road and head to Captain Billys Landing.

We found the track out from the bypass road had been graded and the old shed near the concrete causeway was flattened, when we arrived at Captain Billys Landing we found the famous old big shed had been demolished .

A new shelter has been built which doesn't afford much shelter from the prevailing winds and with two wooden table and seats in the shelter there is no room in there to get out of the weather either but on the bright side there is a toilet there now.

I walked up to the rainforest covered headland where some old campsites were and even though it was blowing a gale down at the shelter there was only a gentle breeze filtering through the trees, pity they stopped people camping up there.

The ranger showed as a dead and slightly dehydrated crocodile that he had found so we placed it on the "warning, crocodiles inhabit these waters" sign for a bit of a lark.

The tide was on its way out so i waded out to the cliffs and poked around in the caves there and took some pics then we headed back out to the bypass track and turned south.

When we reached Batavia station we turned right and drove through the shortcut to the Weipa road wondering if we were supposed to be there as all the signs near the turn off were gone, the road had recently been graded as it was an easy run all the way back to Weipa except for the last 40km's which were very rough.

We made camp at the campground and decided to stay a couple of days and catch up on our washing, the sunset over the ocean ended another good day.

I had a bad wobble in the steering at about 50 to 80 kmh so we chased around until we found a panhard rod bush in a kit but when we pulled it apart there was nothing wrong with it so we checked wheel bearings, king pin bearings and everything else we could think of and found everything o.k. We eventually came to the conclusion that i must have knocked some weights off the wheels on one of our play sessions.

Chris and Brent bought some fishing gear and went fishing but had no luck so we treated ourselves to some store cooked fish instead that night.

It was Wednesday and we were due back in Cairns on Friday so we pointed the trucks south and headed straight down the main road until we hit some rain and decided to camp in the Bunkhouse at the Lions Den Hotel.

It was still raining the next morning so we gave the CREB track a miss and drove down through the Daintree track back to Cairns.

Brent's dad was crook and he wanted to be with him so he decided to head back to Brisbane early so Chris cancelled his plane ticket and kept him company on the long drive home.

I still had a couple of weeks holidays left so i headed back north again on a whole new adventure............


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