We commenced our 14 day itinerary up to Cape York from Cairns. We kept a daily blog recording the action, adventure and amazing sites we saw in one of the absolute highlights of our lap of Australia.
Day 1 – Cairns to Laura
After a day of packing and preparation, we were off! To truly make our trip to the tip an adventure, we decided to ditch the van and take the tents. This meant a heap of planning…taking food, bedding and shelter for 5 people in one vehicle is quite a challenge! It also meant that we could go anywhere we wanted without being restricted by the van.
We headed off from Cairns, via Port Douglas to drop off the
van. Taking the scenic route via Palm Cove, the views were stunning. We got a
taste of the beautiful beaches we will see at the top.
Our first stop was Laura. The roads were all sealed, so it was an easy drive. We stayed overnight at the Community Campground for $20. The campground was simple but neat…unfortunately Thursday night is apparently party night in town, and the locals kicked on for most of the night with music and yelling…if possible, avoid the town on Thursday and Friday nights.
Day 2 – Laura to Coen
The birds had us up bright and early! The night was cool, but the morning warmed up very quickly. When is came time to pack up camp, we were grateful for having a place for everything in the Land Cruiser. Fortunately, JD is a packing Ninja, and Jed was a great help getting everything onto the roof with the help of the SUV doorstop.
We started the day with a short back track to the Split Rock
Aboriginal Rock Art Gallery. A 300m walk up the rocks revealed an array of rock
art including animals and spiritual stories. It was well worth the walk!
It was then time to hit the bitumen again, and the red
stuff! We aired down to 25 PSI all round, ready for some rough roads. As it
turned out, they didn’t eventuate! With the road recently graded, it was a
surprisingly easy drive.
Our fist priority in Coen was a lunch spot. We found a great park with playground, tables and toilets. It was exactly what we all needed. After a good feed of salad wraps (when packing, make sure you leave some lunch food easily accessible!), we headed to the Heritage Centre for a look.
The Heritage Centre is located in an original telegraph communications building. This was one of the buildings constructed with materials transported on the Old Telegraph Track. It was a great display of artefacts and history of communications in the area, dating back to the 1800’s, as well as the mining history of the Cape. Well worth a visit…thanks Coen for a providing a great display free of charge.
Being mid afternoon, we set north to find a camp. There are a selection of free camps along the Coen River. Some are easier to access that others, with recent floods having washed away many of the tracks, leaving them extremely rocky and uneven. We sent the men out to scout out the camps, and they chose a beauty right on the water.
The kids played away the afternoon making ochre paints from the rocks and creating artwork. We love it when places we visit appear in their play!
As the crickets made themselves know, the boys decided it was time to go to bed! Obviously, it had been a big day for them.
Day 3 – Coen to Bramwell Station
Although we were up bright and early with the birds, a quiet
morning by the river was just perfect. This is what camping is about…slow
mornings, time to chat and enjoy the environment. A breakfast of egg, baked
beans and mushrooms with a side of bacon for the meat eaters and hollandaise
sauce, all cooked in the great outdoors.
The boys continued to mine for ochre, making paste and
creating artworks. They would happily have stayed for the day, but we had a new
destination to get to.
Around 10am it was time to pack of the tents. With a quick review of the process, everyone chipped in and we were packed up and in the car in under an hour. Harry (7) is learning to pack up his bedding, and this morning did his sleeping bag by himself.
The drive to Bramwell Station was just under 3 hours, so we arrived early afternoon. There was a lot of roadworks on the way, and coincidently, at one of the stops, we pulled up behind a family we met back in Western Australia. At Bramwell Station, we picked a camping shelter and set up together, with the afternoon for the kids to play and adults to catch up. It really is a small world, and amazing that you do bump into the same people over and over again around the country.
The day was capped off with a campfire, complete with marshmallows. Just another day on the road!
Day 4 – The Southern
end of the Old Telegraph Track
This was the day (well, one of them), that we had been waiting for. The Old Telegraph Track is a favourite of many travellers. Playing an important roll in Australian history, the track was built to facilitate communications with communities and military posts on Cape York. Today, it is renowned for adventure for 4WD enthusiasts. Although we wouldn’t class ourselves in this category quite yet, we were keen to check it out.
We had a crew of three families and planned to tackle the southern end of the track through to the well known Gunshot. We actually fell just short of it by the end of the day.
Beginning the day with Palm Creek crossing, it was a huge high only a few minutes into the track. The steep drop down and ascent that follows is just and nerve wracking to watch as experience from inside the car. A few scrapes and scratches are pretty much guaranteed. Boys being boys (that’s the Dads I’m talking about), they were chomping at the bit to get stuck into it. While we were there, there were a few other groups and individuals came through too. The comradery is part of the experience on the OTT. We had people filling in holes for us and multiple spotters on the tricky parts.
Lunchtime at the Duluhunty River was a highlight for everyone. When were arrived, there was a group parked up in the river, so we joined them and spent a couple of hours swimming and cooling down around the waterfall. Making lunch in a river was a first!
Just prior to Gunshot, we reached a cross roads. This is the
point what which you can continue to the famous drop obstacle, or take the
detour vis the PDR. We had a group meeting and decided to call it a day.
