CONQUERING CAPE YORK
Updated: Jan 3
After weeks of preparation, I set off for a month long trip to tackle the most iconic 4WD tracks of Cape York in my Defender 90 - would it be a triumph or a disaster?
Leaving from Cairns and heading north over the Daintree River ferry through Cape Tribulation, we took the Bloomfield track (it's steep and winding, but not necessarily perilous) through to Cooktown - the last major town we would pass through for some time.
From here the landscape changes to dry scrub and the iconic red dirt roads of the north as we made our way west via Battle Camp Road and ultimately joined the PDR at Musgrave Roadhouse.
With 600km already covered since Cairns, we would still traverse another 700km+ before reaching Pajinka at Cape York, the northernmost point of the Australian mainland - and that's only half of the trip.
The first real 4WD challenge of the trip was met on the Frenchmans track (which we travelled from East to West), more specifically as we reached the steep banks encasing the Pascoe River crossing.
Having adequate experience with rock crawling and steep tracks, the loose rock entry/exit wasn't the part that concerned me - but the thought of driving a light, (mostly) aluminium vehicle into a fast-flowing river with a boulder-lined base certainly did.
I had been careful to seal my airbox, snorkel and seat boxes with silicone to help prevent water ingress, but it is still a Defender - so I had some water get into the footwells (but on the plus side this meant it was less likely to float away, I suppose).
With the Frenchmans track defeated, it was back onto the Peninsula Development Road and a few hours drive north to stay at Bramwell Junction for the night, ready to tackle the Old Telegraph Track the following morning.
As arguably one of the most notorious 4WD tracks in Australia, part of me was apprehensive about having decided to take on the OTT in a twin air locked Defender 90 with only 265s and no winch - but there was no turning back now.
It was an anti-climactic start to the track, as we waited over 4 hours just to cross the first obstacle, Palm Creek, due to the backlog of traffic getting bogged and breaking down ahead of us (it certainly didn't feel like a "remote" 4x4 trip at this point).
After this we made better progress, spending 3 nights in total on the track between the two sections and seeing all the iconic attractions including Gunshot Creek, Fruit Bat Falls, Eliot/Twin Falls, Cypress Creek log bridge and Nolan's Brook.
So how did the 90 perform? I drove most of the renowned spots first try low and slow, I did the trip without a winch and never needed to be recovered (but knowing I was in a group with winches and recovery experience if needed).
This is with the exception of the main Gunshot entrance as, while I love the thrill of off-roading, there was no way I wanted to put my short wheelbase car in that situation so chose the far left entrance instead.
Having successfully completed the OTT, the Jardine River ferry is the next major waypoint on the way to the tip - this section of road had some of the worst corrugations we experienced, and I often found myself driving in the table drain or carefully choosing less corrugated sections to avoid potential damage.
We spent a few nights at the very top of the peninsula - making the trek to the sign at Pajinka (of course), visiting the Croc Tent, doing the 5 Beaches run, eating pies from the Bamaga Bakery, looking for abandoned WWII aircraft and just generally enjoying the rugged tropical scenery.
From here, with nowhere further north left to go, the long trek back down to reality began. With some other vehicles in the convoy experiencing mechanical issues and in need of supplies, we detoured into the township of Weipa for a few days to get parts.
Though it wasn't a place particularly high on my list of 'must sees' at Cape York, I must admit I really enjoyed Weipa for its west coast sunsets and tasty pub meals (at least as a refreshing change to 3 weeks of mostly camp food).
It was then relatively quick progress south from Weipa, spending a night at Hann River Roadhouse and heading across to the Lion's Den Hotel in preparation for the CREB Track as - luckily - the dry conditions were in our favour.
While I didn't love driving the steep, narrow sections of the CREB - it was well worth it for the breathtaking views of the Daintree - most notable for its striking contrast between the red clay ground (which can become treacherously slippery after even light rainfall) and dense rainforest scenery.
We did lots of research, packed light (space is at a premium in a 90), prepped and froze meals in advance where possible, slept in a low tech pop up tent, had a good quality recovery kit and took carefully considered tools/spares/supplies - I like to think it's proof that you don't need all the 'latest and greatest' gear to get out on these bucket list 4WD trips.
Ultimately, the car only lost a few bolts/minor parts to the corrugations on Bamaga Road and we made it back to Port Douglas without any major issues - and I attribute this largely to the preparation I did before leaving home.
What happened after I made it back to civilisation? Well, I might have to start another blog post for that story...