Camp # 42 & 43, Days 122 to 125, Chili Beach & Lockhart River, Cape York

Chili Beach , Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) NP

We had heard a little about the drive into Lockhart River but in reality it smashed our expection. The road was excellent in some part but awful in others. However by far the most difficult or frustrating part was the constant undulations.

With the dips often being a very sharp and rocky washout we were always needing to be on the breaks to carefully get the drawbar through without incident and keeping things smooth for ‘Goldilocks’ the van and her contents.  Not being able to sustain any kind of momentum and having to continuously judge your breaking and the nature of each dip, made for a challenging drive.

Crossing the Wenlock River on the way to Iron Range NP

Beautiful though! Eventually the Iron Ranges come into view and you suddenly realise the vegetation has done one of its spectacular costume changes again, seamlessly without you noticing. By the end of the day we will be setting up camp in the Rainforest of the Iron Range National Park. The largest remaining area of lowland rainforest in Australia and home to some unique species of plants and animals.

We were excited to experience a night in the rainforest. Imagining the sights and sounds to be different from that of our usual camps. But a little of that excitement waned as we faced a couple of the steepest and challenging river/creek crossings. Not unlike what we had done on our day on the Old Telegraph Track, accept this time we had the van hitched on. Yikes! It certainly cause a pause for thought ……. , then with breath held we edged through and Audrey pull Goldilocks up that hill. Love that beast of a car, she’s a total star!

At this point I have to acknowledge the amazing job Ken had done in getting the vechile, (Audrey) and van, (Goldilocks), set up for doing this rough and tough stuff. The amount of research and extra work Ken has had done on the Cruiser may have seemed excessive for a couple of novices. However when we have found ourselves in need of a little more specialized performance; Kenny twists a few knobs, pushes a few buttons (all of which I have know idea what they do) and viola! Beast and van lap it up.

Camp # 42 – A Night in the Rainforest, Iron Range National Park

Hot and Shitty! Obvious really, but I think we both had this romantic notion of it being adventurous, cool and noisy, teaming with wildlife. Humid and draining with too much shade (funny that in a rainforest) to run the a/c. No matter, the show must go on. Set up, camp fire, a delicious dinner of fish curry and a freaky night time walk through the forest looking for a green tree python 🐍 made it memorable but this little travelling family has learnt we are more beach people than rainforest folk.

Gordon Creek Camping Area 04 – In the Rainforest

Camp # 43 – Nirvana!, Chili Beach, Iron Range National Park

Again another one of those spots vans the size of ours, raise eyebrow’s at. And you know what they are thinking, because I’m thinking it too. How are we going to get that van into there. Kenny always full of confidence never seems phased and true to form, he nails it. WOW! What a spot. Just meters from the beach of white sands and turquoise waters (shame we cant swim in it). A quick set up as we’re busting to explore the beach a little more.

Ken does one of his manouvers to get is in to site 25

The kids are straight into building a cubby with palm frond and coconuts and i’m keen to try my hand at the basket weaving i’d seen on Thursday Island. The feeling is relaxed and delight. We are going to be here for three days and have the sense we are just going to chill at Chili Beach. A lovely feeling and somehow seems to lasts despite, reality being the usual rhythm of no time to stop.

The Girls Beach Shack
Leonie trying out her new weaving skills

There is always more bread to be made, dished to do done, washing to hang out and the next load to go on, firewood to collect, snacks and meals to prepare, toddler and big kids to love, nourish and cherish, school work to be prepared and done, planning and research into where and what’s next, oh and musn’t forget to make the time to say ‘f#*% it’ to that never ending list and go and enjoy the sublime piece of the planet we find ourselves in. Amen!

We just loved our time here, and to think it was touch and go if we had the time to make it. Beach walks revealed treasures like gnarly trees to climb and hide in, coconuts at variant stages of their life cycle, kooki coconut faces and views views views.  A drive on the beach took us to a great pool to swim in (YEAH!!!!) And the surrounding forest provided ample wood for the magic of camp fires and pizzas too.

We did make one little outing to nearby Portland. In the past it had been a harbour/supply port during the war. Now however, it’s a tranquil spot with delicious little cafe. The last thing you are expecting to find which makes it all the more exciting. Views, cold drinks and a scrumptious prawn roll. It really doesn’t get much better.

View from Portland cafe, what a gem

Chili Beach is also famous for its wind, and it certainly did pick up during our stay. We had jagged a fairly sheltered camp site and with the van we had name bother. For the campers in tents, it did reek havoc and finally they abandoned camp and moved on.

