Free Camp Friday – The Bend, Coen

Cape York is home to some pretty pricey camping, but there’s a heap of free and budget options as well. One of those free camps is The Bend at Coen, 3km north of town.

The Bend is one of those rare free camps that is suitable for tents, trailers and vans. We stopped there on the way north and it was pretty busy, but by the time we came back down a few weeks it was practically deserted – in fact when we pulled in there was no one else there!

We did have a dip in the water, but like all waterways in Far North Queensland it pays to be on croc watch.

There’s no drinking water so BYO, and the pit toilet known as Windyloo Is possibly the stinkiest I’ve encountered – it will make your eyes water! We used creek water for our doing the dishes and having a wash.

Coen has a couple of fuel points and general stores that are not too expensive but only have limited lines. The pub is reasonably colourful – it’s called the SExchange – but also has a lot of historical information and photos from Coen’s past.

There’s behind the pub or at Charlie’s Mine, which we’ve since heard from other campers is a bit of an experience. But if your budget needs a day or two of not spending money (as ours frequently does!) The Bend is your best bet.

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Cape York Adventures – Alau Dancers

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We were so incredibly lucky to see these amazing dancers at our campground at Umagico. We were there around the time of the Bamaga show, and we were treated to a sneak peak of their performance.

The Elders many provided musical accompaniment either singing or playing percussion while the dancers performed dances of the sunset and of the eagle.

Harper danced along and clapped her little hands off.

It was such a fantastic experience for all of us, and one of those truly spur of the moment things that makes this nomadic life of ours as magic as it is.

Our Top Tips for a Top Tip Trip

Getting to Cape York really was the focus of the trip for us. It took a huge amount of planning and research, and even though we’re still travelling we did have that post-holiday low feeling as we left Cooktown. But we learned a lot, and had no major issues mechanical or otherwise other than a smashed trailer plug.

We learned a heap just from talking to other travellers, and so we thought we’d put our top bits of info together to share with anyone else who’s planning this amazing trip.

Our route
On the way up we stayed at
Cooktown – Endeavour River Escape
Laura – Quinkan Remote Community Campground
Coen – The Bend
Bramwell Station
Umagico – Alau Beach

We drove onto the Old Telegraph Track for a squiz, but drove up on the Bypass Road. The OTT we’ll do another time, without a trailer on.

On the way back
Moreton Telegraph Station
Weipa – Camp Weipa
Coen – The Bend
Cooktown – Endeavour River Escape.

We took Battle Camp Rd back from Musgrave Roadhouse which is a slightly longer route but takes you through the beautiful Lakefield National Park.

Bloody Corrugations

They were fierce on the way up. The worst stretches were between Laura and Coen, and just after the Jardine River Ferry Crossing. We found lowering the tyre pressures made a massive difference, however it did eat into our fuel consumption a little. We still averaged around 400km a tank though.

We dropped the front tyres to 25psi, the back to 30psi and 20psi on the trailer. We found 80km per hour pretty good going on most of the corrugations, until you got to the gnarly bits and then it didn’t matter what speed you were going. We tried 20, 5, 90…they were all terrible.

We saw quite a few cars who’d come a cropper, more than a few camper trailers who lost their drawbars, and parts are not easy or cheap to come by up there.

Fuel prices
Weipa was the cheapest at $1.659L (we use diesel). Jardine River was the most expensive at $2.459

Bamaga BP has cheap Thursday with a 15 cent per litre discount which brought them down to $2.139 from $2.289

Other prices we saw or paid were
Cooktown $1.729
Laura $1.819
Coen $1.889 or $1.909 depending on which side of the road you went to.
Bramwell Roadhouse $2.109

We didn’t carry a lot of extra fuel as we were concerned about weight. But if you had long range tanks etc and shopped smart you could avoid paying a completely outrageous amount for your fuel. We topped up every time we stopped – except for the Jardine River.

Food in the Cape
Grocery items come up on a barge and arrive Monday mornings, so Monday lunchtime/afternoon is a good time to hit one of the three supermarkets – or all of them. Seisia, Bamaga and Umagico all have supermarkets and their prices can vary pretty wildly. There was over a $2 difference on the exact same bag depending on where you shopped!

We found Bamaga was best for fresh fruit and veg, while Seisia was cheaper for meat and tinned products. Things like canned beans, cereal, cheese etc seemed to be the most inflated. Umagico had a good range of baby products.

There is also a butcher at Seisia, their prices aren’t much different to the supermarket.

If you are on any sort of restricted diet, like we are, take as much as you can with you. Things like rice milk and gluten free pasta were pretty much non-existent, although both Bamaga and Seisia stocked a good range of Orgran products.

Due to alcohol restrictions in the Northern Peninsula Area, alcohol is pretty pricey – $66 for XXXX Gold hurts a bit. There’s a lot of signage about stockpiling and sly grogging around, and there’s no alcohol consumption in public places, other than your campground.

Our picks
Before you get to the Jardine River, make sure to stop in at Fruit Bat Falls. The water here is absolutely beautiful, and even better, croc free so swim away!

The campground at Umagico was our pick of the bunch. Children under 12 free, $10pp for over 12 years, pay 6 stay 7. It’s not as flash as some of the other grounds, but it gets our vote for price and location.

We didn’t camp at Punsand Bay but we did stop in for lunch and a beer. They were awesome in the time they took to talk to us about Cai’s dietary restrictions and really made us feel like we weren’t the most difficult customers they’d ever had! So a big tick for great service.

One of our highlights was a day trip to Thursday Island. A beautiful place with vibrant culture. We travelled on Peddell’s Ferry and would pick the Gab Titui Cultural Centre as a must do.

And of course, walking to the tip of Australia itself was just amazing. It’s a rocky climb so wear sensible shoes, but the kids (and the dog) did it easily. Don’t forget to take your camera for the essential photo at the sign. And then, pull up a rock and sit for a moment. Take in the amazing view. And when you get back to your car ask yourself….

Where to next?

Bamaga : WW2 Aircraft Wreckage

In among the gum trees and the palms, located by a handpainted sign and some crossed fingers you’ll find some other pieces of Australian history. Two WWII aircraft, maintained by the Australian War Memorial are found in the scrub at Bamaga.

Between the two aircraft, 8 crew members perished. It’s quite an emotional experience to see these wrecks and to think about those who lost their lives.

Lest We Forget.