The NPA – Cape York

Many folk refer to the Northern Peninsula Area (commonly the NPA) as the Tip. It sort of is, but the Tip (Pajinka) is really a smaller area right at the very tip itself. The following maps show the area referred to in this post.

A reminder – all pics can be viewed indivdually larger by ‘right clicking’ & opening in a new tab.

We were dirty & dusty when we arrived at the ferry crossing across the Jardine River & knowing there was a small campground on the southern side of the river we planned on asking if we might pay just to use their hot showers. On arrival at the servo where ferry tickets are sold it became clear that the campground was not operating, but the chap selling the tickets gave us permission to use the showers saying “Usually we charge $5 each but you can use them for nothing”. He was a very friendly & welcoming chap & his generosity was unexpected. I did wonder later if perhaps it was because I had not taken the cap off that I wear in the car to keep my hair out of my eyes when the windows are open. On the front of it, it says “We support the Uluru Statement”. Could have been that or could be that he just felt generous. Either way the showers were hot & luxurious after a couple of weeks without & either way it felt like a nice way to arrive at a destination we had been making our way toward for the past 4 months. In fact rather longer than that. We arrived in Australia in 1987 & planned to visit ‘The Tip’ with our son, before he reached school age. He is now 36. Our dream back then was to do what we are now doing, funded by profit made from several years of living in & renovating a house in Melbourne. We knew how much we needed to make to buy a 40 series Toyota troop carrier & to fund the adventure.We were confident the sale of the house would provide this. We had a copy of Ron Moon’s guide book for Cape York & most of the camping gear required. What we hadn’t counted on was the Pyramid Building Society crash which preceded house prices tumbling overnight (& not rising again for several years). 80+ people attended our auction 7 days after the crash & the best offer was exactly the figure we needed under the expected sale price. We have no doubt that if the auction had been 2 weeks earlier we would have realised our dream. We even had letters from folk at the Auction begging us to sell to them after the property was passed in, but none wanted to pay what they would have paid weeks earlier. So our plan was not put into action, although the dream never died. And here we were about to cross the threshold of what once we thought of as the pinnacle of adventure. Back then ‘fresh poms’ in a new strange & exciting land. Today the adventure is a little easier & Australia rather more familiar, but being here at the Jardine crossing nevertheless felt important. Doing what we set out to do has always been something we have taken pride in and after 30+ years here we were ticking that box. Strangely the thought had never really occurred to us until we were right there looking at the river.

Getting waved onto the ferry

The ferry is the only way into the NPA these days. The Jardine is a natural boundary. In the past folk made risky crossings further upstream, either driving across the soft sinky sand base or floating cars across on rafts built at the edge of the river, but this is now discouraged & today only a small handful of die hard folk take on that challenge against the wishes of those who live up there. The crossing on the ferry which carries up to 4 (I think) cars at once only takes just a couple of minutes at this narrower (& deeper) section of the river. The cost, if seen as only for the crossing is high at $130 for our car & camper, but in fact that cost also confers permission to folk to camp not only at the few free camp spots in the NPA, but all those also on the Old Telegraph track that many arrivals at the ferry have already used. The price had risen by $10 this year to help to cover costs of toilet provision up at Pajinka, something which has become increasingly necessary with increasing visitor numbers, but of course gave rise to misrepresentation in some of the Queensland press (known for their racist stance), & the usual bleating & distasteful controversy on social media which accompanies any occasion that indigenous peoples choose to exercise their hard won rights on their country. Some Australians just cannot accept that indigenous rights exist & continue to expect that it is their right to trample over anyone’s land at will (except when that land is owned by whitefellas).

We had planned to turn off shortly after leaving the ferry to go to a camping area on the northern bank of the Jardine. We found the turn off but were a little surprised to see no signage, but our GPS said it was the way to go. The road didn’t seem to be one which had seen much use in recent times judging by the lack of tyre tracks, just wind blown smoothness between the potholes & no corrugations. A few kilometres in the reason for this became apparent, a huge deep washout across the entire width of the road, large enough to swallow a complete car & marked with a few cut tree branches laid on the road made us think we had no option but to turn back. Alighting from the car & walking to inspect the gaping ‘chasm’ revealed however that others had previously come across this ‘impassable obstacle’, & had found a way around it through the nearby bush. We walked this ‘unofficial bypass’ & whilst a little tight & tricky felt we could manage it with our Tvan, & did.

