Cooktown to Musgrove Roadhouse via Lakeland 279 Klm’s
Leaving Cooktown fairly late in the day due to some trailer modifications being carried out meant that our first day was a relatively short one. We filled up before heading off paying a very reasonable $1.19 per litre at the local Caltex service station. The road out of Cooktown is stunning and in very good condition, the surrounding hills and mountains not only make for an interesting vista with which to pass the time as you meander along, but also creates plenty of curves and crests that had us wishing we were onboard a motorcycle, a journey for next time perhaps.
We took the turn off at Lakeland and headed towards Laura and again were somewhat impressed with the quality of the road. We were also impressed with the way our trusty Toyota 3.0 litre Turbo Diesel equipped Landcruiser Prado was coping with pulling along our tonne and a half of tandem jet ski trailer, easily sitting on the speed limit for the most part and only loosing about 10 Klm’s an hour up the longest of hills, that is provided you were paying attention and set yourself up for them, if you catch my drift.
We reached Laura and pulled over at the roadside café on the way into town to say hello to a couple of friends who just happened to be there, what are the chances of that? It does seem to be the way though as we were later to discover, meeting and re-meeting the same people as we travelled. We headed on after a brief chat and finally reached the first bit of red dirt The Cape is renowned for. Apart from the initial thump when we left the bitumen, the gravel highway, as it’s more akin to at the right time of year was very smooth and made for easy going. We were very concerned about vibration on the trailer and lowered the tyre pressures down from the recommended 65psi to a more forgiving 30psi. The Prado’s tyres went down to 35psi, not a lot but given the condition of the road it was adequate enough.
After an event free couple of hours we arrived at Musgrave Roadhouse at about 4:30pm and went into the café and booked a campsite at ten bucks a head. We headed around to the paddock around the back that doubles as the campsite and set up a basic camp for the night. Musgrave Roadhouse also offers some limited accommodation by way of rooms and units, you can check pricing on their website here. We had intended to have one of the simple but delicious Happy Camper Gourmet meals for dinner but when we discovered our gas stove refused to light when the 4kg bottle got below one third full, later diagnosed as dust getting into the fitting on top of the gas bottle and when we connected the gas line to the cooker it partially blocked the jets, all sorted now though and so is a more robust dust cover. We ended up opting for a meal at the licensed café at the roadhouse. The meals were nice and as yet we weren’t seeing the horrendous pricing that people were claiming we would see when we got up this way, thirty bucks for a rump steak with chips and salad is pretty normal when you live in Sydney! You can get a ten-dollar burger if you’re watching the sheckles, which we were but hey, you only live once. After our meal and couple of drinks to wash the dust down, we called it as night as we wanted to get away early the next day for our run north.
Fuel is available at Musgrave and at the time of our travels it was a $1.55 per litre for diesel. My advice would be to fill up here as it jumped up to $2.10 per litre at Bramwell Roadhouse. We probably would have made it to Seisia on what we had but didn’t want to chance it and ended up paying the higher price at Bramwell just to give us a safety margin, lesson learnt.
Musgrove Roadhouse to Bramwell Station 339 Klm’s
We got away early enough considering we had no agenda and by eight thirty we were putting some distance between ourselves and Musgrove Roadhouse. We made good time thanks to a courteous road train driver who said he’d wait a few minutes while we got organized so he didn’t hold us up on the road. Again there were no real surprises as the road was in stellar condition and we found ourselves travelling along at speeds one would feel at home doing along a sealed freeway.
We arrived at Coen at about 10:30am and wandered around the small main street area taking a few pics and chatting to the friendly staff from the (S)Exchange Hotel, it was far too early for a refreshment though so we hopped back in the car and continued on our way.
Again not a lot to talk about in relation to the condition of the road in this section and we made it to Archer River Roadhouse in time lunch. Being small eaters we shared a ten-buck burger and went on our way. The roadhouse serves the usual limited fare at reasonable prices, is licensed, sells fuel and has camping and accommodation options, we were fine for fuel so didn’t bother checking to see what it was worth but I would hazard a guess and say that it was a little dearer than both Musgrave and Coen, purely because of geographical reasons.
It’s only about fifty metres to the crossing at the Archer River and the low level concrete bridge means that the challenges of the days of old associated with getting across it are no longer there. We came upon Moreton telegraph station and stopped for a quick look around, there’s a bit of history here and a museum of sorts dedicated to the importance of the overland telegraph service and the stations role in it. They also offer food, fuel and accommodation.
