The southern section of the Old Telegraph Track, which runs from Bramwell Junction to Bamaga Road, is an iconic drive that features challenging water crossings and some stunning tropical scenery as you head north towards the Tip of Australia.
|Grading||Difficult – low range gearing and high ground clearance: take traction aids and recovery gear.|
|Time||Day trip or overnight|
|Distance||70km, Bramwell Junction to Bamaga Road via Gunshot Bypass|
|134km, Bramwell Junction to Jardine River Ferry; 143km, Bramwell Junction to Bamaga Rd via Gunshot Bypass|
|Best time of year||Dry Season (May – October).|
|Warnings||Deep creek crossings and very steep and slippery river banks.|
|Permits and fees||None apply|
|Facilities||Bramwell Junction, Jardine River Ferry|
|Camping||Bush camping at Palm Creek, Ducie Creek, North Alice Creek, Dulhunty River, Bertie Creek, Gunshot Creek, Cockatoo Creek and Sailor Creek|
|Important contacts||Bramwell Junction Ph (07) 4060 3230, Jardine River Ferry Ph (07) 4069 1369, Heathlands Ranger Station Ph (07) 4060 3241|
The Old Telegraph Track begins at the Bramwell Junction Roadhouse, marked only by a small wooden sign and the smell of anticipation in the air.
The track changes every season, and the conditions are susceptible to massive variations depending upon traffic, storms, fires and the time of year. A May trip is completely different from a September trip. From Bramwell Junction, the track is easy for a few short kilometres. The first major obstacle is Palm Creek. The steep clay descent into the creek concerns many visitors, but with patience and plenty of clearance, most make it through unscathed. The exit can be tricky after the Wet, or once plenty of traffic has softened and wetted the clay. Any vehicle that can make it through Palm Creek can generally make it the rest of the way.
Ducie Creek follows Palm Creek almost immediately. It is a moderately deep crossing requiring the vehicle to hug the left bank before hooking back to hit the exit track. North Alice Creek is an easy rocky ford, and the track between here and the Dulhunty River is fairly straightforward, with few surprises other than the occasional washout.
Image: Preparing to cross Dulhunty River
The Dulhunty River is the natural first night’s camp, and a place that is hard to leave, with excellent riverside camping and swimming in the shallow falls. The track out to the old water gauging station offers a quiet, removed campsite from the masses, but is not regularly travelled. The crossing at Bertie Creek requires a run up one side of the creek, then a quick dog leg out to the exit to avoid some deep holes in the rocky base.
A turnoff to the right affords access to the open heathlands of the Heathlands Regional Park and a bypass of Gunshot. Gunshot Creek was once impassable by all but the most well set-up vehicles, but now there are several easier tracks that are trailer friendly. The country around Gunshot Creek is pale clay and white sand, with plenty of washouts.
Image: The 'easier' Gunshot Creek entry
To the north is Cockatoo Creek. Early in the season the entry and exit can be treacherous, but usually this crossing is straightforward. The bottom is rocky and moderately deep, but it pays to walk across first to work out a line that avoids deep holes. The swimming is great here, and there is camping on both sides of the river, with new wooden shelters and toilets on the north bank.
Crossing Sailor Creek, the track runs on the Bamaga Road for several kilometres before a turnoff on the right, which forks off for access to Fruit Bat Falls: a great swimming spot affording day-access only to the wide blue-green pool and cascade.
Things to do
Each of the more challenging crossings, like Palm Creek and Gunshot, are great opportunities to pull up a chair and watch people manoeuvre through the obstacles.
The Dulhunty offers plenty of distractions, from swimming under the small cascade to just sitting in the shallow water in camp chairs waving to the vehicles crossing the creek. The old crossing exit has become a mud slide for kids, who run over to the creek to rinse off before going for another slide in the pale grey clay.
Image: The inimitable single-tiered wonder that is Fruit Bat Falls
An old lineman’s hut at Sailor Creek shows how the men who used to maintain the telegraph line lived – no doubt a basic existence at best! There are no saltwater crocodiles in any of the creeks of the OTT, so where they are deep enough, any of these waterways makes a great swimming spot, with Fruit Bat Falls a must-see destination.
Telegraph Line History
In the early 1880s the Queensland Government had JR Bradford, Inspector of Lines and Mail Route Services, survey a route along the Cape York Peninsula to Thursday Island for the construction of an electric telegraph line. Finally, after three gruelling months, the expedition reached Somerset: near the northern tip of the Cape.
Work on the Cape York Peninsula section began soon after and was completed in 1886, except for 90km between Moreton and Mein where telegrams were carried by horse and rider until the line was completed. The line consisted of galvanized cast iron ‘Oppenheimer’ poles manufactured in Germany and many are still standing today. Ceramic insulators are also sometimes found. After more than 100 years of service, the line was closed in 1987.