The track in became a lot tighter & more overgrown than this, with few opportunities to turn around

A few more kilometres & our GPS showed a smaller track off to our right leading to the camping area. Again no signage. Shortly after entering this track it narrowed further & became increasingly overgrown but we persisted because it looked right on the map, & besides there was nowhere to turn around. Progress was slow, occasionally stopping to clear fallen trees & branches blocking our way. Eventually we reached the Jardine river again & a T junction in the track. At this point our GPS was not very helpful. We left the car & walked for a couple of kilometres, constantly looking for potential spots where turning around would be possible as we searched for the camping area. It was a lovely birdsong accompanied stroll, the river on one side down high steep embankments & cycad dotted forest on the other side, but we found no camping area. On return to the car we zoomed in the on the Hema GPS screen, & still had uncertainty about which way to go. In circumstances like this we did what has worked for us previously. We pulled out the iPad & fired up the ExplorOz GPS. This was, as hoped for, immediately reassuring, showing us clearly we needed to follow the river in the opposite direction to that we had walked, & not only that it showed the track continuing past the camping area & back to the main road. And so we found our way, cautiously, (walk a distance, find somewhere where turning around was possible, leave MrsTea there to mark the spot whilst I returned to bring the car to this next ‘safe’ spot & then repeat – multiple times over several kilometres) to a gloriously idyllic camp spot where we spent the following few nights on our own private beach, with what we believe to be the still standing remnants of an old telegraph line workers lean to shelter providing us with shade & a beautiful outlook across the river. Sand dunes to walk & explore. Peace & serenity. This we now know was also the place where folk used to drive across the river, mind you looking at the deep soft sandy exit rising out of the water it is not something I would contemplate attempting in a month of Sundays! We could have stayed here far longer, but had planned to visit the folk in Sesia for whom house sitting had been a possibility but no longer was. They sounded like lovely folk whom we wanted to meet, & to let them know that we had already managed to find an alternative place to spend the wet season. Following the track out as marked on the ExplorOz GPS was straightforward & clearly a more used route. We were however shocked as we reached the junction with the main road to have to dodge around a large sign in the middle of the road. It said ROAD CLOSED. “Well” we said “That explains why we had the camp all to ourselves”. Later we spoke to locals who assured us we had done no harm, & that the road was closed mainly as part of the discouragement strategy to stop folk trying to drive across the river & getting stuck.

The old Telegraph linesmens shelter had seen better days
But it worked pretty well for us.
A Black-necked Stork (Jabiru) looking for a feed in the shallows of the Jardine
Our nearest neighbour – an Olive backed Sunbird.
I found this section of the opposite riverbank rather pleasing on the eye. At night we saw croc eyeshine there.
The Old Telegraph 4wd track finishes at the Southern bank of the Jardine, but the Telegraph line continued north to the coast where an under sea cable took over. Here on the northern bank remains evidence of the line. There are few of these timber poles left. Termites got to them & most were replaced with steel telescopic poles imported from England. For some reason this one is an exception.

The few small communities within the NPA are all no more than a few minutes driving apart, Injinoo, Umagico, Bamaga, New Mapoon & Seisia. All indigenous communities , two Torres Strait islander communities (Seisia & Bamaga) & the other aboriginal. None are tourist centres but some have camp grounds & tourist services like fishing charters & cruises. If looking specifically for cultural experiences & exchanges these communities are probably not the best places. Many of the businesses are run by white folk who cannot own property but can live there if they run a business. That said many have been there a long time & are as much part of the fabric as anyone. During tourist season many visitors pass through, but most locals live a separate existence to which tourists have little access other than chance encounters in the street or at fishing spots. This is not to say that tourists are made unwelcome, more that locals understandably don’t wish to live a fishbowl experience. Nevertheless we were still made very welcome by Caroline & Craig who have among other things a beautiful little garden supply business in Seisia. I say among other things because Craig is a long term fixture & fitting in the community, seemingly with a finger in lots of pies, & knows everyone, & a really warm salt of the earth typical Cape character with the quintessential dry Cape humour, a willingness to help anyone in need that he can & an extensive knowledge of both the NPA & the Torres Strait. His partner Caroline is artistic & caring & recognised something special in Craig when she visited the Cape quite a few years ago & didn’t leave. Although their hoped for holiday (& us house sitting for them) was not possible we had already met folk in other communities on our way through to Seisia who in conversation recognised us as the couple that Caroline had phoned around about seeking other opportunities for. By then we had committed to Moreton Telegraph Station, but if felt really nice to know she had done that for us. We camped in their yard for a couple of nights & tried our (my) hand at fishing of Seisia wharf during the day after catching up on a bit of essential internet stuff.

