Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Overland Telegraph Line Track

Me (at Moreton Telegraph Station): So what's the plan today? Where are we headed?
Matt: Well we're going to start the old telegraph track.
Me: The what?
Matt: *forehead slap*

And so we began the Overland Telegraph Line track, or the OTL - apparently the holy grail of four wheel driving...and I had no idea until I was actually on it. But now I know. It's a big deal.

Starting the OTL at Bramwell Junction roadhouse
Only a few kilometres in and you hit the first creek crossing, which also happens to be the worst - Palm Creek. When we arrived Pat Callinan (Mr 4x4 himself) was there filming for his TV show so there was a few vehicles about, as well as some people that just come to sit and watch people get stuck! Seriously, had their chairs and beers out ready and everything. Two vehicles were coming the other way, a near impossible task without winching out so we watched them winch themselves out amidst lots of noise and smoke and 4WD-heads getting excited, me just hanging out with Pat Callinan's photographers! 

A few other vehicles went ahead of us, including Mr 4x4, and then it was Luxie's turn. A bit hairy in parts but not an overly difficult manoeuvre (so I'm told), just the chance of vehicle damage as you slip into a bit of a hole and roll to the passenger side. Our damage was the paint ripped off the passenger toolbox on the bank and our sidebars rubbed also. Nothing to write home about.

The Palm Creek crossing entry
Luxie getting into the OTL spirit
Bit steep... 
Luxie on the left, Pat Callinan's vehicle on the right
Onwards we forged through a few more easy crossings which Matt walked first (captain cautious, and a good thing too) before we camped for the night near an old water gauging station on the Dulhunty River. The next morning we crossed over the Dulhunty, very nice camping and a little waterfall at the crossing. The next three or four creeks we crossed were idyllic - I can't even describe how crystal clear the water was and the colour of the rocks and the formations made on the riverbeds. Our country is full of beauty.

My feet in the clear waters of the Dulhunty River
Crossing the Bertie Creek
Me at the Dulhunty River crossing
As much as I didn't know about the OTL before actually commencing it - I definitely didn't know about 'Gunshot', although it did ring bells from some of Matt's old 4WD magazines. The Gunshot Creek crossing is infamous as one of the best/worst waterway crossings in Australia to attempt/achieve if you are a mad keen 4WD nut. Fortunatly when we were there there was a much easier track around to the left which was not a problem at all, so now Matt can confidently say he survived crossing Gunshot! Albeit not the ridiculous vertical drop off's and wash out's Gunshot is actually famous for. The creek itself was so very pretty, I paddled around in it whilst Matt talked 4WDing with some other travellers.

After Gunshot Creek the country changed into open plains and heathland - what they call 'the dry desert'. There is an abundance of water, but not much nutritional feed. Subsequently, Heathlands Station which was set up in the 1960's by mining company Comalco was a dismal failure. Huge termite mounds abound and the odd telegraph pole along the track.

We made the decision to detour 23km to the ranger station and book a campsite, do the right thing, be responsible campers and all that. Well, 23km on the most corrugated road known to man, arrive at Heathlands Ranger Station and nobody is there, use the online kiosk to book a campsite and they're all booked out! Back we trundle the 23km of rough track, mightily peeved and teeth chattering all the way.

The Heathlands Ranger Station
Cockatoo Creek crossing was next where we had lunch, another beautiful creek and who should come crossing through but the ranger himself. Chatted to him while I made sandwiches, told us there were a few crocs upstream so don't go for a swim! 

Matt moving some rocks in the Cockatoo Creek to cross it more safely
Luxie crossing Cockatoo Creek
Continuing on we came to one of the most popular spots on the whole of Cape York - Fruitbat Falls. This part of the OTL is accessible from the bypass roads so a lot of people come in a go for a swim. We arrived at about 4.30 in the afternoon though, a few people were just leaving and we had the place to ourselves! I can assure you that Fruitbat Falls to yourselves is a rare sight indeed, we were very lucky.

After our swim we pushed on to Canal Creek and set up for the night at the free camping site on Aboriginal land - yet another beautifully crystal clear waterway, although the constant traffic here at this popular spot had eroded the banks and there was a mess of tracks everywhere. The next morning we headed up to Eliot Falls for another swim, just nearby is Twin Falls on the Canal Creek, another popular tourist spot which has a few people swimming there so we walked around the corner to where the Canal flows into the Eliot. Nobody there and beautiful deep swimming hole in the creek. Matt jumped off the four metre bank and couldn't touch the bottom if he tried. Beautiful spot.

Bombs away!
Swimming in the Eliot Creek 
Eliot Falls
From our campsite on the Canal Creek we walked upstream and found amazing rockpools which were begging us for another swim. The formation of the rocks was incredible, a maze of mini-waterfalls making their way slowly down to the main creek and in between creating deep holes and ledges for you to sit at. Matt kept jumping off things, I worshipped the sun. Life is good.

