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The (exhausted) family at the top of Boolimba Bluff
"Visitors to Carnarvon Gorge National Park usually arrive looking tremendous relieved, having finally reached the end of the 100 km unsealed dirt road leading to the park." So reads an old travel book on Queensland's most popular national park. Although much of the road is now sealed, we still had a tremendous challenge just getting here. Where the river crosses the road, they didn't even bother to build bridges -- you just drive right through the water.
Carnarvon wasn't in our travel plans, but the brochure looked interesting as we tried to figure out where to go after Emerald. We ended up enjoying it immensely -- so much so that we stayed three nights instead of two, despite having to change accommodations in order to do so.
We arrived on August 26th at about mid-afternoon, after having called ahead to book two nights at the Oasis Wilderness Lodge, located at the entrance to the park. The first thing we noticed (after the fact that we had finally arrived) was that there were wild kangaroos milling about all over the place. Very exciting! We were even more excited by our actual accommodations -- cabin villas in a tropical setting! (actually, safari tents, but they had the perfect atmosphere for the locale). We later found out that one usually books these cabins six months ahead of time, not two days, so we were extremely lucky. At least for the first two nights.
Wild kangaroos at the Oasis Wilderness Lodge
Carnarvon is literally a pocket of history, with terrain, flora, and fauna preserved the way it was thousands of years ago. There are also numerous sites featuring Aboriginal cave wall art that dates back hundreds of years. We signed up for an all-day guided hike the next day, and took advantage of the rest of the afternoon to see our first Aboriginal art site on the 3 km "Baloon Cave" trail ("baloon" is Aboriginal for "axe").
After dark, we went out with Ian the guide and his high-powered torch (flashlight) on a spotlighting adventure. The boys were cold but not too scared, and we saw several sugar gliders (think: flying squirrels) -- three yellow-bellied gliders and one greater glider. We even got to see them glide! After the hike, while Russell and Joss saw a wild possum on the way to the toilet, Gail and Cameron saw a barking owl fly by. A very fruitful adventure.
Unfortunately, a wind kicked up from nowhere in the middle of the night, sending tree branches crashing into the tin-roof of our little cabin (in addition to the possums jumping up and down). By the morning of the 27th, Gail had gotten no sleep and had a small migraine, so we had to cancel our all-day guided hike. Only Russell and Joss actually got up with the 6:30 am alarm, so they went on an unsuccessful search for the platypus at the rock pool.
By mid-morning everyone was up and feeling much better, so we hiked ourselves 3.2 km (each way) to "Boolimba Bluff," a 200-metre high cliff that overlooks the entire valley. The last 300 metres were absolutely killer, with stone steps and steel ladders going up the side of the cliff. Everyone held up well, and we rewarded ourselves with lunch at the lodge.
We thought the boys would be done in, but after lunch they were absolutely full of energy. So we hooked up with an afternoon guided tour to "Mickey's Creek" and the "Warrumbah Gorge," which turned out to be the highlight of the park as far as the boys were concerned. Imagine a gorge cut as a crack in the rock cliffs by generations of water erosion. As you walk down its long and narrow length, your outstretched hands can touch the rock walls on either side of you. In fact, you often have to brace yourself against both sides to avoid the river below you. While the grown-ups and Marghie the guide took their cautious time, Cameron and Joss hopped about like deer. The only casualty was one soaked shoe and sock for Cameron.
Cameron and Joss leading the way through Warrumbah Gorge
We finished off the day with yet another search for the platypus. Gail and Cameron saw some bubbles, but the little monotreme never did surface.
We had decided early on that we wanted to extend our visit, but the lodge was completely full after the second night. After waiting in vain for a cancellation, we made a reservation at another lodge outside the park -- the Takarakka, which was less expensive but not as nice.
So on the morning of August 28, we checked out of our safari tent at 7:00 am and loaded everything into the van. We set off on our delayed all-day guided hike, with plans to move to Takarakka that evening.
The nine-hour 15 km hike was just fantastic. Our first stop was a 5.6 km level walk to the "Aboriginal Art Gallery," featuring a huge wall of Aboriginal stencil art (hands, stone axes, boomerangs) and Aboriginal carvings (mostly of female genitalia). Simon the guide gave a full one-and-a-half hour talk on the history and meaning of what we were looking at, and it was fascinating as well as educational (the male rite of passage included getting your two front teeth knocked out, so you could spit iron-oxide "paint" out of your mouth to make stencils).
At the Aboriginal "Art Gallery"
After a wonderfully packed picnic lunch, we meandered our way back, stopping for side-track hikes at "Aljon Falls," "Ward's Canyon," "Moss Garden," and "Hellhole Gorge." Each site seemed to be more breathtakingly beautiful than the last. One highlight was the "Ampitheatre," a natural cavity in the rock cliffs formed by two intersecting faultlines, wind, and water erosion. You reach it by a 10-metre ladder that opens into a crack in the rocks -- another highlight for the boys.
The entrance to the Ampitheatre (Cameron is climbing, Joss is already at the top)
By the end of our day, Gail had aggravated a sore knee and was pretty much limping out. But we made it to Takarakka, where we took advantage of the community cooking patio and evening fire. We supplemented our pitiful ramen noodle meal with the leftovers that our neighbors kept donating to us, and the boys had a wonderful time tending the fire. (One of their experiments was to burn open a tree-palm nut that they weren't previously able to crack. They had to wash thoroughly afterwards though, because it turns out that tree-palm nuts are highly poisonous and carcinogenic.)
We spent a very cold night in our unheated, tiny little Takarakka canvas tent. But it was well worth it for the extra day that we got to spend in this paradise of wilderness.
Gail at Russell at the Moss Garden, the most photographed spot in the park
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