Tim Franklin from ARB Queensland heads up north to take on the famous and dangerous tracks that lie within Cape York.
Photography by Tim Franklin & Alex McDonald
After a quick discussion, it was decided. We would be heading to Cape York in 3 months. This was highly unusual for me as I rarely go anywhere without meticulously planning every aspect beforehand. However, I had built the Patrol for times just like this; it was built to be ready for last minute trips. Sometimes you just need to set a date and do it.
As a staff member of ARB in Queensland, I have spent the last few years helping others build their dream four wheel drives, with many of those adventurers heading north to conquer The Cape. After hearing countless stories of adventure and heroism, I was excited to finally be the one unfolding the map and tracing my finger over the routes we were planning to follow.
Early August was the departure date with the anticipation of great weather and dry conditions. Our group was small but mighty. My 4.2L GU Patrol shared good company with a GQ Patrol, 79 Series LandCruiser and a HiLux.
Late night vehicle checks and pre-dawn departures were becoming the norm. It had been smooth sailing for the most part, but our pilgrimage north was about to get interesting. Black clouds began to invade the sky. Chaos reigned overhead, casting a shadow on the earth below. Angry, towering clouds twisted and turned, threatening to unleash a deluge to drown the world. My clothes were damp but my spirits were not.
Two days later, we arrived at Elim Beach where the landscape had finally dried out. It was a privelege to sit on the verandah with an Aboriginal Elder by the name of Eddie, overlooking his beach front property and listening to his hunting stories, while he showed us his handmade spears. We later settled in for the first camp fire of the trip and received a visit from Eddie’s son who entertained us with stories of “man cows” and the Mission that used to occupy our campsite.
When people tell you how bad the roads are, it really can’t prepare you for the Penninsula Developmental Road (PDR). The PDR is the main transport link which works its way north from Lakeland. Cavernous, vehicle-devouring holes lie hidden around bends and in dips, waiting to open up at the last moment to ruin your day. Just when you think you’ve made it through the toughest corrugations imaginable, another set extends in front of you, even worse than the last. Occasionally, a rolled vehicle would come into view, just to remind us of what could happen if our concentration lapsed. Having never experienced much corrugation driving before, it was a real eye opener to how much I appreciate good, reliable gear that works.
My adrenaline was pumping with the anticipation of the infamous Old Telegraph Track. Everyone has seen the videos, read the stories, even the magazine articles. But nothing beats the real thing. While there wasn’t much water in the creeks and rivers, the entry and exits required a mixture of caution, planning and the right amount of confidence. Some vehicles turned back but the brave pushed on.
While the whole experience was on another level, perhaps my defining moment came when I approached a wide, murky ford. Sadly there was no one willing to dip their toes in the water to check the depth, with the threat of crocs lurking beneath the brown surface. So the talk of retreat grew louder. “Ill just nudge it in,” was the phrase coined that day. I went back to the Patrol and met the waters edge with my tyres. Selecting the appropriate gear and engaging the locker, heart thumping loudly in my ears and feet slightly shaking.
The water rose up over the wheel, the flare, the grill, the bonnet. Too late to back out now, I became 100% committed, reaching the point of no return. If you have been in this position before, you’ll be familiar with that split second of helplessness when you realise that maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. Luckily for me, I surged through with sudden confidence. The water on the windscreen receded, the gurgling and bubbling stopped and I emerged from the other side, bellowing my victory out of the window.
Fruit Bat Falls will always hold a special place in my heart. Now, it is quite rare to be alone here; to even get a photo of the falls with no one in it is very difficult. Today, it seemed, luck was on our side and let me tell you, to have this beautiful spot to yourself, no kids and no crowds, was amazing.
Swimming in one of Australia’s most treasured places in solitude is quite an unreal experience. The cascading water is soft, cool, and clear as day. The total silence of the surroundings only magnifies the sounds of pure nature working its way around you. Looking back at it now, I feel like I have cheated someone to have such a wonderful place all to myself.
After the final leg of driving, it was a short walk to the end of our journey, taking photos at the sign as proof of our achievement. A few days later we visited the tip again, but this time from the air. The helicopter ride from Loyalty Beach really puts the landscape into perspective. Making your way to the tip in a matter of minutes, you can spot crocs along the way or look out to the islands just offshore.
We were surrounded by magnificent beaches, beautiful islands, pristine rainforests and of course lovely warm weather. Historical landmarks were around every corner and the four wheel driving was exhilarating, to say the least. Dramatic changes in the landscape provided endless photo opportunities while sunsets full of deep reds, brilliant oranges and burning yellows melting into vivid purples provided the evenings entertainment.
A trip to remember, with sights and experiences you simply can not replicate anywhere in the world. We are very lucky to be able to visit a place as special as Cape York.
1. Maintenance – Make sure your regular servicing and maintenance is up to date before you go. It could save a lot of heartache.
2. Suspension – A good, reliable aftermarket suspension is a must if you wish to keep all your teeth.
3. Tyres – Spend some money on a good tyre brand. Nobody likes blow-outs.
4. Spares – Carry a few spares specific to your vehicle. Hoses, belts and filters are a must. And don’t forget specific tools for your vehicle.
5. Extra Fuel – In case you get a bit carried away, take some extra fuel in jerry cans for those unexpected extended trips.
6. Water Crossings – Let’s face it, part of experiencing Cape York is to drive the creek crossings, make sure your vehicle is prepared to handle deep water.
7. Nightly Vehicle Checks – Get under the car and tighten any suspicious bolts, check for damage and top up fluids where neccessary. Get into the habit of doing this after every big day of driving and you should have a trouble free trip.
8. Tyre Pressures – Don’t be afraid to get out and lower or raise your tyre pressures to the conditions of the track. I was out of the Patrol frequently changing tyre pressures.
9. Navigation – A good off road navigation system is a great asset. You’ll never get lost and it can provide handy information as you go.
10. Drive to Conditions – Goes without saying, have your wits about you, especially on corrugations. On the low range tracks find the way that suits your ability.