030. 25th October 2007. We learn about the natural wonder known as Carnarvon Gorge. We also learn about dehydration…
So, day one we reached Yaamba about 40 Klms north of Rocky. A friend told us there was a good free campsite here so we pulled in for the night and headed across the road to the pub for a happy hour and maybe dinner. Hmmm. The prices are a bit high and the selection a bit low for a run down pub with a lot of noise from trucks going past every 40 seconds. I would not be able to sleep with that noise. So we forgot about dinner at the pub and drove along what was the old highway until we came to the old Alligator Creek Bridge. There was a steep dirt track winding down to the creek with what appeared to be a level area.
We spent the first night tucked in beside the creek, under the old bridge, with no sounds from the highway and a full moon and a delicious dinner we prepared ourselves. I also had another look at the map and decided as neither of us had been to Mt Morgan before we could go that way, through Dululu, Wowan, Banana then out to Moura along the Dawson Highway to Rolleston. It looked a shorter route and interesting and we would get to test the bus on the Mt.Morgan Range.
The bus passed the test.
Mt. Morgan is hilly with twisting streets and an interesting history. It probably deserves a visit one-day. From what I could see there are no Freedom campsites within a bull’s roar of town so we would have to stay at a caravan park.
Onwards to Dululu where the pub is painted a real bright yellow and a dull brown trim. Gee if you were new to town and looking for the pub it was not hard to find.
Arriving in Banana we stopped at a large garage for lunch in their rather empty parking area. We parked in a corner so we would not be in the way of any large trucks, which might venture in. After a nice homemade lunch and cold beer I felt like a snooze. After waking from the snooze I found lots of trucks had called in for lunch , and were parked all around us. We were going to have fun threading our way out or wait for lunch to finish.
At Moura we found a CMCA Dump Point and although we were only on the road two days we thought it might be an idea to empty our black water cassette. Besides this was the first dump point we had encountered and wanted to test it.
Just past Moura on the Dawson River was a large Freedom campsite so we made a mental note to stop there on the return journey.
Rolleston was stinky hot and strangely, humid. There was a grey overcast sky with a threat of rain. We fuelled up there and asked the attendant, a cowboy from NT what the weather forecast might be. (We did not want to be on the Carnarvon Gorge road if it rained as it becomes undriveable even for 4WD) As well as being a cowboy this man thought he was a comedian. He replied, if this weather keeps up it wouldn’t come down. I gave him a stony look and ignored his chuckle. Umm he said, I’m from the NT and only been here three weeks so I have no idea what the weather patterns are. Shortly after leaving Rolleston the roads were wet and we were driving into what looked like serious rain. It was, but by some miracle the dirt road to the Gorge was dry all the way and the rain ceased just before we hit the dirt road.
Just before the dirt road to the Gorge is an air crash memorial. It is the remains of a Dakota airplane which crashed in a violent electrical storm in November 1943. All service personel died in the crash. A Boy Scout Troop from Roma helped to make the memorial.
The rain also explained the humidity.
On arrival we discovered they had not seen rains for months and were unaware of the downpour less than 60 klms away.
Carnarvon Gorge no longer allows camping but camping is available at Takarakka Bush Camp
several klms outside the park. It is a nicely set up bush camp including power and water but at a premium price. Each site had some bushes around it so affording some privacy. The downside was we would have to pack up and drive to the Gorge each day.
The Gorge has a main walking track, which crosses the Carnarvon Creek 20 times to the far end at Big Bend and Cathedral Cave. The return track is in reverse so you cross the creek 40 times, even more when you take some of the sidetracks to places of interest. A straight walk to the end and back is 22 klms.
On the third day of our trip and day one at the gorge we stayed reasonably near to camp just getting our bearings. We did drive to Balloon Cave
and Mickeys Creek and doing all the walks.
We drove on to the Visitor Centre and obtained a map and some information so we could plan our walk the next day. We took what we thought was a good supply of water but used it all before finishing our walks. The visitor centre had many signs warning not to drink out of the creek because of the possibility of picking up a worm from animals further up who urinate and defecate and even die in the creek.
We also met groups of people walking with hiking poles. By the end of day one we understood the usefulness of these poles.
Gotta have one!
The walks are graded
Class 2 – Easy.
Class 3 – sloping, steps, creek crossing, steep sections. General fitness level.
One walk to Boolimba Bluff was described as class 3 but people who went there and spoke to us thought it should be graded higher.
