GETTING THERE | Fuel, ferries and fines
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH FUEL?
How we did it:
Cairns → Musgrave Roadhouse: 448km – Fuelled up here (can fuel up in Laura or Lakeland if you’ll not make it ~450km)
Musgrave Roadhouse → Archer River Roadhouse: 174km – Stopped for lunch (Archer burgers are to die for!) and fuelled up here too.
Archer River → Bramwell Junction Roadhouse: 166km – Fuelled up and pulled up stumps for the night.
Bramwell → Jardine River Ferry: 170km – We didn’t fuel up here, but they have fuel.
Jardine River Ferry → Bamaga: 42km – We fuelled up here.
So the fuelling side of things isn’t that bad – you’ll find it most places, however if you’re doing the Tele Track (and I mean really, why else are you here?!) then you’ll need to fuel up at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse, as the run up the Tele is slow, low-range, going – so you’ll eat up a fair bit of ‘go juice’ just doing that. Bamaga also has a local IGA/Foodworks store from which you can get bulk supplies too, once you’re north of the Jardine – everything from vegies and meat, to tofu and bait, you’re covered.
Ok, so there really is only the one ferry that crosses the mighty Jardine River. You will need to pay to cross on the ferry, however there have been some of the more adventurous that have gone a ways up stream and crossed it in their 4X4. Personally, we opted for the nice, dry ferry that you can’t get bogged on, and have to wade through chin deep, croc infested waters to get recovered from. It’s going to set you back 100 dollarydoos to get a return ticket for a single vehicle (a touch more for towing a trailer or van), but this also covers your camping fees north of the Jardine River – so you can stay and camp north in bushland campsites as long as you want (maintained campsites – Punsand Bay, Alau Beach, Loyalty Beach or Seisia – charge an extra cost per night).
As you’ve probably heard, there are limits on the amount of grog you can take into and have with you in the Cape. For the way up, you’re pretty well right until you hit the Jardine Ferry. Once you’ve crossed and you’re in the ‘Northern Peninsula Area’, there are some limits you need to be aware of.
The maximum amount of alcohol you can have in any one vehicle is:
Two litres of wine (unfortified – so no port, etc.) AND 11.25 litres (30 x 375ml cans) of any strength beer;
Two litres of wine (unfortified) AND 9 litres (24 x 375ml cans) of premix spirits up to 5.5% alcohol/volume.
If you do get caught with more than the allowed amount, you’re looking at a fine of up to $47,306 (375 penalty units).
The Old Telegraph Track & the sign
The Tele Track
The Cape York Telegraph Line was completed in 1887 and ran from Laura all the way through to Thursday Island. It was used for over 100 years, until 1987 when the line was removed and replaced with microwave radio transmission towers. The part we’re interested in, however, runs from Bramwell Junction Roadhouse in the south, crossing the Peninsula Development Road once, and ends at the Jardine River in the north. Most of the crossings you’ll find have a good bottom, and so long as you keep momentum, you’ll get across them all pretty easily. Our tyre pressures were down to 18psi while on the Tele, and that got us through everything with ease.
Photographic proof you’ve made it to the Tip is a requirement of anyone heading up to the Cape. I mean, if you don’t put it on Facebook and Instagram, did you even go? Something a lot of folks don’t know, is it’s about a 500m walk to the tip from the carpark. The walk is over pretty rocky terrain up and over a hill, or at low tide you can walk most of the way out around the sand flat – just be mindful of the crocs!
The Tip is about a 30-minute drive out of Loyalty Beach, so if you can make it work with low tide, that’s the best time to go. Other than that, there’s more than a few signs leading the way to the top, or if all else fails, just keep heading north.
5 THINGS | You need to conquer the OTT
SNORKEL: This is arguably the only real non-negotiable. Unless you head up in November, and there’s no water, or you’re not going to attempt the Tele, you’ll need a snorkel.
33-inch tires are essentially a minimum for the OTT (Old Telegraph Track) – not much with a standard-ish wheel track gets up there on less than that.
