Our last visit to Captain Billy Landing was by far our worst night of camping we have ever had, there were thunderstorms, torrential rain, cyclonic winds and the road into the campground had more corrugations than the rest of the cape put together, it really was horrible! The view once you were there was nice, but even that didn’t make up for it and we vowed never to return again ….. yet 5 years later we found ourselves back in this exact same spot!
To our surprise, this time the road in was amazing and the wind (which this area is renowned for) wasn’t even that bad, we actually really enjoyed our stay this time.
We arrived relatively early in the day and it was quite hot at camp, so a few of us found some shallow little pools on the water’s edge to sit in and cool off …. always with a watchful eye out for crocodiles which are plentiful in this area!
Some of the boys and the kids went for an explore down the beach and saw a huge crocodile slide going into one of the creeks, it’s scary thinking of what may be watching you!
And speaking of things watching you, we had a large snake near the toilet block and another smaller one in the shelter watching us cook dinner. Of course Shelly had to climb up to check him out and take photos! He looked very similar to our little pet snake Sam.
Captain Billy Landing gets its name from a nearby creek, which itself was named in 1880 after an aboriginal man who called himself Captain Billy.
This area itself was an experimental cattle export site. As you drive in there is an area of grassland which is the site of an old cattle paddock, where cattle were rested prior to being shipped off to market. You can still see the concrete ramp near the shelter which was installed to allow the loading of the cattle onto barges for transport to market at Bamaga & Weipa.
We had the whole campsite to ourselves
A few of us rose early and braved the wind to watch and photograph the sunrise which was beautiful. No better way to start your day than with a view like this.
Our last night at Loyalty Beach was spent with a group dinner at the bar/restaurant. Every Sunday they have Fish ‘n Chip night and this was the perfect way to end our stay at this great caravan park.
Beers and laughs and yet another amazing sunset as we sat eating fish and chips served old school style, wrapped in paper …. this was definitely a great night and the perfect way to celebrate our journey to the tip (not that the trip was over, but we were now ready to start the journey back south).
We had three days of stunning sunsets while staying at Loyalty Beach and took lots of photos, here’s just a few of them!
After leaving the tip we drove a short distance to Somerset, another area of historical significance. Unfortunately there is little left here to share the importance of the area, but with a little research you can find out what really made Somerset so important.
In the mid 1800’s, with significant increases in shipping through the Torres Strait, it was decided to establish a settlement at the top of Australia. In July 1864 John Jardine, a magistrate from Rockhampton, arrived to oversee the establishment of this new settlement, which was completed 18 months later. This new settlement was named Somerset.
The Jardine family homestead was located nearby on top of a hill overlooking Somerset. To this day you can still see the Jardine cannons on the site which mark the entrance to where the homestead once stood.
After later resigning from the role, John’s eldest son, Frank Jardine, took over and served several terms before resigning in 1873.
Frank passed away in 1919 and his Samoan princess wife, Sana, died four years later. Other family members remained in the homestead until they were evacuated during WWII, never to return. Unfortunately the homestead was ultimately burned down by vandals in the 1960’s. It’s sad that this part of history was destroyed.
Both Frank and Sana were buried above the high tide mark on the beach at Somerset. It’s a little hard to find the graveyard as it’s not really marked, but a short walk from the beach and you will see this small area of graves. As well as Frank and Sana there are other family members and other early pioneers of the area buried here. Unfortunately this small grave yard is not well kept and it’s sad that such important people in the history of the cape region are not given a little more respect in death.
We are not sure where John Jardine was buried, but his wife, Elizabeth Jardine’s grave is in the Cooktown Cemetary (pic below from one of our previous visits).
Next we were off to start the 5 Beaches Loop. This takes you on a track which winds along a series of relatively isolated beaches, each separated by headlands. This is one drive well worth doing as you’ll be rewarded with some spectacular views.
We drove down onto the first beach and decided to stop for lunch, another amazing spot. We had the whole beach to ourselves and even managed to fit in a little photo shoot before two of our vehicles headed off back into town.
This isn’t a difficult drive, but it’s a pretty one and gives you another insight into the different terrain and landscape the cape has to offer.
So technically there is a 6th beach on the 5 Beaches Loop, but the entry to this one looked a little sketchy and it was hot and none of us were in the mood for recovering vehicles that day so we decided to head out and back to camp, but not before a drive past Lake Wincheura. This lake is apparently home to many birds and salt water crocodiles, but we saw none! It did look like the type of place you don’t want to be wandering around or camping at though!