By nightfall we were tired but happy and ready for the challenge next day. We planned to go to the Moss Gardens, a side trip off the main trail and about an 11 klm trip.
Next day mistake number one was a late start. We waited until after mid morning coffee. We should have been walking at sunup. By the time we reached the Moss gardens we have consumed most of the extra water we carried and were close to exhaustion. Throwing care to the winds we lay down on the decking in the cool of the Moss gardens
observation platform after eating our welcome lunch. We both fell asleep and only woke when we heard voices approaching almost an hour later. Gee whiz my back was aching!
Apart from that the walk was exciting and the Moss Garden spectacular and cool. Again throwing caution to the winds we filled a water bottle from the creek but had finished all water before arriving back at the visitor’s centre. Our clothes were totally saturated with sweat and beginning to smell.
We met other walkers who started early in the day, many of whom carried water bladders in a backpack.
Hmmm. Gotta have me one of those too.
In hindsight the less than 2 litres we carried between us was inadequate for our needs. The days were hot, most of the walking was in full sun and although we had sensible cotton clothes, broad brimmed hat and sun tan lotion we did not carry enough water and did not stop often enough and did not dip cool water from the creeks onto ourselves. We could feel and acknowledge we were dehydrating and planned to do something about it the next day.
After all we learn from our mistakes.
That night I went to a slide show arranged by the Park Rangers. It was an interesting talk and slide show. One aspect had me thinking. When the rains come the Gorge floods and most of the tracks are washed away and staff start all over again. The Amphitheatre is a difficult walk. At the end there are steep stairs bolted to the rocks to allow access to a narrow fissure in the rock face, which opens up to an unexpected attraction. Over the last few years the stairs, ladders and catwalks have been replaced and moved several times.
We had planned to go to the Amphitheatre the next day.
Next day armed with lunch and almost three litres of water we set off before coffee time but still not in the cool of the morning.
Learning is a slow process.
Today we planned a 12 klm round trip to include The Amphitheatre
and Wards canyon a little further along the creek.
We reached the only toilets along the track. Just past the turn off to the Moss Gardens. From there it was a trek over the creek and a bit of a climb to The Amphitheatre. It is hard to imagine the volume of water, which must roar out of the fissure and wash away and twist like pastry the stainless steel ladders and stairs bolted to solid rock. Some of the last steel remnants were still lying amongst the rocks. The only way they can remove the metal is by helicopter and has to be budgeted. The Amphitheatre is a large cavernous feature, which seems to have been carved out of the sandstone with a laser. The sides are almost perfectly straight, flat and level. Inside it is cool except where a beam of sunlight strikes the rubble floor. It is very hot in that pathway of light.
Climbing back down to the creek we cross again and follow the trail to Wards Canyon.
This involves a good deal of climbing and although we are in the shadows the heat is energy sapping. By the time we finally reach the canyon we are sweating and feeling the effort. The path twists and turns along a sandstone canyon with walls only a few metres apart until it opens into an overhang where the walls are now 20 or so metres apart and along the creek, cool King Ferns are growing. The first thing we noticed was it felt air-conditioned here. Then we noticed the steep walls then the King Ferns. This small colony of ferns is the only site in Queensland where they grow. There are other scattered colonies in isolated places on the East Coast but much further south in NSW and Vic.
Oh what a lovely place to sit on a very large petrified log and eat our lunch and drink our water. Unlike the Moss gardens there is no viewing platform to stretch out and sleep. Here the best we could manage was a bit of dryish sandy ground and using the log as a backrest close our eyes and try to nod off. At least it was cool here.
Once more we had no choice than to gather some water as it cascaded and filtered its way through rock, and sand, and trees and ferns before joining Carnarvon Creek. We filled our bottles and began the trek back to the visitor centre. We met the head ranger for the district at the toilets near The Moss Gardens. We made the suggestion they install bunk beds at Wards Canyon for weary trekkers like us to have an afternoon nap. She replied by saying, “I suppose you want them at The Amphitheatre and The Moss gardens as well?”
Yes Yes Yes!
We all had a good laugh.
That nigh after a lovely dinner I made plans for the big trek to Boolimba Bluff the next day. Donnis declined saying she would be happy to sit around and rest at the visitor centre. After all it is a 6.4klm return trip with a majority of the trek being uphill and or climbing. As it turned out by next morning all my muscles were aching and I had no energy. We just had a look at a couple of swimming holes nearby. We did climb a hill behind camp, which looked down on a valley below, and the distant white of the gorge sandstone walls in the distance.
