Camp # 36, Day 108 – Sweetwater Lake, Lakefield NP, Cape York

Can you spot our camp site?

Hann River – Sweetwater Lake .03

Determined to get away before it got too hot we were up and at it early. Not having crossed the Hann River yet, it was time to get across it and have a little explore. So beautiful. An easy crossing with a causeway built through it, and a chance to cool off. With a few Little Rock pools about and with good visibility people were not only stopping to cross, but bathe and cool off. Bliss!

How could anyone resist. Some spectacular scenery here, birds, flowers and water falls. Just the way to start the day.

I was getting to drive today, yeah! It really doesn’t happen very often. Ken does the lions share of the driving (he enjoy’s it), and I am often sat in the back with Lulu keeping things happy or getting her off to sleep. But back to the driving. OH fun fun fun but also intense. You’ve got to have your wits about you. You need to be fast enough to minimize the shuddering of the corrugations but slow enough that you can react to miss large sharp rocks on the road, brake quick enough without locking everything up to get through or around dust bowls (massive sandy holes in the road), and handle corners safely on the gravel.

The track surface changes as does the scenery and terrain pretty rapidly. Occassionally you’ll have a small stretch of bitumen, but mostly gravel or gravel and rocks, or clay bed, or sand, sand on clay, and most often corrugations ranging from the ‘smooth coasting over the top’ type to the ‘bone schuddering, check you still have teeth at the end and shock that the van and car are still in one piece’ type!

But the terrain today was just lovely and varied. Dry scrubby bush, blackened burnt out bush, tall towering trees (that’s been a rare site), dense small woody river gums forrest, dry sandy river beds with big boulders, vast sweeping plains with swaying beige tall grass and even tall charcoal coloured termite mounds, and more lily pad covered lakes.

It wasn’t a long drive and getting to our camp site got even more interesting. Ken shares with me these camp sites aren’t really for caravans especially not 22ft ones. Hmmmm. Anxiety rises slightly and then we hit the dry sandy river bed. With a few murky large puddles, it’s windy and narrow, with protruding tree roots and branches and the exit isn’t easy. It’s a steep, sandy climb to get out, oh and it’s on a bend.

Slow and steady we get through. Phew. Nice driving Kenny! And then just up the road a super site. Just the one so no neighbour’s tonight.

Causalities from todays drive, the light fitting on my side of the bed had shaken out but easily screwed back in, but more immediate and concerning was the entire power system had shut itself down for some reason. No step working, no fridge on, yikes! We’ve had a few issue and had plenty of spare fuses and lucky that was all we needed.

Camp set and again roasting hot. While free camping managing battery usages is key. Kenny said we could lash out and put the aircon on, but only till the battery hit about 50%, grateful for any chance to cool off, it was bliss.

The battle of getting school work completed continued for most of the day, a long with the daily bread making, endless laundry in small batches to keep up, dishes and food prep.

Ken set about trying to catch a croc in the lake. When I say catch I mean capture some drone footage of a croc and after hours of searching he got his footage.

Night time finally arrived and cooled everything and everyone off but only a little and we sat by the fire, for chilli con carne, star gazing and a performance of Aladdin by the ‘Sister Starz’. Quality entertainment considering our remoteness. They’ll laugh and/or cringe about their Sister Starz performing troup when they are older. Golden memories.

I hadn’t really cottoned on that we were going to be free camping for five days and we were running low on supplies and had rubbish stinking us out, so made the call to only stay the one night and head for Weipa and civilization tomorrow.

Camp # 35, Days 106 to 107 – Hann River Crossing, Lakefield NP, Cape York


Old Laura Homestead – Hann River Crossing 0.2

Lots more dust, dirt, corrugations, fords and lilly pad and lotus flower filled lakes and water birds. Casualties on the drive today none to report of.

On to Hann River crossing for our second night and a two night stop. Ken had selected this spot cause we were right on the river but with very steep banks safe from crocs.

No shade here and the heat was pretty uncomfortable. We set up and just tried to stay cool. The heat just zapping our energy. Ken is keen to catch himself a barramundi and has a new little Barra rod so was straight into it. No joy, but we did have a visit from two little tortoise.

