It took us 90 minutes to leave Port Hedland, where we stopped for supplies, water and fuel, on our way to Karijini NP. Even in two hours, we hated the place ... the Mount Isa of the West. What a dump! Their tourist information writers must be among the most creative in Australia. The air was so full of dust that I had a sand bank at the back of my tongue. The same oppressive feel pervades everything, animate and inanimate.
|The Great Northern Highway, |
south of Port Headland
Soon after, we turned northwest away from the Great Northern Highway which trundled on to Tom Price and the mountains turned to rounded heads covered with trees and shrubs and grasses but still with those red/purple sashes as if slashes had laid them open and bled them. The final rush - into Karijini NP - came just after four in the afternoon and was made without notice of the landscape. Of more importance was a safe campsite in a park renowned for the volume of its visitors and latecomers often having to sleep in car parks until a camp can be found the next day. We were welcomed and then ushered into our campsite by volunteer camp hosts who manage the campsites in Karijini for the ranger staff. Our camp hosts were from Brisbane which they described as their dormitory suburb.
A few things struck us about the campsite arranged about a roughly circular track. Each of the sites had a sense of privacy, given the reasonable space between them; the sites were unsuitable for pitching a tent because there was little soil into which pegs could be driven because the ground was just about 95% red rock; and torches would be needed at night judging by the metre-long snake which lay still writhing in the road once the Landcruiser behind us ran it over.
The morning was chilly, with an unpleasant breeze which was the weather's hangover it shared with all of us. Sue rightly hid under the sleeping bag and looked for reassurance there. I put my smelly self into smellier clothes, grabbed my camera and wandered off looking for things to notice. Wildflowers caught my attention. These were new to me and I set up some close-ups of reds and yellows and greens.
Returning around the looped road of our camping area, other early birds nodded or waved and some risked a hello. Feeling warm and happy, I was crying in an instant when an older lady stepped from her van and went on with her cleaning oblivious to me, singing "The Old Rugged Cross". Only days before, I had stood beside my Dad as he belted the words out with a passion in song I had not known from him before, as we farewelled my crazy old Mum. As I stood for a tearful second or too, she noticed me and in a moment she was milking my story and giving me no stranger's hug. Part of the process I'll go through for a while I guess.
Starting above Fortescue Falls, near the western end of the gorge, we clambered down an extremely steep and severe natural staircase which was supported by a four strand wire fence. Some of the steps were nearly thigh deep and in ten minutes we were climbing all over these tall falls which tumbled down over the stepped rock face. It was an amazing sight but only one of many we accumulated on this day. Photos taken, we continued on to the Fern Pool. Your final arrival at the Fern Pool is by climbing a few steps onto a wooden platform which would accommodate a fair sized moshpit. Hard against the rock face, a huge paperbark's root system has sent out scouts for water and in the years since, these have become long, twisted and tree-trunk thick in some places but not more than over-thick hairs in others, waving in hope of any moisture for the corporate good.
The platform narrowed as the view widened and our eyes automatically followed our ears suggestion and crossed the fifty metres of soft aqua water between us and the twin falls which - the attraction here - and which send constant ripples from them to you. Perhaps the falls are ten metres high - small by comparison to the tall falls we had left only five minutes earlier but they are no less impressive. Fern and rainforest plants fill most of the seats at the water's edge and a grove of paperbarks provide cover for the water to escape downstream. If this is not perfection, it's the next best thing. In a state of harmony with the paradise we had escaped to, we moved to the lower platform, designed for those who would dip and refresh well beyond the threat of crocodiles. It also provided a vantage point for those such as Sue who would become excited by the sight of myriad small fish milling about in water which is about one and a half man height, at the entry point.
|The Fern Pool|
The fact I was unsuccessful does not diminish the attempt.
With more than an hour spent in the attempt to rescue a pair of $20 sunglasses, Sue had had enough. When the last of the spectators had gone and without a telephone booth in sight, she stripped down to her Superwoman suit and had her naked body fully immersed in the cold water in an attempt to duck dive to save face. I was part lookout, part diving assistant and part coach as she dived three or four times but was unable to get deep enough to glasses which taunted her below. A change of technique – bobbing down feet first with me holding her outstretched hand in a human safety line – was her last chance and made as voices approached. Young voices. Young male voices.
Just as she seemed destined to become a tourist attraction herself, the wayward glasses were grasped between her toes. She emerged goose-bumped and hurriedly used my flannelette shirt as a towel, hastily pressed into service. No sooner had the last of her embarrassment been covered when four young male backpackers arrived, unaware of the stories they might have told.
