The Final Test
Just seven kilometres further up the Peninsula Development Road (or the OTT bypass road) we arrived at the entrance to the northern section of the track. Time for the big guns.
WE ARE HERE
This is also the entrance to Fruit Bat Falls. The falls are one of the main attractions on the Cape and as they can be accessed off the Peninsula Development Road (PDR) with ease, they can also be busy. However, it is such a great spot that no one should drive past without spending a few hours here – you don’t drive all this way just for the tip! Speaking of all this way, it’s a long haul up here, even from Cooktown, and some stretches of the PDR can only be described as “shit house” so make the most of every minute you’re here and make that journey worth it. For us, Melbourne is another world away so we can’t say no to giving it all a go. We might never make it up this way again, I mean hopefully we will, but who knows? It’s also good to remember that although there can be quite a lot of traffic, this place is remote and maybe not the sort of place you want to go too crazy abusing your 4×4.
Just a few kms up the track is Scrubby Creek. Barely marked on maps these days, Scrubby now has a bypass with a little causeway. The main line is washed out on both the entry and exit as well as being fairly long and deep dirty water. We walked it first, as anyone should, and had a great time pushing the Jeep & Tvan through. Only a splash of water in the car but the exit turned out to be a great challenge. We ended up winching. It was always going to be a big ask to get up such an embankment, and we even started to attract a crowd.
Next stop, Eliot Falls and campground; another place you could spend half a day just lazing around and having a good time. It’s worth noting that while the 4WD track is not National Park, Eliot Falls and the campground are, so camping there requires booking and payment. The falls were a great way to spend a day relaxing but it was time to get serious, the northern section of the track is all about water crossings. These are the kind of water crossings you dream about with clear warm water, twists and turns, waterfalls, rocky bottoms, and all in close proximity. Just be careful to walk them first or at least watch someone else do it before you. Even if it looks straight forward, you should be taking your time.
First up was Canal Creek, which as the name suggests is like a little rocky canal you drive through. Not particularly deep and with a firm base it was still a lot of fun. Up the other side is a bit of “choose your own adventure”, something for everyone. Next is Sams Creek, this was straight forward with a waterfall on your right, not too long and not too deep. Sams is also a great swimming and camping spot! Mistake Creek was next with a sandy bottom, but not too challenging even with the Tvan on the back. Then Cannibal Creek, a bit more involved with a steep entry and drop off into the water. It’s reasonably deep and sandy and involves a u-turn right in the middle. After a good walk through I decided to take a really wide arc where the water was not as deep. A little reverse manoeuvre mid crossing for a second bite at the u-ie, but it worked well. The exit of Cannibal Creek is a test of suspension articulation and had been pretty dug up by people spinning wheels and lifting tyres, just like we witnessed the crew do in front of us before we attempted it. The Jeep was in it’s element and flexed its way up Tvan in tow.
The iconic log bridge across Cypress Creek is next. While not that challenging it’s still a must see. She’s not much to look at, which makes you scratch your head as to how she supports any vehicles. But I figure if everyone is driving their massively overloaded 4x4s over her, the light weight Jeep should do it easy.
It was then time for the “big boy” water crossings of Logans and Nolans. At this time of year they are very crossable for a well setup 4×4, however many 4x4s are still totally written off every year with hundreds having to be towed out. The original line at Logans is fairly extreme with a very long, very deep, sandy bottom run. Made worse by the fact it’s more like a swamp area and the water is not clear. We chose to go further up and cross at the narrowest point (where most people had been crossing). It’s still deep and sandy but it’s smooth, so with some entry speed it was like a bandaid, just rip it off in one motion. The Jeep had got a taste of deep water, but it had no idea what was coming.
Nolans Brook is one of the most well known river crossings in Australia, and it is known for one thing. Drowning vehicles. We arrived here late in the afternoon at the same time as another group. We watched them basically get towed across, meaning they connected the strap up before hand and were then pulled through. Luckily there were plenty of helpful campers on the northern side happy to give a hand. There are at least 5-6 options of entry point into Nolans and one beach style exit. It’s proper deep and sandy, some routes are the quick in & out approach but the main line is like a dug out trench. It’s even a little rutted on the bottom if being chest deep water wasn’t enough. The option was there to just get towed across but I thought that was a little disappointing and I might regret not giving it a go. Preparation is key and if there wasn’t another car on the other side ready to assist, this crossing could write off your vehicle in a second. If you were to get bogged you are relying on your winch working underwater and being able to connect it all up quickly before your car fills with water. Luckily we heard all the horror stories after we crossed, like a 200 series Land Cruiser with water up to the steering wheel inside. F@#$!
I did all the preparation, let the tyres down to 12psi, connected the snatch strap, recovery vehicle at the ready on the north banks, prep winch and test. Tvan owners should remember to lock all the van compartments too. Before I had time to worry or second guess myself, in we went. The entry was steep and I took it cautiously because the Tvan still has to come down behind. At the point of no return I gave it the berries. It’s fair to say it didn’t go exactly how I imagined. The Jeep does not have a giant lift or huge tyres and it doesn’t weigh anything like what a fully loaded ute or Land Cruiser weighs. So it started to float pretty much straight away and I didn’t have enough momentum. It slowly moved along but I couldn’t get the line that I would have liked. When I did get to the point when I could feel the front grab onto the bottom, I had too much panic throttle on and it just dug holes.
Luckily we had prepared for such a situation and as soon as I stopped moving and started going down, our great friend Jake dived in, grabbed the snatch strap (which was tucked in the bull bar) and quickly shackled it to the recovery vehicle. It was a very quick recovery and there wasn’t even much load on the strap, but it saved the day. It was however, enough time to cover the floor mats with water, and we also de-beaded a tyre. But we had a great time and provided some entertainment for everybody. There was cheering as I opened the door to release the water, and everyone pitched in to give a hand. The campsite was full of people who just want to have fun, some even having driven in from the north just to camp and watch the show.
Did I learn anything? Definitely. Would I change anything? Yeah probably. But did I regret anything? Absolutely not. When we are back in Victoria, I’ll know that we gave it the best shot we could with what we had. It would be a tuff ask for any 4×4 to do what we did and the Jeep is not ruined, it still runs, and thanks to the little drain plugs in the floor, it dried out quickly. Nolans was our highlight for the Tele Track and one of the best memories we made up the Cape. We ended up staying two nights at Nolans, meeting great people, and watching others “Nolans it up”. Some crossed no dramas, others were towed through, and some weren’t so lucky. There were many repairs, drying carpets, and one ruined ute, and that was just one day! We spent our nights planning our return trip. What a great part of the world.
Once you have conquered Nolans it’s back out on the PDR and onto the Jardine River ferry to conclude your Tip of the Cape Ausventure.
Our next blog will be from: Our OTT Finale - The Tip
Until our next update - see you on / off the road 😉
Cassie and Micky