Cape York – the trip down south from The Tip

The trip down south from The Tip of Cape York

Bamaga is the largest town in the NPA (Northern Peninsula Area) so we got groceries, fuel, water and dumped the toilet there before checking into Loyalty Beach campground, another great spot right on the beach. This one had wonderful sunset views, a shuttle to take us to the Thursday Island (TI) ferry terminal, and a great restaurant.  We had a beautiful sunny day and a calm boat trip for the l hour & 10 minute ferry ride to TI.  Started off with a tour from a local guide who gave us a good intro to the Island.  TI has a population of 3500 on an island of approximately 3.5 square kilometers.  70 government depaertments have offices on TI which serves an the admin centre for all the Australian islands in the Torres Strait and the NPA.  It was interesting to learn about the Torres Strait Islanders and how they are very different from aboriginals, being melanesian and agrarian rather than nomadic, so have very different cultures.  A visit to the Green Hill Fort museum highlighted the military and pearling history of TI. Green Hill Fort is a hilltop fortress with guns that have never been fired in anger.  Initial concerns were about the Russians expanding in the Pacific, and then offsetting the French presence in New Caledonia and in 1877 the Royal Navy pressed for fortifications to guard the only known navigable passage inside the Great Barrier Reef.  Today it showcases fabulous views around TI.

Did some wandering around on our own and managed to visit a boutique and pearl gallery plus a design shop for some retail fun. Lunch at the Grand Hotel overlooking the harbor completed our tour on TI, and a very nice dinner at the Loyalty Beach campground/fishing lodge restaurant rounded out a good day.

We finished off our time at the top of Australia with two nights in a free camp at Muttee Heads, a remote free campsite on a beautiful beach where just like everywhere else, you can’t go near the water because of crocodiles. Was a bit appalling to see fishermen in the water up to their knees.  We were the only ones there on the first night.  Several others joined us the second but couldn’t be seen from our camp. We reconnected with Geoff and Liz in Bamaga (as they didn’t stay in free camps), and started the trek back down south with a return ferry ride across the Jardine River.  Drove to Captain Billy Landing, a national park (NP) campground on yet another beautiful beach. Finished the evening with a game of ‘Up and Down the River’ (cards) and in the morning said goodbye to our travelling companions as we are going our separate ways.

In the 1880’s a government geologist, Dr Jack, named the creek after his aboriginal guide, Captain Billy.  This place name is a legacy of one of the early encounters between Aboriginal inhabitants and European explorers.  In 1968 Comalco established an experimental cattle station here and we are camped near the remains of the wharf where they used to load the cattle on a barge to take them to market.  The lease was surrendered to the government and the land became a national park.  It is a beautiful area with colored cliffs and a lovely long white beach.  We walked 8 km’s along the beach today, with no one in sight, and looking around I could almost imagine that the view hasn’t changed since those early explorers met Captain Billy.  Along the way I think I saw a crocodile move from a sunny bank into a small lagoon adjacent to the beach. It’s always on my mind as we walk beside the ocean, never getting too close to the shore. We invited a Swiss couple we’ve seen a few times along the way over for a beer after our walk.

Before leaving Captain Billy Landing we had a long chat with fellow campers, Phil and Monica Coleman who are the founders of Auswalk, a walking company we have patronised a few times.  It was a 5-6 hour drive to Weipa on mostly dirt roads, but ok.  Had a nice seafood dinner in the outdoor takeaway at the Weipa caravan park (CP) watching a lovely sunset over the Gulf of Carpentaria. Weipa was another catch up/stockup stop, where I spent a lot of time on skype with family, did laundry and got groceries.  Drove to Mapoon, a small, remote aboriginal township 90 km’s north of Weipa to meet Leon Yeatman, a friend of our friend, Steve Garrett.  Leon is the CEO of the Mapoon Aboriginal Shire Council and we had an interesting chat with him about Mapoon, the history and local issues, and the fishing, as Leon is a keen fisherman. Mapoon was visited by the Dutch in 1606 so is known locally as ‘first contact country’.  To get there we drove on the Mission River bridge, an 825 meter (half mile) long one lane bridge where you have to look to see if anyone is on it before you start.