Being distracted by the barra Ken was late getting the fire set and coals burnt down for our second go at the wood fired pizza oven. Massive improvement! No burnt bases tonight and brown of top. Winner winner, pizza dinner or pizzeeee as Lulu calls it. Followed by a mixed berry and banana sorbet whip up in the thermi. Yum.

The evening again bought out the wildlife. Little micro bats are always present, a couple of toads but not sure they were cane toads as they were smallish and yep a croc cruising the river. Our torch is not a great spotty so while we could clearly see it’s reflective eyes coasting up and down the banks of the river we couldn’t make out any size.

Day 2 at Hanh River was quiet domesticated catching up on school work, cleaning as pointless as it is in all this dust, bread making as the freezer is full of meat and meals, and being on tight water rations laundry needs to be done by hand or in my cleaver little wash bag. Which has been one of my favourite items on the trip.

Ken and Charlotte went for a little drive and returned to swelter away in the middle of the day. Sooooooooooo hot and not much breeze to speak of. In the cool of evening we took a wee walk to try and spot the Brolga Ken had seen earlier and more fishing, we all got in on the action this time. And while no one caught anything we all enjoyed it and the girls did really well at casting. The cute little tortoises were back and being playful.

No crocs tonight but stars galore! Astrologically we have totally jagged it with the moon not rising until midnight so we get to gaze in total darkness till we go to bed. Perfect. Talking of perfect – perfection is no midges or sandflies and we have been spared from those ravenous buggers the last 3 nights.

Camp # 34 , Days 106 – Old Laura Station, Lakefield NP, Cape York

First days drive – Cooktown to Old Laura Homestead. We’d received some intel from the local fish man (Nicko!) that the main road, the Penninsular Developement Road (PDR), was not in great condition and Battlecamp road was a good alternative. So with this advice Ken planned and booked our first four nights up the Cape staying in various camp in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL).

We were looking forward to our first ford crossing (the Normandy) and it was fantastic but we made a rookie mistake. With me in the drivers seat and Ken on the banks filming us with the drone. All went well until we were across and realized Ken was left on the wrong side.

Crocodile Ken being more focused on the shot and not the practicalities was just going to walk across. Never one to be too worried about the rules, I was putting my foot down, “nar mate, not this time. Stay put.” We’ve got these rules, not in the water, not near the water, not over the water, and I can see I’m gonna have to remind him a few times.

With there not really being anywhere to turn the van around and never having backed the van before, some kind folks packed up their lunch preparations and went and picked him up. Note to self – fly drone from the car.

The remainder of the drive was pleasant but bumpy. Corrugations pretty much all the way with a few more smallish fords and a number of dust bowls (large sandy holes in the otherwise hard corrugated compacted gravel). These can be really tricky to spot and to hit at speed can do some serious damage.

Arriving at our camp spot by 1400, we first drove on and checked out the Old Laura Station which operated form the late 1800 till 1946. It was only a kilometer down the road but it was hot and dusty and this is winter! The dust is noteworthy, as you first touch earth from the car and every step thereafter a cloud of fine powdery dust engulfs you foot before settling again. Immediately your mind goes to imagining this may be what moon dust is like and you start taking slow large moon walking steps. Or maybe that was just me.

Entering the van after the days travel, there was few causalities, upholstery edging on lounge seating, kitchen draw off runners, kitchen window blind retracting spring gone. We had let our tyres down to 25 psi but after seeing this carnage I was convinced we needed to go lower and we did the next day, down to 20 psi.

Our camp site was shaded and lovely. Camp was made, wood was collected and fire was set. Then the kids enjoyed a bit of down time reading and doing puzzles while Ken, Lulu and I explored the nearby dry river bed of the Laura River.

created by dji camera

Evening brought out the stars, camp fire and the wild life. After dinner Ken got up to light the fire only to be spook out of his wits by an owl jumping out of the tree nearest him to grab its dinner of the ground. It landed only a meter from him and with a thud and flurry of flapping feathers took of again while we all went, WHAT THA!

That wasn’t the only wild life, Roos at dusk are a given but in addition in the complete dark with a torch you could scan low to ground and spot a million reflecting eyes peeping back at you. Spider eyes and then we had the company of some largerish animal rustling the bush for hours but not revealing itself. Maybe goat, wild pig or cattle. We heard it push over a few small trees so something strong but not the slightest bit interested in us.

