Walks

Wallaman Falls and the S.S. Yongala

Wallaman Falls

Wallaman Falls

The highest single drop waterfalls in Australia are Wallaman Falls. A relatively small deviation from Ingham took us up into the hills again and after a steep climb over 500m from sea-level, into Girringun National Park, we were confronted with a surprisingly spectacular sheer cliff face where the water plunges 268m into a pool below that is 20m deep. It was well worth the visit and we even got five minutes of sunlight between the drizzle.

We’d set ourselves a long drive for the day so after a brief lunch we set off back down the hill to the coast. We didn’t stop in Townsville and a last minute change of plan saw us head for the town of Ayr, 100km south from Townsville.

I had booked a dive the next day on the S.S. Yongala, reputed to be one of the best wreck dives in Australia. With winds forecast at 25 knots I was expecting a cancellation but it was confirmed and my excitement levels rose as I had only done one dive in the last 11 months. We also had the car booked for a service in Townsville the next day so poor Amanda drew the long straw to drive back the 100km with the kids. We were told it could be serviced in Ayr but when we phoned the garage at 5pm the response was that the service desk was closed – better to go where they understand customer service.

The morning was sunny again with less wind and I was dropped at the dive shop at 7.30am. The kids were actually excited because they had been promised a trip to the aquarium where a whole portfolio of talks awaited them.

The S.S. Yongala was a passenger ship that sank in 1911 in a cyclone as it headed north up the coast on its 99th voyage to get a refit. All 122 on board died but the wreck was not found until 1958. The Navy performing a mine sweep in the area had noted its probable position in 1947 but the charts with notation were only rediscovered later. The wreck is accessed via a 30 minute bumpy ride in rigid hull inflatable dive boat.

The wreck itself lies on sand and as such provides an artificial reef for a plethora of underwater life. The wreck is covered with corals and among these a profusion of small fish thrive. Schools of damselfish and glass fish shimmy and start in unison as larger predatory trivially and mackerel cruise past. Coral trout and enormous cod lurk in the shadows of the holds, and under the rusting infrastructure. Large Moray eels surveyed the scene from their hide holes and Batfish the size of dinner plates cruise around in small schools. The more you look the more you find. Turtles kept popping up all over the wreck, as did the highly venomous and ever-curious olive sea snakes. Dense schools of jacks and other medium sized fish aggregate at the bow and stern, barely moving as you swim through them. We  were blessed with great visibility making it an unforgettable day’s diving.

Unbeknownst to me my kids were revelling in a more controlled marine environment at the same time. On my return they were gushing over Myrtle the one-eyed Turtle that they saw in the turtle hospital (of course), and the talks they had been religiously attending all day in Townsville aquariuwm, Reef HQ. They had been watching Nemos at close quarters, had up close fun in the discovery lagoons and even tried on old school pearl diving helmets.

This was a day to remember!

Categories: Adventure, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, National Park, Natural World, Photography, Photos, Queensland, Road trip, Travel, Walks | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Mission Beach

Cassowary

A Cassowary preens itself in the afternoon sunlight

Back to the coast we headed, taking a less precipitous road, descending 900m again towards Innisfail, then south to Mission Beach, driving past Djiru National Park before entering the quaint tourist village. The council operated caravan park sits behind the beach and offers powered sites for next to nothing so we settled in for a few days. We needed to get some schoolwork done with the kids, and the nearby library beckoned.

IMG_0137The National Park appeared to offer much better walking tracks than in Cape Tribulation so we set off initially on a short walk at Lacey Creek. The narrow path snakes through the thick forest, criss-crossing the creek and a few tell-tale cassowary droppings littered the track but none were spotted. I got mesmerised for 20 minutes watching a tree snake exploring the forest, systematically checking branches for food.

We walked the 3.2km Dreaming Trail, witnessed more cassowary droppings, oversized mounds of semi digested seeds, littering the path, but still no sightings. Many of the seeds were already germinating proving how effective the bird is as a jungle gardener.

