FOR SOME GOOD FISH­ING, DRIVE TO CHILI BEACH WHEN THE TIDE RUNS OUT

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rain­for­est, palm-clad beaches, per­ma­nent rivers and creeks, hills, flats and wet­lands. It’s the nois­i­est park on the Cape, alive day and night with the sound of birds. Most of the noise comes from the cock­a­too-sized eclec­tus par­rots, who con­stantly call out to each other dur­ing the day, along with myr­iad fruit-eat­ing birds: doves, cuck­oos, shin­ing star­lings, yel­low fig birds and ori­oles. The park is a refuge for much wildlife that only in­hab­its the Cape and New Guinea.

Tree-nest­ing hol­lows are rare enough for the eclec­tus par­rot to claim one per­ma­nently as their own, and some bird­ers claim the par­rot will even stoop low enough to steal the nest from an­other cou­ple. To en­sure this doesn’t hap­pen, the fe­male re­mains in the nest or close by while the male is out on the hunt for food. To en­sure he doesn’t stray she calls out to him every few min­utes, and he re­turns the call as any good hub­bie should. Take a pair of good field glasses and scan the tallest trees, where the hol­lows gen­er­ally are. The Lock­hart com­mu­nity road is a good spot, while a nest­ing pair can be found about 100m north of the ablu­tion block at Cook’s Hut camp­ground.

There are sev­eral camp­grounds in the park un­der the canopy of the lush rain­for­est. Each one has walk­ing tracks, in­clud­ing a day walk along the old Port­land Roads Road that par­al­lels the cur­rent road. It’s a great spot to see rare green pythons, palm cock­a­toos and eclec­tus par­rots.

Camp­ing in rain­forests isn’t to ev­ery­one’s lik­ing, and many peo­ple head to beau­ti­ful Chili Beach. The beach sites are lo­cated be­neath rel­a­tively open gallery rain­for­est, be­hind co­conut palm groves that line the en­tire beach. When the trade wind blows it can be very windy, which is one rea­son not to camp be­neath a co­conut tree or in an ex­posed wind-blasted area. When benign,

Chili Beach is a won­der­ful spot to wade or laze about in shal­low wa­ter, fish or just re­lax with a coldie. The lit­tle rocky islets in front of the camp­sites are roost­ing sites for thou­sands of shin­ing star­lings that wheel and dance in noisy for­ma­tions at sun­set. They ar­rive in Oc­to­ber from New Guinea to breed, and they de­part in April.

You can drive to Chili Creek when the tide runs out, but en­sure you’re off the beach when the tide runs back in. Stay on the damp sand (the tidal zone) as the up­per beach ar­eas are used by nest­ing tur­tles and sea birds. This is com­mon sense that ap­plies any­where, re­ally, when driv­ing on beaches and dunes.

Lock­hart River Com­mu­nity is a dry zone. It has a store, fuel, a med­i­cal cen­tre, a po­lice sta­tion, and a ranger sta­tion en route to the air­port. The Iron Range air­base was con­structed in 1942 and home to the US bomber group, the Jolly Rogers. They saw ex­ten­sive ser­vice dur­ing the war, in­clud­ing the Bat­tle of the Coral Sea. Con­crete pill­boxes, ammo stor­age bunkers and other relics are hid­den in the rain­for­est be­fore reach­ing the air­port, and there is also a mo­tel nearby.

OP­ER­A­TION BLOWDOWN

ON JULY 18, 1963, a vast sec­tion of Iron Range was turned into ashes. Only grey, ghost-like stalks of what were once stately rain­for­est giants re­mained skele­ton-like, af­ter the Aus­tralian Army set off the big­gest ex­plo­sion ever in Aus­tralia (up to that pe­riod). Some 41 tonnes of TNT was piled on a 41m high tower and ex­ploded at 8.30am. It was ob­served from an ob­ser­va­tion post at Mount La­mond, 5km away. The blast de­stroyed ev­ery­thing within a 300m ra­dius, with far-reach­ing dam­age beyond it. No one spared a thought to what they had just done to a rain­for­est that had with­stood thou­sands of years of evo­lu­tion – gone in a split sec­ond, along with its en­tire an­i­mal pop­u­la­tion. It opted one ob­server to note that the area once known for it taipans “was now cleared”.

THREE-WAYS

THE Port­land Roads junc­tion at the Lock­hart River Com­mu­nity turnoff is known as the “Three-ways” by lo­cals – the junc­tion to Port­land Roads Road, Lock­hart River and the PDR. You have the choice of head­ing back to the PDR, or tak­ing the French­man’s Track. The turnoff is 27km west from the Three-ways junc­tion and is only suit­able for ex­pe­ri­enced 4Wders, es­pe­cially when trav­el­ing alone. The Pas­coe River cross­ing is of­ten im­pos­si­ble early in the Dry sea­son, as is the Wen­lock. It’s a nice drive across heath­land, though, with open panoramic views of the hills and ranges in case you need to re­turn to the Port­land Roads Road.

BATAVIA NA­TIONAL PARK

THIS park is op­po­site the More­ton Tele­graph Sta­tion Road­house. The park is cur­rently in the dol­drums wait­ing for a plan of man­age­ment and a CYPAL agree­ment – as sev­eral oth­ers are, in­clud­ing the Olive River dune field. Keep an eye on their fu­ture devel­op­ment as it may give you an­other rea­son to go back to the Cape.