Heading back out to the PDR, we returned to Bramwell Station for the night. It
was great to have our tents already set up from the night before!
Day 5 – Bramwell Station to Punsand Bay
We were set for another driving day…it’s a long way up to the top! Unfortunately, the tents were covered in dew and really needed to dry before we packed them up. We had breakfast, wheat bix and fruit, and began our pack up just after 8:30am.
This time the pack up was every quicker and smoother…everyone has worked out their jobs and knows what needs to be done. The boys are great at packing up their bedding and bags and placing them on the tarp outside ready to be packed into the car. Harry even packed up his sleeping mat by himself this time! Jed lead the way with dropping the tents, and packing the gear into the roof top box.
By 9:30 we were on the road again. We aimed to cross the Jardine River prior to 12noon, as the ferry stops for an hour for lunch. We timed it perfectly, pulling in at 11:40. There is a fee of $100 to cross, possibly the most expensive transport fee in Australia! It does, however, include a permit to camp at a number of locations in the area. If you want to get to the tip, this is the only way. We paid our fee at the service station and boarded the ferry.
In just under an hour after the ferry, we arrived at Bamaga. This is the main township at the north of Cape York. The boys declared the bacon and cheese rolls from the bakery as the best they have ever had! The bread was amazing too, very fresh. At $5 each (for the bread and 4 rolls), we thought they were reasonably priced. Justin popped into the fishing shop for some local advice and we grabbed some bananas from the supermarket.
Onwards then, we continued about 20 minutes to Punsand Bay. It
is recommended to book here, and we were glad we did for a beach front site. The
pool was welcome relief from the heat, and we set up, happy that we won’t need
to pack up for a few days!
Day 6 – Punsand Bay – Day 1
After a few jam packed days, some quiet time out of the car was in order. The views from the beach front sites at Punsand Bay are spectacular, and we made the most of it with a day at camp.
The boys played on the beach (in the sand…a long way from
the shark and croc infested water). The adults took in the views, worked on
videos and journals, and generally enjoyed the environment. In the heat of the
afternoon we went for a splash in the pool before cooking spuds on the fire for
Day 7 – Punsand Bay – Day 2
It was time to visit the tip! The great thing about tent
camping is that you have all your food in the car, so there is no need to
prepare food to take out for the day!
We headed off at 9am for our drive to the tip. The narrow
road winds through the rainforest, making for a lovely drive. It was peak hour
at the tip! The car park was full, and there were two buses packed with members
of the Australian Army, on tour with a stop over at the top of Australia.
There are two routes to the tip – around the beach, or over the rocks. We chose the first, and although it was high tide, we were able to walk behind the mangroves and over a few rocks. Being at the tip was something special. The beauty of the turquoise water, scattered islands and 360 degree views it hard to describe in words. We sat and soaked in the moment, and took photos to remember our adventure. The waters teased us, but spotting sharks was enough to stay dry.
Next, we ventured over to the east side of Cape York. More
winding tracks lead to endless beaches with cream coloured sand and tantalizing
waters. The howling winds however nearly knocked us off our feet! We managed to
find a protected area, tucked away to make our lunch.
We then continued on down the 4WD track, hopping along the area known as 5 beaches. The tracks winds up and down the sand dunes, and drives along each of the beaches. Again, we soaked in the stunning views, and water that teased us when we couldn’t swim safely.
It was another huge day of adventure, one that we will
remember at the top of Australia.
Day 8 – Punsand Bay – Day 3
The boys were happy to get up and play on the beach this
morning. Their favourite campsites are those that have great areas that they
can play and enjoy nature (yes, even more than jumping pillows in caravan
parks!). They could literally play for days at some camps.
After a bite of lunch, we headed out to check out Seisha. A stop over at the Croc Tent on the way, with Jed choosing a croc tooth necklace, Alex a Cape York fishing shirt and Harry a croc cap. I’m pretty sure we will have to peel the shirt off Alex to wash it.
Driving through Bamaga, we ran into friends who had been
tackling the Old Telegraph Track. It was great to catch up and hear about their
experience on the track. We ducked into the bakery to grab some bread and
cheese and bacon rolls. The boys declared these the best they had even had! The
bread was still super fresh the next day. If you are passing by, a stop at the
bakery is a must!
We continued onto Seisha for a spot of fishing by the pier.
Unfortunately the pier was closed for maintenance, so the boys fished from the
beach. However the noise on the pier likely scared all the fish away, so no
luck for the day.
On the way back to camp we stocked up on fruit and veg from
the supermarket in Bamaga. The groceries were reasonably priced and we managed
to grab enough fruit and salad ingredients to top up our pantry supplies.
Upon returning to Punsand Bay, we were greeted by 15 helicopters on the beach! There was a helicopter safari visiting, so we got to check out all the different helicopters! Naturally, we had to have one happy hour by the beach bar, so we found a great table and had a ‘cheers’ to being at the top of Australia. We bought a wood fired pizza (amazing!) and the boys watched the evening movie by the pool.
