Monday, August 1, 2011

One of the many climbs

Crossing the Daintree River meant the end of the CREB

The boys excited to do Little Red Hill

Not sure if this photo shows the steepness of the incline up in the mountains

Tash, Me and the boys at Roaring Meg Falls

The CREB sign


Soooo happy to be on the road again, lookout Lions Den, here we come. But, not before a quick detour to Cooktown first. Steve had been suffering tummy trouble since being on the OTL and all our supplies of Lomotil, Imodium and stuff were totally exhausted. He couldn’t cope any longer.

Before long, we pulled into the Lions Den Hotel and saw a friendly face waving us down. Shad, Tash and their boys Owen and Ryan were a family that we kept meeting up with ever since we left Cairns. It was good to see them again. We were about to set up camp next to them when the boys were berated by a random woman for hitting a tree with sticks. Heaven forbid!!! After a heated conversation between her and Steve about the intricacies of respecting fauna and Steve politely telling her to “just go away!” the camper was set up and we were down to the river for a swim.

Dinner at the pub was superb again and discussion soon led to whether we would do the CREB or not. Now, for Steve and I, travel has always been more about the track we take to get to a place rather than the destination itself. As they say – Life is the journey! The CREB has always been a must do and here it was on a platter. Sadly, we thought about how this track was to be done with the Frosts, however, since Coen we just weren’t going to be in the same place at the same time. Here we were at the top and it was going begging.

At this stage, we hadn’t heard from Terry and Shad was talking a good talk. Cam and Dan were on Steve’s back also – do it Dad, do it Dad, do it Dad!!! How can a fellow resist? That nights sleep was a restless one again. Steve was nervous about the CREB, but the blokes having a drunken weekend at the Lions Den that were still up ya-hooing and running between campsites at 2:00am also helped. I kept waiting for Steve to get up and have a go, but the next morning, everyone I spoke to said they were waiting for someone else to get up so there could be safety in numbers. No-one wanted to approach a drunken lot by themselves – good decision.

We had always thought the Frenchmans Track was going to be the ultimate track of this trip, but that was before we did the CREB. It was everything and then some…..

Stopping into Roaring Meg Falls first, we then hit the track. Full of bravado and trepidation. From here, the track took us 5 hours to complete. We averaged about 18 km’s an hour while doing continuous climbs and descents. A large part of the track felt like we were driving through tunnels of fernery. The roadside green was well above the roof of our car. It was lush and green which meant the tracks had maintained an obvious dampness since the last rains.

While letting some oncoming traffic pass us on the one lane track, we were told there was another convoy heading our way. After sending shout-outs over the two way for around 30 minutes we finally made connection and pulled over to let them through. Looking into the distance all of us marveled at the steepness of the track ahead. Big Red Hill (I think its called) appeared out of the overgrowth way up high and looked really imposing. It surely sobered the mood, but we knew the excitement was about to start. We headed off and were simply climbing and climbing, the car never came out of low range first with the locker being on for some parts of the undulations.

As our Johnnos trailed faithfully along behind us, we also had Shad and Tash a little further back. The chatter on the radio between us was excited and the men were pumped – everyone agreed on how special it was to be able to do this track. Little Red Hill was still ahead of us, and when we reached it, Steve went to walk the climb. I made Shad stay at the bottom as “Steve didn’t need any further encouragement to do this hill!” It was undulating, steep and narrow. The climb seemed to go on forever. Steve came back rubbing his hands together and just said – Let’s do this. Shad never had a doubt, he was in regardless. Tash and I exchanged nervous glances….

Steve threw the lockers on, low range first was selected. There was nothing more to do than put the foot down and go for it. As the Paj bounced and revved the whole way up, the boys and I cheered and yelled in encouragement as we held on to the panic bars for dear life. Surprisingly, it was Dan that became upset during this climb. He has been in the front seat with Steve for every crossing or climb during this trip, but I think this climb went on for so long that he became a bit overwhelmed.

We pulled over at the top and stood with cameras ready for Shad’s attempt. Again, the Hi-Lux bounced and revved its way up and word is he laughed the whole way. Not sure that Tash was laughing as hard.

