Saturday, 6 December 2014

Cape York Peninsula Part 1 - Laura, Musgrave RH, Coen, Archer River RH & Bramwell Station

A trip to "The Tip" requires a lot of research if you want to do it right.
This in one of those trips almost every 4WD enthusiast has to put on their "to do" list.
We're not fanatical 4 WD enthusiasts, but indeed we were enthusiastic in taking our "off road" caravan all the way to the top of Australia. Our robust Kedron Caravan was built for these types of roads......the  Peninsular Development Road (PDR) & the Southern & Northern Bypass roads...the latter 2 bypass roads being the easier alternative to the Telegraph Track.

I armed myself with 2 specialist books for the region.....Cape York...Travel & Adventure Guide written by Rod & Viv Moon  & Cape York....Atlas & Guide written by Hema Maps.
I took a couple of months getting to know the information in those books really well.
I wanted  to know everything that was necessary to know for our pending trip.

On 30th May 2014, feeling excited mixed with some trepidation, full fuel tanks & plenty of food supplies we left the somewhat inclement weather on the coast around Mossman &  crossed over the windy section of the Great Divide, & headed west 32 kms towards Mt Molloy. By the time we were 30 kms north of Mt Molloy we were in sunnier skies....finally we have some clear weather...something we haven't seen in several weeks.

The road north to The Tip was 850kms away............ although we still had about 205 kms of bitumen before hitting the dirt just after Laura. For those who are unaware, Weipa is a side road from the PDR.

After we pass through Mt Carbine we rise up the Great Dividing Range again to Bob's Lookout which is at the top of the Desailly Range. These spectacular views show some remote & harsh savannah.

Down the other side of Desailly Range gives way to more wonderful views to make the journey more enjoyable.
We were to enjoy varying land & vegetation  through out our tour of The Cape. To me, none of it was boring.

Almost 2 hrs later we arrived at our 1st of many road houses (RH).
Palmer River RH is in the heart of the Palmer River Goldfields, once Australia's richest alluvial gold field. Gold was discovered near here in 1872 & led to Queesnland's largest gold rush. It became legendary for it's hardships. Palmerville & Maytown were the main centres of this field with tents & shanty towns to house the 18,000 + men who had arrived with in a year of the gold discovery.
 By the late 1880's, the alluvial deposits were almost finished. Today very little remains of  the 13 hotel town. The surrounding hills are still scattered with the remains of old mines with steam-powered machinery.
The former gold field capital of Maytown can still be explored, but it is a 4WD trek of extreme difficulty.
Small nuggets & pockets of alluvial ore can still be found for prospectors venturing into the area.

The history of these gold fields can be found in a small museum inside the Palmer River RH  with displays of many artefacts & pieces of history from the gold rush era.

The RH, which sits on top of a hill, not only sells fuel, but has  bar with dining facilities. Cafe items & souvenirs can also be purchased there. There is also a caravan park out the back for those needing to stop for the night & enjoy some of the surroundings.
Diesel fuel was $1.69 /L @ the end of May.

15kms past the Palmer river RH we came to another lookout with more wonderful views.
We were about to descend the Byerstown Range.

Another 16kms on & we were in the little farming community of Lakeland. This area is fast becoming a rich farming region from the rich alluvial soils of a former volcano from millions of years ago. Coffee, bananas, peanuts & exotic tropical fruits are some of the produce grown here.

From Lakeland we take the left hand road towards Laura. The Mulligan Hwy continues north east onto Cooktown, Hopevale & the bottom access to Lakefield NP via Battle Camp Rd.

We are now travelling on the Peninsular Development Rd (PDR) which is still bitumen for another 62kms to Laura. We leave the farming lands & drive through a passage of steep sided sandstone ridges.

Just south of Laura we make a short detour off the road to Split Rock.
This is Quinkan Country, where much Aboriginal rock art can be found.
UNESCO  rates the Quinkan region as one of the top 10 rock art areas in the world.
Aboriginals lived here up to 37,000 years ago. It ranks alongside the Kimberley & Arnhemland escarpment as Australia's most important rock art regions.

