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.