Un­der a rock in a hard place

Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - WESTERN AUSTRALIA -

An­gela Sau­rine ex­plores the Bun­gle Bungles and

Geikie Gorge in the re­mote Kim­ber­ley re­gion.

AM walk­ing through the cool, dark chasm be­hind my guide, Ge­orge, when he sud­denly pauses and turns to face me. “Look up,” he says. I glance sky­ward to see two large, round boul­ders rest­ing pre­car­i­ously be­tween the nar­row pass di­rectly above, look­ing like they could fall at any mo­ment.

“Are you kid­ding?” I ex­claim, quick­en­ing my pace. We con­tinue along the path, even­tu­ally reach­ing an open­ing at the end of the ravine where we touch the wall be­fore re­turn­ing the way we came, with slightly raised anx­i­ety. “Don’t think about it, don’t think about it, don’t think about it,” I chant aloud as I walk back un­der the boul­ders.

“Soon, I think, they’ll make tourists wear hard hats,” Ge­orge says. “But I’m not sure they would make much dif­fer­ence.”

My thoughts turn to the movie 127 Hours, based on a true story in which a man is forced to re­lieve him­self of a limb af­ter a rock falls on it, and no­body knows where he is.

For­tu­nately, I am not alone, I am in a group of like-minded ad­ven­tur­ers on a jour­ney with APT through the Kim­ber­ley, in West­ern Australia’s north­west. It is the end of the dry sea­son and the tem­per­a­ture is in the high 30Cs out­side the chasm, but it is re­fresh­ingly chilly in­side. Ac­cord­ing to Abo­rig­i­nal leg­end, Echidna Chasm was formed af­ter an echidna bur­rowed into the rock in an at­tempt to es­cape a cock­a­too that was pluck­ing out its quills. It is one of the key at­trac­tions in Pur­nu­l­ulu Na­tional Park, also known as the Bun­gle Bungles.

The bee­hive-shaped domes that the Bun­gle Bungles is fa­mous for were carved through the ero­sion of wind and wa­ter over one big block of an­cient sand­stone. The area has been home to the Kija peo­ple for more than 20,000 years, but the im­pres­sive land­scape was only dis­cov­ered by the out­side world in 1983 when a lo­cal pi­lot of­fered to show a film crew shoot­ing a doc­u­men­tary. Tourists quickly streamed in and the site was World Her­itage-listed in 2003. The park is jointly man­aged with tra­di­tional in­dige­nous own­ers.

As we walk over rocks on the dry river bed, we marvel, not for the first time, at the bright blue skies against the strik­ing or­ange rock. Just out­side the chasm, Ge­orge points out a bower bird “love shack” made of twigs and sur­rounded by peb­bles which was built by the male to en­tice a mate.

On the way to Mini Cathe­dral Gorge, we view Abo­rig­i­nal rock art show­ing hand prints and a boomerang, and meet a park ranger and his in­dige­nous as­sis­tant who are col­lect­ing dead cane toads.

A break is taken on the rocky creek bed at Pi­caninny Creek where part of the famed Qan­tas com­mer­cial was filmed, and at­tempt our own ren­di­tion of I Still Call Australia Home. Bel­lies start­ing to rum­ble as we con­tinue our hike to Cathe­dral Gorge – a dra­matic cav­ern formed by wa­ter seep­ing through its north­west fault.

There, we sit on rocks which have fallen from the roof of the gorge above and eat a pic­nic lunch of turkey and salad sand­wiches hop­ing, once again, that to­day isn’t the day rocks come loose.

While it is tempt­ing to take a sou­venir, the Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple be­lieve ev­ery­thing has its place. The vis­i­tor’s cen­tre has been known to have re­ceived rocks in the mail sent by re­gret­ful tourists who say they have had bad luck since tak­ing a rock home with them.

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