If that wasn’t enough – we borrowed the van too!
By Justin Lorrimer
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to travel to Cape York. The journey is surrounded by campfire tails of legendary 4X4 tracks, amazing fishing stories, epic camp spots and beautiful scenery. Luckily enough for me, my life has afforded me the opportunity to take my dad on such a journey. We were about to set off for a two-week drive from Brisbane to the tip of Cape York and back towing a Jurgens Tufftrax off-road van.
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Days 1, 2, 3
Looking at a map and plotting over 2600km of driving to reach the iconic Tip of Australia is a sensation that is as exciting as it is daunting. With only two short weeks on the cards to cover the vast amount of ground ahead, it is hard not to question your decision. How will we make it? Is there going to be enough time? With the clock ticking we set off to make the most of it, leaving the lingering questions behind us and focusing on the task at hand. Breaking up the 750-odd kays with a couple of pit stops, the first night for trip wraps up at a free camp at Carmila Beach. A nice clean spot right on the beach itself, so be wary of the soft sand as you drive in.
It is an early start for day two, stopping at Mackay to load up the fishing tackle and a few supplies before hitting the road with nothing in mind except that arvo beer at our next free camp at Balgal Beach, north of Townsville. Waterfront camping with toilets and showers available, it is no surprise that this makes for a popular spot so it pays to get in early to claim your patch.
Next stop is Musgrave Roadhouse on the Peninsula Development Road, with a shortcut through South Johnstone and Mareeba to grab the final supplies. We top up the truck and the jerrys at Lakeland Roadhouse before continuing on to Musgrave along the now partially sealed development road. As more and more of the Peninsula Development Road gets sealed over the coming years, the days of this being a 4WD-only destination are slowly fading away. Sealed roads make the trip to the tip a lot more achievable for those with standard vehicles, although it isn’t all blacktop yet. Musgrave Roadhouse is the perfect place to stop for the night and chat to fellow travellers about road conditions on the way up, not to mention get some hot tips on prime campsites, good tracks and those all-important fishing spots.
Days 4, 5, 6
A breather at the start of day four allows us to get a bit more shut-eye and a decent breakfast before heading towards Bramwell Junction and the start of the Old Telegraph Track. We head down the track to the first crossing at Palm Creek. Unfortunately, it is impassable while towing the van as it’s just too steep and boggy. Single vehicles are winching out with a lot of effort, so we opt to return to Bramwell Junction and continue up the Peninsula Development Road to join the next road into the Old Telegraph Track.
Not wanting to miss out, we head south back to Palm Creek and discover the track is not as difficult as we had imagined. This is largely due to the fact that it’s been dry so the lack of water in the creek crossings makes things a lot easier. A beautiful campsite at Bertie Creek is our spot for the night, with the van parked right next to the water and our very own private plunge pool. A bath in the creek, a campfire curry and a few cold ones and we’re both out like a light in the Tufftrax.
From Bertie Creek, we carry on north up the Old Tele Track. We make it through the famous Gunshot via the chicken track, which is still quite challenging with the van in tow and on to Cockatoo Creek. Riddled with deep holes, the water crossing requires some careful navigation while travelling upstream to the reach the steep exit. We spend a few more hours exploring tight tracks before popping in for a bite to eat and a swim at Fruit Bat Falls. This has to one of the best spots up the Cape for a swim – the cool water and spectacular flowing waterfall is amazing.
Feeling refreshed we make our way to the Jardine River Ferry and for $129 we are across in what seems a matter of seconds. We stop in at the Croc Tent to sample the souvenirs as well as the local knowledge, then take off towards Roonga Point for the night and to try our luck fishing. Roonga Point is a superb spot with campsites just behind the rocky outcrops that spread out into the channel between the mainland and Possession Island. With a few trevally under our belt and many more good fish lost, it’s time to hit the hay in preparation for exploring the tip the next day.
Day 7, 8, 9
Starting at the eastern side of the Tip is Somerset Beach and what a top little campsite it is. A nice protected spot with a private track to the beach right at your doorstep. The area is packed with history from the Jardine family grave sites to Aboriginal paintings among the spectacular sandstone caves and the perfect place to spend a day exploring, relaxing and fishing. We may have left for this trip stressing about the time, but it is important to take a day here and there to really chill out and enjoy what the Cape has to offer.