We take a self guided tour with a $5 donation.

The trek up the hill side was just 400 m, but wildlife still can be found.
I have no idea what this little snake was nestled amongst the some of the stones along the walk path , but it was gone quickly after this photo was taken.

There are several galleries of rock paintings in overhangs. We are restricted to just 3 of the 1.200 galleries found in the region.
A local guide can take tourists further if wanting to explore more of the history of their lands.

There was also the Flying Fox gallery, but much of the art is similar. I have shown you just a couple of the many photos I took of the area.
The small town of Laura has a select range of Aboriginal arts & crafts for sale. There is an interpretive display at the Quinkan & Regional Cultural Centre.

On the outskirts of Laura the safety of the bitumen comes to an end.......

It's time to let the tyre pressures down. As I write this, I note how clean the car & caravan look :-)

Immediately the wet season is over & the roads dry out enough and the rivers & creek crossings down, the road gangs are out in full force.
We were advised by another fellow Kedron caravan owner to take the trek to the Cape in June.....this is the reason....the roads are newly graded & deteriorate once it's finished...especially when the school holiday traffic starts in early July where we counted probably 100 vehicles / hour travelling north 4 weeks later near Coen &  Musgrave Station RH when we were on our way south.
We were to experience corrugations at the beginning of July along that section of the road......I can't imagine what it would be like to travel on by August. The corrugations would shake your possessions to bits.

Hann River RH has a popular camp ground near by, but we decided on driving just 30kms further along the road to Morehead River free camp.
The camp spot was significantly smaller than usual due to overgrown tall weeds etc, but we got our selves a spot for the night. The bush toilet was missing amongst the weedy growth & despite being right next to the road, we had a peaceful nights sleep as not many trucks travelled along the PDR that night.

The next morning my focus was to find an elusive & somewhat endangered parrot. I was advised to find the Golden shouldered Parrot somewhere amongst these termite mounds not far from Artemis Station  turn off just a little further along the PDR from our camp spot @ Morehead River.

There were thousands of acres with these termite mounds, but the parrot in question was located not far from the road.......the guide of a very small tour group arrived soon after we pulled up to look for them when he reluctantly gave me the heads up on where to find them :-)
The secret site in question to this day stays with me.......

I walked to the said spot & waited......I was admiring all the other birds in the trees in the versinity, still unsure if I was in the right my surprise, 20 mins later I was facing the right place at the right time......a pair flew onto 1 particular termite mound......the male sat  atop whilst his wife went into a hole below. I didn't know I even had to look out for a hole in the side of 1 of these mounds. How lucky can you be....... I get to tick off another wanted bird specie from my large list :-)

Musgrave RH was once an historic telegraph station.  The Overland Telegraph Station was 1 of 6 telegraph stations built from Cooktown to Cape York during the 1880's. Palmerville, Fairview, Coen,  Mein, Moreton, McDonnell & Paterson were the other repeater stations.

Putting distances into perspective.....we're just 139kms from Laura.
The diesel fuel  here was $1.88 / L.

I'm pretty sure the times on this sign are out dated.......the RH is open for meals, with basic supplies & alcohol  available 7 days a week. Minor car repairs & welding can even be attended to.

 The original Telegraph Station House.

These are the only original telegraph poles left standing in front of this building.

There is a bar & open restaurant under the house. We were to stop @ the camp ground next to the RH on our return trip & have a delicious burger meal here....other meals are on the menu.

I bought 1 of these "tea towels" but it's till in it's wrap & I have yet to decide where to hang it.

The drive from Musgrave RH was just another 108 kms to Coen.

We climb a little up the Bamboo Range, another part of the Great Dividing Range between Musgrave & Coen. Some say this is the most spectacular country that we'll see along the route to the Cape.
I have to disagree, though it was very pretty, I also loved the diversity of the other landscapes seen along the journey. As you can see there is bitumen in part of the photo, we were to enjoy small sections of paved road along the journey.