With interest waning in the rain only Xavier and I continued from this track onto the 6km Musgravea track to Licuala. There was so much evidence of cassowaries that we were very optimistic about seeing one and sure enough 3km in a beautiful big specimen stood preening itself in the sunlight in the middle of the track. We carefully approached to about 20m, as these birds can be dangerous, particularly if protecting their chicks, but at this point it ducked into the undergrowth never to be seen again. A further 50m on and we encountered an echidna, an animal that we haven’t seen for ages.

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Back at camp the kids were very excited to find a few very large and carefully compiled humpys on the beach, spending plenty of time hanging out in them with other kids. It was good for them to find lots of kids around their age that they could let some steam off with.

The adjacent park was lined with rather attractive palms with clumps of fruit of different colours hanging below the leaves and Amanda got particularly excited when she found out there were markets on whilst we were there. She returned with bags of local produce, including monster bananas a bargain at 14 for a dollar! Oscar scored himself a huge second hand tackle box for 4 dollars, Hannah headed for the pineapple slushie stall, and Xavier spent time at the gemstone stall. He later returned with his collection to show the man.

The laid-back feeling around Mission Beach was very appealing but the dreary weather that had commenced once we hit the rainforest, continued. The wind and rain prevented us from visiting nearby Dunk Island but it was still very relaxing and the kids completed a big chunk of work for school. The time to leave came too soon

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Back to the Atherton Tablelands

 

Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos

Lumholtz Tree Kangaroos

After a quick trip into Cairns to pick up mail we headed for the hills again. Having not spent much time in the Atherton Highlands we chose to explore a little deeper this time and took the steepest, most windy road available. Well it wasn’t planned that way! The direct road from Cairns to the highlands rose over 900m snaking its way up from Gordonvale to Yungaburra. The glimpses back towards the sea were amazing however I needed to watch the road carefully to avoid mishap. We sneaked a peak at Lake Barrine but with sleeping kids in the back we pressed on to Millaa Millaa which was our planned base for a few days.

Hoping to spot a few new birds I got up early to explore the neighbourhood and spotted two Lumholtz tree kangaroos, about 500m down the road on the edge of the village. The long dangling tails were a giveaway and the beautiful animals resembling oversize teddy bears even put on their best poses for me.

We drove the waterfall circuit that incorporates Millaa Millaa falls, supposedly the most photographed falls in Australia, Zillie and Elinjaa falls too.

The forests surrounding nearby Lake Eacham were alive with new birdsong and I was lucky enough to find tooth-billed bowerbirds and spotted catbirds, the former having a very untidy bower made of overturned leaves in a scraped area. The Lake itself is a a crater lake formed from the explosive reaction of magma meeting the water table. Steep sides descend up to 65m into the deepest part of the lake and the old established rainforest make an interesting bush walk, past, even through, at times, large fig trees whose roots and buttresses clasp on to the sides of the crater.

We also saw the 500 year old Curtain Fig, whose root system appears to cascade from the skies. We revisited Mount Hypipamee National Park to see the Crater Lake that we’d missed previously. This crater was formed by a volcanic gas explosion, the granite walls today being sheer and some 70m across. The lake lies almost 60m below the rim and is 70m deep. This park often has cassowary sightings but not when we visit.

We visited a couple of dairies, the Gallo Dairyland one proving to be the favourite. The cheese and chocolate tastings proved irresistible and we came home clutching an array of mouth-watering produce. The tea farm was a bit of a disappointment as the factory was being cleaned and the tea-room didn’t offer any tastings. We did spot another tree kangaroo though there.

There was so much to do we extended our stay, and even as we left we had to explore the Millaa Millaa museum before leaving. Behind the museum is the trunk of an almost 900 year old Kauri pine that fell in a storm in 2003. The timber industry thrived here for many years and the museum is full of artefacts from those times.