As you arrive at the tip you can’t help but notice the abandoned buildings that sit on the edge of the rainforest, slowly being taken over by the bush. We had a very quick look at this on our last visit, but didn’t have any idea of the story behind it at that point. On this latest visit, knowing a lot more about the area and this abandoned resort, we decided we wanted to explore a little further.
This is the remains of the Pajinka Eco Lodge (later renamed Pajinka Wilderness Lodge), which was once a five-star luxury resort located right before you reach the current car park area at the base of the tip. In its day there was a private rainforest boardwalk which guided resort guests towards the tip.
The accommodation consisted of bungalows, each with private bathrooms, bedroom and verandahs. The resort had direct pick ups for Thursday Island tours, offered great fishing charters and one of the more popular and promoted activities was the Indigenous cultural experience offered by a local Aboriginal man. Looking at it today its hard to imagine, but back in the day this would have been one amazing resort located in one of the most spectacular places around.
Now as we started investigating what had happened to this resort we actually found it hard to find too much information. There are a few different stories floating around and it seems a little secrecy as to what the real story may be, but from what we gather the basic story goes something like this …….
The lodge was opened in 1986 by Bush Pilot Airways (later Air Queensland). Ownership subsequently changed to Ansett Airlines and later to Qantas, before reverting back to its native title and being sold to the Injinoo Aboriginal Corporation in 1992.
The resort remained open for a number of years, but apparently things were slowly going downhill. Poor management was reported as one of the key reasons for failure, as well as talk of unpaid wages and clashes between Indigenous staff from different clans. At the ultimate time of demise, it must have been the off-season and the resort was operating on a skeleton staff when a fire broke out in the generator workshop and destroyed the generator shed and numerous vehicles. This had a significant impact on the resort and with no power and no money for repairs there was not much that could be done. Everyone just walked away, literally just walked out and never came back. The bar was left stocked, there was linen on the beds, drinks in the fridge, air conditioners and industrial washers and dryers ……. EVERYTHING was left behind.
Over the years things have been stripped out and taken from the site, I’m sure by locals and travellers alike, the main infrastructure of the buildings is still there, but there is little else. Anything of any value was obviously taken long ago. From what we’ve read, the lodge had a sign up in 2002 saying “closed for renovations” but it never did reopen.
What would have been a beautiful place in an equally beautiful location is now a derelict site which is being taken over by nature. The boardwalk that once led to the tip is barely there and the wood of the structures is decaying and suffering from the elements. The buildings are probably not overly safe to be wandering around in, but we took a look around anyway! You had to be careful where you walked as steps were no longer there, wood was cracking under your feet and there were holes in the floors of some of the cabins (not to mention spiders and snakes and whatever other wildlife was making their home around here!). Most of the electrical power points, lamps, fans had been removed from the cabins, but some did still have their toilets and sinks in tact.
During our last visit there was corrugated iron covering the pool, but this time it was open ….. as hot as it was, this pool was not saying ‘come swim in me’! We’ve heard stories that a salt water crocodile was found in the pool a few years ago, I’m sure there are plenty of things living in that pool!
Apparently there has been talk of reopening the resort over the years, but the site is too far gone now for any refurbishment. This is a fabulous site for a resort and in theory it should be a great business opportunity for someone. But the tourist season doesn’t run for the full year, with most of the Cape York region being cut off and inaccessible during the wet season, so this would add its own set of challenges for the resort. Back in the day, being a luxury resort, I’m sure many guests were flown in by plane, but I can’t imagine it would be a relaxing holiday to be up there in the middle of the wet season. The heat and humidity and rain, and of course being isolated due to flooded roads, would take a little of the appeal away.
In some ways I think this needs to remain exactly how it is, the bushland and rainforest taking over and the remains of the resort now just another page in history. The area has such a magical feeling about it, it is rugged yet beautiful at the same time. To have this area taken over by a multi million dollar resort with masses of people around would really take away from the natural beauty of this area, it would take a little bit of that magic and sense of adventure away.
On Sunday 22nd July 2018 a group of friends donned their matching shirts and made the trek to the northernmost point of mainland Australia ……. 15 people and 6 4WD’s left camp early that morning with a feeling of excitement and anticipation that soon they would be standing on the tip of Australia, this is what the trip had all been about. Months and maybe even years of dreaming and preparation for this trip and we were all now so close to seeing that sign and standing on the tip of Australia.
