Sunday, August 5, 2012

Cape York - The Wrap Up

The Good The Bad The Ugly

So, all up, it was an 8160 kilometre trip. 

From Wee Waa to the Top it was a 3920 kilometre journey, with a few diversions on the way.

Some statistics for the number freaks...

Most expensive fuel was at Seisia at $2.36/litre.

Cheapest was $1.44/litre at Proserpine.

I spent $1726.76 on fuel alone. (Not too bad as I'd budgeted 2 grand for fuel.)

I used 1126 litres of petrol, ranging from 91 octane through to premium octane 98. The Cape only had unleaded 91 on sale. 

I think we went over about 1 million corrugations. Not one glass or egg in my rig was broken however!

One tyre on the FJ was staked with a tent peg. $50 and a very helpful tyre repairer later, one new only ever to suit a spare was installed on the car. If you're ever in Cooktown and need a tyre or a tyre repair, drop in to Cape York Tyres and tell Kim that the woman with the yellow FJ sent you!

One trailer bearing was blown. It was unfortunate but it happened on a bitumen section so it wasn't too bad to change and we were on our way south to Cairns. It did however change our plans for travel back to Cairns. 

We stayed at 7 different caravan parks, 2 National Parks, 1 bush camp, 2 roadhouses, 1 cattle station, 1 5 star resort, 1 telegraph station and 1 serviced apartment.

The camper was set up and down 12 times, with 3 nights in a row being the most times we had to set up and down. The longest it was set up for was for 5 nights at Punsand Bay. 

The highest temperature was at Punsand Bay with 33 degrees and the coldest was at Miles at about 0.

No sightings of actual crocodiles, just a set of tracks on the sand in front of the camp one morning. 

Not one fish was caught. Can't believe no one in our group wanted to fish!

1 Tortoise spotted in the crystal clear waters of Twin Falls on the OTL.

1 Dingo spotted on the side of the road, after Palmer River Roadhouse. Which incidentally was the best  roadhouse stay. Make sure you say hi to Andrew and his mate Jordan if you're there from me. 

Went to town on the touristy souvenir thing and bought 8 stickers, 2 magnets, 5 stubby holders, 2 t-shirts, 2 tin cups and 1 guide book.

There is no figure for the amount of dust on the car or camper but I reckon that we got back to Cairns 50kg heavier than when we left just from the dust! 

Saw only 3 other FJ Cruiser's on the Cape. Out of all of them, only one gave me an enthused flash of lights as they went past. 

Cape York - The Journey Part 2

In a journey of some 8 thousand kilometres, you kind of make a few are some of my thoughts.

"You always meet new people at the amenities block."

Its true! There was even one lady who I was talking to one day whose friend came over and actually chipped her for talking once again to strangers! With a smile on her face of course. It is only natural that the amenities block of a caravan park is where you're going to meet people, it is after all the hub of the park! If you're not there to wash your self, you're there at the laundry washing your clothes and its a great way to find out where people have been, what they have seen and if it was worth seeing. 

"Signs to somewhere interesting are nearly always invariably put next to the interesting thing, meaning that you have flashed past before you know it."

It is times like these that it is a good idea to visit the local tourist info and check out what is in the area to see. Know your location, I think!

"Road works are a constant in life."

Certainly on this trip they were. Even way up at the top we were slowing and stopping for road work crews. Further up however, you were encouraged to call up on the UHF to let them know you were coming through. The worst road works by far had to be south of Rockhampton on the Bruce Highway, where there were 56 kilometres of them! I was certainly over road works after that days drive.

"Ant hills cover plains like cotton covers fields."

Lakefield National Park was where you could look out across the plain and just see endless ant hills. As we got further north, the bigger they got. It seemed that with a change of soil, there was also a corresponding change of ant hill size and colour. The ones right up the top towered over the cars!

I think that the trip has not only been about where we have been, seen or done but has also been about the people that we have met. 

For example, the South Aussies we met at Hann River, then continued to bump into or camp next to up until Archer River Roadhouse. I am a little sorry we didn't see them further up at the Tip, it would have been a great ending to the story! 

Then there were the people we met along the OTL. The 2 young European guys enjoying the trip of a life time in their Landcruiser Troopy. The couple whose hubby needed a cane to get around but his wife bravely got out each time to direct him through the crossings! The couple at Bramwell Station who were returning from their trip, with their lovely Cocker Spaniel in tow, who had retired from South Australia to Cairns. They sat with us for a while, swapping tales about wine and food. The young couple at the Tip itself, completely excited to be there and had made an epic 10 thousand kilometre journey that had started at Geelong. 

