Category Archives: Thoughts

Trip 3:Tuesday, September 5

Travel day.

I was up at 6:30, finished packing, had a cup of tea and a shower, and headed out the door.

Entrance to Broome Airport

Plane visible through the foliage.

The hotel provided transportation to the charming little Broome International Airport. I was amused to see flights written on a chalkboard just outside the front door–but then there aren’t a lot of flights going through Broome. I checked in and then walked the 20 feet to my gate.

The jet I boarded had a surprising amount of legroom. Sorry I can’t fly Sydney to LA with this much space! Taking off, we swiftly crossed back across the land we had taken two weeks to traverse.

Broome from the air


A lovely snack was served on the Broome to Kununurra leg of the journey (finger sandwiches with crusts trimmed off and chocolate chip, macadamia nut shortbread–could they possibly have made anything richer!), and lunch was served between Kununurra and Darwin (chicken breast and large, chilled shrimp–yum). No need to buy lunch at the airport.

The Darwin Airport is larger than Broome’s facility, but still small enough that passengers walk from their planes to the terminal. The plane was air conditioned, and after two weeks without A/C, it felt strange, and I felt more comfortable during the walk from my little Broome plane to the terminal. It is another spectacular, hot day. However, the airport was also air conditioned. I’ll adjust. The terminal was crowded, but was bright and comfortable.

The flight from Darwin to Adelaide was on a bigger jet, and it was really packed. I was a little surprised, but maybe it’s because it also goes on to Melbourne and Sydney, after dropping me off in Adelaide.

I’m sorry to be leaving this part of the country. I always feel like I’m on my way home once I leave the outback, even though I have two more weeks in Australia. However, I’m grateful for those additional two weeks, because I’m not ready to leave Australia yet.

I fell asleep almost while the plane was taking off and became conscious again forty minutes later, when beverage service came through. Below me, there was a whole lot of nowhere. The amazingly rugged landscape stretched to the horizon, with mountains, rivers, fault lines visible, but only rare signs of anything approaching civilization.

At least from up here, it’s evident that I’m somewhere specific. At most airports (unless they are little ones, like the one in Broome), it’s generally hard to tell where you are. No matter how much “personality” an airport has, in all but the smallest airports, it’s hard to feel like you’re anywhere but an airport, and all airports are in the same place—at the center of arriving and leaving. And at every airport, I’m doing the same thing, arriving, leaving, or waiting, usually with a view that consists solely of runways and airplanes.

The broad expanse of wild ruggedness below me has now turned from the brown and green of the Top End into the red of the Centre. A three-quarter moon hangs in the blue sky just to my left and forward. The fairly consistent clouds of the afternoon up north have given way to rare wisps. My view changed dramatically as we continued south, from red land to solid cloud cover. Still, from the air, even endless clouds are astonishingly beautiful. It’s one of the things I love about flying.

Then finally, partial clearing and the ocean shore, as we approached Adelaide. The pilot reported a temperature of 11˚C (roughly 52˚ F). It was 38˚C (or just over 100˚F) when I left Darwin. I’m glad I have a jacket.

The sun was just setting as we landed, which made even the airport splendid. Richard (Nikki’s husband) was waiting for me at the airport. He’d been in town for work that day, so it was quite convenient for him to pick me up. Saved me having to take a bus north.

The drive to Nuriootpa took just about an hour and 20 minutes. Nikki had dinner waiting when we arrived. Richard’s brother, Sandy, was visiting from Sydney, and the four of us dined and chatted and drank wine and chatted some more until 10:30. Then it was off to bed, to get a good night’s sleep before heading off on the next adventure.

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Trip 3:Sunday, September 3, Part 1

Last night I slept beneath the stars and a quarter moon so bright that I hardly needed a flashlight. The breeze was as gentle and warm as a caress. It was wonderful.

I awoke to the sounds of hundreds of corellas (small, white cockatoos), and to a clear, cool, and steadily brightening sky. I slept relatively well last night—better than in the tent—and felt refreshed, though not eager to rise.
We had a leisurely breakfast, and then, at 7:30 a.m., a chance to hike back to the gorge again, to see it by morning light. I set off on my own, with hat, water bottle, and camera. Windjana is a gentle, sandy gorge, so I could wear sandals instead of hiking boots.

The gorge was even lovelier in the morning light. The water was still and glassy. Dozens upon dozens of corellas were standing at the water’s edge and in the shallows, getting their morning drinks. Other corellas flew over in flocks of varying size, and still others sat in the trees, making an unbelievable amount of noise.

