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Carnarvon Gorge trip – the final post (23 April 2014)

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For our final day at Carnarvon Gorge we retraced our steps back to the national park visitor centre along the Main Gorge Track. I followed my parents walking ahead of me back across the creek crossings and through the cycads. From the Art Gallery we started to see more walkers: older couples who mostly looked like country folk and families with young pre-school children. Friendly “hellos” were shared as we all enjoyed our respective meanderings up the gorge.

By day’s end we were camped at the Big Rig campground in Roma, about 240km from the gorge. Wehad a celebratory dinner at the pub while we watched the locals go about their nights. I can’t imagine there’s much else to do in Roma when you’re not on shift at one of the many local mines or gas projects other than get drunk and gamble (the pub’s walls were lined with televisions playing sport and it had 38 pokie machines).

Later this afternoon we’ll be at my parents’ house unpacking and washing our things. Tomorrow (Friday 25 April), I am off to Crows Nest to volunteer as a helper at a 24 hour adventure race. It should be a fun and social weekend. But more on that later. For now, Iwill just enjoy the long drive home in the back seat of my parents’ car.

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Carnarvon Gorge – Battleship Spur walk (22 April)

I wake during the night to the sound of gurgling water from the creek. I’ve been deep in sleep but nature is calling so I crawl out of the tent. I fumble my way down the path a suitable distance from camp when my head torch lights up something massive and white in front of me. I get a big fright before I realise that I’m in Carnarvon Gorge and the big white thing is the cliff on the opposite side of the creek. I laugh inwardly to myself as I realise how silly it is that I still have these moments of disquiet in the bush at night. On return to my tent, I am asleep again in no time.

Hours later I pass the same high white cliff as we set off to walk to Battleship Spur. It’s 5km each way from camp and we will have to climb about 600m in altitude to get there. The contour lines on the map are close together for much of the walk so I am glad we’re just carrying daypacks, not through-walking like others who left camp before us were.

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The walk to Battleship Spur starts in Boowinda Gorge. The gorge is narrow and twists as though the water was swirling as it cut through the rock. The ground is covered with a deep layer of washed river rocks, making the going slightly tricky. For 800m (1/2 mile) we follow the gorge, our voices and the sounds of our feet crunching on the rocks echoing off the walls. So far the walking is flat and we’re feeling fresh.

The sight of three orange arrows pointing up a gully leading straight out of the gorge ends our innocence. There’s no real track to follow; just a steep well-worn gully that ascends 75m in altitude straight up out of the gorge following the same steep path that water would rush down. It’s a strenuous clamber but I never feel exposed. At the top of this first climb is a sign warning that the trail ahead is strenuous and should only be attempted by experienced and prepared walkers. Mum and Dad agree this sign has come a few hundred metres too late.

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The scramble up the chute leads to a beautiful grassy plateau. And then yet another steep climb. This time we climb a flight of rough hewn stairs that lead us ever upward for another hundred vertical metres. A short flat section allows us to catch our breaths before the climb continues, almost relentlessly all the way to Battleship Spur. We stop part way up the climb to have some snacks and water overlooking some of the amazing views that the gain in altitude allows. It’s absolutely magnificent to be up here amongst the cycads and soft red-flowering grasses of the plateau.

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After a long tough climb we finally reach the Battleship Spur lookout. Here we can take in the entire front section of Carnarvon Gorge. We can see Bulimba Bluff guarding the left side of the entrance to the gorge and the way the gorge snakes deep into the mountains. We walked this entire path just yesterday but it looked so different from creek-level. From our vantage point up here we can see just how small we humans really; on some parts of the gorge floor you can’t even see the opposite cliffs but up here they are so striking.

We find a grassy spot under the shade of a cycad down off the bluff and rest for an hour. Mum and Dad have brought up reading books and I have a text book that I need to read before next weekend’s exam. We’re all totally at home out in the bush like this, relaxing out here like some people might relax in their lounge rooms. All we need to do is walk back down to camp; an activity that takes less than half the time of the climb.