The Atherton Tablelands provided a much more interesting experience than the coastal commercialised tourism, offering so much variety of things to do. Once again it felt like we had barely scratched the surface, but were busy from the moment we arrived. All downtime back at camp was spent catching up with schoolwork but the few days we were there felt like we had achieved a lot.

 

 

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Boudjamulla National Park (Lawn Hill)

Riversleigh is a world heritage site based on the abundance of unique fossil deposits found there. To get there we had a relatively short drive from our camp at the O’Shaughnessy River, two short, shallow, but surprisingly slippery river crossings, and the obligatory corrugated rocky dirt road that makes the outback what it is. Whilst it appears to be an unremarkable spot on the surface, the signs provided allow visitors to look past the dusty, dry rocky landscape. For even the more imaginative visitor visualisation of the change in landscape over millions of years is challenging as the fossil record represents eras of marine reef, through to swamps when giant 4m freshwater crocodiles were the apex predators, and then elephant birds whose enormous size meant they couldn’t fly.

One fossil in the rock exposed a cross section of a turtle shell thought to be long extinct, however, as recently as 1995 the gulf snapping turtle was rediscovered in the Lawn Hill river system, thriving as it has done for thousands if not millions of years without change.

A short drive from this hot arid, fly-ridden place brought us to the oasis that is Boudjamulla National Park. The deep gorge and pandanus-lined river is a verdant oasis for fish and birdlife. Water levels were low and the Cascades had no water flowing over them, however the Indarri Falls, less than a kilometre upstream, spilled beautiful green, warm, lime-saturated water into the gorge. The water turbulence at the falls causes a gaseous release of carbon dioxide and the “tufa”, as it is called, is deposited at a surprising rapid rate, 2-3cm annually. The falls are not large, less than 3m in height, and covered in pandanus growth. Below the falls barramundi and turtles abound and we all spent hours exploring every nook and cranny.

The park also offers a number of bushwalks. The Wild Dog Dreaming track leads you along the river bank to a cliff face covered in ancient petroglyph art and more recent Waanyi rainbow serpent artwork. Island Stacks offered a walk on the limestone escarpment above the gorge, but the longest walk up the gorge was closed due to the threat of a grumpy buffalo that had recently been spotted up there.

All the forests were busy with birds and we spotted a pair of large channel-billed cuckoos near the trailer, and a whistling kite’s continual call gave away it’s nest site above the river, high in the outreaching limbs of a Eucalypt tree.

Canoes could be hired to explore but there was no need, and one day we made the decision to swim the one plus kilometre back to camp through the gorge, while Amanda carried our clothes back. The kids jumped on their inner tubes (presents from our friends at Marree Hotel so long ago now) and conquered the journey in no time at all.

 

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Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park (Ayers Rock & The Olgas)

Speeding towards Uluru National Park the next morning we past the “Grismacks” heading in the opposite direction, the last time we will see them on this trip as we head in different directions.

Uluru, also know as Ayers Rock, is a massive monolith (single rock) made of sandstone, that erupts from the flat surrounding landscape, famous for its changing colours as the sun sets in the evenings. It is over 400km from Alice Springs and many people, including a couple in our car, mistake their first glimpse of Mt Connor for Uluru. They are actually very different, Mt Connor having a flat top and precipitous walls surrounding it, whilst Uluru is much more rounded in appearance.

We had decided to try and climb Uluru and given that it had been windy and closed for climbing in recent days, had crossed all fingers and toes, hoping for a calm day. With the wind definitely increasing as we arrived we filled up our water and headed through the gate. The first section is the steepest as you follow the chains up the side of the monolith. Within 100m Xavier made a sensible decision, given his fear of heights, and decided not to proceed. Shortly after, Hannah muttered something and turned around too. Down to three of us left, Amanda, Oscar (with his visiting school toy, Wilma wombat) and myself we trudged up the calf-punishing rock. We even passed one clown walking in thongs, who lost one over the edge when he finally turned around.

