Sunday, 11 January 2015

Cape York Peninsula Part 4 - Iron Range NP with Cooks Hut & Chilli Beach & Lakefield NP

We stocked up on supplies @ Weipa as we wouldn't be seeing any large shops for another 13 days.
We were able to top up a couple of small things @ Coen.

After leaving Weipa, we decided to have a cattle station stay for a night to just have the experience of just being there.  Merluna Station turn off is just 120kms south-east of  Weipa along the PDR.
It is 1 of a couple of station stays on the Peninsula & has a large camp ground & also pre booked accommodation & meals available.
The night was rather chilly by Cape York Peninsula standards @ just 15* the next morning & a foggy start to the day. We'd been experiencing temps of 18 - 35* thus far, so that night came as quite of a shock. SEQ & the southern states of were experiencing a big chill as well, so we weren't alone.

15 kms south of the junction of the PDR & Telegraph Rd is another turn off eastwards towards Lockhart River Aboriginal Community & Iron Range NP.
This reasonably well maintained road is recommended for 4WD  vehicles only as there are many creeks & rivers to cross.
The information given on the Qld govt NP website also describes the road as not suitable for caravans. We own a purpose built off road caravan that was suitable to take it with us for our visit.

GPS showing when we entered the NP region.
The road up to this part had been dry & rather rough, with a max speed of about 60kms as we wind through hilly country. We then drive through some really pretty heathland before the landscape changed to rainforest.
It's a long 120 km or 2.5 hr  journey to Lockhart River.
This day were driving just 100km .....

This is Pascoe River, which being late June, is now approx 30 cms deep. Thankfully it had a concrete causeway & wasn't fast flowing. Wenlock River had a bridge over it.

Iron Range NP region contains the largest remaining area of lowland rainforest in all of Australia.
The area has world wide significance because of its rich & varied birdlife, mammals, reptiles & insects. There area are a large number of plants & animals seen only here & New Guinea.
There are 15 species of birds endemic to here.
The NP is approx 58,000 ha in size. The name refers to a mountain of high grade iron ore near the Lockhart River airstrip.

The impressive Mt Tozer is the highest peak in the NP, standing at 543m with heath lands surrounding it.

Our stop for the next 2 nights was in amongst the thick rainforest.  The road along here is challenging in some parts with  pot holes in the wetter areas & near creeks crossings.

Cooks Hut camp ground which had to be pre - booked had just 6 spacious sites.
I was looking to add 2 birds that are endemic to this rainforest to my wanted list.

A creek in a the nearby Rainforest camp ground.

Lockhart River turn off was just 4 kms back along Portland Roads Rd. The community is just 11 kms further from the road junction.

During WW2, an airstrip was built near the Lockhart river township.
During the 1960's a simulated Atomic Bomb was detonated here to see what the effects of an atomic blast would have in a tropical rainforest. I have another photo that shows an area the same size as this one. It's a pretty permanent destruction !

We visited the township of Lochart River. There's a general store to stock up on supplies, fuel & mechanical repairs. Diesel fuel was $2.05 / L. Other services are provided in the town as well.
We visited 1 of the lovely Art Galleries & purchased a pretty painting.

After 2 nights in the rainforest at Cooks Hut, we drove a further 17kms along Portland Roads Rd to the turn per below.

We arrived to beautiful scenery & pretty much great weather.....for a little while at least.

This is the most popular destination through Iron Range NP for most travellers.....I met another birder who said "why bother" as it's well known to be very windy @ Chilly Beach .....if out in the open.
We had an open camp spot right next to the beach......the more protected camp spots were either taken or were shaded......we love the sunshine for our solar panels :-)

Once again we had to pre-book our camp spot......& the place was very popular now that we are approaching the June/ July school holiday period.

Bird watching, beach fishing &  beach walking are popular past times for here.......or just "chilling out" :-)

This tiny rocky island can be visited at low tide....

We walked out to said tiny island & explored it for a while. This was the view back to our camp spot.

Late on the 1st day a cruise ship drifted northwards out past Restoration Island...another island to the north of Chilli Beach.
The name was given by Captain William Bligh in 1789 after he & his party of men were cast adrift from HMS Bounty.