As you leave the township of Bamaga and take the turnoff to Pajinka you notice the landscape change. As you drive through what is known as the Lockerbie Scrub you are surrounded, and often dwarfed, by the lush rainforest around you. The Lockerbie Scrub is the northern most rainforest on mainland Australia. There is so much diversity in the landscape, one minute you are driving through rainforest and the next you are surrounded by huge eucalypt woodland. This is a really one of the prettiest drives in the area, although the narrow windy road does get a little scary with others driving too fast and on the wrong side of the road. You really have no idea how many near misses we had on this road, during both of our visits.
On the way up you pass the Croc Tent, which you really must stop at. This place is filled with souvenirs, gifts and t-shirts, plus plenty of helpful information on the area and road conditions. It originally opened in the early 80s on land that was once part of Lockerbie Station – opposite the tent are the remains of the old homestead Station, which was established by Frank Jardine. In 1988 the business moved to its current location at the junction of Punsand Bay & Pajinka Road, approximately 17km from the tip of Australia. The current owners, Dale and Lea live on site with their young family and run the store. They could not be more helpful and they know everything there is to know about Cape York. They are so friendly and happy to help so go in and have a chat! Dale and Lea are actually taking a break shortly and our good friends are moving up there to take over the store for a few months, what an amazing experience that’s going to be for them! …. we are maybe just a little jealous guys!
There is no way to explain exactly what it feels like to know you’ve made it, to know you are standing there on the tip of Australia. It’s a feeling of accomplishment, an awe-inspiring feeling as you make your way up the track (which isn’t an easy walk) and take in the spectacular views that surround you. As you make your way down the other side of the hill and see that sign you know you’ve made it, you know you’re about to mark one more thing off the bucket list. It’s at this point that you realise how lucky you are to be experiencing the magic of this area, this is the reward for braving the corrugations, dust and dirt of the past few days!
For George and myself it was our second visit to this point so it was a slightly different feeling for us this time, but it was amazing to see how excited all our friends were and know that we’d shared in that moment and would forever be part of the memories from that day.
Pajinka lies right on the coast and is surrounded by the rocky hill climb on one side and beautiful blue water on the other. Looking to the left you see the beautiful white sand of Frangipani Beach, with the rainforest behind.
Approximately 17km south-west of the tip of Cape York you will find Possession Island. This is where Captain James Cook rowed ashore and formally claimed all of eastern Australia on 22nd August 1770.
Whatever you decide to call it …… ‘The Tip’, ‘Cape York’ or it’s indigenous name ‘Pajinka’, it’s a place that should be on everyone’s must visit list, it truly is spectacular. It’s the remoteness, the unspoiled wilderness, the natural beauty of the area, the people, the adventure ….. it’s all of this rolled into one, it’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been why we love this place so much. It just has this hold over you and you can’t help but fall in love with the area. Once you visit, you’ll understand.
After a morning of checking out the plane crash sites we drove back into Bamaga to grab some supplies from the bakery. We got some great cakes and pies from here on our last visit, but this time their produce was pretty bare and what we did manage to buy was nice, but not great. I wonder if they’ve changed hands since our last visit.
We did later find out that the supply boat had apparently broken down and supplies had been delayed by days ……. this obviously affected the bakery and also the supermarket, which had no supplies of bread or cold meat etc. One of the downsides of living in a remote area.
Next on the bucket list was a stop at the Bamaga Tavern. Why you may ask? Well to have a beer in the northern most pub on the Australian mainland of course!
After a few beers and lunch we all headed back to camp to relax for the afternoon. It was incredibly hot, so we both decided to go for a drive around the area while the others relaxed back at camp. We took a drive through Umagico and Injinoo and found a great little park right on the water. It was a beautiful spot and the breeze was great, it was a much more bearable temperature than it was back at camp!
While George took the drone for a few flights, Shelly walked around taking photos.
I love the photo below, it really sums up the cape region, the colours in this photo really say ‘Cape York’. The blue of the sky, the green of the tropical palm trees, the rich red of the dirt, the sand and the beautiful aqua blue water that surrounds the land, this is what it’s all about, this is why we love the area.
While we were all off exploring for the day, Jim & Jacky and David & Maria were off on their own adventure, a day trip to the beautiful Thursday Island. This is another stunning place to visit and again, filled with history. We spent a day on Thursday Island during our last visit to the cape and loved it.
