Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Cape York Peninsula 2012

         Cape York 10 – 19  September 2012 with Frontier Safaris

Peter & I left Melbourne on 7 September to spend 3 nights with brother Graham & his wife Julie in Cairns.  Peter’s sister Helen and her husband Howard were in Atherton visiting their son Philip and his family. The 6 of us were able to enjoy lunch together at Malanda on Saturday 8 September.

Graham & Julie, Howard & Helen, Peter & Joy at Malanda

Day 1.   
Monday 10 September we flew from Cairns to Horn Island with Qantas Link for a 9 day fly/drive safari tour of Cape York Peninsula.  There were 15 of us which included 7 of us from our local gym (Janet & Ray, Mary & Geoff, Gerry).  Kerry & Lindsay were from Perth and deaf which was an interesting experience for us all, John & Bernie were from Inverlock.  Mark & Ann were from Sydney and Marilyn & Steve from Parkdale.  (They joined us at Seisia as they had come from Cairns on the cargo ship “Trinity”. Our cook Ingrid from Adelaide and driver Bruce from Melbourne were at Seisia to greet us).

Boarding our QantasLink flight from Cairns to Horn OIsland on 10 September 2012
Flying over Thursday Island before arriving at Horn Island

As we were about to land at Horn Island, suddenly we were lifting off again – what a strange feeling. Apparently a flock of birds prevented the plane from landing.  The extra fly-over of the islands was lovely.  Horn Island extends over 53 square kilometres and one of the biggest islands of the Torres Strait, with a population of 900. The eleven of us were given a tour of the “Torres Strait Heritage Museum” which has a large collection (5000 items) of WW11 artefacts and photos, cultural and artistic items. We saw a video “Heroes of Horn Island”.  Horn Island played a major role in WW11 in defence of Australia.  It was the 2nd most bombed location after Darwin. The airstrip was once a frontline base for Allied troops.  Today it links Torres Straits with Australia.  We were taken on a tour showing us relics of WW11 with slit trenches, crashed aircraft, a Command Post and octagonal gun pits built in 1942.  We even saw an old beer bottle from 1942 still lying on the ground.  Back to the Museum for a lovely lunch, then a quick ferry ride to Thursday Island and a large one from Thursday Island to Seisia 40kms from the Tip of Australia. It was quite windy (25 knots) with lots of spray so by the time we reached Seisia 75 minutes later we were drenched and quite cold.

Joy & Peter at Torres Strait Heritage Museum, Horn Island
Slit trenches used WW11

Gun pit stands empty today where once stood 3.7 inch gun
Joy at entrance to 34th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery Command Post

Peter holding a 1942 beer bottle found on the ground
Met by a driver Bruce and cook Ingrid we were soon instructed on how to put our tents up.  Seisia camp ground is on the beach so we had our tents set up with great views of the Torres Straits and just 20 metres from the water line. One could say “paradise”, but the crocodile warning sign said we could not enter the water!

Our camp site at Seisia, overlooking the Torres Straits

Janet & Ray, Peter relaxing at Seisia
Sunset at Seisia Camping Ground


We were greeted with the news that 50kms south the Punt which transports vehicles across the Jardine River had met with an accident on 10 September.  A large semi-trailer loaded with gravel had attempted to board the Punt, breaking the cables and stays that control the Punt, thus putting it out of action for an unspecified time.  That meant we were stranded and unable to go south.  At least we had a comfortable and pleasant camp location with toilets & showers and camp kitchen, while those stranded on the south side of the Jardine River only had 2 toilets and no provisions.  It was a wait and see situation. 

Truck in Jardine River and broken Punt

Bruce was very sensitive as he told us about his frustrations and dilemma on his last tour of 20 August 2012, which got quite nasty and ended abruptly.  Was history going to repeat itself was at the forefront of Bruce’s mind.  On Day 3 the tour left Seisia just as we were scheduled to, but only got 30 minutes down the road when the bus had an electrical malfunction, leaving the passengers stranded for 3 hours on the side of a very dusty inhospitable road.  The vehicle was towed back to Bamaga and the passengers were transported back to Seisia Camping Ground in a hired school bus.  It was a full 24 hours before the vehicle was repaired, so the following day the group set off again, but the electrical system failed again, leaving the passengers stranded by the roadside for 5 hours.  The passengers were once again returned to Seisia camp ground.  Attempts to again repair the 2 year old vehicle were made, but it was determined to return it to the manufacturer in Cairns as it was still under Warranty.  At that point  the 12 guests were offered a choice of either continuing the tour in a similar vehicle which had been sourced, but with a modified itinerary, or to be flown back to Cairns at the Company's expense. Four guests wanted to continue with a modified itinerary, but 8 wanted to be flown back to Cairns. The Company went with the requests of the majority. This is why Travel Insurance is advisable!  Outback Australia can be dangerous and unpredictable.  It was unfortunate that this group could not “go with the flow”, whereas our group had a very accommodating attitude to the circumstances and saw it as an Australian outback experience “not to be missed”.  It was a bonding experience and we are all the richer for it.

