Cape York – the Old Telegraph Track

We began the second leg of our Cape York adventure heading north, eager to get a taste for the Old Telegraph Track (OTT) where the real adventure begins.

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The junction to the Old Telegraph Track

The OTT is an unmaintained track that traces the path of the Overland Telegraph Line, an early means of communication to the Cape. The track is littered with creek crossings, challenging terrain and unspoilt wilderness, heralding its iconic reputation for four-wheel drive enthusiasts. If you look carefully, you may even spot one of the old Telegraph poles still standing, as many have been knocked over or souvenired.

The Bramwell Roadhouse is the junction where the OTT intersects with the main thoroughfare. It’s also the last stop for fuel until the Jardine River Crossing (116km). There’s camping, water, food, information and other accommodation on hand.

The alternative rest point is the Bramwell Station which is a further six clicks from the junction. At the time of travel, the station was managed by Dick and Kaline. We enjoyed a few good meals there, happy to enjoy the hospitality and air-conditioned comfort.

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Palm Creek, the first crossing, isn’t for the faint hearted!

In addition to the campgrounds and donga style rooms, facilities include a bar, home cooked style meals, tv, hot showers, flushing toilets, shelters and washing machines, so it has all the essentials of a relaxing stay.

There’s also a covered storage area for caravans for those travelling further north. We opted to store our hybrid camper here, so we could have some fun on the OTT.

We left early the next morning, keen to start our off-road adventure. The first creek crossing at Palm Creek was a doozy, with a steep, eroded bank and near vertical drop into a mud hole filled with logs, indicative of past trouble. As further evidence, a pile of vehicle parts including side steps and plastic bumper components, lay discarded nearby.

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Even the ‘chicken’ track at Gunshot masked hidden obstacles

Our travelling companions were towing a camper trailer and took one look down the deep drop into the crossing and shook their heads in dismay. Shortly after, we were backtracking to the junction to find an alternative entry point.

We continued north along Bamaga Road, leap frogging the Palm and Dulcie Creek crossings, cutting back through a fire trail to South Alice Creek.

The Dulhunty River was the first wet crossing, the track entering via big cuttings higher than the vehicle. Next it was Bertie Creek requiring a short diversion up the creek bed to find the passage of least resistance; the sharp-edged potholes being the main area of concern. Then the revered Gunshot Creek Crossing. Here we found a 200 Series Toyota hooked up on its trailer drawbar, performing a tricky downhill winch. With the Toyota clear, we guided each other down a steep, narrow, lumpy descent and into the deceptively deep crossing, admiring the wall of vehicle parts on the way past. Going by the carnage, the crossing had claimed its fair share of scalps over the years. But worse was yet to come!

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Another pretty creek crossing along the Old Telegraph Track

Cockatoo Crossing, sporting croc warning signs and rock steps, required careful wading to ascertain the best line. We were surprised to find a lovely campground on the other side of the river with new high-rise eco-loos, a large shelter with picnic tables and plenty of shade. Rather than hike on to the popular Eliot Falls, we chose to camp there and had the place to ourselves. It was a short hop to the intersection of the Southern Bypass the next day.

Back on the Bamaga Road, we continued to Fruit Bat Falls, a day-use only facility and popular croc-free swimming hole. Water cascades over a rock plateau here into the creek below, providing a wide expanse of water to splash around in.

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The campground on the northern side of Cockatoo Creek

The Eliot Falls Campground is a further 9km away, past a deep ford, shown on some maps as Scrubby Creek. Eliot Creek narrows as it nears the campground, passing Eliot Falls initially and later flowing into Canal Creek to reach Twin Falls, better suited to swimming for the kids.

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The falls are one of few croc-free swimming holes

That brings us to the end of our second instalment. Catch up with us again next time as we count the costs of the Old Telegraph Track, explore the Tip and head south via the west coast of the Cape.