The important stats

Cop car sightings: 96
Cops spotted at McDonalds: 4
Largest cops sighting in 1 day: 21
FJ Cruisers passed: 51
Kangaroos spotted (live): Too many to count
Petrol fill ups (FJ Cruiser): Lost count
Road Trains passed (dirt road): 20
River crossings: 46
Crocodiles spotted: 13
Sharks sighted: 5
Dingoes encountered: 3
Most expensive fuel: $2.45 (reg unleaded)
Kilometres travelled: TBC

A few of our favourite things

Mark and Rita’s highlights were – Lakefield National Park, croc infested river – 5 metre sighting, Palmer river roadhouse, Daintree National Park, Daintree River cruises, Croc spotting, Barramundi fishing , Port Douglas and the drive to Bowen.

Kerstin – Townsville’s Castle Hill, Fraser Island, Lakefield National Park, Fruitbat Falls, Port Douglas, flora and fauna, the nice and friendly people that shared their experience and advice and the ‘crazy’ 4WDing – such as Palm Creek and the other river crossings. Finishing the trip with the most easterly point of Australia to go with the most Northerly.

Matt – Having lots of family at Townsville and the ceremony at the beach, Seeing the Australian wildlife in their natural environment – the bird life, salt water crocs, sharks, marsupials and even the giant bugs. Being in and around Lakefield National Park and The Daintree Rainforest. Although, sadly you can tell that a huge amount of deforestation has impacted the Daintree over the years as it’s surrounded by crop farming, it’s still an amazing rainforest of such diversity and wildlife. The stunning white beaches around the Cape, Fraser Island, Port Douglas, The river crossings and sections of track that got your adrenaline pumping, the friendliness of the people that you meet on the journey – The Canberra boys, crazy boys, river boys, the retired couple from Port Macquarie, the owner of Bramwell Station and heaps of other people that lent a hand, offered advice, had a chat or just a friendly wave from their cars.

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Byron Bay

Later that evening, the group said our goodbyes on the freeway as Kerstin and I diverted to visit one of her Swedish friends at Mooloolaba, on the Sunshine Coast. This place still freaks me out as when I grew up I used to spend Easter holidays in the area at my Grandparents house. Pop used to take us body surfing every morning before breaky and my memories of the beach were a surf shop, fish and chip shop and maybe one other random shack on the beach front. These days it’s a Noosa style esplanade with never-ending boutique shops, restaurants and cafe’s. Still a sweet spot though. We met the very bubbly Frida for coffee who was over the moon to have a Swede (and fake Swede) in town. After a lot of laughs, we said our goodbye’s and headed for Byron Bay where we arrived fairly late in the evening. What better place to spend the last day of the holiday after making it to the most northerly point of Australia than a visit to the most easterly? As it was Kerstin’s first time, we did the usual lighthouse visit and walked around and about for various snaps and amazing views. We had a tasty lunch and browsed the shops, went to the Brewery for a platter of beer and hung around the beach front taking in the sites and sounds of ukuleles and various other hippy instruments and randomness. As the sun came down an entire ‘band’ of colourful alternative folk busted out the assorted bongo drums, saxophone and played some cruisy, hippy style beats. Our favourite moment was a random guy who came by and started clanging a metal spoon and bowl together so he could join in. A nice stop off for the last full day of our trip.

The next morning reality hit home (along with a 9 hour+ drive) as we made our way back home to Sydney. What an epic trip and such a diverse and beautiful big country we are lucky to live in. The challenge is now on to do the most southerly and westerly points of Australia… Why the heck not! Bring it on.

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Fraser Island

After leaving Port Douglas we put in some solid driving days and stopped overnight at Bowen and Bundaberg, where we enjoyed plenty of the amber liquid that famously flows from the region. We then had a relatively short drive to make the 12:30 ferry to Fraser Island. Earlier on when we were discussing various options for the return leg back to Sydney, Fraser came up as a definite favourite. Out of our entourage, Mark was only one who had been before and was more than happy to head back a second time. Known as the largest sand island in the world and the one of the largest collection of concentrated freshwater lakes in the world, this unique gem of Australia’s coast is also home to the purest population of Dingoes in Australia.

