80 Series luminary Kev Smith explores the CREB – Bloomfield Track loop and reckons the way back is better…!
Words and Images by Kev Smith
Around the country, there are some hard 4WD tracks, iconic tracks, and several hard tracks that are also iconic. The CREB Track in Far Nth QLD is one of these. Known worldwide for its challenges, the CREB should not be taken lightly.
Originally cut in as a service access trail for the old Cairns Regional Electricity Board (CREB), the CREB Track is one of the country’s most challenging four-wheel-drive adventures. It winds its way through World Heritage-listed rainforest north from the Daintree village to the Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal up near Cooktown. But take note: this is a rough and ready track, suitable for experienced 4X4 drivers only. A speed of between 15 to 20km/h is advised due to the terrain, narrow tracks, and obstacles. You will also need to check that the road is open, as it often shuts during periods of rain.
I’ve driven a stack of 4X4 tracks around the country but completing the CREB was something special. Covering nearly 74km of steep hills terrain and narrow tracks with blind corners, it’s a laugh a minute. Couple that with loads of creek crossings and stunning views; it’s a bucket list adventure. Coffs Harbour in NSW has a track similar to the CREB named Morbid Trail, but it runs for a mere five kilometres. Longer is better every time (Ed: that’s what she said).
While the CREB Track generally remains dry during the winter months, rain here can be sudden and unpredictable, so prepare for the worst. Equip yourself with all the necessary recovery and communication equipment. The slightest rainfall (even if days old) can render the track treacherous or nearly impassable as grip levels plummet and the clay turns to slick mud. Ensure both vehicle and driver are prepared, with high-quality A/T or mud tyres and supporting recovery equipment. This is tropical Australia, after all.
Starting at the southern end of Daintree village (a great place to grab a coffee and cake), it’s an incredible drive to the start of the CREB. You’ll pass through valleys with the mountains towering behind, seeming like they are watching your every move. Signposted at the beginning, it’s straight into it. You’ll need to drop your tyre pressures and cross the upper reaches of the Daintree River before heading across lush green paddocks and into the abyss of the rainforest. Massive rainforest trees dwarf the cows in the paddocks as you follow the Daintree River inland.
At the Daintree village, have a wander around the handful of shops, find the big Barramundi and take a stroll down to the river where you may see a resident croc. Incidentally, this is where the croc tours start from cruising the river. We did it last year, and they guarantee to find crocs – we saw five Crocodylus porosus.
There’s no right or wrong way to tackle the CREB, so it’s extremely important to be wary about something coming the other way, especially when the track narrows (which is often). The signs say trailers are not recommended, and as a long-term camper-trailer owner, I’d have to agree.
Do your weather research before hitting the CREB, as the track gets shut and the gates are locked. And if that’s not enough of a deterrent, there are huge fines for driving on it when it’s closed.
Bit of advice too – put your UHF on scan to listen for any other traffic. I was surprised that there’s no dedicated channel for the CREB like other tracks around the country. We did encounter a few other 4WDs and bikes, though luckily where we came head-to-head there were pull-over spots.
The first part of the track follows the base of mountains before it seems to head uphill forever. Over every rise, you get glimpses of the track up the next hill in the distance. The rainforest hugs the trail, yet at certain spots, the views are nothing short of spectacular. Phone reception is patchy along the track, of course, better on the higher sections, but you definitely can’t rely on it if you get into trouble. Tracking through the rainforest was pretty special where tree ferns line the track in the cooler shady sections, dwarf Tibouchina’s with their stark purple flowers give colour against the healthy green thick forest sections. Tall vines seek sunshine growing up the variety of unique tall timbered rainforest trees. Strangler vines and others with razor-sharp spikes will have you swearing for days if you get stabbed. Stunning old growth figs grow tall that have been here for hundreds of years.
When I hit the track I dropped my tyres down to 20psi (285/75/16) but of course, it’s a personal choice depending on tyre type, driving ability, 4wd, etc. The track was tacky in parts but nowhere as hard as I thought or was expecting (it did rain a week prior). The higher sun-soaked reaches were dry though.
Stopping at the creeks was a great way to stretch the legs and even have a dip. They tell me there are no crocs up here. Another highlight was Telecom Hill, the highest part of the CREB that boasts stunning views. Numerous side tracks were highly challenging and badly eroded, though optional.
Heading downhill out of the official CREB area, there’s a great diversion into the Roaring Meg Falls area. Heading to the north of the track, it slowly changes from thick rainforest to a dry Eucalypt forest, also known as sclerophyll forests. Here, the gums are scattered with dry grass and other smaller shrubs. When we did the track, this northern part was very dusty and hadn’t had rain for quite some time. But be warned, this area belongs to the local Buru people with several small communities along the way, so respect the signs and slow down when passing. Signposted off the main road, it is a dry, dusty, and slow trip into the falls.
The isolated location of Roaring Meg Falls makes it a perfect spot for camping with its spectacular views of the Far North Queensland tropics. There are several walking tracks to the river to cool off, and while we were hoping to see the falls, we lacked the stamina for the hour-long walk. While camping is allowed in the area, you will still need permission to visit or camp at Roaring Meg Falls. The land is of cultural significance to the Eastern Kuku Yalanji (Buru) people, so out of respect for the traditional owners of Buru, visitors are asked to contact a representative before accessing the falls. Contact Burungu Aboriginal Corporation.
Leaving here is a pretty easy drive back out towards Wujal Wujal. In sections, the road is being sealed for the locals plus on the last colossal downhill section into town, the road has been concreted with cuts to provide traction. Wujal is prominently an Aboriginal community but does have a small supermarket. If you’ve got time – and just 5 mins away – head south to check out the stunning Bloomfield Falls. You’ll see from hundreds of years of water pumping over the cliff just how it has cut its way through the valley. When we visited, there was a croc warning from the locals.
When we tackled the CREB, all I saw online was off-road carnage. There were 4X4s stuck, in trouble and a mass of thick, sticky mud clogging up the tyre treads and looking impossible. And while we did see several wrecks and body parts (not human body parts but off other 4WDs), we had no such fear for our vehicle.
At the end of the track at Wujal Wujal, you can keep heading north to the stunning area of Cooktown or head south along the Bloomfield Track, passing by Cape Tribulation and catching the ferry across the lower region croc-infested Daintree River. But that story is for next time.
So, after spending a day on the Creb. What do I think?
Well, I can’t wait to do it again; next time, maybe go from north to south experiencing a different side of one of the most iconic tracks in Australia and one of my Top 3 Tracks in Cape York.