Burton's Perth to Cape York Longreach to Carnarvon Gorge Day 21-24 - 20 - 23 April 2011

Friday, Apr 27, 2012 at 16:36

Mike & Amanda

The road to Sapphire was straight forward well formed bitumen called the Capricorn Highway. We filled up at Barcaldine, a quiet town with its wide streets lined with caravans and tow vehicles. The after-school holiday grey nomad migration has started in earnest! The town of Alpha introduced us to Snowy's Pies, a worthy stop to fuel the fires and top up on caffeine. Surprisingly we spotted reasonable numbers of small boabs dotting the countryside. I thought these trees were only found in the Kimberleys and the NT. We also started seeing large numbers of feral cats darting across the road, identifiable by their large ears and furtive manner. This didn't bode well for any native marsupial population.

The 17 or so kilometre detour to Sapphire didn't take long. This whole area is renown as gemfields with you guessed it sapphires being the main game. The town is very small with a general store, a public pool, a caravan park as well as camping on the 'town common'. We headed passed up the very steep hill to the heavily treed second caravan park, with the startling name of Sapphire Caravan Park. It is almost another world, perched on a tall hill, nestled amongst trees and bush. The sites have been cunningly excavated on slopes and made very private and secluded. We met Norm and Lee the owners who have travelled extensively with camper trailers and know what campers like. They've translated this into a superb park, clean, well appointed with a camp kitchen that looks like a top notch restaurant. To further attribute to their good taste, they are awaiting delivery of an Australian Offroad Camper Quantum from Steve and Rhonda. Norm was like a little kid at Christmas and couldn't wait to "get back out there". Our spot was quiet and secluded, Kate kept busy trying to photograph a small furry wallaby and it's joey that obligingly came very close. Birds sang to us constantly.

The town is overwhelming with gem stores and fossicking opportunities. We took a short drive to Rubyvale and checked a few stores out but didn't buy anything.Norm advised us to visit Carol in the town, running an operation called Armfest. It was superb! For $20, a bucket of fines is provided with full instruction and supervision on what to do with it.The setting is next to a couple of lakes surrounded by trees. They have constructed 7 or 8 jigs that use levers and springs to jiggle each pan and sieve, settling and separating the mud and stones. The kids had a ball for an hour learning the techniques, eventually finding quite a collection of red, yellow and blue stones. Carol then separates then into three piles - cutting, polishing and show and tell at school piles. She then provides full details on an information sheet on where to send them in Thailand to get them cut, at a price that makes it all worth while. Armfest is well worth a visit and the results are rewarding.

We kept spotting fluffy white balls all along the side of the road, so had to stop to see what they were - cotton! Jack and Kate were amazed, they had no idea that cotton came from plants. Another travelling educational moment! Emerald was a nightmare of traffic, roadworks and big city rush. We quickly fueled up and headed out towards Carnarvon Gorge, where the road in is like visiting a lost world. The bitumen ends and a rough track will be taxing to most caravans, although we were to find plenty had made the journey. Several steep dips into creek crossings hinted at impassability after decent rain. It wouldn't take much to become trapped in here! Although the Gorge has been used by aboriginal groups for thousands of years, the first Europeans to discover it were Leichhardt and Major Mitchell. It became a pastoral property and its remoteness was ideal for cattle duffers.

To be woken by kookaburras is a welcome change to corellas. It being out of school and public holidays the Day Use area near the ranger station is closed. No great loss really as it is recovering from the floods of a few weeks ago and is mosquito heaven at the moment. The Takarakka Bush Resort was one of those right places, right time events. Not too busy, beautiful grassed areas, sun shining and birds singing. We might have charmed our Maori receptionist who gave us a prime spot right at the end of Echidna Circle backing on to Carnarvon Creek. It was a large beautifully grassed area, dry, no neighbours, no mossies and no flies...nirvana! We quickly set up, power plugged in...for some reason I can't figure out, the Anderson power is still not functioning properly, and lazed in the sun for the afternoon, reading, drinking tea and later a welcome beer. The shower block is right next to us, but not too close to be troubled by noisy people. Kate was intensely focussed on photographing a kookaburra when he swooped, millimetres above her head causing her to drop to the ground like a stone. The cheeky bird then landed on the overnight annex bar, prancing and preening for half an hour allowing some incredible photos to be taken.

More people including a large group with an Australian Off Road Quantum rolled in during the afternoon, none camping close to us. We briefly introduced ourselves to the AORC owners not wanting to interrupt their set up too much. The place here is a very serene bush setting with top notch services. The shower blocks and toilets are clean and modern - what an outstanding spot.