Oscar was in fine form and paced onward and upward. Amanda fell back. At the top of the chain an interrupted white line guides you across the undulating top of the rock and after a few short climbs Oscar and I celebrated at the peak with a high five, then photo opportunities with Wilma. We waited for Amanda, waited some more, then with an increasing wind threatening to make the descent interesting we decided to return.

Whilst it might be somewhat controversial to climb the rock, the ceremonial sacred sites are actually around the base of the rock, and the local Anangu people’s main concern is that people don’t harm themselves on the rock (over 35 people have died trying to climb it). Having enjoyed walking the 10km walk around the base previously I justified the climb based on the fact I was not disrespecting ceremonial sacred sites.

Watching the sunset on the rock with the kids proved a little disappointing as cloud cover restricted sunlight hitting the rock.

Next day I was struck with illness so the others headed off to Kaja Tjuta (The Olgas), and the highlight of their trip proved to be the camel farm that they dropped into for a photograph session with Wilma the Wombat. After generously facilitating the photos the girl at the farm let them prepare saddles for the sunset ride, and even gave them all a quick free ride around the yard on the camels. Two hours were spent at the camel farm and only 30 minutes at the Olgas!

That evening our plans changed dramatically and instead of heading south towards Coober Pedy again we chose to back-track north, to take the Plenty Highway to enter Queensland rather than the more arduous plan across a number of desert tracks to Dalhousie, Birdsville, all of which will have to wait for next time.

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West from Alice Springs

Our first night in Alice saw temperatures plummet to 3 degrees. What few warm clothes we had came out but it was actually quite nice as by 9am the temperature had risen enough to be comfortable again. With all warm clothes stowed again we headed out of town along the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Knowing it was a short drive for the day we made some impromptu unplanned stops as we went. First up was Simpsons Gap in the Tjoritja / West. MacDonnell National Park. Following the dry river bed towards the gap I was surprised to see “No Swimming” signs but at the gap there was a substantial lake full of icy cold water. A few black-footed wallabies hopped around the rock piles on both sides of the gap, looking down intently watching our every move. We also spotted plenty of striated grass wren jumping around the rocks and grass.

A little further along the road we stopped to have a look at the local indigenous artist, Kathleen Buzzacott’s studio. Everyone loved the deep bowls filled with coloured seeds, and running hands through them just felt so good! The kids were interested in the jewellery made from the seeds and then watched intently as Kathleen showed them how to dot-paint. A very interesting stop that inspired the kids drawing efforts that afternoon in the car.

Hermannsberg was established as a Lutherian Mission in 1877 by two newly arrived missionaries from Germany. Their trip alone to the area was a marathon of hardships and drought, having being despatched in mid-summer. Today the mission offers an insight to outback life in the late 19th century. The kids marvelled at the size of the porridge pot, particularly as we all ate hot porridge for breakfast. We also learnt that in the indigenous language, Arrernte, there are only four number words, for 1,2,3 then everything beyond this is “a mob”. The kids struggled  trying to grasp the concept, but an apple strudel was beckoning us in the café so we moved out of the school.

Just on the other side of Hermannsberg a dirt and sandy road led us up to Palm Valley. Having grabbed a campsite we decided to visit the valley before sunset and set off up a very rocky 4WD track to the start of the walk. It was slow and bumpy and the sun was falling fast but we all managed to make the 5km loop walk , then negotiate the track back down before nightfall. The deep-rich red colours of the valley rock walls were amazing to see as the sun dropped further in the sky, and to see Cabbage Tree palms nestled in the valley was interesting as the 2,000 odd palms are an isolated population, their nearest relatives being over 800km away in Queensland.

