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Published: November 19th 2006
Carnarvon Gorge has done a good job of making itself inaccessible, hidden away inconveniently far from any major town and at the end of an unsealed stretch of road that has more cows wandering around on it than the average Indian street. The promise of one of the best gorge hikes in Australia, as well as a profusion of Aboriginal art, had lured me here. As the bookings man had helpfully stated - "We don't have budget accommodation here, just accommodation" so I had a 3-bed canvas cabin to myself for 2 nights. The washing block had probably the best facilities I've ever seen at a campsite, but the kitchen area had no pots/pans/plates/etc at all, condemning me to sandwiches for all meals. Tame wallabies and kangaroos loped about the place nibbling at the grass, or rested in the shade of the cabins during the heat of the day.
I was only able to fit in a couple of short walks on the first day, including Baloon Cave, containing a few more examples of Aboriginal stencils, and Rock Pool, where I saw a turtle. A local guide gave a nature talk in the evening, imparting the welcome news that it's
now mating season for both platypuses and echidnas, making both likelier to be spotted. Echidnas apparently form an "echidna train", with the female at the front and an assortment of males who fancy trying their luck beetling along behind.
On the second day I tackled the main gorge walk, requiring a 6AM start from the visitors' center. 2 hours of no-nonsense marching saw me cover the 9.7km to Big Bend at the far end of the gorge, where I downed a couple of expedition-strength ham and cheese sandwiches. Though the dull weather hampered my photo attempts, I was grateful for a lack of sunshine, as even under overcast skies the warmth and humidity had me drenched after a couple of kilometres. Fortunately I'd pre-emptively smeared my crotch with body lotion, so no friction issues arose from the sweaty cotton undies/skin interface.
The gorge is surrounded by white sandstone walls, whose absorption properties have meant the area never really becomes dry. At places where the sandstone meets imprevious rock such as shale, the water leaks out in little oases of lush vegetation - estimates are that the water can take up to 5,000 years old to seep through. The
creek itself supports large numbers of trees and bushes, through which the main path wends, criss-crossing the watercourse 22 times via sets of stepping stones. I saw many kookaburras, bright red parrots, snuffling echidnas, a river snake of some description, as well as a platypus.
Coming back from Big Bend, I visited various side-trails including the main Aboriginal works at Cathedral Cave and the Art Gallery. These included stencils, line drawings, and even carvings, depicting many of the items I've seen before (e.g. kangaroos, emus, eggs, hands, etc) as well as a few new ones (e.g. a startling number of vulvas, like a partial database for a primeval Kinsey Report). Mingled amongst these was graffiti from more recent times (before barriers were erected in front of the walls), containing names and dates of various half-wits who had incorrectly supposed future visitors would want to know they'd been there.
A short and steep climb into Ward's Canyon brought me to the 13 remaining examples of king ferns in Queensland. These have survived in a small rainforest microclimate but appear to have lost the ability to cross-pollinate, meaning their little group will only get smaller. Moss Garden provided a good
demonstration of what can grow in areas where the water absorbed by the sandstone is forced out by non-porous rock layers - the walls of the canyon were covered in mosses, ferns and liverworts.
4 hours after leaving Big Bend, I was back at the car park, with ~23km of walking done and 2 sore feet. But I was happy. I returned to the gorge in the evening in the hope of seeing more platypuses, but the increasingly heavy rain eventually persuaded me to return to my cabin, though I did see a couple of echidnas rooting around disconsolately in the wet.
It rained throughout the evening and also several times during the night, and I began to worry about how easy it would be driving out of the park. I paid a final visit to Rock Pool in the morning in the hope of seeing platypuses and was rewarded with several sightings, as well as a couple more turtles. The chap at reception authoritatively proclaimed that the road back to civilisation would be fine as there hadn't been enough rain to really disturb the surface - needless to say, 10 minutes down the road I found a
campervan that had slid sideways in the mud. The occupants were in the process of asking a passing rubbishman (no, really) to help them out, which resulted in him driving their van all the way to where the bitumen started. Even in my little car the back end was waggling around in a most disconcerting fashion, and I was relieved when I finally reached the main road and could start heading for the coast.
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