First off a big thanks to Nick for collating and posting a few of our pics up to Atherton Tablelands, and then the one pic of me at the Tip of Cape York. It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, but now we are back…..for a few weeks, I will post a bit of a story, and a few more pics of our 4 weeks exploring Cape York from Cooktown to the Tip and back.
After coming to grief at Cape Tribulation in 1770, Captain Cook guided the wounded Endeavour to Cooktown for proper repairs that took 47 days. A memorial exist on the foreshore of the estuary, and the setting of Cooktown can be seen from the lookout above the town.
From Cooktown we spent 3 days exploring Lakefield NP, with an interesting stop at the well preserved remains of an early cattle station (1880’s), a lovely camp at Kalpowar Crossing, and two interesting 4wd tracks on our way back to the Peninsular Development Road (PDR – the main road north). From there we headed out to the mining and fishing centre of Weipa. It has a massive surface bauxite mine (Rio Tinto), with the mined ore shipped to Gladstone for refining to aluminium. From our point of view it was the last place for good shopping! Amongst other short drives, we crossed the causeway (with a mine train) and drove 80km up to the aboriginal settlement of Mapoon, because it was here that the first landing and meeting with indigenous clans took place with the Dutch in 1602!!!!! The memorial records the event in detail, and the entry has 6 boulders flanking it representing the 6 clans in the area at the time.
Back on the very wide but very corrugated PDR we continued north to Bramwell Cattle Station for a night of hospitality and rest. We then left the Tvan for the day and crossed the southern section of the Old Telegraph Track, built in the 1880’s to service the line (about 80km). It was slow going with very demanding 4wd conditions. Although the water crossings were shallow, this track gets no maintenance and much traffic because of its iconic nature, so creek entry and exits were very steep, In addition it was deeply rutted due to the traffic volume…….but it was FUN – FUN – FUN for me but nerve racking for Denni. One reward was a cleansing dip at Fruit Bat Falls, before the return drive to Bramwell, where some of the “unsuccessful” adventurers has left a memento of their “broken” vehicles.
Back on the PDR north and we took a diversion out to the east coast to Captain Billy Landing for 2 nights. The remains of the cattle wharf exist. It was built to ship local cattle to Weipa and Bamaga to supply local needs, but the venture failed, and it is now a remote but lovely camp in a NP. Being on the east coast, it is buffeted by the strong SE trade winds, but we enjoyed our stay there. Back on the PDR and up more rough, corrugated track to cross the Jardine River by a 100m, 5 min, $130 ride…..the only safe way across of course!
From here it is only 40km to Bamaga, and another 35km to the Tip. But let’s not rush, so we stayed at an indigenous mission named Umagico, near Bamaga, for 4 nights. It was quiet, shaded, spacious, cheap, right on the beach, and relaxing. We got to know a couple of the indigenous Torres Straight Islanders as they are gentle, friendly, relaxed people. They were going free diving for crays during the day, and asked if we wanted any……hullo…….2 please, and cooked please! There was a large croc and a shark cruising around about 30m from shore, but the boys weren’t worried because it wasn’t breeding season. Better you than me mate! So the result is below.
We also took a full day trip to Thursday and Horn Islands from nearby Seisia wharf. The remains of a full army barracks (Victoria) are well preserved as are the three 6inch guns and the underground ammunition shelters. After all, PNG is only 130kms north, and that wasn’t far in WW2. We visited the local cemetery where there is a memorial to the 700 Japanese pearl divers lost in their pursuit of pearls and shell. Most of the actual graves are unmarked. Interesting to note that nearby Horn Island was the second most bombed place in Australia after Darwin, but Thursday Island left untouched even though it had a strong military presence, maybe because of the Japanese divers buried there???
The short ferry over to Horn Island revealed an amazing WW2 connection, remembered in a comprehensive Museum display, backed up by the airfield that housed fighter support for the heavy American bombers based at Gordon Air Force base at Lockhart River we will visit on the return leg. We saw remnants of crashed planes, defensive foxholes, anti-aircraft emplacements, and thousands of rusting 44 gallon drums that once carried aircraft fuel. Just blows you away……we were told nothing of this at school.
From Umagico, we travelled north to the resort camp of Punsand Bay on an idyllic beach in sight of the TIP of Australia. But as usual no swimming because of crocs and sharks close to shore……but they did have a pool, and a bar, and a large alfresco eating area all of which we frequented. From here we did several day trips uncovering more of our history and geography.
On our return trip we diverted to complete the 45km northern section of the OTT, which was probably more technically challenging from a 4wd point of view than the southern section. It was more FUN – FUN – FUN for me, and Denni now appreciated that what we were doing was adventurous rather than foolhardy, so she also enjoyed the adventure.
We took another diversion to well-known Chilli Beach on the east coast through some magnificent remnant tropical rainforest. The camp was great, but the wind, then rain unsettling. It was from here however that we visited the Gordon Air Force Base at Lockhart River, another major aboriginal settlement now. There were 5000 American personnel there in WW2 supporting squadrons of heavy (B52), medium, and light bombers. There main objective was to bomb Japanese positions, especially Rebaul, with fighter cover from Horn Island on the way. We were gobsmacked!
On our way back down the PDR again and we stopped at Laura to visit the Split Rock aboriginal art dating 12-20,000 years ago. We also took a guided tour to the guide only sites of world renowned Quinkin aboriginal rock art, now confirmed to date back 34,000 years. We are so young and innocent!
We were destined to be home 7 days later, but did indulge ourselves with a favourite place, Porcupine Gorge, near Hughenden, in the NP for an overnight camp, campfire, and time to reminisce our wonderful adventure
Until next time, travel safe and enjoy this wonderful country.