As we drove off the ferry onto the Island, we shifted into low range with the wheels aired down and began to navigate through the dips and turns of the soft sandy tracks. I’d heard about the huge rainforests in the centre of the island and giant trees with trunks nearly the size of a car. I thought this was a bit exaggerated, but sure enough as the forest canopy started to close over and the temperature dropped, the most amazing old forest began to surround us. Giant trees, assorted ferns, leafy plants and thick vines weaving and choking their way around everything. Soon we came to Lake McKenzie which is known for it’s crystal clear water. As it was the middle of winter, noone was too keen for a dip but I can imagine how inviting it would be in the warmer months. Unfortunately heavy rainfall had put a lot of silt into the lake and many others were well over capacity with various signs and guides partly submerged, but you could see the potential beauty. After what seemed to take forever, forgetting how large an island it is, we emerged from the forests and out onto the beach. Wow! With the winds lashing the coastline and the variety of terrain it felt awesome to cruise along as we headed north to our accommodation. We decided against camping as we were all kind of over it by then and were happy to continue with cheap and cheerful roofs over our head. It took a fair while on the sand to reach Happy Valley – which yes, does sound like it should be a hippy commune of some sort. We drove over a cattle proof grid, with low electric wires as we entered – these are pretty common around all of the various townships and garbage disposal areas etc. for the simple reason of keeping Dingoes out. As time went on it was pretty clear that they can cause all sorts of problems depending on aggression, time of year, weather etc. Happy Valley was a chilled out area with nice clean cabins, a pub and restaurant and everything else you could need.

The next day Mark, Rita and Kat took off fairly early and headed north to the ship wreck. Our plan was to meet them there once we got out of the morning coma and hit the road. We made out way to the Maheno shipwreck, a very well known Fraser landmark who ran aground while on the way to Japan in 1935. We couldn’t find the others so decided to keep driving along the beach. I’d heard that the tide patterns have to be followed as well as some stories of cars getting stuck in the surf etc. As I hadn’t yet found out any info and we were on our own, I pulled over to chat to some fisherman who advised me that high tide was just an hour and a half away and I had to be careful. They said I might have troubles getting through if I continued north. A group of cars shot past us so I decided to chance it and we continued on. Soon we were on our own again and the tide was coming up fast as the very soft sand, higher up the beach was becoming harder to drive through. Powering through, it was a little intense as some of the areas we came to, you had to wait until the shore wash retreated before you could drive through and even then there was wash flying all over the place. There was nowhere to seek safety from the tides during a long stretch as the shoreline was a small cliff face that has suffered due to some bad weather earlier in the year. Finally after an intense drive and maybe a four letter word or two, we came to the headland which also had a sand bypass off the beach front. We made it! Phew.

To pass the time between high tide and the safe zone – at least one hour after, we decided to walk up the Indian Head headland to take in the views. Wow. We could see why this place was a must see on Fraser. Located in the most Easterly point of the island, it was named by Captain Cook when he passed it on the evening of 19 May 1770, for the aboriginal people he saw assembled there. The term “Indian” was used at that time for the native people of many lands. We’d heard from Mark that you can see giant bull sharks trolling up and down the gutters of the beach from the views of the headland. Sure enough, after a while these 4 huge shapes came drifting through the channel, just 20 metres or so from the shoreline where fisherman had lines out. What a sight. We sat in the sunshine watching this amazing procession as they circled around again and again hunting for prey. After a while we drove the FJ down to the other side of the headland which had a much bigger sand bank area. We parked the car, pulled out the camp chairs, found a couple of beers in the fridge and cranked the Reggae tunes. Lucky we were out of sight of the other cars on the beach as we must have looked retarded, dancing around half naked in the sand like some crazy natives.

After a few hours we headed back North and found Mark and Rita who had been on an adventure of their own. After also seeking refuge from the tides, they had ventured inland and made their way to the western side of the island. After visiting a lake or two and driving forever on some dodgy sand tracks, they came across the most amazing, pure white beaches with not a soul in sight. After hanging around and busting out some cheesy yet awesome postcard snapshots, they decided this was the spot they had to come back to next time which is already in the plans. During the time they had been exploring, they saw a solo Dingo which were were yet to see but soon enough we had an awesome encounter of our own as we followed a pair who were trolling the beach looking for food. We were pretty lucky as sightings are pretty rare with just 120-150 estimated on the island.

