Thursday, 31 July 2008

Keep River NP

29/7/08 Big Horse Creek (Gregory NP) – Keep River NP 201(5393) kms

I was meeting my trip specifications this morning. Although in Tamworth I will seldom sleep the night through without changing beds or getting up for a few hours while the stars are still in charge, since leaving Yamba, I've been putting long hours into this sleeping caper. Despite nearly eight hours most night, I'm not giving the sun the satisfaction of beating me to work. No exception on this morning. I was up, dressed and moving about the campsite with my camera as the sun was still doing its stretches at the side of its bed.

The usual spattering of nomads were in. One had a noisy birthday party last night which included singing, cake, drinks and noise that went on forever. It must have been 8:30 before they turned their lights out! I hope they remembered their incontinence pads. Three of the blokes were up and about, itching to fire up their generators in order to catch breakfast television via their fully automated satellite dishes. It must be rough for these poor buggers out here away from the main grid. One was already tinkering on a tarp under the back of his rig and calling instructions to his wife who invariably got them wrong with a barely restrained giggle. No subjects for my camera there.


Nesting whistling kite
I let my ears lead me to her. A whistling kite was calling from beside her nest, high in the oldest, fattest, tallest boab tree in the campsite. She was a stark, beautiful profile against the pale blue sunrise sky and I captured her through the 300mm lens as the first golden light flooded her privileged perch. I hope the recorded vision of this event is as special as it appeared through the camera lens. It was one of those moments. She just kept calling as I retreated to normality.

We were finally heading west again by 11:00am, the Victoria Highway taking us, strangely, to Western Australia. The closer we got to the border, the more a new landscape revealed itself. Here were the first morsels of the Kimberley feast - hors deurves (Sue's spelling) to encourage us to eat on. Sandstone mesas and ridges - some round, some flat and some in that beehive formation the Bungle Bungles are famed for. In the midst of this, we pulled into a roadside stop for lunch. I have never seen so many caravans in the one spot without the presence of "for sale" signs! I counted twelve rigs and was sure I would find a McDonalds somewhere on the lot. Their owners, in various states of undress on this 36C day, wandered about to share stories, lunch and cups of tea with their fellow nomads. A closer approach revealed the standard topics: the price of fuel, the price of accommodation, the price of food, the price of anything else that annoyed them and what was good behind them. We ate quickly and left before old age slipped a noose around our necks and we were mistaken for belonging. Aging hippies we may well be, but we are not grey nomads yet.

We arrived at Keep River - just 3 km short of WA - mid afternoon and drove its red dirt roads to the furthest point and set up in a well maintained but very remote campsite with only two other vehicles for company. So many stars tonight! There are those among you who might find this trip we are doing difficult owing to the lack of five star accommodation. Looking up tonight, I'm staying in 20 million star accommodation!

30 & 31/7/08

Sunrise at Keep River
We did two great bushwalks, moved camps, heard an informative if unusual ranger talk and met a mixed bag of fellow travellers in our two full days at Keep River National Park. The park is transitional because it sits across a variety of landscapes, so it’s not unusual to see one type of wattle in one gully and another in the next. Stands of trees often stand in stark contrast to others, separated clearly but for no obvious reason. At one stage, we noticed a distinct group of boab trees growing in the scree slope of a long sandstone ridge. There were perhaps forty trees in all and no other trees grew among them. The sandstone ridges appear in both the beehive style of the Bungle Bungles and the flatter block style which is more common in other areas. Regardless, it is almost all a bright orange and produces a deep red dust which infiltrates everything.

The highlight of our stay happened on the first day. Returning from a six or seven km walk, mostly along a narrow track through long grass to chest height which threatened refuge for all manner of nasties, we were drunk with splendour at the views taken in on the higher peaks earlier. As we crossed an open flood plain of the Keep River and still among the long grass, Sue spied her favourite bird, the Red-Tailed Black Cockatoo. She had no sooner asked me to confirm the identification of the birds sitting in trees 100 metres away, when about four hundred of them took off right in front of us, rising from the long grass just metres away. The sky was filled with black noise and flashes of vermilion and the brilliant yellow of the females. For about sixty seconds they flew in all directions like panicked shoppers at a Boxing Day sale, before circling and landing in raucous chorus in the trees still housing their original occupants. It was as spectacular a business as has ever happened to either of us in the bush, on account of the colour, the noise and the unexpected suddenness of the event.

Unfortunately one morning was dominated by a difficult fellow traveller who spent a long time with us - Sue mainly, as I escaped with the camera. She explained all the things wrong with our travel plans and then detailed the difficulties in her own life. She didn't take some very definitive hints, including having her husband do his best to literally drag her away. Oh well! The apparent bitterness she felt toward people was as invasive to her as the red dust was to us. Sue's standing as the patient saint of lonely, loquacious travelers was further enhanced.

TODAY'S PHOTOS
The ranger talk was strange because the head ranger was a pour speaker but had interesting knowledge about the park which he shared best through answering questions. Mum would have approved because he made a good cuppa. Those stars were still up there and it was extremely pleasant to fall asleep again under their blanket, as they twinkle twinkled through the "moon roof" of the Forester.

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