“The Big Trip” Stage 2 From Port Douglas to the Tip of Cape York - how hard could it be?


The route for Stage 2 of our journey heading north 

The decision to undertake the trip north to Cape York was not done lightly but we were so impressed with how the bike was handling and how we were feeling that we decided to go for it - we could always turn around we agreed if the going got too tough. One problem that we didn’t discuss is that we aren’t very good at giving in, so this trip certainly turned out to be a test of our endurance, Andrews riding skills and Lee's ability to hang on. So glad once we were sitting reflecting in Townsville in the comfort of an armchair that we had continued. 

200924 Day 16 Port Douglas to Hann River Roadhouse-02 Split Rock

Day 16: Thursday 24th September 

Port Douglas to Hahn River Roadhouse 324km / 201miles

Leaving Port Douglas feeling clean and relaxed after a couple of days off the bike we retraced our path back through Julatten before turning north. There is only one main road on the Peninsula  that leads to the largest town of Weipa on the north west coast. The population of around 4000 people are predominantly involved in Bauxite mining or must have a love of fishing. Our destination was further north to Punsand Bay and the tip of Cape York. 

Around 300km into our first days travel is the township of Laura known as the gateway to the Cape York Pennisular. The area around Laura is also referred to as Quinkan Country, as it has become renown for galleries of rock art some of which depict the giant Quinkan figure. The rock galleries have been listed by UNESCO and are said to be some of the best rock art galleries in Australia. We stopped at the easily accessible Split Rock Site just outside Laura. On arrival we met a family who had just returned from the rock gallery and they assured us it was worth the walk in the heat. The rocks alone even without the bonus of the gallery of artwork we agreed was worth the effort. 

200924 Day 16 Port Douglas to Hann River Roadhouse-06 Split Rock

Andrew overshadowed by a huge boulder 

One of several rock walls covered in artwork at Split Rock 

200924 Day 16 Port Douglas to Hann River Roadhouse-11 Resident Emu Hann River Roadhouse

Just north of Laura we hit our first section of dirt and the corrugations and dust holes were a short but firm warning of what was to come. Hahn River Roadhouse with its green grass, resident Emu and amazing chicken parmigiana provided for an enjoyable overnight camp area.

200925 Day 17 Hann River Roadhouse via Lillyvale to Coen-05 Gate to Lillyvale200925 Day 17 Hann River Roadhouse via Lillyvale to Coen-08

Day 17: Friday 25th September

Hahn River Roadhouse to Coen 250km /155m

When we headed out from our Hahn River campsite we had set an optimistic goal of 400km however corrugations, bull dust and a flat tyre soon put an end to that idea. 

Thanks to advise from a group that were on their return leg from Cape York we turned off the main road at Musgrave Roadhouse and rode around an extra 70kms through Lilyvale Station, avoiding what we had been told was an atrocious section of road ahead. The road meandered through some very different scenery from the main road passing billabongs, a small mountain range, fields of termite mounds and of course the station gates kept us busy opening and closing them. There was very little traffic passed during the whole day and the road conditions were 100% better than the dirt that we had experienced between our overnight campsite and Musgrave Roadhouse. 

In Coen we met an incredibly helpful publican who gave Andrew access to the workshop so he could put a  patch on the rear tyre internally - the plugs that Andrew had used to patch the tyre had already held for 120km and we didn’t want to push our luck. Hilariously in payment Andrew was able to happily assist the owner of the pub to change a few light switches. 

Another pub snitzel happily consumed in the evening. 

200925 Day 17 Hann River Roadhouse via Lillyvale to Coen-10 Exchange Hotel

In Coen we ditched the tent for the comfort of some airconditioning 

200927 Day 19 Bramwell to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon  Bamaga -12 Morning routine dodge cattle

Starting before daylight is not an option not just because of the road conditions

200926 Day 18 Coen to Bramwell Tourist Park -12 A workmans joke we wonder200926 Day 18 Coen to Bramwell Tourist Park -14 Archer River Roadhouse

Day 26: Saturday 26th September 

Coen to Bramwell Tourist Park 226km/140m

We left Coen at our usual starting time - 8am any earlier we had found the dirt too hard to read and the animal life, predominantly cows too happy to hang around the road.

