Magic. That little word we find ourselves reaching for when we can’t really explain what we’ve experienced. And what better way to sum up the Old Telegraph Track than that.
A pilgrimage for many, the Old Telegraph Track – affectionately known as the ‘Tele’ or OTT and formerly as the Overland Telegraph Line – is easily one of the most iconic tracks in Australia. Up there with the likes of Gibb River Road, the Canning Stock Route and the Birdsville track, it’s not surprising that it too has its roots in Australia’s early colonial pioneering history. But really, if you’re here you probably know all this already.
As its namesake suggests, the Tele Track was originally used to maintain the telegraph line that was vital for communications on the Cape. The line featured galvanised cast iron poles (manufactured in Germany!) and was in service for over 100 years before it was finally retired from service in 1987. Having driven the track, it’s amazing to think what a task this would have been; carrying the heavy poles from ports, and installing them across the 200+ kilometres of the Tele Track… and the many hundreds of kilometres beyond that down the peninsula. Even more incredible is that many of the poles are still standing alongside the track today.
We, like many others, came to Far North QLD to experience it in its entirety, but there’s no denying that there’s nothing more quintessentially Cape York than the OTT. It has a reputation for being a moderately tough track - it’s not too bad in a modified and capable 4x4 with an experienced driver behind the wheel. There are definitely more challenging tracks out there, but for your average 4-wheel-driver it’s great fun and offers a good challenge depending on the conditions you find yourself in.
We set off early, leaving Bramwell Station Tourist Park, content after a cracking night of good country food and entertainment; and drove the few minutes down the PDR to fill up one last time at Bramwell Junction Roadhouse.
And just like that, we were on the Old Telegraph Track.
The only way I could describe the feeling of entering the Tele Track to someone who isn’t a keen overlander is that it felt like when you arrive at the airport in a strange destination, and you’re practically buzzing to get through customs and out into the city beyond. That’s what this period felt like. The track was still flat - better than the corrugation-riddled “road” we’d spent days on. We knew that no matter how much we’d read, seen or watched, the track conditions changed after every wet season, and we had no idea what was in store. We couldn’t wait for the track to show us what it was made of.
Lucky for us, it didn’t make us wait long. Palm Creek is first up, and it’s not too far along the track. Whilst our lot drove it with ease - the group following us struggled a little more, mainly with clearance.
After Palm Creek, we passed through Dulcie, South Alice, North Alice and Dulhunty creeks without even batting an eyelid. Many were low - to be expected considering how late in the season we were. That didn’t mean they weren’t little bit of fun or just downright beautiful though. We even started to spot more of the track’s namesake poles!
Finally, we reached Gunshot Creek.
There were several entries to Gunshot, meaning it was initially tricky to figure out which was the original. With two at around the 90 degree mark, it was safe to say that we weren’t keen to do either.
The boys decided on the third steepest entry, content to not be taking the ”chicken track” but also comfortable that we were going be able to drive out without a damaged front end.
And as always, pictures never really do it justice.
The thing that perhaps caught most out wasn’t even the descent in, but the climb up the other side. An easy slope at first, it quickly became soft and sandy, with a hard right turn halfway up - lest you wanted to roll straight into a huge ditch that sat alongside it.
We stayed at Gunshot for a little while, watching people driving it or recovering one another on the slope out - grateful we’d made it down and then back up out again without trouble.
Once we’d had our fill of watching others drive Gunshot, we continued north, crossing the picturesque Cockatoo Creek with it’s liquid amber water and huge boulders, and then Sailor Creek, with it’s dodgy old timber bridge - which is definitely a couple of planks short.
Finally, we made it to Fruit Bat Falls – and it did not disappoint. Cool, green-hued pools of water tumbling over warm toffee rocks, waterfalls strong enough to relieve the aching muscles in our backs after days on rough roads… it was just what the doctor ordered.
Of all the places we have had the pleasure of visiting in our travels, this perhaps was the most deserving of the “oasis in the desert” title.
We spent a few hours luxuriating in it’s temperate waters; drinks in hand; splashing, chatting and just generally enjoying our beautiful surroundings. This… this is what the Cape is all about.
Eventually we pulled ourselves from the falls, dried off and hopped back in the car.
After all, our campsite was only an extra few kilometres down the track, and another three waterfalls were waiting for us there…
A lot of people opt to stay either in the NSPR-managed Eliot Falls Campground or nearby Canal Creek. With Eliot granting us walking-distance-access to Eliot and Twin Falls and the lesser-known Saucepan Falls, it was a no-brainer for us.
And so we concluded our first day on the Tele Track - pruny and very content after a day filled with awesome driving and pristine swimming.
That’s all for now folks! We’ll pick up day 2 of the OTT in our next post! Cannibal Creek, Cypress, Logans and Nolans – the top half sure is wild.
Until next time,
Brisbane-based lover of travel, off-roading, camping and photography.