Following a hot tip from the Jardine River ferry driver, we suss out the camping options at Vrilya Point and are not disappointed. The reward is worth the effort as this requires fair bit of effort to get to. An old log bridge only a few clicks into the track has us nearly turning around, but we squeeze across and continue on. Another 22km of decent 4WD tracks and obstacles takes us two hours, before emerging out at the abandoned campsite – just the way we like it.
A beautiful camp on the dune offers up a spectacular view of the blue water and jagged rocky boulders. The beach is fairly flat and hard with only a few soft sections, so we make the decision that on low tide the next day we will take the van up and camp for a night.
Low tide on day nine is about 10am so with the van hitched up we set off 10km up the beach to camp on the inlet. A big shady camp just behind the fore dune with an old dugout canoe adds some nostalgia and atmosphere. The fishing here is great, plenty of trevally and queenfish on soft plastics and after an epic battle on a beach rod we haul in a monster Queensland groper only to have him bust us off in the shallows. Be wary of crocs here, they like to sleep in among the mangrove roots, so when walking the beach at low tide, keep a look out.
Days 10, 11, 12
Backtracking down the beach, through Vrilya Point Camp it’s time to tackle the log bridge once more. The difficulty increases during the return trip due to not being able to get a straight run at the bridge, with the tyres of the Tufftrax only just fitting onto the outer beams.
Back at the Peninsula Development Road with a few psi back into the tyres, we’re off the Bramwell Station via Fruit Bat Falls for another awesome swim and some lunch. The campsite at Bramwell Station is a large open paddock with some shady trees and a few shelters dotted around for those who use a swag. They have a brand new bar and restaurant area featuring live music every night throughout peak season.
For day 11 it is off the Weipa via a short cut between the Development Road and the main access road to Weipa, which is in top condition and cuts down the travel time. Heading an hour north from Weipa is a camp called Culled Point. Stop in at Mapoon and pick up your permits: $30/week (vehicle) and $5 per person camping fee. The rangers drive through daily, so if you arrive out of hours, they will catch up with you the next day.
We catch plenty of sharks and catfish but, apparently, at the right time, you can land some decent-size tuna and mackerel straight off the beach, too. Hoping for the best, we try our luck off the boat ramp for a mackerel but only manage more sharks; a whole lot of fun on light gear.
Lunch on the beach and a short drive back to Weipa for a few coldies with some mates who live local before bunking down for a night at the caravan park on the beach. The caravan park is a busy place with loads of other travellers passing through, heading both north and south making it an ideal spot to chat and get some useful info.
A dawn start at the Evans Landing boat ramp and we head 40km south to cast a line on a secret patch of reef. The coastlines on the way is far from an eyesore, the beautiful shallow blue water, impressive red cliffs and pristine white sandy beaches. The fishing is a bit slow, however, we still manage to land a decent haul with coral trout, cod and tusk fish among the catch. For someone who gets seasick, this is a big day on the water and only made easier by having one hand firmly on a cold one. Back at the ramp around 5pm, we clean the boat and the fish and enjoy a laugh about the ones that got away.
By day 14 we are starting the feel the sadness of the trip being over as all we have left is a couple thousand kays of corrugations and bitumen ahead of us before arriving back home. Stopping off at Musgrave Road house for fuel we make our last camp before leaving the cape. Annie River, in the Lakefield National Park, is only about 50km from the Musgrave Roadhouse and what a top spot it is, right on the river bank and once again, absolutely no-one else around.
If you are willing to head off the main tracks just a little bit, you can have all the best spots to yourselves!
Backtracking a little on day 15, we head We pass back through Musgrave Roadhouse and the Peninsula Development Road. From here it’s nothing but the long haul back to the Sunshine Coast with a few overnighters at the Brandon Pub south of Townsville and a mate’s place in Tannum Sands.
The adventure of the Cape York trip definitely lived up to expectation. Although it is a massive effort with a lot of kilometres to get there, it is all worth it. Take the time to talk to as many people as you can along the way, this is how we found out about some of the best spots. Slow down and enjoy the area, there is so much more to see than just the main roads and the well-known locations. It was a great few weeks and an awesome way to spend some quality time with my old man. We will be talking about our adventure for years to come.