Seisia wharf is reputed to be the best land fishing spot on the Cape. It is not far out from the shore, but is in deep water & big fish are frequently caught there ……… except of course when I am there to try. And try I did on two occasions – for many hours. It was a different sort of fishing to any I have previously done, due mainly to the means of obtaining bait. On a short, late evening visit, among the various old ladies sitting fishing & yarning together, I got talking to a young fella with a handline, & asked him the usual “Catching anything?” & “What are you using for bait”. He wasn’t getting anything that night but told me he had caught a metre long mackerel (I think) the day before & sold it to a tourist for $40. That was encouraging, but the answer to to the bait question was initially confusing. He just said “Get the bait downstairs” Once he realised that I didn’t have a clue what he meant, he took me to see. There are always huge concentrated shoals of small fish swimming in the water below the jetty, thousands & thousands of them, all around 3 inches long. If you didn’t see them where you looked, walking around the jetty would find you several shoals. What I found interesting was the method he employed to catch just a single bait fish. It didn’t involve nets, nor bait to entice them, just a single line with a bare 3 pronged hook on it. “I just jag’em” he said lowering the hook into the water. He stood just lifting & lowering the hook among the high density shoal for 30 seconds or so & then gave it a sharp tug & …. pulled up a fish! Next morning I recounted this experience in the local tackle shop where I went to get a 3 pronged hook. The shop owner smiled & suggested “You might be better off with one of these” showing me a small packet marked ‘Bait Rig’ . It was only a couple of dollars so I bought it & left the shop with instructions on how to use it. A simple light line with half a dozen or so tiny hooks space a few inches apart, each with a tiny red bead next to it. The technique was simple. “Lower it into the water & just jerk it up & down until you get a fish”. I was amazed it how well it worked. Never took longer than a minute to get a fish & sometimes got two or three at once. Didn’t do me any good at catching bigger fish though. Mind you the whole time I was there no-one else caught anything either. If we’d been desperate I suppose we could have secured a good feed of the little baitfish in the time I spent not catching anything bigger.

On Seisia Jetty failing to catch a feed. Not a bad place to do it though.
Seisia Jetty – Popular with locals & visitors alike.

Before leaving Seisia we had a look around the caravan park, but found it crowded, busy & expensive, albeit on an absolute beachfront location. And beachfront up here is beautiful. The Caravan park was an ‘ungroomed nothing special’ place with facilities which looked like they could do with a bit of work, & if not so crowded the sort of place we may have considered at half the price being asked. As it was we felt it was not our sort of place, particularly at $30 per head per night.

There are 3 supermarkets in the NPA, at Seisia, Umagico & Bamaga. We didn’t try Bamaga, & found Seisia quite expensive with fruit & veg which wasn’t that great. We were told that Umagico supermarket was more reasonably priced & kept their fresh produce well. That advice was spot on, & we shopped there several times whilst in the NPA. Seemed odd how shops close enough to each other to draw each others customers from the small communities could be so different.

From Seisia we retraced our route back through all of the other communities to find the camping area at Mutee Head, Stopping on the way to check out the Alau Beach campground at Umagico after leaving the Supermarket. It was another beautiful beach front location, with a far nicer feel (to us) that the one in Seisia. At the time our plans for the NPA weren’t clear, but we thought we might return to stay there. Certainly the rates were far more reasonable. As it turned out we didn’t return regretfully, but will do so if we get back up there again. Red sand, green grass & turquoise sea.

South of Injinoo, the first community when coming in from the south, we turned off westward through forests, winding our way among the trees, & sometimes around trees growing in the red road, for around 20kms before we reached the sea, the north eastern Gulf of Carpentaria. Here we found ourselves a lovely place to camp just back off the beach in a private little spot at the bottom of a steep forested escarpment rising up from the sand. It was a perfect location for our set up. We could park our car on the edge of the sand where it got all day sun to keep our batteries happy, whilst we set up the Tvan in a shaded & wind sheltered spot close by, but near enough to connect the power lead between car & camper. Views out across the water, islands in the distance. Beaches with a mix of sand & rocks to walk on, & behind us, hidden in the forest, nearby relics from world war two to discover. Best of all, & unexpectedly in a location like this, we had a reliable & useable phone/internet signal, which presumably was coming across the water to us from one of the communities north of us. Consequently it was an easy place to spend a lovely 4 days & nights there lazing, internetting, beach walking, forest walking (& not catching fish again). We also took a day trip out in the car, leaving the Tvan behind. It proved to be one of our NPA highlights.

