It’s the little things in the Cape that make the place for me. Sure there are tough tracks all around that put man, woman and machine to the test, but it’s those hidden secrets of times past and little experiences you get to have that can make or break a great trip.
As we were set to pull out of Archer River and dust off the swags, we took a quick look at the map to make a plan over the morning cuppa. A day-by-day, make-it-up-as-you-go plan may seem pretty odd for a trip up the Cape but hell, why not, we were prepared for anything. One of the most valuable things on any trip is talking with others, and our particular advice came to us over a few beers at the Musgrave Roadhouse days earlier when we spoke with an old timer about his favourite place in the Cape. “Chili Beach. You have got to get there, best place in the Cape,” he explained.
You can’t turn down a bit of advice like that, because let’s face it, if you did, you would always be left wondering. Limping into the Lockhart River region with a busted hub, our first stop was the old rubbish dump where we recycled some parts from the vehicle boneyard that had formed over the years. Pretty lucky for us, but this has been the way of the Cape for years – getting by with what you have and what you can find.
Pulling further into town through the impressive bluffs of Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range NP), we noticed a fair bit of WWII history signage and checked out the Iron Range Airfield, which is still flanked by original buildings in use today as a converted civilian air strip. It was a darn cool site to know this spot was in full swing of allied movement back in WWII2. I sort of imagined the scene in black and white with planes zooming around and it was a pretty cool thought at that. A monument with information and old artillery is an interesting point to stop and learn about some of our young history.
"You see, I have come to learn that it’s the little things that make a 4WDing adventure trip, whether it be the history, or the special little spots that impact you more than others. I have also come to learn, you must (occasionally) take advice from others – even if it wasn’t in your original plan."
We continued on through the rainforest to Portland Roads and witnessed one of the single best spots we saw up the Cape: a small bay flanked with mangroves and a white sandy beach shadowed by palm trees with crystal blue water lapping at the shore. Sound like paradise? Well it was. It wasn’t until we noticed a boat coming in that we worked out this was some sort of landing and we found a commemorative sign that detailed how this area was the major shipping hub in the region, first for gold mining activity in the nearby Iron Range National Park and then by the Australian and US army in their offensive at Papua New Guinea. Historic photos on the board showed a long pier with a large ship docked and the area we were standing in, full of army vehicles and supplies. Once again, I found myself standing back and imagining the place how it was, picking out landmarks from the photo itself. A few small posts still protrude from the water nowadays and it was a reality check to think we were in the same spot enjoying the rewards born from sacrifice of those who served here for us. On reflection, I have now picked it as one of my favourite spots in the Cape.
Our push toward Chili Beach was an enjoyable drive through rainforest stretches before arriving at the turquoise water and white sands. Palm trees once again lined the beachfront and the rainforest literally came to the water’s edge. The old fella was right, this is bloody mint! The lure of a fresh coconut prompted us to gather some old ones off the ground as ammo, before a game erupted to knock one down from the trees above. With sore arms and no coconuts, we were defeated, so we drove out along the beach to see the stretch of coast. The beach was nice and firm and upon arriving at the northern end of the beach, a local indigenous family sat down to a fresh feed of crayfish cooked in the coals, gathered only moments ago from the water’s edge. We saw a cluster of palm trees full of coconuts that were slung a little lower than the ones earlier (we really wanted a coconut). “Pull the Patrol under it mate, we will stand on the canopy.” With the assistance of a few swings of the shovel, soon enough we had a coconut each to crack open and sat drinking them admiring this little piece of paradise in the Lockhart River region.
You see, I have come to learn that it’s the little things that make a 4WDing adventure trip, whether it be the history, or the special little spots that impact you more than others. I have also come to learn, you must (occasionally) take advice from others – even if it wasn’t in your original plan. This day is the one I remember clearest from the whole trip, so I guess you could say it was a darn good bit of the world, filled with experiences that had some lasting impressions. Oh, and luckily the 4WDing up the Cape is unreal too!