Camp # 33, Days 101 to 105 – Cooktown, QLD

Driving to Cooktown took us through yet again more rapidly changing and varied country. Tropical coastal rainforest, hills and farming land, burnt out bush, bush and scrub and vast open grassy plains always with a mountain range in the back ground. The Great Dividing Range is never far away, we have been traveling along side and or through it continuiously since we hit the east coast or OZ at Byron Bay.

We stop for lunch at a spectacular look out. The views were stunning, bush loo’s well kept and the information boards on this area of Far North Queensland (FNQ) fantastic. And a steady flow of chatting and interesting travelers. We love chatting to folk. It’s really the done thing but you learn so much and it just add another shade of colour to your day. While reading these info boards, a couple of artsy gay gentlemen shared with me about the aboriginal artist briefly mentioned, Thancoupie. They had worked with her and warmly spoke of her gift of sculpture and the invaluable children’s books she wrote in her language. A brief but brilliant encounter.

While we were keen to stay at any number of the free camps in the area we were drawn to the town to make it easy to ready ourselve for the trip to the cape. Once settle we found ourselve right at home here and ended up extending our 3 day stay to 5 days. Our first night was a bit of a shamozzle but things improved and finding I am already looking forward to returning to Cooktown.

We chose to ride the bikes into town to explore before the sun went down and grab and early dinner. But as we arrived and the children started to play at the playground we were beckoned over by an aboriginal man and lady, Val, who was not feeling well and needing help to get to the hospital. Being on the bikes we weren’t much help but after spending a bit of time with her and trying to suss out the taxi service in Cooktown we ended up placing a 000 call to get her there. I think she had a complicated medical history and was probably sceptic. She was a bit off the plant but a sweet natured lady grateful for the kindness.

Before the Ambulance I tried the taxi service only to get a recorded message saying they were closed after 5pm and if this was an emergency you’d better let them know before 4 p.m. Good to know I’ll be sure to plan all my emergency before 4 p.m. next time …… Love it!

While I was helping Val it got dark so Ken took the kids to the bowls club for dinner (very average meal only adding the failing of the night), locked our bikes up out the front only to realize he had the wrong keys to unlock them again. Doh! And the gate on the kids play area was nackered and pinched Lulu, resulting in her screaming the place down on two occasions. A stroke of luck resulted in Ken getting a lift back to the caravan park to get the right keys and following and uneventful ride home we happy to just get back to Goldilocks without any further incidents.

The rest of our time in Cooktown went smoothly and now as I reflect on what we did and who we met I see clearly why I have such fond feelings for Cooktown.

We met fellow Zoners (the collective name given to folks the own a Zone RV caravan), Frank and Wendy. Turns out their van was the next one of the factory floor following ours so it was super handy sharing experience and knowledge. We also learnt about there experience heading to the tip of Australia as they had just returned. A lovely couple whom we hope to meet on the road again. Uncle Peter as he came to be know, local celebrity, school bus driver, shaker and mover of Hay (Central NSW). What a real Aussie ledgend. He was our neighbour, loved a chat, loved the kids, generous to a fault, even came and did a school lesson for them on Hay. And then there was the boys from Tassie who caught enough fish to feed most of the caravan park and they did. The freezer is still half full of fish!

There was the usually, washing, cooking, schooling, cleaning, child wrangling etc to be done, but amongst all that, a visit to The Captain James Cook Museum, a visit to the Cooktown Historical Centre, an amazing prawn and avocado roll, brunch at a little oasis of a cafe called Driftwood, and a sunset cruise on the Endevour River including the best cheese platter ever. Enjoyed in complete darkness, sitting silently in a mangrove accompanied by our first wild croc, (too dark for photographs). A large, majestic, graceful mover in the water, thrilling would sum up that experience.

Finally our time at Cooktown finished with a splendid sunset and the sweetest prawns i’ve ever eaten, a top the very same ‘Grassy Hill’ Cook, Banks and a few other crew from the Endevour climb to attain better knowledge of their surrounding lands and water.

Thank you Cooktown!

Our favorite little cafe – Driftwood. A must visit for delicious food and coffee. Run by really nice folks as well.