Living full time on the road is not always as ideal and beautiful as it looks in the pictures you see in the social media. This lifestyle is not very different from a normal life and therefore it comes with its down times. Living on the road means living on top of each other 24/7. This fact alone in the long run can cause unrest.
you feel the urge for having a base away from the vehicle and so after our extensive stay in the outback – and don’t get us wrong, we enjoyed every minute of it – entering Cairns seemed like an essential return to civilization. This city depends on tourism for survival and for many it marks the end of a long journey up the east coast, although for others like us, the beginning of an Aussie 4wd adventure up to the Cape. The story goes that Cairns soul has been sold to tourism and while bars, clubs and eateries target to your tourist dollars, locals still welcome you with a smile, while the hospitality they provide justifies an international destination.
Here and almost after four months of constant living in our vehicle, we felt the need of getting an Airbnb and settle in for a couple of days, while we had some work done on Voukefalas. We also took this opportunity of having extra space to spread out and unload our poor vehicle from all that weight in order to give him a good wash internally, scrubbing off all the red dust that had become part of his interior. As for what we did and saw in Cairns… oh well…. except a drive on the meticulously maintained Boardwalk, Esplanade and Lagoon on the waterfront area, nothing else really, as the rainy weather gave us an extra reason (not that we needed one) to stay indoors and enjoy our temporary home. Rochelle, without wasting any time, got back to her favourite thing to do (besides shopping), watching TV no matter what was on.
She even has a word for it, “Spacing out”, while I caught up with our blog, since I had fallen back in documenting our online diaries. That didn’t last too long. Four days later and with our home/base fix ticked off, we were back on the road, with direction north along the coast, where highways hug scenic sections of the shoreline all the way to Port Douglas. Along the way we stopped in Palm Cove, a destination on its own, with a beautiful promenade, a gorgeous stretch of white-sand beach and sprinkling fancy restaurants. Here we had a mini overlanders meeting with Ann & Bob Finch, who we met in Buenos Aires, as well as Rob & Clary, the Double Dutch, who were in South America at the same time as us but somehow we had never crossed paths. What a treat that was!!! That night we camped a bit further down, in little Ellis Beach that is nothing more than a long sheltered bay, with a palm-fringed swimming beach, a stinger net and the highway running straight through it.
Joining forces with the Finches (Ann & Bob), we reached Port Douglas, a town that has establish itself as a sophisticated alternative to Cairns. The town’s main attraction is Four Mile Beach, a pristine strip of palm-fringed white sand, which begins at the eastern end of the main drag for shopping, wining and dining. We really enjoyed Port Douglas and although the next day we moved on, we added it to the places to revisit on the way back south. Leaving Port Douglas and with Ann and Bob as our guides (they are originally from Queensland) we reached Daintree River’s vehicular ferry.
The Daintree area, that extends across the river as stated on the sign that welcomes you: “…represents many things besides just a river. It is a World Heritage rainforest, a reef, a village and the home of its traditional custodians, the Kuku Yalanji people. It encompasses the coastal lowland area between the Daintree and Bloomfield Rivers, where the rainforest meets the coast. It’s a fragile, ancient ecosystem, once threatened by logging but now protected as a national park.” From here, the protected area stretches up to Cape Tribulation, passing by white-sand beaches infected with marine stingers (October to May) and saltwater crocodiles (year-round) that should be taken seriously under consideration. This paradise has a frontier feel to it with creek crossings and croc warnings at almost every beach. As true-adventure-seekers, we didn’t stop here. We headed onwards via the 4WD Bloomfield Track to Cooktown.
This legendary track traverses creek crossings, steep climbs and patchy surfaces. We had read that “It can be impassable for weeks on end during the Wet, and even in the Dry you should check road conditions, as creek crossings are affected by tide times” so we were skeptic about it. Ann and Bob assured us that it is doable, so we took their word and headed straight for it.