The Fraser visit came and went much too fast as we made out way back to the ferry the next day via the Southern Lakes scenic drive. Unfortunately, much of the drive was detoured due to road closures due to degradation of the tracks (which we would love to have explored and conquer with our beasts). What an amazing place and absolute must return in the future, preferably when it’s warm when the swimming in freshwater lakes is perfect.

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Lakefield – Palmer River Roadhouse – Port Douglas

After leaving Bramwell Station, we headed into the Lakefield National Park where we planned to camp for the night. We had passed through some of it on the way up but had no idea how stunning it was deeper in. Passing through after some time we were struck by the most amazing scenery, totally unique to any forest I’ve seen before in Australia. At one point, we came to a huge area of open plains that felt like we were somewhere in Africa. Huge termite nests and never-ending fields of dry low lying grasses for as far as the eye could see. We eventually found our camp site, which you had to book before hand as it was in a National Park. Yep. You had to actually book it before hand using a computer at a ranger station. It’s a fairly new Queensland thing apparently to help manage numbers at camp sites or something like that. Anyway, a unit annoying and it means you have to plan out where you are going to stay, you can’t just rock up somewhere. We knew that our particular camp site was next to a large river (safe distance) and in the morning we were told that a 5 metre local crocodile had been seen lurking around recently. The ranger had put up the “recent spotting in this area” sign to go with the normal warning sign. We drove the cars over the river crossing and saw some interesting bird life hanging around. On the way out of Lakefield, we checked out some of the stunning lakes including white lilly lake and red lilly lake – cleverly named for the colour of lilly that blooms in each. An enormous amount of stunning bird life could be seen at each of these locations, including literally thousands of black cockatoos that filled the sky as we drove down one of the powdery off-white dirt roads.

We headed out of the park and made our way to the Palmer River Roadhouse where we camped for the night. We were actually excited to get some ‘fancy’ food and bits and pieces that we had been missing and felt that we were well and truly heading south and back into civilisation! We had met a lovely retired couple on the Old Telegraph Track and they camped next to us for the night, among several chats they recommended that if we were going back Port Douglas way that we had to do a Daintree River Tour and recommended a particular company. We were all keen as we wanted to see some more crocs in the wild and a boat seemed the most likely way. Driving back south toward Port Douglas and the Daintree was quite exciting. You could feel the landscape changing rapidly once again from dry bush land to rich tropical rainforest. We made our way to the Daintree River Cruises for an hour and a half tour. Our guide was a complete legend who was not only very knowledgable but told us all sorts of stories and fascinating tales from his 13 years working on the river. The Daintree River has such a rich history and the 140+ km of river system holds hundreds of adult crocodiles, the biggest of which was documented by a research team in 1990 at over 6 metres in length. As it was very deep into the river system and the team had to fly in by helicopter to record it, noone knows if it is still alive. I’d like to think that this prehistoric giant is still lurking out there somewhere. Into the tour we began to spot baby crocodiles along the riverbanks as our guide introduced the local crocodiles we were trying to find which all had names. Lizzie, another adult female who’s name I forget, Scooter – a juvenile male and Scarface, the dominant male of the area and just over 4 metres long. We spotted them all at their various river bank basking spots. Scarface, who had some vicious run-ins with the previous dominant male of the region and fought to the death was named because of the large scarring either side of his face. When we came close to him, that hair tingling feeling swept over your skin just looking at the size of him as the boat took us within just a few metres of him on the bank. We also saw all sorts of assorted bird species and other various animals along the river banks. Getting up close to the crocodiles and all the stories that came with it was a massive highlight of the trip. Poor little Kat didn’t get what all the fuss was about as no matter how hard we pointed out the crocs, she couldn’t see anything. Unless a croc is snapping away at lunch, a kid just sees them as a big log lying on the ground!

After the river cruise we all went and had a hand at some hardcore Barramundi fishing. OK, yeah it was at a Barra farm. What of it? It was a bit of fun and good to throw some lures out and have a go. We all had bites and hookups but Rita was the only one to truly land a beauty into the net. Still holding out hope for true fish action later on. The couples split off for a few days and enjoyed a bit of R&R in beautiful Port Douglas. Wow, real beds with clean sheets! I took Kerstin out for some birthday pampering and we ate at an incredible Italian restaurant called Buccini. We sat around the pool reading, walked to the beach and lookout, all around the shops and main street and markets at the Marina. Before long the 2 days had disappeared in a flash and we all headed off south again.

