APART from the Chilli Beach/Iron Range area, coastal northeast Cape York doesn’t get a lot of attention from travellers.
This is partly because of limited road access, but is likely also the result of the relentless southeasterly trade winds that blow for much of the dry season. They can make life fairly uncomfortable to say the least and blow a dog off its chain!
Now we’re into October (can you believe it?), we should see more frequent breaks from the trade winds as the ‘build-up’ to the wet season gets into full swing. This makes camping at such places much more appealing, and in good weather they are mind-blowingly beautiful. Chilli Beach Campground, located within Kutini-Payamu National Park (north of the Aboriginal community of Lockhart River), offers a good spread of campsites nestled among the beachfront jungle.
Many of these provide excellent shade, and some shelter from the wind if it does pick up. Fresh water is also obtainable from a bore/tank operated by a solar-powered pump on the main road not far before the campground. You can beach launch your boat here (in good weather) to gain access to excellent fishing grounds close and far.
Even around nearby Restoration Island (‘Resto’, as it’s called by the locals) you can score excellent fingermark, large-mouth nannygai, coral trout and spaniards, usually without much trouble. It’s simply a matter of prospecting around with the sounder to find reef, rubble or other features and dropping some baits or jigs.
And did I mention the crayfish, for those eager to go for a dip armed with a speargun? Lockhart River community is well worth a visit, and you can fuel up and stock up with tucker in the town. Quintel Beach just out of town offers great views across Weymouth Bay and along the coastline. Just leave your grog back at camp – it’s an alcohol-free community and the ban is enforced.
Portland Roads, an important port during World War II, is located north of Chilli Beach and is a must-visit place. You’ll enjoy more great views from this little community, and you can see some of the relic infrastructure left from the war period. The wildlife in this area is pretty special too, including some species we share with New Guinea.
The piercing calls of the magnificent rifle bird and palm cockatoo rolling through the jungle certainly make you feel like you’re in New Guinea! At night, keep an eye out for green pythons, surely one of the most beautiful of all snakes. Back on the Peninsula Development Road heading northwards, the next coastal opportunity is Captain Billys Landing.
To access this area you have to take the Bypass Road rather than the Telegraph Track. The roughly 10km drive in from the turn-off is beautiful, passing at times through dense rainforest with a scattering of stunning fan palms as well as a wide range of other wild-looking plants. There’s an open plan camping area just off the beach too and it offers great coastal and ocean views.
This used to be an off-loading point for cattle and other supplies and equipment for Comalco’s now-defunct cattle grazing operation at Heathlands. The plan was to supply Weipa with beef. However, even with huge use of fertiliser, the sandy soils proved too poor to support viable grazing.
The headland just south of the camping area offers good fishing for trevally, queenfish and tuskfish that can ambush your bait or lure with unbelievable speed.
In good weather, those with a boat can beach launch and target the inshore reefs, which are home to cracker fingermark, or out further the usual delicious tropical reefies. Captain Billys Creek lies to the south of the headland, accessed around the beach and rocks at low tide. You can catch barra and trevally in the creek here.
Just be aware that as with anywhere on the Cape, estuarine crocodiles are present. If you beach walk northwards, you will likely see the tracks of estuarine crocodiles that have been moving to and from the sea and the freshwater creeks and soaks in the dunes. While these crocodiles don’t need access to fresh water (they get rid of excess salt with special lingual glands), they gain some sort of benefit from moving to fresh water every now and then.
Perhaps to get rid of parasites? Again, Captain Billys Landing can be very blowy. However, it is well worth visiting just to experience the wild natural beauty here and on the track in. This is Cape York, after all! The next opportunities to explore the east coast are via a track that takes off kilometres north of the Jardine River Ferry.
A rough, slow, often scratchy track eventually reaches the beautiful wind-blown coast at Ussher Point. You can camp here, as with the other locations in this article, by purchasing a pre-booked permit from Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service – just don’t forget your sand pegs! Sadd Point is reached by turning left off the Ussher Point road and continuing north along a narrow scratchy track through a diverse range of tropical vegetation.
It’s pretty special. At Sadd Point itself, the campsites are mostly out of the wind, nestled in very attractive rainforest beside a sizeable creek.
Once again the scenery is something else and the beachcombing excellent. As much as anything, and probably more than most places on the Cape, you truly get a sense of being seriously remote here.
A rope hanging from a tree on the steep, rocky creek bank allows you to climb down to have a fish and we’ve had good luck with mangrove jack here.
This creek is pretty shallow on low tide. The top half of the tide is the best time to fish, and you can often see large fish moving along with the crystal-clear water. Visiting either Ussher or Sadd points, I’d recommend travelling with another vehicle or carrying a satellite phone for safety, as it’s a long walk out to get help if something goes wrong.
Otherwise, barramundi fishing is now out in the Gulf country due to the closed season (midday October 7 to midday February 1), and this is the last month to target them on the east coast before the seasonal closure starts. Time to focus on reef and coastal fishing, as well as other river and billabong fish species.
Until next month, good luck and safe travels!