There were the big groups travelling through, the blokes riding the dirt bikes, whilst their female partners drove their vehicles. The Just 4 Kids motor trail which happened to park up alongside us one night at Punsand Bay and invited us in to enjoy their evening of "Not Much Talent Time!" 

Along with the people, we enjoyed the sights that they also brought to camp. After arriving at camp, it was usually interesting to indulge in the sport of "Camp Set Up". To do this, it would involve a camp chair, a beer or a cider in a stubby cooler and a strategic position to watch your neighbours go about their routine of getting camp set up for the night. It was funny to watch as it often involved a lot of tent peg hammering and finger pointing. This was often followed up with the sport of "Speculating on what happened to..." and often involved a 4wd with a bonnet up, a wheel off or in the case of one poor unfortunate couple, a 4wd on the back of a truck. Much guessing and speculation went on when a road train pulled into a roadhouse one evening with not one but two 4wds on the trailer. 

This upturned trailer on the OTL even had a story. We had the owner of the trailer camp next to us at Punsand Bay. He wasn't having a very good Cape trip. Unfortunately, he'd left out a set of solar panels and returned to camp to find that someone else had decided to "borrow" them and they were never seen again. We had also been warned about the trailers "littering" the Cape and OTL. This trailer, was the only one we saw the entire trip. Every other trailer was firmly attached to the rear of the tow vehicle!

I think that everyone goes up to the Cape with adventure in their mind. From the get go, you just know that adventure is what the Cape is about. Regardless of how hard or easy you do the trip, it is just an adventure. From the challenge of the OTL, to the ease of the bitumen and the rough corrugations of the Development road and the remote isolation of the area, all smack of adventure to be had. Every day brought adventure, even if we were just taking a walk along the beach at Punsand Bay. Each individual who undertakes this journey will have their own adventure. Even those much older people who chose to take their adventure in a 4wd tour bus, not camp in anything less than a safari tent and touch the tip of Australia for themselves. 

For me, it was an adventure of a lifetime. I would go back and do it again. Maybe slightly differently, but I think that that is the nature of adventure. It is always going to be different whatever you are tackling. My personal Cape experience was fantastic. There was not a dull moment and it was worth every cent and minute spent on preparation. In years to come, I will have great stories to tell family and memories to laugh over with friends. I consider myself to be amongst the privileged to have gone to the Top of Australia and stood with all of the country at one moment being below me!

Cape York - The Journey

What an epic adventure. 

After 8160 kilometres, I have made it back home. It has been an awesome 5 weeks of being away and now it is time to share some more stories and photos of this Duchess on Tour!

Whilst I am typing, the iMac is processing the HD video which I will soon edit into a movie for all to enjoy. For now, you will have to read the story and relate through pictures.

This is where I sat after reaching Canal Creek on the old Telegraph Track (OTL) and wrote down our adventures of the day. It was a fitting end to what was a full day of travel and excitement. We had come up from a swim in the creek to wash off the dust and sweat from another warm day on the Cape. Here follows an excerpt from that journal entry...

"Today was an awesome day. In a word...just awesome.

We left Bramwell Station for Bramwell Junction roadhouse at around 8.30am. I fuelled there whilst the others had a pie for morning tea. We headed down the Old Tele Track to have a look at Palm Creek where we had been told it was a steep drop in and cars had to be winched out. 

Once on the Tele, it was a little surreal. This was the place of many a story, where I have spent hours reading about and watching video of. Now the story had come to life and it was unfolding into my own to tell." 

"We reached Palm Creek and stopped for a look. There was already a gathering of people who had either made it across or were about to attempt it. After a quick assessment it was decided that we wouldn't be attempting it but we did make the decision to head to Gunshot via the Development road and bypass."

"We traversed some narrow, rough tracks, drove through heathland, crossed a small clear creek with a short steep drop off into it and finally arrived at the famous Gunshot Creek. It certainly looked impossible to traverse as the south bank is very steep and cut away in places. There were plenty of people there to watch as well as make the crossing. A very friendly social affair really!"

"I was the first of our group to go down. The men walked me down it first, pointing out the hazards to avoid and what I needed to do to make a safe crossing. Then I jumped into the FJ, put it into low range and off I went, with Tony as my guide out front, pointing out which way to turn the wheels. The FJ cruised down into Gunshot creek with ease and it was an awesome feeling to get to the bottom and drive easily through the water and across the other side. Peter was not far behind me with my trailer in tow and big old Mandy the Landy made it look very easy! I didn't get to see all of Leon's drive down but as he came up to me at the other side, in his usual fashion gave me a straight face but very quickly broke out into a big grin and said "We conquered the mighty Gunshot!""