Proof to us over and over again that it is usually those unexpected routes that stand out more. And yes, that was for sure one of them, a truly magical experience!!! Further north, the Bloomfield Track meets the highway that leads you into Cooktown, a small place with big history. In the visitors’ center, someone can read that it was here on 17 June 1770 that Captain Cook beached the Endeavour, which had earlier struck a reef offshore from Cape Tribulation. Cook’s crew spent 48 days here repairing the damage, making Cooktown Australia’s first non-indigenous settlement.
From here onwards it was time for the rugged, remote Cape York Peninsula, our reason for traveling up here. This peninsula is divided in two zones and holds one of the wildest tropical environments on the planet, where the rainforests and palm-fringed beaches flank its eastern side while savannah woodlands, eucalyptus forests and coastal mangroves its west. Driving through this area requires patience and commitment, as the overland route to the Tip is a demanding 4WD track into one of Australia’s last frontiers.
Rough, corrugated roads and challenging entry and exit croc-infested river crossings are just some small part of what you face on this route. The largest town on the Cape is Weipa, roughly 36km north of the Archer River Roadhouse, where after spending a quick overnight, we reached this last supply town before the Tip. At this point we found out that a good family friend and musician was performing in Bramwell Station, just further up the Bramwell Junction. This is where the road splits between the Southern Bypass Road and the Old Telegraph Track. The longer first route is the graded and regularly maintained Southern and Northern Bypass Development Road that avoids most of the difficult crossings. The second, more direct 4WD route, the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) follows the remnants of the Overland Telegraph Line. It is here that any 4WD is put to its test, with many getting temporary or permanent damaged.
Thankfully for us, there were a lot of bypass tracks (chicken passes called by the local hardcore boys) that make up for a little less demanding route to the Jardine River ferry crossing. Still in doubt and after a long talk, we decided to tackle parts of the Old Telegraph Track under the condition that we would not attempt any river crossing that was higher than the top of the tyre in depth, as well as nothing too extreme in 4X4 tracks that puts our vehicle in danger. Above all Voukefalas is still our home and it needs to be in one piece for the long way back.
After rejoining the Finches, and together with the “Operation Pajinka” crew, in total of seven vehicles, we entered the OTT. The first challenge we faced was Palm Creek crossing that even in” the chicken pass” that we attempted was rough to enter, while the exit needed winching. Here our group split in two, since some of us didn’t want to put their vehicles under such a stress and reunited just after the bypass of Gunshot. This is another crossing that is not for the fainthearted. The entry is a 2,5 meters vertical drop and after the water crossing, the steep exit is only possible with the use of snatch straps. Further north on the OTT, we went through the Cockatoo, Sheldon and Sailor Creek, before meeting up with the Northern Bypass Development Road. Here we had to let the group go, as our auxiliary battery (one more time) and the air-conditioning failed.
Therefore we followed the track that heads west to the river ferry across the Jardine River, the only means of getting further north. This river is Queensland’s largest river. It is croc-infested and it spills more fresh water into the sea than any other river in Australia.
The river ferry operates only during the dry season and we were told that in the expensive ticket (100AU$ for a five-minute ride across) is included a permit for bush camping in the area. After restocking in fuel, we took the last stretch of the Bamaga Road north to the welcoming town of Seisia. The next days and after 40km, we reached a car park. From there, after a 1km walk through the forest and along the beach, we finally reached “the Tip”, the northernmost point of the Australian mainland!!! There was definitely a sense of accomplishment among us, no matter which way you take to get here. As a last adventure before we split, we tackled the five-beach 4WD track before we all returned safely back to Seisia.
On our way back south, we went through the Fruit Bat Falls and 7km further in the OTT, to the Eliot & Twin Falls that all had deep, emerald green, spectacular swimming holes, where we spent most of the day cooling down. The way back down was less adventurous, with a couple of overnight stops before we reached Laura, where another camp by the river completed the Cape York adventure. Up next and after taking care of some wounds that the Cape York adventure left on Voukefalas, we are heading south doing what we do best, getting lost and finding our own way back to WA. But that will be the subject of our upcoming diary.