Burton's Perth to Cape York The TIP to Mt Surprise Day 49-54 18-23 May 2011

Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at 17:46

Mike & Amanda

The Bedrock Tourist Park at Mount Surprise is a real gem. It has been carved out of bush and rock by Joe and Jo, lovingly landscaped and infused with smiles and customer satisfaction. If you want to see the Undara Lava Tubes there seems to be some sort of monopoly conspiracy in play. Apparently you can't do it yourself and must join a tour, the two licensed operators being Bedrock and the Undara Lodge. As it is a National Park this seems to be a strange set up and probably questionable from a legal perspective. Nevertheless as much as we are adverse to guided tours, often finding them expensive and full of inane environmental and cultural trivia that I'd rather not pay for. In fact the half day Undara tour could be done by us in less than an hour, not having to wait for pensioners, hip replacements and facts about cows, weaners and electric fences. I'm being a little unkind, realising that these tours are essential for others and the Bedrock caravan park is well worth a stay, probably preferable to the expensive Undara Lodge.

From Punsand Bay we retraced our steps to Bamaga, revelling in the wet, muddy, rain forested track until we sadly encountered the bitumen. The Southern Bypass Road through the Heathlands Resource Reserve (reserved for future greedy desolation?) became quite twisty as it snaked across the remnants of the Great Dividing Range. Care was needed here, especially towing a trailer as excessive speed could lead to a slidey and swift demise. We smiled as we passed the track to the Ranger Station and the bypass to Gunshot, the Cruiser still wincing from the underside scrapes she'd received. Overall the road had deteriorated noticeably in the time since we were last here. The road crews were still busily grading and rolling however the law of diminishing returns will see them lose their race and in a few weeks the road will probably be quite unpleasant. Our goal tonight was to be Bramwell Station, a place we'd heard and read many good things about. Unfortunately this early in the season they were only just getting ready and in the process of mustering using a very noisy dragonfly like helicopter darting to and fro. The smelly cattle in the holding yards next to the camping areas decided us to try further on, finally making Morton Telegraph Station as the evening and dark ominous clouds approached. The huge lawns looked inviting, dotted with the occasional Cape warrior and their tents. Several rings of a little bell brought our a friendly bearded Harry to the outside shop and museum. He pointed us to a nice isolated spot and the inviting clean hot showers that motivated us to set up quickly. We toured the Station, noted the flood level posts and the displays of historic photos and telegraph insulators before walking down to the Wenlock and it's concrete causeway. The free camping areas along here looked dismal and uneven, probably all disrupted from the recent wet. The river levels were low and all in all uninviting. Squally rain drove us back to camp only to find a large group of noisy four wheel drives with roof top and trailer tinnies had set up next door....damn!

For icecreams, toilet stops and just a leg stretch we stopped at Archer River and Musgrave. We helped out by dropping off some lettuces from Musgrave to Hahn River Roadhouse, apparently they had run out and the Stations were helping each other out, with the willing assistance of us West Aussies..grin. We zoomed though Coen, Laura and onto Lakeland for the night. Shock, horror, we started to see lots of caravans, some even towed by...gasp...sedans! Tricked up, packed up four wheel drives became a rarity, camper trailers non existent.....what terrible world had we turned up in? The caravan park at Lakeland was quiet, grassed and best of all over the road from a coffee house...we topped off our water tanks, did a little long overdue maintenance, filled a gas bottle and headed off quite late towards Chillagoe. The early starts we once were quite good at are now eluding us...that second lazy cup of coffee blows Plan A and we meander out of our camping ground a good two hours later than we should...oh what the heck, we are on holiday and we can now slow down, the stops quite close together with two or three days scheduled in one place.

Chillagoe greeted us with its faded statue of some ancient swimming dinosaur, probably a plesiosaur of some type. We found the worn looking caravan park and set up, leaving early the next morning for the 9.00am cave tour. The dour lady at the 'Hub' visitor centre face would have cracked if she'd smiled, customer service once again being unheard of. We joined a group of ten people and followed a ranger into the bowels of the earth to a dry limestone cave that was a reasonably impressive experience.

From Chillagoe we found the dirt of the Burke Developmental Road before turning off onto the Savannah Way alternative route. We'd heard from others that this was a 'rough' track, but come to think of it they were caravanners, so it probably was in their frame of reference. We found it thoroughly enjoyable, very up and down with endless dips, creek crossings and single lane blind curves. Best of all we didn't see another vehicle the whole way and enjoyed the drive immensely.

Back on the bitumen we started encountering more road works, unattended robot traffic lights, but otherwise a quick drive to Bedrock where Jo greeted us with a huge sunny smile and showed us to our spot. The park was very quiet with only a couple of caravans in evidence. This was soon to change and caravans arrived from everywhere filling up the many spots with a smattering of Britzes and the occasional tent. These travellers were noticeably more reserved than those we met in the Centre and on the Cape. These appeared to be more urbanites, shiny polished vehicles, huge vans, chairs facing inwards towards the van and reluctant to engage in a chat. Maybe we camper trailer folk are too bush rough for them.....the Cruiser resplendent in its coating of red mud and it's missing number plate certainly receives a few disapproving looks....maybe we'll have to consider a wash.....

The tour bus ride to the crater was not that pleasant. It just isn't my cup of tea, I hate buses especially overly warm, full with tourist bodies, always making me slightly car sick....I miss being behind the wheel of the lifted Cruiser doing our own thing....the walk to the crater rim was mediocre, causing most of the group to wheeze and puff, the kids and us streaking ahead, only to be told..."you must STAY with the group!" We learned about cows, weaners, spear grass, electric fences, were invited to take photos of the distant ranger station before heading down for a very nice morning tea. The Anzac bikkies were great, the kids sneaking a couple of extras and acting as unofficial assists for Di the guide. Back in the claustrophobic bus and off to the tubes where we climbed down some quite difficult, steep rock strewn paths to the huge dark tubes. We visited a couple, seeing bones, bats, calcium carbonate and magnesium. I can see why the powers that be would be nervous of decrepit pensioners hurting themselves, however it would be a doddle for reasonably fit and sensible individuals...think Tunnel Creek in the Kimberleys....Kings Canyon, Cradle Mountain...I suspect it's more about reaping a tourist dollar than anything else.

Enough of my grumpy cynicism, the rain cometh according to BOM and tomorrow we head off along the Savannah Way towards Lawn Hill. We've had a nice three night layover and all are a little rested, although the dirt and other friendly camper trailers beckon.....
Mike & Amanda
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