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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http://theblackstump.blogspot.com.au/2017/03/.

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Sunday, 6 August 2017

Karijini - Fourth and final post...


Oh Boy, Karijini sure was a mammoth place to see!

Here we are on our fourth post, and we’re still traipsing around this geological masterpiece. However, at least today we were on the move… even if our trajectory was more akin to a boomerang than a well fledged arrow.

Today was going to be one of those messy sort of days... you know, the kind the universe throws at you every now and then just to keep you on your toes. We were up exceptionally early today – just after the sun had begun to peek over the horizon – and got to work packing down our trailer. The kids had breakfast while Nat and I toiled away with a single-minded vision of getting to the nearby town of Tom Price before 9:30. Not only that, but we also wanted to return to Karijini before the sun climbed too high in the sky, which would ruin our chances of tackling the last two gorges on our list (Knox and Joffrey gorges).

With a little elbow grease, we were soon done... The only thing left to do was to return to Das Haus der Frauen mit der Zwischenablage (or, for those who skipped over the earlier posts, the “Camp Hosts Hut”). During our stay in Karijini, the boys had been dutifully collecting, describing, and collating facts about the national park; all this was done in the earnest hope of completing the requirements of the Junior Range (Karijini) badge. As such, after the trailer was hitched to the car, the boys and I tootled down the track to get their work signed off by the camp hosts. Arriving at their cabin, we found that the hosts whom we had met a few days before were nowhere to be found. Indeed, it seemed that they had already moved on. And so, we were left facing a new pair of elderly folks who were left in charge of the campsite. In contrast to the stickler for the rules and her nice but bumbling assistant, the new folks were an enthusiastic pair; who seemed genuinely interested in meeting travellers making their way to this neck of the woods. Despite our hope of ‘popping in and getting out quickly”, the new camp hosts were a little too enthusiastic about signing off the boys junior ranger workbooks. But, 25 minutes later, we emerged into the burgeoning sunlight and were able to head on our way… Badges in hand!

Karjini National Park: Junior Ranger Badge!

As the boys stumbled out of the camp hosts hut, clutching their newly acquired badges, Nat was waiting for us in the car and revved the engine with abandon. Jumping back in the car, our wheels spun and we were off like a rocket.

Seventy kilometres or so down the road, we pulled off the main highway and snaked our way into the small mining town of Tom Price. I probably won’t write a full post on Tom Price, so suffice it to say that this was a town with a purpose – and that purpose was to extract as much gold as possible from the ground. Large trucks and digging equipment dwarfed us on every side, as we entered into this otherwise quiet hamlet. We passed under a railway bridge and made our way down to the caravan park that I’d called on the phone the day before.



Arriving at the Tom Price Tourist Park, we were greeted by the receptionist who was ready and waiting for us to arrive at this early hour (they didn’t usually take receptions until early afternoon, but had assured us there would be someone there to meet us when we turned up just after 8:30). True to their word, the receptionist had arranged a large site at the back of the park. Pulling up, we found a handful of new neighbours who each had the appearance of being settled in to stay for a few months. We spent half an hour quickly setting up and switching on essentials, like the fridge, then we were off again - back to Karijini. There was no messing around today; we were on a mission! Munching on a bit of breakfast, we were soon invigorated for our final day of gorge hopping...


Heading back down the road, it didn’t take us long to reach the ‘Hancock Gorge’ side of the park, where we had been wandering around yesterday. However, having knocked off Hancock the day before, out sights were firmly set on the final two gorges that this part of the park had to offer, namely “Knox and Joffrey” gorges.

We had heard from a few fellow travellers that Knox Gorge was both the most spectacular and the most taxing gorge within the national park. As such, we decided to head there first…

We arrived at the Knox Gorge car park and meandered our way to lookout. The view was breathtaking! A serpentine river cut its way through massive cliffs, carving a horseshoe shaped ravine through the rippling rock below.

Knox Gorge - top view

We met a group of young twenty-something lads who had just returned from the gorge (dripping with sweat and the musky stench of youth), who were full of exuberance about this trail. They assured us that they’d made it from one end to the other in an hour and a half; so, we felt pretty confident that we would be able to knock it off in a couple of hours.

And with that, off we went…



Knox Gorge - Bring it on!!

The first part of the track was a steep scramble, down a serious incline of loose shingle. The boys took this is their stride and were soon at the bottom, nibble footed as always.

From there, the trail presented a series of ledges and thin tracks – hemmed in on either side by deep, but slow flowing water.

To be honest, the main path through the gorge wasn’t much different to the sights we’d seen in the other trails throughout Karijini. However, as with all good magicians, the trick only really revealed itself when we came to the end.



