Monthly Archives: August 2016

Trip 3:Sunday, August 27

Beautiful sunrise. Flocks of red-tailed black cockatoos and caroling butcherbirds greeted us. The rising sun painted the pale-trunked ghost gums and curving humps of spinifex in changing pastels.

Bush brekkie, bush loo, then back on the track. I am endlessly impressed by the skill with which John handles the seemingly impossible (and sometimes undiscernible) “roads” that we are traversing.

After a couple of hours, we rejoined the highway, turning north again, retracing our route toward Kununurra. The boabs reappeared as we neared the coast. There were none farther inland. It’s a trade-off: the spinifex that was so abundant inland has now disappeared. However, there are always eucalypts and termite mounds.

Approaching Kununurra, we passed Lake Kununurra, which is in fact a huge reservoir created by the damming of the Ord River. Having previously seen it in the dark, it was nice to see it in daylight. Easy to see why it’s a popular holiday destination.
Lake Kununurra
We had a couple of hours free in Kununurra, while Kate shopped for food and John had some work done on the truck. A few people did laundry. I wrote all my postcards and got them into the mail. And we all had lunch. I had a meat pie—my first this trip. Delightful.

I took a few photos of “downtown” Kununurra and of some of the local flowers (including the insanely fragrant plumeria-frangipani pictured below). Then it was time to hit the road again, headed for the legendarily rough car-wrecker, the Gibb River Road and the remote and still largely untouched Kimberley region.
Plumeria-Frangipani-lighter
Fork-tailed kites, whistling kites, and sulphur-crested cockatoos became more common as we got farther from town. We passed the entrance to El Questro Wilderness Park, which is home to everything from campsites to an incredibly posh resort, where you can sleep in luxury and still wake to the rugged beauty of the Kimberley. But we’d be going far deeper into the region than this.

The scenery remained utterly spectacular as we continued along the Gibb River Road. The remains of huge, ancient plateaus towered above the increasingly arid, hilly landscape. We stopped at the Pentecost River crossing, which cuts across the road. This is one of those places that reminds you why you want to have a good guide and driver—because it’s not entirely clear that there is a way across. Rocks and water and no sign of a road. It is, however, a beautiful spot, with egrets wading nearby. After a few photos, we continued on, with John skillfully negotiating the crossing—and, happily, making it, since this is a tidal river, which means saltwater crocodiles, so we wouldn’t want to wade.

Pentecost River crossing

Pentecost River crossing


As we continued on, a few clouds appeared, making shadows on the landscape. Next stop was the lookout over Home Valley, facing the Cockburn Range. Incredible. Like looking at the ruined fortress of an ancient civilization, only more wonderful.
Home Valley-Cockurn Range Cockurn Range
A few more stops along the way, and then on to the Durack River. What a beautiful spot. The sun was setting beyond the hills, and the clouds and water were dusted with pink and violet. I managed to get a couple of photos while the light lasted, then we set up camp.
Durach River Sunset
The campsite at which we had stopped had showers, though no lights and only cold water. But it was running water, and we enjoyed cleaning up after a couple of days of being hot and grubby.

The stars were incredible, and the frogs, night birds, and river supplied calming music. Bats were delighted with the insects drawn to our camp light (there is one lantern on the 4WD), and we could see them swooping through the edges of its beams. A gentle breeze made the evening more perfect still.

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August 26, Part 2

Back at the 4WD, we drank lots of water, then “mounted up” and drove a few miles to the local heliport, where we had a quick lunch while we waited for the helicopter to arrive. I also popped some medicine for airsickness, just in case. It proved to have been a wise move.
Bungles -chopper arives
I had never been in a helicopter before, and this was an astonishing introduction. The doors of the helicopter had been removed, to offer unrestricted views as we flew. When Athena and Belinda saw that there were no doors, they asked to sit in the back seat, which left the seat next to the pilot for me. I couldn’t have been happier. The front window curved up overhead and down under my feet, so I could see straight down between my feet. There was no “wall” next to me, so my view was truly unimpeded. When we were well strapped in, we took off like a bullet. It was a bit windy, and we danced a little in the wind as we raced across the plain and swooped up and over the edge of the Bungle Bungles.