Early Sunday morning we packed up rucksacks with snacks and water, sat phone, UHF radio and all the camera gear. Today we would conquer Canarvon Gorge! Well, a small bit of it anyway. A short drive over a rough gravel road took us to the Ranger Station. This dipped down steeply into a couple of what looked like permanent water crossings and causeways. Not too deep at the moment but would present some significant challenges if it rained. I grit my teeth thinking about the family sedans and those terrible eco bubbles we've seen here, they surely can't be comfortable travelling over these tracks? Even though the sun was shining, the Ranger Station looked a little like a mossie infested swamp. Evidence of water inundation was everywhere. Pretty face wallabies, stood like statues, staring at us in between mouthfuls, some boxing playfully. A quick word with the Ranger determined that due to rain and a current burn program some features would be closed for a while. The famous Amphitheatre was closed due to washaways and the Rock Pool is closed due to backburns. This was a blow as we were looking forward to a swim.

We walked on a well formed single file hard packed dirt track that crossed the wide creek several times. Often this was on well placed stepping stones, marking a way through the cold clear water. Jack and I were wearing our Vibram Five Fingers which don't mind getting wet, so we often dipped our feet in the cooling water. All around tall trees soared, shading us under their leafy green canopies. Tall spotted gums standing beside ironbarks, blue gum and ash. Dotted in between were large Carnarvon fan palms, grass trees and Zamia cycads, some with bright orange seed. We were accompanied by constant bird song and the hum of insects. Saffron yellow and bright blue butterflies were everywhere darting about, it really was a lush garden of Eden!

Over two days we walked the main track all the way to the Art Gallery and Ward's Canyon. The kids were tremendous with the overall return distances in the order of 14 kilometres over quite rough territory. Each donned their backpacks and carried their own water. Akubras caused us all to sweat heavily from the brow in the warm, humid conditions. My back was soaked through from the heavy camera backpack and I was certainly thankful to refill my water bottle several times from the crystal clear streams.

IMHO ( text speak for 'in my humble opinion') the Art Gallery wasn't worth the effort. The gallery wall had been scratched up with graffiti in the past and the aboriginal artwork looked a little 'touched up'. Hands and feet stencils are not nearly as impressive as the Wandjina and Bradshaws of the Kimberley, so maybe we have been spoiled. This was not the case with the Moss Garden and Ward's Canyon, both absolutely spectacular in their own right and equal to any gorge we have seen in the Kimberleys. The crystal water, deep greens of the ferns and mosses provide deep contrast to the butter limestone walls and is shrouded by a dark environment at least 10 degrees cooler than the main track. It is dark, the mysterious silence only broken by the drip, drip of pure water and an irreverent tourist. Brightly colored orange lichens attest to the purity of the environment. It reminds us of some areas of the Bungles and maybe El Questro.

The second day was used to exercise stiff and tired legs, climbing to Boolimba Bluff another good 7 kilometres over very steep ground. The majority was over hewn steps with a couple of vertical ladders thrown in. I must say, the Parks people have done a superb job with this area, it is all so natural and unobtrusive allowing people to enjoy it without bollards, unnecessary signs and ludicrous safety requirements. We met groups of older people and couldn't help admire their effort in getting down these tracks, some of which winded us. The walk through to Boolimba Bluff is superb, encountering towering rock walls covered in moss and ferns, tall palms, reminiscent in many places of a lost city I once saw in East Africa. The roots of strangler figs wrapped tightly around huge block like boulders. I was half expecting Tarzan to swing down, although ten year old Jungle Jack would have preferred George of the Jungle ( watch out for that tree!). Towards the top of the bluff the ladders and steps give way to a more sensible flattish track through trees and grasses before arriving at a magnificent lookout lording over the whole gorge - it is a spectacular sight and made the struggle with one's fitness well worth the while. We met a fascinating 72 year old retired surgeon and his wife from London to add to the pleasure of the experience.

Returning was much faster, although knees, hips and ankles protested, even with the 8 and 10 year olds. I wouldn't tell anyone, but for the first time it requires some effort to keep up with young Jack! So much for the fit very ex triathlete! The Rock Pool was sadly still closed, so we managed a dip at the Creek behind our camp site, followed by a lazy afternoon and even a secret snooze in the King Goanna!

Without question, Queenslander's are very lucky to have such a spectacular well managed hideaway on their doorstep.
Mike & Amanda
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