Bus with electrical malfunction on 23 August 2012

Day 2.  
Today we drove the 40kms to the Tip of Australia, taking 2 hours on a very corrugated road that was quite narrow at times and with some water crossings. The first car to reach the Tip of Australia was in 1928.  Francis Birtles rode (and often carried) a bicycle from Cairns to the Tip in 1918. We walked 400metre over a rocky outcrop to the Tip of Australia which is surrounded on 3 sides by water, the Coral Sea to the East, Torres Strait at the tip and Gulf of Carpentaria on the West. We had our photo take standing at the northern most point of the Australian Continent.  It was windy and light rain fell for about 10 minutes just when we were at the Tip.  The Great Dividing Range rises at the Tip and follows the east coast all the way south.  

Driving the 40 kms to Tip of Australia - it took 2 hours

Driving to the Tip of Australia
400 metre walk over rocky outcrop to Tip of Australia

Peter & Joy standing at the northernmost point of the Australian Continent

Geoff & Mary, Ray & Janet, Joy & Peter at the Tip

Bruce took us to see a couple of WW11 crashed planes near Bamaga, 6kms away.  It was interesting to see some fuel dump dispersal areas where they hid the 44 gallon drums of fuel to avoid detection by enemy planes.  The fuel drums arrived on barges and loaded onto trucks and taken to different locations during WW11.

Bristol Beaufort Mark V111 crashed near Bamaga WW11
Fuel dump dispersal area

Day 3. 
Today we were scheduled to move south but it could be a few more days before the Punt is fixed.  It was agreed that the Company would give us an extra day to make our way back to Cairns, but with modifications to our itinerary.  We would have to miss out on Weipa and some other spots along the way and travel longer days.  No decisions could be made until news of a repaired Punt had reached us.  It was a waiting game and we waited until Day 7before we could depart south.  The road distance for the Tip to Cairns is 950kms without detours and usually recommended to take 1 week to drive.  (We travelled 1200kms all together and took 4 days to drive 900kms).

We relaxed at the camp site, talked, cat-napped, ate and took small walks but it was fairly hot.  It was frustrating that we could not go for a swim.  Happy hour was at dusk on the beach with a late dinner.  The sunsets over the sea were lovely.

Stranded in paradise for 6 days (Seisia)
Happy Hour on the beach

Happy Hour on the beach
Sunset in paradise (Seisia)

Day 4.
Today was Joy’s 69th birthday.  A group of us arranged to go by Ferry “Strait Magic” to Thursday Island which has a population of 3500 and covers 3.4 square kms. We went to Green Hill Fort built 1893 and from there saw great views of Horn, Prince of Wales, Hammond & Fridays Islands.  There is an excellent museum of military artefacts.  The historic cemetery was a reminder of the long forgotten Japanese pearl shell divers.  Quetta Memorial Church, the smallest Cathedral  in the World, built 1893 in memory of the sinking in 3 minutes of SS Quetta – 293 on board, 133 lost. A life ring and bell are on display at the church.  We spent time at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre, established 2004 to preserve Torres Strait culture and promote indigenous art - wood carvings, paintings jewellery & head dresses.  Eight hours later we were on “Strait Magic” and heading back to Seisia. At dinner a frozen cheesecake with candles was produced with the chorus “Happy Birthday” sung by all.
Louis Van Torres was the 1st non-indigenous sailor to navigate Torres Strait, followed by Captain James Cook who claimed the area on behalf of the British Crown – now Possession Island.  There are over 200 islands in Torres Strait – most of which are uninhabited.  Thursday Island is the main administrative centre.  Torres Shire is a shire literally on the sea.  The main form of transport is by boat.  The Torres Strait Islanders number 24,000. They are a happy friendly people.

