As we left Lakefield National Park we were reaching for our phones to search Wikicamps for our next site. This App has proved invaluable on the trip, although many folks “secret” spots are now accessible to anyone with the App. One that looked good lies just north of Cooktown, on land owned by a sprightly 90 year old local named Eddy. Elim Beach is a fairly large site bordering the mangrove-lined beach, offering all basic amenities at a cheap price, and a short walk from Coloured Sands beach.
We met Eddy just outside his house making traditional style woomeras, or spear throwers. A bit deaf and not a man of many words but an interesting elder to talk to. He was disappointed that youngsters are no longer interested in the traditional ways and he seemed to be making as many woomeras as he could because no-one else will make them when he is gone. When quizzed about the properties of marine putty over original tree sap used as glue he shrugged gently dismissing the inferior quality with “white man’s glue”. He’s happy to use it though as his supply of traditional tree sap has dried up, again due to his fellow clan members rarely collecting it these days. The next morning we saw him leaving for town, dressed very smartly in jeans and long-sleeved shirt, probably one of the last of the “big men” in this region, and a great privilege to meet him.
Sandy, who we met the previous day, joined us at Elim Beach and joined us walking down to the coloured sands. We collected bags of different coloured sands, and Sandy painted the kids faces different colours yellows, oranges, and reds. There was even black sand.
The small art centre in nearby Hope Vale was worth a visit and showcased the local talent. We love the way indigenous artwork embraces natural products, and uses seeds either as “canvases” or for necklaces. On our way through Amanda had got talking to the local Lutherian pastor, the village still being very “church orientated”. When she couldn’t find a lemon in the grocery stall to go with Oscar’s Barra he sent us up the road to see his wife who donated one to the cause. The town of Hope Vale was a very friendly place that we should have spent more time in but we were on the move.
Cooktown was a short drive south from Elim Beach. It was windy, some say the windiest place in Australia but at least it was sunny too. We visited the museum to see the anchor and cannon from Captain Cook’s ship the Endeavour that were salvaged nearby where the ship had hit a reef just off the coast on 10th June 1770. All the ships heaviest items were thrown overboard to save the ship from sinking. Cook climbed a nearby mountain, where the lighthouse stands today, to observe the tricky situation he was in, with multiple reefs and unfavourable winds making further passage along the coast quite treacherous. We visited the spot but not being sailors couldn’t really contemplate his dilemma. The view was impressive though, and the reefs were still there too, scattered across the horizon! Back at the museum the kids performed a treasure hunt and I found it interesting to find European items that pre-date settlement, often by hundreds of years. Of particular interest were 15th century Chinese storage urns (probably brought by Chinese in the gold rush) and a rather ornate piece of Dutch porcelain from the 17th Century I believe, possibly even earlier. It had been acquired from the Jardine family who apparently had found it up near the tip of Cape York. History could have been written so differently!
South of Cooktown we had a couple of mandatory stops on the itinerary, the first being Archer Point. Recommended by a few travellers and Wikicamps, we stopped at a very windblown beach for lunch, the few caravans tucked behind palms for cover. The view was pleasant but the wind was thwarting even the bravest fishermen’s attempts to catch dinner.
We then headed inland through the Black Mountain National Park which are very aptly named. The range consists of massive black boulders of granite. With no soil very little grows there, and that which can survive has to endure temperature extremes as the rocks have terrific capacity to absorb solar heat. One large ancient tree high up appeared to have lost its battle to survive and a brown carcass sat perched high above us in the rock pile as we drove past.
Beyond here we stopped in to visit the Lion’s Den Hotel. Built in 1875 in Helenvale, next to the Little Annan River, this country pub is a well known tourist attraction, with all the expected associated paraphernalia. Large artworks cover the walls and any gaps on the wall have been covered in traveller’s graffiti, for a gold coin donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS). We left our Fifty Toes Walkabout mark, squeezing it in below the largest artwork in the room gladly contributing to the worthy cause of RFDS.
By late afternoon we arrived at Home Rule, in Rossville, a 100+ acre property, bordering national park, that hosts two large music festivals every year. Nestled in ancient rainforest next to a clear Wallaby Creek we were very surprised to see we were the only people there. The Wallaby Creek Festival is a festival of arts and music that runs for 3 days in late September every year, and considering some 500 people had been camping there only a week or so prior it was still in great condition with lush green lawns and only a few muddy patches. The rock festival hosts a larger crowd and lasts longer.
A 45 minute stroll through the forest took us to the Home Rule falls, actually within the adjacent National Park. A bracing swim was required and thirty toes braved the elements on a very overcast day, clambering over rocks that were as slippery as an ice rink. The tranquility was wonderful, only temporarily spoilt when I nearly trod on a rather large venomous red-bellied snake.
The quiet camp also gave us time to catch up on school work.