Wednesday, August 5, 2009

We made it - Punsand Bay to Sam Creek

Firstly I must apologise for the break in the blog entries. I know it's hard to believe but while we were having our adventures on Cape York over the last few weeks we have had little to no reception. This is because we prefer to bush camp when we can. Andy has been stressing me out to write my bit as I'd begun it when we were at the tip - this is my first chance to publish. We don't want to mix up the chronology. It might seem a bit out of kilter as I wrote the majority at the tip when it was current, the rest I will blag from memory here in Cairns. I will cover Punsand Bay to Sam Creek (heading south, well, sort of) and then Payniac will bring us up to date. Again, sorry to leave you hanging.

*Punsand Bay with Cape York in the distance.

Today we visited the “tip of the top”, Cape York. From Punsand Bay, our home for three nights it was a 15km trip via the “scenic route” to Cape York, then a bit of a rainforest boardwalk and rocky scramble to the cairns and sign that signify the northernmost point on this vast continent. This is the realm (mostly anyway) of Australians making the pilgrimage to the tip. There was no shortage of them this morning. Heaps of people all waiting for the obligatory photo with the sign. We were not going to miss out and jumped in for our snaps. The view from the headland is something in it’s own right.

*The beautiful tropical beach at Punsand Bay - no swimming.

*The Punsand Bay sign with Palm Cockatoo logo. I asked about these rare birds and was told at the office that they leave when the tourists come, apparently being a shy cocky. I only managed to glimpse these birds later on in Mungkan Kandju National Park, a very remote park in the southern part of the Cape. Very noisy and highly recognisable but very flighty.

Punsand Bay itself is a lovely campground set just off the beach – no swimming of course! Depending on whom you ask it’s because of a) the 4m crocodile recently sighted, or b) the resident tiger shark that patrols the beach. The beach faces north with a sweeping view of the Torres Strait islands. By now we’re used to looking at beautiful beaches in the tropical warmth and not being able to swim. It used to kill me. Amazing what one can get used to. This camping area has all the mod cons, and enabled us to have our first hot showers for over a week. In this climate the ideal would be two per day!

*Cape York and York Island. The northernmost tip of Australia.

This is a land of giant bugs and spiders. Some of them look and sound like mechanical wind up toys. The butterflies in particular are stunning, I’ve managed to see lots

of Ulysses (the humungous blue ones) and some of the birdwing species but no photos I’m afraid folks. Even the birds are different – last night we were very lucky and saw a Papuan Frogmouth, until some joker scared it away with a torch. Insects have been our companions on this entire trip, it’s a rare campsite that doesn’t have ants at least. The ones up here build their houses in trees so we have to be extra careful not to have the tent touching a tree inhabited by stingy green tree ants. They don’t need much encouragement to start shifting leaves and squatting in our tent.

*Obligatory snaps at the Tip.

And frogs! We had a stowaway frog the other day. Little brown (not chocolate) frogs are very common near the rivers and as you walk around at dusk the little guys hop all over the place. I had to flick one off the ladder before going to bed the other night. The stowaway spent the entire trip clinging to the tent beneath the cover from the Wenlock River crossing on the Frenchman’s Track to Cockatoo Creek where we stopped for the night. I felt very sorry for it as it had been a hot day with lots of bumpy driving. After Payniac showed it to me I grabbed it and took it down to the river to let it go. I hope its OK.

*Walking back from the tip over the sand flats at low tide, keeping an eye out for Mr.Crocodile.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

As Andy alluded in his previous blog it’s been one great big adventure since leaving Cooktown over a week ago. We’ve certainly had our fair share of sheer panic followed almost immediately by elation and a huge sense of achievement on this trip north. I would just like to reinforce my role in these hair raising, white knuckle river crossings.

*The deep and wide Pascoe crossing. All maps and guidebooks that we have of this region are adamant about not going in the water as the rivers up here are chock full of crocodiles. Do not swim or fish near the edges they say. In the same paragraph quite often they will say, backed by all locals we’ve sought advice from, to always, always walk the river crossings first. Eek. After my close encounter at Cobourg I have no desire of ever again being close enough to a crocodile to see their teeth. As we drew nearer the notorious Pascoe River crossing on the Frenchman’s Track I steeled myself for the inevitable. I was going to have to walk it or drive it. I chose to walk it, as the exit was not what would usually come under the definition of road or track, no matter how loose. I took the radio, a deep breath and plunged in and crossed quickly while comprehensively taking in the surrounds for the imminent crossing. Perhaps my fear of being eaten alive affected my judgement but I didn’t want to walk back across and so I gave Andy the thumbs up. He did a wonderful job and we’re all safe and sound even if the exit lacked grace – who would have thought two wheels on the road would be enough? I have since walked all the river crossings, some several times, attempting to find the rock/hole/sand we’d been warned about. My heart still hammers and my mouth goes dry. I am not sure if my fear is rational, it’s certainly a real one, but we haven’t got stuck yet! In hindsight (what a great thing it is) it was a little risky taking this crossing on on our own, but we made it and learnt from it.

