Saturday, 9 September 1995

Alligator Gorge

Undeterred by our long and arduous walk of the previous day, we set off for the northern end of the park. This involved a car journey for about an hour, breaching the long chain of mountains which rise above the plain.

We drove south along the Princes Highway for approximately 20kms, before turning toward the ranges at Port Germein and taking the winding bitumen which follows Port Germein Gorge. This was slow driving and I was aware of the intemperate stomachs residing in the rear seat. I didn't want to be the catalyst which saw them parting company with their breakfast.

The gorge completed, we found ourselves rolling over the undulating plain revealed beyond. Here the paddocks were a rich shade of green and sheep and cattle appeared to be growing fat on the generous offerings of the pastures.

Turning north again at Murray Town, we began skirting the mountains on the eastern side and soon Mt Remarkable came in view. Nestling at its foot was the small town of Melrose. Walking trails extend up to the mountain from a point in the village, but this was not our goal for the dag. Many historic buildings are clustered along the main thoroughfare and these have - in most cases - been restored. It gave the appearance of being an active little town and one that cared for itself in a proud way.

Leaving the imposing Mt Remarkable in our wake, we continued north to the outskirts of Wilmington, where road signs directed us into the northern end of the mam part of the park. The gravel road into this section was in very good condition, but then it would need to be, given the steep gradient and narrowness of it in places. So steep was the road, the Futura used second gear on a couple of occasions. The climb eventually gave way to another descent, this time to the Ranger Station and the entry point to Blue Gum Picnic Area. There are no car camping areas in this section of the park, but back pack campers have a number of sites available to them.

We chose not to follow the main tracks available but rather a combination of tracks that would be shorter and perhaps more interesting. However, after an hour on the track, we were reminded of our strenuous previous day. The track we were walking on was a fire trail which slowly made its way up to the top of thewestern ridge. It presented us with four kilometres of up hill walking, which was not as difficult as the worst of the previous day, but never the less hard going.

By noon, we required rest and this was taken at Eaglehawk Dam - an emergency water supply for times of fire fighting. Lunch and forty five minutes rest was just what we all needed to help us carry on to the junction of the two tracks. A short climb followed and we turned and followed the one-person wide track which made its way to the head of a the narrow Alligator Gorge.

The start of Alligator Gorge
For the next kilometre, we saw the best wild flower display we have ever seen. The myriad of colours of the thick carpet of delicate, tiny flowers provided the bush with a bright spring floor.

The track soon began a steeper descent and before long, we we clambering down the last steps which
marked the start of the gorge. At this point, the gorge walls were a mere three metres apart and the water bubbled and trickled over and through the rocky trail made by the falling rock walls. The vertical walls were, up to 30 metres high in places and the sun caught the orange and red colours of the sandstone.

Of particular beauty, were the places where water was seeping down from the slopes above and dripping down over the rock walls. In one spot, the sun was back lighting the water as it dripped from an overhang and splashed oh the wet surface below. The walk through the gorge was slow but beautiful and we gradually made our way past the junction with Alligator Gorge and to the main tourist destinations nearer the car park Here the track showed dramatic improvement and signs indicated what the visitor was looking at.

This section of me gorge, called The Terraces, is a series of flat rock surfaces which make up the floor of the gorge and over which the water flows out in millimetre thickness, between walls four metres apart. On these exposed rock surfaces, ancient ripple marks show the movement of water over the previous sandy surface before it ultimately became hardened rock, when layers of other sediment settled above.

Shortly after this, a staircase descended into the gorge from the car park and met the creek. Rather than climb the stairs and then walk along the road to the Blue Gum Picnic Area, we chose to stay in the gorge and follow it back to our car at Blue Gum. The track moved from the side of the creek and into it, mainly because the gorge becomes so narrow, only the creek can run through it. This section - called the Narrows - is only 1.5 metres wide and the creek was only 300 mm deep for the 20 metres we had to step through the passage on strategically placed stones. We paused here to enjoy this unique passage and Sue and I couldn't help but wonder how this would look when the sun was
directly overhead and making the red sandstone walls glow. For all of the hype Standley Chasm receives - and rightly so - this had even more to offer but was unheralded in any tourist information.

We considered ourselves lucky to have been able to see such an amazing natural feature and complete a walk that had offered us so many visual treats, in such a memorable way.

Returning to the car park, the drive out was conducted in first gear for some of the steepest inclines. A short stop for ice creams and we were heading west through Horrocks Pass towards the Princes Highway and a completion of our circuit.

A camp fire was a rare treat for the troops and we sat about after solar showers, enjoying the company of a young couple who were away for the weekend to celebrate the end of their studies. After a few hours of talking, we "hit the hay" and headed for dreams with tired legs and generally weary bodies.

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