Geologist Harry Evans (no relation as far as I know) discovered bauxite on aboriginal lands at Weipa in 1955 and mining began in 1961.  We did the ‘Mine and Town Tour’ which was very good and taught us a lot.  Bauxite ore is found in a layer up to 4 meters deep, so its on the surface (after top soil is removed) and loaded into unique Weipa haul trucks.  Then it’s washed and screened, railed to ships and taken for processing into a white powder called alumina, and then processed at smelters into aluminium at places like Gladstone. Those haul trucks drive on 200km’s of haul roads and local traffic has to stop at crossings that intersect with the haul roads.  The mining operation is highly computerized and uses a complex gps system which monitors and controls all vehicles and machinery.  The most interesting aspect to me was that the land was mapped and surveyed before mining, the trees, seeds and animals are taken out and rehoused for later, even the top soil was saved, and then after the mining is done, the top soil is put back and the land is revegetated with whatever was originally there.  The mining company, Rio Tinto, is working closely with the aboriginal communities who are the traditional owners of the land being mined.  Weipa is a mining town and people can’t work in the mine unless they live in Weipa.  25% of mine staff are women and 25% are indigenous.  Weipa is quite different from the other towns up in Cape York because of the mine, and what that has meant for infrastructure in the town, in terms of sporting facilities etc.  One of the man-made lakes, Lake Patricia was a ‘must do’ stop just for the photo with the sign, as was Evans Landing.  There are beware of croc signs everywhere and our guide told us the population is 4100, each person has two pig dogs, and the crocs feed on feral pigs and pig dogs so they are kept pretty full.  Interesting to visit but…………….

We continued our jouney south with a long driving day to Sweetwater Lake campsite in Lakefield NP, arriving just before dark and having the campsite to ourselves.  Lakefield is Queensland’s 2nd largest NP and features vast river systems with spectacular wetlands.  Before leaving our campsite we were visited by about a dozen cows and calves and a wallaby.  The drive through the park took us to Nilford Plains where we photographed various termite mounds (magnetic, bulbous and dome mounds), then a beautiful lagoon and hundred year old mango trees at Breeza Homestead, and catfish waterhole where we didn’t manage to see any crocs.  We checked out the riverside campsites at Hahn Crossing and unfortunately did the 4 km Discovery Walk at Kalpower Crossing-very hot, not much shade and nothing to discover!  Ended up staying back at Laura as we were booked in to do a 1pm tour to the UNESCO listed Quinkan Gallery rock art site.  As it happened the tour left at 3:07pm since the guide got bogged on the morning tour and returned a bit late!  However he was an excellant guide and the galleries were really worth seeing.  There were five galleries together which according to our guide, Steve, were the location for the initiation ceremonies (circumcisions and chest cutting) for the 13 yr old boys.  The art was clear and with our guide’s help we could see some of the older art that has been layered over with new art. That said the art is estimated to be over 29,000 years old and is rated by UNESCO as one of the top 10 rock art sites in the world.  Very useful to have the pictures pointed out and the stories explained to us.  The images are of Quinkan spirits (good ones and bad ones), totem animals and people.  It was a very rough half hour drive over a rocky and sandy 4WD track- without a guide you would never find the site. The late start meant we finished our drive to Cooktown in the dark but we made it in time to check in and then go out for a nice dinner.  Back to Cooktown where we started our Cape York adventure.

