CFFC -Sand or dirt

Turquoise Bay, Exmouth, Western Australia

For Cee’s Fun Foto challenge, the topic is sand or dirt. There’s plenty of both in Australia, so it’s just “which ones?”.

Wildflowers in the sandy soil, Kalbarri National Park
Barn Hill Station, Western Australia
Lizard, crab and maybe snake tracks on the beach, Barn Hill Station
Mindil Beach hermit crab, Darwin, Northern Territory
Agnes Creek Campground, South Australia
A whirly whirly starting, Bonnie Well, Northern Territory

So many more on the editing table.

Karijini National Park

Nestled in the Pilbara region of Western Australia, recognizable by it’s red and orange hues, is Karijini National Park. You can get to the park from three directions, North, South and West and each is at least 2 hours from the next campsite or town. We came from the North and found the scenery stunning, as the tufts of spinifex and layers of red hills came and went. The wildflowers were so vivid and varied, that we both tried to find new ones and point them out, right up to the Ranger Station.

We had booked our campsite and, as it was absolutely chocker-block, only managed two nights in the overflow camp. This provided a toilet and access to bore water that had to be boiled before drinking. It’s worth mentioning that both this campsite and the main one, Dale’s campground, were showing as full in the online booking but some people don’t turn up, so if you see plenty of free spots, it’s worth asking at the visitor centre or the ranger who does the rounds each night, particularly if you want to stay longer. At the visitor Centre, we got some information about the state of the roads, and discussed what we wanted to achieve in two days, getting good advice and tips, before making our way to the campground and selecting our spot, near the water tank.

Wanting to make the most of the time, we set off on the dirt track for Kalamina Falls that afternoon, where the road was far worse than we had anticipated, with deep corrugations and sand, upon which we slid, until we reduced the tyres to 28.

The carpark went down to the falls on one side and a walk on the other. We met a couple a bit older than us and they had done both, saying the walk was demanding and took them about 2 hours or more of hard work. It was getting late in the day and Alan isn’t keen on long walks, so we did the waterfall. We were surprised that after a one minute downward climb, we were at a stream, with bracken water that looked like lumps of soft manure floating in it, so we went to the fall, where the water was running and it nested in a small grove, where Alan climbed up and under it to have a soak.

the reflection of the trees hides the ‘ floaties’

From here the return journey to where we began was quicker and then on to Dale’s Gorge, that we remembered very fondly from 7 years ago. The path has been formalized with concrete and there is a huge metal stairway taking you from the lookout to the falls. There weren’t many people swimming at Fortescue Falls, but plenty around and we decided to go the extra 600m to Fern Pool. It was quite different, with the platform gone and signs that it might have burnt down. We liked it better now, as it was more open, but the tree canopy was gone and so less birds were there. The pool looked so much bigger and you really notice the rock formations now and ferns hanging in the crevices. We had a very soothing soak and it is still one of the best places we know, with great memories and good feelings.

We’d planned an early start the next day and so we did, taking off on that grueling road again, only twice as far, first to Weano Gorge and two lookouts, and then to Joffre Falls.

At the carpark we saw a dingo, skulking around and clearly looking for scraps, as it came quite close and approached most of the people there.

The gorge was easy to enter and had tall, stratified red walls that lined the river. It wasn’t very deep but was clear so could have been suitable for swimming. The path was pretty easy with only a few wet patches that weren’t  slippery, and some loose stones. At the end there was a lot of rubble that was ok to climb up but I thought it would have been slippery as a downtrack. 

Weano Gorge had an easy trail that took less then an hour, and we began it at the beautiful end, within the gorge, finishing on a dry path to the carpark, but one which was lined with wildflowers, so it wasn’t unpleasant. The sun was warming up by that time, so I’m glad we went early.

The layers in the wall were explained in a sign at one of the lookouts. Millions of years ago it was an ocean floor and as layers of sediment built up, mainly consisting of silica, and iron oxide and silica, it pushed the water out. The natural tectonic plates created the twists and turns in the walls. We thought the colours looked like chocolate and caramel icecream and the layering meant that, as large blocks cracked and fell away, what you have are piles of squares. It’s absolutely geometric.

The lookouts were not far from our starting point and although one was closed following recent heavy rain, the other allowed us a glimpse into Oxley Gorge. Such a deep gorge, carved in the same way, and seeming to go on forever.

Thinking that perhaps all of the grading was easier than implied, we made it to the start of the Hancock Gorge and began the descent, hoping to see enough of the gorge to take a cheap pic and call it a day. It was not to be, and I could see one of those deeply descending stairways and people coming up, looking well and truly tuckered out. We both pulled out of going further and enjoyed the wildlife as we returned to the car.