We hovered, swooped, went sideways up one long gorge, and tilted from side to side, to make sure the three of us saw everything. At one spot, the pilot simply turned us around 360˚ over the center of the range. Below us, the unbelievable, grotesquely beautiful Bungles opened up in gorges and chasms and hidden places that are off limits from the ground.
Bungles -chopper ride 1 Bungles -chopper ride 2 Bungles -chopper ride 3
The dodging and dipping did cause a bit of queasiness, but I was still absolutely delighted with the ride. With the doors removed, I could lean out of the helicopter and get astonishing shots. I had on headphones, with a mouthpiece for speaking and a switch, in case I wanted to communicate with the pilot or with Belinda and Athena in the back. Despite the earphones, I could here the steady wup, wup, wup of the chopper blades. It was really exciting.

After we were back and a second group had had a ride, it was time to continue our journey. We returned back up the shattered track out of Purnululu and into the eerie, lunar-looking Osmond Range.

We stopped for a short time to collect firewood, and then headed on to a beautiful spot in the middle of nowhere. Ghost gums and spinifex dotted the rolling red ground. After a beautiful sunset, the profound darkness of the bush made the stars appear even more spectacular.

In camp, we discovered that a cut Kate had gotten on her foot was showing signs of infection, which sent John off to get the first aid kit. John is a tall, wiry, amiable, but no-nonsense man. There was something wonderful about watching him hunched over Kate’s cut food, a hand-rolled cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, a cottonball in his very big hand, treating the wound with great skill and tenderness, at the same time explaining a little impatiently to the hovering women that he’d been treating tropical infections for years.

The night is brilliant, and we are settled once more into an amiable evening of conversation, much of it about what we have seen in the last few days.

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Trip 3:Saturday, August 26 Part 1

Sunrise, cool breeze, butcher birds, cockatoos, quail, kookaburras, crows, gum trees, pack camp, eat breakfast, and back to the ruinous road. We were headed around to the east side of the range. We stopped several times during our drive, to view (and photograph) the miles of unbelievable, layered, worn, red and black, Devonian-era rock. The shapes were like beehives, domes, pyramids, and hundreds of strange alien creatures crowded together.
Bungles-D2-Domes-Spinifex Bungles-D2-Domes Cluster
Also a delight, to my eyes at least, where the rounded pillows of spinifex that spread across the surrounding plains. I still think they look (as I had noted on my first visit) likes herds of golden hedgehogs.

Among the prickly humps of spinifex, spinifix pigeons hunted, pecked, and occasionally dashed for cover. They are lovely birds, but they become quite comical when they run, as they then look like wind-up toys.

When we reached the far side of the range, we parked the 4WD and began the hour hike into Cathedral Gorge. This was less strenuous than yesterday’s hike, so I was able to keep up–and was delighted that I could, as it was remarkable.
Bungles - D2-Hike to Cath Gorge
The red rocks rose around us and closed in. The weirdness and beauty of the place was almost overwhelming. There were pools of water that, because of the shade, lingered despite the heat. All rocks were worn, but some were eroded more strangely than others. It was all wonderful. We scrambled and climbed over the rocks of the sometime riverbed, heading deeper and deeper into the gorge.
Bungles - D2-In Cath Gorge-lighter Bungles - D2Cath Gorge-WeirdRocks
We paused occasionally to catch our breaths and drink from our water bottles, then we would continue on. Finally, the gorge widened out at the base, though the rocks overhead stayed close together. The water that only occasionally races through the gorge has, over the millennia, carved out a huge, over-hung, half-cave that echoed like the inside of a cathedral (hence the name of the gorge). The water we saw was just a green crescent in the pale sand in front of the cave. The temperature in this natural amphitheater was maybe 20˚F cooler than outside in the sun. It was wonderfully subduing, standing amid the towering red walls, inside the cool, sounding hollows.
Bungles - D2-Cathedral-lighter
We remained there for a long enough time to thoroughly explore and enjoy the spot. The acoustics were astonishing. John had told us it what to expect, but it was still amazing to experience it. No matter where you were in the huge formation, you could clearly hear everyone else speaking, as if they were right next to you, even if they were at the far side of the gorge. A perfect “whispering wall.” Then it was time to hike back out.