At this point we thought it was a matter of crossing the Daintree and the track was over. Not so, the track just kept on giving – climb after climb, descent after descent. It seemed it was never going to end. Eventually we arrived at the Daintree River and agreed that we would pull over on the blacktop to air up. At that point we cracked a beer and agreed that was one of our best experiences ever. Shad and Tash proved to be fabulous traveling partners for this part of the trip and we were lucky to have shared it with them. Would love to do another track with them someday…

We were on the blacktop now and just hightailing it back to Cairns. About 40 km’s out of Cairns, we started hearing a slight grinding noise coming from the front of the car. After a while it started becoming more constant and louder. Cripes – what can go wrong now? We stopped a few times and Steve had a look under the car to make sure we weren’t going to lose a wheel or something. All seemed OK. Driving off again, we radioed out “Shad, are you still out there?” We were preparing ourselves to either set up on the roadside for the night, or face another lonely, slow drive not knowing if we would make it or not. Gratefully, Shad answered. “Sure am”. He doubled back, and before long they were both under the car as Tash kept me company. They discovered we had a split in the CV boot that had allowed water and grit into the CV. I think every water crossing we had made since leaving Broome had probably left a deposit in it. Wondering what we do next Shad simply stated “We’re in this together”, so followed us into Cairns and made sure we were safe and sound. Gosh that road can be dark and scarey when things aren’t going well and we can never feel more grateful for Shad’s support.

Rolling into Cairns about 9:00pm, it was an ultra quick set up and we fell in to one of the deepest, tiredest sleeps since the Wenlock.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Steve and Terry at Bramwell

Its a very long road

Our home in Coen

Still heading south…

Taking all the bypass roads to travel south again made the km’s fly past. We decided that we were fanging for another one of Kaleena’s meals at Bramwell Tourist Park. This time we drove in, and the mangoes by now had started to develop and were starting to hang heavy on the trees. Cam got a bit excited about this (as we will get back home to Broome in time for the Mango Festival) and jumped up to grab a mango off the branches. Inncocent action enough until a swarm of disturbed paper wasps descended on the kids with Nat and Dan taking the brunt of some very angry insects. A bit of topical lotion and all the bites settled down and we were ready for dinner. Kaleena put chicken parmy on the menu just for us and all was good in the world. This was only a one nighter so we were back on the road early the next morning.

About 40 km’s south of Coen Steve first noticed the steering of the car became heavy, then the handbrake light came on which made him pay more attention to the instrument panel and noticed that the charge light was on. He soon stopped and didn’t hear the familiar bearing sound (which he had been WD40’ing forever) and we quickly radioed Terry to turn around as we were again in trouble.

The idler pully on the auto tensioner arm seized shearing off the arm of the auto tensioner. One look at Steve and I knew that out of all the trouble we had encountered so far, this one could be the deal breaker. By now, Terry had doubled back and the men were in the grease again. Looking at what they had to work with, Terry suggested using his spare Patrol belt. So, after removing 2 pulleys and repositioning another, they had the Patrol belt stretched on and the only decision left was whether to keep on to Musgrave or turn back to Coen. About this time, an RACQ pick up truck stopped to check on us. We told him what had happened and he suggested that there were better services at Coen. We really wanted to continue the holiday with Terry and Deb and so we decided to push on to Musgrave. After about 2 km’s and a bit of in-car discussion, Steve and I agreed we were better to turn around and get back to Coen with all its services. We pulled over to let Terry and Deb know.

At this stage we were well aware of all the hold ups due to our mechanical issues and offered to Terry for him to keep on traveling so they could still do their snorkeling. They agreed, and so Steve and I turned around and had a very pensive trip back to Coen. Although it was sad to say good-bye, after two hours of sitting alone on the roadside watching the men work on the car, not knowing what could happen, I was just relieved and grateful that at this stage, we were not on the back of a tow truck.

Pulling into Coen with the belt squeeling like a cut pig we certainly made an entrance. We pulled out side the local mechanic workshop and before long we had four blokes ringing their “brothers in law, cousins, brothers etc” finding a way to get a new tensioner into Coen. At this stage we fully realized that we had made the right decision to turn around and this town really turned it on to do everything they possibly could for us – total strangers.

