THE FROGS-IN-THEDUNNY ECO RE­TREAT

Australian Traveller - - Getaways -

Your best two ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions in Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park are camp­ing and glamp­ing. Luck­ily, the lo­cally owned glamp­ing op­tion, Kar­i­jini Eco Re­treat, is a very good one. The gen­er­ously sized ‘semi-per­ma­nent’ deluxe tents are a good mix of ‘with the el­e­ments’ and homely touches, in­clud­ing a king bed that is the best for hun­dreds of kilo­me­tres around. The re­treat has gen­uine eco-cred, in­clud­ing low volt­age mood lights and no noisy air con (so you can ac­cli­ma­tise prop­erly). Of course, there are com­pro­mises, but that’s the price you pay for stay­ing in a no-BS eco stay.The roof­less but shel­tered en suite is per­haps the best ex­am­ple. In­evitably, you will hap­pen upon one (or more) lit­tle green frogs in and on your toi­let. It’s part of the en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly waste­water treat­ment sys­tem; “A sign of a healthy ecosys­tem,” I’m told. “They [the frogs] just like your bath­room wa­ter. Just flush them down the toi­let [prefer­ably be­fore you go].” The eco re­sort’s restau­rant does a fine job of giv­ing guests a wide choice; but it is strange eat­ing tiger prawns in the out­back and the salad, as you can imag­ine, isn’t ex­actly picked from a kitchen gar­den. Food prices are a shade over par – mains start in the high 20s – but that’s the cost of re­mote-area lo­gis­tics for you. The young, en­thu­si­as­tic staff bring an en­ergy to this place which makes the Eco Re­treat a great base, worth a cou­ple of nights’ splash-out.

and ill-cau­tious. While not strictly sub­ter­ranean, with (usu­ally) a thin sky-blue line above light­ing the way, some­times it feels like you’re head­ing straight down Mother Earth’s oe­soph­a­gus. A mouth­ful of the neu­tral wa­ter quenches like 25 iso­tonic drinks never could. A chilli-red drag­on­fly slurps some, too, be­fore it flut­ters away to wher­ever chilli-red drag­on­flies spend their shady af­ter­noons. Along the streams, more wet sea­sons than any­one can know for sure have sand­pa­pered the rock sur­face so much that at one point a nar­row sec­tion trans­forms into a slide, and a dog-leg means you’re pro­pelled off a four-me­tre drop com­pletely blind, into the wait­ing cool (tem­per­a­ture and am­biance) deep-green pool be­low. The canyon walls here look like they reach up all the way into the iono­sphere. The novice canyoner has to trust their guide like they would a doc­tor or pi­lot. Case in point, the next (seven-me­tre, again blind) ab­seil down a water­fall that’s bashed its own exit hole through solid rock. From above, it looks like you’re headed straight for the mys­ti­cal Ori­ent, via the Cen­tre of the Earth. Wa­ter raps on your hel­met like that an­noy­ingly con­sis­tent year seven bully. The big out­back sky rein­tro­duces it­self again at (the no-s***-Sher­lock­named) Red Gorge; a log­i­cal place to stop, take a few breaths, and hoover up the last of your pre-packed carbs and en­ergy bar thin­gies. Up­stream, a few-hun­dred-year-old pa­per­bark is rooted into the flanks of the chan­nel, which ob­vi­ously hosts fe­ro­cious tor­rents, come wet sea­son. There’s spec­tral cot­ton-wool-like fo­liage in the tree’s up­per reaches; its branches like ea­ger hands des­per­ate to scale the gorge walls. Turns out that it’s not fo­liage at all, but spi­der webs, satel­lite sub­urbs of arach­nids that some­how know ex­actly how high to re­side to avoid be­ing swept away into a Res­cuers Down Un­der se­quel. The or­ganic flot­sam hang­ing from this grand old dame’s shoul­ders is as good a fu­ture depth in­di­ca­tor as any­thing mod­ern sci­ence of­fers. We plant bums in in­ner-tubes for a de­light­fully dawdling pad­dle up the wide, sunny gorge; then re­fo­cus for a scram­ble through, and (roped) rock climb up and out of, the gorges. Some­where, in the canyon depths, we pass by (but not through) an old Indige­nous birthing pool, a re­minder that this is not just a gi­gan­tic out­door adren­a­line junkie theme park, here purely for our plea­sure. For the Banyjima peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar, these gorges are their still-un­fold­ing, liv­ing and breath­ing story. “We re­spect each pool,” says West Oz Ac­tive’s en­er­getic as­sis­tant guide Lauren Pem­ber. “We don’t jump and splash where we can help it, and walk in where pos­si­ble.” ‘Prone to wan­der,’ states a tat­too on Lauren’s arm. It’s the un­spo­ken mantra of those who ac­tu­ally live in this iso­lated park. Su­per Dan prob­a­bly has a sim­i­lar one inked di­rectly onto his soul. As a tem­po­rary home, Kar­i­jini Na­tional Park has its short­com­ings: stuff-all phone re­cep­tion and su­per­mar­ket vis­its that are more quest than out­ing top the list. “It’s quiet and we go to bed at 9:30pm many nights, but we get to watch the sun­set every sin­gle day,” says Lauren, who has also called Al­ba­nia and the Swedish Arc­tic Cir­cle home. “It’s the most amaz­ing feel­ing sit­ting around in awe with ab­so­lutely noth­ing, espe­cially pubs, to dis­tract you. And now that the red dust is in my blood, I couldn’t live in a city. Peak-hour traf­fic here is like one cow on the road.”

