It has been just over 13 weeks since we left Sydney and not since then have I felt the same sense of anticipation as the day we drove north out of Cairns. With the Big C finally in our rear-vision, we had left behind the last of the big eastern coast cities and were headed into the Outback. This is what we left everything behind to do, and after 11 or so weeks, as it had been then, finally we were doing it.
Before we left though, more than a few things needed to be sorted out. The Patrol was well overdue for an oil change, and with a history littered by failed front bearings, I didn’t want to risk a total front end rebuild for the third time in two years. Then there was the fairly long list of jobs I never really finished before we left Sydney. The bull bar was a little loose, the roof racks had shifted since installing them, more than a couple of bolts needed tightening and the whole thing was well and truly in need of a good clean out. So for three days we holed up at Palm Cove and totally ignored it all, instead spending time walking along the beach, checking out the local shops, having a few beers with travellers we had met along the way and generally just enjoying ourselves. The day before we were ready to leave, though, saw us take the Patrol to the mechanic, fix the bull bar, break one of our camp lights, fix the roof rack, spend way longer than needed fixing the light and somehow cramming three weeks worth of food into the back of the 4WD. All available space was used, including our linen box, hoping the soft sheets and pillow cases would keep our eggs safe.
The next morning we broke camp in record time, 2 hours, 15 or so minutes. We nearly even left before checkout time. As we cruised up the highway, we sent off a quick message to Tom and Madeline, kindly asking they don’t go into labour too early, because three weeks worth of food is expensive and we didn’t want it to go to waste.
One thing you don’t expect to find on any road north of Cairns is a familiar face. In fact, even when I first saw one, hanging out the top of a Mini like a woman gone crazy, I didn’t recognise it. Fortunately though, Angela was on the ball and informed me that the crazy person was Carly (one of my cousins), who was on holidays with husband Andrew, in Port Douglas. It is funny how things turn out. That morning, we were ready to leave at about 10, but just as we got in the car, the caretaker came over and we had a chat for about 15 minutes. As we got further north and boarded the vehicle ferry over the Daintree River, there was just enough room, a few cars behind us, for a small car like a Mini, to get on. A bit further down the road, some road workers had set up a temporary traffic light and I nearly punched the orange to get through, but hesitated at the last moment. A couple of kays on, we stopped briefly at a lookout, but after establishing that we had seen better views, moved on fairly quickly, wondering as we left, what on earth the dude in the yellow Mini was doing, trying to weave around other people trying to park. Had I have been able to see out the back window, which I can’t, I might have noticed Andrew flashing his high beams at us, but would likely have thought something had fallen off my roof rack. Carly later informed us she asked Andrew to try using the horn, but he wouldn’t, in case it sounded girly. However, had a lot of that never happened, the care taker, the ferry, the traffic light, the lookout, we would never have seen Carly and Andrew before we hit the dirt, and that would have been a shame.
After lunching with the Greens, it was time for us all to hit the road. Carly and Andrew wanted to check out the lookout they missed and we had a 150km or so of corrugated dirt road to cover before we could stop. From Cape Tribulation to Cooktown the road is mostly 4WD only. As the Great Dividing Range comes so close to the ocean around here (it basically stops at the beach), there are some killer climbs. The Patrol, loaded up as it was with 130L of fuel, 40L of water, and all our camping gear and food, couldn’t get up any of them in high range, despite the fact they had been sealed. They were steep. Even going down them was tough as they were so steep, engine braking was basically hitting redline and the normal brakes were getting a workout. I pulled over a few times to give it all a break.
It was a long day after all that, and I think I can be excused for accidently walking into the ladies showers at the Cooktown Caravan Park to rinse off. I didn’t even realise my error until I was drying off and heard a bunch of young girls walk in for their showers. I had to wait it out in the cubicle until I was sure nobody was in the common area and sneak out the back door.
The following morning we broke camp in a new record time. I seriously think we came in under 2 hours. It was so quick I didn’t even mind that Angela wanted to stop at a tacky souvenir shop and buy another tea-towel for her collection. Besides, I got to stop at the tackle store and kit up for what I was sure was going to be some serious Barra action. After walking out with a much lighter wallet I was ready to cast lures at the road, I could hardly wait.
