Getting to Carnarvon was tough, really tough. For those of you that have read about our travails getting to Ayr you will have an idea of what is coming next. We had put together a very ambitious plan to get to Springsure by nightfall, one of the few ‘towns’ close to the remote Carnarvon Gorge, a geological marvel that is also an oasis for wildlife in the heart of the Queensland Outback. In itself this was a challenge as we needed to drive almost 600km in what we had estimated would be just over 6 hours. Rest assured, we are not masochists nor did we plan this without knowing it would be tough but we had 5 days to get to Brisbane for Anne to catch her flight home and we wanted to give the family a good sample of Australia’s east coast. What we weren’t counting on was that we would be pretty tired after our relaxing time cruising the Whitsundays (the irony!), that our dinghy would give up midway through a morning turtle search and that the car rental place would be closed because the only employee in the branch (seriously) was picking up customers in the nearby airport. Coupled with a lunch break and the obligatory toilet stops and we found ourselves running some hours behind even our worst case scenarios. No matter, we were almost there, we had just passed through the ‘metropolis’ of Emerald, the biggest town in the surrounding hundreds of kilometres with an impressive 13000 inhabitants. We had stopped for the local speciality, the only McDonalds we could find that was open, where Lolo and Anne discovered that super expensive MaccyD salads are little more than a few leaves of green, a cherry tomato and a decorative slice of cucumber. It was ok, we were just 45km from our destination, a warm bed and a night filled with recollections of our amazing time sailing the Whitsundays. That was when the wallaby struck. Literally. Speeding at a smooth 100km/h a wallaby suddenly jumped out of nowhere and hit JH’s car straight on the left side of his bumper. There’s nothing like mangled pieces of car and a lifeless marsupial’s corpse flying in the air for a split second to wake you up. Luckily I hit the brakes and we didn’t cause a pile up, slowly stopping on the side of the road to evaluate the mess. It was pretty bad. We walked a good 50 metres back and were relieved to find the poor critter was dead, god knows what we would have done if it had shown some sign of life. As JH called his insurance agency in France to report the incident I taped up the car as best I could with some electrical tape, in the end it looked pretty badass and still seemed drivable. We managed to get to the hotel around 11pm, just enough time to say goodnight to each other and die of exhaustion in our beds.
The next day we woke up, made a few calls about the car and got some good news. The insurance would cover it and we could get a new car at the closest large town when we left Carnarvon and rejoined the coast: Gladstone. The rest of the drive to Carnarvon was uneventful, some duct tape was purchased to complement the electrical tape holding the remainder of JH’s bumper together and we headed into the national park. On the way we enjoyed views of the dramatic gorge’s sandstone cliff faces, giant groups of friendly cattle and an emu running in a field. We checked into the Takarakka Bush Resort and made acquaintances with our Taka Tents, permanent tent-like structures on raised wood floors with small balconies. After the relatively small sleeping spaces were were used to on the boat I must admit they seemed airy and luxurious Of course we didn’t waste any time and after a quick campground sandwich session we drove deeper into the park towards the gorge. We started with a small walk called Baloon Cave, an alternate entrance used by Aboriginals to access the gorge. There Anne spotted a timid echidna hiding in the shrubs which I am proud to say I paparazzied. Echidnas are pretty cute creatures that resemble hedgehogs with lager spines but they are in fact anteaters closely related to the platypus – they are both cute egg-laying mammals. At the end of the walk we came to a pretty interesting piece of Aboriginal art: a red/orange stencil of several hand prints, a hand signal and some stone axes. The art is an indication that Aboriginals possibly used the rock layer in the surrounding cave to make stone axes.
Next we made our way to the visitor centre where the main walk along Carnarvon Gorge begins. The gorge is over 30km long and has been mainly formed through water erosion, as the Carnarvon Creek has tirelessly dug down over 600 metres of stone. This is apparently of huge interest to geologists as the rocks that have been left exposed are from 3 significant periods within the area’s geological history – all I know is that it is spectacularly pretty. The path crosses over the creek several times, including right at the start of the walk, meandering through the gorge almost 10km to a place called Big Bend. However, the main interest in Carnarvon Gorge are the multitude of side paths that can be taken to special places like the Moss Garden, Amphitheatre and the unbelievable Art Gallery that contains over 2000 engravings, stencils and paintings. Enough on all that as we didn’t make it that far! The plan was just to walk as much as we wanted and then turn back to enjoy a nice dinner and then head off the next day. Had we had more time it would have been amazing to check out more of the gorge as we barely skimmed the surface but it’s important to leave some things for future trips. It also served its purpose in terms of introducing the Fajons, and especially Anne, to the rugged and remote beauty of Australia’s amazing outback. Before we turned around I scrambled off the path, down a gentle slope of soil to the creek bed below and across a sea of boulders for some snaps that only start to capture the beauty of the place. Oh, and on the way in we were lucky enough to see something we have been wanting to see since our arrival in Australia: a wild kangaroo with a small joey in her pouch. Ohhhhhhh, even as a testosterone-fuelled male I have to admit that it was super cute. If you are able to look at the pictures of the small joey’s head popping out of the pouch and the tiny protruding tail without feeling anything then you have a heart of stone
That night we went to the only other accommodation option in the gorge, the ‘luxury’ wilderness lodge next door, to enjoy a delicious three course dinner finished off with Anne’s first sticky date pudding. A thought that still makes me salivate… it was just so sticky! The next morning was a harsh wakeup as I found that the kettle in the camp kitchen close to our tents was out of order and I had to wonder like a zombie through the fields of campers in an attempt to locate another one. Luckily I did eventually find one and after waiting my turn and a worryingly long boiling time I finally had enough coffee to satisfy my coffee demons as well as the family coffee monster: Susan. We had even more fun imitating the ever-present-yet-impossible-to-locate kookaburras that had complemented our alarm clocks with their Joker-like laughs but they were soon to take a backseat. In a moment of pure comedy, at some point during the wakeup routine, Anne looked over at us and emitted the deep sound of “Baaaaah”, imitating the large crow-like birds that were hounding us with a similar sound. Think of the sound of a sheep but much quicker and in a suddenly loud and violent way and you will only begin to understand; that bird still makes me laugh to this day.