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Kakadu National Park

 

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Kakadu is another Northern Territory icon that we had all been looking forward to seeing but having recently heard several accounts of people saying how disappointing it was, without much water and that the big name falls were dry, we were a little apprehensive. Undeterred we chose to base ourselves near the Ubirr rock art site and close to the town of Jabiru. In addition this was close to the famous Cahill River crossing that we would be using to get through Arnhemland to get to the Cobourg peninsula. We dragged ourselves out of Noonamah (Where the hell is Noonamah, being its catchcry) and following a cruisy day looking for crocodiles at any opportunity, drawing blanks each time, we arrived mid-afternoon. A quick dinner and with the sun still in the sky I rushed to see the sunset from the lookout. Despite missing the sunset, a fabulous orange glow set a perfect backdrop for the green tranquil wetlands that stretched before us and as far as the eye could see. Hundreds of visitors, like religious disciples, had paid their homage to the sun god and now made an orderly exit from the park, before they got locked in.

The rock art at Ubirr is breathtaking, and a totally different style to that found in the Kimberley or even the Jawoyn art from nearby Katherine. Often referred to as X-Ray art, their depictions of water creatures include their bones and internal organs, often to depict the choicest part of the barramundi or pig-nosed turtle. Amongst the numerous galleries that the public can access are murals depicting stories that have lessons about behaviour, older ones depict images of extinct animals such as the thylacine, and some are just chest-beating efforts of artists showing that they can paint the largest fish, or can paint it the highest up the wall. Another depicts the Rainbow Serpent common throughout aboriginal heritage as the creator. One particularly interesting piece shows a woman with swollen arms and legs, a reference to radioactive sites that made people sick when visited. The controversial uranium mine, Jabiluka is approx. 45km away. A two hour Park Ranger tour by Glen was fascinating as he imparted his extensive knowledge of the subject.

A few hours were spent at Cahill Crossing fishing, unsuccessfully, but mainly watching the crocodiles who, at high tide, congregate at the crossing waiting for the waters to cross the road. When it happens a feeding frenzy commences as they prey on the hordes of fish that have been waiting to move upstream too. It was interesting to see them using their front feet to shepherd the fish towards their mouths, and as soon as they touch one a quick snap sees it disappear pretty quickly. The only thing I caught was an aboriginal spear that was floating down the river!
Despite the park being a rich source of indigenous rock art the public can only access a couple of sites, the other one being Nourlangie Rock. We took advantage of the Parks ranger guided tour. Christian gave three different talks at different points in the park, about the landscape formed by the aborigines and how they lived, then provided some insight into the most famous art piece, painted in 1963/1964 by one of the last true elders in the area, in a last-ditched effort to re-ignite a strong cultural spirit. In his life the number of people living traditional ways had dwindled from 2,000 to around 300. Two languages have been lost in the region since 2000, and another is due to die when the last existing person speaking it oases away. n the next decade there will be no more people from pre-contact days with the “White fella”, when the cultural degradation began as they were exposed to Western ways.

Kakadu and Arnhemland communities do, however, remain culturally strong despite this. Much of their land has been retained or reclaimed to use as they wish, and permits are required to enter many of these areas.

Christian also talked about a famous dig in one of the living areas, performed in the 1980’s. When locals turned up periodically they would ask what the ancestors had left for them to see that day. Looking at some poor archaeology undergraduate trying to identify a tooth dug up from thousands of years ago, they would ask what they were doing. When told the children would grab the tooth and identify it instantly. Another stone tool dating back almost 20,000 years was shown to them and they would reply that the stone didn’t come from around here. They would then explain it came from a region at least two days walk away. Where else on earth can an archaeologist tap into 20,000 years of living knowledge? Language is the law, and the law is the language explained Christian. When nothing is written down in the culture all stories and language have been passed down from all previous ancestors before. Plants only have names if deemed important enough by the ancestors.

We listened for 3 hours and could have spent a day listening to his passionate stories. Being white too he was very wary of ensuring he told stories correctly. The kids were enthralled to the end, and when he pulled out his collection of rock artefacts they were in heaven!