At the head of the gorge, we turned up Piccaninny Creek and hiked over an amazingly weird, craved stretch of rock that looked as though we were walking over the back of a giant granite crocodile.
Bungles - D2-Granite Croc-lighter
After a couple of miles, we diverted a short way off the track to visit a bat cave, which was absolutely fascinating. The cave was split in half, with the crack in the rock weirdly worn in graceful curves up toward the light. Because of the curving, the light was filtered and dim, but there was enough light to create a path on the floor of the cave that just drew me forward. Little bats would flutter before me and disappear up the curving crevice. It was magic. I turned and photographed the entrance of the cave, because it made the split rock more visible than it was from outside.
Bungles - D2-Bat Cave
During the hike back out, John led a few of us up a slightly steeper but amazingly beautiful path among the red domes. But it was all beautiful.

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August 25, Part 2

We disembarked at the beginning of the hike into Mini Palm Gorge. The temperature is approaching 110˚F, and I think that is contributing to my difficulties, but mainly it was my aching ribs that were slowing me down. I couldn’t take a deep breath without pain. I kept up with the group for about half of the hike, but I could tell I wasn’t going to make it for the whole two-and-a-half-hour trip in. Also, squeezing between rocks as we got farther in was not comfortable. So at a shady spot about half way into the gorge, I told the others I’d see them on the way back.
Bungles-MiniPalmGorge-enter light Bungles-MiniPalmG-rocks-palm
The spot where I rested was so beautiful that it was impossible to feel at all sorry for myself. Red rocks, palm trees, and other vegetation rose up on either side of the spot. The air was scented with spinifex and other grasses and shrubs that covered the ground. Butterflies wove deliriously through the air. The path, actually the dry bed of a seasonal river, was made up of thousands of fist-sized rocks. I lay down on the warm rocks and just listened to the wind and the birds.
Bungles-MiniPalmG-palm fronds Bungles-MiniPalmG-rocky bed
When the others returned, we hiked back to the 4WD, stopping frequently to stand in awe of the weird rocks.
Clouds were gathering, and I asked if it might rain. I was told it might–in another month. This is just the “build up” before the Wet (the rainy season)–like the clouds are practicing.
Bungles-PM-Clouds Rocks
Back in camp, we enjoyed seeing quail, willy wagtails, spinifex pigeons, and crows dash or flutter in and out. It was quite a show.

There was a cold-water tap, and we used it to rinse off the heat and dust of the day. Then we settled down to a cup of tea and munchies to begin another delightful evening.

As I sat, happy and slightly cooler from the splash of water, it crossed my mind that, in the right circumstances, it doesn’t take much to satisfy one’s needs. We have running water here, though cold only, and a clean dunny (outhouse), and I’m quite comfortable. Tomorrow, we’ll have neither.
Bungles-PM-Late Light
The sun is now setting in a blaze of glory, the air is warm and soft, the flies are gone for the night. It is such a magic moment that it is almost heartbreaking. \

Dinner is about to be served, we have clean clothes from our stop in Kununurra, and our surroundings are beautiful. All seems right with the world at this moment, and I thank God for the serenity and the opportunity to be here.

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Trip 3:Friday, August 25 Part 1

Up at 5am–Northern Territory time. That’s 3:30am in the time zone we’re in. Hence, not only was it dark when we arose, it was still dark when we departed. The morning was delightfully cool and still, and as the stars faded, wonderful bird song started up.