Driving through the forest to Mutee Head
Camped at Mutee Head. The table someone had left there was handy.
Remnants of a WW2 Radar installation up on the hill in the forest behind our camp

The drive out to the Jardine River mouth was a scouting mission. We had heard about some stunning camping possibilities, but had also been told that getting there involved extensive driving on very soft sand & along some quite tight & narrow tracks. We wanted to check it out before deciding to tow the Tvan out there. The description of the camping possibilities was accurate, they were indeed stunning, a totally wild & very beautiful location- hopefully our photos will convey that. The description of the track too was accurate, tyre pressures were let down to 15 psi & the Patrol managed just fine, but it was a fair way with no let up in the soft conditions & with just one or two spots we felt might be difficult to get through with the van. We also knew that with a 3rd pair of wheels getting through the soft sand would definitely be harder going, and reluctantly decided not to risk it. Nevertheless the fun of driving out there & a the place’s sheer unspoiled beauty meant that not for a moment did we regret going. We enjoyed a lunchtime picnic in heaven.

There’s a croc behind you!
Jardine River Mouth

After a final night at Mutee heads, packing & leaving was a straightforward affair. One of the things we love about our Tvan is just how simple the whole setting & packing up camp routines are. That we have done it so many times of course makes it easier, but it was easy from the outset. We made the brief climb back into the forest & the sea disappeared behind us, but in the NPA it’s never very far away though. Back to Umagico for a fruit & veg top up, & on to Seisia again, this time via a back track. In the midst of Umagico’s housing area we were unsure which road to take. As if by magic a young fella appeared gesticulating to us. ‘Dat way dat way’ he called pointing. I wondered how he knew where we going until half way through the manouvre to follow his directions when I stopped & asked where he was sending us. “Alau, Alau camping” he beamed. After telling him where we were headed we had a good laugh together at his incorrect assumption & my initial willingness to follow it. He put us right, surprised that any tourist would want to take that route. I wasn’t surprised at his surprise once we were on the track, I doubt it had seen a grader in years & was as rough as guts. Glad we went that way though, part way along we passed through an area which had been burned & there was this amazing stand of uniformly sized of freshly sprouting tree ferns. Neither of us had seen anything quite like that before. Definitely a ‘stop the car we need a photo moment’.

Between Seisia & Bamaga is a turn off which takes you north to Loyalty Beach Campground. We drove past the campground knowing we would be returning there in a week or two’s time to stay & to have a meal with Katrin & Mark from Bamaga. Katrin is the author of the E-book Destination Cape York, a publication we have used quite extensively during our time on the Cape, both this year & last year. We had conversed a few times via email & had agreed to meet up when we finally reached the NPA. A chance to get a bit more ‘local perspective’.

North of Loyalty Beach a narrower track continues to a small number of beach shacks owned by a few lucky local families & then forks away from the coast, eventually meeting up with the road between Bamaga & Pajinka. Not a bad little track apart from a single creek crossing which caused us some initial consternation. I stopped too late. Reversing out of the position I had just got us into was going to be the stuff of nightmares. Undesirable to say the least. Not even sure if it was possible. Unfortunately continuing forward down uneven rocks into murky water of unknown depth didn’t look like a better option. So what do you do when in such a fix? Look at the situation more closely & from every angle. At least that’s what we did. The water held a great deal of uncertainty, whilst the reversing carried the possibility of getting ourselves jack knifed and unable to proceed forward or backward in a situation where even unhitching would not have helped with no space to take the car around the Tvan. The one similar occasion to this occurred back on soft sand at the top of a river dune along side the Ord River near Kununurra, WA. It had been a situation I never wanted to repeat, but here I was looking down the barrel at it once again. Bugger! I just didn’t know what to do. As I contemplated our fate the only solution seemed to be to wade through the water to determine it’s depth & quality of it’s bed to drive on. I had visions of sinking to my knees or worse in a muddy river bed & a croc appearing to have a nibble.

And then the sun shone through the trees with me standing at just the right angle to be able to make out the bottom of the creek through a tiny section of water which miraculously, in among all the murkiness, was clear …… and all was well! At least well enough to know it wasn’t too deep. I decided I could put faith in the fact that other folk used the track so it was unlikely the crossing would be full of car consuming quicksand & decided to take a punt on it. The mind is a powerful thing. The crossing was nothing like a nightmare, in fact it was fairly easy , just a couple of rocks to ease the car over into the water & the rest straightforward. Phew! A week or two later I was talking to a good friend, Jack, back home in Ballarat. He had been part of a Cape trip with a bunch of folk a few years back & recalled arriving at that crossing. Despite there being a fair amount of 4wd experience within the group, they had looked at it & decided it not worth the risk & turned back. No doubt I would have done the same if I hadn’t been silly enough to get myself into that predicament. But things are not always what they appear to be.