*Getting to the other side of the Pascoe....quickly. That's the road going straight up. For the record I didn't see a single croc in any of the rivers I traversed on foot. Doesn't mean they aren't there of course.

As we traversed the southern part of the Old Telegraph Track on our way up we plan to do the northern section on the way back down. Getting useful info on the roads up here is nigh on impossible so we’ve decided to go and have a look-see for ourselves and make the call at the crossing. I have asked myself several times on the trip north why we do it? Why take the tough option? Why not take the bypass roads and almost certainly arrive in one piece? We get to visit some out of the way places and have had some amazing bush camping experiences especially on some stunning rivers that you wouldn’t get on the main roads. You are also immediately “in the club” and you have a common interest when talking to others along the tracks. And the terror doesn’t last that long. Really. The main roads are not always fail safe either – coming into Bamaga we came upon two vehicles head to head, we slowed to offer assistance and to have a sticky. One man had jumpers in his hand and said, “Thanks but she’ll be right, just going to weld my trailer axle”, his box trailer was supported by two spare tyres. What a boy scout! We thought we were thinking ahead putting our winch where we can get at it.

*The crossing at the Wenlock River on the Frenchmans track. We have photos of the easier crossings, much to the Payniacs chagrin, as on the deeper/bigger/faster moving ones I didn't want to carry the camera across for fear of dropping it. I also found it tricky to take photos and give wheel placement advice into the radio simultaneously and quickly decided radio support was more important at the time.

Having reached the tip our Cape York adventure is half over and we turn south for the long journey homewards. We’re both talking more and more about coming home to Dangar as the trip draws to a close, with varying degrees of trepidation and excitement. I tell you what, I am looking forward to having my own bathroom.

*Spectating was another important role on the Old Telegraph Track. It was always fun to watch others cross and give moral support. We saw these guys on quite a few crossings during the day.

*The infamous, the notorious Gunshot Creek crossings. Known as a vehicle destroying crossing we gave it a wide berth only to find out later there was a chicken run. We took the chicken-chicken run and took the Gunshot bypass. Incredible what these vehicles can take, huh?

After leaving Punsand Bay we headed to Seisia for a quick supply top up. Fresh fruit and veggies and fresh bread especially were a real treat. We reckoned on making the midday ferry across the Jardine (the old vehicle crossing a no go as deep, wide and chock full of crocs) and made haste. If we missed the ferry we'd have to wait an hour while the ferry driver took his lunch break. After living in Sydney for so long I still find the concept of shutting shop for an hour in the middle of the day very novel.
We made the ferry and started looking out for the Mistake Creek track that'd take us back to the OTT. We had decided to skip the northernmost section as it just sounded a bit hard with Nolans Brook/Bridge Creek being the clincher. I'm not sure if I made a navvo error in adding my kms up or we just missed it altogether but we ended up at the junction of the northern bypass and the OTT. Now we'd be going back up! It worked out quite well as generally the southern entries were more chopped up than the northern and it might've been harder to come the other way. We visited Eliot and Twin Falls, one you can swim in, one you can't before coming to the Canal Creek crossing.

*Eliot Falls.

We had made a bit of a pact that either one of us could "call" it and we'd turn around and head south if we didn't like the look of it. Canal Creek, like so many of the crossings was not about the water. We spent an age figuring out the best tactic for the exit as it was badly eroded and steep in places.

This is the only time I feared for my life on the OTT. I'm not sure what happened but the troopy's left front dipped about a metre and I thought for sure we were rolling her!Don't know how, probably just the momentum, but she righted and pushed on up out of the mud. On later inspection it looks like the left step took the brunt of that incident as the reinforced steel plate is bent now!!!

*This monster ute made mince meat of the crossing. It came from the north, barely hesitated and just ploughed on through making it look very easy. Payniac and I had been deliberating for ages at this point.

From Canal Creek it was a little way further to Sam Creek, our destination for the day and the end of the OTT for us. Luckily Sam Creek turned out to be a simple crossing and we set up camp on the northern bank. The creek had a beaut little secret swimming hole, it was so warm that we both went in for a dip.

*Bushcamping at Sam Creek. A great spot to end our OTT adventures.

*Payniac taking a well earnt dip in our Sam Ck private pool.

From here it's up to Andy to bring you up to date so stay posted as I'm sure it won't be long.

For those of you who have never been to Cape York, try to at some point. It's an amazing and very diverse part of Australia with the opportunity to have serious adventures. For those of you who have been I hope you've enjoyed following us. We know we'll be back! We both shed a tear as we ended this journey, it was a pretty big deal!

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