While this was happening, I was on the phone to NRMA. Our roadside assistance was up for renewal about 8 weeks before we left Broome, and I was talked into upgrading our cover to Platinum Level. How lucky was that?!?! Before long, we had accommodation sorted and paid for and Lance the mechanic doing everything he could to get us a part. Only thing left for us to do was go to the pub for a drink.

Coen – what a surprise. As everything now was out of our hands, it didn’t take long before we felt like we were back on the road full time again. There was no stress, no wondering where to go next – just taking one day at a time and enjoying the moment. The hospitality we received here was excellent, and we had a great time chatting to the locals and learning a bit more about the town. There were a lot of travelers here with their own stories of breakdowns requiring towing back to Cairns and we counted our blessings that our story was not that extreme. I reckon in 2 – 5 years time, Coen will be a sought after spot to camp and we will definitely have it on our return list.

The part arrived by truck 2 days later on a Thursday afternoon about 3:00pm. By 5:00pm Steve and I with the help of Lance’s car manual to work out how the serpentine belt needs to be wound on, we had the car ready to go. Sadly we said goodbye to Coen, and after a quick text to let Terry know that we were off to the Lions Den to check out the CREB we were on our way…

Our campsite at Vrilya

Our "kitchen" view

Cam and Dan

Crossing Crystal Creek

Cam and Dan on the rope swing in Crystal Creek

Vrilya Point

What a fantastic spot. I could have stayed here for a week! The drive in was rough and corrugated to say the least. These were probably the worst corrugations we had encountered on this entire trip – but so worth it. Crossing the log bridge over Crystal Creek added another fun twist.

After driving onto the beach, we headed north for about 7 km’s and camped just up near the point. The low tides created some great little paddling holes to cool down and clean off each day without the fear of crocs. The kids really enjoyed fossicking on the tidal flats, with some fabulous shells, starfish, and corals to be found. Everyone agreed that this would definitely be a two night stop-over.

The kids from a family that camped a bit south from us came and invited us to their bon-fire that night. A 3 metre tree trunk set upright in the sand and more driftwood layed teepee style around it, made for a raging fire. It burned for hours, and even at around 3:00am that morning, you could still see the upright embers standing of the central stump.

Decision making time could not be put off any longer though. Where were we going from here? Although Cape Melville was on our return agenda, it would need more nights than we had available. We decided that this would have to be left for a return trip – someday. Steve and I desperately wanted to do the CREB track but Terry and Deb really wanted to take their girls snorkeling on the reef. We all agreed that we would travel as far south as we could together, but Steve and I would head to the Lions Den to check if we could actually do the CREB and Terry and Deb would continue to Cape Trib to do their snorkeling. We would all meet in Cairns for a couple of nights to re-group.

Everyone happy, we left Cape Vrilya, but not without taking a refreshing last swim in the clear waters of Crystal Creek on the way out.

A DC3 that came down in WWII

On the way to The Tip

A very windy day off Somerset Beach

The kids petting the bandicoot

Us at the Tip!

Panorama of Loyalty Beach

Loyalty Beach

From the moment we started planning this trip it seems everyone we spoke to had their own views on where to stay at the Tip. Supporters were split between Punsand Bay and Loyalty Beach. We always leant towards Loyalty Beach and so decided to run with that.

Emotions were mixed as made this last part of the journey north. It felt kind of like the beginning of the end. Although there was still lots of adventuring ahead of us, heading south would ultimately mean heading home. No time to dwell now though – there was the tip to conquer!

Loyalty Beach was a great choice. There were kids everywhere, particularly from 3 families that we kept encountering since Cairns. The beach at low tide left plenty of room for nightly soccer games and general fun, followed by spotto when darkness arrived. The closeness of Bamaga and Seisia for our shopping needs was also a plus. I really liked Bamaga. The Thursday islander presence was really strong here, and the place had a beautiful tropically friendly feel to it. The sausage rolls at the bakery were delicious too!

The boys were entertained each night by visiting bandicoots that were so tame they could sit next to them and pet them. Very cool. They also saw owls up in the trees, and after an unsuccessful late night croc hunt we found an echidna out looking for a place to sleep. It found a nice spot to dig right under Shad’s rear car tyre. Cam was wrapped.

