Cairns to Cape York, part one.

Updated: Oct 16, 2018

Link to a few pictures here:

For anyone in Australia who has ever driven or set foot in a 4WD, Cape York is perhaps the most iconic 4WD destination imaginable. “The Tip”, as it is lovingly referred to, is at the top of the Cape York Peninsula and is the most northerly point on mainland Australia.

As a 4WD destination it is steeped in myth and dripping with recent European history, mainly associated with the Overland Telegraph Line [OTL] and the track that used to support the telegraph line as it headed north and offshore. The Tele track as it is better known covers a short piece of the overall journey from Cairns to the tip but is without doubt the best known and most revered. It is a true 4wd track with a number of beautiful creek crossings that provide wonderful swimming opportunities while waiting for someone to come along, do something silly and break their 4WD truck. I joined the club on this trip at the aptly named Mistake Creek. breaking the mighty Landcruiser, but we will come to that in a while. This will end up being a multi part blog update [a trilogy in 4 part?] as we had some amazing experiences and a few unexpected adventures.

In Cairns we managed to get a number of things fixed with our rig; the tent zip, the fridge, the trailer brakes, the trailer bearings were serviced and a shiny new trailer number plate was reattached [we lost the original some months ago on the GRR 😊].

Our friends Michael, Vicki and Katie also got a few things fixed while in town and after stocking up on essentials like food, wine and beer we left Cairns exactly as planned, a few days late and headed towards Cape Tribulation (aka Cape Trib).

Plan A said we would drive directly to the Daintree River Ferry, and continue north to Cape Trib, famous for “Where the Rainforest meets the Reef”. However, as we were driving along, we saw a little sign saying “Hook A Barra”. We were a little intrigued as we had all been trying to catch the elusive Barramundi on our travels, so we decided to stop and take a look.

Before you knew it we had most of the gang fishing for Barra, Sophie was the first to hook up and land a fish, her grin enormous and eyes wild as the Barra danced across the water before reaching the safety of the landing net. Helen, Zoe, Michael and Vicki soon followed suit and there was laughter and smiles all round. What a blast and possibly the best $100 we have spent in a long, long time.

We tore ourselves away from the fish farm and decided a little lunch was in order, so detoured to a small spot on the Daintree River for some lunch before heading to the ferry and our eventual destination at Cape Tribulation.

Immediately after crossing the ferry we were immersed in the Daintree rainforest as we drove the 35 kms up the road to the campsite. We set up camp, went for a quick walk out through the ribbon of rainforest that separated our campsite from the beach, and were met with a gorgeous beach, late afternoon sun and a gentle sea breeze. Heaven.

Cape Tribulation

The only sensible thing to do was to sit and enjoy the amazing views, but instead we chose to wet a line and try and catch some more fish. Try, being the operative word, so once again we had pasta for dinner after spending an hour or so trying to be self-sufficient 😊.

We had a lazy start the next day and really did not much at all in the morning, the tide was low and the water way out towards the fringing reef, we walked along the beach and down a narrow track to find a beautiful little tidal creek that would be good for a fish later in the day, when the tide was pushing in. For now, it was about all we could manage to relax, enjoy a cup of coffee and think about the journey to come.

Creek by the beach, Cape Tribulation

We headed up the road to check out some lookouts and the main Cape Tribulation beach, even more spectacular than the one where we were camped, if that was possible, then returned for a late afternoon fish in the creek we had seen earlier in the day.

Spot the croc on the beach, it was into the water in a flash

The creek looked fantastic although there was 3 metre saltwater croc just lounging on the far side of the bank, reminding us of the dangers present in this part of the world. Michael, Vicki and I decided we would take a cautious approach to fishing and keep a good watch on the croc. And then we had a little excitement.

On my second cast into the creek I hooked into a decent fish, a Tarpon that jumped, danced and splashed around wildly in the middle of the creek, waking the crocodile from its late afternoon slumber. With the fish jumping and thrashing around, the croc wasted no time in launching off the bank and coming directly towards the fish, which was also, directly towards the three of us. I was keen to land the fish, it seemed the croc was keen to eat the fish, and the three of us were keen not to eaten by the croc.


With my heart racing I managed to pull the Tarpon up out of the water only to have the line break when the fish was halfway up the bank, of course the fish was very keen to get back to the water, not knowing there was a waiting crocodile, and I was dead keen to get the fish and take a picture.

The Crocodile had submerged out of site but was surely very close by and watching our every move. I threw a rock, a bit of wood and a coconut into the water to distract the croc and raced down to grab the fish. It sounds even more stupid as I write this than in the moment but I have the photo, we have an amazing memory and we didn’t get eaten by the croc. Awesome.

For good measure I was also able to release the fish back into the creek (they are very bony and not good eating) and by then my heart rate was slowly returning to normal. But not for long.

After trying a couple of other spots, we decided to head back to camp, the light was fading and we were all just a little pumped after our encounter with a croc in the wild. So, walking along the track to get back to the main beach I had to call a sudden “stop” as we encountered a Cassowary directly in our path.

Stock image of Cassowary

BTW - the picture above is not mine but gives you a great idea of what they look like.