  Coen is a small town with a population if just 300. Many travellers stop to refuel, purchase more supplies from the little grocery store & visit the Heritage House. The diesel fuel was $1.88 / L.

Until the construction of Weipa in  the early 1960's, Coen was the largest town on Peninsula norht of Cooktown.
This building is another of the old telegraph station buildings (original materials of Mein Telegraph Station) that has an outstanding display of items from the past.
There is plenty of memorabilia, original equipment, photos & interpretive signs through out the lower level.
Most notably are the communications systems used down the decades since the 1880's

 In 1941, Coen had a telephone exchange similar to this one at the back left.
They were common through out regional Australia. the operator had to manually connect the caller to the receiver, with just 6 lines available plus the Cape York Telegraph !

This machine is the Telegraph Sounder. Communications were sent via International Morse Code

Other rooms in the building had other memorabilia of equipment used over the decades.

Mining was another early industry, but it wasn't as successful as Palmer River was.
In 1893, the discovery of a rich reef of gold in the nearby hills but the Great Northern Mine was to produce just 52,000 ounces (23,586 Kg ) of gold before it closed in 1916.

A Robey portable steam engine.

This machine was powered by the above steam engine to crush the ore.

"Drink at Sexchange Hotel" .... the pub in town where locals & visitors enjoy a meal & liquid refreshment.

Coen River is approx 5 kms north of town. We found an idealic site beside the river to have our lunch. Once finished, Rod decided that he'd like to push on further northwards.
We did camp  here on our way south about 4 weeks later.

It was just another 66 kms to Archer River RH. Besides fuel, they sell basic food supplies, alcohol & apparently the best steak burgers in the north. There are also basic mechanical & tyre repairs.

We are at the beginning of May, so there aren't as many tourists heading north as we were to encompass 1 month later.
The camp ground was like an oasis in a desert after a dusty day of driving. There's lots of water flowing down the river at the back of this camp ground, so it's wonderful that the RH managers  or owners (not sure which is correct) give a lot of care to the camp ground.

Diesel fuel jumps to $2.20 / L....that's not a typo.....

 The Archer river is 1 of the major river systems in the Cape. Hence flood levels can go quite high when cyclones dump copious amounts of rain over the region. The amenities block is at least 4 m higher than down near the river bank, so this indicates the volume of water rushing through.

It is the end of May & the Archer River waters, though still flowing are much lower than during the peak of The Wet.

The river crossing is a 100m long concrete causeway. Late in the afternoon, dozens of motorbikes  - 4 wheel & 2 wheel came passing  through in convoy, heading south after a Tag-along tour north.
They were an interesting sight with many bikes & riders caked in mud. I bet they look forward to a soft chair & hot shower at the end of each day.

I took this pic the next morning of downstream Archer River looking towards the west. There in the water on the right behind the 1st set of boulders is a drowned 4WD ute.

Someone tried to cross the river causeway during the Easter long w/e when the water was too high. Score  1 to Archer River & 0 to the unfortunate car & it's driver.
It's dangerous business crossing rivers that are flooded......any where !

The turn off to Weipa is just another 51 kms to the north of Archer river RH.
Iron Range NP & Lockhart River is another side trip to the east just south of this sign.
We decided to do all the side trips on our south bound trip.
More on these areas can be found in the next few chapters.

We passed a few very large cattle stations. Piccaninny Plains was 1 of them. Now owned by Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) the  Sanctuary is a 170,000 ha property that is now a critical  corridor that helps link Iron Range NP on the east with the Oyala Thumatang NP on the west.
Much of it, like many other properties in the Cape is covered in woodlands, rainforest, grasslands & vast areas of wetland that flood each year when the mighty Archer & Wenlock Rivers thunder down during the wet season.