A highlight of the day was a beautiful stretch of bitumen on route to Archer River, all be it short that was called the tourist drive “Boulders”. We believe the  road workers were having a joke as no one we spoke to found the “tourist drive” though we did all see a carefully placed boulder.

As we approached Archer River roadhouse the road seemed to become one huge dust hole. Its amazing how good a cold soft drink and a chocolate bar  tastes when you are feeling rather hot and dusty.

Another flat tyre along the way meant we now had two sets of plugs in our rear tyre so had fingers crossed not to need a  third.

200926 Day 18 Coen to Bramwell Tourist Park -19 Puncture 2

Our accomodation for the night was at Bramwell Tourist Park located on Bramwell Station which is the most northerly cattle station in Australia. Established as a pastoral lease back in the 1930s the owners of the station opened the station up to tourism in the 1970s when cattle prices were falling making financial survival difficult. Since 2000 there has been a surge in tourism numbers to the Peninsular as road conditions have “relatively" improved. The current owners seem to have diversified well operating as a cattle station, catering for the tourist with accomodation, a roadhouse and operating an earthmoving business responsible for the maintenance of a section of the Peninsular roads, the later which would be currently never ending.  

200926 Day 18 Coen to Bramwell Tourist Park -20 End of a long hot day

Andrew - pretty much how we both looked at the end of each day

200926 Day 18 Coen to Bramwell Tourist Park -21 Bramwell Tourist Park

We chose to get a cabin, after another 38 degree day (100.4F)  Well let’s just say we certainly paid for the luxury of a bed shower and the air-conditioning. 

The highlight however was not the promoted but not delivered evenings dining experience or entertainment but of meeting a group of travellers from Ingham. Great company it turned out several times over the trip as our paths continued to cross. 

This building was the original bar before being set up as a small museum sharing a little of the history of Bramwell Station 

200927 Day 19 Bramwell to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon Bamaga -16 Fruit Bat Falls people central

Day 19: Sunday 27th September. Bramwell Tourist Park to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon 225 km / 139m

200927 Day 19 Bramwell to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon Bamaga -17 Fruit Bat Falls

Sunday was the final run to the top, well almost. The road was as it had been from the start, occasionally good but when it was bad it was really bad from corrugations to sand simply unpleasant. Small sections of bitumen were so welcomed and deemed priceless. The red dirt clinging to the bitumen as you approached the next section of dirt brought with it a sense of dread as to how bad it was going to be. It made Lee smile to know that there were some burley blokes out there in their 4WDs and even they commented  that they longed for the stretches of bitumen and also dreaded the dirt. Some even thought they needed a mouth guard for their teeth to stop them shattering from the corrugations. It was comforting to know we weren’t the only ones finding the road  tough going. 

A small detour took us into the beautiful Fruit Bat Falls where we stopped for a short but refreshing swim. It was certainly the place to be on this Sunday and we could have easily stayed for the day, but unfortunately there was still another 100km to cover and the majority of that was dirt. 

200927 Day 19 Bramwell to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon Bamaga -18 Jardine River Crossing

We crossed the Jardine River on the vehicle ferry - definitely a very profitable business for the ferry operator as a return ticket must be brought and vehicles are prohibited from attempting to drive across the river independently as we had done back in 1987. A $41 investment in a return ticket for us on a motorbike was worth the dry boots.

The last section of dirt approaching the community of Bamaga was again as bad as we had been warned and for a brief moment the idea of putting the bike on the barge back to Cairns was looking like a good option. 

200927 Day 19 Bramwell to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon Bamaga -22

The Jardine Ferry 

200927 Day 19 Bramwell to Loyalty Beach New Mapoon Bamaga -29 Sunset

But once the tent was pitched at Loyalty Beach Caravan park and we had enjoyed the sunset with fresh Fish and chips and a bottle of wine the trip up really didn’t seem to have been that bad. So of course the idea of catching a ferry back to Cairns was instantly dismissed. The corrugations had obviously assisted in causing short term memory loss. 

But for now it was time for a few days of rest relaxation and preparation before we began the trip in reverse. 

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© SV Katherine 2018      Cover Photo: Katherine on Anchor Isle Tabarca Spain