Cape York, the most northerly point on the Australian mainland. A large chunk of wilderness for us to cover to get there. Around 1,000km’s in fact. We decided to drive directly there and do any exploring on the way back down.
We were on the road by 8am when we left Cairns. Our first task for the day was to drag the trailer back up into the Great Dividing Range. Thankfully it was Sunday so there wasn’t much other traffic on the road. After about an hour of winding mountain roads we reached Mareeba and turned northwards. For the most part the roads were sealed until we reached Laura. Not much of a town, but we stopped at the roadhouse for lunch. The food offerings were pretty bleak so chose the safe option of a pie from the bain-marie.
From here there are two roads that head to Musgrave Station, our destination for the day. We had met several travellers returning from the Cape at the caravan park in Cairns and heard that the road through the National Park was not only a prettier drive, but also that the road had recently been graded.
As we finished our lunch at the Laura roadhouse another car pulled up and told us that the development road was ‘corrugated as hell’. We stuck with our plan to travel through the national park.
As promised the unsealed road was indeed in excellent condition. We passed the old homesteads and some amazing views of lily filled billabongs and fields of termite mounds before exiting the park and arriving at Musgrave.
We found a nice level piece of ground and set up camp in the paddock. It wasn’t until nightfall that we noticed we were right next to the ‘Ampol’ sign.
It was the lowing of cows that woke us the next morning. The mournful mooing was right next to our tent as a lost calf wandered past looking for its mum. It seemed that a herd had assembled just outside the camping zone fence. As we were awake we decided to get up and get an early start to the day so were on the road again before 8am.
Em was driving as we headed into Coen just before 9am as police officers on the road waved us in. It was our first random breath test for the trip. Of course there was no issue and we were cleared to leave, however we were warned that the road deteriorated not far the other side of Coen.
We had a brief stop at Coen, but it was too early for a drink at the hotel. It’s officially the Exchange Hotel, but a group of funny buggers have added an S to the sign to make it the ‘sexchange’ hotel. It’s good for a photo anyway!
The road condition did deteriorate not far out of Coen but it wasn’t too bad. We carried on for a few hours before stopping for lunch at the Morten Telegraph Station. Constructed on the Wenlock River for water supplies this station was completed in 1887. It was 100 years later that the telegraph station was closed after the introduction of microwave technology to link the northern reaches of Australia.
The lovely grassy and shady grounds of the Morten Telegraph Station are a great spot for a break. We enjoyed the oasis of greenery before we pushed on to Bramwell. We were quite tired after bouncing along the dirt road all day so we had a quiet night in camp.
Neither of us slept through the night as we both awoke to the sound of rain on canvas. The shower lasted around an hour. Talk around camp the next morning was what the shower would do to the condition of the Overland Telegraph Track. Although we hadn’t planned to take the OTT with the trailer in tow the rain solidified our decision to stick to the development road.
The development road wasn’t too bad until we were about 30km south of the Jardine River ferry when it deteriorated to corrugations that were around half a tyre deep. Slowing our speed right down we crawled to into the ferry terminal at about 12:10pm. The office was closed with the sign saying they were closed 12 – 1 for lunch. We followed their lead and had ourselves something to eat while we waited.
When the office opened we were charged $129 for the return ferry crossing for the car and trailer (A single vehicle is $99). Considering it takes less than ten minutes to cross the river we think we found a more expensive ferry per distance than the Kangaroo Island ferry.
The road the other side of the road continued on in its pitiful state. Crawling along at speeds down to 10-15kph at times, it was a slow and tedious journey until we finally hit bitumen again. Along the way we encountered a boat trailer, a camper trailer, a caravan and three cars on the back of breakdown trucks and one off road tour bus that had broken its drivetrain. After covering 1,000km’s of mostly dirt roads in three days we were exhausted, very very dusty, but we had made it in one piece..