Sunday, July 25, 2004

Maytown to Cape Melville 2004

Maytown to Cape Melville 2004

My parents had been to the tip of Cape York a few times but had never explored the bottom section of the Cape, they were keen to have a look around some of the less travelled areas.

They were on holidays at Mareeba in their caravan but had the rooftop tent and all the necessary gear packed into their GQ patrol so it was just a matter of locking up the caravan and they were ready to go, I had just returned from a trip to the top of Cape York in My GU Ute and had restocked the food box and had nothing to repair so i was also ready to go.

We headed north towards the Mount Carbine Roadhouse and fuelled up then took the unsigned dirt track on the left about 10 kms before the Palmer River roadhouse.

The track had recently been graded and it was an easy run, not unlike a roller coaster ride, for about 65 kms to the crossing of the Palmer River.

After crossing the 500 mm deep water we had lunch under the shade of a tree on the grassy bank on the other side.

There is some nice areas for camping along either side of the river in this area.

After lunch we drove to the old ruins of the Queen Mill and had a poke around the slowly rusting machinery then Headed over to the site of the the Maytown township.

The Maytown historical society has placed informative plaques on either side of the old main street showing what businesses used to be there, the main street itself is quite interesting as the gutters were made of stone slabs.

There is not much in the way of buildings left but a replica shack has a lot of small items stored in it and a visitors book.

The old crossing of the Palmer just below town was very rough as a few of the larger boulders had moved in the previous floods and a bit of rock stacking and dodging was required to get Dads 2” lifted GQ across to the other side with a bent mudflap the only damage.

we set up camp on the grassy banks in a little flat area, the flood line several metres above us yielded plenty of firewood and showed just how high this river can get !

Next morning dad removed the front mudflaps to prevent damaging them and we crossed back over to the northern side and stopped and talked to a couple of campers there, they advised us that the old coach road to Laura was impassable but we decided to give it a go anyway, in the meantime there was a lot of other stuff to see in the area.

Not far from the river is the site of the old hospital and the cemetery and we had a look at these then moved on to the charcoal burners which entailed a bit of a walk to look at the mound shaped ovens.

We then drove on to the Ida mine site for a look at the old battery then continued on to the restored Comet Mill and had a poke around the workings before taking a look at the nearby King Range mine.

Next site was the Louisa mine which has a tunnel under the road, a large battery, steam boiler and lots of other gear spread around and quite a bit of time was spent there.

We finally dragged ourselves away and headed over to the Chinese cemetery which consisted mainly of a few small rock mounds.

Time was getting late so we drove down to the old Chinese Alluvial workings and vegetable gardens and made camp on the grassy river flats of the Nth Palmer river where we had an enjoyable night around the campfire talking to the old fellas from the next camp, heard lots of fascinating stories about life around the Cooktown and Cape York areas.

A very heavy dew next morning delayed us until about 10.30 so we had time to take a swim and have a bit of a wander around and found an old Chinese oven built into the bank next to the entrance road.

Dad had removed the rear seats before his trip up north to fit a shelving unit and one of the bolts was too long and had rubbed through the top of the auxiliary tank so we placed some thick rubber on top of the tank and screwed the bolt back in to block the hole temporarily until the tank could be removed for a permanent repair.

Our gear finally dried so we followed the road up river and crossed the Nth Palmer River then immediately turned up the hill on the old Dray track which takes a very steep line up the ridges to meet up with the old Coach road on top of the range, we turned left and followed the track until it eventually dropped down on a very rough section past a dam on the right to the Valley floor.

There is a lot of work going on in the area so we crossed to the other side of the valley then veered slightly left before turning up a ridge track on the right.

We followed the track as it wound its way up and down the hills until we came to the turn off to the old Feddlers Hotel site where we turned left and followed the track to the remains and stopped for a good look around.

We continued on up the track getting rougher all the time as it climbed up a series of rock steps up the side of a steep hill and as we neared the top of the range we came to a section that had been hand cut out of the solid sandstone with a huge ledge at the bottom varying from about 500mm to 1200 mm high.

I eased the front of the Ute up the ledge on the far left and punched it up but the rear wheels skipped sideways and the trailing arms slammed into the ledge, i reversed back through the deepest section and tried the same line again with a lot more right peddle and managed to pop the rear wheels straight up and over the ledge.

Dad took the bypass track to the left and scrambled up and round the worst section and we continued on to the top of the hill where we turned left and drove the short distance out to the Robert Logan Jack Memorial for our lunch stop.

After taking in the views over lunch we backtracked to the intersection and continued on across the plateau then followed the edge for a while before starting a shallow descent winding its way down some rough and rutted sections to the sandy flats before a flat run to the river crossing at Laura where we made camp.

We refuelled at Laura and headed out to Old Laura to have a look around the old homestead,

the termites are really getting stuck into the place.

We drove out to Kalpower crossing where i crossed the crossing and got out to video mum and dad crossing over, as i turned around a 4 foot croc scrambled into the water beside me and disappeared into about 1 foot of clear water !!

