4 x 4 Australia
NORTHERN CAPE YORK, QLD
IN PART TWO OF OUR CAPE YORK TRAVELS, WE TRACK TO THE TIP. IT’S A TACKLE THE OLD TELEGRAPH VERITABLE 4WD WILDERNESS.
FROM Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park you can opt to head north via Olive Vale Station on the Running Creek track to Port Stewart. The track can be rough and there’s at least one deep tidal creek to be crossed, so it’s best done at low tide – remember this is crocodile country. It cuts through the Lama Lama National Park, though coastal access is difficult as it’s often closed at the whims of the Traditional Owners.
Coen is a historic village, once an Overland Telegraph Line station, but it was ‘rushed’ when gold was found in the surrounding hills. Coen is the gateway to the Oyala Thumotang NP, which is divided into three sections: Langi, Coen River and Archer Bend. The park is bounded by the Mcilwraith Range to the east and open monsoon woodlands to the west.
There are many wetlands and two rivers – the Coen and the Archer – in the park which feed huge swamps, billabongs and permanent river and creek pools. In the Langi section the Archer River dries up late in the Dry, though the Coen retains many permanent pools rich in barramundi, saratoga and sooty grunter. Boat access is possible by launching from the banks into big billabongs that are scattered about the woodlands.
Park information and camping permits are available at the Coen National Park ranger station north of town, and they are a great bunch of people who are always willing to help and assist. Let them know when you will return just in case something bad happens, and don’t forget to tell them when you’re back.
The park is under-utilised for what it is, being one of the most remote and adventurous destinations on the Cape – a custom-made escape for those who love to get away from the masses and spend quality time enjoying the wilderness. Most of the billabongs and sections of the rivers have good bush camping sites. There are no facilities.
I have camped on a billabong here for days, catching and releasing dozens of fish daily. Every morning is magical when one wakes to the calls of myriad birds which never cease to amaze in their diversity of species and numbers, especially toward the end of the Dry when the gallery forests that line the watercourse are in bloom or fruiting. It attracts many fruit-eating species and migrating cuckoos, Torres Strait pigeons and brilliantly coloured fruit doves. It’s this reason why most visitors are keen birders.
We once had a big, old rangy boar wander into our camp, attracted I suppose by the fillets of barra’ cooking on the grill. I used my Land Cruiser to drive it away from the camp, but he returned in the afternoon with his family – at a time when a visiting elder (a park ranger) dropped in for a yarn and a beer. He had a rifle…
The Archer Bend section ends at the far western end of the track, on the flood plain of the tidal section of the Archer. It has amazing barramundi fishing and, best of all, you and your party are most likely going to be all alone. The Old Archer River Crossing (or Langi Crossing) is popular and was once the original route to the Tip. Drop in at the Coen Museum, once the old telegraph station, and see the heavy ironclad boat once used as a ferry when the river was used by linesmen and travelers.
The park tracks are in fair shape, though cyclones and burning often drops big trees across tracks, making the tracks sometimes impossible to pass. A four-wheel drive is highly recommended, while towing a trailer or caravan shouldn’t be a problem. There are no nasty surprises if you take care, apart from crocodiles and the odd snake ... of course.
KUTINI-PAYAMU (IRON RANGE) NATIONAL PARK
JUST up the road a bit from Coen, and after a “short” detour from the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) to the east coast, is my favourite national park on the Cape: Kutini-payamu. In line with many parks and reserves on the Cape – indeed, across Australia – Traditional Owners are insisting on naming joint-managed parks by traditional names. This sounds well in theory but it’s often changed at the drop of a hat when a new committee takes over and insists that “their” name should replace the former one. Even communities are not immune on these map-changing decisions. Welcome to Indigenous politics…
The vast Iron and Tozer Ranges have the largest low-land rainforests in Australia. This encapsulated park has huge patches of heathland scrub, monsoonal woodland and