Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Lockhart River and Chili Beach

As I write this we are almost finished with what we are doing of Cape York. So I think it's okay to say that Lockhart River and Chili Beach were my favourite destinations on Cape York, and I already wish we'd spent longer there. 

Lockhart River is an Aboriginal community. Most of the people there are aboriginal but white people do live there too. Teachers, police, medical personnel and some business people. I actually have a distant cousin (Jo) who did a 2 year contract there as a teacher, and our connection to her greatly enhanced our experience of the area. 

Chili Beach is a campsite, and fronting Beach, in Iron Range National Park. 

For our first night we contacted one of the people that Jo recommended, a member of the Aboriginal  council. Unfortunately he was out of town so we couldn't meet him but he granted us permission to camp on Quintal Beach at Lockhart River and gave us some advice for another place to camp. 

Most travellers, even if they are going to Chili Beach, don't seem to go to Lockhart River. But travellers are welcome to visit the town to buy fuel and groceries and visit their contemporary Aboriginal Art gallery (which was closed when we tried to visit). 

The next day we went to a place, at the end of 'Portland Road' called 'Portland Roads', confusing huh? We had lunch there at a very civilised cafe. 

Our air conditioning belt had broken so as there was nice grass there, in a public area, H decided he'd change it there. Meanwhile, while I'd wandered on the waterfront rocks I'd spoken to an Aboriginal lady who was fishing and told her that my cousin had taught in Lockhart. It turned out that Miss Jo had taught her kids. 

I returned to our bus and, after a while, I heard a 'hello', 'hello'. I couldn't see anybody! But then I realised the voice was coming from the trees next to the bus. I said 'hello' back and the kids appeared. 2 of them: 
"You know Miss Jo?" 
"I know miss Jo", "Miss Jo my teacher". 
I sat on the step of Blu to talk to them. They certainly were friendly, it was like I was family. 

They left and another kid came, and invited herself in, then another kid, then the first 2 came back. Many questions. 
"Where do you camp?" 
- on the bed (pointing)
"You don't camp outside?
-no, do you?
"Yes, on the verandah". 

Their mum's (2) came past so they called their mums in for a look. I don't think so many people have ever been inside Blu at once. The mothers were pleasant, they had a look said it was nice, and left me with their kids. 

Finally the adults of the family had piled into the car to go, they pulled up beside Blu, called out to the kids and the kids put down the pens and left immediately. The car, a Ford Falcon wagon (and they say you need 4wd on these roads) was already over-full, but 4 more squeezed in. 

For me it was all quite a daunting but memorable experience. 

We left it too late to get a booking for the campsite at Chili Beach (Iron Range National Park) so we made do with other camps as permitted by Jo's friend, but visited Chili Beach for a day. It's fascinating. It's a beautiful beach but it's one of those parts of the world where rubbish washes up from the sea. Check out my photo of the informative sign at Chili Beach. Wow!
Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach
 Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach

There's so much rubbish on Chili Beach. And it's interesting. We met a local who was picking up a strange looking device and we asked what it was. A satellite connected fish finder, as used by the big commercial fishing operators, it had solar panels and apparently sophisticated electronics and a lithium battery. 
Litter strewn Chili Beach
 Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach

I'm a person who regularly picks up litter when I'm out. But Chili Beach, and Cape York in general, was beyond me, there's just too much rubbish lying around. So I decided that since I couldn't tackle everything I'd  pick up the imitation turtle food: plastic bags. I collected a bucket full and with them being big wet and sandy (i.e. heavy) I felt it in my shoulder later on. 
(Turtles often mistake plastic bags for one of their food sources (jellyfish I think) and eat them. Unfortunately this kills many turtles). 
I'll leave you with this sad image:
Dead turtle on Chili Beach. I don't know if a plastic bag killed it.
 Information about the rubbish on Chili Beach

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park

Had we asked at the National Parks office in Cooktown about driving through Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park in Blu apparently we might have been told that it wasn't possible. Near Lockhart and again at Weipa we met another bus that's travelling Cape York and they asked (and so they didn't do it). They're driving a Toyota Coaster bus. They're the only other non-4x4 travellers we've seen up here, with the exception of one 6x6. 

We had, instead, asked advice from locals. They'd told us that the Lakefield National Park road, although longer, is in better condition than the Peninsula Development Road (PDR), partly due to less traffic. So we went that way. 