That afternoon we decided to take a path less travelled and drove some 70km along a 4WD track from the Old Jim Jim road back to Jabiru. This was the Kakadu I was hoping to see, beautiful lily and lotus lined billabongs, rich in birdlife, Jabirus, egrets, magpie geese, radjah shelducks and lots more. A few river crossings too to make it interesting.

Kakadu wasn’t disappointing in the slightest.

 

 

 

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Katherine and Edith Falls

Further north the attraction of the world famous site of Katherine gorge was one that couldn’t be overlooked. First though we had to visit the Katherine Hot Springs and though we had barely finished breakfast everyone jumped in. They are a very comfortable temperature, rather than hot, running through a shaded pandanus-lined embankment, offering approximately 200m or more fun-packed streams, cascades and small waterfalls. The kids might have spent all day but we moved on to Nitmiluk National Park. More caravan park than national park, this was a bit of a disappointing start for us, probably because we hadn’t researched enough, but when we returned from an afternoon walk to see the Jawoyn rock art to find a tent a couple of metres from the back steps on one side and a caravan reversed on top of the other side, the harsh reality of the commercialism of a popular site hit home. It was school holidays too.

 

We saw the gorge itself from a couple of vantage points, the entrance, Pat’s lookout, then I did a solo 22km walk to Lily Ponds which overlook one of the higher gorges. Maybe we had overdosed on gorges recently but compared with those we had already encountered in Karijini and on the Gibb River road we found Katherine to be quite average. The Jawoyn art was special though, and worth wading across the river for from Pat’s Lookout. I found some more on the walk to Lily Ponds but the highlight of that walk were the ponds themselves that offered a safe place to swim, and I didn’t see a soul all day. The only visitors were either kayaking up the river or on expensive boat tours. The kids meanwhile were cooling off in the “resort” pool back at camp.

Only too happy to make a hasty exit the next day a short drive brought us to Edith Falls. This is another popular tourist venue but the campsite was a delight run by two gorgeous ladies, who frantically cycled around the campsite making sure there were vacancies. A short walk from the camp leads to the bottom lake, probably 150m across to the waterfall, maybe 200m wide. It was deep but undeterred Oscar led the way with a recently re-acquired strong front crawl. It was deep and murky but he powered on and was the first to jump off the rocks at the waterfall back into the lake depths. Crocodiles live here too but they wait until the 7pm curfew before coming out to enjoy the waters.

We also walked up to the upper pool, even more popular with tourists, and quite a selection of rock outcrops, allow jumping opportunities up to 15m high into another unfathomable pool. Five metres was about the limit I could manage.

We met “JKSJ” another travelling NSW family that we first met in Emma Gorge, always good for the kids to have some socialising time back at camp.

Rob the ranger gave an interesting talk on fire management in the park that evening, explaining the challenges and complexities associated with using burn-off to manage biodiversity and protecting the park. The impact and frequency of fire on different habitats is all taken into consideration but Parks and Wildlife now rely on following aboriginal guidance given that the environment here is man-made and has been shaped over 20,000+ years by aboriginal burning regimes. All the rangers we have met so far have been inspirational and so passionate that it is a pleasure to listen to them. Their breadth of knowledge is astounding too

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Bungle Bungles (Purnululu National Park) and beyond

Soon after a restock, and refuel stop in Kununurra we headed south for Purnululu National Park, or the Bungle Bungles. Stopping briefly at an overnight rest stop where a little spotted snake visited our camp, we headed onto the fairly corrugated road early next morning. We past a Ford Triton with three wheels in a dry creek crossing, another victim of the corrugations, and set up camp.

 

The Bungle Bungles are irresistible and unforgettable. With every twist and turn of the painfully corrugated road going into the Purnululu national park you are looking for the famous orange and black stripey beehive shaped hills. When you finally get there, at least an hour’s drive from the highway, the sheer magnificence of the outcrop demands that you stop and absorb the visual feast for a few minutes. It’s nonsense to believe that it can only be appreciated from the air and many of the walks within the park allow the visitor to appreciate the narrow gorges and other gems hidden from an aerial view.