We went back to Fortescue Falls and made the steep, difficult descent beside the water flowing down the stepped face of the falls, to the floor of the gorge and a following hour of delights. We scrambled along peaceful pools of perfect reflection, bands of dolomite which measured time no clock could match and those huge rock walls always towering above us and watching our softly taken visitor’s steps. It was a twisting, turning affair with much demanded of us on this grade 4 walk as we moved along a track only defined by small disc markers and yellow dots of paint. It was an awesome treasure hunt for the most stunning rewards that photos of the event will never match.
|Circular pool, Dales Gorge|
A great day. Now we know what the fuss has been about!
23/08/08 80(8205) kms
We headed west to a different section of the park and back across those dreaded red dirt and rock roads but as we were without the trailer for this day trip, there was little to fear for the Forester ate this sort of treatment up, corrugations and all. We are so pleased we went back to a Subaru in January and this little gem has performed brilliantly on this trip whether on the rough stuff or the open road. I digress ...
… as I mentioned, we travelled about 40 km west and started our day at Oxer Lookout, with the intention of walking through Weano Gorge and as many of the other gorges that our skill level would allow. Dad had mentioned that Oxer Lookout was a must see and this was, by a long shot, a very great understatement. I'm not sure I have ever seen such breathtaking scenery. Imagine walking from a carpark and slowly descending along a path where it was obvious that the tops of gorges were appearing to the right, the left and straight ahead. Imagine further that the path narrows and a sign gives you warning of the proximity of cliff tops and the dangers you are in. You press on, content that the those people from the national parks are prone to overstatement to legally protect their corporate backside and lost in that thought, you may or may not notice that the path is as wide as it was at the carpark but suddenly there are no surrounds. You see a platform before you and walk confidently on to it but even half way across the four metres of checkerplate steel, your eyes start to lose perspective as the ground you expected ahead never appears. By the time you reach the rail, your mind is in vertigo freefall, searching for the bottom of the absolutely sheer drop which starts just below your feet and ends nearly 130 metres below in the Junction pool. Nothing lies between you and that pool except the sole of your shoe, 1 cm of steel plate and clear, cool air.
We stood there for twenty minutes and every person who stepped up either swore or called on God, whether they believed in him or not.
From this "high" light, we walked thirty metres to the actual Oxer Lookout - another high platform which is extended out on a pinnacle high above the junction of four gorges. The last few metres before stepping onto the steel security of the lookout platform, the dirt track was tightrope a mere metre wide with death beckoning on either side. You earn your environmental appreciation in Western Australia!. When Dad was here in the 90's, the platform didn't exist and one of my photos shows a stack out beyond the current platform that was the terminus of the track. No platform, no fence, just a combination of adrenalin and stupidity took visitors to this little suicide nest!
But oh the view! On three sides, deep tears scarred the landscape in a way only possible in a kids sandbox when mudpies was the game. These rents in the earth looked like Mad Professor geology but were somehow real.
Back at the first lookout, a memorial stands for Jimmy Regan, an SES volunteer who lost his life below this spot after abseiling in from the afore mentioned platform, to rescue a party of injured tourists trapped in the gorge below. He was part of the second team in and they had been monitoring with great suspicion a storm dumping rain 80 km away in the catchment. He secured two of the party and attached them to lines for their winch hauled lift to safety. After reaching the third trapped tourist and stabilising him, he went “offline” to attached his patient to a hauling line. A flash flood raced through the gorge before he could reach his own safety line. Jimmy's work had been so good in securing his casualty that he was saved. Jimmy wasn't so lucky and was washed away and drowned as a huge volume of water which rushed through the narrow space.
After leaving Weano and Oxer Lookout, which are set to the most westerly position in this eastern section of the park, we drove back, intent on picking up other views on the way back to our campsite.
The first and the best of these was Joffre Falls. How can I describe this masterpiece? The photos are a pale reflection of the real thing and I suspect my words will be no better. Joffre Falls are at the starting end of the gorge of the same name and they are made entirely of flat plates of slate I have described previously in other entries. The falls is a shear face cut down through these plates to a plunge pool below and what makes their spectacle so intense are the perfectly parallel lines of the slate and the water flowing perpendicular to them. From there, the gorge just opens up and follows a similar path as others in the park. It’s just that the sight of this big, sudden hole in the ground is so unexpected even though, you know its there.
Whilst standing on the observation platform, we spotted the track down into the gorge which made its way to the foot of the plunge pool. Mountain goats wouldn't get insurance for following that one!
A short distance away, we had that same perspective altering experience at Knox Gorge. Beauty unabashed.
A lay day. I did some washing (by hand). Drying was not a problem. We both did some reading and Sue went swimming in the Fern Pool, this time with the appropriate attire. In the early evening, we attended an open air church service with a small congregation of travelers sitting in a rough semi-circle in their camping chairs. It wasn't hard to feel close to God.