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