The sign below was taken not long after entering the Telegraph Road. The PDR continues onto Weipa.
We passed through Batavia Downs & Moreton Telegraph Station. We had a short stop at the latter, & decided that a stop over here will be a must on our way south.
It was still mid morning, so we pushed on north to our next stop over.

Note this is not the Telegraph Track. The telegraph Rd is just 114kms long.

We were again passing through some beautiful country side. (IMO anyway :-) )
The area was still green from the previous wet season. The grassy woodlands is mixed with cycads & palms seen from the car. I had the driver (hubby Rod) stop for me to take a few more pics.

 Bramwell Station  was just another 32 kms to the north. It is here that we stopped for the night.
The station camp ground was just a short drive to get to.

Looking south from the Bramwell Station turn off where we had just come from.

This vast operating cattle station has a camp ground with all amenities including meals & a licensed bar. During the peak tourist season they also have guest entertainment.....flown in from all over Australia. The day we arrived was fortunately for us to be the 1st of many visiting entertainers.
2 young ladies from south east Qld had flown up via Cairns & landed at the Bramwell Station airstrip to entertain tourists for the next week.
 We enjoyed a few drinks & a meal here with the back drop of  country songs.

The Bramwell Cup Bush Carnival is held on the 1st w/e of July, with a mixture of country music, horse races, plus pony rides,greasy pigs & other childrens events..this co-incides with the start of the school holidays.

Bramwell Station is Australia's most northern cattle station. The working cattle station with an area of
 1,349sq km  has been catering for tourists since 1983 also has a huge business with road works to the north & south.

Our camp ground visitors.....Brolgas are 1 of the Crane family & can be found over 1/2 of Australia, mostly across the top 1/2. The Sarus Crane looks very similar & can be distinguished from the Brolga by it's larger red part over the head & extending a short part down the neck. The Sarus crane is only seen across the top sections of Australia.

An un known specie of frog came visiting during the evening back at camp. This little fellow was just 3 cms long.

Bramwell Junction RH was just another 10kms north. This is where the road splits - the safer road is via the Bypass Roads - southern & northern, or the Telegraph Track.
 The road house sells basic supplies. Their burgers were worth the stop.
Diesel fuel was $2.10/ L.
The tree outside the RH is adorned with number plates from vehicles that have come a cropper with the infamous Telegraph Track.

In the camp ground with us was a group of folk (about 5 vehicles) who had just travelled south out of the Telegraph Track.
We heard that several winches were burnt out & lots of hammering & mechanical repair noises were coming form their camp area.
 Although we were only staying 1 night at Bramwell Station, we decided to un hitch the caravan & take a short drive along the Telegraph Track.

The Telegraph Track entry is just to the left of the RH (road house) & this track is why most 4WD enthusiasts come to the Cape. (Bramwell RH also has a camp ground)

The section of interest was just 3.5 kms from the turn off.

The track is windy, narrow, rutted out & NOT suitable for caravans. High clearance camper trailers were taken along the track though.

Our 1st water crossing was just a little stream.....

Depth should always be checked before traversing any water crossing where there's no depth indicators.

Oviously no one had bothered to get their trusty chain saw out yet to fix the obstruction.......the Aussie way of the easiest road....around......

Palm Creek was the subject of our interest...just 3.5 kms from the junction.
It is thought to be this crossing that was to burn out several winches.
The entry & exit track is steep & quite eroded.
The 45* angles were slushy & deep, and slippery with scrape marks on the southern section

Rod was looking for some mud therapy :-)

 There's a camp spot on the flat part near the banks of the creek for campers to rest the night before the next big creek......there are several creek crossings as difficult as this along the length of the Telegraph Track.
We waited with another couple for nearly an hour for a 4WD to come along to cross Palm Creek. Unfortunately for us none came along.

The vegetation around has changed slightly with open grassy woodlands & many termite mounds with interesting shapes & sizes. Most were over 2 m high.

 Alas this wasn't a mobile telephone tower.....but communications to the north are important & we came across this tower the next morning not that far north of Bramwell RH.

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