From Canal Creek we kept heading north on the OTL - we had heard everyone saying that Nolan's Brook was the tough one, and most were not attempting it. We thought we'd go and have a look and if we didn't like the look of it we could turn back and head to the bypass road. Well we crossed a few creeks no worries, then got to Cannibal Creek...after scratching his head for awhile Matt declared that we could get down it no problem, but if we had to come back up it if we didn't like the look of Nolan's Brook we would be winching out. Great. We camped at the top of the creek crossing to sleep on it and make a decision in the morning. Of course, we decided to 'give it a crack' as per usual, and in all the excitement I didn't take any photos! Oops. 

But it was Logan Creek which actually became the problem. A steep little drop into the creek which looked simple enough (this creek was a bit deep so Matt tarped the front of Luxie). He then proceeded to not look at what he was doing and ram Luxie up hard against a tree stump, rendering him totally motionless as we couldn't go forward and we couldn't go back up the steep bank. Out came the axe and a very hot and sweaty Matt cut through the tree, eventually. 

Finally we came to Nolan's Brook on Bridge Creek, the very last creek crossing on the OTL - the last frontier! Of course Matt saw this as a massive challange. All we had to do was cross Nolan's and we'd done it, the entire OTL. We arrived with Matt saying he was 90% sure he wouldn't cross it, one walk across it (water up to his belly button, his' 6'4") and I could see the glint in his eye. We were going to cross it. And I was doing signs of the cross left right and centre praying we wouldn't flood poor Luxie. 

Out came the tarp again, we cut holes in it for the aerials to make it more watertight, Matt sprayed everything under the bonnet and I let the tyre pressures right down to 18 psi (very soft sand on the bottom of this creek, which was mostly the problem). Matt walked and re-walked the crossing, choosing his best line whilst also chatting to people camped there who told us 50 vehicles had been pulled out of Nolan's this year. Great. And then we did it, well Matt did, I stood and took photos and prayed he'd keep moving towards me. 

Matt walking Nolan's Brook
The motorbike bridge at Nolan's Brook
Luxie crossing Nolan's Brook - we did it!
And then on the other side the bloke who had been ready and waiting with a snatch strap to pull us out if needed, came up and shook Matt's hand and said "You've done the whole telly track!"Oh yeah, we thought. We had, not many do, but we did and it was awesome. A huge tick off Matt's bucket list I'm sure, and mine and I didn't even know it!

Only a short drive from Nolan's Brook through open sandy country and you reach the Jardine River, the official end of the telegraph line. It is now highly recommended you don't cross the Jardine and catch the ferry instead. People try though, and it looks easy enough, fairly hard bottom, not too deep. The trouble seems to be the distance and the swampy part of river on the north side. Oh and apparently the Jardine is infested with giant crocs. Other than that, you'll be fine ;)

The vehicle crossing of the Jardine River
Driving towards the Jardine
And so we did it. We weren't sure whether we'd get all the way, but we were sure we'd give it a red hot go! So glad we did, definitely one of the highlights of our honeymoon so far. It is such a beautifully unique part of our country and we felt so blessed to be able to enjoy it in our own time and pace. 

We crossed the Jardine on the ferry and kept pointing Luxie in one direction: north to the Tip...

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Beginning of Cape York - Cooktown to Weipa

Oh hello - remember me? I used to blog here and update you on our travels...but then we decided to actually do some serious traveling and have been missing in action for the past month! Sorry about that. The Cape York adventure was amazing, spectacular in parts, divine in others, so diverse, so not what I was expecting, so worthy of more than one blog post. 

We left Cooktown after visiting the James Cook Museum for the morning, they have on display The Endeavours original anchor and parts of Cook's diary, very interesting and important part of Australian history. We headed to Hopevale next, a small Aboriginal community to the north - we planned to stay at Elim Beach for the night and had rung the Aboriginal bloke, Eddie, that runs the campground there. We arrived and Eddie was sitting on his front verandah with another young couple (our age!), Nathan and Kate, about to go fishing. We didn't need to be asked twice. Matt wasn't so lucky in the fishing stakes that night on the beach but Nathan caught a salmon. Elim was pure paradise, one night soon turned into two...then three...then four nights later we were still there, lazing in the sun by the waters edge, cooking our fish on the fire on the beach and exploring the nearby dunes and coloured sands. Bliss. It was one of our top camp sites on the entire cape.

The stunning coloured sands of Elim Beach
The beautiful and serene Elim Beach
Elim Beach camp
Elim Beach and walking the dunes to overlook Cape Bedford

We pushed on though and entered Lakefield National Park, passing Isabella Falls, Lake Emma and the Old Laura Homestead which was quite interesting, on our way to a little campsite by a waterhole, no doubt full of crocs. A lot of places we camped up north I was definitely glad we sleep up off the ground on top of Carrie!

The Old Laura Homestead 
Camp by waterhole in Lakefield National Park
After a chat to the ranger at Lakefield Ranger Station we decided to head in to Bathurst Head - almost to Cape Melville. The track we were told could be difficult at times but we found it to be not too bad, lots of crossing mud flats and open plains full of termite mounds. We eventually wound our way to a freshwater spring on a hill above Bathurst Head where we topped up our water tanks - it was quite cute set amongst the bush with the old bathtub.

