Tag Archives: outback

An Aside – Awed by Antiquity

As an aside, before continuing on with reporting on this adventure, I think it’s worth noting that this remarkable barrier reef, heaved up from the ocean floor to become the Napier Range, is not the only stunningly ancient bit of rock in this corner of Australia. It’s all mind-bogglingly old here. In fact, the Hamersley Range, a bit south and west of here, and which I visited on my first trip Down Under, is believed to be the first part of the Earth’s crust to have cooled after the planet was formed.

Here’s one of the posts I did a few years ago about my time in the Hamersley Range, after a visit to Hamersley Gorge, one of many breaks in the range, but one that is famous for showing clearly the effects of the tremendous pressure that formed and shaped some of these ancient rocks.
https://waltzingaustralia.wordpress.com/2008/07/20/hamersley-gorge/

Then, just a few years ago, on a sheep ranch at Jack Hills, not too far from the Hamersley Range, scientists found what they believe to be the oldest chunk of rock on the planet—a zircon crystal that they estimate was formed at the planet’s dawning.

Here’s an article with more details on this ancient zircon—and a photo.
http://www.livescience.com/43584-earth-oldest-rock-jack-hills-zircon.html

So I was traveling through a region where phenomenal antiquity is the norm. One more reason to love this remarkable place.

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September 2, Part 3

We headed back the 30 kilometers to where we had set up camp. We had no need to change clothes, as the hot weather had already dried everything after our wade through the tunnel, but we did drop off flashlights before walking the short distance to Windjana Gorge. Tall, mostly black, deeply striated walls, in places touched with red, rose before us, but a short cave in those walls gave us access to the main gorge. Wow.
approachingwindjana
The rock formations were wonderful, black, red, pink, and cream. Weird, knife-pleated stone covered parts of the wall and rose to peaks in some places. It was easy to imagine the formations being at the bottom of their original ocean.
windjana-ancientcoral
The gorge was remarkably beautiful, with clear water down the center, surrounded by pale sand, with paperbark trees and lovely green ivy adding a touch of color.
windjana-boulder-light windjana-reflections

Athena and I hiked for about an hour up the gorge, stopping to photograph freshies and a white egret, vines, trees, the rocks, and glassy water. When we met up with Belinda, we turned back toward the entrance of the gorge. Belinda and I stopped to swim, but Athena was worried about the freshies, so she sat on the beach.
windjana-longview-egret
The most astonishing thing was the cockatoos. There were hundreds upon hundreds of little white cockatoos (corellas). It must be the mating season, because we saw them exchanging “gifts,” rubbing heads, and flapping wings in little dances. They covered the beach, filled the trees, and stood on the cliffs. It was astonishing.

When we got back to camp, I headed for the shower–an outdoor affair, with walls but no roof and only cold water—but it was bliss getting cleaned up. (We got wet in the underground tunnel, but not clean.) Then it was have a cup of tea and circle the chairs around the cooking fire, for another friendly evening.
Butcher birds were very brave, and approached us to see if we might have food to offer. The willy wagtails were on hand, but they were skittish and never got close. Blue-winged kookaburras were nearby, noisy but out of sight. Wonderful.

Among the birds, only the crows are annoying. Two nights running, the crows have destroyed our garbage bags, tearing them apart to look for goodies. It’s not hard to imagine how the expression “Stone the crows” arose. I’m told the crows here will even kill newborn lambs. So not all the birds have endeared themselves.

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September 2, Part 2

After setting up camp and having lunch, we jumped back into the 4WD and headed the 30 kilometers back to the King Leopold Range, and to Tunnel Creek. Wow! Tunnel Creek is a river that flows under a mountain, and, with a bit of wading (from mid-calf to about chest deep) and scrambling over rocks, it is possible to traverse the half-mile distance of the tunnel, to the far side of the mountain range.