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The Old Telegraph Track – North to South

We packed up camp at Punsand Bay and started to head back South. When we arrived at the Jardine river the ferry was not operating. Ah yes, the lunch break where they actually stop the ferry for an hour so the operators can have a sambo and a beer. Yet another reason for controversy and a bit of an annoyance. Soon enough we arrived at the start of the Old Tele Track which we decided we would do in it’s entirely this time from North to South. The first challenge we encountered was Nolans Brook. A lot of the guys earlier on had talked about how challenging it was coming from the South due to it’s fairly deep water crossing and a sandy embankment that needed to be climbed while the vehicle was half submerged. When we arrived, just like Palm Creek on the way up, there was a whole gaggle of people hanging around anticipating every vehicle crossing and incident. There were guys sitting in chairs in the water drinking booze, a winch slung tight over the river attached to trees that was being used as a flying fox. Kids flying across the water on a rope swing and plenty of people wading through the cool water. The first batch of cars we saw coming through had a bit of an incident as one of the cars being recovered got the straps caught around it’s wheels. Some hero dived into the water and grabbed a knife to cut it off… “Quick gimme a knife, we gotta cut this bastard loose!” Most cars came through OK but we did hear of several vehicles that didn’t. We crossed from our side without any problems.

The next memorable crossing was Logan Creek. A fairly seedy looking section with plenty of murky water, we were pretty cautious on approach and stayed pretty alert for crocs. We decided on a more complicated exit to avoid walking the deeper and murky looking section. On the way out of the exit, a fairly steep embankment section of clay, Mark backed on an awkward angle which bent back his exhaust, effectively folding it in half. We checked it out quickly and managed to somehow crank it back around and cleared some of the blockage but decided to fix it later rather than lying in the creek bed of some croc infested mud hole. After a winch recovery, the car puffed and spat it’s way forward, barely clearing any air out of the blocked exhaust. A few more river crossings were negotiated before we arrived at the crude log bridge crossing at Cypress Creek. Talk about a close call. As the Tonka Truck’s wheels sit fairly wide, each wheel straddled the outer log on either side as I slowly crept over. A half tire width either way would have had you stuck or worse. It felt good to get out of that one. We assisted another family by spotting them across the bridge and safely out.

We stayed the night at Sam Creek where we enjoyed the crystal clear (and safe) swimming hole with the rope swing and jump rock. Nothing like a morning dip before setting off again. We stopped at the very scening Eliot and Twin Falls Falls and later on the even more impressive Fruit Bat Falls and swam at both croc-free and very refreshing attractions.

Up the road a bit further was a site to remember. We had reached the mighty Gunshot Creek. After a tricky deep mud entry, we crossed the river and saw a Land Cruiser ute hung up on a giant, near vertical dip. A few other rough looking blokes were hollering and calling out some outback style encouragement – ‘there’s no turning back now’. ‘come on, giver her some stick’, ‘hurry up, the Bundy is getting warm’. We stood back and watched them trying to get this truck out of this unimaginable position. Soon enough, the winch was pulled out and a successful but extremely harsh looking recovery was made. At one point it looked like his giant bulbar was going to snap clean off as it was wedged so deeply in the mud. The rough Land Cruiser blokes then decided one of their other cars had to go through the same section as the mate because now ‘he had fixed it up’. After looking like he might topple over and just before the nose hit the mud bottom as his mates heckled all sorts of comments and gags, the driver gave it a bit of throttle and shot out before the nose of the car could wedge into the thick mud. The crowd approved with a cheer. Mark and I went around to the top of the Southern section and went down one of the slightly tamer drop offs (while Kat remained totally asleep but had to be held back in her seat by Rita) and had a bit of a play. Later on up the road we passed these blokes and by now had affectionately named them ‘the crazy boys’ on the UHF radio. Later, after more river crossings and fun we arrived at the mighty Palm Creek, where we had no problems going through on at the start of the south to north drive and had heard that noone had successfully come out of in our direction without being winched out. We gave it a damn good shot but the FJ was the first to be recovered. Oh well, time to test out that new winch. Wouldn’t you know it, just as we were sorting out the recover gear, the crazy boys posse turned up and offered to help out by suggesting they bring their vehicles around the slightly easier route for us to connect up to. After 15 minutes or so went by, we started to think we had been forgotten. But no… As true ‘men of their word’, the crazy boys turned up to say that one of them had hooked up their trucks on the slightly easier section and they needed help of their own. Without hesitating they offered to continue help and assisted with the practicalities and gear needed for both vehicles. Soon, the daylight had completely disappeared and we were in complete darkness. We had said we would assist the crazy boys with our vehicles but one of them gentlemanly gestured to Kat and said “nah nah, yoos have the little one to take care of, we’d feel better if ya headed off to take care of her ay.’ Other friendly and amusing comments and discussions were had ‘oh yeah, she’s a good little bus aint she’ – referring to the FJ Cruiser. “Nah we come from the bush mate, this Old Tele track aint nothing special”. Mark went to shake one of the guys hands but mentioned it was covered in mud, grabbing Mark’s hand he aid “nah mate we are from the bush and live in the mud”.

