Hi there,

For those of you arriving late to this intrepid family journey through the heart of Australia, you may like to start reading at the beginning. Unfortunately, Blogger organises posts with those most recently created appearing first. So, if you jump in at the top, you're not going to get the full experience of this gritty blow-by-blow account of our adventure. As such, I suggest using the navigation window above and head down to March, where the first part of this journey began. Hopefully, by the end, you’ll be hooked. From there you can scroll upwards to continue the journey. I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

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Thursday, 29 June 2017

Bungle Bungles (2) - Oh, my [gasp]. I mean, WOW!


Crawling out of the car into the cold, crisp air of our first morning in Purnululu National Park, my heart was warmed to see our kettle being heated on the gas stove and cereal being heaped into bowls. A quick breakfast later and a few rounds of sandwiches made (quickly thrown together and tucked into a backpack, along with several litres of water for each of us), then we were off.

With so much ground to cover in a couple of short days, there wasn’t time to hang around – “come on boys, lets hit the road!”

Our first stop was the car park that led to both Mini Palm and Echidna Gorges. Heading down the rough trail, we turned right at the intersection between the two gorges and moseyed down to spend a few hours checking out Mini-Palms first.

Crossroads between Mini Palm and Echidna Gorge

In the hot morning sun, half leaping, half trudging, we made our way down a wide river stone trail. In the distance, we could see a bend in the trail. At this point, the path turned steadily and then headed down a shady lane straight along the centre of a high walled gorge.

Entry way to Mini Palms Gorge

We quickly made the hot-footed dash across an exposed path, directly into to the mouth of Mini-Palms gorge. Upon arriving at the other side of this scorching beam of sunlight, we were rewarded for our early morning efforts by being bathed in cool damp air.

The walls of the gorge were sheer, with the sun only just able to peek over the rim of cliffs stretching up hundreds of meters above us. Colossal boulders of conglomerate rock were strewn across the valley floor, with trees of all sizes creeping their way around the massive stones towards the dappled sun far above.

Moving a little further into the gorge, we soon found why it was named ‘Mini Palm Gorge'. Turning yet another corner, we found ourselves wandering amongst a handful for palm trees; which seemingly survived only by stretching their slender trunks up towards to sunlight at the top of the gorge.


This handful of tress soon thickened, until we entered a wide expanse that was filled to the brim with such palms. These thin spindly trees clung on tightly to the rocky floor with roots of iron. Their magnificent fronds spread widely overhead. Allowing only dappled sunlight to reach the ground below. Each frond fought with its neighbours to soak up as many of the sun’s rays as possible – it was survival of the fittest, albeit on a languorous time scale.


Mini Palms Gorge – pretty cool, huh?

At the end of the trail, the gorge terminated in a high, wide platform overlooking an empty plateau. This led, in turn, to a narrow crease, which crept its way deep into the rock. Any movement past this platform by the general public was forbidden – but, from this vantage point, we were more than satisfied by the what we had been able to see.

Taking time for a spot of lunch and a well-earned drink, we watched butterflies, bugs and birds winging around the shady glade, and enjoyed the serene peacefulness of this area.


Wandering back down the stony river trail, we soon reached the end of the path and made it back to crossroads (where we had stood a few hours before). We caught our breath, then turned our heels in the direction of Echidna chasm.

The entry to Echidna chasm was similar to that of Mini Palms gorge: big river stones created a path towards a narrow chasm in the rock.  After this morning’s walk into Mini Palms Valley, the loose rocks of Echidna Chasm played havoc with our legs and ankles – but not to be deterred, we pressed onwards.

Entrance to Echidna Chasm

Slipping into the gorge, Echidna Chasm soon revealed itself to be something ‘a little bit special’.

Of all the gorges we’d been lucky enough to encounter on our trip, this one certainly took the prize for having the steepest and narrowest ravines.

Echidna Gorge

The thin path wended its way down a curvy route through the rock. High walls enclosed us on all sides and the trail continued to grow narrower and narrower. Eventually, the path erupted into a wide chamber, where sunlight poured down from a thin aperture in the ceiling high above. In the eerie light that flooded the chamber, it felt like we were so far removed from the rest of humanity- who seemed to live in some-off, distant land.


Echidna Gorge - WOW!

But this wasn’t the end of the trail. Oh no, onwards we trekked. Squeezing our way through narrow passageways and clambering over giant rocks. Yes, onwards we pressed, onwards towards the end of the path. Along the route, we were treated to some awesome sights. Chief of which were the giant boulders that had haplessly fallen into the abyss. These gargantuan balls of rock had toppled into the gorge, only to be caught in the clutches of the chasm; where they had been suspended eternally in a tight grip arresting their fall. These oversized rocky-billiard balls had come to rest just meters above the bottom of the ravine, and seemed to beckon explorers to step beneath to chance their luck at not being crushed into pulpy wafers…

Echidna Chasm – suspended rocks

Having explored the full length of the chasm, we began making our way back. With such steep terrain, there were a few minor injuries along the way (mainly from the boys who wanted to press the limits of the human body and climb into the uncharted crannies of this site). But, soon, all aches and pains were forgotten, as we burst forth once more into the light of day once more.

