We camped that night at Carmilla Beach, just off the Bruce Highway south of Mackay, and gave the Jeep a run along the coast to see how it would go with the stubby lever engaged. The steep, soft sand exit off the beach was too easy, and the smiles and ‘thumbs up’ from the other campers told us this was going to be a really fun trip.
Our first drive on the rough stuff was on the Bloomfield Track, along the coast from Cape Tribulation to Helenvale, south of Cooktown. It was almost dark as we set off from Cape Trib but apart from the lights flickering on and off on the rough corrugated sections, we had no problem handling the twisting track in the dark. The steep hills and creek crossings were easily conquered but when we were a kilometre from the Lions Den Hotel, our campsite for the night, we blew a tyre on a sharp rock. We fixed the puncture the next morning and then ducked into Cooktown to get a few spare parts we thought might come in handy on The Cape.
After putting the Jeep back on the trailer we towed it up the Peninsula Development Rd to just past Archer River. We unloaded the Jeep, stashed the trailer in the scrub and set off for Portland Roads. The two major river crossings along the route, the Wenlock and Pascoe proved no obstacle, despite warnings to the contrary, and as we sped along the wet clay surface towards Iron Range light rain started to fall. The Jeep danced along the greasy roads with aplomb, although with the windscreen down and a fair breeze blowing it didn’t feel like the tropics from the driver’s seat.
That morning the TV crew arrived at Lockhart Airport and the Jeep was readied for its starring role in the commercial, to be shot on the beautiful palm-lined Chili Beach. A couple of days later, with the successful takes “in the can” and the job we came to do completed, we set off for the main Cape Road via the testing Frenchman’s Track. We had heard that only a few weeks prior, a group had spent five days covering just one kilometre of the track and that the first four-wheel drive vehicle through had done so just a week earlier, so we were excited at the prospect of some serious four-wheel driving. The track had since dried out considerably so it was easy going until we reached the notorious Pascoe River crossing. The riverbed here consists of boulders the size of basketballs so it is very hard to gain sufficient speed to create a bow wave to keep the engine bay dry. And to add to the difficulty, the water is usually quite swift flowing and can be waist deep in the middle of the river.
So with a short prayer to the ‘4WD Gods,’ a heavy coating of RP7 on the electrics, the Jeep’s canvas roof draped across the bonnet as a wading sheet and no snorkel, we gingerly crept into the water. About ten metres across the water rose high enough to wet the distributor and we grounded to a halt, surrounded by the laughter of the spectators lining the opposite bank and with the river flowing through one door and out the other. A tow by one of our support crew positioned on the other side saw the Jeep safely dragged ashore, drenched but only a little worse for wear. We towed the disabled Jeep the rest of the way to our camp on the Wenlock River arriving around 9pm. At about 3am, as if to remind us it was still there, the Jeep’s horn let out a feeble little squeal that awoke the entire camp.