Welcome to Tunnel Creek

Welcome to Tunnel Creek


I had forgotten to bring my flashlight, so Athena and I stuck close together, which benefited both of us–she was nervous in the water, and I needed her light. We scrambled down a tumble of quartz and pink-and-white marble to the mouth of the tunnel. The roof was high, and, in places, decorated with stalactites. We waded into the chilly water, flashlights barely piercing the intense darkness, and we picked our way in and out of the water and along boulders and sand spits, stopping to admire caves and look for “freshies” (freshwater crocodiles—the crocodiles that don’t kill humans).

About half way up the tunnel, a light became visible and grew brighter till it was daylight, where a wall had caved in. There was an immense, braided, fig-tree root reaching from the cliffs above, through the break and into the water in the tunnel. Remarkable. We climbed over the rocks of the collapsed wall and continued up the tunnel, back into the darkness.

The end of the tunnel was a wonderful, bell-shaped opening that let out into a narrow gorge, where trees crowded around the clear stream emanating from the mountainside.

We splashed and chatted for a while, then headed back through the astonishing tunnel. We stopped at one point and all turned off our lights, to see how truly dark it was–and it was, totally.

Continuing on, we saw a yabby (a freshwater crustacean–like a crawdaddy, only much bigger) perched on one of the sand spits. The sound of falling water drew our flashlights to a far wall, where a small cascade sparkled as it descended. Eerie, lovely, and strange.
Definitely an odd little adventure, walking under a mountain, chest-deep in water and quite dependent on our flashlights working. But some fascinating things to see.

I had decided to not take my camera through the tunnel, which was absolutely the right decision. So after reemerging, I grabbed my camera bag out of the truck and went back to at least photograph the entrance of Tunnel Creek.

Tunnel Creek entrance

Tunnel Creek entrance

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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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September 1, Part 2

Giant termite mounds became more numerous, though these mounds were much different from those we saw back in the Northern Territory. I don’t know if it’s because it’s a different species of termite or if it has to do with different soil, but the reddish mounds here were rather grotesque—like a gross between the Venus of Willendorf and dinosaur droppings, rather than the tidy, pleated, gray mounds seen in the Top End.

Termite Mound

Termite Mound


Our campsite tonight, at “Fern Gully,” is beautiful, with water, pandanus, and white cockatoos in abundance. Before lunch, we had a dip in Bell Creek, which runs along the side of our camp. It is always a surprise to find how cool the water is when the air/sun is so hot—but perhaps it’s the contrast.
Fern Gully

Fern Gully


At 2 o’clock, we climbed back into the 4WD and headed for the start of the hike into Bell Gorge. It was a less strenuous walk than the hike into Manning Gorge, and only about 1 kilometer, but it was hard enough, with loose rock underfoot much of the way.
hiketobell
Bell Gorge was spectacular, with a waterfall in the middle, connecting upper and lower pools. We photographed and then swam for an hour. As at the last few gorges we’ve visited, we saw a water monitor, though rather than lazing on the rocks, this one was in the water with us.
bellgorge bellgorgefalls
When we finally emerged from the water, we sat for a while on the rocks, drying out before changing, and catching the huge, nasty march flies and feeding them to tiny, copper-colored lizards.
During the hike back out, I was more aware of the music made by the gurgling stream. The lowering sun set the red rocks ablaze. Another remarkable day in a glorious setting.
Back in camp, we made tea, enjoyed the sunset, and settled in for another amiable evening of conversation and stargazing.
We’re not quite as remote here as we have been, and there is a park ranger station not far away. Knowing we were camping in the area, a ranger dropped by after dark to let us know not to leave any shoes or small objects out, as there is a litter of dingo pups nearby, and they would be likely to steal such items. A few dingoes were sighted around camp, at the edge of our firelight, so I decided to sleep inside a tent after all.

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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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August 31, Part 2

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.

Each steep climb...

Each steep climb…

...led to a great view.

…led to a great view.


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.
manningrivergorge1 manningrivergorge2-alt
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.

Monitor lizard

Monitor lizard


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.
manning-hikeback
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.

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