We completed the rest of the 5 Beaches Track and made our way back to Bamaga. When we took the Troopy out of 4WD, Dave noticed that one of the front spring mounts had snapped. Afraid that the other mount would snap too, we crawled to Bamaga and went straight to the wreckers. A new mount was an easy $10 and Dave installed it in about 30 minutes. We then met an inquisitive local named Mark, who worked in one of the aboriginal communities and was interested in hearing about Our Naked Australia.
It was about lunchtime so we lingered around the Bamaga Tavern for a drink and a meal at the northernmost pub in Australia.
To be honest, there isn’t much to see other than the wharf and jetty. Fishermen of various ages were trying their luck with the massive schools of fish hanging about below the surface of the water. One man was even spear fishing.
DC3 Plane Crash Site
On the 5th of May 1945, a DC-3 VH-CXD aircraft that was operated by the RAAF, was flying from Brisbane to Port Moresby to deliver meat to troops. It needed to refuel in Bamaga but due to foggy conditions, it clipped some trees and crashed about 3km short of its target. All on board perished.
If you have a chance to swing past and see this crash site, then definitely do.
This was a great place to camp. It’s right next to the beach, the camping permit is included with the ferry pass, and the sweet scent of fig trees perfumed the breeze. It looked like someone thought it was a great place to live because there was a campsite with a makeshift sink and little garden. Perhaps a recent bushfire had chased the beachside hermit away.
In the morning, we headed straight to the Jardine Ferry, but the ferryman hadn’t turned up yet. It was still early so we hung around for 45 minutes with a bunch of other people waiting for the ferry to open. The guy eventually turned up at 8:15am and got to work straight away.
Old Telegraph Track
Today we would complete the northern portion of the OTT, but because the road was closed from the Jardine River, we had to travel a few clicks before finding the side track in. We checked out Eliot Falls, Twin Falls and Fruit Bat Falls, did a nerve-wrecking water crossing, and headed back to the southern portion of the OTT. The Jardine Ferry ticket included camping at Bertie Creek so that’s where we spent the rest of the afternoon.
After a quick wash in Bertie Creek, we decided to continue down the OTT instead of taking the Gunshot Bypass back to the main road. We usually avoid back tracking but we liked the OTT so much the first time, we were happy to do it again.
After a brief stop at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse to pump up the tyres and stock up on some more water, we went to Moreton Telegraph Station to book our campsite for that night in Iron Range National Park. The lady at the station was really helpful and told us that Telstra customers can get a few bars of reception at Chilli Beach – if we wanted, we could book our site once we checked out the campgrounds.
We took Frenchmans Track into Iron Range National Park, and found the track to be thoroughly unpleasant. It alternated between unavoidable corrugations, soft sand and the occasional creek crossings.
There are two rivers that intersect with Frenchmans – Wenlock Crossing is fairly easy to navigate through but watch out for Pascoe Crossing. It’s steep and rocky and you’ll definitely need a high-clearance 4WD vehicle to get through. Unfortunately, the Troopy got hung up on a rock and while trying to get free, the brake booster blew. Highly inconvenient – Dave had only one shot at guiding the Troopy down the steep rocky path into the river and he did a bloody good job.
The great views that followed the Pascoe Crossing were besmirched by the brake booster busting. And to make matters worse, our water goon bag had bounced around in the back and tore on a bracket holding the curtains in place. We dealt with the goon, ate a banana to cheer us up, and made an effort to appreciate our surroundings before continuing on.
Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park
Once off the Frenchmans Track, we followed the tarmac road through the ranges to suddenly be surrounded by rainforest. We even saw a cassowary hurry off into the bushes! The road alternated between paved and gravel road, and the rain made it easy for Dave to see pot holes. The smell of the forest was wonderful, and we were amazed at how thick the foliage was.
There are two camping areas in Iron Range. The rainforest campsites are nice and shaded right amongst the rainforest, but Cooks Hut is the only site that forbids generators. It’s a large communal clearing with picnic benches and toilets. Chilli Beach is the other camping area. While reception is available on the beach, you can actually pick up a signal from the highroad on the way in. This is where we made our first Queensland campsite booking. The guy on the other end was really friendly, but we still have to wonder whether this micromanagement of parkland campsites is really the way to go.
The sun had set by the time we got to our designated camping spot. Dave was so frazzled from the day that when he opened the back of the Troopy to find that the goon water had leaked all over the bed, he refused to have anything to do with it and sat down to relax.
Juz sorted out the wet sheets and cooked a quick dinner of chicken and broccoli on rice cakes. We both felt a lot better after a meal so we went to the adjacent campsite and met our neighbours. Palm Cove locals, Symon & Robyne were holidaying with their kids and while we were on our way south, they were heading to the Tip. We shared tips, exchanged details, and agreed that it would be good to meet up for a drink once we got to Palm Cove.
Juz crawled out of the Troopy in time to catch the sunrise on Chilli Beach. After 4 days of overcast skies, the sun was finally out. Eventually Dave woke up too and we went for a walk along the beach, picking up shells, spotting beached jellyfish and terrorising coconuts that were still hanging from the tree. We also did the short forest walk behind the campgrounds and spotted lizards and butterflies amongst the undergrowth.
A short drive from Chilli Beach is Portland Roads, a cute little seaside spot with a few holiday houses and the Out of the Blue Café. If you’re in the vicinity, stop by and get some seafood and chips – amazing! We were also lucky enough to walk away with a big soursop fruit from the garden, compliments of the chef.
If you need fuel, go to the local aboriginal community of Lockhart River. It’s only $1.89 for diesel but remember – no photos while in the community. There isn’t much to photograph there anyway.
On the way out of Iron Range, we noticed rising smoke in the distance. A bushfire was slowly burning through the dry scrub, and Juz told Dave to drive faster because the heat was too intense.
Archer River Roadhouse
This was the last stop before the Quarantine checkpoint so we ate the entire soursop fruit for an afternoon snack. Turns out, the quarantine checkpoint was closed anyway, but no matter – the fruit was delicious. It was green and prickly on the outside with white flesh full of big black seeds like watermelon but five times bigger. The flesh is stringy like pineapple or mango, and the flavour is slightly tart/sour.
Back in Coen
We got back to Coen just before dinnertime and had two long-awaited drinks at the SExchange. We spend the night at the Bend again, and it was wonderful to have a wash in the fresh, croc-free water.
We had another morning wash in the river before heading out to Lakefield National Park. It was going to be a short day of driving because of the shot brake booster and poor quality fuel, so after swinging past Lotusbird Lodge, gazing at the flowers at Red Lily Lagoon and spying a kookaburra at White Lily Lagoon, we got to Kalpowar Crossing and relaxed.
Because of the croc-infested river, we had a cold shower in the toilet block and spent the rest of the afternoon reading. Once the sun went down, we noticed that the ground was moving and found tiny little frogs everywhere… as well as big ugly cane toads.
Because we didn’t have a boat for fishing on the river, there was nothing else to do at Kalpowar so we set off early for Cooktown. This would be the final destination of our Cape York adventure, and what was supposed to be a two day stop ended up stretching to 10 days because of an unexpected Helpx invitation.
Overall, we enjoyed our time at Cape York. The two biggest highlights were definitely being at the northern most point of mainland Australia and four-wheel driving along the Old Telegraph Track.