A 20 minute bumpy ride back the way we had come took us to Joffre Falls. The lookout is about 100 m of slightly downhill loose stones, and when you get to the suspended platform you can’t help but exclaim. The waterfall and pool of turquoise water is completely invisible from such a short way above and the water courses down a long, deep gorge. We could see people on the other side of the gorge, taking what appeared to be 500 steps directly down, into the water. Some made it through a sandy gap to the base of the falls, which looked a little fresher in my opinion.

Can you see the person on the bottom right, making their way along the ledge, towards the narrow gap?

It didn’t look very far or difficult to the top of the falls, so we took the path and, sure enough, after a steep but short scramble down the red rubble path, we were able to walk 30m on flat, rounded rocks to the top of the falls and the gorge. What a great view of the rock layers, gorge and water source.

Surviving the return corrugations, that afternoon we were off to our favourite place in Karijini – Fortescue Falls and Fern Pool and we swam in both, taking our time and sitting in the shade or sun, on the rocks, and enjoying the moment, as it might be another 7 years before we are back.

Back at the campsite, we sat in the shade, a warm breeze blowing, and people came to the water tank that we parked beside, to fill their tanks. The bees, which constantly hover there, keep them company, until the moths come at sunset. The wildflowers and birds are fabulous. It’s been a good visit and we will be back.

Head west, all people, and see the world. But take your hat, plenty of water and apply sunscreen.

Walks and Icons #6 – Litchfield National Park

Still in the Northern Territory, Litchfield NP is often overshadowed by Kakadu NP and its world heritage. We find that the former is more accessible, being closer to the highway and having less distance between each ‘hot’ spot.

From northernterritory.com/drive , a free resource

It’s common for people to do a loop, beginning about an hour and a half from Darwin, via Bachelor, but to see all the tourist spots in one day would be a huge feat, even if you were lucky enough to get carparks at each. However, you would also miss out on some of the walks afforded.

Bachelor, itself, is a very small town and may be useful for its supermarket or public toilets before heading on to the park entrance.

Florence Falls, about 30km from Bachelor, is very popular and it’s no wonder. However, on your way you’ll pass the magnetic termite mounds, which have a convenient parking area to observe the tall mounds and read about their formation.

From the Florence Falls carpark there’s a quick, easy and picturesque walk to the falls, where you get a birdseye view of the cascades that lead to the plunge pool,

or you can head upstream to an inlet that you can make your private space for the day and many of these have tables, benches and barbecue pits.

The plunge pool at the base of the falls is in a relatively small clearing  and there’s a metal platform and stairs to assist entry into the cool waters. Alternatively,  you could carefully step over rocks and moss until you find your way in. It’s worth it, as you can get under the power of the falls, or swim into the caves that border the enclosure. It’s a beautiful,  peaceful space.

We took the loop path that trailed through monsoon rainforest, crossing numerous creeks until it brought us to the walk to Buley Rockhole. 

Information boards about local flora and fauna had us on the lookout and we weren’t disappointed.

This 1m long specimen was across the river

On our way, we saw a series of small falls and thought that was Buley Rockhole, so explored there for about an hour.

It wasn’t until we got to Buley later that we realised we should have travelled on. No regrets, as it was ridiculously busy and we’d have struggled to find a space to cool down, at any of the levels of the cascading feature.

The Lost City could be next on the loop and it is accessed via a 10km dirt road that is definitely 4WD only, as it is sandy, rocky and has deep track furrows. Absolutely worth it, though, as these weathered sandstone towers and structures are quite impressive.

Tolmer Falls is a view-only watercourse, as there is no track down the steep, sandstone gorge walls. The longest drop of Litchfield’s falls can be viewed from an easily-accessed platform. However, I’m not sure if you can make it out but there are 3 people at the top of the falls, in that cave-like spot, one in a red top, so I think they knew something I didn’t. You can get a partial view down the long gorge from here.

Wangi Falls, further along our loop, is a large swimming area, with camping, kiosk, hiking, picnicking and other facilities, making it an ideal destination any time. It is a favourite of ours, as it has a wide access point, from which the swim to any of the three Falls isn’t too daunting. There is also a platform from which to take in the view.

Next on the loop is Cascades, which involves a demanding but rewarding 1-2 hour return hike to the main feature. You can choose a long, flat path through grasslands and then return via the more varied path, involving some scrambling, climbing and slippery surfaces. Either requires some vigilance with snakes, but if you stamp enough,  you should be right. The path along the river is very beautiful and people with children were stopping along the way to swim and picnic, as it was a more realistic option. The final destination is small, but picturesque, with the gently cascading Falls a selfy fave.

There are some other points of interest that we didn’t visit, such as Walker Creek, due to time, and others, like Surprise Creek Falls, because we had heard it was a grueling 4WD journey but provided a personal set of cascading falls beside which you could camp.