Later than expected we made it to Bramwell Station to camp for the night. On this particular day, we had a birthday in our entourage. Kerstin had a very bush like birthday and due to the circumstances, we hadn’t given her a proper birthday treat apart from some good old pancakes for breakfast. When the owner of Bramwell Station heard it was her birthday she asked what she drinks. “Oh, red or white” said Mark. Boom, a bottle of nice red was handed over compliments of the house. There was also the culmination of a charity 4WD event, many of whom we had seen up in the Cape, and the music and festivities went on for many hours. Once again we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at Bramwell Station. The facilities, the cattle, nice big camp grounds and super friendly staff make it a place that it worth stopping for. Later on in the night, the crazy boys rolled in and popped over to say hi on the way through. But these men of the bush wouldn’t accept sausages or a round of beer. They were well equipped with plenty of Bundy’s and other basics of outback survival. In the morning, Mark got chatting with the leader of the crazy boys posse who slept on the back of his truck and mentioned he had a Bundy and a smoko for breaky.

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Around The Cape

Over the next few days, we hung out at Punsand Bay and ventured out now and then for drives and various supplies. We did the well known ‘5 beaches loop’ – although we counted 6 actual beaches. 4WD tracks weaved around headlands and bush and each time came out onto a new beach with it’s own characteristics. As these beaches are on the eastern side of the Cape, the strong north west trade winds hammer the coastline and bring in an enormous amount of ocean litter from all over the world. Among the items we saw in a small area was a large container of japanese cooking oil, kids toys, old bottles of alcohol, assorted containers, shoes and an incredible amount of assorted thongs. If you need some, you can find a matching pair here. We found 30 or so in a 10 metre stretch and made our own thong map of Australia. There was a surprising amount of Japanese items which apparently came from the Japanese Tsunami.

The Punsand to The Tip 4WD track (also known as ‘The Shortcut’) was a nice 30 minute or so run that we did about 5 times. It has a mix of everything including sandy sections, river crossings, rock crawling and other fun stuff. Another section that Mark and Rita stumbled upon was the track to the Mouth of Laradeenya – a remote bay on the western coast. Like a lot of areas up in the Cape, every few minutes displayed a complete vegetation (and scenery) change as the track went through 8 water crossings and followed a croc infested river.

Hanging around Punsand bay, we had a go at fishing one night but no bites at all. We tried a bit of everything but nothing… Hopes are still up for later on. One morning Kerstin took Kat for a walk on the beach and someone had caught small a shark which Kat patted and asked where it’s mum and dad was. Another night, Mark and I made a late night feast of san choi bow and spilt plenty of peanuts and other shrapnel all over the ground while we were eating. A little later that night while sitting up, Mark had a visitor at the camp site. A large, ‘beady eyed’ rodent of some sort – as yet unidentified, started feeding around the camp site. Before he knew it, the rodent was at his feet greedily munching away on peanuts. He had the torch shining directly into it’s eyes but no movements. It wasn’t until he whacked the side of the tent that it was startled and ran away. Some other campers suspected it could have been a bush rat. They grow them large up in the Cape and this one was the size of a small dog.