At the Bamaga -Pajinka Road we drove a few more kilometres reaching a fork in the road. Straight on to Pajinka or left to Punsand Bay Resort. But first our visit to the ‘Croc Tent’. Here in the middle of nowhere, on a small clearing between forest & rainforest, right on the junction, a lone dwelling comprising predominantly of shipping containers, where a young couple took a punt, & raised there children there & made a business out of selling souvenirs. Everything Cape York . You wanna T shirt? how many styles & designs would like. And everything from stubbie coolers to fridge magnets to who knows what, all for sale at a range of prices to suit every pocket, under an old canvas Marquee. Everyone stops there. It’s virtually a destination in itself. Even for us who are not ‘souvenir people’. Judging by the sales we saw of souvenirs at Moreton when we there before the end of the season we are in the minority “ We wont be back here again Fred, let’s buy matching Moreton fishing shirts for you me & the 4 kids.” “$70 each no worries. They probably repeated that at the Croc Tent. Us, we did however splurge out on a couple of icy cold soft drinks after standing in a queue of mainly folk from one of the number of coach tours filling the place.

We took the left turn, but we weren’t headed to Punsand Bay. Instead we were looking for a turn off (again unsigned) a few kilometres before Punsand. It would take us to Roonga Point, another free camping area & right on the beach. It was a popular spot with plenty of room for all without becoming crowded. Most people arrived weary at the end of a long day’s driving, & leaving early the following morning. Young families, couples & singles of all ages, some handling the ‘pressure’ of limited time travel impressively well, & some not. Fathers berating young sons, & couples arguing were in the minority, & from our observation often alcohol fuelled. I was reminded of a time at Emily Gap, in the East Macdonnell Ranges out of Alice Springs. Our teenage son & I were travelling on a motorcycle, it was hot & we were both tired & weary. Having got off the bike for the umpteenth time that day to walk, wearing our motorcycle gear, to yet another place I had seen pictures of & had always wanted to visit, our son gave voice to what we both feeling saying he would remain at the bike & wait for me. My frustration at the ‘dream not being how I had always thought it would be’ bounced loudly off the rock walls but directed at him. It was not one of my finer moments. Here at Roonga point I felt for both the fathers & the sons.

Not for the first time we felt lucky that we didn’t have a schedule to keep to. We stayed a week. Most of the time lazing or walking & exploring. Whilst there I finally discovered the source of the unmistakeable smell of differential oil that seemed to have been following us for a while. How I had previously missed it I don’t know, but when the realisation dawned that our car’s swivel hubs were leaking I was worried but unsure how bad this was. There was a phone signal here but an unreliable one which would come & go, apparently coming across the water from Thursday Island about 40 kms away, but we managed to get a call through to a workshop down in Weipa. We were advised all would be ok if we avoided locking our front hubs & using four wheel drive. All very well but there was pretty much nowhere we wanted to go that didn’t require four wheel drive. I managed to use the dodgy phone signal to get online briefly a couple of times over the next day or so & folk on the online Nissan Patrol forum I belong to advised on the basis of photos that the leak was minor & not to worry about it. We took the ‘middle road’ & minimised the use of four wheel drive, using it only when two wheel drive couldn’t get us through. It surprised us how much we were able to do in 2wd. A different driving technique & a bit more momentum required mostly, but a few places where without 4wd we would have been stuck. Nevertheless not using the car more than necessary did see us staying in camp more than we might otherwise have done. We booked the car into a Weipa workshop for two weeks later for a swivel hub rebuild.

Roonga Point

We had a couple of day trips. One for a meal out at Punsand Bay Resort. Social media is full of what a great place it is & what wonderful pizzas they make. The main attraction however seems to be the bar. Somewhere to drink in an area where alcohol is restricted. We had a couple of beers & I had a pizza which being made in a proper wood fired pizza seemed promising. It disappointed, being burned top & bottom & tough in texture. We rarely eat out, but when we do it is intended to be a treat. Value, to me is more important than price, but this offered neither. The constant ‘muzak’ blasting from speakers in trees around the site did nothing to improve things. The view out & along the beach was lovely, but really I can think of nothing else positive to say about the place. I certainly wouldn’t want to stay there, but I suppose for those that like nothing more than a bar on a beach it’d be ok. MrsTea’s grilled fish & salad was ok, but nothing about the place enticed us to stay any longer than it took to finish our meals. To be fair we didn’t check out the camping area. Closest to the bar were the small overnight rooms of various sorts. The small swimming pool in front of the bar seemed popular & noisy. Parents could sit at the bar with one eye on the sports satellite channel TV’s & one on the kids. I don’t think there were any gambling machines there, but they wouldn’t have been out of place.

