As a Kiwi, part of our culture is to at some point in our lives, visit Australia to live and work. I am no different, but unlike most New Zealanders, my curiosity has spread further than merely hopping over to the G.C. to ride roller coasters and indulge in the favourite Aussie pastime of drinking at the local RSL.

I have been lucky enough to spend time living in Byron Bay and Melbourne over the years. Being a photographer, I quickly fell in love with the myriad of diverse landscapes and natural phenomenon occurring within this great scorched earth, and eventually the call of the wild became too strong. My partner and I packed up our house in Melbourne and invested in a high-top Mazda Bongo, which we (expertly) modified in our garage with a bed, grabbed the biggest esky we could find and hit the road.

River Crossing Bloomfield Track

We quickly became immersed in the relaxed yet exciting life of the Aussie free camper. I’m not sure how far we intended to travel when we first set off, but as it ended up, we spent 18 months casually meandering up the east coast from Melbourne to Cooktown.

Now, my partner warmly thought of himself as one of those drivers that somehow had superior skills above all others. Several times we would find ourselves at the entrance to a 4x4 only track leading into a National Park to a camp and he would look at me and say, “As long as we keep rolling and don’t stop, she’ll be right mate.” And put his foot on the gas. The fact that 90% of the time we made it to the camp, or at least back out, and quite often were approached by other campers who would stroll along and say, “How the heck did you get that in here?” only encouraged him further.

Cape Tribulation

If you think there a lot to see and experience on the road in Australia, you quickly learn the true magic of this wilderness happens when you leave the beaten track. Towards the end of our great journey, after bumming around in the sun in cairns for a few weeks, we decided the last wild track we had to see before our trip ended was the Bloomfield track from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown.

A bit of prior research showed that although she was an absolute goer, our bongo wouldn’t suffice for this trip. We were lucky enough to be invited along in a (proper) 4x4 that belonged to a travelling mate for a day trip up to Cooktown, and so it began.

If I was going to make a list of the best off-road day trips I had the privilege to experience during my time travelling, this would be at the top. Not just for the absolute scenic paradise of the World Heritage listed Daintree National Park, or the promise of challenging ridges and river crossings along the way, but also for all the unexpected and interesting places to stop, steeped in history and local legends.

The track starts at Cape Tribulation, which was called Kurangee by local Aborigine, meaning place of many Cassowaries, and as we wound through the lush paradise of the national park, we were lucky enough to spot one of these incredible yet terrifyingly violent birds from the safety of our truck interior. This area is also home to Sugar Gliders, Giant Tree Frogs and of course Crocodiles, so a bit of a budding wildlife photographers dream playground.

Cassowary

First stop, and probably the most interesting is the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal, meaning place of many waterfalls (I’m sensing a theme here). The waterfalls are highly significant and sacred to the local community, with only one of the falls available for the public to visit. Don’t worry though, because the Wujal Wujal falls are still a spectacular place to stop. The water at the base of the falls looks like a refreshing place to cool off but is unfortunately too Crocodile-y to take a dip. If you wander a bit amongst the rocks around the falls you could find some interestingly intricate rock art, which only adds to the ancient mystery of this spot.

What amazed me the most about Wujal Wujal is the absolute vibrancy of this community of approximately 470 living in the absolute definition of “middle of nowhere”. There is a thriving art centre, a brightly muraled sports centre that doubles as a community hub and friendly locals.

Wujal Wujal Falls

After leaving Wujal Wujal, we weaved through Cedar Bay National Park. There a walking track to the almost prehistoric vista of Cedar Bay, but at around 1 ½ hours walking there and back in the height of summer, it was a hard no from me that day. The heat was searing, but then, like a tropical oasis emerging from nowhere, we happened upon the cool watering hole that is the Lion’s Den Hotel.

There’s something very unique about a pub that can’t be accessed by road, and this one embraced its uniqueness liberally. From the quirky lion statue that greets you at the gate, to the hundreds of visitor signatures that line the interior next to corrugated iron, vintage photographs and murals made from beer caps, the Lions Den feels like a homage to 100 years of Australian beer culture.

An added bonus is after you have refreshed your insides with a frothy cold one you can (finally) take a dip in one of the safe, croc-free watering holes on the premises. In this place its obvious the world runs on outback time, which is pure bliss. If you can’t quite drag yourself away, you can book a raised safari tent behind the pub and spend the night surrounded by century old mango trees, as well as a few wild locals.

Big Daintree Croc

I have to admit it was almost anticlimactic to emerge from that lush green rainforest into the red dust and relative civilisation of Cooktown, because it was where the journey ended for us. Quite literally. Only a few days later our beloved home on wheels was sold in Cairns and we were winging our way back to Kiwi Land. I am incredibly grateful that I was given the chance to see this truly unique and beautiful part of Australia. If anyone is looking for a day trip that promises all of the thrills and spills of off roading with unparalleled World Heritage wilderness, wildlife and a good dose of Aussie culture in the mix, the Bloomfield track is unbeatable.

 

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