Burton's Perth to Cape York Cooktown to Twin Falls Day 42-46 11-15 May 2011 2

Thursday, May 17, 2012 at 16:43

Mike & Amanda

Birdsong and the sound of vast amounts of water flowing nearby is a soothing way to wake up. A torrential downpour in the night has dampened everything down, leaving a washed, earthen smell that wafts through the camper trailer's large mesh windows. Stretching I wander barefooted down the faint track through the thick woodland forest to the Elliot River, flowing strongly not far from our camp site. A dawn, solitary soak in the rapids and one of the deeply eroded rock holes washes away the remnants of a good night's sleep in this beautiful bush setting. Even this early it is warm and humid, meaning boardshorts are once again, the outfit of choice. An hour or two reading a novel on the iPad, enjoying fresh coffee and buttered toast, occasionally listening to the bush sounds and enjoying the Cape York wild bush fragrances. This morning Amanda cooked us all delicious fresh hot apple and cinnamon pikelets, spread with melting butter, strawberry jam or honey.

Twin Falls has been relatively quiet. We are amongst the first up the road to the Cape with us and only one other couple John and Chris camped here. There is still much confusion about the new Queensland pre-booking system with most people seeming to not book and chance it. We met the Ranger at Bramwell Junction and he certainly is not supportive and he hasn't turned up over the four days we've been here. Luckily the 200kg pig hunter with blood under his fingernails wasn't camped in our spot!

We left Cooktown after topping up our water tanks and stopping at the bakery for four fresh loaves of wholemeal bread. The Battle Camp road wound around and over the thickly forested Ranges of the same name. Unsure when the gravel properly started we finally pulled over at the Isabella Falls ford to air down the muddies. The volume of water running over the concrete base was very impressive, but quite frightening when viewed from the falls. This would make a pretty overnight camp, unfortunately we had other places to be. Our plan was to make a beeline for the Twin Falls camping area, using it as a base to explore the Old Telegraph track. This later proved to be a good decision given the condition of the river crossings. Unfortunately it meant quite a fast drive up the Cape potentially missing many sites in our haste, however we rationalised that we could slow down and see them on the way back, when the main road had probably deteriorated. The new Tyre Dogs continued to give us grief, failing to be picked up by the receiver on startup and requiring the batteries to be removed and replaced to wake them up. We've tried everything with the relay, the menus, replacing batteries, checking connections....the only option now is a phone call to the distributor, followed by a stern letter. We may as well have stuck with the old failing set rather than wasting $600 on devices that don't work. The Battle Camp Road was is great condition with significant sections of bitumen, mostly on steep inclines or deep crossings. There was little evidence of water and we couldn't see any reason why it had been closed until recently. Plenty of dust, little corrugation and no washaways, with much evidence of recent maintenance, the drive was reasonably fast and without any discomfort. The big Cruiser and the Old Man Emus absorbed all bumps. We passed a number of stations, noted by the many grids across the track, the last being Battle Camp before arriving at Lakefield National Park. The vegetation became notably more lush and dense, palms and other rainforest plants providing hints of the high rainfall. The water levels at the Laura River ford were low running at only half a metre on the signpost and not causing any problems, although it was a quite wide crossing and provided some excitement. Water over the bonnet....ahh, this is what we came to the Cape to see, us West Australians being water-crossing deprived! As we followed the bend down towards Laura, we glanced back to the road into Lakefield and noticed it barricaded closed. The word was it wouldn't open until June - without knowing what it was like inside, we still pondered why on earth everything remained closed so long? Everything looked quite dry, the water crossings quite low and the roads in great condition.

