After lunch, we headed off on foot. It was a bit more than an hour to the gorge. Our route was challenging, but it took us through increasingly exotic, rugged scenery, with astonishing and often glorious views.
With the temperature over 100˚ again, the steep climbs and drops seemed more arduous than they might have seemed at a lower temperature, but each climb was well rewarded—with the final reward for the toughest descent being Manning Gorge, a spectacular slash in the red rocks with wide, incredibly clear pools running along the bottom of the gorge, connected by tumbles of water and short rapids.
We changed into our swimsuits and were in the cool water in minutes. A short swim to the worn, black rocks at the far end of the central pool and a scramble over the rocks, and we reached another pool, where a waterfall spilled over the cliff high above us. We swam across the pool and under the falls and stood on the ledge behind the descending water, looking out at the red walls and pandanus and brilliant water. Standing directly under the falling water, I drank the sweet water as it came over the edge. Everything about it was magic.
We were in no hurry to leave, but eventually we had to—too far to hike to not leave while we still had some energy—and some daylight. When we got back to the point where we’d entered the water, I dressed quickly and then retrieved my camera gear and took photos of the gorge (though, alas, not of the area farther up, with the waterfall). I also photographed a water monitor (a lizard) that was sunning on the rocks nearby. Then we refilled our water bottles from the clear stream and began the long hike back.
The hike back was made even more beautiful by the lowering sun. The red of distant cliffs was highlighted. Everything was thrown into sharper relief. The late sun picked out the trunks of what appeared to be young boab trees. I was torn between the desire to stop and photograph everything and the very real need to get back before sunset, since the steep climbs and balancing on rocks across streams would be impossible in the dark.
Back in camp, we prepared for the evening, trading our hiking boots for flip flops, putting the billy on to boil for tea, and slapping on mosquito repellent (always the down side of water—no mozzies when there’s no water). Then, we all settled in for another amiable, star-lit evening. (I’ve been pleased to see the Southern Cross every night on this trip, and shooting stars on several nights, so stars have definitely been one of the joys after sunset.)
As I have discovered other places I’ve wandered, being far from civilization does not always mean quiet. There is no sound of civilization, but the tree frogs, bats, and owls made it a surprisingly noisy night. But it was still wonderful to lie on the warm ground, no tent between me and the sky, gazing up at the brilliant star show overhead.