The second trip out was far more satisfying & another NPA highlight. This time we drove past the Punsand Bay resort continuing across the narrow, tight & sometimes very sandy Roma Flats track to Pajinka. Again it was also a bit of a scouting mission to see if we might pull the Tvan along this route. Again we decided it was unsuitably tight in a few places, but it was fun checking. This was through a mix of dense rainforest ‘jungle’ & slightly more open forest woodland. Detouring off this track a couple of kms before it’s end onto another less used track took us northward to a spot most tourists have probably not heard of, let alone visited. On many maps the track is not marked. It took us to Bay Point, an innocuous sounding name but yet another jaw-droppingly beautiful wild view of extensive white beaches broken up by stands of photogenic mangrove clumps. Tyre marks followed the beach & I was tempted, but we were uncertain whether the tide was coming in or going out. If coming in we would be trapped & had no idea whether, if trapped we would be beyond the reach of the high tide. MrsTea urged caution & I reluctantly listened. She was right, as within half an hour where we had been standing on dry sand was under half a metre of water. BUT the place was gorgeous. Standing on a high point looking out across the beaches, we could feel the beauty as well as just seeing it. ‘Privileged’ seemed the most appropriate word.

The beginning of the Roma Flats Track
We stopped by a large fresh water lake behind the dunes for a look. Crocodile habitat for sure, but we didn’t see any.
This would have been nice country to camp in, but the track had been too tight in places to get our camper in.
I’m sure I remember these being grown in pots as a houseplant in England.
500metres further on from the freshwater lake we came out of the bush to this. Bay Point. Our car bottom left.
A stunning vista. No one else, just us.
We wondered how long ago someone moored their boat to this beach-side termite mound and left their rope there.

From Bay Point it was a relatively short drive to Pajinka, to ‘The Tip’. The magnet which draws so many people to Cape York from every corner of the country. The culmination of so many 4wd ‘pilgrimages’. The northernmost point of the Australian mainland. Papua New Guinea just a hop & a step over the water (actually about 150kms, but with many ’stepping stone’ islands to break the journey). And a bit over 1000kms north of the nearest Australian city – Cairns. Would it be special, awe inspiring in a way similar to arriving & seeing Uluru for the first time, or would it be a bit of a let down in the same way I felt about Stonehenge or the Mona Lisa the first time I saw them? (Both of them smaller & less imposing than I had always imagined from the photos). Well it was neither of those. To be fair, very little could ever compare to seeing Uluru in the flesh for the first time, but The Tip wasn’t a disappointment. Far from it actually, it was a beautiful place, & better than expected. Everyone takes photos of the small area where the sign tells you you are standing on Australia’s northernmost point (including us) , but it is comparatively rare to see photos of the surrounding area. As you arrive you emerge out of the thick green rainforest canopy on a red road which widens into a small red carpark, beyond which is the very blue sea, green islands in the distance & a mangrove lined shore of white sand & clear water. All enhanced by the brilliant blue sky the view is lovely. Perhaps not quite in the same league as Bay Point, but it’s getting up there. From the car park the walk along the well worn rocks just above the shoreline to Pajinka itself is beautiful all the way as it gives way to a more rocky outlook & a channel between the mainland & the two islands just off shore – Yorke & Eborac. I suspect many feel a definite sense of achievement reaching this point. I didn’t feel that but I did enjoy being there. We did the ‘done’ thing – took photos of others standing at the Tip for them & then had ours taken similarly before taking the higher path back to the carpark, past numerous large cairns, & extensive cliff & bay lined ocean views dotted with more islands.

Wild horses near the side of the Pajinka road looked in very healthy condition to us.
Pajinka carpark
View out to sea from the Pajinka carpark
Walking to the Tip
And there it is
Do we get a medal? 🙂
Booby cairns 🙂

On leaving we thought we’d drive back to the Croc tent junction & back up to Roonga Point rather than the tighter narrower route we had followed to get to Pajinka. We did but also detoured eastward, a spur of the moment decision to look around the Somerset area first. A good choice which helped determine that it would be our next camping destination after Roonga Point.