It was a corrugated gravel road. Not difficult to drive on, just tedious and slow. We were told the PDR has worse corrugations. Maybe we'll return that way and find out. 
These weren't even the worst of the corrugations.
 These weren't even the worst of the corrugations. 

We stopped 3 nights in Rinyirru, as I'd prebooked us into Kennedys Bend, Kalpowar, and Hanns Crossing campsites. Hanns crossing was possibly the nicest of these. 

Along the way we saw crocodiles, Jabiru (Black necked storks), Sanus Cranes and Brolgas, Papuan frogmouths, goannas (sand monitors), and that's just the big stuff! The landscape was varied too, although we were most impressed in the North of the park with the eeriness of termite mounds extending so far into the distance. 
Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park
 Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park

We had no problems travelling in Lakefield National Park, but we hardly left the through road. Currently it's dry season and we wouldn't attempt travel in Cape York if it wasn't dry season. And the Cape York Tourism  ( advice is relevant: "Yes there are times you can drive the PDR, and community access roads without needing 4WD; however, if it rains you can become stuck, and possibly stranded....". Anyway, I have my cheeky answer to the question of Blu being 2 or 4 wheel drive: "well mate, she's got 4 wheels on the rear axle, and they're all being driven". 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The 2017 Laura Festival (of aboriginal dance)

It felt like a tremendous privelege to be able to attend the Laura Dance festival. The event isn't well publicised and I think that's because it is really an event for the indigenous communities of Cape York (and some others) and anybody else who wants to make the effort to come to Laura, well, they're welcome too. 

The event is really a dance competition. There's a competition for juniors and another for seniors. One central performing area, market and food stalls around, and a second stage for a concert on the Saturday night. 

The dances are cultural, and the judges pointed out they weren't judging culture but other elements of the performances. Performances varied: Groups from the north had fantastic headdresses and drums, as you came a little south the dress was more grass skirts and body pants. The southern most groups wore body paint and loincloths, and were accompanied by didgeridoo (musical instrument of Aboriginal Australia). 

We really enjoyed the Laura Dance Festival of 2017, it really was a privilege to be there. 
At $150 for 3 days, with camping at the festival site included, it didn't even break the bank. 

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Cooktown to Laura via Lakefield National Park

At this point of our trip we were trying to linger a bit. It's not something we are good at, as we tend to stop, see the sights and move on. We stop lots, see lots, and travel slowly but we rarely spend more than a night somewhere. 

But here we were lingering because we'd decided to go to the Laura Dance Festival and we had too much time and not enough to do between Cooktown and Laura. 

The first 2 nights out of Cooktown we stopped at Elim beach. It's on Aboriginal land and has an official campsite run by Eddie. We didn't meet Eddie (he's an aboriginal elder, apparently 92!) but we did enjoy the beautiful camp under paperbark gum trees and gazing across the beautiful beach. 

The first afternoon we utilised the low tide to walk out on a sandbar and see all the starfish. With the next days low tide we hiked 2 km up the beach to see the fabulous coloured sands. Many people drive up to the coloured sands in their 4wds, but Blu isn't a beach goer and many people get stuck in the sand or mud as the sign warns (see photo). NB, if you want to visit the coloured sands or Elim Beach without camping at Eddies you will be required to buy a permit in Hopevale or from Eddie. 

Just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Starfish on Elim Beach.
 Just one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of Starfish on Elim Beach. 

Coloured Sands at Elim beach
 Coloured Sands at Elim beach

"Danger Quicksand! Minimum towing fee $2000!" sign at the drive onto the beach going North to the coloured sands.
 "Danger Quicksand! Minimum towing fee $2000!" sign at the drive onto the beach going North to the coloured sands. 

After Elim beach we headed for the Southern part of Lakefield (Rinyirru) National Park, but first we stopped overnight at the causeway crossing of Normanby River. H put the yabby pots in to see what we could catch and right on dusk a truckie found himself in trouble when his truck couldn't pull his load up and out of the causeway.... the heaviness of his load, the steep slope, and the wet from driving through the causeway (about 40cm deep) all being contributing factors. Eventually the truckie backed back up the other side, unhitched his load and left. (A better suited truck came to collect it the following day). 

The next day we travelled into the National Park, stopping at Lake Emma and Horseshoe lagoon before reaching the interesting old ruins of 'Old Laura' Station for lunch. 
Historic Old Laura Station house
 Historic Old Laura Station house

It was at Old Laura that H realised we'd left the yabby pots in the Normanby River. Ouch! Forty kilometres doesn't sound so much but when it's a heavily corrugated gravel road it's a long way to return. Yabby (opera) pots aren't expensive, but it's simply wrong to leave baited traps as it could cause a trapped animal a slow death. And we had too much time to kill before the festival anyway, so we went back. 

