Frenchmans Track (and other F words)

We spent a lovely, and quite relaxing, three nights in Kutini-Payamu (Iron Range) NP camped in the rainforest.

It was a lovely spot surrounded by constant bird calls and birdwatchers. This place is apparently a mecca for birdwatchers and we felt a little out of place without massive lenses on our cameras and binoculars around our necks constantly. There wasn’t anything particularly spectacular about the national park but we did have a nice time there. We drove into Lockhart River and to Chilli Beach one day. The beach and campground there are lovely and the beach even has a TV!

Actually the beach was covered in a lot of rubbish. It must be the way the Pacific Ocean currents work but that particular beach seems to collect a lot of rubbish from all over the world – 6.5 tonnes each year apparently.

To keep travelling north we planned to drive Frenchmans Track to cut off the corner and get back onto the main road heading up to the Tip. Our guidebook assured us the track was easy 4WDing except for the two river crossings which can be challenging and, once again, it was mostly right (we’re using Destination Cape York which has been great).

So we headed back down the Portland Road and turned right onto Frenchmans Track. Not far down the track we passed three Land Rovers going back the other way who told us they had turned around because the track was pretty chopped up. We kept going and, sure enough, there were some quite large ruts and wash outs in the track but we got through them OK with some careful and slow driving.

When we realised we were close to the Pascoe River, the first of the two main river crossings, we thought we’d better walk down to check it out before committing ourselves, particularly given we had the trailer. Sure enough, the track down into the river was quite steep and very muddy and rough. And we found a car part way up with a few guys trying to work out the wiring problem with their winch.

They took up our offer to winch them up when they started zapping themselves trying to sort out the wiring. They had another two cars in their group; one winched himself up and one managed to drive up. Anyway, that was a couple of hours out of a trip that was only supposed to be a few hours all up.

By the time that group had gone through there was another group of four cars behind us and we headed off. We slid down the muddy slope into the river and crossed it no problem.

The exit the other side was fine, just a bit bumpy but not steep or slippery, and we got out no problem – well except for the loud bang. I got out to let the group behind us know everything was OK and saw Mali leaning badly to her left side. It didn’t take long to work out the problem.

Yep, the whole spring had just snapped leaving the trailer body sitting directly on the tyre. If you need a clue as to when the ‘other F words’ in the title featured: it was now (and maybe a few more times over the next 24 hours).

Lindy and I would have had no idea what to do, but luckily the group behind us had an idea and were great helping us out. With a rather less than confident ‘I’ve heard of this being done’ from one of the group we all got to work. Basically my bush mechanic crash course involved, chainsawing an appropriate log, jacking up the trailer and removing the wheel, jamming the log in where the spring should be and trying to tie it in place as best we could.

At various times over the next 24 hours I had my doubts, but that actually worked. We drove very slowly so as not to jolt the log out of place and stopped numerous times to remove the wheel and retighten the straps holding the log in place. At one point the log did fall out a little and although we realised pretty quickly it gouged a groove out of the inside of our tyre (a brand new one of course).

Luckily, after crossing the Pascoe River the track was really very easy but we cringed our way over every little bump as we kept a nervous eye on Mali. We limped along until about 7.30pm that night when everyone had had enough so just camped right on the track and kept going the next morning after tightening everything up again.

Soon after setting off in the morning we reached the second crossing, the Wenlock River. The crossing itself was again easy, and quite pretty, but this time there was quite a steep bank on the other side, with two tracks: (a) very steep, soft dirt; or (b) not quite as steep but very slippery mud. We went for option (a) and probably would have made it if I wasn’t trying to be careful of the trailer. So it was out with the winch again, needing two pulls to get us around a corner. The only good thing about winching is that the kids really seem to enjoy the novelty of it and like getting out to set everything up.

From there the track was again easy but we kept going slowly and finally made it back on to the main road at lunchtime. We’d managed just under 20km in four hours.

Back on the road we got onto RACV who arranged a tow truck for Mali. We found a safe place to leave her while she waited to be picked up and we drove into Weipa (much faster than before) to a motel RACV had also organised for us.

The next morning I got on the phone to Luke from Drifta who was great. Basically we’ve got no idea what went wrong with the spring so assume it must have been faulty and Luke’s going to send up two new springs for us. We’ll be without Mali for a few days while we wait for the new springs to get here so we’ll be going up the Old Telegraph Track to the Tip without her and will have to collect her on the way back down.

8 Comments

  1. Was wondering how long before we would get a bush mechanic post. 🙂 Glad to hear it all worked out though and I am sure this is a story you will all be telling for a long time. Did you keep the log as a souvenir? I love the way how total strangers all just pitch in to help when you are in the outback. A great part of Australian culture that I hope we never lose.
    Loving reading your posts and I hope that Mali is back to full working condition soon.

    1. The log is still in the trailer while it is at the repairer. Not sure there is room for it but may keep it for a burning ceremony the next time we have a fire. The kids scored a scooter from the fifos at the motel. we now need to fit in too!

  2. Loving the adventures. We’ve been watching a few 4wd adventure programs and all the stuff you coming up against the “experts” have the same issues. I’ve just been writing a list for the truck and camper. Had to make a “Need” and “Want’ list. after reading your blogs the winch and recovery kit has just been moved into the “need” list. lol. Keep the posts and great photos coming. Rog, Claire,Benj and Georgia.

    1. Thanks Roger. Well I guess having the same problems as the experts is a good thing is it?
      You probably don’t need a winch straight up, particularly if you’re going out with others. You should probably have a basic recovery kit though. And proper recovery points on the car are pretty important.

  3. Andrew, great blog, my folks put me onto it. As it happens we just left lawn hill, making our way to Carnarvon then Fraser. Would love to get in touch to get some tips. Details should come through to you. Andrew Pritchard.

    1. Hi Andrew, great to hear from you. Wow, sounds like we’re close but will miss each other. I’d love to chat – I didn’t get your details but give me an email at Andrew.deWijn@vicbar.com.au and send me your phone number.
      We’re in Weipa now and are heading off towards Lawn Hill tomorrow morning. I’ll have reception in the morning but probably not much for the next couple of days after that.

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