It’s not like we have come close to exploring all of New Zealand.
In fact, it’s not like most of us have even done the entire North Island, but when the suggestion was made for members of the Geyserland 4WD Club to “hire a couple of Cruisers and do the Cape trip!”
Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time and looking back at the photos, and the itinerary, it still seems like it was a damn good idea now.
The premise was pretty simple; check around a few hire companies for prices, equipment, freedom to get off-road, and availability. Then sort out a time to go, book the trucks and a few airfares, set down an itinerary, and start packing.
All of which saw us heading for Cairns in August (in order to miss the school holiday rush and beat the wet season) to collect four Britz Toyota 78 Series Landcruisers — complete with rooftop tents, camping kits, fridges, and off-road gear — to see how far North of the Daintree we could get in the 10 days we had available to us.
The Cape was our oyster, the only restriction we had was to stay off the Telegraph Track, but even that wasn’t definitive, with some dispensations allowed. It turned out, according to many of the locals we spoke to, that with our limited timeframe, it’s better to stay away from the Telegraph anyway. Not necessarily because of the difficulty, or the challenges, but because of the risk of being held up at some of the more difficult crossings, waiting for someone that has screwed it up to get out, and the traffic to clear.
After a bit of a delay collecting the vehicles (one wasn’t ready on time), we headed out of Cairns to Cooktown, via the Bloomfield track. Getting away so late meant arriving at the campsite, and the first tent set up – in the dark. Pretty entertaining.
Next morning we headed to Coen, through the Rinyirru National Park, with a visit to the Old Laura Homestead on the way. The track through the park is not really a 4WD track but the scenery makes for a spectacular drive.
Clear of the park, and on the development road, we had our first real introduction to the infamous Cape Corrugations, which have to be experienced to be believed.
From Coen, we made it to Loyalty Beach the next day. This was a bit of an endurance test, but by now we had confirmed our original plan, to make it to the top, then relax and work our way south through some of the more challenging big name tracks.
At the Telegraph Track junction, we snuck North into the track itself, to visit the swimming holes at Elliot Twin Falls and Fruit Bat Falls. We probably did about 50km in, and return, with a couple of deep water crossings, and met more traffic on that small section than we had for the entire previous two days.
This was the day we made the symbolic Jardine Ferry crossing as well, now we really were on The Cape. Note: I will never complain about the cost of the Cook Strait Ferries again.
Leaving the Loyalty Beach campground the next morning, there was a real feeling of expectation. We were going to make it to the top today, we were going to make it easier and quicker than we had expected to and today was the day the 4wheeling was going to start, too.
To the top! Via Seisia and Punsand (to check out where we were to stay for the next couple of nights), then on a shortcut 4WD track to the top. After all the dust and corrugations, we enjoyed this little track so much, we drove it again back to Punsand.
The campsite at Punsand is stunning, hundreds of miles from anywhere, four wheel drive access only, and it has this brilliant restaurant and beer garden, complete with wood-fired pizza oven. The real attraction though is the swimming pool. A great place to prepare for the beers, and no crocs! So we decided we would stay another night.
The day trip from Punsand was to do the 5 beaches loop, plus an extra beach, visit Bamaga and the crashed WW2 planes, and the Lockerbie ruins. The 5 beaches is a great trip, crossing multi-million-year-old lava flows from volcanos that no longer even exist, plus driving these stunning white sand beaches, and sand dunes.
Next morning was day 7 and was time to head south. From Punsand back across the Jardine and on to Bramwell Station in time for the big show. Bramwell Station is a major truck stop and accommodation centre, that had engaged the services of a true blue Aussie comedian/singer for the tourist season.
Thankfully most of the humour was directed at the region, the locals, the campers, and the corrugations. Us kiwis escaped pretty much unscathed, unlike our wallets — no BYO, and the cost of alcohol up there is eye-watering.
The positive side to that, however, was that the next morning we were up and about bright and early, ready for the big day ahead.
From Bramwell Station, we ended up in Coen again, via Frenchman’s track, with some serious rocky river crossings, and out to Chili Beach, which was stunning. The whole area seemed practically deserted, but there was no accommodation available at the campsite, so we drove out and back to Coen, via the Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) National Park, which is part of the Great Dividing Range.
One of the supposed horror tracks in the Cape is the Old Coach Road (OCR). There is a YouTube movie of a group that took three days to do it — and broke two cruisers on the way. A great example of “when things go wrong.”
We did the OCR from Laura end on the way south from Coen the next day. Starting a bit late in the day, prepared to camp if needed, we got out just before dark. It is an amazing track, with some pretty gnarly climbs, and great rock steps. Not often you get serious tyre howls out 4 wheeling.
The Palmer River road house was closing up by the time we staggered in but went out of their way to rustle up some toasties and chips for us before we set up camp in the dark.
No sleep in the next morning though, the Kookaburras started up at daybreak, at full volume, and just out of thrown boot range. Noisy suckers!
Fuelled up again at the roadhouse, we continued south to Elim Beach, and the beach drive to the coloured sands. The isolated campsite at Elim is another amazing spot, so different to Punsand, with very basic facilities, no electricity, but beautiful…. Campfire and Marshmallows!
Next morning’s first track was out past the Elim Beach camp and another exercise in deep sand driving that took us to Cape Bedford. This was a great viewing spot on the top of a cliff with enough room for one vehicle at a time, and a six-point turn to get back down. Wow!
From there we headed back out past the camp to the road, before a short detour north onto the beach to drive up to Cape Flattery. Some more excellent soft sand driving to and from the beach, with some deep crossings (in Croc Country). Surprising us at the cape, was a full-size ore carrier, loading from a massive conveyor belt running from inland somewhere. Sure didn’t expect that way out here.
Heading south again, as our last day on The Cape, we drove the Creb track. Holy moly that was steep. A fine weather track for sure, with some seriously testing climbs and descents, that finishes with a symbolic fording of the Daintree River, we were back in Port Douglas in time for dinner that night
One of the requirements of renting a Britz Camper is that you hose the dust and stuff off them when you take them back. When the staff at the Cairns depot saw the state of the Cruisers, they told us to leave them as they were, and tell them about the trip. With photos.
Next day we saw them, parked up in a row outside the yard, on the main road north, as a sign of the adventures to be had. We were pretty sad to be leaving them behind. But one thing is for sure, Geyserland 4WD Club will be back!
Check out more pics from the Geyserland 4WD Club in the gallery above.