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Carnarvon Gorge – Main Gorge Track to Big Bend bush camp

After another gloriously restful sleep in my tent, I was refreshed and ready to lug my heavy pack up the Main Gorge Track to Big Bend bush camp. The trail is only 10km but there are plenty of extra side tracks to extend the walk, which is exactly what we did.

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As we set off across Carnarvon Creek on the stepping stones that lead away from the visitor centre, I couldn’t help but realise that this is now my life: setting off into the unknown carrying all I need. It’s quite a surreal feeling knowing that there’s no home to go back to at the end of a long walk or ride. Well, there is; I was carrying my home on my back.

We retraced our steps from the previous days’ walks past the Bulimba Bluff turnoff and then on to the Moss Garden turnoff where we stopped for a rest on some wooden benches. The National Parks have placed a bathroom here too so walkers don’t have to sully the sensitive bushland; a great investment in the future of the park.

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The track continued deeper into the gorge. I barely noticed the heavy weight of my pack as we followed the creek upstream. I was too taken by the changing textures and colours of the greens that surrounded me. Some were bright and almost flourescent while others had a blue-grey tinge. The trees changed shape and colour too: there were thick black-trunked cycads, tall palms with textured bands circling their girths, and blue gums with their distinctive ghostly white trunks.

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Our next stop was The Ampitheatre. We dropped our packs at the junction from the main track and rock hopped across the creek. We climbed the steep ladder into the thin slit that hid the lush green hole where ferns and mosses grew. It was amazing. We were so deep in this hole, yet plants still thrived here.

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We continued our hike even deeper into the gorge. The creek crossings became more frequent the further we walked. The clear water has washed the rocks smooth. In some places the track and creek bed were soft and sandy, creating variety and challenge to our loaded hike.

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We dropped our packs again just outside Ward’s Canyon. This cool, damp and narrow canyon is the home of some of Central Queensland’s biggest ferns. For the Traditional Owners of these lands, this canyon was a place where women went about their business. It was named after the Ward brothers who, in the early 20th Century, stored the marsupials they hunted in the canyon while waiting to sell them to their buyers. The canyon is visually beautiful, both due to the green ferns and grasses, and also the textures and lines in the water-washed rocks. A great place to stop and rest.

Not far from Ward’s Canyon we visited The Art Gallery. This is an ancient burial site that the Traditional Owners have allowed the public to access. An elder, Fred, who is now employed by National Parks was in the Art Gallery telling the stories of the site. I always feel honoured when elders take the time to share their stories. Fred’s been going to the Art Gallery for thirty years. He started doing it as a volunteer and has shared the stories of the Traditional Owners all that time to generations of visitors. Sadly, he’s retiring next week on 28 April (not sad for him but sad for us as a nation as his stories will not be heard here anymore). I enjoyed listening to Fred and the stories he told. While many people take photos at The Art Gallery, I personally chose not to because I have a thing about taking photos at spiritually sacred places. You’ll just have to walk up there one day :)

It was a long walk from the Art Gallery to Cathedral Cave. Or at least, it felt like a long walk. This was the most challenging section of the Main Gorge Track because it had the most creek crossings, and sand and river rock under foot. But that didn’t make it less enjoyable. Cathedral Cave is another Aboriginal art site where many drawings adorn the caves white walls. Again, it was a funeral and ceremonial site, so it is always a privilege to be allowed there and I chose not to take photos. Let me be clear here, I don’t think it wrong for others to take photos. It’s just something I chose not to do.

My parents' tent at Big Bend bush camp photo IMG_20140423_135459_zps5bf13beb.jpg

Half a kilometre further up the track we reached Big Bend bush camp. Small tent sites were nestled here among the trees along a bend in Carnarvon Creek. There’s a picnic table and a drop toilet.

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I pitched on the edge of the river with a view of the towering cliffs opposite (photo above is view from my tent) then proceeded to spend the afternoon lazing around. Just brilliant.