Have a good quality one, service it and make sure it works before you start heading north.
Besides somewhere to stick your winch and lights, good solid bar work is a good, solid idea – there are plenty of wayward pigs up the Cape.
ESKY/FRIDGE: These kind of go without saying; make sure you’ve got somewhere solid to sleep, and something to keep the beer and food cold.
TOOLS/SPARES REQUIRED (and who to call if you get stuck)
Here’s some clever advice from the man himself
Spares wise, at a minimum you’re going to want drive belts and top and bottom radiator hoses. On the list of ‘if we’ve got room’, you want to throw spare CVs, an alternator, spare air filter, maybe a starter motor if you’re in an auto, wheel bearings, and anything that’s a known ‘weak spot’ on your 4X4. A roll of fencing wire is also a great addition to any 4X4, simple ’cause of the things you can fix with it – think exhaust mounts, radius arms, spring towers – it’s the heavy-duty version of cable ties.
On the tool front, you’re going to want the usual jack, tyre iron, set of sockets and spanners, pliers/side cutters, hub socket for your wheel bearings, and any other tool you’ll need to replace the spare parts you’ve brought along.
Should the inevitable happen, and you’re stuck and buggered without a chance of sorting it out yourself, our mate Sam Nolan runs Weipa Auto, who are the RACQ blokes up this way. Work out a way to get some phone reception (or pull out the sat phone), and get a message out to Sam, and he’ll come and sort you out. Trust us, it’s worth having his number saved into your phone.
5 PLACES | You need to see up here
- The Tip: This one goes without saying. If you’re going this far north, you need to get to the top of this magic country of ours. Make sure you take the camera or at least a phone to get a happy snap!
- The Waterfalls: On the northern part of the Tele Track, you’ll find Fruit Bat, Eliot and Twin Falls. They’re all as speccy as the next, and you can happily swim at them all. Make sure you get here, and make sure you get a photo!
- Sam’s Creek: Located on the northern part of the Tele Track, Sam Creek is a smaller creek that has some rather gritty sand in it and camping areas on both sides. What makes this spot make the list, is the waterhole and waterfall. Not the one you’ll see as you drive across, but the one a touch further downstream. On the southern side of the creek, you’ll find a little walking track that heads off into the scrub – follow it. It’s worth it.
- 5 Beaches Loop – Somerset: Once you’ve done the Tip, if you head out on Somerset Road toward the east, there is a great little spot called 5 Beaches. It runs down the east coast of the Tip, has some magic camping spots, and if you’re finding the heat and humidity overbearing, you’ll generally always have a solid easterly blowing in off the ocean.
- Gunshot Creek: Almost as iconic as getting to the Tip itself, Gunshot Creek is worth a look. Even if you just head into it, have a gander, then take the bypass road back out to the PDR (or take the chicken track around it). If you’ve got the time, it’s absolutely worth pulling up near Gunshot with a few tins, kicking back and watching the action – nice easy way to spend a day with free entertainment!
5 BEST | Spots to camp
Up the Cape, it’s pretty well open season on camping. You can, for the most part, camp wherever you like (besides the places that are signposted no camping), however there are a few spots that stand out, and well, if you’re not pulling up stumps somewhere stunning every night, why are you even going?
Sam Creek – OTT
As we said above, Sam Creek is a magic spot to pull up stumps for the night. The swimming hole down river is absolutely amazing, and it’s usually pretty quiet. We’re not going to ping it on a map – go find it yourself!
Nolan’s Brook – OTT
If you’re heading up the Tele, a great spot to camp before you cross the Jardine is at Nolan’s. The last ferry across the Jardine leaves at about 4pm. So if you’re not on a tight schedule, aim to get to Nolan’s by mid-arvo; it’s a great place for a swim and wash, plus you can sit back and watch others cross it. Worth noting, it’s best to camp on the northern side of the creek, so you’ve not got to worry about crossing it first up the next morning.
