Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Cape York Pt 1- The Road Trip

A classic Cape York photo- though this is unusual for being Kerry's 2WD fording a creek on Old Telegraph Road!

Cape York is one of the very inaccessible regions of Australia, as most of the roads are 4WD only during the Dry and closed completely during the Wet. Unlike Cape Tribulation which I call home at the moment, Cape York is, literally, off the beaten track of international tourist destinations. When I started mentioning to friends that I'd been invited to join a family camping trip to the northern-most point of the Australian continent, I realised that hardly anyone has been there, including some of the most well-travelled people I know.

Sign at Musgrave Station about halfway up the Cape

I've got about a 1000 photographs, 40 journal pages, and half a dozen sketches from our 19 day, 2000km, eight campsite, two vehicle, nine person trip so I'm going to be posting about Cape York for a while. This first post is to set the scene with an overview of the travel conditions and introduction of our camp/ers. I will be posting in more detail about the rivers, the settlements and the forests of Cape York. For now, imagine a huge, unpopulated, hot, dry, dusty landscape.

Grass fire, one of many 'controlled burns' we saw, as the graziers prepare for the Wet

There are patches of seal along the main road, where the worst bits have been fixed up, but mostly the drive is straight and flat along endless miles of dusty track slicing between charred (and sometimes still smoking) dry open forest dotted with spectacular termite mounds. The termite mounds come in a facinating array of shapes and sizes and change colour with the soil, ranging from bright orangey-red to creamy white to dark brown to this particularly tall mustard-coloured community.

Me (I'm 5ft) in front of a termite mound at Bramwell Junction

I spent the trip as a passenger with Kerry, who in his career has surveyed lots of the very roads we were driving on. Not only was he a fount of interesting and useful information, but he really knows how to drive in difficult conditions (Anne was also a talented and heroic 4WD bush basher, but I never got to ride with her). Kerry successfully took the 2WD through places that were supposed to be only 4WD access. Nonetheless, by the time we limped back to Cairns, the 2WD ute was held together with wire (including the battery) and the canopy of the 4WD was tied on with red rope after it broke off (shearing the shock absorbers).

Just as we finished unloading everything out of the broken canopy, a kind truckie stopped and shared his expertise and strength to (literally) tie it back on. His temporary repair held all the way home.

It's been an unusually dry year, and many of the rivers that would be expected to still be running were completely dry. Most of the rest have crocodiles. It's a harsh country, but we did manage to find a few campsites where green trees cling to the edges of wide deep river beds seamed with a trickle of warm water and inland enough to be croc-free.

Setting up camp at Twin Falls

My fleeting, low-tech, camping experiences in New Zealand and the US did little to prepare me for the Eaton Family Holiday. We set up a slightly different configuration at every spot, but our campsite included two gazebos (where most of us slept), up to three dome tents, an ensuite tent with chemical toilet, two picnic tables, about ten folding chairs, three kitchen benches, a shade cloth, an electric fridge with generator to power it, electric lights, DVD player and laptop (since the gennie was running anyway), camp stretchers and air mattresses, gas stoves and last but not least, the kitchen sink, in its own little stand. Setting up and packing down was usually quite stressful, and the cauldron for any difficult group dynamics to play out.

We made it to the Tip, the northern most point of continental Australia

Our party included four young people (aged 9, 13, 15 and 17) including Johanna the German exchange student who'd been in Australia one week before embarking on this particular adventure! The adults included two of the most open-hearted people I know: Kerry and Anne, who organised the whole trip with fearsome efficiency; their close friend, Jill, not long out of a five month hospital stay following a car crash; and the newcomers, Juliette and I, who felt like the 'single girls' as we didn't have our own children with us.

I had a marvelous time, especially exploring the rivers and forests, but also playing charades after dinner, attempting to make bread in a camp oven, swimming with the girls, walking with the children, and endlessly staring out the window at the imperceptibly changing landscape as we drove hour after hour up and then down the Cape. More stories and pictures of the wonders I saw, coming up soon!


Carol said...

I've just caught up with your last few posts and I'm so impressed with your trip. You're right, not many people have done that. I'm packing up my flat to move so not getting to the computer often so to find your story of your adventures is a great treat.

rachlovestheweb said...

The trip sounds great Meliors, what's a dust hole???

Meliors Simms said...

A dust hole is a place on the unsealed clay road where the dry ground is so broken up, so deep, that its just a big hole full of dust. In the Wet that would be a big hole full of mud, and one of the reasons why they close the roads for months on end.