There is noth­ing to fear, if you re­spect Kar­i­jini. In fact, the park’s en­ergy can be a clar­ity-giv­ing, re­vi­tal­is­ing force.

And herein lies the prin­ci­pal chal­lenge for the short­term Kar­i­jini vis­i­tor. How do you de-tune from your four­walled ex­is­tence, em­brace the elon­gated sense of time and space, and then re-tune into the park’s wave­length in just a hand­ful of days? Even tucked into your comfy bed in­side the Eco Re­treat, your first night might be a lit­tle un­set­tling; espe­cially with­out the un­remit­ting and re­as­sur­ing dopamine fixes of phone re­cep­tion. The desert winds that hit your tent’s walls seem threat­en­ing at first; the 3am dingo howls in the dis­tance even more so. Sleep as­sured though, this is sim­ply Kar­i­jini in­tro­duc­ing her­self. Rise with the sun (as you in­evitably do when glamp­ing any­way) and fol­low your in­stincts. Seek out the gorge that most res­onates with you; lis­ten to it. Stop and stare, spend time there, espe­cially if you are priv­i­leged enough to have it all to your­self. On the sur­face Kalam­ina is just an­other gorge; re­plete with colour­ful al­gae, blush­ing walls, stepped wa­ter­falls. But for some rea­son it spoke to Su­per Dan (and this writer) the loud­est. Iron­i­cally, it’s one of the park’s most ac­ces­si­ble gorges. “When I used to travel near Kalam­ina, I would feel re­ally un­easy,” says Dan. “So I asked a [Banyjima] el­der why the en­ergy down there felt so dif­fer­ent. He told me that back in the day there was a huge fight down there. A lot of peo­ple died. That tal­lied with the way I felt.” But there is noth­ing to fear, if you re­spect Kar­i­jini. In fact, the park’s en­ergy can be a clar­ity-giv­ing, re­vi­tal­is­ing force. “You see it with fam­i­lies,” say Dan. “The first day you can see the anx­i­ety in them, try­ing fu­tilely for phone re­cep­tion. Three days later, the kids are cov­ered in red dust, with a stick in one hand and a rock in the other. The kids have be­come kids again.” And that’s how you get to know Kar­i­jini: breathe it in, ac­cept its chal­lenges, go with its en­er­getic flow. Just make sure to check your pock­ets on the way back to the harsh, real world. As they say, Karma’s a bitch. That’s if you believe in stuff like that.

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP LEFT: Hang on to your spare tyres, roads out here come red and bumpy; Pan­cake-flat ex­panses of Kar­i­jini have you un­pre­pared for the plung­ing gorges be­low; Ul­tra-vi­o­let mulla mulla that springs to life af­ter rain; Kar­i­jini re­wards the ad­ven­tur­ous trav­eller; Rop­ing up from the depths of a gorge; A goanna on the prowl; Cross­ing the tracks from min­ing coun­try to the sa­cred coun­try of Kar­i­jini.

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