Back at camp we experienced another amazing cape sunset.
What better way to end the night and discuss the days adventures than a campfire on the beach ….. yes this is the life.
There are a few WW2 plane wrecks around the area, the easiest to find is the DC3 that crashed in 1945. This one is situated just off the side of the road to the Bamaga Airport.
The DC3 aircraft, operated by the RAAF, departed Archerfield Airport in Brisbane en route to New Guinea. On 5th May 1945, the plane clipped some trees and crashed at this site in Bamaga and all on board were killed.
From what we’ve read, the RAAF personnel killed were initially buried at Jackey Jackey War Cemetery, but were later relocated to the Townsville War Cemetery. Jackey Jackey Airfield (now known as Bamaga Airport) was named after Jackey Jackey, the Aboriginal friend of Edmund Kennedy, and the only survivor of the Kennedy expedition.
This particular wreck is fairly well-preserved and the most intact of the wrecks.
After checking out the maps it looked like there were two more wrecks located out past the airport so we went in search of these. After venturing off into the bush we ended up finding the Beaufort Bomber.
As you drive through the bush you pass numerous fuel dumps from WWII. There are literally thousands of rusting fuel drums lying around.
We then tried to follow our paper maps to make our way to the second plane wreck in this area, a Kittyhawk. Our track was gradually getting deeper into the forest and the track was getting narrow and very overgrown. After weaving our way through the bush on tracks that looked like they hadn’t been driven in years, we finally worked out why they looked that way …. the track was blocked off!! Now that was fun trying to turn four 4WD’s around on a tight track …. and I meant tight, at times our brush bars were nearly touching trees on either side of the track as we were driving.
We later heard that the third plane wreck has now possibly been removed.
Both planes have fences around them, but other than that they are open to the elements and it’s amazing how intact these planes actually still are. If this was in Sydney they would have been vandalised, covered in graffiti, stolen or scooped up and placed in a museum, which is great for preservation, but you lose some of that history and ‘feeling’ of being there. This is what we both absolutely love about remote travel, most people actually have respect and it’s because of this that these important sites can remain.
Both of these planes lay where they crashed, it’s quite a sobering and eerie feeling to know that you are standing in the exact place that people lost their lives. At the same time though, it’s great that these crash sites are still there and we can pay our respects. Each site has a plaque and it’s a nice memorial to the personnel who died in the plane crashes, selfless men and woman who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.
After crossing the Jardine River you enter into the Northern Peninsula Area (NPA). The NPA covers the communities of Injinoo, Umagico, Bamaga, New Mapoon and Seisia. This is the gateway to the Torres Strait islands and of course to the tip of Australia!
Entering the NPA also meant the start of our alcohol restrictions, which may have meant some of the boys having a drinking session the night before to dispose of some liquor! A lot of the communities in the Cape York region have alcohol restrictions (limits to the amount and type of alcohol you can carry, as well as the alcohol content allowed), some are even dry communities where no alcohol at all is allowed. This is quite normal in many remote towns and Aboriginal communities across Australia, so it wasn’t anything new to us, but you really do need to do your research before travelling remote as there are huge fines that apply if you are caught with alcohol in your vehicle.
The peninsula north of the Jardine River is surrounded by water – the Coral Sea to the east, the Arafura Sea and Gulf of Carpentaria to the west, and the Torres Strait to the north.
This area is full is history, with ruins at Somerset and also WW2 relics around the Bamaga area. If you have the time, there is so much to explore in this region.
Even taking a drive out into some of the communities is an eye opener. The one thing that is really confronting and got to us on both visits is the amount of stray dogs. The poor things are so skinny, just pure skin and bones and most of them with either terrible skin conditions, cuts and wounds and limps from old untreated broken bones. It’s heartbreaking to see this. There are so many puppies running around and some of the mummy dogs look like pups themselves, it’s such a horrible situation. We just wanted to pack them all up in the 4WD and take them home with us.
It’s not only the stray dogs you need to worry about, it’s the wild horses that roam the streets and campgrounds aswell.
We were all staying at the Loyalty Beach Campground, which is where we both stayed last time. There are a few campgrounds around, but we loved this one last time so decided to stay there again. It’s quite a large park with plenty of space for everyone, the facilities are good, the staff are friendly and helpful, the sunsets are amazing …. and they have a bar on site!