We crossed the Ord Diversion Dam and headed out of town as the first light blushed across the horizon behind us. It was a beautiful dawn, offering another crystalline sky.

The scenery was spectacular, with red mountains rising on all sides, approaching and receding as we sped along. The mountains were higher than many we passed yesterday, but were still banded, worn, layered, undulating, and touched here and there with a haze of green foliage.

The gum tree savannah spread toward the mountains. The Victoria Highway turned south, and we followed it. Before long, we could see the sun rising over Lake Argyle, off to our left. Seeing a sign with the name Durack on it made me smile. Having read the classic book Kings in Grass Castles by Mary Durack, about the pioneering Durack family that settled this region, I was pleased to know that I was passing so close to this slice of Australian history.

Then out into the broad, ancient land. By 8:30, the brilliant day was already becoming uncomfortably hot. A few massive road trains passed us. They are so connected to Australia in my mind that even these pleased me. Morning break at the Turkey Creek Roadhouse in the community of Warmun, which offers a “last chance” of food, gas, and directions for those headed into Purnululu National Park—which was where we were going. A bit farther down the road, we turned east off the highway and headed across Mabel Downs Station, toward the park and the Bungle Bungle Range.

The sign at the turnoff said “Rough Road,” but that’s probably just because “Tortuous, rutted, rock-strewn gash in the hilly wilderness” wouldn’t fit on the sign. Weaving, dodging, jouncing, rocking, climbing, dropping, and fording streams made up the next two hours.

At last, the Bungle Bungles came into view. There were moments during the pounding, lurching drive that I wondered if it was worth the effort. Now I think it most definitely is.

And into Kurrajong camp.
Kurrajong Camp-lighter
We set up camp, had lunch, and then headed for the Bungles. We drove around the west side of the massive formation. The Bungle Bungles, which are the highlight of Purnululu National Park, cover about 173 square miles. The remoteness and difficulty of reaching the area are underscored by the fact that this formation was only discovered by Westerners in 1983. The area was named a national park in 1987 and was made a World Heritage site in 2003. Even now, there are extensive areas that are closed to visitors, as not everything has been explored.

The towering (600 to 900 feet tall), bizarrely eroded, banded range of rocks are made of sandstone, and Purnululu is the word for “sandstone” in the language of one of the region’s Aboriginal groups (Kija).
Bungles-Approach 1 Bungles-Approach 2

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Thoughts on Photographs

Just one more post on the issue of thumbnails, and then I’ll get back to the trip.

I realize that in some cases–close ups of flowers or sunsets — the thumbnail is probably enough to give you an idea what I’m talking about. But there are times that the thumbnail really doesn’t show anything — and even an image that runs the full width of the column doesn’t offer all the full-size image. So I was wondering if I could ask you that, if a thumbnail looks like nothing, like just a blob of color, could you click on it then? Because every image is picked because it shows something of interest, and there are times you’re just not going to see anything without clicking. (And since I’ve been writing this blog since 2007, it’s too late to go back and change all the photos).

Here are a couple of examples, just so you know what I’m talking about.
Thumbnail — you can’t see the pandanus (the palm-like leaves) at all.

Pandanus

Pandanus


Full column width
Pandanus

Pandanus

Here are some fabulous, worn rocks from a few days ago.
Thumbnail — looks pretty much like nothing
Nganlang Rocks 1
The full column width version is better, but still doesn’t show all the detail you get when clicking on it and seeing it full size.
Nganlang Rocks 1
Of course, because I’m a writer first and foremost, I’ll still be happy to have you just as a reader. The words are the most important part of this site–which is exactly why I diminished the photos in the first place. But I also love Australia, nature, geography, and all the wonderful stuff that is out there to see, so I do hope you’ll occasionally look at the photos.

And tomorrow, back to the writing.

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Questions

I’m interrupting the flow of this trip to ask a couple of questions. I’m hoping some of you will answer.

