Laura marks the start of Cape York Peninsula. The small township has a general store, petrol station, post office and pub. It is close to Lakefield National Park, Queensland’s second largest, known for its wetlands and wildlife. It is the Cape’s most accessible park and the only one allowing fishing. Just south of the town is Split Rock and the Quinkan Aboriginal rock-art galleries, set in spectacular sandstone country.
Our crew headed to Dixie Outstation, a 526,110 hectare Brahman and Peninsula Red cattle property owned and run by Michael and Noelene McCoy. This is the real Australian outback, where supplies are delivered once a week, as the nearest shops are in Mareeba, a good five hours away.
The homestead has five bedrooms and two quarters for workers, as well as a mess hall. They all work every day of the week and their entertainment is in the Dixie Beer Garden, where everyone gathers for a beer and chat.
Mustering is done by helicopter. It’s a very hair-raising but efficient way of doing things they can do in a wink what would take men on horseback a week.
Next stop was Edward River Crocodile Farm on Aboriginal land at Pormpuraaw. Run by Peter Mohatt, whose father established it in the 1970s when crocodiles were becoming endangered, it is Australia’s oldest crocodile farm and has been responsible for repopulating local rivers. As well as maintaining numbers in the wild, it is a commercial business producing eggs and infants which are sent around the country to farms. There are up to 4000 crocodiles at any one time in several hectares of open range lagoon, including Hymn, a 5.5 metre giant. Tourists can go to the farm to see the crocodiles being fed but only as observers from a distance!
On the road again, the crew headed along the unsealed rugged road and came across Musgrave Roadhouse. They offer good food, clean rooms with ceiling fans and the owners know all there is to know about the area. One of Australia’s most endangered birds, the golden-shouldered parrot, is endemic to the area and just 150 pairs are estimated to live there. They nest between March and June, which is the best time to see them.
Coen, the next town, is the last settlement of any size before reaching the top. It is on the old telegraph line which ran from Laura to Bamaga and is the last chance for mechanical repairs, petrol or supplies. It has an airstrip and racecourse where picnic races are held each August.