The view from the bar
Two of the vehicles from our group arrived at the park earlier in the day and found us the perfect spot, right on the beach. We couldn’t have asked for a better place to call home for the next 3 days.
Here’s a little bit of random trivia for you …… Seisia (pronounced Say Sea A) is the most northern community on mainland Australia. It’s name was derived after a family of Saibai Islanders moved to the area after World War II, in 1948 . Seisia was formed by taking the first letter of the names of 5 men – Sagaukaz, Elu, Isua, Sunai, Ibuai, Aken.
Fruit Bat Falls are spectacular and it’s easy to see why this is such a popular spot on the Old Tele Track. It’s one of the major highlights and ‘must visit’ places of the whole cape region. Last time (and for most of this visit) we were lucky enough to have it all to ourselves, but it’s generally full of people.
Pic from our last trip as the day was a little overcast this time, as you’ll see below!
After a tough, hot and dirty day on the tracks, this is the perfect spot to relax and have a swim. It’s such a beautiful area and what a great experience it is to swim under a waterfall, that’s something everyone wants to do, right?!
There are plenty of waterfalls in far North Queensland and they are all stunning in their own way. Some are spectacularly high and ferocious, some are small, some are accessible for swimming, some aren’t. Fruit Bat Falls is a low, wide waterfall with a large area of crystal clear water perfect for a refreshing swim.
From Fruit Bat Falls it was a relatively short drive to our camp for the night at the national park campsite at Eliot Falls. We were all eager to set up camp and then make our way down to the next set of waterfalls.
A short walk from the campsite and you will find the equally stunning Eliot Falls and Twin Falls, another two spots that offer apparent crocodile free swimming.
This area is a photographers dream, you really have no idea how breathtaking and pristine this area is until you visit.
After our adventures at Palm Creek it was time to continue on with the rest of the tele track ……. almost immediately after Palm Creek we reached Ducie Creek, followed by South and North Alice Creek. The next crossing, and the largest water crossing so far, was the Dulhunty River. It’s a pretty area here with plenty of camping spots and a small waterfall, a great place to grab some photos. It was here that we all decided this would be the perfect spot to stop for lunch and chat about the mornings adventures and wonder what was ahead of us. After lunch, Lauren and Shelly decided it was their turn to show the boys how to do it and they took the wheel for the next few crossings!
The Dulhunty, although being the largest river crossing so far, was easy. It’s hard rocky bottom made for a very easy crossing.
Soon after Dulhunty you come to Bertie Creek, again a relatively easy crossing with a rocky bottom, but plenty of large holes to navigate around, so this one took a walk-through first to check it out.
A little further to the north you come to the famous Gunshot (there is a bypass, but we were all keen to do it – or at least check it out, so we continued on). Now everyone who knows anything about Cape York or the Old Tele Track would have seen or heard about the famous Gunshot. YouTube is filled with videos of people attempting/accomplishing Gunshot and/or rolling or severely damaging their 4WD at Gunshot!
The original entry into Gunshot Creek is a near vertical drop and when you see it on the videos, that’s nothing to what it’s like when you are standing there! Now this original entry is pretty much a no go nowadays, but in saying by that, every year people like to try it out to say they’ve done the ‘original Gunshot’. We all really love our 4WDs and kinda wanted to keep them for the rest of the trip, so we decided against attempting this entry!
There are now numerous entries going into Gunshot so it’s just a matter of picking the one you want (none are overly easy, but at least you have a choice!). Shelly was really excited to be driving Gunshot, as George had driven it on our last trip. It’s one of those things you get to mark off ‘the list’!
This year there had been numerous rollovers coming out of the exit of Gunshot so we were all a little nervous about that, but luckily it wasn’t as bad as what it was made out to be. Of course accidents can happen so easily when you are off-road, but a little common sense, walking the tracks beforehand a not being a dickhead really does go a long way!
Just north of Gunshot is the grave of W.J. Brown, a linesman who died on the Old Telegraph Track in 1945.
Cockatoo Creek required another walk through before proceeding, to point out the large holes hidden under the water. Sailor Creek has a bridge so that wasn’t an issue at all (and this one you really can call a bridge, not like the so-called ‘bridge’ at Cypress Creek!). After here it’s back onto the corrugated bypass road for a few km before turning back in to head down to Fruit Bat Falls. We will do a separate post on the falls as they are so beautiful they deserve to be showcased on their own!
From Fruit Bat Falls it was a short drive to our camp for the night at the Eliot Falls campground …. more on that later.