Knox Gorge - Daniel exploring the ravine

…and my goodness, was the ending spectacular. Oh my, was it ever. Having walked over a series of rocky paths and picked our way across countless river crossings, we finally stumbled out into a large yet deceptively narrow clearing. The path bifurcated here and presented two paths to choose from. Keeping to the left, we crept forward towards the end of the ever-narrowing ravine. The rocks here were smooth, worn down by thousands of years of erosion. In the height of the wet season, the waters still churned away in this tight crevasse – all the while fighting to get through this bottleneck. But, now, at the start of the dry season, the waters had subsided and the river was little more than a gentle giant.


Knox gorge - the end of the trail (apologies for the rubbish commentary, it was off the cuff)

To be honest, the photos don’t really do this place justice. In fact, we all seemed to have a sense of this while we were there. Dozens of photos were taken, but in the end we all just sat down and spent time taking in the majesty of the place.

Having taken our fill of the Knox gorge, we turned on our heels and started making our way back to the steep slope that led towards the car park. However, as the sun crept up towards the middle of the sky, the boys decided that a dip was in order. Finding a nice water hole roughly halfway along the gorge, Ben and Daniel striped off and egged each other on into the exceptional chilly waters.

On this particular morning, knowing that the path would be a bit taxing, we had opted to leave the bag of swimming gear back in the car. So, throwing caution to the wind, the lads first striped down to their kecks. Then, soon, even these were thrown on the bank; apparently our boys have a penchant for gorge swimming au naturel.  

Diving into the water, all was going well until the boys realised that the lookout point we’d stood at earlier in the morning (where we had admired the view of the gorge from up on high), was directly above them… and to their horror, crowds were starting to form! Despite the cold water, suddenly neither was brave enough to jump out of the obscuring waters until the last sightseer had wandered away. To be honest, in this day of youtube, Instagram and the like, I really don’t blame them. Who knows which social media site snaps of their pale blue behinds might have ended up on!!

Eventually, the crowds did decamp from the top of the cliff. Quickly making a dash for it, the boys dried off and clambered back into their hiking gear in time for the next bevy of gogglers to appear.

As an aside, throughout the time we were in Karijini, I was continually surprised by the number of people we encountered who we happy to say they’d seen Knox Gorge, without ever actually setting foot into it (seriously, despite the number of people we saw peering over the edge of the lookout, only a small handful decided to take on the gorge itself – a shame really, given the hidden wonder at the end…)

Soon enough we had made our way back up the loose shingle track and the host of steep rocky ledges that led to the car park. Reaching the top, our legs were like jelly and each of us took a few minutes to catch our breath.

It was a short drive, of only a few kilometres, to the final gorge that we were going to tackle in Karijini. We arrived quickly at Joffrey Gorge car park and wandered over to the lookout to see what we had in store for us. Peering over the edge, we found ourselves looking down into a huge basin. Directly across from us were giant rocky stairs leading down to the bottom of the ravine, with several having a drop of at least my height. Away in the distance, to the left of our vantage point, a thin waterfall crashed down from a great height over a series of plateaus and smooth stone shelves. The waterfall joined the main body of the gorge via a wide river, which narrowed into a rapid stream between two great rock. walls But once it had cleared the rocky doorway separating these two chambers, it emerged into a broad vestibule and became a lake once more.

Joffrey Gorge - from above

Heading away from the lookout, we turned left and wandered around the trail at the top of the gorge. The path was well formed and led its way along the river that fed the waterfall from above. It was a little eerie in places, as the trail skirted along the rim of the gorge. At several point I found myself peering down over the rocks into the valley below.

Joffrey Falls – top down from the lookout

But other than a few hair-raising moments, the walk was really quite delightful. Daniel did, however, take a tumble at one point and landed in a patch of spiky spinifex; which required a quick jaunt back to the car to collect the first aid kit that we had regrettably left behind on this particular outing… But in the end, we made it around the cliff and reached the point of the trail that descended steeply into the ravine below…






Joffre Waterfall

Picking our way down to the valley floor was a little tricky, requiring nerves of steel and pretty good upper body strength. The boys had both of these in screeds; so, they were able to make their way down without too much bother. Nat made up the rear guard and did a sterling job of navigating the finicky path – despite not being a fan of facing sheer drops that led to certain death…

Reaching the bottom, the boys and I were faced with a large lake; surrounded on two sides by steep cliff walls. In the lower portion of the ravine was a small crack where the river slowly flowed out and onwards into other parts of the gorge system. Conversely, at the head of the gorge was a narrow channel which led to a second broad space filled with loose rocks and a second lake situated at the base of Joffrey Falls.