Early morning, Winjana Gorge

Corellas


There was one non-corella among the feathered features. A cormorant that must have been doing some early morning fishing sat on a branch, drying its wings.

A cormorant drying its wings


On the far shore, opposite where I stood, the beach was covered with freshwater crocodiles. A few others floated in the water nearby. Last night, when Belinda and I had gone swimming, we had seen just a couple of freshies a fair bit up the gorge, but now that I saw how many there were, I’m not sure I’d so happily jump in the water with them all. Just a bit daunting to see so many.

Freshwater crocodiles lined the opposite shore


Butterflies and dragonflies fluttered and perched everywhere. Some dragonflies were bright red, others were vivid blue. The butterflies were white with black or brown with white and purple. Actually, we’ve seen numerous butterflies everywhere up here. They have been a great delight to me. The brown butterflies I was seeing today were now familiar companions, having appeared many places—there were dozens at Tunnel Creek in particular. But I have also seen black and electric blue, yellow, orange with black, and white beauties as we’ve crossed the region. Wonderful.

I photographed a lot of things I shot yesterday, but the light is different now. Plus this is a place of such astonishing and strange beauty, I wanted to take as much of it with me as possible, even if just on film. Perhaps it is because it is the last day of the tour that I am being so prolific with my photos—sort of a way of holding on to the place.
By 9:15, I was back in camp. We packed up all our gear, and by 10am, we were on the road. Sigh.

Another blazing hot, crystal-clear morning. As we sped along the road to Derby, the boabs became more numerous. Most of these delightfully strange trees stand alone, but occasionally they occur in little “groves” of four or five trees—probably youngsters sprung up from seeds dropped by the parent tree. Over time, the central or largest boab has pushed the others over simply by getting so huge in girth that it “wins.” Or sometimes, if the boabs are similar in size, it looks like they’re dancing in a ring, and leaning way back.

A lot of short, uninteresting-looking scrub and flat land now surrounded us, as we approached Derby. This is not the most scenic part of the trip. Recent burn-off made some bits look really desolate. Litter and telephone poles were our first indications that we were approaching civilization.

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Trip 3:Saturday, September 2 Part 1 (of 3)

It is almost inconceivable that the trip is so nearly over. It seems odd, too, that I can spend so much time with people I really like all the while realizing that I’ll probably never see them again. I am battered and bruised and weary, yet I am sorry to have this part of my current Australian odyssey end. It is so fresh and beautiful out here, and though it is hard, it is uncomplicated.

We arose this morning to a noisy flurry of cockatoos. There were a few clouds in the sky, and they were tinged pink by the rising sun. Soon the magpies added their caroling to the other morning sounds.

We were breakfasted, packed, and on the road by 8 a.m., crossing the miles, climbing into the next mountain range, stopping to look back over the plain we’d just crossed.

The mountains rose before and around us, red and stained, in slanted slabs and layers jutting out of the ground, like the bones of the earth with the skin peeled away. I was reminded again that much of what one sees in the Australian landscape is owed to erosion. So, in a way, it is the bones of the earth we were seeing. Up and through Inglis Gap, a pass in the King Leopold Range, and down the other side, to continue our drive to the Napier Range.

From Inglis Gap

From Inglis Gap


King Leopold Range

King Leopold Range

Birds were wonderfully abundant. In trees, on the ground, or on the wing, they were delightful, and we occasionally stopped just to enjoy them. There were galahs, pink and gray and handsome; wompoo pigeons, with their “woop, woop, woop” call: butcher birds, black and white and noisy; a wedge-tailed eagle, always impressive.

We rolled into Windjana Gorge National Park, and this evening’s campsite, around lunchtime.

Camp near Windjana Gorge

Camp near Windjana Gorge

Windjana is cut through the Napier Range, which was once a barrier reef that got thrust up long ago from the ocean floor. The range is Devonian-era limestone, with the outlines of coral polyps and even older pre-coral skeletons still visible in places. The rock is strangely worn, with sharply defined, black pinnacles in some places. Fascinating. I look forward to exploring—later.

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Trip 3:Friday, September 1, Part 1

September 1 is the first day of spring here in Australia. We rose at dawn, as usual, but had a leisurely morning, while John greased the truck and did a few minor repairs. (Those rough roads really beat up even rugged vehicles.)

