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Cape York

Trip to `The Tip'

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Trip to `The Tip'

We are 500km north of Cairns, and heading for the tip of Cape York - via Musgrave Roadhouse, Morton and Bramwell Junction - on road corrugations that loosen teeth, across creeks, rivers and dangerous dust holes, while dodging drifts of wandering 'droughtmaster' cattle.

Then it's the famed Jardine Ferry - a motorized, cable driven flat-bottom barge - on to Bamaga and finally 'The Tip'... an understated title that takes a bit of getting used to. Nevertheless, it is the most northern tip of mainland Australia... right here... where we stand on this wild rocky outcrop. And it really is Torres Strait that lay before us - after 4-months on the road - our most northern mainland frontier, a romantic realm of past explorers and somehow-exotic halfway islands... with Papua New Guinea just over there. 

But we are not alone, having been lucky to meet Wendy and Al from the Gold Coast who share the rough and tumble ride of the more challenging top end side trips - their wine-red Landcruiser meticulously prepared for the journey.  And this is a pilgrimage of sorts for many others that come this way too, most seemingly returning home the exact same way in the quickest manner possible - an eclectic gaggle of grey nomads, extended families, friends, loners, clubs and couples. Some have 'Tip' team shirts especially printed, in the brightest fluoro colours with their very own meaningful message.

Others see it as a test of nerve and a culmination of their 4WD adventure trek - to conquer the iconic Old Telegraph Track - a sort-of coming of age initiation where the toughness of both vehicle and driver are tested, with any subsequent wreckage or scars paraded with pride and bragged about for years to come.

At The Tip today the east wind is fresh on the side of our faces, the air salty, with hot, stinging sun giving way to intermittent drifts of rain. We gaze north across a narrow strait to York Island, past a pod of pilot whales that surface and sink, as they journey east. A gigantic turtle suns itself on the surface and a 4m croc heads west to who knows where.

But the  wildlife can wait as we all take turns standing by A RICKETY SIGN ON A POST, for the compulsory photo opportunity. 'The Teeshirts' toss in a fishing line and pose for additional action snaps. One dad nudges his 4yo son close to the edge for a better photo and barks instructions on how to cast a fishing line... so close that we fear the poor kid may slip in his rubber thongs and tumble into the same heaving water that throws spray onto his tiny feet.

But there's no denying the place is special, even with the rain and wind, the constant stream of scrambling souls like us, the whirr of an overhead drone and the whiff of cigarette smoke here and there.

It is sad though, to think of someone willingly leaving litter at a place like this... of the occasional coke can, plastic drink bottle or butt that threaten to make The Tip 'a tip'. And it is disappointing to think of those almost anonymous persons travelling from far away while carrying a can of paint to leave their mark on these ancient protruding rocks that have sat here forever, the first Australians choosing to leave them untouched for 65,000yrs.

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Local info rules, OK?

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Local info rules, OK?

From the Daintree and Cape Tribulation we drive up the iconic Bloomfield Track to Cooktown, to then head directly north and the isolated Cape Melville on our roundabout route to Cape York - until today that is. But as always, we've wondered about the condition of the roads, and it's not until Cooktown where we finally get the low-down... the good oil... the truth about the actual situation on the ground up there at Melville.

Jane works at the Tourist Information Centre and cafe, just by the Botanical Gardens, and is eager to help with a wealth of advice after having been in The Gulf regional health field for many years.

She scratches her head, tilting her head to one side. Jane seems to recall a possible problem with our plan. "Well it's like this", Jane says. "You just can't beat local info... and I do remember... something." She screws up her eyes in deep thought, deferring to a tall visitor in khaki sitting on the veranda.

"Yeah", the man says, tweaking the wide, warped brim of a lopsided Akubra that's seen more than its share of Gulf weather, "it's been pretty damn wet up there for this time of year, even Park rangers haven't been in yet." He shakes his hatted head. "In fact there's someone stuck out there right now." He nods knowingly, seems to be talking more to himself now. "Had to get a chopper to lift those blokes out. Mmmm... up here for a boys' weekend." His smile is a thin smile. "A pretty expensive exercise that, 'specially since they should never have been up there in the first place."

We thank him and Jane for the info, and order Jane's zucchini chocolate cake and 2-flat whites, our maps, booklets and pamphlets in piles on the table.

It's true we have our GPS, hard-copy maps, phones, internet and  iPad. But we definitely get the picture. Up here, we are learning that things can get sticky at the drop of a grotty Gulf hat... and it's local knowledge that wins every time.

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