Cape York trip report

-plus-

Build update

It's now almost seven years since I bought the LandCruiser 200. The odometer is now reading over 140,000km, which includes regular use as a suburban daily drive, a major trip to central Australia, towing duties to karting and 4WD events, plus numerous 4WDing weekends.

June-July 2019 saw us head up to Cape York, the northernmost point of mainland Australia. This trip was almost 8,500km, including some serious 4WD terrain up the Old Telegraph Track and hundreds of kilometres of horrendous corrugations on the Bamaga and Peninsula Development roads.

Trip to the Tip - Cape York

Cape York is probably on the 'bucket list' for many Australian travellers, and we were no exception. After missing out in the past due to work commitments, 2019 was finally the year to reach 'the tip'.

With over 8500km to travel, we allowed ourselves a total of five weeks. I've included our itinerary from the time we left Cairns, until we returned there.

Essentially, our trip took us from the NSW Blue Mountains up to Cairns in three days via the inland highways. Here, we stayed at the Cairns Coconut Holiday Park, and met up with spouses and kids (who had flown up), then we all continued North via the Bloomfield Track (staying at the Lions Den Hotel), Cooktown to Laura, then on to Weipa via Musgrave Roadhouse on the Peninsula Development Road (PDR). The PDR dirt to this point is in generally good condition, and there are growing sections of tar.

From Weipa we headed straight across to Batavia Downs on the Telegraph Road. We then went North again to Bramwell Junction, where we started our journey up the infamous Old Telegraph Track (OTT).

The Old Telegraph Track

The OTT is a rough and tight 4WD track, totally unsuitable for caravans, no matter how 'offroad' they may be. It is suitable for true off-road camper trailers, and we took our home-made camper trailer with us.

The first challenge we came across was Palm Creek, just a few km from the junction. There was a decent queue waiting at the main crossing, so we drove a few hundred metres east to an alternative track. The exit was steep, rutted and muddy, and a group of other cars were winching/towing out when we arrived. We decided it looked drivable, so we put some Maxtrax into one of the ruts and gave it a crack. Both the 200 and the front-locked GU Patrol travelling with us managed to make it through unassisted, although the last climb had the 200's traction control system scrabbling for grip for a few seconds before it found traction and powered out.

Continuing up the OTT on the first day, there were several other creek crossings to negotiate, but none were difficult, and we spent the night camping next to Bertie Creek.

We had heard that Gunshot Creek was particularly bad, so the next morning we detoured around it, but then doubled back for a look from the Northern side. After watching a number of 4WDs come through without a problem, we decided to go through from the North, then turn around and come back. ....A trip to the cape just doesn't seem right without a Gunshot crossing!.... This was the first of the deep river crossings, with the North-South run taking us up the creek through clear water around a metre deep. Coming back through from the South, the well-known vertical drop seemed a little too much, particularly with the trailer in-tow, so we elected to take the 2nd-steepest entry. The crossings, entries and exits didn't present any serious problems, and we were soon on our way North again.

The next crossing at Cockatoo Creek looks quite difficult and wide, but it has a solid rock base, so it's just a matter of taking the correct line. This turned out to be straight up alongside the creek bank for fifty metres, then across the creek. Unfortunately, our travelling companions sliced open a tyre on this crossing after hitting a sharp submerged rock.

Not long after this creek, you briefly join the Bamaga Road, which is fantastic if you happen to love corrugations. A few kilometres later, we turned onto the OTT again and headed to the Canal Creek campground for a couple of nights. The Eliot falls campground requires pre-booking, and Canal Creek is a great alternative. It's less than 1km from the falls, so even though it lacks toilets, they aren't far away if you need them. Eliot Falls and Twin Falls are a highlight of the trip, and worth staying for a couple of days. In case you're wondering, we didn't skip Fruit Bat Falls, we left that one for the trip back, as the turnoff is right next to the Bamaga Road.

Continuing our journey up the OTT, the next interesting crossing is Sam Creek. The entry was quite steep and eroded, but the creek itself and the exit wasn't a problem and we we quickly on our way again. Just North of Sam Creek is your last chance to leave the OTT for the Bamaga Road before the deep crossings of Cannibal, Logan's and Nolan's. If you continue to Nolan's, then decide it's too deep, then it is very difficult to backtrack the 20km to Sam creek and cross over to the Bamaga Road, as the Southbound exit of Logan's creek is steep and muddy.

The next crossing, Cannibal Creek, had a steep entry with the track hair-pinning around to the right as you cross the creek. The water was quite deep for this one, around half way up the doors of the 200 and deeper during entry. We followed a group of other vehicles through, so the sandy base was a little churned up, but other than a little bit of wheelspin, we had no problems.

