Manning Gorge off the Gibb River Road to Windjana National Park

Thursday, October 8, 2015

DSC_0541The Mount Barnett Roadhouse is at the turnoff to the gorge road. Diesel is $2.09 per litre and on occasion when the fuel tanks run dry drivers have had to wait for a day or two until the tanker truck arrives with the precious fuel. This is about half way along the road and the only place to DSC_0546get fuel until Derby, another 300 km. We talked to a Swiss couple who had met two German girls who had driven onto the Gibb River Road not knowing the capacity of their gas tank, neglecting to fill an extra jerry can of gas that they had empty in their car, not checking distances and DSC_0548running out of fuel. This is an unforgiving land where inattention to details can turn to catastrophe.

Today was a hard driving day on corrugated earth, through sand, across several water crossings and over stone. The trick is to get the car DSC_0563up to 80 km/hour so that you bounce off the top of the ruts when your first inclination is to slow down. Water crossings are taken more slowly and so are the many dips in the road where water would be running in the wet season. I wish you could hear the sounds in the camper of the DSC_0588metal stove clanking – even though it is sandwiched between a pillow and my soft backpack, the melamine plates and mugs in their plastic box rattling, the cutlery jangling even though it is tightly wrapped in a plastic bag and the metal step that Geoff climbs on to put up the roof top tent covered with a towel and wedged between plastic food bins protesting over every bump. Then there is the sound of the vehicle which is like a truck and the jarring we feel bouncing up and down. And you ask, why would anyone do this willingly? Adventure, something new, fun, a challenge and it is only for a few days. By tomorrow we’ll be on paved roads again.

Windjana National Park campground is an open space with solar heated showers (!), a few poor specimens of trees and only 4 other campers. We don’t realize how fortunate we are in Canada with our provincial parks.

The evening walk was the reason we came – and for the awesome cliffs (more about them tomorrow). We walked through a passageway between the cliffs along an embankment just a few feet above a mostly dry riverbed that swells to a torrent during the wet. We could see debris lodged into trees 15 feet above the sand. As the river dries it leaves isolated pools. Here at Windjana freshwater crocodiles have been trapped by the receding waters waiting for the wet season and their opportunity to migrate. We sat down to watch them for more than an hour. During the day they lounge on the sand or in the water with only their eyes showing. Then towards sunset they slip into the water and begin to drift away from the edges of the pool until they are all cruising up throughout the water. The biggest croc gets respect. None of the others get in his way.

At dusk the fruit foxes, large bats that hang all day in trees, came swooping along the gorge, hundreds of them, like the Dementers in the Harry Potter movies or like waves of Spitfires in World War II movies on D-Day. The bats dive near the water and you can hear the snap of the crocodile jaws seizing that night’s dinner. Nature is a system in which one species becomes food for another. It may not be pretty to our way of thinking, but here we can see the complex interconnectedness of the natural world.

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