Continent of Superlatives
Text and Photos: Erich Rohaczek and Fred Vnoucek
By plane I start to the last 'stage' of my journey the less known Australia: the inaccessible Cape York which is located in the tropical North. In Cairns, a spat at the coast of Queensland, I meet with two friends. A journey in the jeep into the tropical North would nevertheless be too risky alone. One thousand three hundred kilometres of roads, jungle tracks and inaccessible jungle lie ahead of us. Erich tells about this last stage:
Due to Fred" s good experiences and in order to be flexible we decide for a Landcruiser with camping equipment. There are fuel stations along the route to the north every few hundred kilometres only. The double fuel tank seizes more than one hundred fifty litres which provides security. Unfortunately we get a somewhat older vehicle and at once lose one day with small repairs. In each case a thorough investigation of the vehicle is recommended. It would be ideal to drive some kilometres for trial. Above all if you want to drive a challenging route far away from civilization. Technical problems can be detected before you are too far away from the rental station.
Our expedition is only possible during dry season between May and October. Dozens of rivers wait to be crossed and there are hardly any bridges which is another reason to only tackle the journey with a completely intact vehicle. We are in a hurry in order to catch up the lost day. Thus we hit the first kilometres of the road to Cooktown.
Actually, after fifty kilometres there are problems with the four-wheel drive and in further consequence the interior light of the vehicle fails which means returning to Cairns and this time to a garage. We lose still another valuable day which we spend with playing billiard in a pub. When in late afternoon the vehicle is ready to be collected the spirit of adventure triumphs over our frustration which resulted from waiting: we hit the road again.
North of Cairns the glamorous resort Port Douglas with many hotels and other touristic infrastructure is located. Also interesting Cape Tribulation briefly called 'Cape Trib'. Here we cross the broad, tidal Bloomfield River. During tide a submarine would be needed in place of a car to cross. You must accept up to six hours of waiting time if you have a "bad" arrival timing. During low tide the crossing represents no more problems.
On the next day we arrive in Cooktown, the place at which captain James Cook repaired his ship 'Endeavour' after a shipwreck. Just as the Endeavour our vehicle proves to be "fit" and we finally leave the region settled by humans behind us.
The route to the North, 'Old Telegraph Road', resembles a road less and less. The first fords already have been crossed, however all still harmless. A little bit off the road we visit native rock paintings. We spend some time in Ironrange National Park which is located directly at the coral sea. Here we become acquainted with a nice Australian dropout couple. The two operate Captain Blighs 'cafe at the deserted coast' where we get delicious sea fruits. This is an unexpected pleasure in the wilderness as our menu for the day only contained a coconut which was 'harvested' by Walter. We are pleased about this unexpected meal and wonder about the income of our friendly 'dropouts' as we were the first guests of this week. Further on a larger obstacle awaits us, the broad and deep Wenlock River. At the latest here is the terminal stop for cars and non all-terrain vehicles. We wade through the river first in order to determine the depth of water and its ground conditions. Now the good preparation of our tour works for us.
Since there exists little information about Cape York, we informed ourselves by asking experienced 'off road' drivers. Fred inserts the four-wheel drive and drives continuously through the river. The water partly swashes over the windshield but after half a minute we have dry soil under the wheels again. We make a rest and drink a beer from the esky. Soon the crossing and driving through rivers and brooks becomes daily routine. Unbelievable, how quickly you get accustomed to at the beginning unusual daily 'work' and routine activities. "Hand on heart" who controls daily the oil level of the engine and the condition of the tires at home? Here in the wilderness we depend on our vehicle and divide the daily work load among ourselves. While Fred examines the vehicle, Walter and Erich dismantle the camp and prepare everything for driving. Since it is a vacation trip, we take sufficient time for photo stops and sightseeings. We make an excursion into the inaccessible Rockeby National Park inside the Cape York peninsula. Here we meet crocodiles. When I almost step on a poisonous snake we decide to move on our Camp for the night. In the vehicle there is a gas cooker; we mostly prefer however cooking at the campfire. The few days on which we stop at fuel stations are declared as 'holiday'. We buy fresh meat and in the evening we grill steaks with fried eggs and beans and additionally we drink Australian beer. Now and then we meet other 'off roaders'. Then experiences and stories are exchanged and some nice acquaintances are made. Among Australians the route is well-known and liked, we can now understand even less why so little information is to be found about this journey. Unfortunate actually, it is a fantastic journey for experience-hungry and enterprising people with some spirit of adventure.
The next morning the ford at Cannibal Creek requires highest concentration. The river is sandy and stopping would have fatal consequences. On the left and on the right side of the ford there lie overturned trees and everything is covered densely with vegetation. We are very carefully when crossing the river since we already advanced deeply into 'crocodile country'. The Australian border crocodile is a most dangerous representative of its kind and can become up to 7 or 8 meters in length. The warnings at watercourses speak a clear language. We do not want to make it like Crocodile Dundee. Better to be a little chicken-hearted but alive is the slogan. A further obstacle must we spaciously driven round, the edge at Gunshot Creek. Suddenly the track disappeared, simply gone! We get off and realise that after a loamy edge the track continues five meters below. After some calculations and due consideration we decide to rather accept a longer detour than hitting right into the soil. The risk of a damaged vehicle is too large.
After further exhausting days we stand in front of the last barrier between us and the northernmost point of the continent, the Jardin River. A ferry crosses this deep but less than hundred meters broad river. But we have to pay the proud price of twenty dollar per person. A typical example of a monopoly enterprise we are thinking. The choice is easy as nevertheless the river can be as deep as 2 meters. We do not want to do this to our "elderly" vehicle which now provides a good service. Then we also took this hurdle and drive dead-straight to the north.
We are back again on a brad track the 'New Telegraph Road', which connects the small town of Bamaga with the bauxite mining areas and civilization. Behind Bamaga we arrive at the sea again and shortly afterwards we stand in front of the northernmost point of Australia. We throw a glance over the Torres Straight which separates Cape York from New Guinea. All three of us are sitting at the board which marks the 'Northernmost point'. When the sun sinks as a red ball in the sea we are lucky and content with our achievement. We mastered over thousand kilometres, mostly without recognizable roads or tracks, thereby crossed dozens of rivers and brooks and managed together some critical situations. This common experience is just as important for us as reaching the destination. Fred is glad that he didn" t make this last part of his journey through the 'other Australia' alone
Some days later the aircraft from Cairns is ready to land. I recognize the port bridge and the opera house. Sydney lies underneath and here the circle closes once more. Thousands of kilometres, uncounted experiences and many weeks 'on the road' lie behind me. I did not make the total journey in one piece which would have blown the amount of my vacation weeks. For each part at least 3 to 4 weeks should be calculated. Rather more than less, since there are possibilities for interesting 'excursions' again and again along the routes. On purpose I did not mention well-known touristic attractions which should be named in any travel itinerary. This is another story.