We race down the Old Telegraph Track in convoy, five landcruisers one after the other, like rats down a water pipe. Where the others go, we have to follow. There is only one way, forward.
The track runs from south to north, up through the Cape York peninsula. What was once the only route north to the topmost tip of Australia, is now a track for adventurers, for four wheel drivers who want to push themselves and their vehicles to their limits.
The already narrow track has deep water ruts. Our vehicles have to pick a route around the pot holes and widening cracks and crevices. Trees crowd the roadway, leaning into view as we pass, scratching a message on the side of the camper. It’s a bumpy ride, down into a hole here, up on a ridge there.
And soon we are at the next creek crossing. It’s Ducie Creek. We stop to take a look at what lies ahead. After Palm Creek, it doesn’t look so intimidating. There’s a good flow of water running and we drive straight into it, then turn right along the creek, sending a bow wave ahead of us. We take our time climbing the muddy channel up and out. It is gouged with holes that make the ute dip and bow. The cab rocks from side to side, but at least this time we keep all wheels on the ground.
Back on the track, red and green, red and green, the colours of the dusty road and the grasses and trees flash past us. Crossing North Alice Creek poses no problems. The entry ramp is steep, into the water and out.
We follow the old metal telegraph poles along the track. Many are bent, presumably by souvenir hunters reaching for the old insulators, looking for a piece of history to take home.
After lunch, it’s the big one…. Gunshot Creek. It lives up to its formidable reputation. Two deep gorges have been cut into the side of the creek. The drop is almost vertical. No one in their right mind would attempt to drive down there, yet recent tyre marks indicate some crazy fool has recently been this way.
I’m appalled by the destruction of the area around the creek crossing, the bare earth and vehicle debris hanging in the trees.
A bright blue Ulysses butterfly flies by and disappears into the bush around us.
Scouting around for an alternative route we find the chicken run, a bypass that crosses the creek downstream. This is challenging enough. We drive across, then on into a rabbit warren track that takes us up away from the creeks and into beautiful heathland. Like a garden it is vibrant with lush green growth and full of flowers after a recent burn off. Golden grevilleas line the track. Yellow flowers bloom. I see a white flower with huge droopy petals in among the pink green grasses.
The track seems to follow a dry creek bed, or the course of a wash away formed in the wet. It is a rough track, dusty and uneven. The landcruiser is surefooted on its heavy off road tyres and takes every craggy ridge in its stride.
We stop for the night just off Cockatoo Creek. A sign warns Achtung, crocodiles have been seen here. That does not deter some of the group who strip off and paddle.