One morning I woke to Steve swearing and cursing after a really lousey sleep. He said he kept rolling off the side of the bed in the camper, which considering he sleeps on the side that has a 4 foot drop isn’t conducive to deep sleep. The whole camper seemed to be askew and after Cam killed the cane toad that was hiding under our camper floor, we found that the inside tyre had gone flat. Bugger! An hour later, Steve had the tyre changed and the nail puncture in the old one plugged and ready to go.

The Croc Tent is a must stop while up there. Armed with souvenirs and t-shirts sprouting how we “drove the Telegraph Track” etc, we were given maps of the local attractions to visit. First though, was the Tip. The drive was through more beautiful rainforest which simply embraced us with every turn, and seemed to form tunnels that we were driving through. For some reason, I expected to be traveling through this type of forest more often, so really soaked up the atmosphere when I could. The hike to the Tip was rocky and full of those rocks “cairns” that people add to to mark their passing. Dan took a particular obsession with these by carting the biggest rock he could find and carting it to each next cairn. He started a few of his own along the way, and was disappointed on the return hike to find no-one had added to his pile. Reaching the tip there were the usual suspects – men casting out the fishing rods, others carted up golf clubs and balls to flog out into the ocean. Even the mandatory fellow stripping off for “the photo”! (Hope your sons forgive your embarrassment to them in time ShadJ) Terry bought a beer up for each of us and after a toast to the trip and photos it was time to move on.

The next day we drove the Beaches Loop Road from Somerset Beach. This map was given to us at The Croc Tent the day before and it was a fabulous day out. Similar to Chili Beach though, the high tide line was littered with debris from passing boats/ships. From fishing nets, to buoy markers, to thongs and bottles it was quite an eyesore. Even the boys remarked on the ugliness of it compared to the beauty when just looking at the ocean side. Throughout the day we also took in the DC3 wreck and Beaufort Bomber wreck sites from WWII, along with the Jardine Family cemetery. Sombre, but very interesting.

On the third night, it was clear that we were running out of time to do everything on the return trip that we had originally planned. We delayed any decision making until we checked out Vrilya Point on the way down. The length of stay there would be determined on what weather we had, so we set off again with only that destination in mind.

On getting off the ferry after crossing the Jardine River Terry came over the UHF telling us that one of our trailer tyres was about to fall off. A careful drive of another 15 metres to get on a flat spot and yep – grief again. It was the other tyre this time (at least the bearing casing was holding well) and meant another stoppage to take off the wheel and inspect. The bearing had absolutely disintegrated and the wheel was now running on the stub axle. This was never going to end well. Luckily these parts were part of Steve’s pre-planning so it was a matter of getting out the tools and doing the job. The old bearing case had seized to the stub axle (a fine testament to the heat generated) so the hammer and cold chisel came out of Steve’s toolbox and the men took turns at knocking it off. For good measure the files came out and the stub axle was filed down and the new bearing case bashed in. On the road again….

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The team's victory drink after crossing Nolans

As always, Dan is in the front seat for another water crossing - Nolans

Crossing Nolans Brook

The log bridge on the OTL
Crossing Sams Creek

The exit climb out of Canal Creek

Crossing Canal Creek

A travelling mate - Barry - coming into Gunshot

Helping one of the cars through Gunshot
Dirty feet after playing at Gunshot

Crossing Cockatoo Creek

Crossing Mistake Creek

Exiting Palm Creek
Entry to Palm Creek

Old Telegraph Line

We traveled this track for 5 nights. It was rough and suffered some good washouts after the wet. The boys were kept busy looking for insulators on the old line after we told them we’d pay them $100 for everyone found. We thought that we were on a pretty safe bet, and sure enough, none were found. After talking to a few travelers along the way, we decided to camp at a select few creeks and then do parts of the track without the trailers attached.

The water crossings along this track are crystal clear, with waterfalls dropping into beautiful little swimming holes. Every time we got out of the car it was another opportunity to jump in the water or play in the mud.

First though, we had to cross the Palm Creek. By the time we arrived there was a tag along tour of about 11 vehicles ahead of us. We began to settle in for a long wait until it was our turn to cross. The team were preparing the exit by shoveling dry sand on the mud, and it was a continuous and arduous process but it did the trick. They were making the exit with ease. Fortunately for us, they asked if we wanted to go through in between. We jumped at the opportunity although felt a bit guilty that we were taking advantage of all their hard work without putting in. They were good about though, realizing we would travel a lot quicker than their group. Both Steve and Terry crossed with ease – so much for all the thought of needing the winch!