We're very pleased we did. We hadn't caught any yabbies (or similar) but we'd caught a very big eel. Some local young aboriginals were at the river this time spearing, in a modern way, yabbies. One of them told us the eel is good eating, and, after killing it, to then run hot water over it to get the slime off. 

The locals also gave us some yabbies they'd speared. After we'd cleaned up the eel we went back to offer them half but they were gone (we hadn't thought to offer it earlier). They'd left their fire burning and rubbish there so we cleaned up for them, and saw that despite their fishing they'd eaten tin food and supermarket steak. Maybe they'd really intended to trade the yabbies for eel, but they'd already been cooking and eating when we arrived. 

They were right about the eel though, it was good eating!
The eel we'd caught in an opera pot
 The eel we'd caught in an opera pot

The next day we went to Laura, where we waited 3 nights before the festival started. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Cairns to Cooktown in Blu bus

I've already written about how well Blu bus soldiered through the Bloomfield track, which was part of the section Cairns to Cooktown (doable also via bitumen for those without a suitable vehicle) but here's what else we did. 

We stopped 2 nights at Ellis Beach, just North of Palm Cove. Stopping 2 nights at a beachside caravan park where there's not much to do (aside from relax and enjoy the view) isn't hardly our style, but we did it because there was an Ironman competition happening on that beautiful stretch of road and so the road would be closed for most the day while that happened. 
Such is my sporting knowledge, I had always thought that Ironman challenges were surfing competitions (I learnt that from a cereal box, seriously) but no, it's a particularly tough triathlon.
H amused himself during the Ironman by waving a Flemish flag. I wonder if there were any Flemish (or Belgian) competitors or if anyone recognised the flag.
 H amused himself during the Ironman by waving a Flemish flag. I wonder if there were any Flemish (or Belgian) competitors or if anyone recognised the flag. 

After lunch H said the race had fully passed our campsite (he'd been spectating) and we could cycle into Palm Cove for a look. I trusted him, so we grabbed our folding bikes and headed down the road. Funny thing was that the (cycling part of the) race wasn't yet finished, they'd yet to pass for the final time, and we were, on our folding bikes, in the lead! Obviously we weren't competitors but people good heartedly cheered us on. 

Palm Cove is beautiful, although I can't imagine us ever passing more than a few hours there. 

Next we went to Mossman, where I hoped to have mail to collect. Fortunately, as members of the 'Campervan and Motorhome Club of Australia (CMCA) we could stay at another members farm, but after waiting all week there was still no mail and we left. 

We did 2 crocodile cruises (different locations but sold as a 2 for the price of 1 deal) on the Daintree River before crossing over. Saw lots of big and small crocs, plenty of variety of birds and an amethyst python (snake). 

Then we took the ferry across the Daintree river to Cape Tribulation. We really liked Cape Trib. Two night there wasn't really enough, but we wanted to do the Bloomfield track before some forecast rain arrived. We did all the boardwalks and went out snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef and I did a tropical fruit tasting. 

The reef tour, with 'Ocean Safari' was our best GBR experience yet. We loved getting there on a fast zodiac and the coral and fish were colourful, healthy, varied and the visibility great too. 

H wasn't interested in doing the Tropical Fruit tasting (at Cape Trib Farm) so I went alone. It was great! I tasted 13 different fruits, 8 of which were new to me (and I thought I was fairly knowledgable on tropical fruits). The explanations were very interesting, and then there was a guided walk on the farm. 

I think this one was called a Pangi
 I think this one was called a Pangi

Finally it was time to do the Bloomfield Track. And it was fine, see my last post. 

We stopped at Bloomfield Falls, they're nice. Then camped at Archer Point, which is really pretty but windy, before arriving at Cooktown. 

Cooktown is lovely and definitely worth visiting, especially for the view that Captain Cook had each time he climbed grassy hill (minus all the boats and development). I also very much enjoyed the botanic gardens and a small crowd enjoyed watching H chase his hat along the beach. Plus Thursday to Sunday you can watch a man feed the massive grouper fishes, very impressive. 

The view from Grassy Hill, Cooktown.
 The view from Grassy Hill, Cooktown.