Old Telegraph Track; The ultimate Cape York Adventure

One of the major attractions for Cape York is the 4WD tracks, and without a doubt the primary one is the Old Telegraph Track.

This is done by thousands of people every year, and is the ultimate adventure. It does however, come with a decent risk of doing damage to your 4WD, and there’s some pretty important considerations you need to make, and do.

The entrance to Palm Creek
There’s some pretty gnarly 4WD obstacles including the main entrance to Palm Creek

In this post, we take a look at the Old Telegraph Track; what you might expect to see, what you should take with you, and plenty of general tips.

Old Telegraph Track
The Old Telegraph Track is hugely popular, and causes a lot of damage to vehicles

The Old Telegraph Track is the crux of the difference between the Kimberley and Cape York, and its a very popular 4WD Track.

Where is the Old Telegraph Track?

The Old Telegraph Track is located in Cape York, right at the top of Queensland (FNQ). It starts at Bramwell Roadhouse Station, and continues north to near the Jardine River, where you get off the track and onto Telegraph Road (Not the Telegraph track!).

Bramwell Junction Fuel
The Telegraph Track starts right next to Bramwell Junction Roadhouse

Old Telegraph Track History

As you might have gathered, the name of this track comes from something, and it was the main form of communication from 1885 to 1962, sending morse code via two wires. In World War 2, it was upgraded to radio, and used for telephone cable under 1987.

How long is the track?

The Old Telegraph Track is 121km from Bramwell Station to the Old Jardine River Crossing, or 130km to the Jardine River Barge.

Fruit Bat Falls in Cape York
Fruit Bat Falls is in between the southern and northern parts of the track

When does the Old Telegraph Track open and close?

Far north Queensland experiences two primary seasons; the wet, and the dry, or a more literal version is the mud and the dust. Much of Cape York, including the Old Telegraph Track is closed, and off limits during the wet season, and for good reason.

Asides from the dangerous flood ways and water crossings, the damage that would get done to roads and tracks makes it completely out of the question.

In general, the Old Telegraph Track opens somewhere around May, and closes once the wet season starts around November to December. Of course, these are just general dates, and it does change from year to year, so do your own research on up to date conditions.

Where can you camp?

There’s a heap of places you can camp along the Old Telegraph Track, with very few places being formal, designated camping areas. Eliot Falls is one of the few national park campgrounds right next to the track, and requires booking in advance.

Elliot Falls Campground
The Elliot Falls Campground is one of the few bookable places to camp at

We stayed at Scrubby Creek, right on the edge of the track, and providing you are looking after the area, and not blocking the track the camping options are endless. Like usual, Wikicamps does a pretty good job of showing you where the main options are.

Camped on Scrubby Creek
There’s a heap of places to camp on the OTT, including this spot at Scrubby Creek

Do you have to do the whole track

The Telegraph Track has a huge number of entry’s and exits, and you can get on and off the track in a number of places. You start at Bramwell Roadhouse, and you can get off at Gunshot, Nolans Brook and a couple of other places.

How difficult is the Old Telegraph Track?

The Telegraph Track would comfortably be classed as difficult. If you threw a new 4WD owner onto it with no instruction, it would end badly, and every year even those with capable vehicles and substantial experience do major damage to 4WD’s.

Old Telegraph Track difficulties
The Telegraph track has some easy sections, some medium sections and some gnarly sections

Every year the Telegraph Track changes, and I think its fair to say the general track condition has deteriorated considerably, making it a more and more difficult track each year.

There are however, a huge number of different options when it comes to doing the track, and you can take a chicken track, or the chicken chicken track. We saw a number of areas that had 4 or 5 different options through an obstacle, with one or two being absolutely insane, and others being much easier.

Big climbs at Canal Creek
We saw a group of 4WD’s taking some full on lines at Canal Creek (which you don’t have to do)
Big 80 Series at Canal Creek
They all needed winching to some degree

I’m going to suggest that if you are new to 4WDing, this is not the track you should be learning on, with plenty of water, clearance issues and mud likely to cause grief.

What sort of 4WD do you need?

There’s a huge variety of 4WD’s that complete the Telegraph Track every year. Some are very standard, with minimal modifications, and others are decked out to the hilt with big tyres, lift kits, winches, lockers and bar work all round.