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Carnarvon Gorge – Boolimba Bluff Walk (20 April 2014)

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We load our packs with the billy, breakfast, coffee, hot chocolate and reading books to have a fancy Easter Sunday breakfast with a view. A short 5km drive takes us to the Carnarvon National Park visitor centre and we set off along the main walking track through the long grass again. Today’s destination is Boolimba Bluff, some 3.4km away. The bluff stands guard at the entrance to Carnarvon Gorge and is an imposing sight above us.

The first part of the walk is relatively easy. For a kilometre we follow the main Carnarvon Creek track before we slowly start to ascend after the Boolimba Bluff trail exit. Massive boulders litter the sides of the path between the long grasses. The rock field is a beautiful contrast of hard cold grey and soft flowing grass.

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And then we reach the dreaded climb. Well, to be honest, it’s only 300m and, by world standards, an easy walk up some stone steps and steel ladders. But it’s a steady steep climb ever upwards through a cool narrow gorge that looks like it remains forever out of the sun’s reach.

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Partway up the climb there is a large white cave. Hundreds of footprints mark the soft powdery sand surface and we can’t resist following them. I picture all the people who have sheltered here or used the white powdery sand as the base for body paints. Is this cave old enough for that? Or did it develop after the First People were taken from their lands? I may never know but I can see that it would be a safe shelter from the heat and a soft place to rest in a rocky landscape.

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And then, just as the steps started suddenly, we are spat out of the gorge and onto the plateau. It’s drier up here than in the gorge but still lush and green. The contrast to the cattle country outside the gorge is stark. The bluff is just 750m farther down the trail. From here we look out over the lands both within and outside Carnarvon Gorge.

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It’s a magnificent place to cook up an Easter breakfast of baked beans on bread. I also hide a few Easter eggs so my parents can have an Easter egg hunt. But not without having to shoo some currawongs away before they steal the “treasures”.

After a lazy hour of breakfast and reading, we head back down to camp.

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Carnarvon Gorge – Mossy Gorge walk (19 April 2014)

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We enter Carnarvon Gorge proper where Carnarvon Creek runs along the wide gorge floor between towering sandstone cliffs. Palm trees rise so tall that you could be forgiven for believing we are on the coast of some tropical island paradise instead of hundred of kilometres inland in Queensland’s Outback. The walking trail meanders through the waist-high grasses quite some distance from the rocky creek bed. I’m grateful for this because it means we are sheltered from the midday sun, which will radiate off the rounded river rocks.

It’s busy here today, as families make the most of the last days of the Easter school holidays. Most will pack their cars tomorrow to drive all day back to their homes in Queensland’s coastal towns and cities. It’s fantastic to see this gentle ebb and flow of families with young children enjoying the great outdoors. I think it means that the future of our wilderness will be in good hands once more.

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We cross Carnarvon Creek and start to climb up towards Mossy Gorge. There are some steps and ladders to scale but it’s all easy walking. We cross the small creek that flows out of the gorge and we enter a rainforest where massive fig tree roots force their way into the ground around timeless boulders. I feel like it’s a symbol of how soft objects can overcome hard by being flexible: a lesson in life perhaps.

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Mossy Gorge lives up to its name. The gorge walls are covered in beautiful bright green mosses. There are mosses with fine leaves and some with rounded leaves. A pool of water is filled by a low trickling waterfall. It’s clear and, in the small section that the sun hits, the water is an aqua blue like something you might see in a tourist brochure. We sit on the wooden benches and boardwalk to eat lunch before returning along the track we came on.

The Mossy Gorge walk is about 7km return.

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Carnarvon Gorge – Baloon Cave and Mickey Creek walks (19 April)

Baloon Cave walk (1km return)

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We set off down the trail through open forest. It’s quite warm, reminding us that we are in Queensland’s central west. The ground is dry under foot and the nearby cliff edge is a precarious rubble of dry rock and tufts of grass. This is the bush as I know it.