The next challenge was the Cyprus creek log bridge, which is in a constant state of collapse and repair, with new logs added as old ones  break or are washed away during the wet season. This year, it was barely wider than the 200, but strong and stable, so it was just a matter of getting a guide so we didn't slip off!

The next major crossing we came to was Logan's Creek, a long silty crossing with a steep and muddy initial entry into bonnet deep water. While deep, this was a relatively easy crossing heading North, with good traction and a gentle exit. However, if travelling in the other direction, it would likely require winching, meaning you'd be sitting for an extended period in deep, silty water. After leaving Logan's we came across a long swampy area which looked quite difficult, but proved to provide good traction and gave us no problems.

Soon after leaving the swamp, we came upon over a dozen vehicles lined up waiting to attempt the infamous Nolan's Brook. We watched as various vehicles attempted the four different entries with varying levels of success. Two diesel GU Patrols drowned their engines before being towed out. Most vehicles hooked up before entering, and were towed across one of the deeper courses. Then a group driving ex-Army Land Rovers found a decent line in deep water but with good traction. This was the line we decided to take, but as a precaution we hooked a strap to the front of the 200 and asked another vehicle on the other side to stand by for a tow if required. Hugging the bank, we attacked the crossing and made it through, with the only difficulty being a bit of scrabbling as we climbed out of the deepest section. We got some water in the storage area of the trailer, and the rear carpets got a bit damp in the 200, but otherwise made it through unscathed (apparently... See the starter motor aftermath below)!

Nolan's essentially marks the end of the OTT, and less than 10km later, we were back on the Bamaga Road heading for the Jardine River Ferry.

The rest of the trip

After rejoining the Bamaga Road, we came to the Jardine River Ferry. This could possibly be the most expensive trip in Australia, at a cost of $130 for the 200m return trip!

We continued North, and then spent five days staying at Punsand Bay. It's a fantastic location to explore 'the tip', and one of the few camping areas where it's really necessary to pre-book.

From here, we visited Pajinka (the tip itself), as well as taking a "3 island tour", visiting Thursday, Friday and Horn Islands. This was a great day on the water, and highly recommended.

Our drive South was straight back down the Bamaga and PDR to Bramwell Station. This is a "don't miss" location to stay on the trip, with live music and an all-you-can-eat buffet dinner every night. The road down is 'fast dirt', but has horrendous corrugations in some sections and some concealed washaways that require caution.

The next day we continued South, staying again at Musgrave Roadhouse. From Musgrave, we headed East into Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park, staying at the Kalpower Crossing campground. This needs to be booked prior to arrival via the National Parks website. We had planned to continue out to Cape Melville NP, but due to the late wet season, the park was closed. Instead, we decided on a day trip to Bathurst Head, but we found the track (although open) to be impassable due to swampy conditions.

From Kalpower, we continued South back to Cairns, where we again stayed at the fantastic Cairns Coconut Holiday Park, and took a day trip out to Moore Reef for an incredible day of snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef.

Our next stop on the way back to NSW was at Airlie Beach, where we had another day on the water visiting the white sands of Whitsunday Island.

A quick overnight stop at Miriam Vale, then we spent a few days at the Gold Coast to visit the local theme parks. We'd thought of staying at a local tourist park, but ended up staying at Seaworld Resort for only $50 more than a cabin, with theme park entry included and monorail link into Seaworld.

From here, it was back home via Tamworth and the New England Highway.

Itinerary

Download the itinerary we used here. It's an Excel document than you can modify for your own Cape trip.

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Video Snippets

Here is a series of raw, unedited videos of the major creek crossings on the Old Telegraph Track. Some show the crossing from multiple angles.

Fuel consumption

If you're curious what sort of fuel consumption and costs you'd be up for, here is a table of what we used. We were heavily laden, with the car at around 3.8 tonnes and the trailer at around 1.7 tonnes, for a total of 5.5 tonnes.

Spare parts to take

On any remote area trip, there are some spares which you should take with you. Considering the following as a guide:

New modifications for the Cape York trip

ROH Trophys, Nitto Ridge Grapplers and TPMS

Just prior to the trip, I replaced the ROH Octagons and Mickey Thompson ATZP3 tyres. The new wheels and tyres performed brilliantly. I also installed a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System, so I could keep an eye on tyre pressures and temperatures.

Read more in the update on the new wheel & tyre page.

Richards Auto transmission remap

A change to the programming of the automatic transmission to improve the holding of 5th and 6th gears at highway speeds and also to smooth out gear changes (particularly when the torque converter lockup is engaged).