Game 3 of the State of Origin came along and we booked a table at Punsand Bay so we could have dinner and watch the game on the big screen (well a plasma tv of sorts at least). Unfortunately the volume didn’t work, but after some yelling and calling out from the crowd, the lack of volume was overlooked. We figured we were as deep into Queensland territory as you could ever possibly be, but there was still some NSW support from the crowd. Of course the Blues lost again, but we had a good feed and drank plenty of booze and had some laughs with some people we met along the way.

Once or twice we went back to Bamaga and Seisia to get supplies and what not. We made a stop at the famous Croc Tent for the obligatory Cape stickers and other memorabilia. One afternoon we went down to the Seisia Jetty and had another go of fishing but nothing. A few people said that there were lots of Trevally caught in the past few nights but there were no bites this time… The curse continued! While we were chatting to some people around the Jetty, one couple spoke of the local croc, a 5 metre alpha male who often followed boats and frequented back and forth between the coast and a small island opposite.

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The Cape

A night and morning of on and off light showers wasn’t the best start to our day of reaching the Cape. But as we drove the tracks to reach “Pajinka”, the rain clouds were whipped away by the high winds to reveal a near cloudless amazing blue sky. We arrived at a beach where many 4 wheel drives had gathered and a group of seniors were sipping champagne and enjoying themselves. I reached my hand out and asked where mine was and they told me I couldn’t cheat and had to reach the tip first! We walked onto the beautiful big white sandy beach and around the headland. Soon, the famous sign appeared… There it was, just up ahead. “You are standing at the Northern most point of the Australian continent”. We had made it! It felt surreal. Are we really all the way up here? Wow! After some happy snaps, we walked the higher route of the headland and placed rocks on a “Cairn”, one of dozens of pyramid shaped piles of rocks that people have placed. Mark whipped out a “can” of our own as he revealed a beer he had hidden to celebrate. We cruised up and down the beautiful beach, up to the ominous sounding Crocodile Creek before heading back to camp.

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Bramwell Station – Old Telegraph Track – Punsand Bay

Another day opened up as we pushed ahead on the never-ending dirt roads. A mix of contrasting colours of earth that have been trucked in and flattened out, one minute you are on a white sandy section and the next a pink clay colour. Of course these have made their way onto the cars which look like the 4 wheel drive equivalent of drag queens. Every now and then a giant plume of dust appears in the distance as a large road train truck sweeps through. We were told to pull over when you see one as they kick up huge dust clouds that are impossible to see through. Unusually, we saw no Kangaroos – dead or alive, on these long days of driving and have only seen one in the Cape region. Mark suspects that the heavy wet season keeps them south where they have an ‘easier life’. Snakes seem to be an endangered species up here due to the large numbers of hawks and eagles which are constantly prowling the large open areas of savannah wetlands. Around lunch time we stopped at the Archer River Roadhouse for a famous Archer River Roadhouse Burger. They may as well scrap the rest of the menu because this feast of greasy goodness is the only thing anyone orders. After more hours through endless bushland and dirt roads we arrived at the next overnight roadhouse, Bramwell Station. We really enjoyed the facilities here, including plenty of fresh water, good bathrooms and showers, happy hour, roast night and a talk on the history of the property by one of the owners.

That night Mark and I started to get excited for the next morning where we would take on the mighty Old Telegraph Track, a pinnacle of Australian 4 wheel driving. Next morning we did a vehicle safety check, fuelled up at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse and entered the track. At Bramwell Junction, many 4 wheels drive parties were sharing tips and thoughts on the OTT. “Oh yeah, I reckon yous might get through but Palm Creek is the really hard part, lots of people have had to turn around”. As we arrived at Palm Creek there was a large group of spectators waiting to see if anyone was brave enough to take on the challenge. Cameras and phones were whipped out as we announced we would take this beast on. Oohs and aahs were heard as we negotiated our cars down the steep clay banks, across the river and out the steep muddy exit. Pfffff… In the end we rated it about a 6 out of 10. Things could have been very different if one of the earlier convoys hadn’t spent time digging out a large section of clay wall to make the track passable. At one of the later stops, he was called out buy a friendly crew we got talking to “hey this is the guy that fixed Palm Creek”!