Arriving at Thursday Island on board "Strait Magic"

Welcome to Thursday Island
Green Hill Fort built 1893
Historic cemetery where many Japanese pearl-shell divers are buried
Quetta Memorial Church built 1893 - smallest Cathedral in the world

Day 5. 
Still stranded at Seisia but there was a distraction this morning.  A crocodile had been up on the beach.  Last night a fisherman had caught a 2 foot shark, cut its head off and left the body on the beach.  That is not advisable when crocodiles are around.  The crocodile had come up on the beach just 50 metres further down from our tents and within just a few metres of the camping ground.  It was interesting to see its slide marks and footprints in the sand.  Another 2 crocodiles were seen in the water which reinforced they were around and we should not be tempted to swim or even paddle.  Some of us including Joy did cautiously paddle at times. 

Crocodile came up the beach close to campers
Crocodile footprints and slide marks

Crocodile watching

Crocodile watching from our camp

News was reaching us that the Punt MAY be fixed by tomorrow.  Bruce endeavoured to reassure us that if we had to be stranded that we were in the best place.  At least we had toilets & showers, food and a glorious view while those 100s or 1000s stranded on the south side of the Jardine were without showers and food.  Seisia Camp Ground helped out with provisions.  Frontier Safaris were prepared to extend our tour by an extra day, but we would still miss out on some of the highlights like Weipa and we would have to travel long days to still make it back on Day 10.  Tonight was a special treat from Frontier Safaris – we went to the Fisherman’s Club for a hamburger. The sunset was lovely.

Day 6.  
Still stranded, but news is that the Punt is nearly ready for use.  Finally just after lunch the good news reached us that all was OK again.  Many 4WDs were packing up and making their exit.  Bruce did not want to travel the 50kms south to the River (which would take about 2 ½ hours) on a very corrugated dusty red road along with everyone else until the next day. 

Day 7. 
We were up about 5.30am and left camp about 7am for our departure south – 4 days later than scheduled.  We met Noten and his donkey Esther on the road.  Noten had walked from Wilson’s Promentary in Victoria (left late 2010) to reach the Tip of Australia (mid August 2012), and now heading back south to Cairns where he will say goodbye to Esther and fly to Melbourne for Christmas 2012.

Crossing Jardine River on the repaired Punt
We made it to the other side - now we can head south to Cairns in 4 days

Noten and his donkey Esther

We had a quick swim in the crystal clear water at Fruit Ball Falls. We drove 220kms along the Telegraph Road to Bramwell Junction Roadhouse for a late lunch where there were many termite mounds.  Nearby was a 7.2 metre high termite mound – good for a group photo.   We arrived late in the afternoon (250kms from Seisia) at Moreton Telegraph Station, established 1887 and closed 1987 with the introduction of the modern era of telecommunications.  A walk around the 15 acres of cleared land for camping was pleasant and a look at the Wenlock River which is said to be where Steve Irwin has caught many crocodiles in the past.

Swimming at Fruit Bat Falls
Bramwell Junction Roadhouse
Group at 7.2 metre Termite Mound near Bramwell Junction

Camped at Moreton Telegraph Station, established 1887

Day 8. 
Up early with eucalyptus scrub, anthills and water crossings along the 225kms Development Road between Moreton and Musgrave.   We stopped at Coen for a quick visit to the Cape York Heritage House which houses lots of memorabilia.  The town was founded as a Fort on the river in 1873 and grew with the gold rush 1890-1916. Ingrid found a lovely lunch spot by the Coen River.  

Between Moreton and Coen
Development Road between Coen and Musgrave

Great Dividing Range rises at theTip and follows east coast all the way to the south
Lunch spot near Coen

Collecting firewood

We collected firewood before entering the Lakefield National Park which was an amalgamation of 3 huge cattle stations, now a haven for many birds and animals native to the area.  Lagoons, billabongs, and wide river lakes are home to both fresh and saltwater crocodiles.  Our camping ground at “Kalpowar” was overlooking the Normanby River – a lovely spot but we could not linger. 