We chose to spend our limited time in the park exploring, as usual, as much as possible, which meant a lot of footwork. Eight months into this trip our footwear was looking pretty sorry for itself and we are all promising that the next big city, Darwin, will bring new shoes. Xavier has even resorted to walking barefoot through some rocky gorges, whilst the rest of us hobble through with runners sporting gaping holes in the sides or sandals with more holes than when we bought them.

Echidna Chasm is a narrow gorge, in some sections barely a few metres wide, hidden behind a stand of palm trees, that penetrates a bastion of rock for hundreds of metres. A resident great bowerbird has its bower on show right next to the footpath near the gorge entrance. These ritual display sites are artistic masterpieces, built and used by the male to attract a mate. They run back and forth through the arch made from carefully positioned upright twigs. At both ends the bower is decorated with silver, white and green artifacts, the latter placed either side of the bower entrance. Often white objects will also be placed in the centre of the bower. Broken glass, bones, plastic, snail shells, tin foil, paper, seeds and even metal pipe can be found lying amongst the debris. The kids have tried placing yellow flowers amongst the objects and watch in delight from a distance as the bird grumpily discovers and removes them promptly.

For a couple of hours around midday a shaft of sunlight penetrates the gorge, and the resulting warming orange glow is a visual spectacle not to be missed. A chamber inside the gorge lights up at this time making it a popular place for photographers. Beyond the chamber the narrow gorge continues to wind its way through the rock but becomes impassable due to massive boulders.

Travelling back south from here we stopped to walk to Mini Palms gorge, again accessed via a palm forest concealing the entrance.

At the other end of the park lies Piccaninny Gorge, and within this area there are a number of walks. An easy introduction was a 400m walk to the Domes, ending at a small murky puddle in an enclosed chamber. Despite looking hard we couldn’t find the rock art here. Further down the track was Cathedral Gorge. Xavier counted 37 dead cane toads in the dry creek bed, solid evidence of the alien invasion that the Kimberley is experiencing, and destroying the local fauna. The pool at Cathedral Gorge was bigger but equally uninviting due to a layer of scum on the top. Bored tourists tossed stones into the pool to break the scum layer. The immense rock roof, supported only from the surrounding walls, almost totally encloses the space, giving it that cathedral feeling.

Beyond Cathedral Gorge, some longer walks take you up Piccaninny Creek, and Snake Creek. Piccaninny Lookout and the Window were all we could manage before I realised I had misplaced my camera tripod. Despite retracing my steps without luck, our time here had run out and we had to leave the park to head south.

 

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Gibb River Road – Part 8 (El Questro)

With the end of the Gibb River Road adventure in sight (100km to Kununurra) we had one last planned stop at El Questro station. We were all excited about crossing the Pentecost river too so we packed up camp early and jumped in the car …… the engine wouldn’t even turn.
Our neighbours obliged and after a long charge on the battery finally got us going.
The river crossing was easier than expected, actually being quite shallow. We secured a private camp down by the river, one of the nicest campsites we’ve had with not a soul in sight.

Pentecost river crossing

Pentecost river crossing

The station, like Home Valley has much to offer the visitor, with the usual helicopter and plane rides, horse riding, 4WD tracks, hot springs, fishing, gorge cruises, exclusive accommodation and quite a few bush walks in stunning gorges.
Our first morning saw us up early to enjoy the hot springs before the hordes arrived. Even at 7am there were a handful of others already there at Zebedee Springs. Basically you pick a pool, the warmest being at the top of the cascades, getting cooler as the water descends. We hit the top two pools where a comfortable 32 degrees meant we could relax for what turned out to be three hours.