I imagine that it is not uncommon for many folk to imagine that the much of the Cape is covered by rainforest. I can recall once thinking the Peninsula was one huge jungle. This is far from so. Most of the forest on the Cape, and there is an awful lot of it, is more open woodland, trees with grass & shrubs growing below. No doubt folk more knowledgeable about such things are wincing at that description, & that there is far more variation than my description implies, but as a generalisation it’s true. Rainforest only exists in relatively small pockets, & with the exchange of birdlife between PNG & the Cape, & other evolutionary oddities from the time of Gondwanaland, this makes those pockets of rainforest quite unique. ‘Lockerbie Scrub’ the rainforest which straddles the road for 11 kms between the croc tent & the Tip , must , I imagine, finally satisfy the expectations of many. The dark red road enclosed by the dark green canopy is how I once envisaged the entire Cape to be, a never ending extension of the Daintree Rainforest between Cairns & Cooktown. We love rainforest & it’s foreign & strange mega diversity, but we have loved the entire Cape York Peninsula too. A wilderness, but a wilderness that one has to search out. Easy to miss if unwilling or unable to to stray far from the one main route up through it’s centre.

So, from Roonga Point we drove out to the Somerset area on the north east coast, once a place said to have been inhabited by head hunters & cannibals, & ‘tamed’ by an unsavoury white character Frank Jardine, who ruled by might & whom , like in many parts of Australia & indeed other colonised countries around the world continue to be lauded as some sort of pioneering heroes. It is not hard to imagine that those at the receiving end of his violence & and disrespect of black folk felt quite differently about him. Folk recall that Somerset was once intended to become the administrative capital of Cape York. Many stories abound & the Jardine family graves even today remain on site to be visited. Sometimes I feel that Australians ‘hold onto’ & revere such history in order to have a history in what is a relatively young country when perceived only through white fella eyes. Naive at one level, & deliberate denial of a much older history at another. In my view we should never forget the history of the Jardines & their like, but more for how & what they destroyed rather than for what they achieved. Our ‘reverence’ was limited to having lunch in the shade of one of the old property’s mango trees where little more than the surrounding bush, a couple of white painted cast iron cannon barrels & a cross remain, alongside a couple of graves & a sun wearied sign warning visitors not to take mangos away – a remnant of a past infestation by the ‘Red -Banded Caterpillar’ which had represented a dire threat to the country’s mango industry if it had escaped from this remote location & found it’s way south.

A visit to Fly Point, a low rocky point reached by a track along cliff tops, with huge crashing Coral Sea waves driven by the same south easterly winds we had experienced at both Chili Beach, & Captain Billy’s landing, was a short one. Potentially a wonderful fishing spot, & camping with great views, but not during the windy season. A quick look was all we needed there. Driving back we passed the track leading to the first beach of the ‘Five Beaches Track’. A firm “No” from MrsTea to which I ruefully concurred. Driving it alone, without sufficient knowledge of the sands & the tides, especially whilst towing the Tvan would, we determined, have been foolishly dangerous.

Our camp, already scoped out a day or two previously was a lovely small aboriginal owned campground right on Somerset beach. Very sheltered from that terrible wind not far away & looking out across a channel between the mainland & Albany Island. There were not many people there, but we were surprised when one night a car arrived in the dark after I had just gone to bed & MrsTea was sitting up reading, came & parked within just a few feet of us. It seemed odd as there was plenty of space elsewhere. The foreign occupants of the car seemed polite when accosted by MrsTea who equally politely but assertively told them of all the other space they were missing out on. They took the hint, & moved, but from our vantage point we could still see them going about their meal preparations by the light of torches & their car headlights. What had us puzzled until the next day was where they were sleeping. They had no swags, tent or caravan, just a sedan car & there were 4 of them. We met them properly the following morning. They were a newly re-constituted Indian family who had left home (in New South Wales I think) to drive up the Cape with a sense of adventure & zero planning. They had found the campground, eventually with no map, on the verbal instructions obtained after pulling up at the Croc Tent after dark to ask ‘Where could we go to camp” an hour or two earlier. Father had been in Australia the longest, about 6 years I think, & his oldest son had joined him about 2 years ago. However his wife & their youngest son had only just arrived from India for the first time just a few days earlier & father had decided to show them something of Australia & have a bit of an adventure at the same time. They were really lovely people whom we enjoyed chatting to for quite some time. They were very interested in the Tvan & our travels. I knew as soon as they told us their names that I’d never remember them, so if you are reading this guys, I apologise. Father explained ‘ It was late, & we are all of short stature, so we just slept in the car last night, but will put up our tent today”. These were people we had initially thought were totally insensitive to others around them but we could not have been more wrong. We would have enjoyed staying another day in their company but we now found ourselves on a bit of a schedule to keep, with the car booked in at Weipa & us wanting to visit a couple more places on the way. We left them after we had our photographs taken together, wondering, as one time new migrants ourselves, how the wife & younger son were managing the inevitable culture shock of a new country being experienced in this way. Guys if you are reading this, please get in touch, we would welcome more contact with you & would love a copy of the photos.

