Still looking for a four wheel drive experience and after lengthy chats with the knowledgable librarian at Cooktown library we were convinced that we were more than able to tackle a few out of the way tracks. The librarian assured us that the Starcke Wakooka Track was a suitable alternative for getting to Lakefield, far more interesting than the road most travelled and, that beyond that the the Old Telegraph Track, would be well within our capabilities.
And so we departed and took the Starcke road from Isabella Falls not far out from Cooktown on Battlecamp Road. I suppose that for most well prepared four wheel drivers travelling with all the right gear and in the company of at least one other vehicle this track would be quite ordinary in terms of a challenge. But, for a pair unprepared novices with three little children and no convoy we probably fell into the category of those who went where angels fear to tread! Either way the warnings from the authorities had satellite phones and retrieval equipment, among other things, that were necessary for travelling this track. We didn’t have either (we had a $70 mobile phone with $20 credit!) Unperturbed by such warnings and lack of equipment we proceeded along the 170 Km track.
It began as a relatively easy run slowly deteriorating into a narrow track with washouts and plenty of potholes cunningly concealed by bull dust…quite a shock to the vertebrae when the vehicle suddenly plunges into a concealed pit! The going got slower and slower as the daylight began to fade.
At about the half way mark we noticed a large column of smoke in the distance, it could only have been a brush/bush fire of some sort. Each rise in the road that we came over the smoke cloud got larger thicker and closer. Liadhan has a fear of fire and she pleaded with me to turn back but in my opinion we had come to far to do that.
It was not long before we saw cattle running across the track ahead of the smoke and in the fading light we could see the red light of the fire not far from us. Being South Australian, fire in the bush is something to be frightened of but in this part of Far North Queensland grass fires are commonplace and do not create the same radiant heat as a southern bush fire. This, of course, we did not know at the time. Whatever, Liadhan’s panic spread to me and we decided to take refuge and drove up a steep banked dry creek bed, buried the gerry can of petrol we were carrying and bunkered down for the night. It was eerie sitting there in the dark watching the red glow of the fire gainst the night sky and listening to the crackling of flames in the undergrowth.
At about 10.30 we heard a vehicle approaching from the Wakooka end of the track, I flagged it down, it was couple of council workers returning to Cooktown, and asked if they had a problem coming through the fire, they seemed non-plussed and drove on. This was the only other vehicle we saw on the whole stretch of the Wakooka Track.
Next day we drove on passing through the smokey dry bush encountering smouldering logs and blackened grass as we went, the fire now spent.
As we neared the end of this part of our adventure, pleased with our daring and endurance, the track took a very steep climb up a mountainside. At the top we beheld a magnificent view back over the plains we had just travelled across. The vision of such a vast expanse of wilderness greatly enhanced our sense of achievement!
We met a man who held in hand a diary, written by his ancestors who were settlers in this area. We had a long and interesting chat with him and the stories he shared with us from the diary added to the deep sense of historical significance of the place. A trackside toilet stop was shared with a giant monitor lizard which surprised me by appearing from behind a fallen log that I was squatting next to….the joys and surprises of being a traveller!
We reached Lakefield National Park headquarters just before noon, the days were getting hot and the dusty track we had just travelled caused a severe thirst for a cold beer to develop in my throat and mind. I was chatting to the rangers on the front verandah about a number of things and mentioned to them my desire for a cold beer, I said I would be willing to buy one from them if they had one available. Alas they were not forthcoming with aleviating my increasing thirst and fantasy. At that point two travellers walked up on to the verandah (the only other ones there besides us) and said to me, “Would you like a cold beer?” “Are you serious’? says I! “I have four cans of German Pilsner in the fridge in the car, I don’t really like the taste of them” she said. I relieved her of all four cans. As I cracked one open I turned to the rangers and said, “Ask and ye shall receive”!. One of the best beers I have ever tasted!
We camped next to the North Kennedy River. The site was too close to the dark deep waters for our liking. The bank was a rocky ledge that went straight down to the water, little room for error when you have three little children. Nonetheless we stayed there for 3 days with no losses to drowning or crocodiles.
During those 3 days we relaxed and went on a few drives through the local environs, taking in the exotic white lilly lake observing Brolgas, Jabirus and red tailed black cockatoos and marvelling at the giant termite mounds.