WordPress lets me know if anyone clicks on things on a post–links, videos, or photo thumbnails — so I know that only about 2 out of every 75 people actually click on the thumbnails, to see the images full size. Why do you think most folks don’t click on thumbnails (or, if you’re in that group, why don’t you click on the thumbnails)? There are some really remarkable images in the several hundred posts on this blog, but most of you have never seen them. Are images less important to you than words?

When photos are particular favorites, I’ll add a note encouraging folks to click on the thumbnail. Can you think of anything else I could do to encourage people to look at the photos full size? Or are you unfamiliar with Australia and don’t expect the photos to be interesting?

Any insight would be appreciated. I’ll keep posting, but I may cut back the number of photos if you feel that photos are not all that important. Thanks.

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August 24, Part 4

Well, wounded or not, I was ready at 5:30 for our sunset cruise. Glad I went, as it was brilliant. The huge, orange, fireball sun was setting behind the fringe of trees along the edge of Lake Kununurra when we arrived. The lake’s surface was patched with lily pads, and stark, dead trees stood in the water near shore, where the lake’s expanded border had drowned them. Flying foxes hung from trees near the water.
LakeKununurra-dead trees LakeKununurraSunset lighter
Our boat cut silently through the water as we glided out onto the lake. We were surrounded by birds—darters, egrets, pelicans, grebes, green-winged pygmy geese, and jicanas. The jicanas were particularly delightful, as there were so many of them, and because they were nesting, so they let us get much closer than would have been possible if they didn’t have nests to watch over. Wonderful.

Once the sun had set, the guide (a local guide, not John) turned on spotlights that were mounted on the side of the boat. The lights showed us crocodiles along the shore and among the lily pads, and even swimming under water, near the boat. We could see fish and underwater plants, too. It was fabulous.

The guide shared some interesting information about the crocodiles all around us. These crocs were the freshwater variety, so smaller than the massive saltwater crocodiles, and not as aggressive. Freshwater crocodiles (or freshies for short) need a warm day to digest a meal. If they eat, and then there’s a cold snap, they can die, as the undigested food will rot.

All crocodiles are capable of remarkable bursts of speed, but they do it anaerobically—that is, they stop breathing and stop pumping blood. That’s why they can only run for very short bursts. If they have to run for too long, the buildup of lactic acid can kill them.

Our guide then said that, while they eat fish, these crocodiles can actually do pretty well eating insects. He then tilted the spotlights upward, to demonstrate the remarkable density of insects over the water—and it was unbelievable. The air above the water was a veritable soup, but a swirling, fluttering soup.

Looking straight up was worthwhile, too, especially once the spotlights were turned back downward. With no branches or cliffs overhead, our view of the nighttime sky was completely unobstructed, and the stars were dazzling.

After our cruise, we headed back to camp, where Kate had a lovely dinner of grilled fish waiting for us. For dessert, we were offered wonderful melons, and it was explained that Kununurra is the melon capital of Australia. Yum. More lovely conversation, and then to bed, as we have an even earlier than usual start in the morning.

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August 24, Part 3

We wound down narrow, twisting, rock-walled lanes, then, at a place identified as leading to a great view, we climbed high up into the rocks. Though fatigued and a bit dehydrated, I was not about to miss this, and I was glad I made the climb, as the view was glorious. I just made a point of being very careful as we picked our way up the narrow, crumbly, cliff-side path to the best possible view of the park.

Climbing

Climbing

Climbing

Climbing higher


I made it safely back to ground level from our climb, and began to relax my vigilance. We were on uneven but more or less level ground now. There was so much to look at and photograph—but I missed seeing a rock sticking up in the path. It caught my foot and I crashed onto the hard, craggy ground, landing on my camera. My hands and knees were pretty badly cut up. Landing on my camera chewed it up a fair bit, but it more than got even. I’ve had broken ribs before, and I could tell that the landing on the camera had at least cracked a rib. On the plus side, I know they don’t do anything for broken ribs, other than telling you to take it easy, so I spared myself a trip to the hospital. But still would rather not have done this.