We needed a day off.
Then it was a planned slow trip home. We stopped at Rolleston again for fuel and lunch. Once again it was hot and humid. That humidity should have told us there was rain not far away. We ate lunch at popular little place called Corrugated Cuisine,
which seemed to cater for tourists and truckies but with a fare not burdened by deep-fried everything. I did want a meat pie and a beer but there is no baker in town and the pub and the takeaway did not bake either. Oh well, a fresh salad roll and a ginger beer was the best I could manage.
Later in the afternoon we pulled into Dawson River Rest Area, the Freedom campsite we had seen a week before. After trying a few spots to get a level site we went for a walk. On walking back I noticed the site we chose was under a very tall gum tree and self preservation thoughts kicked in. We moved again. Then we walked over to a picnic spot and joined another couple for happy hour. We mentioned our wheels felt hot and we may have bearing problem. He offered to look at them next day, as he is an ex truckie and used to doing his own work. She is an ex truckie and was an experienced repairer as well.
About now we could hear a strange whistling sound a breeze began to spring up and dark clouds were rushing at us from across the river. Trees on the other bank began to shake. We all shouted at once. “Storm!”
We ran to our rigs. Even in that 100-metre dash the storm beat us! Our awning was beginning to lift up and over the top of the bus. We each grabbed a leg and held on while bullets of wind driven rain stung our bodies. I managed to close the bus door with one hand as we held the awning in place. Donnis at the other end of the awning valiantly started the winding mechanism and after a few stops to undo locks and things we got the awning wound up then it was into the bus to close windows and hatches. The bed was wet. Bugga.
Then the lightning started and the rain got heavier and it got dark. Really dark. With windows and doors closed it became hot and stuffy inside but when we tried to open a window found the rain was swirling and coming in all directions. We could only lie on the bed and watch the wild wind and light show put on by nature. Then the lights in the camp shelter went out. After an hour or so the storm moved away long enough for us to survey the damage. Another couple in a camper trailer had park in a gully and they had to move as the water started to run through their camp. A tree was hit by lightning and had come down over the power lines causing a short. Lots of small branches everywhere. The temperature had dropped and it was now quite cool.
So we opened doors and windows again and made dinner.
Then the storm came back.
Lightning struck the ground next to a picnic shelter a few metres from us.
Suddenly it was over so we opened the bus again.
A bit of a clean up in the dark and a discussion with other campers about the fallen tree over the power lines when the storm came back. This time there was lots of wind and lightning but no rain.
We went to sleep with the sound of thunder gradually diminishing in the distance.
Next morning we drove into Moura to look for bearing grease then back to the campsite to do the work.
Our two good Samaritans joined us as we jacked up the bus on both sides and removed the wheels and after a lot of blood sweat and tears managed access to the bearings. Although the grease was a bit dirty and not much of it, a good clean up revealed the rollers were in surprisingly good condition although with a few gouges. A liberal packing of the bearings then we had a coffee and put everything back together gave us a leisurely afternoon.
The ex truckie helping us had a very good tattoo of John Wayne on his forearm. It was so good I was moved to ask about the story.
He was a security guard in Melbourne when John Wayne flew in for a shooting trip in the outback but needed a bodyguard and companion for the trip, all expenses paid.
Months after JW returned to the US our truckie friend received a visit from the Victorian Police and Customs about a large crate, which arrived, addressed to him.
At a secure customs site the crate was opened and inside were two six shooters from one of JW’s movies the other was a Winchester Rifle in a perspex case. It was used in the film True Grit and was in working order. It also came with a swag of ammunition and personal notes from JW.
Our truckie friend has never used the rifle and has kept it in a secure location still mounted in the perspex case.
JW was his hero so a tattoo was a fitting tribute.
Good thing I recognised it as JW and did not say it looked like Rock Hudson or Johnny Depp!
Another storm threatened but never happened.
We heard on the radio news that yesterdays storm had hit Emerald, away to the north particularly badly. Open cut mine sites were flooded, power lines brought down and houses unroofed. Multi millions of dollars damage.
Another slow day of driving brought us to Rocky where it was raining. A bit of a walk around the largest shopping centre and we were on a our way home with a planned stop at Waverley Creek Rest Area,
a Freedom camp site near St.Lawrence.
This was a good test of the bus and us.
We loved the bushwalking but have learned to carry lots of water and a hiking pole.