Cape York pilgrimage
Bulldust gets into everything, including universal joints, so frequent greasing is essential. This pic is of the Kowanyama Road on a crocodile research expedition back in 1976.

Cape York pilgrimage: a perfect time to prepare

Cape York pilgrimage
Pop up tents like this Outdoor Connection Easy Up 2 take literally seconds to erect, and are easy to fold up once you get the knack.
Having a snorkel fitted is great insurance in situations like this.
Cape Melville beach camp. Tracks into places like Cape Melville can be very rough and taxing on vehicles.

THE dry season is not that far away, and as time goes so quickly, now’s as good a time as any to start preparing for a Cape York pilgrimage.

The following is based on the experience of living most of my working life on the Cape, including living and working from a bush camp for 10 years, which was brilliant though a little more than a Cape York pilgrimage!

Anyway, it goes without saying your vehicle will need to be in tip-top condition to head up the Cape. Ensure it’s freshly serviced with all tyres in good condition. We run two spare tyres.cape york pilgrimage

If you can’t, a good plug kit and 12V compressor will fix many punctures. Older vehicles will tackle Cape York roads and tracks without a problem, as long as they are in good nick.

Remember, Land Rovers, LandCruisers and Patrols (in that order) were the vehicles widely used across the Cape back in the fifties, sixties and seventies, when roads were much, much worse than today. Replace or service/get repaired anything that sounds tired, such as a starter motor or battery.cape york pilgrimage

While batteries are available in places like Cooktown, Weipa and Bamaga, it is pretty inconvenient to have one fail while at Cape Melville or somewhere along the Tele Track. Stock standard vehicles do the full Cape trip without problem each year, however some four-wheel-drives may benefit from a suspension lift (and it doesn’t have to be huge).

There’s a trend among more than a couple of vehicle manufacturers these days to reduce ground clearance to lower the centre of gravity. This improves road handling, however can also reduce off-road ability. I have recently been driving one of these (quite popular) utes for work, and been dismayed at how easily it bellies out in sand.

A wheelspin or two in heavy river sand and she’s down. Regardless, your vehicle’s suspension should be in top condition. The springs need to be able to carry the weight of camping and fishing gear without sagging, and the shocks need to be able to handle the corrugations – well!

Sad shockies will see very poor handling that can lead to fish-tailing, and in bad cases, total loss of control and a rollover. It happens every year, and far too often.cape york pilgrimage

Snorkels of course are a great advantage for water crossings. Be aware of some factory snorkels though, as they don’t seal properly. Over time, the seals in any snorkel may begin to leak. A couple of years ago I got stuck in a river crossing – seat deep, in a LandCruiser Ute.

It had a factory snorkel fitted, so I turned the engine off immediately, just in case. And just as well too, as after being towed out I dismantled the air cleaner to find water inside and the filter totally soaked. It had been turned off just in time!

Some people also use water bras or tie a tarp up in front of the radiator grille for deep water crossings, while some others chuckle at such measures. In fact, doing this makes sense in that it keeps a lot of water out of the engine bay and helps to protect the starter motor, alternator and other electrical components from water ingress.cape york pilgrimage

Water damage may not be apparent on your trip – it might appear weeks later. However, the risk is real, especially with starter motors that don’t seal properly. A couple of mates with V8 Cruiser Utes have had water-damaged starters, and pulling one out takes seven or eight hours. There’s a lot to remove to get to one! It’s a lot of labour to add to the cost of repair or replacement.

Universal joints, if your vehicle has them, will take a pounding on a Cape trip with the water and dust, and will wear quickly unless maintained. Living up here amongst it, I grease tailshafts and the greaseable tie rod ends every thousand kilometres or so and that works a treat. It doesn’t take long and gives peace of mind. The other components that can be affected by bush work are the wheel bearings, again by water, sand and dust if the hub seals are not sealing properly.

Once a hub seal starts leaking, the bearings won’t last long at all. Many vehicles these days have wheel bearing setups that can’t be serviced – they will just die eventually because you can’t grease/adjust them. Stupid idea, but that’s the way it is.cape york pilgrimage

Some of the Cruiser models like the 78 and 79 Series still have serviceable wheel bearings though, which is great. Keep it up, Toyota!

If you have any doubts about your vehicle’s bearings, get them serviced or replaced, along of course with the hub seal. I carry two spare hub seals and a complete bearing kit for my Landy 110 just for insurance, and have never had to use them out bush (touch wood). However, I do service the bearings every six months.cape york pilgrimage

Hub seals should last a few years at least, unless they become damaged by grit. Other things you might like to consider carrying include a container with assorted nuts, bolts and washers, spare fuses of the type your vehicle/fridge uses, assorted electrical connectors and electrical wire, radiator repair gunk, metal epoxy for temporary repairs, electrical tape, a multimeter or test light and a small tarp or similar to lie on if you need to do repairs or even just for regular checks under the vehicle.

I also carry a length of spare fuel hose and spare radiator hoses and fan belts, as well as a stainless steel flask full of rum in the event of getting stranded somewhere. What are the best arrangements for sleeping while on a Cape York trip? A very common and fair enough question, given the presence of crocodiles in many places. Well first up, camp well back from the water’s edge.cape york pilgrimage

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service recommend 50m, though many official campsites are closer where a steep riverbank is present. Some people just swag it, however in many places there will be mozzies, so screened swags are the go if you are in the open. Swags on stretchers are commonplace these days too, and help keep you out of the ants and so on.

Rooftop tents are also very popular and a great concept for keeping away from anything on the ground. The only downside is the need to pack them away anytime you want to drive somewhere, which is not an inconvenience for many.cape york pilgrimage

With a camper or off-road van, of course there’s nothing to consider. A good old-fashioned tent is the other option, and with modern technology and materials they don’t have to be old-fashioned heavy jiggers or take weeks to erect and pull down. Plenty of models take a short time to erect and have good screen mesh windows, providing ventilation that is essential for much of the Cape, even in winter.

As an example, I’ve been using an Outdoor Connection Easy Up 2 tent for years and been very impressed. It pops up in just a couple of seconds.cape york pilgrimage

Though a two-person tent, it is ideal for one plus a clothes bag, or two kids. There’s also an Easy Up 3 model, and with both, you just pull them out of the bag, let go, and the tent erects itself.

You can watch my review on the Easy up 2 Tent at

And no, I’m not sponsored by Outdoor Connection, I just reckon it’s a great product.

Until next month, tight lines and fun camping trips!

For more Cape trip tips, click here!

About Barry 'Baz' Lyon

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One comment

  1. Mate Another critical component is the strength of roof racks fitted to 4WD vehicles negotiating the Tele Track. Best designs should be installed with gutter mounts that traverse the full length of the vehicle roof. Back in the Seventies when I did this trip the garage at Coen had a very lucrative business repairing roof racks and roof gutters, you are aware this is only the commencement of the journey.

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