Cape York via Simpson Desert 23 June 2015 – Day 22

Tuesday, Jun 23, 2015 at 18:24

Peter Beard (WA)

An adventurous day on the Cape York peninsula starts very sedately. Sleep in, breakfast, a few cups of tea and then fresh coffee from the Bamaga Bakery sets us up for the trip right to the top of Australia. First point of interest is on the road to the airport - the wreckage of a DC-3 that crashed in 1945, killing the civilian pilot and military personnel who had been heading for New Guinea. The main fuselage sits in the lush jungle just off the edge of the road. Other debris has been retrieved from the jungle over the years and is now gathered around the main wreckage.

The track heading up to The Croc tent and the cape could do with a grader - huge corrugations and wash outs makes the journey unpleasant. Turning right at the corner you can do a big loop taking in Somerset, Albany Island, Fly Point, Pajinka (the tip) and Punsand Bay.

The first section of track to Somerset narrows down to nearly single file plunging into thick jungle, the flickering light through the trees making it difficult to distinguish shadow from washout. The tight bends make it difficult to distinguish oncoming cars until you are right on them. A bit of a tense drive, but taken slowly all is well.

From the wide, white sands at Somerset you can look across the 900 metres to Albany Island, beautiful blue green water washing through the gap east to west. No swimming across, no matter how tempting the water looks. The water is infested with crocodiles. Mind you, the beach was infested with tourists from the many four wheel drive adventure buses setting up lunch. I guess not everybody can drive themselves here.

Heading down to Fly Point - a rather unattractive name for a very pretty spot - the track drops steeply over rough, sharp rocks then across deep sand to the point. The troupe of cars in front of us made a hash of the sand - the last one in the pack getting bogged before hopping out and finally locking his hubs to engage 4WD, spewing a great rooster tail of sand out the back when he took off. We gently crossed the sand, cursing the idiots who have turned it into a rutted, humped mess.

No flies at Fly Point today. They would have been blown over the cape on the howling south easterly wind, which is still blowing.

Next stop the tip of the peninsula, the northern most point on mainland Australia. The track continues through thick jungle from Somerset almost all the way to the top. Abandoned buildings near the final car park are all that remain of Pajinka Lodge, not sure what happened to the venture but no one is staying there now and it appears no-one has for quite some time.

To reach the tip you need to leave the car behind and venture out on foot. We lucked the tide so we were able to walk across the muddy flats, keeping a sharp eye on the mangroves for any lurking nasty surprises with big teeth and tiny brains. Scrambling over rock, we finally reached the sign announcing we are at the northern most point for the continent. We made it!

The final section of track from Pajinka to Punsand Bay is surprising. The gravel is replaced by sand and the jungle turns to mangrove. Punishing wash outs on the track test the suspension, crawling over lumps of dirt at seeming impossible angles. A couple of water crossings, all good so far.

Then we reached the last water crossing. Ali was nervous going in - it looks a long way to the far bank; Pete was confident - car tracks going in, car tracks coming out. We make a run into the water and ... stop, right in the middle. Into reverse but still no go. Ali is really getting nervous now. She doesn't mind adventure, but she has limits. The trusty 80 is bottomed out on the diffs and isn't going anywhere without some sort of assistance.

So it's off with the boots, climb out the window. MaxTrax off the roof and into the water to make a ramp for the front wheels. Drag the tree trunk protector and a D-shackle out of the trunk that's where the back seat used to be and set to winching the 80 out of the mud hole. Fortunately there are lots of trees to winch from, although the big green frog that Ali stood on while putting the tree trunk protector around a sturdy mangrove wasn't too impressed. The winch and MaxTrax ramps worked perfectly, a text book recovery with minimal water ingress for the car.

Draining water out of the front seat, surveying the flood damage - just wet boots, an assortment of bits on the floor in the back, and the map book, note book, hand held UHF radio and EPIRB in the doors - we felt pretty good about the whole thing. First time the recovery gear has been used in anger and it all worked.

A motorbike approached the crossing behind as we packed up - an easy cross for him. Over the stream to the north and then weave through the mangroves on the bank. Cars can't do that.

Every bit of water from that point on got Ali's nerves on edge but there were no further incidents. Back at the resort, Pete regreased the prop shafts and slip yokes; we don't want any failures on the long drive home due to water that might have entered the uni joints.

A well earned beer, dinner and an early night. Back on the road tomorrow, heading south and west.


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