Creek crossing through Kalpowar Aboriginal lands, drive from Lakefield to Bathurst Head
Driving in to Bathurst Head across plains dotted with termite mounds
Freshwater spring near Bathurst Head
Crossing mud plains to Bathurst Head
After a bit of a 4WD track up a steep section of hill we reached a look-out and beaches below. And fisherman! My god, something must be biting at Bathurst Head because one little beach must have had ten tinnies in it. We opted for the less populated, but more exposed, beach, covered in crushed shell and looking out over Princess Charlotte Bay.

Camp on beach at Bathurst Head
Shell on the beach at Bathurst Head beach
After adding up our average fuel consumption and estimating how many more kilometres to get into and out of Cape Melville we came to the (rough) conclusion we would have 4 litres of fuel we turned back towards Lakefield to continue exploring there. Perhaps next time for Cape Melville. 

We camped on the Normanby River on Aboriginal land just near Kalpowar Station. I'm sure there were crocs in the river but Matt still went down and got the buckets of water for a much awaited shower whilst I wondered how I was going to dong the croc on the head - shovel or axe? A beautiful campsite, very quiet and the next morning we woke to Matt's birthday! The old boy's getting on. I cooked him breakfast, presented him with a charades of birthday presents - I couldn't buy him anything and hide it in the camper, he knows where everything is! I had intended to get him a pair of binoculars though, something missing from our hiking/camping repertoire. I made a not so beautiful looking camp-style chocolate ripple cake as a birthday cake. Very complicated method of choc-ripple biscuits lathered in cream, chucked in a container and sat in the fridge all day. 

That day we traveled through the rest of Lakefield National Park, visiting old outstations from the days when cattle were run through the area (and basically still are, bit hard to get rid of the mickey's in the scrub of 300,000 hectares). At Low Lake Matt got the fright of his life whilst reading a sign near the waters edge, a huge splash and something BIG sunk into the water - we never saw it before or after the splash. Scary stuff. Never smile at a crocodile! Even if it is your birthday. For his birthday we camped on the Stewart River, just south of Coen - beautiful site on clear river, big fire and enormous steaks with diane sauce washed down with the choc-ripple cake. Stuffed to the brim, but that is what birthday's are for I believe.

Matt's very beautiful (and very delicious) chocolate ripple birthday cake
Low Lake at Lakefield National Park
Goanna - Lakefield National Park
Peninsula Development Road - Coen to Weipa
We took an old 4WD track from the Stewart River campsite to Coen where we visited the Heritage House before continuing up the PDR (Peninsula Development Road), eventually getting to Weipa late in the day. The next morning we took a very interesting bus tour around the town, which is entirely owned by Rio Tinto. We also got to have a look around the bauxite mine, simple stuff really, dig down a meter, scrap off the orange pebbly stuff and ship it to Gladstone! In Weipa we also ran into Nathan and Kate who we had met at Elim Beach the week before. That Saturday night was the Weipa Rodeo - perfectly timed! All four of us walked down to the rodeo and enjoyed some beers in the hot evening, watching some cowboys ride some cheeky bulls.

After stocking up at the supermarket we headed up the coast a bit from Weipa to Mapoon, then into the Pennefather River - all on Aboriginal land and have to cross some fairly soft and deep sand in the dunes (on the way out we actually found a much easier and less sandy option!)

Drive in to Pennefather River and a signpost on drive from Lakefield to Musgrave
Driving into Pennefather River mouth through the dunes

The navigator/photographer/dj
Matt being the hunter gatherer at Pennefather River
Once we got to Pennefather River though it was a quiet and beautiful camping spot right on the mouth of the river with a few lagoons and sandbars before open ocean. Matt immediately through a line in and promptly caught two Queenfish...which he had no idea what they were so threw them straight back! It was at Pennefather River that we met Russell and Lindy, a couple who camped next to us and invited us over for a delicious fish curry dinner with the Golden Trevally's Russell had been catching. A great night with 'the neighbours'. 

We spent two nights at Pennefather we liked it so much, lazing about in the hammock, Matt reading, me crocheting. Matt caught another Queenfish so we filleted it and ate that too - I could get used to this fishing business!

The view from our camp at the mouth of the Pennefather River - that's Matt out there fishing. Three big saltwater crocs and sharks in that lagoon.
The fisherman at work and with his queen fish. It was delicious.
Matt doing what we do best on our never-ending honeymoon - hammock time!
Sunset over the mouth of the Pennefather River
The drive out of Pennefather River - a swamp with beautiful white barked gums
We waved good-bye to Russell and Lindy and headed back to Weipa, then back out onto the PDR via Batavia Downs. Heading further north we camped at the Moreton Telegraph Station, ready and raring to hit the infamous Overland Telegraph Line track (aka 4WDer's holy grail) at Bramwell Junction...