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Creek crossing old telegraph track Cape york

  Driving on the Old Telegraph Track

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.

Old Telegraph Track, Cape York Old Telegraph Track, Cape York

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.

Gunshot Creek Old Telegraph Track Gunshot Creek Old Telegraph Track

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.

Landcruiser 4WD

OTT – a driver’s perspective

When the river crossings of the Old Telegraph Track are mentioned, there are hushed tones and furtive glances for 4 WD killers, Nolans Creek, The Gunshot.  I don’t recall Palm Creek hitting the headlines as a terroriser, but for our first intro to the OTT it got all our attention!

A small encampment of spectators have taken residence near the entrance.  I walk with the group to survey the route, a steep slippery mudslide into a dirty brown knee deep creek.  A 90 degree left turn then 90 degrees right to line up with the exit run.  I glance up the bank, a muddy rutted and washed out ramp about as high as a two storey suburban house.  My heart sinks.

I notice a battle scarred cruiser’s driver changing his tyre pressures.  “What are you using?”  “18 and 22”, he calls back and noticing my surprise adds “But only because I’m fully loaded, it would be lower otherwise”.  I sprint back and lower mine.  

Max is first to go, skidding down the approach, along the creek bed then gunning the big V8 until 10 m from the top.  The familiar sound of tyres spinning with no traction echoes around the creek

Not for the last time my Gemini twin asks “Why exactly are you doing this?” 

The electric winch whines and Max has reached the summit.

My turn arrives.  Low 3, I hear advised.  The cruiser slithers down the bank into the creek and I line up with the exit after a brief boat impression along the creek.

“Oh hell”, I utter as I see first hand the route I have to take.  “Hold on”.  And off we go, bucking and jumping, ascending with bone jarring leaps every few metres.  I hear a scream, followed by soft sobbing.  My passenger leans over, pats my arm comfortingly and says “Don’t worry, it’s nearly over.”

A last sickening thud and the windscreen fills with sky as the front rears up and over the lip of the escarpment, leaving terra firma briefly and all four wheels return to the ground well clear of the exit.

As a trainee pilot, I don’t remember a more a dramatic landing.

  I slide out of the driver’s seat my legs shaking, striding back to the exit and the clapping spectator who grins and advises that our side awning almost replaced his moustache as the cruiser made its final jump to the top.  I smile.  “No seriously, my son has it on video”.

“It’s awesome” he says “I swear you shaved the old man’s moustache and just missed that tree by millimetres.”  

I watch the video, the shaking of my legs returns.

Max strolls over, cigarette in hand and grins.  “We made it”.  I laugh nervously.  Max adds, “These cruisers go anywhere”.  He puffs his cigarette again.  “Next time though I think we should use 4WD.”

I hear his gravelly chuckle as he saunters back to his mount.
Written by Richard