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Moonshine creek gorge was a little bit harder, but there was a fun deep water crossing getting there, water coming over the bonnet for the first time! Maybe I should have slowed down just a little. Our enthusiasm to conquer gorges was tempered by ill preparation in the footwear department and Amanda had to turn back halfway with a broken thong (flip flop to those reading in the UK) and took Hannah with her. The boys trudged on very carefully finally negotiating the rocky gorge.
Emma Gorge was just off the bitumen road on the other side of the station entrance. Another resort lies at the entrance to the gorge. A boab tree near to the carpark had a water tap poking out of the trunk, with an out of order sign hanging above it. I couldn’t resist, turned it on and there was water! Gimmick or maybe the trunk had engulfed an old water pipe?

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El Questro gorge was a challenging walk, requiring climbing up rockfaces, across waterfalls and wading up to waist deep water. Many people turn around at the half way mark but the reward for continuing is a secluded deep pool and falls at the head of the gorge. In the last 100m we encountered half a dozen golden tree snakes. Hannah nearly trod on one giving her quite a scare.

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With the kids exhausted after a number of walks it was time to test the 4WD tracks out on the station. The first involved very rocky crossing of the Chamberlain river to access Explosion gorge, and Brancos lookout. The lookout commands spectacular views from a precipitous cliff-edge along the river. It does require a steep climb to get to, making the drive more interesting. With a pair of binoculars we spotted a large saltwater crocodile downstream sunning itself with jaws wide open on a rock ledge by the river’s edge. On the opposite side upstream, a much smaller freshwater crocodile doing the same. Explosion gorge was another beautiful gorge, supposedly a good barramundi fishing spot where you can hire small boats.
Another 4WD track takes you out to another fishing spot called Pigeon Hole. We only went as far as the lookout, as by all reports it was a very rough track beyond this. A warning sign by the lookout confirmed what we had been told so we left this for next time. Finally we switch-backed our way up to Saddleback lookout which gives the visitor excellent views over the station and down the river beyond the river camps. Whilst not hugely demanding, the three tracks we drove allowed you to escape the crowds for a while and enjoy the outback expanse in peace.
One evening we teamed up with the “Grismacks”, Marty and Crystal, and “JKSJ”, a family from Newcastle that we had met at Emma gorge, in the Trivia night, coming in a close second place behind, believe or not, to two couples from the Northern Beaches in Sydney. One drives my local bus to the city, while his wife works at the kid’s school. Small world!
Oscar and I tried a little fishing, hooking several barramundi, but only landing a small one that was swiftly returned after a photo. Oscar nearly landed a legal size one but it snapped his line only two metres from the bank, then proceeded to jump clear of the water several times trying to shake the lure.
Having found out that we had lost a number plate I was concerned as to how we were going to replace it as the prospect of getting a single replacement plate sent to WA was highly unlikely. After a bit of driving around I deduced we must have lost it in the deep river crossing and decided to go in search. I drove out early to get there before any cars had gone through, when the water would be clearer but at 7.30am a single car track on the far bank meant I would be “bog snorkelling” in the murky waist-deep water. Running my hands through the sandy river bed with only swimmers on I was hoping no-one would witness the event. I felt a flat metallic object and quickly retrieved it with excitement. A South Australian plate! My heart sank a little. A few steps further and another plate emerged from the murky depths. Victorian this time. Another step and a Northern Territory plate emerged. The sixth plate retrieved was ours and this was from the first wheel rut. Had I checked the other rut I probably would have found more but I decided to get out before I needed to explain what I was doing to anyone. Chuckling in elation I headed back to camp, dropping off the spare plates at reception to the lady whose eyes nearly popped out when presented with five number plates from four different states.


El Questro left a very good impression with us, particularly as we came with high expectations and left with those expectations having been exceeded. This is a place we would happily return to, but with school holidays commencing we needed to move on to roads less travelled again.

Categories: 4WD, Adventure, Australian Outback, Big Lap, Discover Australia, Explore Australia, Journey Narrative, Kids Travel, Natural World, Offroad, Photography, Travel, Travel Adventure, Walks, West Australia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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