We could see where it had stopped moving but could see no sign of it at all until it eventually made a break for deep water, damn those things are well camouflaged.

The track continued on past Kalpower homestead and we had an easy run to the Cape Melville turn off then turned right for Barramundi creek where we stopped for lunch,

We then backtracked to the main track again and continued on towards Bathurst heads.

The track started to get into some boggy sections and after about 15 kms we came across a couple in a troopy who had spent the last hour trying to hand winch about 5 metres and were extremely happy to see us pull up.

I quickly snatched them out and they told us they had spent 4 hours the previous day winching themselves out of the next bog along and had decided to turn back when a couple of bike riders told them the track got worse and worse for the next 30 kms.

Somehow i don't think mum and dads idea of a good holiday is spending a few days battling mud bogs so we turned back and headed towards Cape Melville instead.

We carefully crossed the 1 metre deep Barramundi creek and continued on to Sandalwood creek, when we got out to check the crossing we found very fresh croc tracks and made sure we stayed well clear of the waters edge.

We slowly crossed the 500mm deep water with no problems via the side track and drove on to the small billabong with the grave of a young bloke beside it.

We crossed the small creek at the end and as i tried to stay on the high points of the ruts on the exit i slipped sideways off the edge and the left wheels promptly sank creating a 38"deep gutter.

The lockers and 38" super swampers were no help as the diff housings were firmly planted on solid ground so i winched forward a metre and when the front left hit dry ground i drove out easily.

Dad stayed in the ruts and drove straight through without even slipping a 31"desert dueler, doh!!

We encountered a few small bogs on the rest of the track out to Wakooka but had no more troubles .

We found a large sign at the old Wakooka outstation saying "no camping by order of the traditional owners", maybe the old airfield, dam or tractor has some sort of cultural significance !!

It was getting near sunset so we a beeline to Ninian Bay, the track was overgrown but another vehicle had cleared the way recently so we had no troubles along the way and made camp in the shelter out there.

We made a few repairs to the roof to stop it flapping in the breeze and settled down for a peaceful night.

The shelter had apparently been made by the government for the Traditional Owners but was abandoned so a new 20 km long access track was made to enable year round access but is now overgrown from lack of use.

The old track to the freshwater point was washed away and completely overgrown so we made a new track to collect some water and hooked up my shower to the shower shed then repaired the dunny and settled down for a couple of relaxing days.

We pigged out on fresh oysters and tried a bit of fishing and even found some abandoned crab pots at low tide.

It really is an idyllic place and we didn't want to leave but our batteries were in need of charging so we packed up and headed for Cape Melville.

The drive up was relatively easy with few muddy sections and as the track had been dozed a couple of years ago we made good time to the beach on Bathurst Bay.

We headed inland and filled up with fresh water then headed east up the beach to the plane wreck a few kms from the end of the beach, it was low tide so we were able to walk out about 20 metres and inspect the two radial motors and remains of the airframe.

We continued on up the beach to the very end and met up with Dennis and Serena again who we had met back at Barramundi creek, it was a bit windy so we made camp tucked in between some huge boulders hard up against the mountain which was quite fortunate as the wind increased markedly over the next couple of days.

There was a Burnt out Landcruiser ute parked nearby and apparently it had caught fire while some refueling was happening and the bloke had lost his whole camp and got badly burnt then had to endure a 5 hour trip back out to meet the ambulance.

I walked about a kilometer along the boulder strewn shore line and stumbled upon a cave with a fresh water spring in it and a couple of huge "W" 's painted on the rocks so the boats can see it, the walk back at high tide was a mad scramble up and over all the huge boulders lining the shore.

Today was dads birthday so we had a big breakfast and as the tide was on its way out we walked around to the water spring then decided to keep going and see if we could walk to the point of cape Melville but after a couple of hours we were still walking into one cove after another with no sign of an actual point.

Mum and dad turned back but i decided to go "just around the next cove" and after another hour or so i finally gave up and turned back as i didn't want to "rock hop" again as it was way too much hard work, i arrived back to the beach just in time to take some pics of the spectacular sunset.

Mum had cooked up a lamb roast for Dads birthday, awesome !

Dennis and Serena joined us around the campfire for a few drinks and we had a very pleasant evening.

The wind was really howling and even though we were well protected we had a restless night, so much so that Dennis and Serena had enough and packed up early the next morning and said there goodbyes before we had breakfast.

The wind was still howling as we packed up and we drove about 2 kms back down the beach to the turn off to the Memorial and parked at the fence at the end of the track.

we walked to the base of the mountain and veered right to follow an indistinct track to the Memorial.

We then left Bathurst Bay behind and drove back to Wakooka outstation where we had lunch then took the Starke track through to the Jeanie River, we crossed the 300 deep water and continued on to the Starke river and made camp there, the "Rattle Bush" has taken over the flats and there is only one small area cleared enough to camp in.

I set up the shower and we all felt much better after washing cape Melville's salt and dust away.