Lakefield National Park

Termite Mounds in Lakefield National Park

Lakefield National Park

Day 9. 
We were up to see the sun rise over the hill, and with the Normanby River and Kalpowar Causeway below it was a sight to behold.  Egg and bacon for breakfast was a treat and many of us enjoyed the view while having coffee.  As we left we saw a warning sign saying that a crocodile had recently been seen in the area!   Bruce stopped the bus at another part of the Normanby River in the hope of seeing a crocodile but all we could see were slide marks.  Nevertheless the reflections in the river were magnificent. 

Normanby River at "Kalpowar" Lakefield National Park

Causeway over Normanby River at "Kalpower" Lakefield N.P.

Reflections in Normanby River at Lakefield National Park

We visited “Old Laura” Homestead.  Fergus O’Beirne purchased land in 1879.  By 1894 he was running 8000 cattle.  By 1960 the property has deteriorated.  Today it stands as a tribute to the hardy pioneers of the Cape York Peninsula.  

The men at "Old Laura" Homestead
"Old Laura" homestead built 1879

A drive over Battle Camp Range with some small river crossings took us into Cooktown for a very late lunch at Cooktown Caravan Park – civilisation and a lovely toilet/shower block.  Bruce took us to Grassy Hill Lighthouse overlooking Cooktown, it was built in England and shipped to Cooktown in 1885 and automated in 1927. 

Built 1885 - Lighthouse at Grassy Hill, Cooktown

View from Grassy Hill looking north to Battle Camp Range

A quick but interesting visit to James Cook Museum where the anchor from Captain Cook’s “Endeavour” was recovered in 1971 – 200 years later.  A canon was recovered in 1969. On 26 August 1768 Captain James Cook in command of H.M.S.”Endeavour” set sail from Plymouth on his first circumnavigation of the world with a royal commission to make astronomical and botanical observations of the South Seas.  On 10 June 1770 “Endeavour” ran onto jagged coral, resulting in a gaping hole in her hull, 40kms south of Cooktown.  Cook tied up in Cooktown 18 June and set sail again after repairing his ship on 4 August 1770. The tree used to moor his ship is also in the Museum.
Our farewell dinner was celebrated at Cooktown Bowls Club.

Canon from Captain Cook's "Endeavour" recovered 1969
Anchor from "Endeavour" recovered 1971

Captain James Cook tied up in Cooktown June 1770

Tree used to moor "Endeavour" while under repairs June 1770

Day 10. 
Black Mountain National Park is 25kms south west of Cooktown at Helenvale.   It’s distinctive dark appearance is due to a film of lichen.  Cape York’s iconic Pub “Lion’s Den Hotel”, was built in 1875 from iron and timber and is surrounded by 100 year old mango trees.  It has heaps of quirky decorations and walls adorned with signatures.  A haven for 4WD vehicles and their drivers!  Wujil Wujil was of particular interest to us as Peter’s brother had lived there some years ago.  Bana Yirriji Arts and Cultural Centre is new, showing off locally indigenous made arts and crafts. 

Black Mountain National Park
Interior Cape York's iconic Pub, Lion's Den Hotel built 1875
Aboriginal art at Bana Yirriji Arts & Cultural Centre Wujil Wujil

Bloomfield Track is a 4WD coastal road - a 30km rough, narrow, winding, steep track with many water crossings. The Daintree Rainforest is a World Heritage Site where the “rainforest meets the reef” at Cape Tribulation.  At Cape Tribulation we had the opportunity to do a board walk in the rainforest and onto the beach which lunch was being prepared.  We did not see any cassowarys.       A punt crosses the Daintree River near Daintree. Mossman is more open with sugar cane fields and tea plantations.   The coastal road between Mossman and Cairns is scenic.

Bloomfield Track is a 4WD coastal track 30 km long
Bloomfield Track runs between Wujil Wujil and Cape Tribulation
Bloomfield Track -  a world Heritage Site

Bloomfield Track where the "rainforest meets the reef"

Myall Beach at Cape Tribulation
Board walk in rainforest at Cape Tribulation
Trinity Bay betweem Mossman and Cairns

We were the first to be dropped off at Kewarra Beach, while others continued to Cairns for their connecting arrangements – a day later than expected!!  We spent the night with Graham & Julie before flying home on 20 September 2012.

If you have any corrections or comments please contact the author, Joy Olney via email:

Departing Cairns

Arriving Melbourne

1 comment:

  1. What a great holiday you had, Joy, even though there was a slight hiccup early in the trip. Cape York Peninsula is a great place to visit - somewhere all Australians should make the effort to explore.