HEATHLANDS RE­SOURCES RE­SERVE & JAR­DINE RIVER NA­TIONAL PARK

IT NEVER ceases to amaze why the Na­tional Parks au­thor­i­ties named this amaz­ing re­gion ‘Heathlands’ and ig­nored the his­toric ‘Wet Desert’ name be­stowed upon it by the Jar­dine Brothers dur­ing their epic drove with cat­tle and horses from Rock­hamp­ton to Somerset in May

1864. The on­set of the Wet sea­son over­took them on the Mitchell River, and they named this sandy heath­land re­gion the Wet Desert be­cause, even af­ter 10 min­utes af­ter heavy rain, there wouldn’t be enough wa­ter for stock to drink. They were on the road for five months and rode more than 2700km, a drove that has never been matched con­sid­er­ing the con­di­tions they en­coun­tered.

The Heathlands Re­sources Re­serve was es­tab­lished when Heath­land Sta­tion was aban­doned by the Shel­burne Pas­toral Com­pany, and much of the land was cleared by the com­pany and seeded with “im­proved” pas­tures. A barge land­ing was con­structed at Cap­tain Billy Land­ing, from where beef was sup­plied in 1972 to the com­pany’s abat­toirs at Seisia and Weipa. For all prac­ti­cal pur­pose the re­serve and the Jar­dine NP are the same and com­prise some 366,000 hectares.

Cap­tain Billy is a nice drive that tracks mostly un­der a boule­vard of rain­for­est be­fore break­ing out above cliffs that over­look the Coral Sea. It’s a great fish­ing spot when the sea is calm, but it’s not that nice when it’s blow­ing froth off the waves. There is a shel­ter – on a first come, first serve ba­sis – on the beach, but here is no shade in the camp­ground, as the wind blows the trees away.

The Old Tele­graph Track (OTT) marks the western bor­der of the re­serve and the na­tional park, while to the east is the Coral Sea. No camp­ing per­mits are re­quired if you camp on the track or to the west of it, but the old Jar­dine River is in the park and re­quires a per­mit. This is a very di­verse re­gion and the wettest place in Aus­tralia, with more streams born here than any­where else on the con­ti­nent. Most streams are lined with ver­dant gallery mon­soonal rain­forests alive with vo­cif­er­ous birds, while heathlands cover much of the sandy soils and sand dunes nearer to the east coast. Patches of mon­soonal rain­for­est dom­i­nate the Cap­tain Billy track and along the Ba­m­aga Road.

There are sev­eral tracks in the park

that end at re­mote at­trac­tions, but the most pop­u­lar routes end at the many wa­ter­courses that are crossed on the OTT. The best are Fruit Bat Falls, Eliot and Twin Falls on Eliot Creek. All of­fer safe swim­ming, apart from the bot­tom of Savo Falls where croc­o­diles have been seen there – but peo­ple amaz­ingly still ig­nore the warn­ings. Savo Falls is a short walk be­low Eliot Falls.

The area is known for its unique flora (es­pe­cially in­sect-eat­ing pitcher plants), mam­mals, rep­tiles and myr­iad birds. Camp­ing in the Eliot camp­ground is at a pre­mium dur­ing the peak sea­son be­tween June and Au­gust, with the masses camp­ing on Canal Creek north of the camp­ground on the north­ern OTT sec­tion.

The Jar­dine River is the largest peren­nial stream in Queens­land. The Jar­dine Na­tional Park is true wilder­ness, and camp­ing on the river is some­thing you must do when on the Old Tele­graph Track. Yes, you can laze in the shal­lows to cool down, but avoid the deeper parts where croc­o­diles live. The fish­ing can be out­stand­ing, or it can be ex­tremely frus­trat­ing when the bar­ra­mundi, saro­toga and sooty grun­ters ig­nore the bait and lures in the crys­tal-clear wa­ter.

Across the river, the Usher Point Track – ex­pe­ri­enced 4Wders only – ends at the Coral Sea. The track north to the Kennedy River is over­grown and im­pos­si­ble to tra­verse, while the once pop­u­lar beach route to Cap­tain Billy Land­ing is now blocked by a man-made rock fall that stops all progress. The rock fall hap­pened af­ter au­thor­i­ties risked life and limb res­cu­ing some id­iots that got stuck there. No one is claim­ing re­spon­si­bly for this “fate of na­ture”.

There you have it, the na­tional parks of the Cape York Penin­sula. There are none across the Jar­dine on the North­ern Penin­sula Area – even though the Na­rau Beach Track and the Locker­bie Scrub tick all boxes – and the Tra­di­tional Own­ers haven’t shown any in­cli­na­tion to con­sider it. This is a shame, re­ally, as it would pro­tect these rare jew­els for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Cape Di­rec­tion, Chili Beach, on the fringes of Cape York.

Im­pos­ing ter­mite mound in Heathlands Re­sources Re­serve.

The re­mote Cap­tain Billy Land­ing re­wards with beach­front views.

Ig­nore this ad­vice at your own peril, as you may die...

Camp­ing is per­mit­ted not far from Eliot Falls in Jar­dine NP.

The Cape’s beaches are awash with trash tossed from com­mer­cial fish­ing and cruise boats.

The na­tional parks are home to myr­iad ter­mite mounds.

NORTH­ERN CAPE YORK, QUEENS­LAND

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