Loyalty Beach campsite, probably working on the blog on my ipad or doing emails



A map showing the Torres Strait and location of Thursday Island and Australian waters
Taking the ferry to Thursday Island (TI)
One of the guns at Green Hill Fort on Thursday Island (has never been fired in anger)


Another view of TI from the fort
Interesting signs show that the local culture is alive and well


The TI wharf, leaving for the trip back


Beautiful sunsets at our Loyalty Beach campsite


Outdoor dining in the Loyalty Beach campground restaurant


Muttee Heads free camp
Sunrise at Muttee Heads
Lots of wild horses roam the NPA (also feral pigs)


Back on the Jardine River Ferry


Overlooking Captain Billy Landing
Dick on the beach in front of our campsite
The cliffs and palms at Captain Billy Landing
Another view at Captain Billy Landing


A fabulous beach for doing a long walk- hard sand, flat beach, no crocs in view


Having a rest in the shade before we walk back to camp


The 860 meter (half mile) one lane bridge in Weipa where you look for headlights before driving on it


A visit with Leon in Mapoon
Stopped at the crossing for the haul road with a haul truck passing by
Loading up the haul trucks with bauxite
Washing and screening the bauxite at the beneficiation plant


Loading the ships in Weipa harbor
Had to get the Evans Landing sign
And the Lake Patricia sign


Sweetwater Lake campsite in Wakefield NP


Different types of termite mounds in Nilford Plains – the tall magnetic mound and the shorter dome mound


100 year old Mango trees at Breeza Homestead
Beautiful Breeza lagoon


Quinkan Gallery – the welcome room pictures feature multiple layers of art


13 flying foxes depicted here and 13 year old boys were initiated
Our guide, Steve, beside the pictures of the good Quinkans in the room where they performed the initiations
Walking between the various rock art galleries


Cape York – the trip up north to The Tip

After leaving Cooktown our journey to the top of Cape York with Geoff and Liz (in their own vehicle/tent) started with a stop at Isabella Falls (located just at the side of the road) and then a visit to Old Laura Homestead.  The day was dry and hot so gave us some idea of what it must have been like living there.  The home was originally from the 1800’s and was complete with all the side buildings.  It was abandoned in 1966 and the land is now part of Lakefield NP.  We stayed at Laura where we visited Split Rock, an aboriginal art site which has been listed by UNESCO as one of the top 10 rock art sites worldwide. The art was well marked and easy to see.  We also had a drink in the Laura Pub for some local atmosphere. The next day we visited the Quinkan Cultural Centre/ Aboriginal Information Centre.  Should have done that first as much of the artwork was explained there.  The Centre was impressive and well done with really interesting displays about local indigeneous culture & country as well as displays about the pioneering history of the area, including the gold rush and grazing.  I met an old fellow in the caravan park (CP) who said Laura (population 80) was paradise and I shouldn’t tell anyone about it.  He liked it quiet!

Our travels took us to the Musgrave Roadhouse (lunch stop) and then Coen – home of the ‘Sexchange Hotel’, where Dick and I stayed in a free camp on the river (was like a deserted garden of eden in a dry riverbed).  Stopped at the Archer River Roadhouse on the way to Chilli Beach, where we had lovely camping spots almost on the beach.  Need to beware of falling coconuts and crocodiles, so no swimming there.  The beach was quite beautiful but very windy and littered with ocean rubbish, mostly thongs and plastic junk.  We managed a bit of beach and bush walking between rain showers and explored the local area with a drive to Portland Road and Lockhart River.  As Lockhart River is an aborginal community where no alcohol is allowed, Dick hid his beer in the bushes at our campground. It was dark when we got back and someone else was in our camping spot so we drove in and Dick surreptitiously dove into the bush and retrieved the beer before moving to another site. (They probably thought we were smugglers.)

Lockhart River has an airstrip built during WWll.  The Lockhart River Arts Centre, which was the attraction, is an incorporated not-for-profit body funded by the government and sales of the artwork.  We had a good look around and liked what we saw. “The Art Gang” based here are the best known of north Queensland’s aboriginal artists, and have a forthcoming exhibit in the USA later this year.  We met a few of the women artists, but unfortunately no one was painting when we were there.  Generally you can watch them work in a large studio at the back of the gallery.  We kept being drawn to paintings by one artist, Irene Namok, and in the end we bought two of her paintings (an extra discount pushed us over the line with a second painting).  They will be our present to us from this trip.  50% of the proceeds go to the artist and 50% to the art centre for supporting the artists.  Stayed so long there we just had a quick look at the beach, got fuel and did the hour’s drive back to camp arriving as darkness descended (generally not a good idea in this area).