Read all about it on the Lockup and Remap page.

Item by item

Every modification and accessory is listed below, with an update on its performance and whether there have been any problems. Click the item title to go to the original install/information page.

The Land Cruiser itself

Well, it took 140,000km, a few outback trips, plenty of 4WDing weekends and a lot of towing, but I finally managed to break the 200! Coming towards the end of the trip, the 'Cruiser started to develop an issue (apparently) with the starter motor. Instead of starting immediately, there was a 'click' and a delay before the engine would turn over (somewhat slowly) and start. Speaking to other 200-series owners, it seemed to be a moderately common issue after very deep water crossings, and we completed three of those on the Old Telegraph Track.

With the starter motor buried deep in the 'V' of the engine, under all of the intake and fuel systems, this presents a major problem if it fails completely. Toyota quote 16 hours of labour to change the starter, so it's not something you'd like to do on the side of the road. And, being an automatic, there's no possibility of push-starting it.

I had already arranged for the 200 to have an intake clean at Dynomotive soon after our return, so I coaxed the starter to last that long by minimising starts and keeping battery voltage high by putting a charger on whenever we had mains power. Fortunately, it survived and I made it to Melbourne where the starter was changed. It 'only' took Dynomotive around 12 hours to replace the starter (and clean the intake), so I think Toyota are a bit pessimistic. But it's still a massive job.

Toyota want around $800 for the starter motor, but genuine Denso starters are available online for under $500. Given the difficulty in replacing them, I strongly recommend avoiding a non-genuine replacement.

The cause of failure and possible solutions

The starter is sealed and has elevated breathers designed to prevent water entry. But the design of the valley means that it could be submerged for some time after a very deep water crossing. It appeared that one of the casing joints in the starter/solenoid assembly was compromised, allowing water (and steam) to enter. This water/steam apparently came into contact with the contactors in the solenoid, causing carbon buildup and reducing current flow. This was the point of failure. The starter itself was still in reasonable condition (given age), as was the rest of the solenoid.

Suggested steps to minimise failure:

  • Swap out the starter: I would suggest that the starter be swapped out whenever you do an intake clean, which would generally be every 100,000km or so. The starter itself is cheap (<$500) compared to the labour cost of getting to it. The removed starter/solenoid can be rebuilt ready for the next clean. Stick with genuine Denso.
  • Add sealant to the new starter: One of the casing joins is sealed with silicone rather than a rubber seal. This appeared to be the point of water entry. I would suggest adding an additional bead of silicone/sealant around this join prior to fitting a new starter.
  • Remove foam from the valley: The block has drain holes at the rear of the valley. But they are partially obstructed by sound deadening foam on the 200. Debris could block the holes, turning the valley into a lake after deep crossings. During an intake clean, I suggest the partial removal of the foam to ensure the holes are totally unobstructed.
  • Park nose-up, engine off after deep water: The drain holes are at the back of the valley. Parking nose-up will give rapid drainage. Turning the engine off will reduce the chance of the starter being 'steamed' by water evaporating in the valley.
  • If you have symptoms, change the starter ASAP: If the starter begins to slow down (but the battery is fine), and/or you hear a click a few seconds before the engine starts turning over, suspect the starter is dying and arrange replacement. If it won't start when hot, wait until the next morning and try again. Heat increases electrical resistance, so it may work after it's cooled down (This happened to me). Don't turn it off again until you reach civilisation!

To be fair to Toyota, they do specify a maximum fording depth of 700mm, and the three crossings we took (Gunshot, Logan's and Nolan's) varied from around 900mm to 1200mm. Well above the recommended depth. That said, given the degree of difficulty repairing the starter and the potential to make the vehicle un-drivable, it's something they should look to improve.

I had one other issue with the 200 on the trip. One of the front KDSS sway bar linkages began slipping off the rubber bush. Inspecting a few other 200s, I discovered that mine had a smaller washer and shorter bolt in that location compared to the others I looked at. I have no idea how it ended up that way, but it appeared to be a genuine Toyota bolt. The issue was quickly fixed by swapping the small washer for a larger one and reassembling the linkage.

Starter location
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KDSS Linkage

Century batteries and Redarc DC-DC Charger

The Century Overlander starting battery, and flooded deep cycle battery both performed perfectly during the trip. They continue to work well despite the severe corrugations, and (in the case of the deep cycle), the heavy cycling of the battery due to running a freezer in the back of the car on trips.

The Redarc DC-DC charger continues to operate perfectly, quickly recharging the deep cycle battery each day. I also used the solar input of the charger for the first time, to keep the freezer going when we were camped for a few days without power.

