North of the Jardine River is picture perfect
NORTH of the Jardine River are pretty beaches with campsites, Second World War wreckage, day trips by ferry to Thursday Island and luxuriant rainforest to explore.
Some of the bush tracks are for small 4WDs whose owners are not fussy about paintwork but the alternative is bush walks rambling through rare vegetation where the striking blue ulysses butterfly flutters by.
A trip to Thursday Island costs about $125 full fare; half price on concession. Tours of Thursday and nearby Horn Island are about $200. You learn it is not advisable to go if it's windy but the east-south-east trade winds blow steadily through winter when tourists arrive. Bamaga sells a lot of seasick pills.
Ferries leave from Seisa, where one of the prettiest campsites waves palm fronds in spectacular sunsets about 7km west of Bamaga. Thursday Island has fascinating history dating back to Captain Bligh, meals at historic hotels and a neat cafe offering Affogato after a night out (pictured below left).
Campsite fees around the tip range from $14 a person a night on an unpowered site at Punsand Bay, Australia's most northern beach camp, to nothing at little Somerset Beach and Mutee Head.
Mutee Head has a concrete slab on a hill and a few piles in the sea, the last evidence of a wartime radar station and a busy US naval base. Nearby Jacky Jacky airport has two well preserved plane wrecks, lots of rusting fuel drum stacks and ghosts of airmen, soldiers and sailors in tropics-issue uniforms who sweated to contain the Japanese.
We continued to be super impressed with the airtight-watertight design capabilities of Isabel's yachtie designers who ensure no dust entered her innards.
Heading south we bobbed in and out of the Telegraph Track to camp and watch the fun at some crossings. Notorious Gunshot had four options. Two were terrifying, one was challenging and the other relatively easy at a slow crawl around the side of the hill.
We learned the toughest crossings were at the top and bottom ends of the Old Telegraph Track, a fun 4WD adventure that changes every year because the road is no longer maintained.
Family groups with two or three children came through regularly; at Sam Creek on the northern part of the track we were amused to see the rocky descent and crossing washout negotiated with a baby sound asleep in its seat.
Free camping sites are scattered along the Old Telegraph Track and National Parks have one with basic facilities at Eliot Falls.
You have to book online or by phone and that can be a challenge when you are unsure of your schedule - the unexpected always happens - and in a region where service is tricky outside Bamaga.
Where the northern bypass starts you can drive north about 7km along the Old Telegraph Track fairly easily - although a high clearance vehicle is needed - to spectacular Eliot Falls and Twin Falls.
Closer to the intersection is the stunning swimming spot at Fruit Bat Falls.
White water tumbles over green-fringed red rock into crystal pools, marred only by splashing bodies - lean, large, white, pink, brown - in various stages of undress. Despite the human factor, the view is a picture postcard of the grandeur of Australia.