Don jogged into town and sent a cab for us. Belinda and Athena washed my wounds and looked after me. Back in came, ice was produced, and I kept it packed on the worst of my injuries. Everything hurts—my back, the cuts and scrapes, the wrist I put out to stop my fall, and especially the breast and ribs that landed on the camera.

When I went to the ablution block to clean up, a few of the ladies came in to check on me (not just curiosity—Marianne was a nurse and wanted to see if she could help), and I was gratified when they all cringed. (There is something reassuring about having others agree that your injuries look serious.) My entire right breast and my right side from armpit to below my waist are the color of dark, raw liver, but mottled with black. Having them see this will be helpful when I need assistance with things like carrying my backpack.

My camera seems to still be working—good ad for Nikon. Lost the filter that was on the front of my lens, and the image counter is not working, but it otherwise seems to be okay—just hoping the focus is still accurate.

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August 24, Part 2

Our second stop of the day was at Keep River Gorge. Red cliffs and shattered rock were as common here as elsewhere, though the red walls here were dotted with, among other plants, boabs of varying ages and stages of development. Possibly the oddest element we saw as we hiked up the gorge was what looked like trees standing on tiptoe. During the wet season, heavy rains carry away lose dirt, leaving the roots of the trees exposed. Other than the exposed roots, the trees looked fine–green and growing vigorously. We were accompanied by cockatoos, butcherbirds, fairy martins, and splendid black and electric-blue butterflies.
KeepRiverGorge-rocks-boabs KeepRiverGorge-tree roots
And now we’re back on the rock road–which means my writing in my notebook looks a bit jumpy. As rough as it is for driving, there is something infinitely appealing, visually, about a long, red-dirt road stretching ahead.

The termite mounds we were seeing were different from those we left behind. I don’t know if it’s the species of termite or the quality of the soil, but the farther west we get, the more rounded and undefined and almost sloppy the termite mounds look.

Red rocks and blue sky defined our drive. It’s probably in the high eighties today, but it’s enough cooler than the last few days that it seems quite refreshing. Of course, it’s only 10:30 am.

Heading westward, toward Kununurra. We had to stop at the Western Australia border for a quarantine check and to dispose of any uneaten fruit or vegetables—to make certain no diseases or insects could be carried into the fruit-growing area ahead. We also set our watches back one and a half hours, as we were crossing into a new time zone. The border guard told us it was 40˚C here yesterday, which is roughly 104˚F – so I guess we’d better enjoy the cooler mornings.

And back to civilization. Showers and washing machines are welcome, but it is certainly less attractive than the wilderness. However, our campsite for the night is in a lovely location, near water and surrounded by trees.

Clothes washed and hung out to dry, and freshly washed ourselves, we climbed on the 4WD for the short ride to Kununurra. Shopping first: fly net and sock protectors, as more wilderness lies ahead, and we want to be prepared, just in case, plus postcards, to let the folks back home know of our adventures. Then we headed off to look for lunch. One might not expect to find focaccia or fresh fish at a take-away stand in an outback strip mall, but I have come to expect surprises like this in Australia. I ordered a hot barramundi sandwich, which was delicious. A few folks wanted to stay in camp, but Don, Graham, Belinda, Athena, and I hopped back on the 4WD for the short ride to Hidden Valley, in Mirima National Park.

This place was even more amazing than Keep River. Erosion is definitely one of the key geographic shapers in Australia, and here, that activity was abundantly demonstrated. A sign at the entrance to the park said the layered and worn rock around us was sandstone laid down 360 million years ago, in the Devonian period. We hiked through wonderfully strange, red gorges, surrounded by layered rock that was peculiarly carved into rounded domes and jagged shapes. (The weird carving and jagged edges, the sign had informed us, are because the layers do not wear down at the same rate.)
Mirima Rocks 1 Mirima -rock lamb
In addition to rocks, we also saw red-tailed black cockatoos and a wide range of plants, including acacia, rock figs, woolybutt gums, long grasses, and a variety of pea flowers.
Mirima -rock-grass

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