Pre­pare prop­erly and pick your travel time care­fully be­fore head­ing to the far north, then reap the re­wards of sparkling wa­ter­falls, un­spoilt beaches and clear la­goons

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - MOVIES -

IN the late au­tumn, after the wet sea­son eases on Cape York Penin­sula, gravel roads are graded in time for the win­ter peak when vis­i­tors drag­ging boats, campers, car­a­vans and just about any­thing else that has wheels, hit the road for Aus­tralia’s last great wilder­ness ad­ven­ture, the drive to the north­ern tip of the con­ti­nent.

Some pre­fer the coast road that winds up from Cairns through rain­for­est, past hid­den beaches and wa­ter­falls and sealed as far as Cape Tribulatio­n, while oth­ers take the in­land route via the Penin­sula De­vel­op­men­tal Rd through Ma­reeba and the Ather­ton Table­land and the lush agri­cul­tural cane farms, or­chards and mar­ket gar­dens.

By June, the swollen creeks and rivers that put the Cape off-lim­its surg­ing over gul­lies and dips in the road at the height of the wet, have usu­ally shrunk to kneedeep or turned to dust mak­ing the Cape once again ac­ces­si­ble.

Be­fore the win­ter school hol­i­day rush, Ku­randa-based Tourism Cape York co­or­di­na­tor, en­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist and all­round good bloke, Isha Seg­boer, set out to make sure and in­vited me along for the ride.

It was a mag­i­cal drive north from Cairns in a vin­tage Nis­san Pa­trol four-wheel drive past beaches, forested hills, cloud-capped moun­tains and cane­fields where flocks of white egrets picked through the newly tilled earth, to Port Dou­glas, Moss­man and Wonga be­fore board­ing the ferry cross­ing the Dain­tree River.

Driv­ing through Dain­tree Na­tional Park, it’s easy to see why UNESCO has lists this a Wet Trop­ics World Her­itage Area. The thick, dark jun­gle of rain­for­est dec­o­rated with palm trees and ex­otic ferns tow­ers right up to the edge of the sealed road that twists and turns through the dap­pled sun­light. With the chance of spot­ting an elu­sive cas­sowary it was al­to­gether an ex­quis­ite ex­pe­ri­ence.

North of Cape Tribulatio­n, the bi­tu­men gives way to ochre-coloured gravel – the re­cently graded Bloom­field Track stretch­ing up across the Dono­van Range to the Bloom­field River.

We stop for a burger and beer at the cel­e­brated Lions Den Ho­tel, once a tiny haven for “feral” Cape York char­ac­ters, now an ex­panded, reg­u­lar stop on the tourist trail.

Past Cook­town, after we had stashed the pre­cious pil­sner be­hind a bunch of logs felled by the last cy­clone, we drove through Hope Vale to Elim Beach where elder, Ed­die Deemal and son, Ivan, run the camp­ground right on the beach un­der a canopy of paper­bark trees ($10 per night per per­son).

Next morn­ing, still mel­low from the lamb racks, the light beer and pinot, we res­cued the pil­sner in­tact and head west along Bat­tle Camp Rd.

There was light traf­fic on the gravel road, cor­ru­gated in parts, but quite com­fort­able apart from car-driven dust as thick as a London fog, con­di­tions when head­lights are es­sen­tial.

The bad news is some driv­ers are still ne­glect­ing to switch on head­lights while oth­ers bar­rel into the wa­ter-cov­ered dips, es­pe­cially those with Rough Sur­face signs, some with deep, con­cealed holes. The good news is the roads are open but cau­tion, care and common sense are still called for.

We crossed a shal­low wa­ter­course, a trib­u­tary of En­deav­our River and stopped to see the pretty Is­abella Falls a few me­tres down­stream where it’s safe to swim (no salt­wa­ter croc­o­diles) be­fore splash­ing through the Nor­manby River, where swimming is def­i­nitely not safe.

Near Bat­tle Camp Sta­tion we turned into Rinyirru Na­tional Park past the his­toric Old Laura Homestead, once head­quar­ters of the orig­i­nal Laura Sta­tion. For­merly known as Lake­field, Queens­land’s sec­ond-largest na­tional park (after the Simp­son Desert) is mostly grassy trop­i­cal savannah with paper­bark and eu­ca­lypt forests that be­come vast wet­lands in the north­ern wet sea­son from Novem­ber to April.

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