Day 9 – Punsand Bay – Canal Creek, Old Telegraph Track
It was time to tackle the northern half of the Old Telegraph
Track! We departed Punsand Bay, and made our last phone calls and checked
emails for the last time for a few days. There is no reception on the Old
Telegraph Track. Continuing on, we
crossed the Jardine River on our return journey. 50 minutes later we pulled
into one of the most amazing free camps at Canal Creek. We seriously had a
flowing river complete with spa pools and crystal clear water all to ourselves.
I would like to say our day ended here, but it didn’t. After
swimming, the big kids (Aka the Dads), decided to head back to Jardine to get
reception to watch the basketball. Unluckily for them, the grader had bene
through and exposed a huge rock on the road. The clunking sounds after driving
over it didn’t sound good, so they pulled over and discovered a dinted rim.
Buggar! They returned to camp later with
the rock for evidence.
Day 10 – Canel Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Day 2
We were all in need of a rest day. The heat and travel can
be tiring, and it is important to recharge your batteries. The boys played for
the morning, drawing and making games, whilst the adults caught up on some
video making and enjoyed the campsite. After lunch we made our way to Fruit Bat
Falls for a swim. The falls are beautiful, and you could easily spend a few
hours here. We all swam, and the boys explored the rocks and waterfalls.
Afterwards, it was back to camp for dinner and a campfire. It was pretty much a
perfect camping day!
Day 11 – Canel Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Day 3
It was time to check out the Northern section of the OTT. We set off at 9am, making our way across Canel Creek, seeing it from the other side for the first time.
The Northern section is more like we expected the OTT track
to be (compared to the South section). It was a lot rockier, bumpier and had a
lot more sharp edges and uneven surfaces. It was what we imagined the 4WD track
There are many river crossings and obstacles. At each one,
we got out of the car to assess the depth of water and decide on an approach.
The day culminated with the final crossing, Nolan’s River. This one is renowned
for being the biggest challenge of the section, often claiming cars in the deep
water. We were aware of at least one car that had run into trouble over the
past few days, and were almost certain we would not attempt the crossing
(however, this meant turning around and heading back down the track, as there
is no exit to the PDR close to Nolan’s from the south end.)
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a group of campers and observers who were parked up, watching others tackle the crossing. In no time, they had briefed us on the options and their recommendations! Our car doesn’t have a snorkel, so we were not prepared to make the crossing on our own. After manly deliberations, we decided that our buddies, Lunds Lap of a Lifetime, would cross first, then tow us across with the engine turned off. This would prevent water entering the air intake. For extra protection, we covered the front of the car with a tarp.
With baited breath, we watched as Justin drove the car down the steep entry, and the snatch strap was connected. The engine was turned off, and the car became a boat, moving across the river under the steam of our tow vehicle (massive thanks, Matt!). Fortunately, everything went to plan and we celebrated our successful day on the OTT. We made our way back down the PDR for a swim in our camp-side spa.
Day 12 – Canel Creek, Old Telegraph Track, Day 4
This was our final day on the OTT track, and we planned to
spend it swimming! We still had Eliot Falls, Twin Falls and the Saucepan to
visit. These are all accessed from one car part, just a few kilometres from our
camp at Canel Creek.
Our first stop was the Saucepan. The boys (including
Justin!) quickly discovered the deep pool and began jumping and bombing into
the water. The rock area was easily accessible and great for enjoying the
waterfall and relaxing. This is probably our favourite swimming spot on the
OTT, with something for everyone!
We then continued around to Eliott Falls, which is not
accessible for swimming with kids, but we did find some insect eating plants
that were fascinating!
Down the walkway was Twin Falls. These falls were much
smaller than they appeared in photos, and had a nice shallow swimming area for
the boys to play in and massage style water falls. This area would be perfect
After a swim at the three locations, our water logged family
headed back to camp, ready for an early departure the next day.
Day 13 – Canel Creek to Coen
As we had missed checking out Gunshot on the Southern
section of the OTT, we decided to head in on our way down the PDR today. There
is a detour section that connects from close to Gunshot, to the PDR, and our
plan was to head in and out again to check this final obstacle off our list.
Unfortunately, upon arrival at the detour, we found a ‘Road Closed’ sign. There
were fires in the area, and the southern section of the OTT was closed as a
precaution. After our previous failed attempt to check out Gunshot, it seemed
that it was just not meant to be for us on this trip.
We continued on down the road, reaching our planned camping
spot at Archer River Roadhouse in time for a famous burger lunch. With full
tummies, we decided we had time to continue onto Coen to camp, returning to the
riverside location that we stayed at on the way up Cape York.
Day 14 – Coen to Port Douglas
We were now ahead of schedule, and felt so close to
returning to our van in Port Douglas. The lure of our own shower and a clean
bed was too enticing, so one day early, we road tripped down the finals section
of Cape York. The boys requested a stop
at Hann River Roadhouse to check out Aussie the emu and the resident peacock
The roadside watermelon stand was irresistible, and we
picked up another giant melon.
Our trip to the tip was an absolute highlight of our lap of Australia. The fun of the OTT and comradery of fellow travellers, on top of spectacular scenery and the magic of the tip itself, will be talked about for a long time. If you are considering it, do it!