Somerset beach – no I didn’t catch anything , but had some excitement with something large & powerful that got away!
The boat was used to take paying guests from the beach to a tiny resort on Albany island just offshore.
Albany Island resort
Campground trees

And so it was back to Bamaga via the ‘main’ road & on to Loyalty Beach Campground. Social media had been full of stories about young thieving locals on horseback running amuck at Loyalty Beach, but Katrin assured us the place was fine & she was right. We experienced no sense of threat ,not even a need to keep the constant watchful eye on our belongings that some had advised. It was a pleasant relaxing place to be & to watch the sunsets over the offshore islands. Katrin & her partner Mark who has operated a local car rescue & repair service were a good couple whom we share a sunset & a meal with whilst learning more about life in the NPA. Mark is the chap behind all the emergency towing signs down on the Old Telegraph track, the only recovery service available. Plenty of stories there!

Loyalty Beach

The following day we re-crossed the Jardine on the ferry, leaving the NPA. We were on our way to Weipa but with 3 nights up our sleeves still. The first two we wanted to use to re-visit both Elliot & Twin Falls as well as Fruit Bat Falls, the latter in the hope that we would get to see the falls in all their sunshine glory instead of the dull cloudy overcast visit we had had there on the way up. Our third night would be a visit back to Moreton Telegraph Station to confirm arrangements for our Wet Season there & to clarify what if anything we might need to buy when in Weipa before returning once the car stuff had been fixed. Both lots of Falls were fantastic, two days of swimming & exploring, including the long float down the river from the small falls at ‘The Saucepan’ to the photogenically impressive Twin Falls. The sun shone at Fruitbat falls & apart from swimming we spent hours immersed in the natural spa like rock holes in the river above the falls. It was heaven. Both nights were undisturbed ’stealth camps’ at undisclosed & unauthorised & lovely locations, but we did no harm & left no trace.

Looking upstream from the falls at ‘The Saucepan’ The entire riverbed is rock &the water shallow. A combination resulting in beautifully warm water.
‘The Saucepan’. We floated slowly down the river for a kilometre or so to Twin Falls.
Twin Falls from above
And below
And further below
The following day we were swimming again. This time the sun shone at Fruitbat Falls.
Carnivorous Pitcher Plant

En route to Moreton much of the road was abysmally rough & corrugated as expected toward the end of the tourist season, but on one section of oh so smooth bitumen we saw something in the middle of the road we had never before seen. An entire litter of dingo pups. As we approached they rose & casually wandered into the bushes on the side of the road. No sign of the adults.

Several of the dingo pups had got up & left before we could get a photo. Here the last two are casually leaving.

At Moreton we were ‘welcomed home’. We would be camping still for a few weeks until the owners departed after which we would move into the house. As I write this, on New Years Eve, we have been at Moreton for 3 months now, but that will be the stuff of my next post.

For now we wish every one of you a wonderful new year & hope you will stick around to see what we get up to.

All the best
Cuppa & MrsTea

10 thoughts on “The NPA – Cape York

  1. Hi Cuppa and Mrs Tea,
    Thank you! We really enjoy your tales of your travels. Happy New Year to you both.
    Hope to cross paths some time maybe. We head up that way most years for a few months. We, too, look for the more remote camp spots.
    David & Wendy

  2. Wonderful memories of the (very small) taste of that lifestyle that we experienced in 2003. We met other people who were actually living the life, and wished we could follow. Like another commenter above, we are now much too old. Keep your stories coming!

  3. I loved reading your story Ian. This is the way I would like to live! Without doctors appointments etc! Too old now! Thank you for writing it. I’d love to share it on messenger with the family rather than putting it on Facebook. Looks like I can’t. Love from Peter and Jannette.

    1. Peter and Janette
      I imagine if you subscribe to the email list you could share the stories via email

  4. Happy New Year Cuppa and Mrs Tea. We “did” Cape York and Pajinka in 2018. Your post and pics brought back many great memories. Looking forward to hearing about your stay at Moreton.

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