Echidna Chasm – how far do you dare go?

Feeling exhausted, we took a few moments to catch our breath. Then, it was time to make the journey home again to our campsite. Stopping briefly at the Ranger’s Station, we picked up some fresh ice and a ‘flavoured icy treat’ for the boys (aka – for Aussies an ‘Icy pole’, for Kiwis an ‘Ice block’, for our UK readers a ‘lolly ice’; for the rest of the world, please insert your own words for a cool blob of flavoured sugary ice on a stick… or simply take your pick from those above).

The last couple of hours of daylight were spent around our humble camp. Not being entirely exhausted from this morning’s exertions, they boys took themselves off on an hour-long hike around the campsite. While Nat and I cleaned up and prepared dinner, the boys saw a bunch of wildlife stopped and chatted to a few fellow travellers along the way. Upon their return, they excitedly told us about all of these encounters one-by-one.

As for me, with dinner on the stove, I spent the rest of the hour searching every inch of my air mattress for the puncture that had plagued me the night before. Luckily, I was able to spot the offending hole without too much difficulty. So, I duly pulled out the repair kit that came with the bed and attempted to patch it up. Cutting a nice piece of material from the spare rubbery-cloth I found in the pack, I then cut the top off the glue and began squeezing the tube. I squeezed somewhat gingerly at first, for fear that it would spray out all over the bed. But, with nothing forthcoming, harder and harder I squeezed, but - alas - nothing came out. Eventually, in the hopes of finding at least a dab of adhesive hidden in the dark recesses of the tube, I cut it open so I might eek out the smallest drop to plug the hole. But, lo and behold, there was nothing in there – nope, not even residue of dried up glue. Surely, this must be one of those hundred to one occasions where the machine (or possibly, person), which was meant to fill the tube with glue, must have missed. So, I grabbed the second tube and tried again. But once more, I found the tube empty. “What the?” I cursed, and threw the patch repair kit aside. Recalling my 1980’s boyhood love affair MacGyver, I dug out my trusty roll of duct tape. "Ahhh, you silver goddess, is there nothing you can’t fix?!?" And so, without fuss or further mess, the mattress was sealed and re-inflated. And you know what – I actually slept until morning.


Legless lizard – spotted in Mini Palms Gorge

Now, an interesting fact I learned during these wanderings in the southern part of the park, was that the Bungles only came to the attention of ‘Australia’ (take that as you will), in the 1980’s. Although they had been known to the aboriginal people of this area in years gone by, they had been largely forgotten for a variety of socio-political reasons (that I will leave well alone in this blog [‘Oh, Google… can you fill us in please?”]). Even so, it seems that due to the location of these rocky gorges, as well as their and lack of flowing water, this region of Australia was little visited by aboriginal people in times of yore, other than as a way-point along the path to richer regions of land.

Our final day in Purnululu National Park was spent in the southern part of the Bungle Bungles, along the Piccaninny Creek trail. This is a length of path that stretches for many kilometres, along harsh rugged terrain, which and can be wandered for days if one so desires. But for us, time was of the essence. So, we needed to explore as much of this exposed trail as we could and get out before the sun climbed too high in the sky (i.e., before it fried us to a crisp).

Piccaninny Gorge – now this is what the Bungle Bungles is meant to look like!

Take the first gorge on the right and keep flying ‘till morning (with apologies to J.M. Barrie)

With a quick breakfast put away, we made the 30km journey from our campsite to the Piccaninny trail (an hour and a half, with corrugations...). Arriving at Piccaninny Creek, we heading out of the car park and turned a sharp left at the first sign post, where we headed towards Cathedral Gorge.

Oh, so many choices


The trail to Cathedral Gorge was pretty cool; not only for the scenery, but also for the number of dead or dying Cane Toads that we spotted along the way. For the uninitiated, cane toads are an immense problem in the northern parts of Australia. Native to both south and mainland America, cane toads were introduced to Australia from Hawaii in June 1935 by the Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations (aka, the government), in an attempt to control the native grey-backed cane beetle (Dermolepida albohirtum) and Frenchi beetle (Lepidiota frenchi) that was reducing sugar production. However, the cane toad is renowned for being tough and adaptable, as well as being poisonous throughout its life cycle, and has few predators in Australia. As such, they have now ballooned in numbers – far beyond that which can be controlled (either naturally or by hunting). And so, coming across sink holes and steep gullies filled with cane toad carcasses was a shamefully pleasant sight (if not a little pongy).