We bypassed Laura, intending to stop on the way back, drove up the Peninsular Development Road, fuelling up at the Hann River Roadhouse. The friendly young lady proprietor was exasperated at why the roads had just opened, their business suffering the consequences. She confirmed that we were one of the first up and welcomed the opportunity of a chat. The PDR was in remarkable condition with very little bumps and corrugations, the dust being the only ever present outback nuisance. The skies were constantly cloudy, alternately darkening, becoming threatening before easing off leaving the 26 degree warmth and accompanying humidity. All water crossings were at a low level with no challenges so far with most being concrete bottomed fords. There were small sections of bitumen, way outnumbered by the endless dips causing us to constantly slow. We bypassed Musgrave filling up at Coen. Everyone seemed out of fuel except for the general store, which fortunately had only just restored their power hours before. Some dodgy bush wiring had failed. The Exchange Hotel was a remarkably bland set of demountables and nothing here enticed us to stay, so we headed off to The Bend camping area a few kilometres north on the banks of the Coen River. This was a very picturesque spot with only a few campers present. We made friends with the owners of a garish purple troopie, German travel writers of some acclaim. They have spent the last seven years travelling various countries in four wheel drive vehicles, all painted their trade mark purple. We spent the evening chinwagging around a pleasantly fragrant campfire, sipping white wine and learning of their travels through Africa. They had already travelled to Bramwell Junction keen to experience the Old Telegraph track only to find that the first crossing, Palm Creek was an impassable muddy boghole. They would now head south and return in September to try again. In the morning a small group of grinning, young aboriginal boys equipped with gidgies came by to proudly show off the water snake they had speared. As I leaned forward to look more closely, it thrashed wildly revealing it was not quite dead and causing me to hurriedly retreat. Surprisingly, young Kate usually very timid, leaned forward and touched it to see what it was like - "euww! It's slimy", she proclaimed.

There was very little wildlife to be seen. Bulls regaled us with unearthly growls and bellows in the night, confusing the Germans as to what manner of beast this was. We saw the occasional wild pig, a red brown flash as a dingo dashed across the road and not much else. Cattle on the road did not present much of a problem as the Asian breeds seemed docile, with sad sleepy glances in our direction as we passed, disturbing their lazy somnolence. A few kilometres north of Coen we came across the Quarantine Station, strangely deserted, probably due to the earliness of the season. We stopped and looked around wanting to grab a free Cape York information pack and luckily found a prepared bundle on the counter. The rest of the PDR all the way passed Archer River was in very good condition with the constant roller coaster stopping and starting for dips and flood ways slowing progress. Just passed the Roadhouse the Archer River crossing now a concrete causeway was a mere trickle, quite disappointing really! Soon we veered right onto the Telegraph Road zooming all the way to Bramwell Junction for fuel. Pulled up at the pumps was Dave, Lyndall and family in their 76 series and Camprite trailer. We'd previously met up with them at Cooktown learning that their itinerary is almost identical to ours. Dave is an an industrial arts teacher from Grafton off on a six month break. We chatted for a while until Dave tried to sort out his Twin Falls camping permit with the off-duty Ranger, enjoying a coke in between motocross rides. The lady serving told us of the three four wheel drives - "all the gear but no idea" currently stuck at Palm Creek. She said it really is impassible and not worth the effort for another couple of weeks. All the creeks after this were up and if you could cross would take senseless hours of work.
Armed with this advice, being solo travellers and wanting to make it home via the top end and the Kimberleys we were pleased that we'd made the decision to base ourselves at Twin Falls. Heading up the Southern Bypass Road was a doddle. It had been freshly graded with roadworks crews still busily carting, grading, rolling and compacting. The biggest risk here was the vehicle to vehicle interaction, the large haul trucks not moving over for anyone, especially bloody tourists! There was only one hairy crossing with very muddy water of unknown depth crossing the gravel. Haul truck tracks bit deep either side suggesting it was well and truly chewed up. Into one of those rare moments of low range, close eyes and foot down and.....well it wasn't really boggy or difficult...LOL. Long stretches of bitumen, the last one 10km just before the start of the northern section of the OTT had us blinking in surprise...as the sticker on our Cruiser eloquently states 'Bitumen, another waste of taxpayer's money!". It rained on this section causing the twisty gravel to become quite slippery and it was now easy to understand how a number of vehicles had rolled in the past. Our biggest fear on these trips is when other out of control vehicles or those driven by morons with no idea approach us, being early though, we've missed the crowds and the peak bogan season.