As a minimum, I’m going to suggest decent all terrain or mud terrain tyres, a winch, snorkel and a thorough understanding of your traction control system, or a locker or two.

Canal Creek requires good preparation
You need a suitable 4WD, or you’ll never make it

Yes, you can do the track without a winch, but you do it at the cost of others patience and time. The track is narrow and difficult in sections, and its not uncommon for people to be digging on a shovel for hours trying to get a stuck 4WD out if they can’t winch.

Stuck up Palm Creek
You really need a winch, as getting stuck is very likely

You are mad doing the Telegraph track without a quality snorkel (not a raised intake, like many stock Toyota’s come with!) as the water crossings are comfortably over wheel height in many places.

On top of this, you really should have some traction boards (Maxtrax, treds etc), snatch straps, a snatch block, shackles, shovel, tools and some gear to repair basic problems.

Driving through Palm Creek
Traction boards are hugely helpful

A tarp to cover the front of your vehicle when going through deep crossings is a really good idea too, with lots of people doing damage to radiators and fans when going through deep water.

Can you tow a camper trailer, boat or Caravan on the Telegraph Track?

Anything big, or heavy is out when it comes to the Telegraph Track. The tracks are simply not wide enough to tow them through without major damage.

That means boats over about 4 metres long, Caravans and Hybrids. I have seen some instances of skilled drivers with well built hybrids going through the Telegraph track, but it’s a major risk and not a good idea.

If you have a small, light weight camper trailer with a capable 4WD and driver you might consider towing it, but it will make your life much, much harder. Even trailers that are well built and very capable (patriot, Tvan etc) still reduce your vehicles capability considerably, and you risk doing damage to them.

Deep water at Canal Creek
There’s some very deep water crossings on the Old Telegraph Track

How long do you need?

You can do the southern section in one day, and the northern section in another day, but most people spend 3 – 5 days to complete the entire track.

Of course, this depends on who you are with, how many people you are waiting for and what goes wrong. You should give yourself plenty of time to extend if needed, as rushing through a difficult 4WD track isn’t ever going to end well.

Enjoying Canal Creek
Take your time, and soak it all up

What direction do you do it in?

Despite not really being published, its well known that you should only do the Telegraph Track from South to North. That’s not to say that you can’t do it in the other direction, but the drop offs are cut one way, and you should do it from the south, heading up.

What are the main obstacles?

There’s a number of major obstacles that you need to get through to complete the Telegraph Track. Palm Creek is a good indicator of how it starts, with Gunshot having a big reputation as well.

Cockatoo Creek can be sketchy if the water is flowing hard, and then you have the notorious Nolans Brook, which has probably caused more damage to 4WD’s in Australia than any other water crossing.

Is it worth doing?

For us, this is where things get interesting. I think if you love 4WDing, have a couple of other solid vehicles that you are going with, have plenty of 4WDing experience and know the limitations of your vehicle (and its set up appropriately), you should consider doing it.

However, you should remember that there is a decent chance of doing minor, and major damage to your 4WD, and that you’re a long way from help. If you break something major, its hard to get recovered and back to a mechanic.

Hard lines at Canal Creek on the OTT
Is the risk of damage to your vehicle worth it? That’s up to you

We made the decision not to do too much of the Old Telegraph Track when we visited, as we were with my folks in their fairly low, and virtually stock Mitsubishi Pajero, and we both had vans that we were towing.

I did feel like we missed out a lot by not doing the track, but at the same time made the decision that missing out on one 4WD track to guarantee we’d be able to continue lapping around this country without major issues would be worth it.

I hate having car issues, and the last place you want to have them is on the Telegraph track. I’ve seen too many expensive 4WD’s get drowned or damaged on this track that the risk to reward ratio for us wasn’t quite swaying in the right direction.

Gravel on the PDR
If you don’t want to do the OTT, you can take the gravel all the way to the tip

That said, if we were with a crew of other people, had left our hybrid somewhere and had time to do it, I think I’d give it a careful crack and risk it.

We spent a fair bit of time at Palm Creek, Scrubby Creek and Canal Creek to know what to expect, and guarantee it’d be one heck of an adventure.

Have you done the Old Telegraph Track recently? What did you think of it?

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