Next crossing was Ducie Creek. Not a difficult crossing but this is where we started having problems with our 4WD mechanism not disengaging. Steve crawled under the car again, sprayed everything with some WD-40 and fixed the problem.

We camped our first night at the Dulhunty River. Another beautiful water spot. Steve drove the car down to the river and set up the Power Shower, so it was hot water showers for all that night.

Next day we came to Bertie Creek which was a nice little drive along the river bank before crossing. We stopped the night at Cockatoo River. One we de-hitched the campers at Cockatoo River, we drove down to gunshot to see what all the fuss was about. Again, we had heard many stories of carnage and grief. Steve wanted to see for himself before deciding whether to attempt a crossing or not.

All was quiet when we arrived, so we set up for some lunch and a beer. A few lads crossed that were on a pig shooting expedition. Their pig dogs were fully geared up in chest armour and GPS trackers, and were quickly put back in their cages as we came down to the creek. As we finished lunch another couple of trucks turned up and before long there was a queue of about 20 cars waiting to try the crossing.

Gunshot itself seemed like a newly cut drop and wasn’t much different to any other boggy mudhole we’ve ever found ourselves in. This made Steve’s decision quite easy – he wasn’t going to do it as it didn’t really live up to the expectation of the “ultimate challenge”. This doesn’t mean we didn’t have a lot of fun helping all the others get through. A crowd of spectators ready with cameras and videos lined Gunshot and the usual “experts” from the peanut gallery became vocal. These included: the nobs who really should keep their mouths shut, wives reluctantly letting their husbands re-live their childhood, families like ourselves who were just out for a great day, and idiots who should know better. It turned out to be a great day, and it was interesting to note as we traveled further up the track it always seemed to be the same guys helping out.

Next day we crossed Canal Creek. Another pretty little creek with a very rocky exit. This was a popular spot for campers, but we decided to push on to Sam Creek. What a fabulous decision that was! We had the spot all to ourselves, a beautiful water hole and water fall within 20 metres, raging campfires each night and in close range to Fruitbat Falls, Eliot Falls and Nolans Brook.

Fruitbat Falls were fabulous. On a clear, sunny day they would be even better. The weather to date had been cloudy, overcast and threatening rain since we left Cairns but this didn’t stop the kids. Their favourite part was jumping on the Wahu’s and riding the currents along the river.

Steve and Terry also wanted to cross Nolans Brook without the campers continued the Tele Track up to Nolans and spent the day. Again, another brilliant water hole that had the kids swimming and riding the currents while the Big Kids drove their cars through. When we arrived we found one car with all its belongings strewn about trying to dry everything out. Not a good omen. After walking the crossing, the boys decided to take a different entry and they made it easily. (Maybe the previous car should have dropped his tyre pressure below 29psi – der!). I must say though, the water was over the bonnet of the Pajero, so it probably just looked easier than it actually was. After another swim and lunch, we took the bypass track back to Sams Creek for our last night. Having “done” the Tele Track and the Frenchmans Track it was now time to head to the Tip.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cam and Dan at sunset

The Rio Tinto rail transporting machinery across the Mission River

Cam and Steve with the catch

Dan with his catch


Originally, we planned to visit Weipa on our return from the top. But, we also didn’t plan on our winch failing and thought it irresponsible to continue without having it working, particularly after seeing the exit to Palm Creek at the beginning of the Telegraph Track.

The auto electrician couldn’t do the job for three days, so we took an enforced break from the daily set up and pull down.

Apart from the general re-stocking of food and stuff, we took the kids fishing off the Mission River. Dan caught his first fish and was really excited, as was Cam with his first catch. It was good fun.

We also jumped on a Rio Tinto tour of the Bauxite Mine which was interesting. With the advertising of the tour very clearly saying there will be no toilet stops, Dan has the auspicious prestige of being the first person to ever stop the tour and get off the bus to wee. The driver wasn’t happy, as he had to stop and let him off on the roadside where the trucks were hauling which he informed an embarrassed Steve is highly illegal. Oops!

With the winch now fixed, it’s off to conquer the Old Telegraph Track!