Tag Archives: old telegraph Track

Jardine River Crossing, Cape York,queensland

Cockatoo Creek to Seisia

It has been a peaceful night at Cockatoo Creek.   We are up and about getting ready for another day on the Old Telegraph Track.   A loud cry disturbs our morning ablutions.  A vicious wasp like insect has descended unseen from a tree growing by the creek and stung Richard and Malcolm on ear and nose.  We beat a hasty retreat before he attacks again.  Never let your guard down when in the Australian bush.  Around every corner, up every tree is a creature waiting to sting or bite.

Crossing the deep flowing water of Cockatoo Creek, we pass a sign warning of crocodiles, then see a young family bathing their baby in the shallows at the creek’s edge.  What? Are they mad?  I shake my head.

The landcruisers amble up the narrow track over potholes and water ruts.   As the track widens the palette of colours expands from dusty red to vivid pink and almost fluorescent bright orange.  I will never tire of the colours of the outback.   Dreams are made of this.

The Old Telegraph Track joins the new Telegraph Road here.  We are back in Pixieland.   A sign post points to the turn off to Fruit Bat Falls and leads us into to an elaborate one way system around the car park.  There are several parking sectors devoted to tour buses.  It’s a shock to the senses after the aura of wilderness and adventure surrounding the old track.

There’s an opportunity for swimming at the falls, but we decide to wait.  The sky is overcast and it is early in the day.  We walk down the footpath to the falls, avoiding the roped off boardwalk.  Why is it out of bounds?  Has there been a murder at Fruit Bat Falls.  Has someone slipped or been pushed into the crystal clear water?  Or is this just an excuse to tell each other tall tales of disappearing heiresses and handsome detectives?

Pitcher plant

Pitcher plant

Down by the water, pitcher plants grow among the ferns.   I’ve never seen them in the wild before.  Their strange flesh coloured cups are used to attract and catch insects for food.   Fascinating, almost alien in appearance, they intrigue me.

Back to the track and another creek crossing.  Into the water we drive as if this were an every day occurrence.  Thank goodness for the snorkel.

Twin Falls max Heather

Max and Heather take a shower at the falls

The true stars of today are Eliot and Twin Falls.   Despite being in tour bus country, we are alone at Twin Falls and I watch as the others enjoy a swim in the cool clear water there.   The falls thunder down over the rocks to form the perfect natural hydrotherapy shower to reinvigorate tired and aching limbs.  I’m sitting it out this time, but enjoy the spray filled air and fresh clean scent of the water.

Leaving the falls behind we race towards Canal Creek and Sam Creek Crossings, the last before we leave the old track.   On the way Malcolm’s vehicle gets a little too friendly with another 4WD as he squeezes past on the tight track.   As the two cars drive up on to the sloping edges of the track, they lean inwards towards each other.  Camper box makes contact with roof rack and they cling together in an unwanted embrace.  Men rush to assist and like the crew of a racing yacht, jump to the far side of the ute to add the ballast needed to prise the vehicles apart.

Two Utes stuck


Sam Creek is the deepest crossing we have attempted so far.   The creek flows rapidly between its white chalky banks, hiding deep pools below the surface, before it tumbles down a small waterfall downstream.  The more experienced drivers cruise across without a care.  We watch and wait before following in their wake.

The remaining stretch of the track includes the deep and dangerous crossings of Nolans Brook and Jardine River.  The latter is crocodile infested and few dare to cross these days, when a diversion to the ferry is an easy few kilometres away.  This is the end of our OTT adventure and we turn on to the bypass road and drive for the ferry.

Filming on Jardine River Ferry

Filming on the Jardine River Ferry

At the Jardine River ferry we meet up again with Roothy and his film crew.   We join them on their trip across the river on the old chain ferry, trying to stay in shot when the cameras are running.   I suspect we will end up on the cutting room floor, despite our attempts to look like the rough and tough off-road drivers Roothy would want to associate with.

There are no crocs visible in the river when we cross, but we know they are there.

The last few kilometres of the day’s driving take us into Injinoo and then on to Seisia.  Six of us stay the night at Seisia, in easy reach of the boat wharf for our trip to Thursday island tomorrow.  The others go on to Punsand Bay and wait for us there.

Soon our journey to the tip of mainland Australia will be over.  Punsand Bay is the last stop before we reach our destination.

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