Punsand Bay and Loyalty Beach – North of the Jardine
Both Punsand Bay and Loyalty Beach have camping areas/caravan parks that have food, beer, shops and the like. Punsand does also have a pool and beers on tap, however Loyalty Beach is generally quieter – so it all depends on what you’re after.
Nanthau Beach – North of the Jardine
This is the actual name of the beach on 5 Beaches Loop. The water is stunning, the sand is just about as white as you’ll find, plus there’s often a nice cool easterly blowing if the heat and humidity is getting to you.
Archer River Roadhouse – Peninsula Development Road
This one is more of a transit camp than a speccy ‘Cape campsite’. Don’t get us wrong, if you want to put the hours in, you can do Bamaga to Cairns in a massive day – but it’s a solid 1000km run between the two. If you’re not into massive days in the saddle and want to enjoy the drive up and back, Archer River Roadhouse gets our vote. There’s a mint river and campground here, plus you’ve just gotta try the ‘Archer Burger’. You can thank us later!
The Peninsula Development Road
The PDR is a rather infamous bit of road unto itself, running from Laura to the Tip, it sees its fair share of traffic. It’s around 60% bitumen these days, with more and more bitumen going in every year. That said, the further north you go, the less bitumen you see.
A few things you need to be aware of on the PDR: the corrugations, the dust holes and the causeways. The dirt parts of the PDR get torn up, graded and flattened out every season, so if you go early, it’s usually a pretty good run. If you’re heading up now, chances are you’re going to see some pretty wild corrugations – some up to eight inches in height and carry on for kilometres on end. Don’t kid yourself, your 4X4 can and will rattle apart, irrespective of whether it’s brand spanking new, or 25 years old. So plan for that eventuality, and make sure you check over the real important parts every morning when you get up. Think wheel nuts, strut towers, control arms, and the like. If it’s directly in contact with the road, or attached to the suspension, it’s going through hell.
The dust holes, on the other hand, jump out at you from nowhere, are deadly, and will swallow your four-wheel drive. Thankfully most of them have signs put up on them pretty quickly, so you’ll have some notice, but it’s worth keeping an eye out anyway. They’re generally full of bull dust, run about 50m long, and twice the width of your vehicle. If you happen across one, slow down, dodge it if it’s safe to do so, or take it real easy if you have to drive through it.
Water: If you’re Russel Coight, you’ll want to take three litres per day, per person, per man, per degree over 25 degrees, per kilometre on foot, in the winter months divide by two, plus another litre. For the rest of us, carry at least three litres per person per day, and to be extra safe, some water purification tabs to keep in the first aid kit.
Have a spare: Make sure you have a good spare. A 10-year-old, 20% tread, questionable quality tyre that’s been hanging on the back of your 4X4 for the last few years without a look in, probably isn’t the best idea. Check your spare, make sure it’s inflated and holds air, and in good repair.
That’s a big ten-four, rubber ducky: Comms. Have them, use them. Keep an ear out on channel 40 for the trucks rolling up and down the PDR or have your unit on scan if you’re not in a convoy – chances are you’ll get good info on the roads and may save you some bother otherwise!
R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Something a lot of folks forget, is that you’re a guest up in the Cape. The local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have invited and welcomed us into their home with open arms, for us to enjoy it with them. So make sure you take your rubbish with you, don’t trash the joint, and we’ll all be welcomed back, to share with our kids and grandkids. All too often folks get up there and couldn’t care less. Don’t be that guy (or girl)!
Watch the crocs:
No, not the shameful rubber variety that go on your feet, the ones with the big eyes and teeth! Most places where crocs have been spotted or are known to frequent are signposted – take heed. That said, there are some spots that aren’t signposted (Nolan’s Brook for example), where crocs have been sighted. So as soon as you’re north of Cairns, stay vigilant and always keep one eye on the water!
Hurry up and wait:
Unless you go real early or late in the season, chances are you’re going to run into other people on the Tele, at the Tip, and trying to cross the Jardine. Be prepared to take your time with schedules, and not rush through anything. At the end of the day, we’re all up here on holidays, right?