After more river crossings and decent 4 wheel driving through various terrain, we came to Dulhunty River, where we were going to stay the night. It was very dusty and dry and only one or two other convoys had set up camp. As it didn’t look so inviting, we had a quick lunch and took off to try and catch the last ferry across the Jardine river. We diverted off the OTT in order to save time and plan to tackle the harder northern section on the return leg. The Jardine River ferry has been the subject of much controversy. The price has gone up from $88 to $129 for a 3 minute river crossing while ferry opening and closing times can also be hit and miss. It’s probably part of the reason the government has announced a 250 million road upgrade including a bridge over the Jardine. We were relieved to make it in time and avoid being stuck on the other side. After passing through the coastal towns of Bamaga and Seisia we made our way to Punsand Bay camping grounds just before nightfall. We found our camp site which was nestled next to a creek and mangrove swamp with views of the ocean. Yes. A creek and mangrove swamp. In some of the most infested crocodile territory in the world. We were a bit nervous but the owners assured us it was too dry and we would be very safe. There was also a large drop off between our camp and the river, so we figured a croc would have to be a pretty good rock climber to get to us. Still, Mark and I did a lot of scoping out and we’ve been on constant alert since. Having little Kat along makes us extra cautious near any body of water. Although rare, crocs are known to have taken people on the coast line, so there a constant lookout when walking along the beach and strictly no swimming. We decided to go straight to the tip of the Cape the next morning. It seemed surreal that it was just up the road and we had covered so much ground the past few days.

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Cooktown – Musgrave Roadhouse

After packing up our camp we headed up the road just a short drive to Cooktown. We made our way up to the lighthouse where 100 or so happy snaps were taken of the incredible contrasting views across the ocean, mangrove swamps and town centre. The Cooktown museum contains many historical items, such as Captain Cook’s anchor and gun barrels from the Endeavour which caught aground in 1770. Amazingly, despite damage to the hull, they were able to run the ship inland on high tide and repair enough to crawl back to England. The anchor and barrels were among several heavy items that Cook demanded be thrown off board to save the ship. These weren’t recovered from the ocean until a research team located them in 1969. We completed our Cooktown stop with a visit down to the wharf where we picked up a cheap bag of fresh local prawns from one of the fishing boats.

We headed through Lakefield National Park via Battlecamp road and stopped for lunch at the Old Laura Homestead. We continued on for hours over corrugated roads to the next stop, Musgrave Roadhouse – another typical roadhouse stop with camping grounds and basic facilities. The next morning we saw our first crocodile when a couple nearby our campsite, alerted us to one lying stealth-like in a fenced off body of water at the back of the property.

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Cairns – Port Douglas – Daintree – Lions Den

On thursday, we took Dad and Bella to the airport and packed up our gear and headed off North. The plan was the go all the way to Port Douglas in the one go but some dodgy weather and fatigue got to us so we found a motel in Cairns. After polishing off a few too many bottles of red, we got off to a very lazy midday start. Kerstin knew of a Swedish Cafe, similar to our friends one in Manly, so we went and checked that out and loaded up on some extra supplies.

Our next stop was the picturesque Port Douglas. We took a walk around the main town and instantly fell for the place. With it’s bohemian like shops, cafe’s and pubs, it felt like a mix between Byron and Bali. A must stay on the way back home… After loading up on food for the next couple of days and kept moving on.

Soon enough, we arrived at the door step of the Daintree National Park and caught the car ferry across the Daintree River into the heart of the rainforest. From here on in we were in for a spectacular scenic drive through the park. The thick forest hugs the coastline and the drive weaves in and out beach roads and dense forest canopies. Many say that this drive rivals the Great Ocean Road and we savoured every rolling turn and ocean view. Unfortunately the mighty CREB track was closed due to damage of some sort to one of the bridges so we had to put aside the real 4X4 carnage for another day, maybe on the way back. We stopped at Cape Tribulation and walked out onto the beach, on the way through hungry scrub bush turkeys and guinea fowl run around looking for scraps. The water looked deceivingly beautiful if not for the croc and box jellyfish warning signs.