"It wasn't over yet!"

"We pulled out and headed off towards the next challenge. It was to be Cockatoo creek, flowing fast with some deep holes in the crossing. The entry was also steep with a couple of drop offs and it also would require some care. As Peter was in front of me, this time I got to watch my trailer follow him through. It was faithfully following and never once looked like it was going to cause a problem for the big Landy. Tony was next, in his Disco, so that once again he could jump out and direct me through. It was another exercise in trust as I followed his directions across the fast flowing but shallow water. We made it with no worries and once again I let the FJ climb out of the river bank and heard the funny clanging and growling of the A-trac as it clicked in and out whilst one or the other wheel lost a bit of traction." 

It was also amazing to get to the other side of Cockatoo creek and discover that the National Parks had installed a toilet! Literally in the middle of no where! Believe me when I say that all the women made fast use of it!

"The rest of the trip back to the main bypass road was scenic and I managed to find one remaining old telegraph line pole still standing up right. Every other pole we saw had been vandalised and bent over as people in the past had got themselves some souvenirs of a bygone era. Driving on the track it was hard to imagine what it would have been like to cut a way through as the line was installed. Harder to imagine was the 2 men who drove a Baby Austin up the Tele Track back in 1928!"

Friday, July 20, 2012

We Made It!!

What a wild five days it has been since we were in Weipa! Full of fantastic driving, adventure and camping.

I have spent many months, years even reading and watching everything there is on the very famous Old Telegraph Track. Watched hours of footage of the famous and often dreaded Gunshot creek crossing. Well, now I can say that I have my very own footage of this famed 4wding challenge as I tackled it and succeeded! What a fabulous little car I have, it went every where and then some that I pointed it at.

We are now camped at the beautiful Punsand Bay camping ground. We have absolute beach front here for 10 bucks a night! Sadly, you can't get in the water here...too many big lizards. I actually found evidence of one on the beach one morning as it had come out of the water and left some very clear prints in the newly washed over sand. Yes, I took photos! (There is not a lot up here that I haven't taken photos of, as you can imagine!)

Yesterday, we did the Tip itself, which involved a half hour trip down a 7km track with various water crossings and low range type terrain. It was heaps of fun and I really have enjoyed having Tony as a very capable and encouraging 4wding mentor! He even got out on the way home to film me making the water crossings in the FJ. Getting to the Tip itself was a bit of a walk but we made the trek in no time and soon we were standing on that also most famous piece of Australia, the northernmost tip. I can now add it to my list of being at the southernmost tip and the easternmost tip. Bring on the western tip!

The FJ has performed flawlessly and I think it is becoming a bit of a celebrity on the Cape. Just today as we were driving through Seisia after doing some shopping, I noticed someone taking photos as we came around the corner...and it wasn't the local highway patrol!

We are here until Monday morning, when we leave and start the journey south and into our last two weeks of holiday. Where we will go the first leg we've not yet decided but we know one thing for sure that we will be on a heading of south!

A couple of teaser pics for of me at the Tip. The sign is especially for my mate, Bruce! The other is of my trailer coming across Gunshot, towed by our fearless tour guide in his mighty Landrover powered by a 6.8 litre Chevy V8 diesel motor! So no dishonour in that! I had decided to let experience take the trailer, so that I could concentrate on just getting the car down. The Landy made the descent down Gunshot look real easy, even with a trailer!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Weipa...not far to go.

After a few days travel we have made Weipa. Our camp is looking right at the water, which we can't really swim in because of the snapping handbags. We have had a good few days travel, made some new friends and finally have made the hot weather. It is about 31 degrees as I type and the sun has gone down! We will be here for two nights before heading onto the bottom end of the infamous Old Telegraph Track. As much as I want to see it, I am not so sure I want to do it! However, considering how good the roads have been so far, apart from the dust, I am thinking that even the OTT has been talked up a bit too! For now, its time to R & R, get over the travel and have a day off from packing and unpacking up camp...we are getting better at it!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cooktown - The Windy City

"I had ambition not only to go farther than any one had been before but as far as it was possible for man to go." Captain James Cook

No one seems to know Cooktown's secret. However, it is hinted everywhere around the town. They were even talking about it in the 19th Century! Can you even guess what it was about? I'll let you in on it later...(yes, yes, I know...a cliff hanger!)

Today was a pretty amazing day. It started with a very bad night of not much sleep and a tree being knocked down. It started with breakfast at a contemporary cafe in the main street and included a spiked tyre. We've not even GOT to the Tip yet!