There is a magic to this place, a feeling or energy that just slows you down. Definately a happy place for our tribe.

Chili Beach

Lockhart River Community

Before leaving we wanted to pay a visit to the aboriginal art centre and did so before continuing our journey south down the cape. We knew it was a dry community and after planning a couple of other visits into the town for supplies this time we had forgotten about the one bottle of bubbles I had been carrying for a special occasion. After debate we decided it wasn’t worth the risk of the fine (max $75,000) and decided to empty it on the road side.

The art centre was super and we left with a few lovely pieces that will hopefully adorn our walls as a reminder of these magic lands.

One of the pieces we picked up to remind us of our time at Lockhart River.

Camp # 41, Days 120 & 121 Archer River Roadhouse & Moreton Telegraph Station, Cape York

A couple of long travel days ahead with little else to report. Being territory we had already covered and nothing more we wished to see, it was just about getting south in the best time the roads permitted.

More corrugation, endless beautiful country to travel through (I never get tired of the vast nothingness), more dust in the van and now in our water tanks too, one audio book “Wonder” by R. J. Palacio (fabulous), many more movies on the iPads for the kids, one bout of car sickness and an endless supply of car snacks. We covered nearly 600km but it felt like lots more.

We broke the trip up with a nights stay at Archer River Roadhouse, happy to report the burger is still delicious, showers are hot and folks friendly. Arriving at Moreton Telegraph Station was like visiting a little oasis. Lush green grass!

We also run into a few folk we had met along our travels up here and hadn’t seen for a week or more. One couple we met at the IGA in Bamaga as they were rescueing this particularly desperate looking soul of a dog. She was so skinny and in such an awful way but now just 5 days later, wow so much better and even fatter. Hats off to this Melbourne couple, it was so heart breaking to see these animals suffering and feeling helpless to do anything for them. And the other family with a daughter about Georgie’s age, so the girls all enjoyed having an extra playmate.

You’ve probably been up here long enough when she didn’t even look dirty when I put her in the bath!

With our time on the Cape coming to an end there was still one more adventure for us to squeeze in. As we don’t imagine we’ll be back, I didn’t want to miss a visit to Lockhart River. A dry aboriginal community know for its Arts, the Rainforest of Ironbark National Park and the beautiful Chili Beach.

Colour of the water coming out of our taps. The kids keep thinking I’m trying to feed them brown rice when its cooked in this water. I just say “no no, its Cape York Rice, its a speciality up here”.

Camp # 40, Day 119, Jardine River Crossing & Elliot/Twin Falls, Cape York

Having left the tip of Cape York a few days ahead of schedule we planned to travel the short distance to the Jardine River crossing campsite to spend a couple of nights. Stopping here would allow us to unhitch and visit Elliot and Twin falls.

Elliot and Twin falls are just off the northern section of the tele-track with no way to get in there with our van and we said it was a must visit given how amazing Fruit-Bat falls were.

We made a classic error this morning. Keen to get going we left the townships of Umagico without filling up on fuel, telling ourselves we’ll fill up at Jardine River. Only once we had crossed the river did we discover the fuel pumps were out of order. In researching our travels in Cape York we read ‘never drive past a chance to fuel up, you never know if your next planned stop will actually have fuel’! Doh!

Being it was such a short drive day we had time and little other options but to unhitch the van and for Ken to dash back to Bamaga a township at the tip to refuel before returning to us. At $130 a pop to cross the river we were grateful the guys running the ferry took pity and let us go back without extra charge.

The girls and I set up camp, did some school and just settled in till Ken returned. As soon as Ken got back and Lulu finished her sleep we jumped in the car to get Elliot falls. The local guys told us of a short cut which was great because we had wasted a bit chunk of the day chasing fuel.

Q: When is a short cut not a short cut? ……… Well, it may have been shorter in distance but with two not so easy river crossings and some hairy cut out sections of track it took us longer than if we’d taken the long route to the falls. It did however add to the drama and theatre of our day and overall adventure of Cape York. At the time I recall feeling a little miffed as we were already short on time but they were two (Canal creek and Sam Creek) of the more significant crossings we did and incredibly beautiful.


Finally we arrived at the falls and the sun was setting but actually it was a beautiful time to be there. Most people were leaving and we ended up with the falls all to ourselves. It was a lovely swim initially in clear what but after a while the pools turned milky.

At first I thought it was from us stirring up the sediment on the bottom but later we read as cars cross the river further up stream the sediment is carried down and it changes from clear to cloudy and back to clear again. Maxing out time there we returned to camp, driving home to the red and orange hues of the setting sun and finally the darkness of night.

