Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Day 3 #2: Mereenie Loop Road

11th June 2012

After our wonderful walk around the rim of King’s Canyon, we headed back to the King’s Canyon resort for lunch, then tackled the Mereenie Loop Road.  Or rather Jason tackled it, and we sat in our “pod” and were driven.




The Mereenie Loop Road is almost 200 km of unsealed road between King’s Canyon and Hermannsburg.


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We were under strict instructions to keep our seatbelts on at all times in case of any major bumps or brakings.  Jason said it was in much worse condition than the last time he drove on it.

The scenery looked pretty much like this for most of the way.



Or this.

I found I could easily get used to being driven around……

Monday, June 25, 2012

Day 3 #1: King’s Canyon Walk

11th June 2012

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Once again on the bus before sunrise, heading off to King’s Canyon, after having been entertained by some howling dingoes during the night – very close to our tents.


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The sun’s first rays light up the red rocks of King’s Canyon.



King’s Canyon, 323 km SW of Alice Springs, is part of the Watarrka National Park.  The walls of Kings Canyon are over 100 metres high, with King’s Creek at the bottom. Part of the gorge is a sacred Aboriginal site and visitors are discouraged from walking off the walking tracks.


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Since 2002, the 6 km loop walk can only be done in a clockwise direction, beginning with "Heart Attack Hill".  This enhances the sense of remoteness because you don’t meet walkers coming the other way; there is also the safety issue in avoiding collisions in steep spots with loose rocks.


All the way up, and from the top, were stunning views:

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This looked like Geraldton Wax to me.


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Bush tomato, member of the solanum family.

Some are edible and some are not, but I forget which this one is – lucky I wasn’t depending on it for survival.


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The honeycombed cliffs are created when carbonates in the sandstone mix with water (rain), resulting in a very mild carbonic acid that eats away at the rock.


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Here is Jason explaining something I had never really thought about – the rocks of Central Australia are not solid red, but are mainly a rather insipid-looking greyish white.  The red colour is due to a thin coating of iron oxide which is released as the rocks are weathered in the air.  The pale patches haven’t been exposed to the air long enough to turn red.

Somehow, Uluru just wouldn’t be the same if it was pale grey.


As well as weathering to beautiful colours, the rocks have also weathered into fascinating shapes:

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Peter was a generally to be found photographing everything in sight, much like me.  This wide gap between high walls is now known as Priscilla’s Crack, being made famous as a setting at the end of the movie Priscilla: Queen of the Desert.

Through Priscilla’s Crack, we emerged into a more level area filled with the striped sandstone domes typical of King’s Canyon:

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Jason explaining how the Ghost Gum Eucalyptus papuana can choose to kill off whole branches to save water during drought.

The Ghost Gum is sometimes called the "widow maker", due to the high number of tree-felling workers who have been killed by falling branches. Many deaths were caused simply by camping under the trees, which shed whole and very large branches during droughts.

For this reason, you should never camp under large eucalyptus branches!

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First lookout: Stay away from the  edge!

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First lookout:  Looking across to the canyon wall on the other side (while staying well back from the edge!):

Top layer:  70-80 metres of 330 million year old Mereenie sandstone.

2nd layer from top:  A layer of hardened slate.

3rd layer from top:  A 440 million year old scree slope of Carmichael sandstone.

Rock climbing is not allowed on these spectacular walls: the sandstone is too fragile and the traditional owners prefer that people keep to the walking tracks.


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View from the lookout:

1.  Foreground - cube-shaped blocks bounded by intersecting cracks.

2.  Other side of the canyon.

3.  Surrounding plain.


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Rock domes can be seen in many parts of the canyon.  They are the result of erosion of vertical cracks in the sandstone, giving the appearance of a “lost city”.


IMG_1018 - Copy Jason points out ripple marks in the lower layers of the Mereenie Sandstone.


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These ripple marks show that there were once shallow lakes at Watarrka, millions of years ago.


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A wooden staircase, made of jarrah, leads down into a gorge at the base of the canyon called the Garden of Eden.


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Jason and Linda step into the Garden of Eden.


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At the bottom of the canyon, in the Garden of Eden, a footbridge crosses King’s Creek, which only flows after the winter rains.


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Lucky us - King’s Creek had water in it!  Here you can see the reflections of River Red Gums and cycads which are 300 – 400 years old.



More River Red Gums and cycads in the Garden of Eden.



More Garden of Eden reflections.



Instead of taking the steps up the other side of the canyon, we took a 600 metre detour along the base of the gorge.



This led to a shady pool at the end, surrounded by high sandstone walls. Visitors are requested not to swim in it, as it is the only permanent waterhole for miles around for most of the local wildlife.  However, it was very pleasant to sit and rest here and enjoy a snack which Jason had kindly brought for us.



Hopping around the pool were lots of these little Spinifex Pigeons Geophaps plumifera which kept us entertained as we enjoyed a well-earned rest.


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Then we walked back to the steps and climbed up to the other side of the canyon.

(But these are the steps we walked down, as seen from the other side.) 


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Another view of the steps and domes.


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Looking across the canyon at walkers on the other side.



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Fossil in the rock.


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Hoi (being admired) stands on the footbridge over the very beginning of King’s Canyon.


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Narrow section of King’s Canyon.


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Looking across at the North Wall of the canyon, one of the most stunning features.


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Notice the tiny people standing on the top.


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Another view of the North Wall, showing the pale coloured rock where there was a fall in the 1930s.  Locals believe another fall is due at any time.  I wouldn’t like to be there when it happens!


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Jason and a cycad, several hundred years old (the cycad, not Jason.)


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We obviously missed the waterfall season.


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The way back down to the carpark was a much gentler slope than the way in, up Heart Attack Hill.

A superb experience!