The next morning we packed up and drove down to the river to collect some water, dad reversed into a rock ledge and was not impressed as he did a bit of damage to the quarter panel.

We once again headed down the track and a short time later i disturbed about a dozen wild pigs in a dry creek bed, it was like a keystone kops scene with little piglets running round in circles crashing into each other before finally getting onto the trail of their fast disappearing parents.

The track started to get into lots of boggy section and we could see where a lot of people had recently had troubles but we managed to get through with no dramas.

We passed Starke Station which the govt had purchased for the traditional owners and refurbished a couple of years ago, sadly it was all overgrown and deserted again with the "rattle bush" once again claiming the home paddock.

We passed the old overgrown date palm plantation and a short time later turned left for Cape Flattery.

It was an interesting drive through a small patch of rainforest, swamp bogs up to a metre deep and soft sandy tracks to reach the beach where we turned left and dodged our way through the flotsam and jetsam along the beach until we reached the jetty.

I had heard about a tunnel you have to drive through to get under the conveyor and we set about looking for it with no success for a while, eventually i found a washed away track and punched up and over the sand wall and followed the track until i came to a 2.4 metre x 2.4 metre concrete tunnel.

I called up dad on the uhf to let them know and proceeded to drive very slowly into the tunnel with the roof rack lightly scraping the ceiling and only about 50mm clearance on either side of my ute, nearing the end the roofrack started to scrape harshly but the suspension squashed a bit and i managed to pop out the end.

Once dad had driven though ok we drove up to a lookout and looked over the silica mine site with the huge long conveyor snaking out to the jetty and a couple of large ships over in the next bay.

We drove on down the track until we found a north facing beach with several sheltered camp sites, not a bad spot if you cleaned up the few bits of rubbish left behind.

Most of the sites had a small hole dug into the sand at the back of the clearing containing fresh water but i would be bringing my own drinking water if we were camping there.

We didn't see any signs indicating who to contact about camping there [possibly Hopevale community] but we had heard you needed permits so we retraced our tracks and headed back the way we had come.

Dad couldn't make it up the big soft sand hill leading off the beach and we decided it would be quicker to snatch him up than let the tyres down and a minute later we were on our way again back out to the Starke track where we turned left and drove on to Isabella Falls where we made camp for the night.

Next morning we drove into Cooktown and refueled before visiting the cemetery and then heading out to Trevevathan Falls where we marveled at this peaceful and unspoilt little spot tucked away beneath a rainforest canopy.

We joined the road again and decided to keep going to see where it led and inspected some very suspect looking billabongs along the way before we started climbing a very steep hill, dad lost traction trying to get up the very steep track which may have led to private property so we reversed back down and turned back for the main road then turned left and drove down to the Famous Lions Den Hotel and set up camp on the river flats there.

It rained overnight so the CREB track was not looking possible but by the time we got to the turn off it was dry and we decided to give it a try, another couple joined us and asked if he could tag along in his double diff locked cruiser ute and we all headed off up the hill.

The track was mostly dry with the occasional muddy section beside a creek so it looked like there had been no rain but as we got to the Roaring Meg turn off it started to rain.

The others decided they wanted to keep going so i led the way along very recently bulldozed tracks past the last of the properties and started to get into the slippery and now loose red clay tracks.

I just managed to claw my way to the top of the first long steep hill and watched as dad had trouble even getting to the bottom of the hill, he had a couple of goes but the desert duelers did not have a chance against this sticky red clay loosened up by the bulldozer. Even my super swampers were now looking more like racing slicks so we could see the risk of panel and track damage was far too great and turned back.

The track was only one lane wide at this point with a long steep drop over the side so i just nosed the bullbar into the bank and gave the throttle a quick blip which gracefully slid the truck round and i slowly eased back down the hill keeping next to the bank and was surprised that the truck just walked on down without doing a slippery slide impersonation.

We heard later that the dozer was sent in to fix the track so a new pole could be transported in to replace one lost in a landslide less than a fortnight before [i had driven the track a fortnight before] about 10kms from the southern end.

We made our way back out to the main road and turned right for Bloomfield Falls but just before we arrived we met up with some friends, John in the 80 series, and Michael and Lance in the hilux who were just on there way up the Cape so we stopped for a few hours to talk about where we had been and what the tracks were like etc.

We said our goodbyes and Dad and i headed to Bloomfield Falls for a look before continuing on down the Daintree track to make camp at Daintree Village.

The next morning a very thick and wet fog enveloped the campsite and it took until midday to dry everything out then i said my goodbyes to Mum and Dad and headed back to TJM Cairns to change back to the road tyres, connect up the trailer we had stored there thanks to Brent being a mate of Tony's, and hit the boring bitumen back to Brisbane.

I'm sure Mum and Dad enjoyed seeing a bit more of the remoter sections of Cape York and i sure Enjoyed showing them round... In reality, any excuse to holiday in this part of the world is fine by me !!

Shane Gerrish

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