After a rainy, windy night our drive out was through much deeper water crossings and the road required full attention.  Ended up camping at Merluna Station (a working cattle station(ranch)) which was a good overnight/laundry stop.  Had a short drive to the next stop, Moreton Telegraph Station, where we had a two hour afternoon stroll to the river, a natural bridge and a lagoon before enjoying a roast chicken dinner in a lovely outdoor dining area with our travelling companions, Geoff and Liz.  This was based in buildings which were parts of the original telegraph station built in the 1880s.  Because we were gluten free they made us a special desset of pears poached in red wine with pouring cream (not often we get the good stuff!, especially in the remote areas).

Set a record by getting on the road at 8:25am (normally its closer to 10am), stopped for a photo with the large termite mounds at Bramwell Station and ventured a few kilometers down the unmaintained Old Telegraph Track (OTT) to the first water crossing, before turning around very pleased that we did not have to drive on that track.  The OTT is the remnants of the original telegraph track that was constructed through the centre of Cape York during the 1880’s to facilitate the telegraph line from Cairns to Thursday Island.  The OTT is one of Cape York’s most notorious 4WD tracks, recommended for experienced 4 WDrivers with recovery gear and it ‘claims’ many vehicles each season.

Fruit Bat Falls was our next stop for a nice swim and lunch, before we drove to the Jardine River Ferry and paid $100 for a 2 minute river crossing (& return trip). The info centre at the Croc Tent gave us a good introduction to the NPA (Northern Peninsula Area), road conditions and things to see.  Crossing the Jardine River into the NPA put us in a totally different area, quite different from the rest of Cape York. The population is a mix of Aboriginal, Islander, European, and Asian.

We spent two nights in a lovely campsite on the beach at Punsand Bay, and from my bedside window I could see the sun rise over the beach.  Not often I take sunrise photos!  From there we visited Somerset, ruins from early European settlement with history dating back to the 1860’s. We attempted the five beaches 4 WD track but turned back before beach two as the track was too rough and narrow.  The highlight here was the trek to The Tip for a photo with the infamous sign. The Tip is the northern most point in Australia just 10 degrees south of the equator and 180 km’s (112 miles) from Papua New Guinea.  It is a peninsula with the Coral Sea to the east, the Arufura Sea and Gulf of Carpentaria to the west and the Torres Strait to the north. It was a 1.5 km climb over a rocky headland with great views and then a walk back along the beach, as we had timed our trip for low tide.  After driving 6100 km’s (3790 miles) north from Sydney we had reached the top and will now start heading southward.


Isabella Falls
‘Airing down’ for the Cape York roads
Old Laura Homestead
Old Laura homestead outbuildings
Split Rock art site (no photos allowed of the art)
Coen Hotel-check out all the signs in the front and on top of the hotel, gives a flavor of the place
Road works are a constant feature, slows down the trip but are badly needed.
Lots of water crossings
The view from our campsite at Chilli Beach
Taking a walk along Chilli Beach, notice the rubbish along the edge
The signs in the toilets at Chilli Beach
The airport at Lockhart River
Driving over water crossings in the dark, not such a good idea.
After the rain, the water crossings were higher
Dick standing way too close to a river to take photos
A lovely lagoon at Moreton Telegraph Station
Dinner at Moreton Telegraph Station



Our special gluten free dessert at Moreton Telegraph Station (not exactly roughing it!)
Termite mounds near Bramwell Station
Dick swimming at Fruit Bat Falls
Crossing on the Jardine River Ferry
Sunrise from my window at Punsand Bay camping
Somerset Beach


Beach one on the five beach drive


The track to The Tip
A rocky cliff climb
The infamous sign
Celebrating being there!!!
An even better way to mark the moment!
Rainbow man at The Tip
Hiking back along the beach
Mangroves beside the beach
Looking back to The Tip along the beach