The secret north: Beach oasis only the locals know about
The Cranston family load up their Troopy and head to a beach side oasis only the locals know
If you speak to many of the locals in Far North Queensland to find out where their favourite camping spots are, many will tell you Elim Beach is right up there as one of the best.
And I have to admit, it is one of my favourite spots too. Just four-and-a-half hour's drive north of Cairns, this beachfront camp is a great base for fishing, kite surfing, sand duning, four wheel driving or just lazing around on a hammock.
But be warned, without a 4WD you won't get far as any exploring in the area requires a 4WD vehicle.
There is so much to do in the region you will definitely want to set up camp here for a few days.
Camping on the beach has got to be one of our favourite places to pitch the tent.
There is nothing better than drifting off to sleep listening to the sounds of the lapping tide, waking to amazing ocean views and stepping out of the tent onto soft white sand. Nothing beats it, especially when the weather is perfect. And that's exactly what it was like when we last stayed at Elim Beach.
Part of the appeal is definitely the lack of development here as there are no powered sites, just flushable toilets and cold showers, so the beach is the main attraction.
The campground itself is run by Thiithaarr-warra Elder, Eddie Deemal and his son Ivan, but it is a pretty casual setup and you can camp anywhere you like although they'd rather if you keep the 4WDs away from the beachfront due to the soft sand.
We learned the hard way and drove across the sand with the camper trailer still hitched and unfortunately the weight of the trailer caused the troopy to dig down.
Thank goodness we had Maxtrax with us so it was a breeze getting out, but Eddie often has to tow campers out with the tractor if bogged, so best to avoid it.
There are plenty of shady paperbark trees to camp under and only limited spots along the beachfront. Unfortunately you can't pick your spot until you get there as they don't take bookings. We were lucky enough to find an awesome spot by the water with plenty of room to spread out our camper trailer and hang our hammocks. It was paradise!
Each evening we lit a campfire on the beach and other campers flocked with their camp chairs, relaxing over a beer and sharing tales of their travels. That's one of the things we love about camping, the camaraderie.
During the day the tide goes right out, revealing a long pure white sand bar. We walked right out to the sand bar (good luck avoiding the thick boggy mud on the way) and saw more starfish than we've ever seen in our lives.
There were literally hundreds of them in the shallows on either side of the sand bar, as well as sea cucumbers, a few crabs and great views out over the Coloured Sands.
But make sure you head back to shore well before the tide does because you will be stranded out there with the saltwater crocodiles when the tide comes in so you don't want to risk it.
You can also drive past the campground to the beach at the end of the thick sandy track, where a lot of the local indigenous people keep weekend shacks. It's a spectacular beach, except for the odd bits of rubbish the locals discard. However, Ivan says they are trying hard to encourage locals to keep the beach clean.
Only accessible by 4WD when the tide is out, the impressive Coloured Sands are a long stretch of sand dunes made up of a variety of ochre coloured sands with views out to Cape Bedford. You can also walk to the Coloured Sands from Elim Beach, but many people say there is an aggressive crocodile near the mangroves so we decided against it.
The Coloured Sand cliffs stretch right along the beachfront and in some sections travellers have etched their names into the cliff face. In other places the sand is soft and perfect for sand duning. We brought along some large pieces of cardboard to slide down the sand dunes but ran out of time as we had to beat the tide back.
And the tide is unforgiving if you get caught in it as one traveller discovered while we were there. He drove his brand new LandCruiser with caravan attached onto the Coloured Sands beach and got bogged as the tide was beginning to come in. Some other campers managed to unhitch the caravan and help tow it off the beach but the man's 4WD got swamped by the incoming tide and couldn't be saved. That's why it is so important to find out the tide times before driving over to the Coloured Sands.
Permits are required to visit the Coloured Sands as it is Aboriginal land and they can be bought at the petrol station in Hopevale, but be aware that the petrol station is closed on Sundays, at lunchtime, when someone is sick or during church time. Otherwise day permits can be bought at the Elim Beach Campground. If camping at Elim Beach the camping fee also includes a visit to the Coloured Sands.
On the drive back to Cooktown, we stopped off to do the Bama Way tour, just outside of Hopevale. Aboriginal Elder and storyteller Willie Gordon takes you to a number of different sacred caves where you can see aboriginal rock art and learn the stories behind the art. Willie is a top guy with a keen sense of humour and you can't help but like him, which is a good thing since the tour lasts about 3.5 hours.
The Bama Way is an Aboriginal trail through land belonging to two different Aboriginal clans, the Guugu Yimithirr and Kuku Yalangi people, and it leads to many important sites including the Birthing Cave and the Death Cave.
Throughout the tour Willie points out the importance of the surrounding trees, plants and wildlife and what they are used for by Aboriginal people. He explains which ones make bush medicine, how they make bush tucker and which trees are best to build a shelter.
Kids will also love this tour as they get to paint a rock in ochre colours and leave it in one of the sacred caves, as well as learning loads of fascinating facts about the bush and wildlife. Our kids surprised us for weeks afterwards sprouting fascinating information they learned from Willie when we did his tour, stuff that we couldn't even remember.
LOCATION: Elim Beach (26 km north of Hopevale)
Facilities: Flushable toilets and cold showers
Access to Campsite: 2WD to the campground (but check beforehand on condition of road just in case) and 4WD only on the beach.
Things to know: Crocodiles inhabit these waters so stay away from the water's edge when the tide is in.
The campground doesn't take bookings.
Bring your own supplies as the closest general store is Cooktown (unless you want to try your luck in Hopevale).
Campfires are allowed and your campground permit also covers you to visit the Coloured Sands.
Campground is just $10 per adult a night and kids under 12 stay free.