Endeavour Falls was right behind our camp site, so we hopped past the Crocodile warning sign and gingerly had a look. It was very pretty, tranquil, and disarmingly calm looking. Contrary to the roiling froth of teeth and death lying hidden beneath.
“OK that’s enough folks, back to camp.”
We can pack up in an hour now, and 9am seems to be our regular time of departure for a day’s drive. 9.15am if we throw ourselves in the shower before heading off.
The road had been tarmac from the Bloomfield River to here, but only a few k’s out the camp we were truly off-road, and up to our snorkel in red dust. The track wasn’t too bad to begin with, then it was pretty bad, then it got really rocky and quite awful.
I saw a blown out tyre at the side of the road. Then I saw a vehicle crashed into a tree. Timely reminders of the dangers of driving up here. We pulled over, dropped the tyre pressures and it got a lot smoother.
The tropical vegetation that had accompanied us for so long finally disappeared, to be replaced by low trees and scrubs reaching as far as the eye could see. Which wasn’t very far most of the time, as the hills had vanished too, leaving a flat, featureless landscape. Occasionally you would climb a slight rise, and catch a glimpse into the distance. A very slight undulation of the land. Red dust, and pale green shrubs.
We were on Battle Camp Road heading North, then West towards a place called Laura. ‘Battle Camp’ because in 1873, a group of Chinese diggers were attacked by 500 Aboriginies on their way to the Palmer River Goldfields. Of the many confrontations in Cape York over the years, this was apparently the only time an attack was made en-masse by war painted locals. It was a tough old place back then, still is.
We skirted through Lakefield National Park where you’re not allowed fire arms, and there are crocodiles everywhere.
Then we got out at the Old Laura Homestead to stretch our legs. No crocodiles, fire arms allowed. Happy days.
Old Laura used to be a cattle station, and was set up and run by another bunch of Irish folk. Jesus it must have been freakin’ awful in Ireland to want to end up here, in the middle of nowhere trying to make a living out of the land. But they managed it, for years. Crazy bastards.
Next stop, Laura. A pub. A general store. A few abandoned bits of machinery from the gold rush days, and a load of 4WDs all pulled over having their lunch – including us.
This train was built in Leeds, shipped to Australia then transported to Laura. It was destined for the goldfields but when it was taken off the truck they found it had a broken front axle, and it’s sat here ever since. Wonder what the returns policy was back then…
Laura is where we joined the Peninsula Development Road, the PDR, which is the one road running all the way up through the Cape York Peninsula, and it’s only been around since the ‘60’s. Before that you needed to get on a horse, or a boat. There are lots of little side tracks and routes off it, but everybody who wants to get to the top, has to drive up the PDR.
The Old Telegraph Track that most people have heard of, yes you guessed it – the OTL, is a legendary 4WD track that heads North too, but it doesn’t start until much further up the Cape. It’s a remnant of the Telegraph Line that was built from Mount Surprise, all the way to the top. More gold had been discovered, and Thursday Island was evolving into an administration centre for trade, so reliable communications needed to be established.
Forging the route and erecting the poles took years, and teams of men lost their lives to the elements, crocodiles, snakes and the Aboriginies who weren’t too happy about the intrusion.
The telegraph line is redundant now, of course, but thanks to those hardy pioneers, people come from all over the world to test themselves, and their vehicles, against the track that remains. I think the guys who actually built it, wouldn’t mind that at all.
Anyway the section of the OTL that remains is only 80km long. To put that in perspective, the distance from Cairns to the tip is 1,013kms, so for the majority of the way, everyone is on the PDR.
We spoke to an old fella over lunch who had just come down. He told us the road up to Archer River Roadhouse was in the worst condition it had been in for 14 years. Oh. Great. Ice lollies for the girls, check out the first car to make it to the tip, and off we go.
Corrugations are what you have to deal with more than anything up here. Some people quote there are four, or six million of them on the route to the tip. Whatev’s. There’s a lot. Days’ worth. But if you go fast enough you kind of skim over the top, and it’s quite manageable. The lower tyre pressure helps cushion the blows, as does the heavy duty suspension.
There are ‘ruts’, and ‘dust holes’ to watch out for now and again too, but if you pay attention you see them coming and just slow down, find a way through. Same with the ‘dips’, many of which are actually signposted. Slow down, the car lowers itself onto the suspension and you gently bounce out the other side.
The main danger on the road is from other cars. Especially the big road trains that thunder past without slowing, launching rocks at your windscreen and creating enormous billowing clouds of dust. Once again slow down, or just stop until you can see again.
The PDR at this stage, however, is an extremely wide, red dirt track that makes it pretty easy for vehicles to pass each other. It’s also very straight for long stretches, so you can see other cars coming from miles away.
Overall it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
Let’s see if that lasts…
We thought we’d stay the night at the Hann River Roadhouse, but as we approached it was only 3pm, and the girls were doing fine so we bounced along for another hour, stopping finally at Musgrave.