Slippery clay & the CREB track

 

We depart Cairns early in the morning, full of anticipation for what is the first day of many we will spend trekking slowly towards the Cape.

Winding along the Captain Cook Highway with the waves crashing just below, our convoy discusses over the radio which path we should take north once we hit the Daintree. Our goal for today is to reach Archer Point, just south of Cooktown.

"Bloomfield is probably a safer bet, the CREB can be preeeeetty tough…

“Yeah, especially after the rain we’ve just had. How bad is it exactly though?”

“Not keen on doing damage day 1 when we still have a thousand k’s to go before the tip. But also, we didn’t come all this way to miss out by playing it safe…”

Then another person nearby who was also tuned to our channel jumps into the conversation–

“If you want to head up the Bloomfield it’s just gravel, nothing to worry about there. The CREB last we went was wet as a shag.” (No lie, these words ha!)

“Oh– okay, thanks mate. Whats the verdict then guys?”

I imagine this conversation would happen on many trips like ours. Knowing you have so far to go before the Old Telegraph Track or even the Cape, hesitant to potentially ruin what is a big bucket-list trip for many. But in the end, as I’m sure most do, we picked the CREB. Most off-roading folk we’ve met all share the same balance between intense “track FOMO” and a keen dislike for being “beaten” by terrain. Figuring we could turn around if the track or weather became too rough (in hindsight this could have been quite tricky) we set off to the small town of Upper Daintree, making our way through the winding green hills that make this part of the world so beautiful.

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Arriving at the wide expanse of the Daintree river, we paused for a moment. This was our first water crossing of the trip, and it was quite a wide one. It also had to be a leap of faith – we were officially in croc country, the Daintree especially being renowned for them. It didn’t look deep, nor fast, but not being able to get out and check the crossing out properly was somewhat unnerving. Bravely, Eric opted to drive the old GQ across first, and did so with ease.

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Climbing up the first section of the CREB was probably the most unnerving part for a few of us, and as such I wasn’t my normal snap-happy self. The climb is narrow and moderately steep, which alone would be okay – but throw in a healthy dose of slick, wet, red clay and it can be cause for concern. No major trees lining the sides of the track meant that if you were to slip sideways there was nothing stopping you until you reached the gully below. Thinking back, perhaps watching a few rollover videos online in the days leading up to it didn’t help either…

While the ascents and descents didn’t stop– the rainforest eventually got thicker and the threat of rolling the car subsided, and my camera came out once more.

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About an hour or so in we reached a fork in the road, with two well-worn tracks and no clear direction as to which to take – either on the track or our off-road maps. Figuring that the two would probably meet again further down we took the left, climbing further up the hillside rather than descending to the right.

Reaching the top we were met with an incredibly steep stepped descent, flanked by ferns on both sides. with no choice but to go down, we slowly crawled down the hillside, allowing the clay to guide our wheels as it wanted, gently steering away from the banks when needed. Reaching the bottom, it transpired that the section we were on was closed (although there were no signs in the other direction) and that it was known as Bob’s Hill.

Pictures really never do obstacles justice, but I feeling looking at the slope in these images you start to get a bit of an idea…

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It was about halfway through the journey that it became really breathtaking. The tiny, single-lane track reached a level point about halfway up the height of the ridges, and begun to wind in and around the forms of the mountainside, with thick rainforest above and below, moss-covered rocks and tiny waterfalls trickling down the tight bends of the track. Spending the better part of the next half hour with my mouth open in awe (I’m sure Matt gets tired of me exclaiming how magical things are), it was a place I struggled to capture accurately, but I doubt will ever leave me. Having had the pleasure of driving quite a few rainforests in our beautiful subtropical state I would have thought I had seen it all, but it was definitely one of the most spectacular stretches of track I have ever been on.

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Eventually the rainforest slowly transformed to bushland, and a campsite and sign marked the end of our 71km trek through the Daintree. Conscious of time, we opted to leave Roaring Meg Falls for another visit (it’s always good to have a reason to come back) and start heading to our site for the night, Archer Point Conservation Estate. But that’s a post for another time.

Weeks later, on our return trip to Cairns we ended up doing the Bloomfield. And whilst it is lovely, boy were we glad we’d braved the infamous CREB instead.

Note: Please exercise caution when deciding whether to tackle the CREB track. There are ongoing track reports available on facebook, and always, ALWAYS follow the signs if the CREB is declared closed. Hema has the following on their website:

“The ultra-steep clay slopes of the CREB Track render it unsuitable for novice four-wheel drivers. When dry, the track offers experts an enjoyable drive, but after a shower of rain – and it often rains in these parts – it becomes extremely difficult if not dangerous, and can be impassable. Many vehicles have had to be recovered at significant cost to the owners.”

That all said - if it’s relatively dry, you’re in a convoy and an experienced driver it’s definitely worth a go!

Happy travelling, Em