It was another crystalline morning—clear, unblemished blue from horizon to horizon. The magpies, cockatoos, and crows set up their usual morning chorus. John says the crows in this region are the largest in Australia. That’s easy to believe. I had thought they were ravens, they’re so large.

Most of the group has wandered off to swim or take pictures. I explored for a while but then returned to camp, for a bit of tea, rumination, and writing. I have written extensively about all I’ve seen, but I should probably also note that those with whom I am seeing it are a remarkable lot and have added immensely to this experience. Everyone is well read, well traveled, both interested and interesting, fun, enthusiastic, and thoroughly enjoyable. I consider myself extremely fortunate in having such an ideal group of traveling companions.

I’ve been impressed with our guide, John, as well. He’s very tall, wiry, thin but strong, with shoulder length, wavy, dark blond hair. He is tremendously widely traveled and at times appears a bit world weary, but he is patient, resourceful, polite, and full of stories about his interesting life. Born in London, he left school at 15 and has spent most of his life wandering, mostly in Africa and then Australia. He rolls his own cigarettes and often seems to prefer smoking to eating. Amiable. Slow of speech but quick of wit. He actually delights in the challenge of the horrific roads, even though it means a lot of time fixing the truck, as he was doing this morning. So perfect—in fact almost iconic—for this setting and job.

Belinda came by as I finished my notes, and we hiked together down to the water hole, to photograph reflections and water lilies.
manning-reflections manning-waterlilies
By 9 a.m., John had finished working on our vehicle. We had a final coffee and biscuit break before heading back on the road at 9:30. (Had to push start the truck, which seemed reluctant to leave.)

We made a short stop back at Barnett River Roadhouse, for fuel, water, and treats. I had one of the wonderful fruit “ice lollies” they seem to have everywhere here, even in these remote spots—a frozen cream, passionfruit, and pineapple confection on a stick that was yummy and refreshing. Then we were rocketing along the dusty red road again, covering the 120 kilometers to Bell Gorge in the King Leopold Range.
after-manning
When we stopped to stretch our legs at one point, I was delighted to see delicate flowers growing along the road. I thought they looked like Sturt desert roses. Someone else said they thought they were native hibiscus. So I grabbed one of the reference books on board and found out that we were both right – because the Sturt desert rose is a type of native hibiscus. Lovely flowers.
nativehibiscus

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Trip 3:Wednesday, August 30 Part 1

I awoke a few times during the night and, looking up at the stars and tree branches, I felt completely alone and removed from the world. It’s as if even the tent is a reminder of civilization, and peeling away that last layer made me feel completely free.

Dawn was beautiful and cool and musical. This area seems so beautiful this morning, though it is not really an area one would identify as beautiful. It’s just so perfectly removed from everything.

We rolled up our swags and gathered around the fire for tea and breakfast. I was warming my cup of tea over the fire when Shirley said, “Isn’t this when you miss your microwave?” Somehow, that intrusion of civilization, even just spoken, induced something between panic and melancholy in me. The thought of being anywhere other than the middle of nowhere, sleeping under the stars, seemed horrifying at that moment. I don’t know if it’s Australia I love so much, or this lifestyle, or if the two are so interwoven in my mind that there’s no way to separate them, but right now this is the only place I want to be. Anyway, I reminded myself, with gratitude, that I have five more days out here. (And yes, I do know that I would not survive for long in the wilderness, and that to a certain extent the wilderness would be less attractive if it weren’t balanced by “the real world,” but it’s where I need to be right now.)

We packed our gear and headed back down from the plateau, returning to King Edward River to pick up the trailer we’d left behind.

We hadn’t gotten much farther along when a loud thump got John’s attention, and we stopped to find a nut missing from the trailer hitch. Most of the group went in search of the missing piece, and we were stopped for a while. The nut was never found, but John and Don worked diligently to jury-rig an alternative.

Enforced Stop

Enforced Stop


About an hour later, we were on our way again, retracing the miles back to the Gibb River Rd. Green parrots, galahs, and butcherbirds accompanied us as we drove. Wonderful. We drove straight through to Drysdale Station, were we stopped for lunch. Here, John was able to buy a new nut and bolt for the trailer and got it repaired. (It is not unusual for people out this way to stock all sorts of things for repairing vehicles—though one would want to make sure to not drive out here in something rare and exotic—pick something common, and you’ll always be able to find parts.) We were soon back on the road—have to make up for lost time, to get to our evening destination (don’t think these are roads one would want to negotiate in the dark).

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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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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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