On our 2nd day we visited Portland Roads, a little community also on the coast - just 6 kms from the turn off that we took to Chilli Beach.
An old jetty is just visible at the end of this point in Portlands Road. It was built in 1938 & demolished in the late 1970's as the road out to the PDR was maintained.

The small protected bays close to the community provides protection & anchorage for yachts & fishing boats.

There were some old relics along this quiet stretch of road near the the point.

Also close by was accommodation houses & a cafe.
We didn't often have a coffee with treats when we explored many areas during our travels, but this 1 looked inviting.

Out of the Blue Cafe is only open from 8am - 2pm, providing a delicious menu including seafood meals. We spent some time there with coffee n cake whilst looking at the spectacular views out to the bay.
The chef comes from Cairns to stay here only during the dry season.

A mangrove tree flower.

By late afternoon on the 2nd day very windy conditions greeted us. We were extremely thankful to have the protection of being in a caravan as most other campers were exposed to the wind & sand blasting them.
The weather turned with misty rain as we packed up the following morning.
Chilli Beach was living up to it's name.

Our 143km trip out along Portlands Road Rd, through iron Range NP & through the hilly ranges was longer than our trip in.
We crossed Pascoe River & Wenlock River again. This is Pascoe River crossing.

Back on the PDR, the pace was picking up with the vehicles heading north towards the Cape.
We were near the end of June by now & thankfully we were going south towards Coen .

On this particular day we camped again at Archer River RH just another 36kms south.
We arrived close to lunch time, with enough time to get some washing done & dried.

The camp ground was much busier, with the over flow paddock being opened up later in the afternoon as more & more families poured in on their was north.

The following day we drove just 66kms to a free camp just on the northern outskirts of Coen.
(We had 3 days to fill in as we waited out the time before our next NP booking for Lakefield NP was to commence, including the previous day. )

To our surprise, 2 other Kedron Caravans were already camped there. We had met these 2 couples, who are travelling together,  when we were camped near them in Weipa.
Our van is the dirtiest.......what's the point in washing it yet with more dirt roads still to travel :-)

The free camp is right next to the Coen River. We had visited this camp & had lunch here on our way north about a month earlier. The water levels had lowered a little, but most significantly, the fresh water crays were quite depleted.

We also spent a night in Musgrave RH camp ground. The grassy camp ground overflowed with campers, where no more could fit in & late arrivals had to spend the night out near the access road next to the PDR.
During this days 80 km journey, we decided to count the vehicles travelling north......approx 100 vehicles / hour ! It was just the beginning of the July school holidays. The road condition was noticeably rougher than a month ago. The Weipa fishing classic early May & 30mm rain a week later had contributed to the deterioration. Plus the early travellers going north before July holidays like our selves.
For a little amusement, I took a photo of this loo seat in the amenities block for Musgrave RH camp ground :-)

The turnoff road to Lakefield NP was just at Musgrave RH. We weren't going to be  travelling any further along the PDR for this trip.

The northern section & roads in Lakefield NP weren't scheduled to open until 1st July. (as is usual most years)

I wanted to stay for 2 nights some where in the northern section so as to visit Nifold Plains.....well known for it's bird watching.
After speaking with the NP rangers on the phone in April, I  pre booked  a particular camp spot at Saltwater Cossing camp ground that would most suit our sized caravan.
This is bush camping with no facilities apart from designated camp spots.
Our no* 2 wasn't the most ideal spot, with no* 1 being a much larger & open area that would take several caravans / campers / tents.

The tent campers on the larger camp no* 1 were also bird watchers from Geelong Victoria area.
I was very lucky to be invited to go night spotting for the Eastern Grass Owl over 2 nights.....with good fortune that we found them each night with our spotting torches as we drove along the road at night.

I also saw Barking Owls on the road during night spotting.

During the day, I did loads of bird watching in the area, including along the Nifold Plains & Low Lake, a very large lagoon filled with plenty of bird life including several hundred Little Corella s screeching beside the water edge.

Nifold Plains is just that.......several thousand hectares of termite ridden open sparse plains.

Hann River is pretty, with good open camp spots & is the 2nd most popular camp ground in Lakefield NP, especially during the school holidays. Toilet facilities are at this camp ground.