Camp # 39, Days 115 to 118 – Umagico, Cape York

Well we are almost at the very tippy top and today covered some terrible sections of road. Wicked corrugation and a few numptys overtaking in clouds of dust without notifying us on the UHF. It’s impossible to see behind us and we are all over the road trying to find the path of least destruction. Anyhow we arrived without incident.

On the way we stopped off at Fruitbat Falls for a beautiful swim. A well known and popular swimming hole. Surround by a series of falls so it is safe from crocs, a real oasis. It seems we had just missed the rush with a steady stream of traffic leaving but on a tight road with the van in tow it was a little ridiculous at points. After a swim and lunch we travelled onwards to the Jardine ferry crossing.

Carnivorous Pitcher Plant

The crossing itself was fine but getting off the ferry was very steep. Relatively easy fix with the max trax and the air bags on the van lifting it high enough to clear the road. The next section of road was pretty rough. Now we had a sense of being on the final stretch to the tip and we were, but I also sensed we had crossed over to a new frontier. While we are always on the lands of our nations first people from now on we were going to be mostly in aboriginal communities.

The day was getting on and it had been a long driving day so we decided to pull up and make camp in Umagico at Alau Beach Campgrounds. This will be our base while we expose the Torres Straight Island and visit the most northerly point of the Australian mainland.

The drive into town to find the caravan park was certainly different from anywhere else we had been, and not in a good way. The streets were littered with rubbish, yards full of hard garbage, no signage anywhere which had us going in circles, loads of mangey, skinny, wild dogs roaming the streets and the odd bumby two. We certainly had the “feeling were not in Kansas anymore”.

Finally we found our way with the help of a bit of finger pointing from the locals and jagged a beach front spot! Magic alright, however I was a little on edge with the wild dogs and the girls. Our neighbour’s were the most gorgous gently folk and we were soon visited by the local kids. Curious with lots of question. They ended up coming back the next day and hanging with us most of the day which was lovely or maybe it was the fresh baked banana bread they hung around for.

The corrugated bumpy roads hand not been kind to our bananas and turned them to mush. When life gives to smashed bananas, make banana bread I say.

That afternoon we went out to find some of the WWII plane crash sites and storage sites. Living so south in our large country it’s easy to forget how close to invasion we were. A great reminder for me, an education for Ken and the girls. It was humbling to be at the site were some of our service men lost their lives trying to defend our shore. Lest we forget!

The following day we took the ferry to Thursday Island. What another great education for us all. Both Ken and I felt we never really understood the inclusion of ‘Torres Straight Islander’  box to tick that you see on all government forms you complete, but here we are in the beautiful Torres Straight and now it all makes sense. Ken and I are learning so much and I just hope some of it is sinking in to the kids. It’s a pretty awesome classroom they have, not so sure about the teachers though.

The thing that sticks in my mind most about Thursday Island is the colour of the water. Vibrant aqua. It wasn’t the nicest weather. Windy and overcast at times but we enjoyed our day all the same. It started with a bus tour of the main sights (the fort, cemetery, church). After the tour we wandered the Main Street, enjoyed a delicious lunch before visiting Gub Tutui the Cultural Centre.

Fabulous day, fastinating culture and a fastinating history of migration, intergration, pearling and WWII. Loved it!

Big moment for mummy and Lulu last night ……… she slept in her own bed (for the first time). It’s been getting very tight with Ken, myself and Llewella in our small queen bed. I’ve not been sleeping well and have been trying to sleep on the couch or floor. Not a moment too soon, she just followed her sisters and climbed into her bunk. Of course I still didn’t sleep through getting up to check on her a number of times, but oh, the space to spread out!

Our final day here and we made it to the tippy top of the Australian mainland. Timing it for the setting sun, we first visited the croc tent (an iconic souviner tent in the middle of no where) and did a bit of 4WD on the beach. Collecting about three bags of rubbish as we went. This particular bit of coast was just covered with rubbish mostly plastic, we just couldn’t drive by without taking with us what we could.

The last stretch of dirt road to the tip was through dense dark rainforest, then a 20min walk up and over rocks before reaching the ocean and the post and sign announcing you are standing at the most northerly point of the Australian mainland. It felt momentous to finally get here. An achievement to get this far from home, through such rough and remote terrain. A deeply satisfying moment for Ken and I.

Feeling satisfied with our time here we decided to start our journey south a few days ahead of our loose schedule. With the extra days we hope to be able to take in some extra sights like Eliot falls and sometime at Lockhart River.