"This is it," says Dean as the Oka grinds to a dusty halt beside the famous Lion's Den (established 1875), our last stop before hitting The Jump Up.
The Lion's Den—apparently a young guy called Daniel worked at a local tin mine, another story says it was named for a pub in Devon, England—has a very chipped and ugly replica of a lion outside. But the chief attraction (and it isn't a cold beer) is inside. Every inch of every wall is covered in graffiti, signatures, scribbles, obscenities and slogans in support of various sports teams.
Even around the sign which says you shouldn't write on the walls without permission. Someone is pretty liberal with "permission". The ceiling has ragged shirts and baseball caps hanging from it, the bar ablaze with bumper stickers, beer labels and photos.
We shoot pool, have a beer, and read the walls. Dean, we note with relief, is staying off the cold stuff. The Jump Up looms.
Later we hit the rugged road again, stop at Wajul Wajul (which means "waterfall waterfall" in the local Aboriginal dialect) where some local artists are at work on elaborate paintings, and then cross a river where there is fresh water on one side of the small bridge and salt on the other.
And then we hit The Jump Up.
Our vehicle crashes down though the gears and we creep up at fewer than 5mph. The Oka groans as Dean seems to find every rut in the road, there is an odd stretch of concrete over the steepest part ("That wasn't here before," says Dean with cheerful relief) and after 20 minutes we are at the top.
We get out and breathe the warm air, gulp water and check the ground for snakes.
This is our last day on this extraordinary Wilderness Challenge adventure where none of us knew what to expect. Every night we have expressed awe at what we have seen in this landscape, and how much history, local knowledge and understanding of Aboriginal myth and culture Dean has managed to impart by way of casual conversation. His dry humour is a characteristic of Australians, especially those who spend their lives outside of the cities, and is revealed once more when I joke about these last few hours back to Cairns.
I say the next bit should be easy, it's all downhill on the map.
"Yeah," says Dean and points back down The Jump Up where the ruts are a foot deep and this area known as The Bloomfield Track—just broken lines on my map—has earned that underselling description.
"Downhill all right, and pretty much like that all the way."
We get back in the Oka, strap on the seatbelts and hold on. Real tight.
If You Go:
Wilderness Challenge offers a range of 4WD adventure safaris of various durations (7 to 16-day tours) across northern Australia. These include camping options, accommodated safaris, and group tours through the Kimberley, Kakadu, Gulf Savannah and Cape York Peninsula regions. Tours carry a maximum of 13 passengers. For more information visit: www.wilderness-challenge.com.au. You can find some great deals on cruises from Australia on the Cruise1st.com.au website here.
Graham Reid is an award–winning New Zealand travel writer, music writer and journalist. His book Postcards From Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year award, and his website www.elsewhere.co.nz features travel stories, photos, rock'n'roll reminiscences, and a weekly music review in which he posts tracks from albums which have gone past radio programmers and other reviewers.
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