This is part of the Hann river crossing right next to the camp ground.

Another few kms down the road we came to an old homestead site.......The homestead was built during the 1870's to breed horses for the Palmer Gold fields. They endured harsh conditions & abandoned the property in the 1890's. The homestead then became an outpost for cattle mustering.

The lagoon next to the homestead had plenty of bird life in & around it.

It was just as well we had a print out from the NP website with an internal road map, or you could get confused where to go :-) There are several side roads coming off the 160 km long main road through the NP top to bottom.

After 2 nights at Saltwater crossing we moved onto Kalpower  camp ground, the most popular camp ground in Lakefield NP.
The Lakefield Ranger Base is close to Kalpower camp ground turn off with an outside touch screen & telephone to call the NP office in Brisbane to book camp spots - or for popular school holidays, pre book well in advance.
We booked our camp spot in April before we left home.

Kalpower is right next to the mighty Normamby River. This croc infested river is very popular for barramundi fishing in the dry season May - October.

This fallen tree  hangs on for life, with much of its roots exposed.........

Crossing the Normamby river is the only access to Cape Melville & her NP. The 100m long concrete causeway curves around to the left & at beginning of July, it still needed caution in crossing it.......there appeared to be very few guide posts....

Lakefield NP is the largest national park on Cape York Peninsula, & is the 2nd largest in Qld.
The park covers 5,430 sq Km & with most of it low lands with 3 major rivers, giving vast flood plains during the wet season. Rainfall is approx 1,200 mm, mostly falling during the months of November to March. During the wet season the NP is closed.

During the dry season, the water levels drop leaving behind up to 100 pretty permanent lagoons, wetlands & grasslands that attract lots of bird life.
Many of the lagoons also have crocodile risks due to wet season flooding.

There are several bush camping sites in the southern section of Lakefield beside lagoons or rivers.
All camp spots need to be pre booked.

This old building near The Ranger Station has been fenced off. from public access.
There's a bird perched on a metal pole coming off that piece of machinery.......

I love surprises.......this Papuan Frogmouth would have been sitting out in the sun all day. It sat very still looking like a piece of timber to blend in against predators harassing it during the day.
Papuan Frogmouths are endemic to the Wet Tropics north of Townsville to the top of Cape York.

Whilst Rod went Barra fishing with a couple camping across from us, I went birding.
There were several lagoons around Kalpower that I wanted to visit.
White Lilly Lagoon was a sea of Magpie Geese......this was 1 small section

Red Lilly Lagoon wasn't covered in red lillies - for the dry season it was non flowering Lotus plants & reedy grasses.
The helicopter was spraying small sections at the back for some weeds that were invading the natural vegetation. Most of the birds around this lagoon were in the bushland near by, with some wetland birds in the distance.

We visited Old Laura Station on our way south & out of the NP.
Established in 1870's to provide beef for the Palmer River gold fields, the homestead was abandoned in 1966, vandalized before being rebuilt in 1966.
The downstairs main room has become a small museum with stories, photo graphs, diagrams & artefacts showing the homesteads history from the 1870's.

The info board here shows the numerous out buildings.

Battle Camp Road is the main access road out of Lakefield NP to Hope Vale & Cooktown.
This 100km long 4WD road is often rough & in accessible until the wet season is over.
I was rather surprised at how good the road was.

Battle Camp Road got its name from an 1870's battle between several hundred Aboriginal warriors & armed forces of 130 diggers & police who had camped for the night on their way to the Palmer River Gold fields.

The very scenic road winded its way over the Great Dividing Range had it's moments of extra care being needed.

There was a small section of bitumen for safety around the steepest & windiest sections.

Later that morning we arrived in Cooktown & booked into a caravan park for a few days.

We'd spent 5 weeks & 2 days in the Cape. We'd driven a few thousand kms of mostly dirt roads - there were many extra kms driven to places for sightseeing & my constant bird watching.
This photo was taken a few days earlier @ our Kalpower camp spot. Mud was caked around sections of the back of the van.

We had a wonderful time doing this part of our trip. Being able to take our Kedron caravan all the way to the top of Cape York with out any issues for our car or caravan  - apart from 1 building hex screw in 1 of the van tyres - acquired some where around Innisfail.

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