The Tipping Point

Guides Stan and Robyne Gruzlewski have four hard-won decades of 4WD experience touring to the very tip of Cape York. Why not follow their lead?

Words: Robyne Gruzlewski

My husband Stan and I run Finally Going, a 4WD adventure travel company. We have completed more than 70 trips to the Cape over a 40-year period. We travel all over Australia, but the Cape and the Simpson Desert are perhaps closet to our hearts—and our specialties. Our first trip with an Isuzu was in 2010, when we had the pleasure of taking a standard D‑MAX to the northernmost tip of Australia. With just our clothes—no tent, no trailer and no map—off we went. We took our first trip of this season in May and Stan was lucky enough to go up in a MU‑X. With the unseasonal wet weather in the north this year it made the trip an extremely testing one for both car and drivers. Which was great fun! Weather conditions improved for our second trip in June but the corrugations had doubled, so the MU‑X got a good workout this time. If you'd like to follow our lead, hopefully this road trip travel diary will help you along. Good luck!

MAREEBA

We met our group and started our journey in Mareeba, an hour west of Cairns on the Atherton Tableland, where the welcome sign proclaims that “we get 300 sunny days a year”. Our first stop was Palmer River Roadhouse in Lakeland, then Hann River Roadhouse in Laura for lunch. The road is tarred all the way to Laura with scattered sections from Laura to Coen Homestead, about 310km north of Lakeland. We recommend both Palmer River and Hann River Roadhouse for food and fuel stops (no LPG available). Mobile phones will work at Lakelands, Laura, Coen, Weipa, Bamaga—and yes, even on the tip of Australia—provided you have Telstra coverage.

COEN TO WEIPA

With an early start leaving Coen, we headed 65km north to the Archer River Roadhouse, where fuel and food is available. The road here is mostly corrugated, so get ready to rattle! Just past the roadhouse you cross a causeway. Back in May, just a day after Stan had crossed it, the water level rose to 2.5m, flooding the area, so be warned: always check weather conditions as the weather and water levels can change deadly fast. On the way to Weipa, it's worth taking a detour to Lockhart River, 20km north of the Archer River. Cross the new causeway over the Wenlock River, then turn immediately to the left and you'll be at the ruins of the Batavia Gold Mine, which produced half a tonne of gold from 1896 until it closed in 1904. It's worth exploring. It's a mostly dirt road leaving the goldmines for the 170km back towards Weipa. Once you arrive in the bauxitemining hub, however, you can relax. It's easy to spend three or four days in the area. Weipa has excellent fishing, and charter tours, boat hire and even mine tours can be organised from the caravan park. The caravan park is the only area where camping is permitted, although assorted accommodation is also available throughout the town.

WEIPA TO BRAMWELL JUNCTION

Our first stop on this leg is Moreton Telegraph Station, about 135km from Weipa and just north of the Wenlock Bridge. The road is still mostly dirt, but it's well graded and holds few fears. Leaving Moreton, a further 35km north brings you to Bramwell Junction, where fuel, food and camping is available. This is also the start of the fabled Telegraph Track.

BRAMWELL JUNCTION TO 'THE TIP'

The Telegraph Track to Fruit Bat Falls can take anywhere from one to three days; the area is very susceptible to change from month to month. When Stan went in May the water level was so high it went well over the bonnet of the vehicles. A faster but less fun way is reaching Fruit Bat Falls via the Bamaga Development Road, which takes around three hours. It's mostly unsealed but still good to drive, even though there are patches of very rough corrugations. A further 5km north of Fruit Bat is Eliot Falls. A warning here: there is a long creek crossing between both falls, which is so murky that drivers hesitate to walk it. Fruit Bat and Eliot are very popular for swimming in the rockpools, which is the best way to experience their unique waterfalls. Camping is available at Eliot only by prebooking with National Parks, while Fruit Bat is day visit only.

The trip from Eliot Falls to the Jardine River Ferry via the Telegraph Track is around three hours, but please note: you must take the first turn off to the left while on the track to get back onto the Development Road. If you miss this turnoff you'll end up at Nolan's Brook, a crossing with extreme conditions that has claimed many vehicles! The ferry costs $99 per car, $129 for a car with a trailer and $39 for a motorbike. This cost includes camping on the Injinoo land (but not including campgrounds, which incurs a further fee). Once off the Jardine Ferry it's 40km to Seisia, which has great fishing and many places to stay. We choose to stay in Seisia itself as it is situated near the wharf where the fishing—and watching the action—is amazing. There are also camping grounds in Loyalty, Punsand Bay and Umagico. All are equally beautiful and have their own unique appeal.

SEISIA TO CAPE YORK

The trip from Seisia to 'The Tip' is 35km. On the way you pass 'the Croc Tent', a must-stop to visit Lea Ann for a chinwag and some unique souvenirs. Driving to Cape York provides many adventures, as well as the chance to touch the most famous sign of all: 'You are standing at the northernmost point of the Australian continent'!

UP FOR THE CHALLENGE

With more than 70 trips to the Cape under our belts, and 40 years experience doing so, Stan and I both agree that the MU‑X is the best 4WD we've ever taken to The Tip. This is a big statement, I know, but one we fully stand by. Fully loaded in May and towing a small trailer with a load on the roof racks, the D‑MAX travelled 7510km from the Gold Coast to Cape York and back. It used 800L of fuel in very heavy road conditions and utterly abominable weather. The MU‑X we took in June was stockstandard, with no aftermarket accessories. It travelled 8478km from the Gold Coast to Cape York return, using just 623L of fuel! It was near-new, so fuel consumption will only improve with use.

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