DBA Brake rotor and pad upgrade

The upgraded brake rotors and pads performed perfectly during the trip, providing excellent stopping power and zero fade. There was no noise from the brakes, and the slots seemed to clear mud and debris quickly, ensuring braking performance wasn't lost due to mud, water or dust.

Custom Offroad Accessories Underbody protection

The stainless steel bash plates continue to protect the underside of the front differential, engine and gearbox.

There front plate has a bit of a dent in it following the trip, which I presume occurred when I bottomed out at quite high speed when I hit a hidden culvert on the track to Bathurst Head. The plate did its job well, and I suspect if it wasn't fitted then the front differential would have taken the brunt of the impact.

Tough Dog suspension

With almost 120,000km on the suspension, I had planned on replacing the shocks/struts before the trip, assuming they would be past their use-by. However, when I spoke to Tough Dog they offered to test the shocks on their dyno to check their condition. The testing revealed that they were still in excellent operational condition, and there was no point replacing them. Instead, they installed new rubber bushes and adjusters and sent me on my way!

The suspension again worked perfectly on the trip, despite the horrendous corrugations. I'm extremely happy with the suspension and wouldn't hesitate to buy it again next time.

AirbagMan Heavy Duty helper airbags and inflation kit

We were running 45psi in the airbags during the trip to cope with the extra weight of the gear and trailer. They worked extremely well in this role, with no problems to report.

The Old Telegraph Track demanded plenty of suspension travel, and despite the high air pressure, there was no noticeable decrease in suspension travel.

SuperPro Upper Control Arms (UCAs)

Tyre wear and handling continue to be greatly improved since fitting the SuperPro UCAs. They survived the rough roads and corrugations of the trip unscathed, and wheel alignment is still correct.

ARB Bullbar

No complaints about the ARB deluxe bar. It hasn't suffered any ill-effects from the corrugations. I did hit one kangaroo during the trip, while travelling at around 90km/h. There was no damage to the bar.

I have made up some matt-black adhesive light shields (see photo) to stop the headlights reflecting into my eyes, which is a side-effect of having a light-coloured bullbar. You can buy them on eBay.

Outback Accessories rear bar and wheel carriers

The Outback bar was worth its weight in gold during the trip, carrying our two spare tyres, a dirty gear bag and also a set of Maxtrax.

Despite all the weight, dust and corrugations, the bar and carriers suffered no ill-effects and continue to operate as-new.

Anti-reflection stickers

Warn Tabor 10k winch

Since fitting the winch, it's only been used a few times in anger, but has always performed flawlessly.

I didn't have to use the winch during the trip, but tested it on our return and it was still working correctly.

Recovery Gear

We used recovery gear a couple of times during the trip. The Maxtrax did a great job getting us out of Palm Creek without having to winch.

On our attempt to reach Bathurst Head, we ended up using the recovery points, snatch strap and soft shackles to get through one of the mudholes. Everything worked well, with no problems.

Unichip and Exhaust

The Unichip continues to work brilliantly. The additional power and slightly better economy over standard are always welcome. After almost three years, I have not has any issues or problems with the Unichip whatsoever.

At the end of the trip, I did discover a cracked mounting tab on the exhaust. This was welded back up upon our return. I spoke to Unichip about this, and they advised that they have since changed the manufacturer of their exhausts, and the mounting tabs are now substantially larger than on my older version. I verified this when I visited Unichip a few weeks after my return and saw one of the new exhaust systems. This larger tab should eliminate the issue in the future.

Torque converter lock-up and Transmission remap

I've been running the Richards torque converter lockup kit now for many years, and continue to consider it one of the best mods available for the 200. But it doesn't solve all the woes of the 200's terrible gearbox programming. Several companies have been working on improving the transmission programming for several years, but I avoided going down that path until I thought the program was sufficiently mature.

Finally, just before leaving on the trip, I decided to take Richards up on the offer of their latest remap. This reprogramming makes many changes, but of most interest is that it lowers the engagement speed and increases the load limits for 5th and 6th gears, and incorporates torque reduction during gear changes. The outcome is lower RPM on the highway and smooth changes with the lockup active.

Overall, I absolutely loved the new programming of the transmission, with far greater use of 5th and 6th gears and resulting lower RPM on the highway. I've updated the article below with greater detail about the remap.