Further on up the road we pulled over after a water crossing and a guy pulled up along side us. He asked if he could tag along and continue as a convoy, so Mark told him to join us on our UHF channel. He introduced himself as Mitch and Rachel from Rockhampton who were headed for the same place as us. That’s a cool thing about 4 wheel driving, even though you are in separate cars, there is that social aspect of hooking up and chatting along the road, assisting each other through various situations and making fun of various sights along the way. We rolled into our destination for the night, the famous Lions Den Hotel where we camped. On entering the hotel, you are greeted with the most amazing array of quirky fittings and bits and pieces. Flags, stickers, funny old pictures, used hats hanging on walls, international money notes, animal skulls, written names and funny messages on every spare inch of wall. So much to look at and take in. We had a good feed and some cold beers before hitting the hay.

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Townsville

We arrived in Townsville at a very respectable midday on monday after smashing some long hours the few days before. The night previous, we stayed in a motel in Mackay and we were woken rather rudely when Mark’s alarm went off at 4:30am. Unacceptable!! On the way to Townsville we passed through Home Hill and Dad and I laughed our heads off as we heard the local radio weather and news items reporter (Doris as we affectionally named her) reading her items over the airwaves. Firstly, there was the weather. As Doris read a few sentences, you could hear her rustling each page as she folded over the next story. No iPad yet for Doris! Then there was the report about the lost dog. “There’s a lost black dog in the area… If anyone sees a black dog wandering around call Betty on 0415….” and the report about specials at the local fruit markets. “Peaches are on special down at the market for $4.48 a kilo… Apples are also reasonably priced at $2.42 a kilo”. I was laughing so much that I hit one of the controls on my steering wheel and lost the station!

Rolling into Townsville with Dad in the car (who grew up here but had not been back for 40 years) was a lot of fun. There was a lot of pointing and ooh’s and ahh’s. “Wow, I remember that street! Hey, that building used to be a pub! Oh wow, this is the street that I flew down on the motorbike and got air on one night! Dad couldn’t believe how much the place had changed in 40 years and recalled many of the original lay of the land.

The next day we picked up Kerstin, Bella, Rita and Kat at the airport and took them down to Kissing Point where we had planned a unique little ceremony. Some months ago, Dad had the great idea of bringing Nan’s ashes t0 Townsville and scattering them out into the ocean. Many many years ago, 57 to be exact, our grandfather – Harold Kenneth Sterne (known as Ken) disappeared as he set off to swim to Magnetic Island, a swim he had done several times before. On this particular occasion he never came home. As a young boy, this story was a mystery and a legend and I used to ask my nan if he could be living on an island with natives somewhere and he might come home one day. We met a photographer from the Townsville Bulletin who I contacted a few weeks earlier and they covered the story. Mark and I went out into the surf, at the very area where Ken took off that morning and scattered Nan’s ashes into the sea. We toasted her with a bottle of Moet on the beach (before the life guards came down and reminded us it was no drinking!)… So we drank it quicker than planned.

We took in plenty of the Townsville sights and enjoyed many of Dad’s tales before sinking a few cold ones at one of Ken’s favourite pubs… Not sure if they had Rihanna tunes blaring from the speakers back in the day – or wet t-shirt competitions but hey… This was one of his watering holes. As we are now in Queensland, most of us braved the XXXX beer, but I can say I am still sticking to the Coopers for now.

We finished off the day with hours of stories, accents, jokes and good times back at our Caravan park. On wednesday we did plenty more sightseeing and cruising around Townsville. Tomorrow we head off and aim the trucks toward Port Douglass. Great times so far, can’t wait for the next stage of the journey.

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Stop off at Gympie

Day 1 of the adventure saw us put in a big day of driving from Sydney to Gympie, just north of the Sunshine Coast. Dad knew a guy called Dion who he had met through his camel club and had ‘nose pegged’ his 2 camels for him (as you do) about 5 years earlier.

We arrived fairly late in the evening and Dion greeted us with the most amazing hospitality… Cold beers, a huge BBQ and the most tranquil resort like facilities, nestled in the dense Gympie forest. We stayed in Dion’s “transportable shade room” as he called it, to avoid council regulation. It was more like a Balinese bungalow, resting by a man-made lake and filled with Dion’s handmade paper crafts and all sorts of cultural items. After stuffing ourselves with food and wine, we crashed before the head could hit the pillow. The next morning we chatted over coffee and toast and talked camel stuff. Thanks for the incredible hospitality Dion and we might see you on the way back.

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