When adventurers head to Cape York there are usually two things on the agenda, to drive the Old Telegraph Track and to stand at the northern most point of the Australian continent – we managed to do both over the last few adrenaline filled days!
After a lazy start from Bramwell Station we headed to the roadhouse to refuel and air down in readiness for our attack on the OTT. Excitement levels were climbing but we paused for the mandatory photo at turn off to the track…
After a few small gullies and dips we arrived at the track’s first real obstacle – Palm Creek. The original entry and exit are now badly eroded very steep, so we took the longer crossing that involved a drop into the creek, a run along the creek bed and then a tight turn and steep exit.
The crossing went without any mishaps, except for my mistake of putting a piece of beef into the Travel Buddy not long before, and its juice spilt into the oven when we went down the steep creek bank. A 10 minute break on side of the track was necessary to clean up the mess!
The OTT takes you through a range of natural environments, from savannah plains with giant termite mounds to rain forested gullies and tightly packed tea tree swamps. The track twists and turns across many obstacles that test suspension flex to the limit, with wheels often lifted well clear of the ground when crawling through.
We spent first day on the southern half of the track which is best known for its dramatic creek entry and exit points, with steep drops in and out of the creek beds, and shallow water crossings. Best known of these is Gunshot Creek, with an entry that stands your car literally on its nose, although we took the easier alternative that required a drive along the creek to bonnet depth before scrambling up the bank.
We wrapped up day one on the track at a secluded camp site on Cockatoo Creek. On arrival we noticed that both of our cars had slow leaks from the front left tyre, with sand pushed under the bead when bullying our way out of the Gunshot Creek exit. I changed to a spare while Lachie managed to get the sand and mud out of his and reinflated it.
Following morning we set off to travel northern half of the track with its notorious deep water crossings, but relatively easy entry and exit points. Crossing from southern to northern sections of the track took us past two OTT icons – Fruit Bat Falls and Elliot Creek Twin Falls, both worth a look.
Soon after leaving the falls we had our first mechanical breakage when Lachie snapped a rear sway bar linkage – we removed the sway bar altogether which meant the Patrol had some interesting leans on some of the tighter bends. Lachie also took a harder line on one track, leading to him getting bogged on the exit and needing to self recover by winching out.
The OTT once had numerous timber bridges over the Cape’s deep but narrow creeks, but over time most have been swept away or devoured by termites and rot. Of those left the most infamous is at Cypress Creek, a bridge that gets rebuilt each year using whatever logs can be dragged into position and strapped together.
The track continued to throw up obstacles but our well prepared vehicles negotiated each without need for recoveries. When dropping into Cannibal Creek the dips and hollows caused the Cruiser’s suspension to fully articulate, which damaged the headlight level switch at the rear axle and raising an alarm, something I later fixed at camp and found that the rear coil spring had also become dislodged. Nothing to stop us but the type of minor damage that this testing track imposes on your vehicle.
This left us with the two main water crossings of the track – first of these is Logan’s Creek, a long and deep crossing with a soft sandy bottom that we both crossed with relative ease.
Our main concern was Nolan’s Brook, and upon our arrival there was a Prado with its bonnet up after being drowned when trying to cross, and several cars were being skull dragged across the creek by a 4WD on opposite side. Rather than be hauled across we spent time investigating each crossing point and decided to cross unassisted using one of the ford points with a steep drop in but shallower depth. Our strategy was to drop in slowly then motor across steadily to avoid wheel spin on the soft sandy bottom. As a precaution we each had our winch ropes and a snatch strap ready, but they weren’t required as we both drove the crossing without issues.
With both cars across the last major obstacle we went in search of a camp site and ended up beside the track in a small clearing amongst the scrub which proved to be a great spot.
Our two days on the Old Telegraph Track was recounted blow by blow over dinner, from wheel spinning climbs to gurgling deep water crossings – together we had driven length of the track without external assistance and with few vehicle problems. The effort we had taken to prepare the vehicles and research the track had paid off so far and we felt deservedly pleased to have got to this point.
Our trip up the OTT ended when we joined Bamaga Road and then crossed the Jardine River. We spent the morning exploring the Northern Peninsular Area townships of Bamaga and New Mapoon, with a coffee break and morning tea beside the sea at Seisia.
After another 70km of corrugations and red dust we pulled into The Croc Tent, the tip’s main souvenir shop and information centre. In addition to a couple of tee shirts and stickers we got one of their great maps of the area that includes information about sites of interest and various tracks to be explored. From there we headed to the tip itself for the iconic picture at the famous sign…
We spent rest of the afternoon exploring the tip and hunting down a number of the WW2 aircraft crash sites. The amount of debris and relics from the war is amazing considering it has been here for over 75 years in a severe tropical environment. Thankfully the area’s isolation has protected it to some degree, and some of the crash sites are not particularly easy to find, but worth the effort.
After a long day it was time to check in to our accommodation for the next couple of days – Punsand Bay camp ground, where we had a safari tent booked for some respite from the swags.
Today was a free day at the tip, giving us a chance to catch up on vehicle repairs, laundry and a bit of R & R. The weather was a little patchy, with rain showers and squally winds, and the local crocs meant that we didn’t go swimming at the beach despite the warm tropical winter weather.
Our northern adventure is not over, we still have to navigate our way back down the Cape over coming days. We have however conquered the main objectives, to drive the OTT and reach the northern tip of Australia. Watch for our next post on the way homeward, better still enter your email address as a subscriber to receive a notification when our next blog is uploaded 😉