Leaving the massacre of cane toad behind us, we continued along the trail until we came to the eponymous gorge shaped like a massive Cathedral. This place was very, very cool indeed. Here, over hundreds of thousands of years, water had carved an enormous amphitheatre out of the mountain above. As we entered this place, we were confronted by loud echoes of the travellers who already have beaten us there. Thankfully, however, there were few people ahead of us. And once the small clutch of other travellers had left, we had Cathedral gorge to ourselves (at least, for a moment of two of blissful silence). And so, after a few echoes had been cast by the kids in this awesome space of aural wonders, we wandered around this site until we felt we had drunk in the spectacle enough to leave.

Cathedral Gorge

Boys harmonizing(?!) at Cathedral Gorge.

For me, however, having been known to tread to boards a few times in my life, I just couldn’t bring myself to leave until I’d uttered a few words from the Great Bard. So, summoning words of the St Crispin Day speech from Henry V (that’s the ‘we band of brothers’ speech for those who weren’t sure – Oh, such awesome writing...) I gently let the verses echo themselves gently around the chamber. That done, I felt satisfied enough to trot along behind Nat and the boys.

The remainder of the morning was spent wandering along Piccaninny Creek. This was a splendid trail, with all manner of biomes and vistas to satisfy the weary traveller. Indeed, the scenery changed so often that it was hard to decide when the turn around and make the return journey back to the car park.



Piccaninny Gorge

I’m not exactly sure how it happened. But one minute we were talking to some fellow travellers; the next we were sitting down for a drink of water. The boys continued walking and talking with the other walkers; Nat went after the boys and I was left minding the bags…

“Ummm, Helloooooo?” I murmured plaintively into my knapsack.

Thirty minutes later, having decided that the others weren't coming back any time soon, I moved myself and the bags into a cool shady spot (where I spent my time examining the various foot prints left by a curious plethora of animals in the sand). Some time late, Nat and the boys did in fact reappear from the desert – puffing, panting and sweating – having made it all the way up to ‘The Window’ and back.



Piccaninny trail – ‘The Window’

“Oh, hi guys,” I said, feeling suddenly a little like our recently abandoned trailer. “What was it like?”

The boys gleefully regaled me with tales of their wanderings up the last kilometre or two of the canyon.

As the sun was well on the march towards its zenith, we turned on our heels and headed back the way we came.

Making a brief detour into the Piccaninny lookout, we stopped for a family photo overlooking several of the beehive-shaped rocky domes of the Bungle Bungles; before making our way down the Domes Trail and back to the car.

Piccaninny gorge – family photo!

Heading back to the camp site, we hurriedly packed up our tent and other belongings before beginning our long drive out of Purnululu National Park.

Having forded many rivers and navigated all the nasty terrain that we had encountered on the way in, we eventually picked up our trailer and set our sights in an westerly direction once more.

It was our intention to pull up for the night at Halls Creek… but arriving there in the early evening, we were pretty nonplussed by the thought of a night in this little back water. So, we filled up on fuel, gave the windscreen a jolly good clean (those decaying bugs sure hold on tight). We grabbed a couple of pies for the servo to sustain us on our journey, before we drove another hundred kilometres or so to a free camp along Mary River.

We arrived at Mary Pool free-camp well after dark. Top our dismay, the site was already pretty much full. This was one of those places along the road, where you can pull up, pitch your tent/trailer, spend the night (free of charge) and then leave.

Being dark, it was hard to get a lay of the land. I mean, it was obvious where the toilets were – you could smell them a mile away – but finding a suitable place to park the trailer was a different story. However, with the help of a few fellow travellers, we found a spare patch of earth; cleared away the broken glass that was lying in the grass and set up our trailer for the night. Dinner was a blur, but without much time wasted, bellies were filled with omelettes and bread; then we all hopped into bed for a well earned sleep. To be honest, we were all entirely exhausted from our whirlwind tour of the Bungles – but we knew we had covered a lot of distance and had been able to see a great deal of what was on offer.

Feeling tired, but completely satisfied, we all slept soundly until the engines of all the free campers parked around us revved up at the crack of dawn… Ah well, on with the adventure!

But for now, that’s where I’ll leave it.

Bye ‘d bye,

Gregg

4 comments:

  1. Lolly ice? You mean ice lolly :)

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    1. Heh, heh, yeah. That sounds about right. I was drawing on childhood memories of reading comics like Whizzer and Chips and The Beano...

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  2. Beautiful place the Bungles! Did you find any gorgeous green frogs in Echidna Chasm?

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    1. It sure is! And a lot of fun to explore too.

      Those tree frogs really are such a vivid neon green aren't they? I can't remember if we saw any in Echidna Chasm (so much to take in!!), but we've certainly made friends with a small platoon of them along our travels. The boys rescued one in Derby that was getting a bit dry and crusty in the sun (I thought it was nearly on its last legs). But, with a bit of TLC and a cool bath in the shade, it soon came right as rain.

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