Saturday, 20 December 2014

Cape York Part 2 - The Tip, Loyalty Beach & Torres Strait Is.

We're into our 5th day of travel  having completed  471 kms from Laura......there's just another 238kms to Bamaga, just south of  Cape York tip.
We have not long left Bramwell Station & we're now travelling north on the Southern Bypass Road, the safer & alternative route to the Telegraph Track. The road is now corrugated as it's not yet graded, but not an issue except when going around bends in the road. Then it becomes quite rough & care needed to be taken.
The Southern & Northern Bypass roads were constructed in the 1980's for Telecom crews to have better access when they built the north-south microwave link towers.

Thank goodness someone had placed a sign where this wide cut out was. We knew to expect this road damage from a person we met @ Archer River RH (road house) camp ground. The cut away was nothing compared to how she described it to's amazing how some people describe conditions of roads when driving on them.....some people should just stay away from gravel roads & stay on the bitumen if they call this terrible. The wet season is not that long finished & road crews can't re grade the roads in 5 minutes.....that's my rant over....   :-)

We are passing through The Heathlands Resource Reserve...I'm not too sure why it's not called a NP as you still have to get permits to stay in the camp ground @ Eliot Twin Falls with in this reserve.
What ever it's called, I thoroughly enjoyed the diversity of the Heathlands. Not all of it looked like this with much of the reserve being sandy soil we encountered thousands of hectares of low growing flowering native thickets.

Both sections of the Bypass Roads took approx 2.5 hrs before reaching the Jardine River Ferry.
We purchased our $145 return ferry ticket & were guided onto the ferry within 5 mins.
What luck, no cue's as we'd expected. Not another vehicle in sight :-)
Peak season travel advises arriving early due to delays for the ferry crossing.
Diesel fuel can be purchased @ the ferry terminal for $2.40/L.

The river is 140m across. Over the decades many vehicles have been drowned  due to it's depth.
From July to October the depth can still be as high as 0.8 to 1.4 m. Extreme caution is advised for any one willing to take on the mighty Jardine. I't a no brainer to pay over the $$ & take the easier route across, besides the river was much deeper in early May.

 The ferry crossing takes less than 5 mins & we are on our way again with just 45kms left to get to Bamaga. We've arrived what's now know as the Northern Peninsula Area.
There are at least 4 camp grounds in the area, but we chose Loyalty Beach for the next 8 days & was 6 kms further NW of Bamaga on the west coast of Cape York.
We are just 34 kms from The Tip :-)

It's paradise indeed. Those Islands out there on the horizon are part of the Torres Stait group.

Hundreds of brumbies that are owned by the local indigenous community roamed freely in the Bamaga region We had a few visit us at our camp site.

Loyalty Beach had a little beach restaurant at the end of the camp ground. There's a licenced bar for liquid refreshments & we enjoyed a  3 course meal that changes nightly.

 Eating our meals under the stars on a sandy ground & watching the sun set was a lovely experience.

We had many days to fill in to explore the region. The northern areas supplies of almost every thing come in by boat into the Seisa wharf which is just 8 km from Bamaga.
This is one of 2 ships we saw unloading supplies. It was indeed a busy place.
There's smaller square drums near the loader at the back of the ship (the part nearest to the beach). These are containers of fuel. The diesel fuel cost in Seisa was $2.30/ L.

Surprisingly food costs including reasonably fresh fruit & vegetables were of a reasonable cost given the transport that is required to get them into the shops. I wouldn't like to live there long term though as the food bill would take a pounding to the savings. On the other hand a carton of 30  XXXX beer cans was about $63. There are alcohol restrictions in the Northern Peninsula Area & we were given a brochure on what our limits were when we boarded the Jardine River ferry . (We also knew of the restrictions when doing our research for the Cape trip)

The old wharf is in the foreground. The newer one behind is very popular with the locals & visitors for catching a fish or 2.

This ship is the other (photo taken a few days later). Larger items such as vehicles & caravans are also transported to / from Cairns via ship, either during the wet season or to save wear & tear on said vehicles if they're small.

Whilst having an early lunch break back at the van, we were surprised with a visit from an Islander family driving around selling their catch of Painted Lobster. (Lots of Islander families fish for a living)  I'm not a fan of such delicacies, but Rod paid just $20 for this beauty.
Apparently fishing on Cape York Peninsula is amongst the best in the world :-)

We took a 25 km drive further NW to another camp ground called Punsand Bay. It's the northern most commercial camp spot (there was a couple of bush camp spots to be found, but access can be quite tricky) Personally I preferred our spot @ Loyalty Beach which was less crowded.

Punsand Bay also had a Bar & restaurant that was a little more up market than Loyalty Beach & was open for most meals of the day. We relaxed with a drink to soak up the surroundings which were gorgeous. The bush around here was a little more lush.

About 16 kms north of Bamaga is the Croc Tent. Set not far from the rainforests & beside the road you can purchase souvenirs, snacks & refreshments plus the owners have useful information on the area.

This was an interesting piece of information found in the Croc on........I guess you have to be adventurous to taste or eat these things.........I'm certainly not one of them......