We headed off and had an overnight destination planned at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse but was somewhat confused when we approached a turn off to ‘Bramwell Station Tourist Park’ about 10 Klm’s before hand. We decided to follow the signs that took us six k’s off the main road and into Bramwell Station itself and upon first inspection it looked like we’d made a fantastic call.
There was out door bar area and some cabins set in a fairly tidy and manicured (for a country area, no disrespect intended it‘s just that the lack of water and the extreme heat means that manicured lawns like you see on the south east coast are just not possible here) garden area. We enquired about camping and were advised that it was again ten bucks a head and just grab a spot and make yourselves at home. We thought about it for a moment, looked at the cabins and quickly decided we’d save our sanity and spend the extra eighty bucks on an air-conditioned cabin. This would prove to be a mistake as despite being told that last night there wasn’t an empty bed in the place, the odour that greeted us when we opened the door to our cabin was proof enough that it had not been opened for quite some time and with the old window rattler AC unit pumping it’s guts out we were seriously concerned about the long term heath effects of legionella. Not being troublemakers we opened up the window and door turned the air off and made our way over to the bar to wash the dust out of our throats.
Here’s were we made our second ill-fated decision and agreed to indulge in some of their ‘beautiful’ home made pie for dinner, at thirty bucks ahead we mistakenly thought we were in for a treat.
We sat and had a quiet drink and waited for our dinner to be served. The loud ‘ding’ coming from the microwave in the kitchen served as dire warning that, indeed the vegies were now ready as ‘the cook’ scurried off to the kitchen to assemble our meals. She returned a few minutes later with two enormous paper plates, yes you heard right, piled with enough food to kill a black dog. The home made pie had clearly been prepared in the same microwave as the veggies as the pastry was nothing more than an anaemic soggy pile draped over the contents of said pie. The vegetables were just as soggy as the pastry of the mince filled pie.
We both made excuses about not being big eaters finished our drinks and went off for an early night in one the most uncomfortable beds we have ever slept in, it sagged, it stunk and it creaked and groaned every time one of us made even the slightest of movements, which was often given our level of discomfort.
All in all a pretty horrible experience and a damn shame really as the environment is quite nice, there is a lot of history within the property itself and the owner is clearly very keen on making it better as they are spending a bucket load on building a new bar and café, which when opened will be quiet a pleasant place to be and which will also see the existing bar become a museum to the stations long history. Perhaps the owners should spend an evening in the cabins and indulge in a ‘delightful home cooked’ meal to see where the real improvements need to be made.
Bramwell Station to Seisia Beach 218 Klm’s
We departed Bramwell Station at 7:30 for the last push to Seisia Beach where we would be staying during our time at Australia’s northern most tip. We made the short journey to Bramwell Junction roadhouse where we put an extra fifty litres of diesel in the Prado just in case something should go wrong along the way. Fuel prices here are horrendous at $2.10 per litre so I’d suggest filling up at Laura or Musgrave on the way up or waiting until you get to Bamaga or Seisia on the northern side of the Kennedy River where prices come back to something that is a little easier to stomach. The road started off as good as it had been all the way from Laura but it progressively got worse as we continued on. Not difficult by any means but certainly a little rougher and there were some significant corrugations that had us slowing down to a crawl as I tried to keep trailer-killing vibrations down to a minimum.
We arrived at the ferry at the Kennedy River and went in and paid the exorbitant price of $129.00 for a return ticket, if I said we were on the ferry for about three and half minutes each way I would be exaggerating. This equates to thirty-six dollars and eighty-five cents a minute. If your not towing a trailer it’s thirty bucks cheaper. The ferry itself is an interesting piece of equipment and almost looks as if it was built in grandad’s shed not long after he got back from the war. The ramps both onto and, off are very steep and you need to enter and exit at an angle to avoid bottoming out. The helpful ferryman will guide you on so don’t panic, all included in the price I believe. I shouldn’t bitch too much about the cost of the ferry though as it does include a permit to bush camp anywhere within the Northern Cape York region. Speaking of exorbitant prices, the cost of diesel here is horrendous and you will only be wanting put a bare minimum in to get you to Bamaga where, at the time of our journey was 68 cents per litre cheaper than the $2.40 per litre they were asking at the Kennedy River ferry ‘port’. Also you’ll need to make sure your not carrying to much booze, they do random vehicle inspections and the penalties for infractions are huge. The restrictions are in place for good reason, so respect the locals and ditch the excess and banned alcohol such as un-mixed spirits and buy what you need in Bamaga. We had about a third of a bottle of bourbon, which we donated to the ferry driver before boarding. He offered to store it for us until our return but we weren’t sure when that would be so we told him to ‘enjoy responsibly’.
