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18 September 2003

Today was the day to visit Kalbarri National Park.

There is much to recommend Kalbarri as a recreational area---water sports, marine life, fishing, among others, but it is most recognizable for the gorge through which flows the Murchison River, and its coastal cliffs. We have become quite familiar with both.

We had breakfast on the balcony, watching the sun come up and listening to the birds chattering in the trees. Before I left on this trip, Olivia had suggested that I bring a tape recorder and record bird sounds, since I will hear songs here that I have not heard before. I did that this morning, and have a recording of bird songs, car noises, and the conversation of a cabbie picking up some folks leaving the complex. I will probably record more tomorrow. Probably a tape I'll never play, but fun to have.

We decided to get an early start for the gorge, so were on the road by 8:30. It's a 27 km drive in from the place where you pay your fee to get to the gorge....27 km of unpaved, sandy road (Mike Blackford would have loved it). We were the only car on the road.

We arrived at our first stop, "The Loop," a hike where there are several places overlooking the gorge (you can also take an 8 km circle walk, which we decided we had no time for...and after trying to climb up and down the rocks like a mountain goat--which I definitely am not--I knew that this would be for persons more agile and sure-footed than myself!).

The guidebook describes the gorge as "only a few million years young." The Murchison river ate through the tumblagooda sandstone to carve out a winding gorge which, while not as spectacular as the Grand Canyon, is gorgeous in its own way. The cliffs are a mosaic of color, formed by the bands of red and purple and white, rich with fossil remnants.

Our destination was "Nature's Window," a 400 meter hike/climb down from the car park to a natural rock arch that frames the upstream view and is an ideal photo-taking spot.

We had the place all to ourselves until a busload of tourists arrived and then that place of natural beauty, which took your breath away, suddenly became a tourist mecca, funny pictures being taken, and somehow the mood altered a bit.

We hiked back up to the car and drove on to Z-bend, another viewing spot, a 1 km circle walk from the car park. This one was all downhill (the climb back up was interesting) but the view was even more spectacular, looking up the river through the cliffs, watching the more agile climbers make their way down to the river itself. I gave thanks more than once that I'm carrying less weight this year and, though sweating on the climb back up, was able to make it to this spot and see how gorgeous it was.

We drove back out to the road (this time passing other cars on their way to the gorge) and at one point came to a dead stop--us, the car coming toward us, and the van behind it, so we could all get out and take pictures of a "thorny devil" who was crossing the road. Amazing creature. About the size of a large lizard and with a gait that was one step forward and two back and to the side--it's amazing he ever gets anywhere!

We came back home for lunch and then out to the airport for our scenic flight over the park and the river. It was a six seater plane and I wondered how I'd do, figuring I'd be terrified, especially since there were already wind gusts. Surprisingly, I wasn't scared at all--perhaps because I was sitting in the co-pilot seat (which was fine until I inadvertently stepped on the pedals!). I will admit to a bit of nausea as the plane bumped and lunged all over the outback (one woman behind me used her airsick bag...I've never known anyone to actually need one of those things). But the view was spectacular, especially the last leg, where we flew out over the ocean and back along the cliffs.

After the flight, we came home, parked the car, and took a long walk along the beach, down to the store, where we picked up something for dinner, then walked home and settled in for the night.

"You did good today," Peggy told me. I smiled--I did do good. This was why I wanted to start whipping this body in shape--to be able to enjoy things like this.

Tomorrow on to Monkey Mia.

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