And then we round a corner and find ourselves walking along a shallow creek bed. The landscape changes almost instantaneously. Long glossy blades of grass rise waist high along the track and palm trees rise high into the sky. It’s easy to see why this place is sacred to the Traditional Owners who passed through here, leaving their handprints on the walls of Baloon Cave.

I read somewhere that the Traditional Owners used to use this route to enter Carnarvon Gorge and it’s quite obvious why … this path has water and probably plenty of food for those who know where to find it.

Mickey Creek walk (4km return)

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The Mickey Creek walk leaves from a car park just a few hundred metres from the Baloon Cave walk but already it feels like we’re that much deeper in the gorge. All around is lush and green. It’s a change from the blue-grey grasses and tree leaves we passed on the drive into the gorge, even just 10km up the road.

We follow the trail along Mickey Creek. It’s a shallow creek that is gurgling gently over a narrow rocky bed. We’re walking under a tall sandstone bluff that rises a couple of hundred metres above us. It’s a spectacular sight.

A trail leads off to Warrmbah Gorge. We turn off and 200m later there is a sign indicating that the formed trail ends. But there’s a strong footpad leading deeper into the gorge so we continue. It’s absolutely spectacular as the gorge closes in around us. Within a hundred metres we can pretty much touch either side of the gorge walls with each hand. It’s colourful as red and white rock surfaces blend together with dark wet rock and green moss. Eventually we come to a water hole so decide to keep our feet dry.

Mickey Creek Gorge isn’t as spectacular but it is pleasant and cool. We stop at the end of the formed trail to eat some snacks and just be in the bush.

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Carnarvon Gorge trip Part 1 – the long drive (17-18 April)

Mum and Dad arrive at 3pm to pick me up from work. I’m ready to go and excited about the days ahead. It’s a long drive to Carnarvon National Park. We estimate 500km (300 miles) but in reality, it ends up being almost 800km (500 miles). It’s a big difference but for now, we’re just heading west to Oakey where Mum’s booked us a campsite for the night. The drive to Oakey is uneventful. We miss the Easter holiday and commuter traffic as we drive the boring and slow Ipswich Motorway and, before I know it, we’re up the top of the range driving through Toowoomba and back down the other side.

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We stay at the tiny but pleasant Oakey Camp Ground. The camp ground is just a mown grass block of land adjoining the local weighbridge and haulage company. We pitch our tents and I enjoy the serenity of my first night under canvas since selling the house. I have brought some packets of Heinz curries with rice that will be easy to cook and suggest we eat them at the picnic tables in the park across the road. It’s already dark so it’s great to have a delicious and easy meal.

I sleep well and am up early. Mum and Dad are still sleeping so I walk through Oakey township, stopping to do some exercises at the Exersite facility. By the time I return, an hour later, it’s getting light so I grab my study books to catch up on what I’ve missed the past couple of months. My parents get up a little later so I put on the billy to boil hot water for their coffees and my hot chocolate. A feed of bacon and eggs follows before we hit the road.

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We stop in Miles for lunch. It’s Good Friday so not much is open but then we see a Fisho parked on the side of the road. Given that prawns are a traditional food that we Queenslanders eat at just about every festive occasion I shouldn’t be surprised to see him parked here hundreds of kilometres from the coast. We buy half a kilo of prawns and stop at a nearby park to enjoy them on bread rolls. It’s wonderful to be eating in a country park surrounded by bottle trees and historic items.

From my place in the back seat of the car, I watch the scenery pass us by. At first we drive through crop fields but, slowly, the landscape changes as we enter the more open beef country where houses are few and far between. It’s a long drive and I use some time to continue catching up on study, sleep and finish reading some books I had saved on my phone.

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It’s about 5pm by the time we arrive at Takaraka Bush Resort. It’s a beautiful bush camp just 5km from the Carnarvon National Park visitor centre. It’s a popular holiday camping destination for families, despite it being in the middle of nowhere. We can select any unpowered site in a certain area. We select a spot under some funny-looking trees (I don’t have enough internet service here to look up the tree names) and settle in for the night.

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