Finally we hit the turn off for the northern section of the OTT and it noticeably deteriorates into a single lane track, sometimes with ruts, some sandy sections, some largish rocky outcroppings, some overgrown pin-striping bits and plenty of small washaways and holes. For this section the piece de la resistance was the steep fall towards Canal Creek followed by a steep exit. The bottom was firm, the water up to the lower grill, with some deeper holes. No problem, straight through although we did glance at some sort of bypass which looked uncannily similar to an Himalayan goat track, a far worse proposition I thought. The road into Twin Falls was a breeze, just some tight turns around the campsite roads which could scrape the trailer if we weren't careful. It took some powerful orienteering using the map we'd downloaded from the web to find our site, number 23. There are essentially two different loops, no camp sites are numbered, and some sites are marked camper trailer only. We eventually deciphered the mystery, found our site and set up camp before exploring the Saucepan, Elliot Falls and Twin Falls. Here we met John and Chris from Brisbane well and truest costly ensconced in a nearby site. They had taken the barge from Cairns to Seisha and then driven down, blissfully unaware of things like road closures and permits. The whole system is designed for those going north and those coming south are overlooked! We spent a couple of wonderful evening over an ale or two chatting to them, Dave being a contract civil engineer and bridge specialist and Chris being a mental health nurse from QUT...just the thing we needed really...LOL. Each campsite is a bollarded cut out, size dependent upon tent or camper trailer. The placement of the metal fire rings defies logic, being in completely the wrong spot. The five minute walk to the falls is sheer delight, gravel and boardwalk, surrounded with woodland and continually bombarded with large numbers of colourful butterflies. The twin falls are wonderful, the water warm and clear with a predominantly sandy bottom. Ferns and some pitcher plants surround the edges. The top falls include a frothy washing machine spa that really gives the body a work out. The currents are forceful and very enjoyable.

The next day we left the Oddy behind and headed south towards the southern section of the OTT. We easily crossed the little wooden sleeper bridge on a denuded Sailor Creek, the road gangs sucking out water for their works. The whole area had become a very ugly borrow pit. We drove twenty odd kilometres towards Cockatoo Creek,enjoying the track, it reminding us of the Gunbarrel. Narrow, not maintained with some washaways and holes that required slow, careful wheel placement, but nothing too difficult. Cockatoo Creek was another ball game! It was flowing fast and was up to 1.5 metres deep. The bottom was very uneven rock slabs, all over the place,some with deep holes in them. I walked it twice, noticing the Achtung crocodile warning sign, each time I had some difficulty with the current wanting to sweep me over. As desperate as we were to cross and reach Gunshot we decided to run away and fight another day. Backtracking is boring, however we retraced our steps and soon headed down Bamaga Road to the Heathlands Ranger Station. Much to our disbelief we met a guy towing a very large caravan. He was quite annoyed to have come all this way to obtain a permit for Twin Falls to find the Ranger Station gates locked. We chatted about his ability to get THAT van into Twin Falls before he wisely decided to leave it at Sailor Creek. Next we bumped into a couple of miners from Weipa on their days off just retuning from Gunshot in a troopy. They sadly informed us that they had tried to cross Cockatoo Creek from the south and like us had decided it was too risky. I felt a little vindicated and then elated as they said they had crossed Gunshot! Having gathered the goss, we headed along the bypass and down the OTT this side of Cockatoo. Again the track was not difficult, although certainly contributed to more pinstriping, making us think that this was a Landrover track. We stopped at the linesman WJ Brown's grave and read the narrative to the children. No one was around and I couldn't believe how much of pigsty the whole area was. The Gunshot camping area was like a tip. The big drop offs filled with oil and crap. The trees were littered with number plates, flags, items of clothing and other perceived trophies, all in all not a very attractive sight. We walked the entries and exits, careful of broken glass until deciding on the least offensive right hand side, going from north to south. Film crew in place ( Jack and Amanda), Kate and I boarded the mighty Cruiser and headed down into the slop. We made it up quite easily, hitting a tree stump in the middle of the track as an alternative to sliding sideways into a pit. The number plate decided to bend upwards and I think a bash plate has loosened right off. Running out of daylight we decided not to visit Bertie Creek and the Dulhunty, both being very difficult at this early time of the season, if the stories were right. We stopped at Fruit Bat for a swim and decided that Twin Falls is much more attractive.
Some observations - the Cape's pristine areas are full of rubbish, people leaving toilet paper, cans and cigarette butts everywhere...something you don't usually see in the Kimberleys. Whilst we were at Twin Falls people coming from Weipa just moved into a camper trailer area, put on the boom box very loudly and ripped out a growing tree for fire wood. Another group of Queenslanders turned up for a swim and left their empty cans behind. We sighted at least three full bags of rubbish dumped on the PDR. The OTT is not that technically difficult, easier I'd say that the Gunbarrel and certainly easier than the Boggy Holes Finke River track. The Creek Crossings are certainly another story and are very difficult and high risk. The risk of water ingress and electrical damage this far from home certainly outweighs the benefits for us.....the flora and fauna so far is a little spartan,except for some pitcher plants and a couple of green tree frogs. This of course may be due to our fast travelling, however the Daintree certainly was rich and alive in comparison. Still, there is much more to come and I'm looking forward to dispelling these thoughts as we travel further.....
Mike & Amanda
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