So, what is a Cassowary ?? (probably a descendant of the Velociraptor from the Jurassic Park movies). It is a large flightless bird about the size of an emu with a toenail capable of disemboweling careless travellers should they upset the Cassowary. Fortunately for us it was more interested in going on its way into the forest and just left us in awe of our second wildlife encounter in 30 minutes. Awesome, just awesome.

Suffice to say there was a good story to tell around the dinner table and a lot of excited laughter at our good fortune so early in the trip; if this was day 2 of our Cape York adventure what was to come next?

Day 3 of our Cape York trip arrived bright and beautiful as most Queensland days do, and after a relaxed breakfast we were packed and ready to head north to Cooktown via the Bloomfield Track and a legendary outback pub called the Lion’s Den.

The Bloomfield track cuts through the ranges close to the coast, through the rainforest and across a number of idyllic creek crossings, earlier in the season there would be more water in the creeks and more of a challenge on the track. There were a number of really steep sections, with gradients up to 31% in places, so towing camper trailers requires a sense of humour, and a good 4WD truck with low range gearing to get you through to the little of town of Bloomfield.

No problems for us as the track was dry and had seen some improvement since I last drove through in 1990. We made our may through to Helenvale, and the Lion’s Den pub. I reminisced about my previous visit and we enjoyed a cold beer before heading on to Cooktown.

Along the way we came to a river crossing, there was an old disused bridge still standing so I decided it would make a good spot to stop for a while, and I had a crafty fish from the old timber bridge. I managed to catch one Estuary Cod, not big enough to keep but more than enough to make me smile.

We rolled into town a short while later, visited the misinformation centre and found a caravan park to stay the night, there was talk around the dinner table of fishing in the morning down at the wharf and everyone agreed we should have an early start. Well, kind-of early start, sort of 😊, but we did get down to the wharf and catch a few fish, Katie, Zoe and Sophie all doing well with a small bait jig and catching some live bait, Helen and Vicki landing Trevally and Queenfish while Michael and I fished for “donuts”. Such is life, but a great way to spend a couple of hours in an historic town on our way to adventure.

We topped off our food, fuel and water supplies for the next couple of weeks, and were on our way north towards Lakefield National Park via Isabella Falls on the Battlecamp Road. Everything, including the road names, sounding exciting at this stage and within an hour or so, we were stopped by the side of the road to enjoy a quick lunch at Isabella Falls, the girls playing in the crystal-clear water as it tumbled gently across the roadway and down a small set of waterfalls; nothing too spectacular, just so, so nice and refreshing in the heat of the day.

Isabella Falls

The tarmac road once again disappeared and we were back on dirt roads, initially they were smooth as the tarmac but pretty soon we were stopped to lower tyre pressures to make the corrugations manageable once again.

We drove through a number of late dry-season preventative forest fires. I know that sounds a little strange but these are controlled burns to reduce the fuel load on the forest floor and prevent a major “uncontrolled / wildfire” getting out of control later in the season. It made for some interesting and scary driving at times as we drove through thick smoke with flames licking alongside the road in the grass and low trees.

Lakefield National Park road

The roads into Lakefield National Park were pretty good, only the last 25-30kms being a bit rough and slowing our progress, but we rolled into our campsite alongside the Hann River as the sun was starting to set.

Our campsite in Lakefield

The views along the river were glorious, we were optimistic of catching fish, seeing crocs and enjoying a couple of days in the area exploring.

Hann River Crossing Campsite

Lakefield certainly delivered in being an immense National Park in the middle of nowhere, spectacular scenery, amazing river systems and billabongs, but we caught nothing and the only bites we managed were from mosquitoes 😊. We didn’t see any crocodiles either but I am sure they were there, watching and waiting for an opportunity to taste a tourist.

Lakefield National Park - Billabong along the track

We had a plan to head towards Bramwell Station, via Musgrave Roadhouse, Coen, Archer River Roadhouse and Moreton Telegraph station, promising ourselves we would go reasonably quickly to the tip of Cape York and saunter down to explore side tracks and historic locations on the way back from the tip. It certainly seemed like a good strategy and after a full day of driving, we arrived at Bramwell Station late afternoon, after covering almost 500kms on corrugated dirt roads, no mean feat.

Bramwell Station Campsite

Michael and Vicki had decided to leave their camper-trailer at Bramwell Station and do the rest of the track and trip in a small dome tent, so they set to work relocating a ton of stuff out of the camper and into the car. Sounds simple but it took most of the evening and a couple of hours in the morning to get properly organised.

We all had a modicum of excitement in the morning as we were packing and getting ready; the wind had picked up and there were some very strong gusts, it made packing our tent a lot more strenuous than normal. Just as we were finishing another huge gust blew through, and we heard the crashing of timber as a nearby tree was blown over and took another down as it fell. Fortunately, it was well away from our campsite (and the children) but served as a reminder to pay attention to the weather and the trees we camp under (for shade).

Entry to the Tele Track, Bramwell Roadhouse

Just a short while later we were on the move again, just up the road to Bramwell Roadhouse, the stepping off point to the Old Telegraph Track. This was where the real fun starts and those with more sense continue straight ahead on the Peninsula Development Road. A couple of quick photos and we were on the way…………

Stay tuned for the Old Tele Track and a broken Landcruiser in the middle of nowhere,

Regards Roy, Helen, Sophie and Zoe

Map of part one of the trip to Cape York

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