Cape York via Simpson Desert 22 June 2015 – Day 21

Monday, Jun 22, 2015 at 21:52

Peter Beard (WA)

Three weeks to the day since leaving Perth and we are sitting in Bamaga on the northern tip of Cape York. Half way into our holiday and we’re at the furthest point from home.

We had a good night's sleep in our room at the Archer River Roadhouse. It may not be that well apportioned but the beds are firm, clean and comfortable. There are no ensuites but there is a male and female bathroom/toilet for our block of four units and they’re clean and the water is hot and plentiful. The generator switched off around 10:00, but by that time we were both in the land of nod. A strong east south easterly wind blowing through the louvre windows took over cooling duties from the ceiling fan when the electricity stopped flowing.



A family of little magpie larks joined us for breakfast, snapping bugs on the grass outside our room while we boiled the kettle on our gas stove for a cup of tea - the room's services don’t stretch to a kettle and there’s not much point to an electric kettle between 10:00pm and 7:00am anyway. We watched the great exodus from the camping ground commence - tents were packed, camping trailers were folded, caravan doors were closed. Our packing was easy. We may have a tent on the roof but if there is an alternative to unfurling it, we take it.

The track north to Moreton Telegraph Station is very well graded, the brisk east- whipping dust across the track and bending the trees. This south-easterly is apparently the prevailing wind judging by the dust covered trees on the western side of the track; the ones to the east bright green and clean. Coffee at Moreton Telegraph Station is not from a barista, but the plunger variety they serve is much better than the instant available at Archer River. The museum set up in the small shop is full of telegraph memorabilia and interesting photos of the Cape in the wet and in the dry. Both here and at Archer River there are marks on the building walls showing the extent of flooding from Cyclone Nina in 1992 and Cyclone Monica in 2006. When it rains up here it really rains.



The well graded track continues all the way to Bramwell Junction, the start of the infamous Old Telegraph Track. At this point our TomTom GPS we call Tom, who has exhibited homicidal tendencies in the past - like suggesting we turn sharp right over a precipice half way along the King Billy Track in the Victorian High Country - trumped himself. Instead of suggesting we turn right along the developmental road, Tom insisted we bear left onto the Old Telegraph Track. He nagged us for a couple of kilometres to "turn around when possible" then helpfully found alternative tracks to the left to take us once again across to the Old Telegraph Track. Some of them were little more than two wheel ruts disappearing off into the trees, others weren’t there at all. We ignored Tom and instead followed the sensible, solid blue line offered on the Hema Navigator we call He-man.



The terrain and track changes from red gravel and gum trees to longer and longer sections of yellow/white sand with low scrub and grey/green bushes as it heads north to link up again with the Old Telegraph Track. The termite mounds get taller, around three to four metres, and we are no longer able to confuse them with recumbent cows. Corrugations and dust holes appear, interspersed with stretches of bitumen as the track approaches Fruit Bat Falls. This delightful oasis on Elliot Creek is clear, cool and free of crocodiles. A swim is a must.



Drying off, we lunched on hard boiled eggs and fruit before tackling the final stretch to the Jardine River ferry and finally Cape York. A road crew from Bramwell Station is working on the final section to Jardine River, we wrestled to negotiate the water tankers and the three-trailer semis hauling gravel along the track while the road crew wrestled with a flat tyre on the grader. Made both of us relieved that changing a tyre on the Landcruiser only requires manoeuvring a wheel that comes up to our hips, not one that is taller than our heads.

The Jardine River flows fast across the track, without the ferry it would be pretty damn hard to get up to the Cape. There are stories of people losing their cars at the old Jardine River ford upstream of the ferry because they didn’t want to wait for the next ferry or they didn’t want to pay the $99.00 fee. We figured our car is worth more than $99.00 so we gladly paid the ferryman, even before he got us to the other side (ref. Chris de Burgh c 1982).



The final section of track to Bamaga is very chewed up - lots of corrugations, pot holes and nasty wash outs. Perhaps the grader needs to catch the ferry too? We managed to snare the last room at the Cape York Peninsula Lodge, Ali almost hip and shouldering another potential guest out of the way in the rush for the door to the reception counter. The lady was in her 70s and had a dodgy hip so didn’t stand a chance against the sprightly 52 year-old Ali.

A day exploring the Cape tomorrow, another night at the Cape York Peninsula Lodge, then it's time to start the long journey home.

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