Travelling to the Tip, Cape York Peninsula 2003 - Pt 1
Cape York, or the “Tip” is one of the icons of outback Australia. Cape
York Peninsula is the last frontier on the east coast of Australia, and
the drive up to the Tip is a classic outback journey. You can’t truly
say you’ve been around Australia till you’ve been up to the tip.
I spent three weeks travelling to and poking around the upper part of
the Peninsula in late August – early September this year, and have put
together a few notes on conditions up there.
The first point is that it is not as hard to get to the Tip during the
DRY season as you might expect. The main roads are reasonably good for
outback roads, and pose few challenges for medium clearance vehicles.
There were certainly far fewer badly corregated sections than I
I was driving a Subaru Forrester [a light-weight four wheel drive,
rated as having 20 cm of ground clearance] and found that much of the
Peninsula Development Road and much of the Telegraph Road south of
Bramwell Junction to be 80-100 km/h standard, while the northern and
southern bypasses to the north of Bramwell Junction were 50-60 km/hr
standard. The worst section of main drag was last 20 km south of the
While world rally car champions would traverse the Road south of
Bramwell Junction at 150-200 km/h, they do have specialist vehicles and
navigators with detailed road notes. The main roads may merit the
“mostly harmless” designation [to borrow a concept from the Hitchhikers
Guide to the Galaxy] but there are a few hazards that you have to look
The first is that bridges are few and far between, so you have to
traverse dozens [if not hundreds] of dips. Many of these dips have
warning signs, and you need to slow down when you see one of these
signs, as you will know it if you go though one a bit too fast. A
local wit has gone though and scrawled on quite a few signs, so you may
get distracted if you read the additions.
The second hazard is the odd rock lying in the middle of the road –
sometimes these are right in the driving line, and you could have
problems if you hit one of them. This is a possibility if you get too
close to a truck [the third hazard].
Trucks trail huge dust clouds, which may impair your vision for up to
500 metres. You can only overtake a truck if it slows to a crawl to
let you pass, you hit a low dust section of road, or you hit a patch of
bitumen. There are several patches of bitumen, which are long enough
[about 5 km] for you to catch and overtake a road train, so it is worth
knowing where they are, so you can be in position to take advantage of
them. For example, there is a section between Lakefield and Laura, a
long section through Coen [all the way to the quarantine station], and
10 km north of the Archer River road house [the last patch of bitumen
till you hit civilisation].
Finally, you will see advisory signs about dust holes and rough roads –
these are basically warning about patches of bulldust. There are also
a few patches of deep sand on the southern bypass [knocked the ‘sump
guard’ off whe
I hit one deep patch].
The other spot of damage I picked up was a staked tyre on one of the
few rocky sections of the road. This illustrates another aspect of the
Peninsula – the non-availability of spares. Because the sidewall of
the tyre was cut, it was unrepairable, but it was not possible to get a
replacement tyre of the same dimensions, even in Weipa – the largest
and best-stocked town. [I had to make do with a punctured second-hand
tyre that was a bit wider, but would fit on the wheel rim].
The moral of the story is that if you have a major problem, you may
have to wait a while for the parts brought in [we came across a
Victorian farmer at Moreton Telegraph Station who was riding a
motorbike up to the Tip - he had destroyed his sprocket and had to get
a replacement set flown into Weipa then trucked across.]
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