26.04.2013 35 °C
From Lake Tinaroo, were we’ve spent the last 2 nights recovering and relaxing after our wet drive up, we decided to head North from Cairns to Cape Tribulation and then possibly (if the road was open) drive up the Old Bloomfield Track to Cooktown.
Cape Tribulation was so named by Captain James Cook after his ship ran aground on Endeavour Reef in 1770 during their exploration up the East Coast of Australia from Botany Bay. They were charting a dangerous course inside the Great Barrier Reef in order to map the coast in detail and for Joseph Banks (Royal Society Botanist) to catalogue and explore the many flora and fauna of this area. Cook and his men spent nearly 2 months stranded on the side of the Endeavour river (later to become Cooktown) whilst they repaired the ship and scouted a way out of the sand bars and reefs that trapped them. Whilst they were stranded Joseph Banks recorded the first ever European description of a Kangaroo and Cook also made first contact with Aboriginal Australians, unfortunately not all in a friendly manor. I was eager to explore Captain Cooks history here as he is a distant relation of mine, according to our family tree James Cooks sister Margret Cook is my great, great, great Grandma. Cook himself never had any children.
North of Cape Tribulation, the Bloomfield Track is an interesting 108km (65 mile) drive through the Rainforest on a 4WD only dirt track, traversing several creek and river crossings and including some steep climbs and descents. The track passes through several Aboriginal Communities of Wujal Wujal, Bloomfield, Rossville, and Helensvale including some sacred sites. We weren’t sure if the track was going to be open as it often closes after rain due to flooding and this area has just had a week of heavy rain. There are only 2 ways to get a vehicle to Cooktown, this track and the Mulligan Highway which runs inland and is now a good sealed road all the way.
This whole area from Townsville up to Cooktown is called the Wet Tropics and is a World Heritage Site containing 95% of Australia’s animal and flora species living in bands of dense rain forest. The jungle and mangroves come right down to the sea and onto lovely white sand beaches with coconut trees overhanging. Unfortunately there is no swimming for us here, in fact you don’t see anyone in the sea or rivers, mainly due to the concentration of large saltwater crocodiles in the area and a plethora or other nasties including the Box and Irukandji jellyfish (marine stingers). As the locals say ‘get stung by one of those and you’re a goner mate’.
The other potentially dangerous thing to look out for, apart from wild pigs, is the Cassowary bird which is a large flightless bird slightly smaller than an Emu but has a set of wicked claws and can be aggressive. They are protected and quite rare so unlikely to even see one but good to be prepared
Saltwater Crocodile, Cassowary and Wild Boar
(note: I didn't take these photos, they are just for illustration)
First we stopped at Port Douglas, mainly to resupply in preparation for the Bloomfield Track and to check out the beach and take some photos. We filled all water and fuel jerry cans taking on 70ltrs of water and 120ltr of Diesel plus enough food for both of us to survive for at least 2 weeks if we needed to. It was unlikely given the distance of the Bloomfield track we would ever need this amount of supplies but it’s good to covered in case we get stranded in some remote place and the track can be very remote in places, especially if you drive off down a side track to find a quiet beach for camping.
We spent the first night at the Cape Tribulation Campsite ( http://www.capetribcamping.com.au/ ) in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest. The Old Bloomfield track starts 2km from here and this is the last centre of civilisation until you get to Wujal Wujal about 40km up North. The Campsite was good and only a short walk through the forest to the beach which was lined with coconut trees and mangroves. Jason who worked at the campsite and been living in the area for a while gave us some invaluable current information and tips on driving the Bloomfield track and he also marked out some really beautiful remote spots to camp along the way, he also knew the locals in the Aboriginal communities we would pass through saying they are cool and friendly around here and that we should mention his name if asked when camping on their land.
We woke up hot, the temperature and humidity was noticeably higher in the forest and the weather was now clearing up and getting hotter – this is more like what I was expected the tropics to be like, even in Autumn. Wearing clothes is uncomfortable in this climate so most of the day is spent in thin shorts and no top at all, especially if you have do anything like packing up and setting up camp.
