Northern Frontier: Hit Cape York for 4WD adventure
For most 4WDers Cape York is the last bastion of LowRange bliss. Sure there's more remote locations, and other tracks that'll make the 'Tele look like a walk in the park. But nothing comes close to the sense of adventure heading north.
The Cape is often blown out of proportion, but that just makes it more accessible to the average 4WDer. You don't need a second mortgage worth of modifications to make it happen. Long range fuel tanks? Forget them. Competition winches and deafening mud tyres? Leave 'em behind.
A simple low mount winch, some all-terrains and a snorkel is all you need to see just about everything Cape York has to offer, and believe us, that's a whole bloody lot!
There's a few ways to take on the Cape. If you've got RedBull running through your veins you can head north from Cairns, blast up the Development Road, power through the 'Tele before posing for a few shots at the tip and turning around.
But if you're keen to see what Cape York really has to offer head straight towards the CREB track and through the Daintree. Wet weather has it closed more often than it's open but if you can plan it just right you'll be axle deep in some of the most scenic rainforests this country has to offer.
Before leaving the area you'd be mental not to take on the Bloomfield Track. A pint or two at the Lion's Den Hotel to refuel before heading into Lakefield is an absolute must as well. It'll be the first real 'remote' part of the trip, offers some stunning scenery and is your last real shake down run before heading north.
On the Peninsula Development Road you'll be face to face with hours of corrugations between each Road House. There's a few along the way, each one with a story to tell and a campsite for you to roll out a swag. Even if you're in a hurry it's worth ducking in and saying G'day. They're in the know on track conditions for every corner of the tip and can offer invaluable advice.
Palmer River Roadhouse is only 200 clicks out of Cairns but marks the start of an adventure you'll remember for the rest of your life. They've got fuel, basic supplies and a cold lemonade or two, but the real drawcard is the Steak Sandwiches. They're about as thick as an 80 Series diff and twice as messy to eat.
The regular blacktop finishes at Laura (there's a few small sections for overtaking further up), then it's onto Hann River Roadhouse and Musgrave. If you're coming in through Lakefield National Park this is where you'll join the PDR.
The small town of Coen and its infamous 'Sexchange Hotel' is the last town you'll come through before Archer River Roadhouse and the turn off for the Frenchman's Track.
The Frenchman's is entirely dependent on the weather. If the rivers are up you've got near on no chance to cross the Pascoe at the end. If they're down the majority of the track is high speed dirt with a few puddles, but still expect the Pascoe's steep exit to offer a challenge.
Back out on the PDR the next stop is Moreton Telegraph Station and then Bramwell Junction, the start of the 'Tele. At the Junction you're faced with two choices. Looking on the map the squiggly PDR looks a hell of a lot more fun than the dead straight 'Tele Track, but it's nothing but corrugations and road trains.
Take the left turn into the thick scrub and start the iconic Old Telegraph Track (keep an eye out for the old telegraph poles along the way), your first obstacle is arguably the hardest one of the whole trip. Palm Creek.
If you're in a rush you're doing it wrong.
If you've got the time pull up a camp chair for a few hours and watch everyone else have a crack first; you'll see all sorts of 'inventive' ways to get through, and unfortunately, a lot of people ripping the track up.
The smart money is on being prepared to winch. No one has ever gone home from the Cape spewing they had to winch up a track, but plenty have gone home on the back of a tilt tray.
There's around a dozen major crossings to negotiate along the 'Tele and for first timers it's easy to get flustered. Especially when you're paranoid about every log that floats past eyeing you off for dinner.
The truth is, a calm head, walking the line you intend on driving and having a mate ready to recover if things turn pear shaped will get you through every crossing with relative ease. And if you're not 100%, pull up a chair and wait for someone else to have a crack. If you're in a rush you're doing it wrong.
The 'Tele Track itself makes up only 200km of the 1000+km between Cairns and the tip, but it has enough swimming holes that you're never more than half an hour from a quick dip.
Fruit Bat Falls, Twin Falls and Elliot Falls are all smack bang in the middle and easily accessed from the PDR. Bring a hot lunch and a cold drink and plan on spending at least a day between the three falls. It'll be time well spent.
After Nolan's Brook the track continues on through wetlands and soft sand all the way to the banks of the Jardine. There's been rumours floating around for years about locals digging the old crossing up, forcing you to take the ferry. In reality the ferry is included in your camping permits anyway, and the Jardine is hard enough to cross that the ferry is a no brainer - think soft sand, fast-flowing waters and an abundance of crocs.
Crossing the ferry is like entering a whole new world. It doesn't feel like you're in the same state as Brisbane any more, and if anything could be more closely related to south Papua New Guinea.
There's a few small townships where you can restock your fridge and fuel tanks but the real attraction is the sheer isolation. The bitumen ends just out of town and you're straight back into red dirt and tropical rainforests.
Stopping in at the tip is a must, but avoid the parks and bollarded campgrounds and head to the five beaches on the east coast. There's a series of headlands you'll drive up and over before dropping down onto the next beach and back up another headland.
If you head right down to the last beach there's a campsite big enough to fit a dozen 4WDs a million miles away from light pollution, taxes and your annoying neighbour.
Sitting around the campfire watching tropical storms roll in over the beach before heading off to the Northern Territory is something every Australian needs to experience at least once in their life, so what's stopping you?
LOCATION: Cairns to the Tip
COORDINATES: -12.093342, 142.559205
FACILITIES: If you're at a roadhouse expect counter dinners, cold drinks and hot showers. If you're in the bush expect a million star view. It's as simple as that
CAMPSITES: You'll find campsites in just about every direction you look. If you head up in peak season be sure to pre-book as they can fill out quickly
PROS: Secluded beach camping, crystal clear river crossings and red dirt as far as the eye can see
CONS: Petrol 4WDs better bring a lot of WD40 and fuel gets very expensive the further north you go. To make the most of it all you really need a month north of Cairns.