Once on the other side the going was fairly good save for some nasty corrugations about 20klm’s into our 35klm stint to get to Seisia beach. Upon arrival to the Siesia Beach Holiday Park we checked in and paid the extra four bucks a night for the luxury of a powered shade shelter campsite. Effectively, as the name implies, your site not only has an all weather shade shelter but also has a handy sink with running water and workbench for preparing meals and storing the huge range expensive electronic equipment we all seem to carry around with us these days. There’s a simple café and an office for booking various tours and things around the place and of course they have the usual ‘tourist park’ facilities like clean albeit dated, amenities blocks, laundry and clothesline. The park is also a very convenient walk to the local service station/general (very basic) store and also the wharf, which seems to be the focal point for local social activities, ie: Fishing. For anything more substantial you will need to make the short trip back to Bamaga, which has anything you need to survive. Just be aware though that a lot of businesses at the time of writing are closed on Sundays, something that caught us out after living in Sydney our whole lives where weekends seem not to exist anymore.
Oh yeah and think twice before swimming near the jetty as there is a large croc that likes to frequent the area as well as a large number of sharks.
Part Four: Exploring the Cape
There are plenty of things to see and do around the Cape York area and of course the most obvious one is the short trek from the car park to the sign that advises you that you have, indeed reached the northern most part of the Australian continent. This of course was something that we just had to do.
We left Seisia Beach and made our way to Bamaga and proceeded to give ourselves an impromptu tour of the town as we struggled to find the right turn-off to ‘the tip’. Coming from the South it is marked but heading from a westerly direction we quiet simply drove past the sign. After a few expletives we found the BP service station in Bamaga, which marked the turn off we were looking for.
The road turned to gravel a few kilometers in and shortly after we passed the ‘Croc Tent’, a mecca for the busloads of tourists that come up here every year to buy their made in China souvenirs of their visit. Just after the Croc tent we found the hand painted sign indicating the final turn off to the tip. Here the track becomes a very narrow single width track that can be a little rough in places and there will also be a few creek crossings should there be an un-seasonally late bout of precipitation. We made it through to the car park and decided to wander down to the beach before tackling the track to the peninsula. As with most of the Northern coast of Australia, this beach is spectacular and would make a great spot to sit and have some lunch or a refreshing drink. The path itself is easy to find and although not clearly sign posted the thousands of feet that trample along it each year ensures that you wont get lost. I was a little surprised to see that we had to climb up a reasonably sized headland and down the other side to get to the tip but the view from the top of the hill is spectacular, and with 360 degree views it’s worth allowing yourself sometime to pause and take it all in. This to me was far more breath taking than actually getting all the way to the end of the path. Whilst not difficult, the path does require a degree of physical dexterity so do it whilst you can, it is worth it. Large piles of stones that visitors have created is testament to amount of traffic this place sees and the significance of the human need to explore, if not all four corners of the globe then at least all four corners of our amazing country.
Upon our return from the tip we passed the turn off to Punsand Bay and being lunchtime we decided to head across and take a look. This is where we should have stayed for our time at the top, Punsand Bay campground faces onto yet another pristine beach and the facilities are fantastic, with a brilliant open bar and swimming pool it’s certainly a place to spend a bit of time. The food is excellent and drinks are reasonably priced.
In between Punsand and Seisia Beach is Loyalty Beach campground. Loyalty Beach has a small general store/café/office and a rather well set up Beach Bar set under the trees at the northern end of the grounds. We did end up having Sunday evening dinner there where we had the choice of Mackerel & Chips or Mackerel & Chips served old school style wrapped in paper. For $14 a head it was fantastic value and again with very reasonable drinks prices we could of sat there all night. Coloured lights hanging from the trees and some good music being played over the stereo added to the atmosphere.
The next day we headed out to explore some of the old World War 2 relics that litter the area and in particular the last of the plane wrecks to still exist. There are a huge amount of fuel dumps located around the place and it is a case of ‘seen one seen ‘em all’. You can only get so excited about yet another pile of rusty 44-gallon drums but it does highlight how close Australia was to the action during World War 2. There are three or four plane wrecks in the region but only three listed on the free tourist maps. We only managed to find two of those in spite of the best efforts of the ever-friendly Bamaga cops. The first of the wrecks is located just off the main road 5klms before Bamaga. It’s a fairly well preserved DC3 in which five men lost their lives. The other wreck worth seeing is a Bueafort Bomber in which all on board lost their lives. It’s located just in behind Bamaga airport. There is also an old radio tower located south west of Bamaga and the nearby beaches are absolutely stunning and make the trip well worthwhile.