We packed up, checked out and said goodbye to Jason before heading off on the Bloomfield track. The track itself isn’t too bad, you need a 4WD and in parts it can get very steep at nearly 40% gradients so having a low ratio gearbox handy is good as you don’t want to batter up one of these hills then find you need lower box half way up and then have to negotiate your way back down in reverse. Also there are some mean water crossing so power and traction are necessary but you can do most of the entire track in 2WD only (when it’s dry, wet is a different story all together).
Chugging through the jungle, keeping our eyes peeled for crossing Cassowary, we came across this massive Fig Tree beside the road. It was enormous with a riot of twisting roots at its base. So we had to stop for a photo.
We stopped at beaches along the way with amazing mangrove trees growing out onto the beaches and croc infested watering holes, of course being alert and cautious when approaching any water edges and keeping a continuous vigilance when outside vehicle.
The most serious water crossing was the Bloomfield river which must have been close to 50 meters wide with a concrete runway to drive across. The water was running hard and we estimated it probably had about the same volume as the Ithon river near Builth Wells in Wales. We checked the depth and strength of water and waited for another vehicle to cross before attempting – it was the flow that concerned me most, fearing it would lift and wash the vehicle off the concrete runway and down the river! In the end it was fine, the locals batter through in their 4WD Utes without battering an eyelid.
We were rewarded at the other side of the river crossing with the Bloomfield Falls, a short 1km drive up river followed by 200m walk to the waterfall. Impressive with a drop of 40m onto the river bed below.
Driving on you pass through the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal community and then around 5km after just passed the Wujal Wujal camping grounds there is turn off to the right which takes you down a track to Weary Bay. This was the first cool camping spot Jason pointed out to us. Cpt Cook named this Weary Bay after running aground just east of here, they must have had a terrible time here but the beach is wonderful, stretching a full 2km with lovely camping spaces along the dunes. The locals fish on the beach at dusk and there is a keen sea breeze which was very welcome after the stifling jungle.
It was so lovely we camped on Weary Beach for 2 nights. We had a close encounter when we arrived as I stupidly insisted, against Tony’s recommendation, that we take the vehicle onto the beach to take a drive up to the end for sunset. The sand was different here, more volcanic and sticky and we nearly got bogged with a fast incoming tide. We finally got off after lots frantic pushing and driving but it was a close one and I learned a very good lesson that day.
Lion’s Den Hotel
We left Weary Beach and carried on down the Bloomfield Track, the track got much better from here on and was mostly graded gravel roads with occasional sealed tarmac. Today’s destination was Archers Point which would be the last camp before Cooktown. Another out of the way sublime camping spot suggested by Jason.
On the way we stopped at the Lion’s Den pub for a pint. This is a historically listed building and a proper outback pub started in 1880 with a solid wood bar surrounded by corrugated tin. It’s quite a tourist attraction these days but well worth a visit.
After a good pint we headed on to seek out Archers Point to camp for the night. Archer’s Point is a sublime outcrop of rocky heads with little white sand beaches at the end of a 20km track and very remote. This is Aboriginal Land and there didn’t seem to be any residents living down here, we only saw one house on the track on the way in. Of course there are fishermen and we saw a family camped up on one of the little beaches as we arrived. If you really want to find the most remote, sublime places, follow the fisherman.
It was so nice we stayed another two nights. Thanks to Jason at the Cape Tribulation Campsite for telling us about these spots – they are not marked on any maps and only locals know about them. Archer’s Point is one of the most beautiful and quiet spots we’ve encountered so far on this trip, there is even what looks like massive Stone Circles arrayed along the coast, much to Tony’s excitement and joy. But they are natural which is extraordinary. The place was spectacular but also quite spooky in a way, we didn’t see anyone while we stayed and decided to leave after the second night and head to Cooktown. We we’re really getting experienced by now with remote camping and doing without the usual comforts quite happily. Tony was getting really brown and losing more weight, I was starting to look like a more rounded Robinson Crusoe, unshaven and browned by the hot tropical sun.