It has been 143 years since Cooktown was established on the site where Captain Cook stopped to repair the HMB Endeavour 247 years prior. Up until 2006 this region had to put up with very dodgy roads north and south including from 1983 the Bloomfield Track. Today the greater Cook Shire region has the magnificent inland Mulligan Highway making life easier and further developing new business for everyone.
The Great Barrier Reef coastline between Helenvale & Mossman has stunning rainforest clad mountains that sweep down into long sandy beaches. In 1985-95 the local papers offered frequent stories of new species of Flora & Fauna being discovered or rediscovered in this now World Heritage Listed region. The giant ancient trees and amazing array of ancient ferns and diverse vegetation types along with spotting elusive endemic species was for many worldwide, an awakening. From 1985 often after the Daintree Ferry the road was a mess and in sections at times impassable. In the right vehicle nothing stopped most travellers who came in droves. The thing that was shocking in 1985 was not the road or its dangers and its making, but the vehicles crossing muddy wheels silting up the creek beds and creek mouths flowing into the Coral Sea and out to the Great Barrier Reef.
This all changed when the road to Cape Tribulation was sealed. The sealing also killed off many of the tourism businesses in its wake. Cape Tribulation became an easy day trip from Cairns or Port Douglas in a conventional car. Despite many tourism businesses closing their doors, the gift was to the rainforest and its neighbouring fringing reef systems. Creeks now ran clear into the Coral Sea, the leaves on the trees were dust free, speed restrictions were in place and the drive could now be done with windows down taking in the smells and sounds, which adds to the regions beauty. Many at the time suggested it would turn into a highway, but the size of the road, the speed humps, the demand and the Daintree Ferry limits ensured it did not. World Heritage Listing of the Greater Daintree region was not only a gift to those that had worked so hard to seek its protection, it was also great thing for the people of Australia and our visiting tourists for generations to come. However despite all our worldly progress, since its inception this controversial road north of Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield still remains an environmental and safety hazard.
Bloomfield to Helenvale south of Cooktown is now fully sealed and we have the Bloomfield Bridge. Those who live north of Bloomfield enjoy power and a sealed highway inland making life very less remote than earlier times. Most importantly it is now safe for everyone. This road sealing inland and along the coast has opened huge opportunities for tourists to now experience the rainforest to Wujal Wujal, the Great Barrier Reef Coast, and history of Cooktown as well as the regions rich rainforest and outback Aboriginal culture. A growing number of these travellers now bypass Cape Tribulation and Daintree coming straight up inland from Cairns, Port Douglas or the Tablelands.
The Bloomfield Track continues to be popular for those that can afford a 4×4 hire or a guided tour. However over the past 5 years the types of vehicles using this route has changed dramatically because they can. Small SUV’s towing even larger off road caravans dreaming they have an off road vehicle and feel they have right to also use the track and who’s stopping them? Others in conventional vehicles are frequently seen using the track because when it is dry they now can. These factors are now making the track a worry. Clearly understanding the positives and negatives of sealing this section of the track.
The Woobada crossing is now bridged at twice the cost of the original road, is suited to the environment in which it sits. Many other creek crossings have been sealed as well as the most dangerous sections of Cowie & Donavan ranges. The track is not suited to 4×4 enthusiasts, to suggest such is naïve. It is now a formed road. Sealing the remaining 32kms of the Bloomfield Track will not turn it into a highway only a safe scenic drive. We must not forget in 2017 a tourist driver died and his wife having to wait hours beside him to be cut out of the vehicle. There is no opportunity for emergency rescue to land a chopper along this remaining 32kms. Additionally it can take hours for any emergency services to reach an accident, which will result in further loss of tourist life each year whilst it remains unsealed.
We cannot forget that environmentally the Douglas Shire is currently responsible for the tons of gravel and dirt that continues to wash into the Coral Sea and onto the Great Barrier Reef annually. The trees throughout winter remain chocked in dust from the steady flow of traffic travelling in both directions. This last section of the Bloomfield must be dealt with either way. Closing it would facilitate a sensational walking track that has potential to become a world class attraction. This would generate employment for those managing it and around it. To seal it would create a world class drive route that would also become a world class scenic drive for everyone in conventional vehicles and all of us in TNQ would benefit. Vehicle sizes and loading can be controlled through overhead frames restricting size and tonnage, so no need to over widen its alignment. Do it once and do it right! To pay for the sealing this section of the road, make it a toll road covering the ongoing costs of maintenance. To complete what was proposed in 1968 and started by the Douglas Shire in 1983 would make this section of the coastal route environmentally safe and in keeping with today’s World Heritage status. Not overlooking the fact that it would give a breath of life back into Douglas Shire rate payers at Cape Tribulation and North of the Daintree River by stemming the growth of those tourists now bypassing it using the inland Mulligan highway to Cooktown instead.
It is time the Douglas Shire finished what was started in 1983. This time do it once and do it right! There is no question that a sealed coastal road will benefit not only those in the northern end of the Douglas Shire, but also those in the southern end of Cook. It will create a loop linking everybody and every business to one of Australia’s great tropical drives so the whole of Tropical North Queensland will benefit.