WORDS BY STEVE COLLINS, PHOTOGRAPHY BY MEGAN STACE
“Cape York to the Simmo via Oz’s most iconic outback pubs”
Cape York and the Simpson Desert are two of Australia’s most iconic 4WD destinations, and being asked to choose between the two is as criminal as being forced to pick only one favourite drink. It’s impossible! Which is why we’re going to show you how to combine the best of both worlds in one epic outback adventure.
Before we go any further you should know that this adventure isn’t for everyone. You won’t find it on Google. You can’t do it in a weekend. And if you’re the sort of shandy sipper that thinks a ‘wilderness retreat’ counts as goin’ bush – then this definitely isn’t for you. But if 4WDing pulses through your veins, your truck’s always packed ready to go and you only get one meaty holiday a year, then this is the best way to see two of OZ’s most iconic 4WD destinations in one epic trek. And if you time your run for the end of August/start of September, you’ll escape the school holiday rush and make it into Birdsville in time for the iconic Birdsville Races.
“See two of Oz’s most iconic 4wd destinations in one epic treck”
FROM CAPE YORK
We could talk for days about how good the Cape is – but you know that. The best free camp is Mutee Head just south of Loyalty Beach. So once you’ve tackled the Tele’, touched the sign – head back south along the Development Rd until you see the turnoff to your right 4km north of the ferry. About 5km down, the unnamed track forks – with your first camping option to your right and Mutee Head down to your left. The left track down to Mutee Head is extremely soft sand, but trust us, it’s worth the trip.
FUELLING UP AT MUSGRAVE
Dart south across the ferry, past Bramwell and keep going until you get to the Musgrave Roadhouse where you’ll need to top up the tanks. The campsite here is popular and well worth a visit. It’s got full amenities plus basic supplies.
Once you’ve recharged, you’ll head south for a few more kays before taking the right hand turn onto Strathgordon Rd, signposted to Pormpuraaw. This next 170km odd stretch has no amenities, supplies, water or fuel, so make sure you’re well equipped and self-sufficient.
CROSSING THE MITCHELL RIVER
After a while you’ll come to the mighty Mitchell River. Before you ask, yes it’s croc infested and no it’s probably not a good idea to swim in it. But if you’re a keen fisho head upstream from the causeway and flick a soft plastic in any snags or pools you find. Depending on water levels and the time of year, you might just bag a barra.
You can roll out your swag on the southern side of the crossing. It’s pet friendly and the best spots are high up on a rise either side of the southern exit.
BE ‘CROCODILE DUNDEE’ FOR A DAY
Continuing south you pass through the small town of Normanton – which is home to the famous Purple Pub – Four Ways, Three Rivers and Cloncurry before pulling into McKinlay, home of the famous Walkabout Creek Hotel from Crocodile Dundee. It’s the perfect place to roll out the swag, too. And not just because it’s a town with not much more than a pub (and a servo), but because the hotel still looks as it did in the movie, with hoards of memorabilia hanging from the walls. You can even pose for a photo with Mick Dundee’s famous knife if you sweet talk the publican.
“If we didn’t catch it when we did, we’d have two huge gashes in the radiator!”
QLD’S BEST PUBLICANS
Next stop – Yaraka. Once you’re done being Mick Dundee for a day, pack your gear and head south through Kynuna (make sure you grab a sauso roll from the Blue Heeler Hotel – deadset best you’ll find north of Birdsville), Winton, Longreach, and Isisford. Pull up stumps in Yaraka and head straight for the pub. See, the thing we like about Yaraka is that the publicans, Gerry and Chris Gimblett, are Aussie legends. They bought the pub two years ago with plans to double the town’s population and increase tourism. And they’ve done just that. Aside from the unparalleled first-name basis customer service, their meals are as good as grandma’s AND they offer free camping, toilets, hot showers and a pool to travellers, all for a small donation.
THE RUN TO THE RACES
From Yaraka it’s an overnight run through Windorah (there’s a crackin’ camp on the Cooper Creek) to Birdsville. If you time your trip to be in Birdsville for the first weekend in September, you’ll be in town in time for the iconic Birdsville Races. The races transforms the town of 120 to well over 6000, with 13 horse races, live bands at the pub, Brophy’s Boxing tent, Dusty’s famous camel pies, Big Red and the Simpson Desert and so much more on offer – it’ll be a weekend you’ll never forget.
BIG RED AND BEYOND
If you’ve got the time – crossing the Simpson Desert truly is an unforgettable experience. Words will never do it justice; you’ll simple gain a whole new appreciation for our sunburnt country. You’ll have to leave Rover behind for this bit, but the 400 odd kilometre hike across to Dalhousie Springs will see you navigating 1100 sand dunes and take about 3-4 days. If you’re short on time, head out to Poepell’s Corner then on to the French Line. It’s a fairly easy run that time of year. If you’ve got a bit more time up your sleeve and want to amp up your adventure – head south along the K1 line then head west along the Rig Road and WAA line. But be warned. It’s very remote, extremely soft and one heck of an adventure!
It’s adventures like this that make us proud to be Aussies.
Starting from the northern most point of Australia (Cape York), this 2850km trek heads south through Coen, across the Mitchell River to Normanton, Cloncurry, McKinlay, Longreach, Yaraka and Windorah before heading into Birdsville and onto Big Red.
CAMPING & AMENITIES:
There are way too many to list here, so here’s our pick alongthis route;
Mutee Head, Cape York
Bramwell Station Tourist Park
Exchange Hotel, Coen
Mitchell River free camp
Bang Bang rest area between Normanton and Four Ways
Walkabout Creek Hotel
Macsland rest area, Longreach
Cooper Creek, Windorah
WHAT TO TAKE:
Your main problem is that there’s no phone reception outside of major towns so a sat phone is a must, as is plenty of fuel, food and water. The terrain requires a quality set of off-road light truck construction tyres and heavy duty shock absorbers – plus the usual puncture repair kit, air compressor, tyre gauge and a basic tool kit.
In dry conditions this trip is rated D, with A meaning only suited to vehicles with an extreme level of off-road modification and E meaning perfectly suited to all types of 4WD vehicles. Most of the dirt stretches along this trek are heavily corrugated and blanketed with bulldust, which means proper pre-trip vehicle maintenance and the right tyre pressures are essential for avoiding breakdowns.