The drive into Lakefield National Park is pretty spectacular. Not long after you hit one of the coolest named roads in Australia (Battle Camp Road), you cross the stunning Isabella Falls. The water is crystal clear, the falls are a sight to die for and the creek is deep enough to make you feel like a real hero when you cross it in your Patrol; until, that is, you see a bloke cross it in a standard Suzuki Grand Vitara, but whatever (incidentally, we met a bloke today, nearly two weeks later, who crossed it in his Falcon station wagon, towing a caravan. Way to show a self-confessed hero up).
About 50 hectares of Lakefield National Park used to be the Laura Cattle Station, bought for about 8 pounds back in the late 1800s by a couple of Irish blokes. The old Station ruins have been partially restored, and were a pretty cool place to stop for lunch.
We eventually made it to camp later that day, possibly one of the best campsites we have set up in the whole trip. Right on the banks of the North Kennedy River, a fire crackling warmly in the breeze, the sun setting orange and red over the horizon and Barra hitting the surface for a feed as darkness overtook the day. It couldn’t have got any better.
For the next three days, we did little but fish. My new cherabin (large fresh water prawn) pot got a workout, all of our new lures got well and truly flicked and there was a lot of excitement on the banks each night as Barra of unconfirmed size (but probably huge) kept striking at our lures. Unfortunately the excitement was only at the new experience, rather than at us having any real luck catching fish, as the (huge) Barra always missed the hooks. Still the cherabin pot was successful and we munched on a couple of the biggest prawns I have ever seen.
One of the lures I bought, a silver popper, was well and truly outperforming the rest. Every night, it was getting some action where the others were getting nothing. The only thing is, Angela and I (but mostly Angela) kept on throwing it into trees. It got so bad I had to make a rule that for every tree Angela threw it into, she had to buy me two more lures. She owes me about six. I must have climbed nearly every tree along the North Kennedy River getting this one lure back, often with another fish hook, tied to a piece of rope so I could throw it at the branch the lure was stuck in and reef it towards me. Still it was worth every death defying minute because that little lure caught us (Angela) our first Barra. It doesn’t matter that it was about one third the legal size, or that it took the lure just as Angela was lifting it out of the water at the bank; caught it caught and Barra is Barra. Look at the smile on her face though. That is easily my favourite photo of the whole trip so far. About 15 minutes later, Angela threw the lure back into a tree.
One of the highlights of Lakefield was our crocodile hunting excursion. Every time we have crossed a body of water since Gladstone, be it ocean, river, creek, stream or puddle, the same question gets asked. “Crocodile?” Until then though, the only ones we had seen were at Australia Zoo, and that hardly counts. So off we went looking for some, and maybe even a new place to fish. We eventually found ourselves at a mostly dried up creek by the name Saltwater. Not expecting much, I hiked along the nearly dry creek bed until I came across a larger body of water. As I got closer though, I noticed an odd looking log sunning itself on a sand bar. By the time I got the camera up, the log had swum away. As I could no longer see the aforementioned croc, I decided to leave the area quickly. Apparently it is the ones you can’t see that are the worry. On our way back out though, Angela asked, “Is that a log on the other side of the creek?” We stopped for a peak and as it turns out, this little section was home to quite a few freshies. To our delight, we got a glimpse of two or three more crocs along the same stretch. We later found out, the area is a regular nesting place for the fresh water colony in the area.
Eventually though, our time in Lakefield came to an end. We might have stayed longer, but after a small drinking water incident where nearly a quarter of our water went missing, we were running low. Plus, we had the whole Peninsula ahead of us and didn’t want to have to miss out on anything. We packed up, again in one of our quicker times, finally getting into the hang of it all maybe, and headed north to Coen.
For now, that is where I will leave off, but the best bits of our Cape York Odyssey are yet to come. I don’t want to give too much away, but I catch a couple of Barra, we conquer the Old Telegraph Track and both Angela and I have some of the most fun fishing ever.
Don’t forget to check out the new Lakefield National Park gallery (here) and click on as many of the Facebook buttons as you can, it makes us feel heaps popular. Also, we have booked flights back to Sydney for a visit home on the 6th of August and we can’t wait to catch up with everyone back home.
So until next time,
Brendan, Angela and River