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Air On Board compressor

The AOB compressor and reservoir continue to operate flawlessly. The compressor is mainly used to inflate tyres (I generally deflate them on both dirt tracks and sand), and to operate the airbag suspension in the trailer and the helper airbags in the rear of the 'Cruiser.

iPad mini with MudMap software

We tracked our entire trip with MudMap 3 software running on the iPad. It was a brilliant system, allowing us to see where we were going, where we'd been and mark points of interest swapping between a huge range of maps depending on the area.

For some reason, the app was a little unstable when we were using one particular Westprint map. I'm not sure if it was the app or the map to blame, but have reported the bug to the developer.

Long Ranger fuel tank

The Long Ranger tank continues to work perfectly.

Thanks to the massive fuel capacity, we could do some pre-planning using the Petrol Spy phone app to avoid the most expensive fuel locations completely. On this trip alone, we saved hundreds of dollars in fuel thanks to the extra capacity.

We filled up in Cairns ($1.39) and Weipa ($1.66). But then only made a small top-up at Musgrave Station ($1.75) and Palmer River ($1.54), before filling back up in Cairns. The tank allowed us to avoid buying fuel at some of the expensive locations on the trip, where fuel was up to $2.20 per litre.

Safari snorkel

The Safari snorkel continues to operate well. I've had no issues with it either before or during the trip. Following the air filter testing I conducted recently, I ran a Donaldson precleaner for their entire dirt section of the trip. This captured a lot of dust, minimising the cleaning required for the standard air filter.

Prior to the trip, I also conducted some air filter testing.

Night Breaker Unlimited headlight upgrades

I previously noted that the low-beam Nightbreakers had a relatively short life, having to be replaced after about 6 months of daily use (I always drive with my headlights on). For this reason, I wouldn't recommend them if you also drive with your lights on all the time despite their improved light output.

The Nightbreakers in high beam have continued to operate well after 5 years of use. I continue to recommend them as the best option for a legal upgrade of the high beam output.

Fyrlyt Nemesis driving lights

The Nemesis lights got quite a lot of use during the trip and worked perfectly. The casings, lenses and reflectors are all as-new. Despite extensive use over the last 4 years and the heavy corrugations on this (and the previous) trip, the original globes still survive. They are absolutely brilliant lights.

Wheels and Tyres

About a month before the trip, I changed both the wheels and tyres on the vehicle.

I had no issues at all with the original 17x8" ROH Octagon wheels that I'd run up until that time. But the new tyres were larger, so required new wheels.

I was onto my second set of Mickey Thompson ATZP3 tyres. I have been impressed with the performance and durability of these tyres since I started running them, with no punctures or failures over their life of around 70,000km per set. However, they are a very noisy tyre as they begin to wear, and that was the main reason for changing tyres this time around.

I'm now running ROH Trophy wheels in an 18x9". These are fitted with Nitto Ridge Grappler tyres, in the wider 33x12.50R18 size. You may not have heard of Nitto tyres before. They are a Japanese brand and part of the Toyo tyres group. In Australia, they were mainly sold for specialised/racing applications until recently. In the USA, the locally-made Ridge Grappler has been getting extremely good reviews for the last few years. When they finally started selling them here, I bought a set after speaking to a few people who had imported their own.

To say I'm impressed with the tyres would be an understatement. They perform as well or better than the ATZs in every situation I've come across so far. In particular, they deliver excellent grip on dirt/gravel roads, and are much, much quieter on the tar. Despite the relatively aggressive pattern, they're almost as quiet as the factory tyres. I had no punctures or failures on the trip, they have barely worn over the 10,000km travelled so far, and they have no chunks missing. I cannot recommend these tyres highly enough. Shop around though, as prices seem to vary widely from place to place. In my case, I saved almost $100 per tyre!

I would say the only question remaining will be tread life, but I won't have the answer to that for a few years yet.

Tyre Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Just before leaving on the trip, I installed a tyre pressure monitoring system. This consists of a compact head unit, plus valve stem sensors. The sensors transmit the pressure and temperature of each tyre to the head unit, which will alert you of air leaks, and over-temperature conditions.

There are a lot of options on the market, all with various pros and cons.

I ended up going with the Innotech brand, which I bought via eBay. My reasons for buying this model were:

  • Support for trailers (up to 22 tyres, but I bought the 8 sensor kit)
  • Twin pressure presets for each tyre, with quick high/low mode change. This allows you to have 'road' and 'off-road' pressures preset, so you can air-down without triggering alarms or having to reset the device.
  • Automatically ignores trailer tyres if it gets no signal for 15 minutes. This means no need to reset/delete tyres when your trailer is disconnected.

It's a very small head unit, which comes with a windscreen mount and cigarette lighter charger. The battery lasts for a couple of weeks though, so no need to keep it plugged in full time.

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