Another place we visited but which is less-known, is the Zebra Stone Gallery, 14km from Bachelor. This is a geological wonderland, where the enigma of zebra stone, estimated at being about 1.2 billion years old, is explained and displayed, with plenty of items for sale including stunning jewellery. If that’s not all, there’s also a cafe where one of the tables is a huge piece of zebra stone, and a campsite.

Assuming you decided to visit Berry Springs National Park, on your way home, an hour from Darwin,  it would only take you about 15 mins off the highway.

Berry Springs is the source of water for Berry Creek and in WWII a weir was constructed to provide a swimming hole for the 100 000 service men and women who were stationed there. This has resulted in the three ‘levels’ of pools at which Darwinians swim, to relieve the tropic heat. The waters are clear and you can see the little fish before they attack your dead skin or, occasionally, lesions. A noodle is a must, if you want to have very little work to do in keeping afloat or travelling downstream. The pools are huge, unlike other swimming spots, but if you don’t get a park, as the sign says, it’s full. Monsoon walks are possible and a visit to the local wildlife park, but as I did neither… have a splash at each level. There are platforms and ladders to help you enter the water.

What are you waiting for?

Grab your hat, water and sunscreen and make plans.

Walks and Icons #4 – BITTER, BERRY, BEST SPRINGS

There are several famous thermal springs in the region, in fact in the Northern Territory. Approximately 15km off the main highway, Mataranka has a reputation and well-designed pool for up to about 30 people, or 50 at a squeeze. The house from an author has also been recreated on the grounds and a campsite is available, as well as a restaurant and some entertainment.

But just off the highway, with room for perhaps 100, is Bitter Springs, where you all get in the water by platform or riverbank, and most float down the stream in their swim noodles. Out you get at the other end and walk back up the path to do it all again. There are rocks close to the surface, or tree roots and trunks that enable you to get a hold if you need to rest on your journey. Both the spring mentioned are in Elsie National Park.

In half an hour you would be in Katherine and the hot springs run through the town. So accessible. Try to get there at the quiet times – early in the morning, to feel the bubbles frothing up from underneath somewhere, and the current taking you downstream, the salts soaking into your skin and a faint cloud of steam settling over the water.

Now let me take you some many 130km up the Stuart Highway, into Litchfield National Park, and Berry Springs. Now that is the monster spring! The sign at the start of the carpark says if the carpark is full then the springs are full. We went on a day when there were maybe another 10 parks and 5 bus spaces. There were plenty of people but plenty of room to swim and I think 3 levels of pools from which to choose, or start at the top and float or swim your way down. The water was cool and refreshing, and on a hot day with a gentle breeze, when you got out of the water it was very pleasant. Not that floating in it wasn’t great. Turquoise pool, draped at the edges with palms and trees, birds chirping and chattering or hooting at you until, on every brave or thirsty hombre dives into the pool, grabs a drink and dashes out again. I truly think I found paradise.

Take a hat, sunscreen and water. A noodle is definitely the fashion. Keep an eye on your gear and an eye out for hanging spiders.

Emma Gorge

On the notorious Gibb River Road, near the Kununurra end, is a place called El Questro. It is a resort and was once only accessible by a rough dirt track, that is now a bitumen road. However, places that lead off from here are via dirt roads, that may be corrugated if the grader hasn’t been through. Emma Gorge is one such place and it is a jewel worth risking the bumpy 2km track.

Once at the carpark, there is a magnificent information bay, with restaurant, accommodation, toilets and permits to visit the park. We had bought a park pass, that gives us access to WA parks for a month, as we thought it could be more convenient than having correct change, getting permits printed, etc., so we went directly to the start.

This was a mixture of terrain, with rocky bits, smooth path, climbing sections and a couple of creek crossings, where the water as very low. Birds and butterflies flit across your path and the sound of gurgling water comes from somewhere near, either seen as a brook, or hidden by reeds.

It is such a beautiful sight that greets you after about 40 minutes, I don’t know where to begin. The gorge rises ahead of you and up maybe 100m. The walls are orange and laced with ferns or marked with patterns of erosion.

Water cascades down from a point on the left and bounces off rock ledges to splash into the centre pool of water. The pool is maybe 40m in diameter and on the right a rock ledge hangs over the water, dripping onto those who venture there, and the water there is warm, as I think it is thermal.

The edges to the pool are sandy and you can see the bottom, which becomes rocky and pebbly. Towards the centre it is very dark and you cannot make out what is down there. The temperature is pretty cool, but not quite cold. As you float towards the rock lip, looking up, you see an oval of blue sky, lined with a garland of ferns and rocks. It is so tranquil and beautiful.

This is a long way from anywhere, any time. It is ancient and unspoilt and majestic, like everything in the Kimberley. See it, breathe it, feel it and carry some of its magic away with you.

But take water, hat and sunscreen so that you live to tell the tale.