I enjoyed  a nice brekky of scrambled eggs, bacon and an amazing relish (don't worry, we're bringing some home!), I had 2 coffees at the Capers Cafe but I am still confident in the knowledge that I am very good at being a Barista and that these people, although trying up here in FNQ, aren't. That's a fact. I'm not banging a drum here.

After breakfast, myself and another couple decided to check out local accommodation that would not mean camping. Yes, you heard me...we didn't want to camp out another night. The tree coming down was just a little bit close. We met back at camp and made our decision to go to the Sovereign Resort. Good choice as it turns out!

A quick pack up and thankfully, the caravan park manager refunded our second nights stay. One bright point  in a bit of a dark 24 hours. As we left, I was a bit sus about my right rear tyre. Seemed a bit low, which was odd, considering how it really only has less than 3000kms on it. After hunting around I found a tyre service who was willing to take the tyre off and they pretty much found the culprit straight away. Yep, it was spiked with a 3 inch long piece of rod. I suspect it came from the camp ground. Another reason to leave. Well, that tyre now is just the spare until I get back to home, when I can source another. It will only be good for getting me out of trouble. I'm a bit annoyed about a new tyre being spiked and I did consider going back to the caravan park and letting them wear the bill of a new tyre.

Our tour leader said that all should be good now...we've had our trouble.

I'm not counting chickens! We've still got a long way to go.

The rest of the day was spent in a bit of shopping, lunch, checking out the James Cook museum and getting some washing done.

Now, I am sitting here in the very nice resort room that I have for the night, slumming it as the next two weeks will be pure camping, like it or not!

We make our first leg of the trip now up to the Cape proper. As of tomorrow, it is all dirt! If I have fixed the leaking camper problem, then hopefully there won't be too much dust on the inside either!

Here's hoping we do make the rest of the trip safely. Its epic alright!

This is a quick shot of the three intrepid adventurers rigs at Black Mountain, near Cooktown.

Oh...and what is Cooktown's secret?

Well...lets just say that wind is not an unusual phenomenon here...even the nuns all those years ago were saying how it was always "blowing, blowing, blowing!!!"

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Tropics...Wet Wet Wet!!

This is a picture of the remind us what it looks like!! This was taken at Seaforth, just north of Mackay. We were camped not 100 metres from this beach.

Two days in Townsville and now a day on the road and every one has been overcast. Today was particularly wet as we headed north to Wonga Beach, about 60kms north of Cairns. Sometimes the rain was torrential, others it was just a drizzle! We weren't deterred however, as it made for some cooler driving.

We departed Townsville at 8am and did a poor hours drive of only 70km. Mostly due to the weather as there were not many road works happening today.

A quick stop in Tully to take a wet photo of the big gumboot (how appropriate!) and then a morning tea stop for those who wanted to eat.

Today we have a third car in our convoy, as Leon's brother Peter and his wife, Julie have joined us in their big LandRover Defender. It isn't towing anything so Peter has been playing tour guide for the day riding up front. He has also let us know where there are any hazards on the road and when he's turning...mostly!

We got through Cairns fairly quickly and I was sorry that we didn't have time to stop there as it looked like it was worth exploring further! Hopefully on our way home, our itinerary will allow for it. I've never been to Cairns before. At least now I can say I have!

Our lunch stop was at Ellis Beach cafe and I think we were about the only patrons there. If it had been a better day I am sure that the place would be packed as it has a terrific beach view. Today's view was of a very messy sea that was also brown.

We arrived at the Pinnacle Caravan Park around 4.30pm and quickly found our camping site. After playing a bit of musical cars and campers, we finally settled on our positions and set up in short order. With the drizzle about, we were quick to get things sorted! Unfortunately, I also noticed that apparently my trailer has decided to drink about a litre of water today, how or where it has got in it is hard to say as all the seals seem to be dry. Tomorrow we'll get a bit of a better look and try to drain the water out!

Our campsite is a bit damp but we are well protected from the strong NE wind blowing off shore and there are not many others camping in the unpowered section here. It is sometimes good to be self sufficient!

Tomorrow is our trek up the Bloomfield track to Cooktown. A distance of some 160kms but likely to take us the best part of the day. Hopefully, my trailer won't be drinking too much more water and hopefully NO mud!! On the upside, everything seems dry and safe inside.

With a bit of luck, tomorrow will dawn dry and I'll be able to get some photos of the campsite and the beach before we have to pack up once more and leave!

Over the course of the trip, we've done some km's. It has been an amazing thing to think on how vast this country is, however, it is still hard to believe that I am currently sitting north of Cairns, just a few days away from touching the top of Australia.