We dedicated a whole day for exploring the area north to the Tip. This included several hours looking for rainforest birds, that are endemic to the area, in a couple of specific places.
Lockerbie Scrub was one of them where the rainforest holds many species of flora & fauna that are found only here & in New Guinea - evidence that New Guinea & Australia were once linked by a land bridge.
The forest behind this sign is 7 kms further on from Lockerbie, but is just as important with it's diversity of flora & fauna.

Unfortunately for us as it was still quite early in the tourist season as the last 34kms of road from Bamaga & The Tip was not yet graded. The track that was full of large pot holes took at least 1.5 hrs to drive. (That was the only unfortunate part, as this area is swarming like flies during the peak tourist season with people jostling for a car park & the chance to get a photo taken with out waiting & for that chance to be by your self in the photo.)

We have arrived to the northern most point of mainland Australia. From the car park, we still had approx 400 m to walk across the rocky landscape to get to the spot called The Tip.
This is looking south west towards Punsand Bay.

Looking NW.

A lookout point. Sadly by the time we'd arrived here, clouds were fast moving in from the east...that's a drop of rain in the photo :-(
The Coral Sea is to the East, the Arafura Sea & Gulf of Carpentaria to the west & behind us to the north was Torres Strait. By sea, we're not that far from New Guinea.

The rock cairns keep growing every year.

We're not there yet......

We've arrived..... the sign reads " You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian Continent". Yay.....after driving almost 2,367 km from home (no major diversions) we can now say we've been to the Tip.
Hasty photos were taken as a light shower of rain was fast looming as we all took turns in taking photos with another couple there.

Sadly this sign means nothing to many visitors :-(

After lunch we drove to Somerset to see the ruins of the 1st European settlers.
Campers in the bush camp @ Somerset have been collecting rubbish off the beach & nailing them up.

Cape York has been home to Aboriginal people for thousands of years.
The 1st white settlers  commenced in 1864 with the Jardine family. There's a long history during the Jardine family reign in the region & there's too much to write here, so more can be read via "Mr Google" on the subject.

Cape York was also a key defence point during WW2
 Most of the relics of those early years have been reclaimed by the bush.

Just outside Bamaga is their local airport.....their only link to the south during the wet season.

I mentioned above that The Cape played an important role during WW2. Near the current airport are 2 plane wrecks. Actually there's 3, but we were unable to locate the few remains of the Kittyhawk fighter plane.

Also dotted through the bush along the edge of the track are the discarded 44 gallon drums from war time fuel dumps.

A trip to the top of Australia should include a tour of Thursday Is. So we booked ourselves a ticket each on the Peddells TI Tours & included a tour to Green Hill Fort & a visit to Horn Is.
For the cost a few $$ we used the Loyalty Beach tour bus to get to the Seisa Ferry.

Just so we all know where the islands in Torres Strait are from the mainland. TI is the administration centre in these group of islands even though it is 1 of the smallest.
The island is 30 kms from Siesa & takes about 1 hr.

A quick look around before we board our tour bus of the next couple of hrs.

We were taken to the top of Green Fort Hill for good views over the Island....sadly wet skies greeted our arrival.

Green Fort Hill was established in the event of a Russian invasion.

6 guns were placed to aim towards each channel leading outwards from TI. Fortunately the enemy never arrived.

The underground rooms are now a Museum.

Pearl was discovered in the 1860's & it was during the 1870's that the industry expanded due to the worldwide demand for mother-of-pearl shell. 800 men serviced 102 boats, most being of Malay, South Sea Islanders, Aboriginals or Islanders. Japanese divers & skippers joined in by the early 1900's. Many men died from acute attacks of the bends as the divers went deeper.

The cemetery headstones shown here are from a mixed group of foreign divers who died.

The TI pearling industry finally closed in 1970 following a calamitous oil spill that virtually wiped out the industry. There are still small operators on Friday Is.

Part of our visit to TI was to head over to Horn Is to have lunch & then be shown parts of island where it became important during WW2. This little old wooden boat is the boat we went across in.

The museum has quite an extensive collection of art, artefacts & memorabilia commemorated to WW2.

Horn Is became very important as the northern most point of defence during the war against the Japanese.
Current passengers arriving to Torres Strait by air, fly into Horn Is - the airstrip was built in 1940 as an advanced operational base.

Air raids from the Japanese began in 1942.
There are a couple of octagon shaped constructions that housed the Heavy Anti Aircraft Battery of 3.7" guns.

An underground Command Post from which guns were controlled, magazine storage rooms, a kitchen, mess room for tents was built after the Gun Battery was completed.

With the aid of 7th Squadron from the 49th Fighter Group stationed in Darwin, they helped defend Australia against Japanese invasion.

The remains of a B-17 Bomber that crashed into the bush that's still rotting in the bush.

An old pier on Horn Is

Customs ships patrol the region 24/7.

Views of Siesa  as we come back in the afternoon.

It was a lovely day out seeing numerous islands from the ferry.
As we were on an organized tour for the day, we didn't stop at the Gab Titui Cultural Centre where the people present a glimpse of the lives & traditions of the Torres Strait Islander people. Arts & crafts centre has works of local artists.

This was our last day in Bamaga area.

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