Joffrey Gorge

The rock underfoot was sharp here and the lack of sunlight meant the water remained very cold. So, having explored a little of this large open-toped chamber, we made our way back through the exceptionally slippery gap between the rocks to the main pool below. However, turning a potentially neck-breaking situation into a place of fun and wonderment, the boys soon figured out that all the other people we’d seen nearly going base-over-apex as they tried to walk upright through this watery path had it all wrong! No, sitting down and sliding down the smooth rock was far more fun (and probably much, much safer). Having reached the bottom of the slide, they turned around and did it again, and again, and again!


Joffrey Gorge - slip slidin' away

After crashing into a few rocks on their way down the narrow riverbed, the boys eventually decided they’d had the fill of this natural slippery-dip (that’s a ‘slide’ for our readers outside of Aussie). As such, we returned to take a dip in the lake at the base of the rocky stairs we had originally descended into this ravine. We arrived back at the main pool just in time to see Nat emerging from the rocks above. Amidst cheers and salutations, the boys told her all about their sliding shenanigans, before we all made our way up the cliff to the trail back to the car park once again.

Joffrey - three boys swimming

With all the gorges done and dusted, we wandered back to the car and made our way back to our caravan in Tom Price. We finally said goodbye to Karijini National Park, with more than a tinge of sadness in our hearts. This truly was a magnificent and bewildering place. It’s amazing to think of all the wondrous sights we’ve seen in this small patch of the earth and I dearly hope to be able to come back again to explore it all once more in years to come. However, I’m also eternally glad to have made it here while my bones and muscles were sturdy enough to afford me the luxury of seeing all the nooks and crannies of this place up close. I felt very sorry for the throngs of sightseers that weren’t able to make it down into the gorges and wander along their craggy paths for whatever reason. Gorgeous as these ravines were from the lookouts, nothing can compare with entering the belly of the beast and checking out what it had for breakfast! Luckily, we weren’t on the menu and could make it out the other side with little more than a few aches, a spinifex scratch or two, and a single leech (which let’s face it, the leech wasn’t really committed to having a good dinner). And, you know what, it was all worth it!

Back in Tom Price, we restocked the van, filled up with water and got a few loads of washing cleaned in the dying afternoon sun. After all that, we decided that this evening would most definitely be our 'night off'. With everyone thoroughly spent from our time hopping amongst the gorges and water holes of Karijini, we loaded up our old mate Google and asked it to ‘show me restaurants nearby’. With bated breath, we watched as the familiar blue circle whizzed around the screen. With the extraordinarily slow internet connection, we nearly passed out as we held our breath. But eventually, our choices were laid out before us. As it turns out, the little mining township of Tom Price was in fact fairly well-appointed with eateries and food halls. However, the photos posted on most of the websites of most of the eateries seemed a little icky or a somewhat insipid. Yet, amongst the dross that was presented before us, there was one restaurant that seemed to fit the bill.



Red Breeze”, it was determined, was to be our port of call for the night. Hidden behind the local supermarket, amongst a multitude of roadworks that were underway here, we found our way to a little gem of a place. Actually, it wasn’t as easy as all that to find – even with our tablet and GPS in hand, the roads had gone through such an upheaval over the past few weeks to accommodate the recent influx of people to this little corner of the world that the local maps were already out of date. But, in the end, we made it through a series of dark roads to the main centre of the township. Pulling up, we wandered into the Red Breeze restaurant and were soon happily seated at a solid dark wooden table with a gargantuan Asian inspired menu thrust into our arms.

In time, a banquet of spring rolls, Thai curries and other stir fired dishes were placed before us. Over an hour or so, we munched our way through some delicious food – a completely unexpected, but altogether welcomed delight.


Early the next day, we emerged from our trailer and began the well-rehearsed ‘pack down dance’. The plan was a simple, I would get trailer ready, while Nat set off to be at the mechanics by 7:30; to be at their door when they opened to get our window fixed. Off she went, a women on a mission!! If we missed this opportunity, it would be several days before we’d be anywhere else that could fix out windscreen, and the chances of a catastrophic failure loomed with every bump in the road…


… I’d got about halfway through the pack down, when Nat turned up again looking forlorn.

“What’s up?” I asked, “That was quick – is it fixed?” (Knowing full well that it couldn’t possibly have been…)

Despite our best efforts, Nat explained that we had been thwarted in our attempts to get the windscreen fixed. The only person in town with the device that was required to fill and repair the window had been called away on an emergency mechanical job, some hundreds of kilometres down the road. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t be back for a day or two… which would leave us high and dry if we decided to stay…

“Bugger that”, we both said in unison, as we hitched the trailer onto the car.

We were heading to the large coastal metropolis of Exmouth, where we knew there would be several places that could fix the window. We just had to get it there first…

And that, dear readers, seems like a good place to leave the tale for now.

See you all next time,

Bye ‘d bye,

Gregg

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