Bush Walking, with Rocks and All
The path ahead could be long, or surprisingly short. The trail could have been carved out by past walkers, or some parts of it submerged under grass or water. Outdoor walking exerts on not just the legs, but also on the mind. Depending on your expectations, one can feel refreshed, sweat it out or liberate the constraints one places upon one's self. Human beings are meant to get the muscles and adrenaline going - we are not naturally built to sit down for long hours and not utilise all of our sensory capabilities and abilities. We are best when interacting with Nature and what our home planet and her elements offer us.
|The road is long but he ain't heavy, he's my brother (or she's my sister!)|
Sign boards are well posted when we were visiting several National Parks around Western Australia, whether they were by the Indian Ocean coast or deep inland in remote territory. These informed us how far the walks would take us, whether there were ladders to climb, notifications of having to wade in shallow or deeper streams and if visitors need to have a certain level of physical dexterity. The last mentioned is interesting, for it implied potentially sprawling yourself with a good grip over rocky but tenable edges, causing a Spiderman effect in posture, or in over coming challenging gradients, over the course of the journey. The use of numbered challenge levels, from 1 to 5, was helpful in gauging what requires of walkers on each major trail.
|On the trail to Joffre Gorge and Falls.|
Several walks taken offered a wonderful return in scenery appreciation, diversity of colours and variety of geographical vistas. When you get further from Perth, northwards, your eyes feast on quiet panoramas of the land meeting ocean, of the Earth showing significant upheaval geologically from a time not easily fathomable and of a clear sky without cloud in the daytime and full of stars after twilight. Where you encounter cliffs, there can be man made ladders and stairs, usually made of metal, to ease the experience. Otherwise, one has to figure out naturally formed steps, usually used by predecessor bush walkers, to reach from one level to the next.
|Ecological friendly base for showers, toilets and wash ups.|
Where ocean meets the land, where whales swim past and where the glowing sun sets below the horizon - Kalbarri National Park. National parks can be vast in Western Australia, although the biggest on this continental island is the Kimberleys. Kalbarri , which is also the name of a woody pear tree, can be smaller in land area, but has the best seats for variety of panoramic views. The Indigenous name for the Kalbarri area is Wurdimarlu. At the time of my group's visit, there were road works being carried out and private vehicles were not allowed to drive in the more pretty corners like Nature's Window. Only vehicles operated by commercial tour operators were allowed in that period. We still could get to pockets along the coast, glimpses of the potential of Kalbarri.
|Entrance to the Karijini National Park.|
The personal rewards can be many and delightfully surprising. It is smooth going when the short walk of under a kilometre leads to several look out points, usually fenced or maybe not. There is this tendency to look forward to sitting down on a ledge and soak in the view below and above. Many gorge trails in Karijini (or "A Hilly Place") offered us a dimension bigger than our individual selves. Often, I was taken aback positively when catching a glimpse of textured rocks carved by the wind or water, not just on massive wall faces towering above us but also on the dry parts of river beds. The rocks are less brown than with iron mineral rich redness, as if painted evenly by master strokes from an experienced artist. And Nature is the most skilled of all, inspiring human hearts and skills to emulate her. Often, shrubs would cling on to these rocky surfaces, with a tenacity and purpose that illustrates the sustenance of life even under difficult circumstances. The flora would have very minimalist foliage, but life still blooms. We also pondered what happens to the trails we were on when it is the wet season. More likely the rocks we were stepping on or use for grip would be under flowing or gushing waters.
|Dolomite and more.|
They say it is mainly a question of mind over matter, in various things in the journey of life. So it can be. I was taught not to take labels too seriously, and how liberating this can be! Level 5 of difficulty in reality can be less daunting than what my mind imagines. With good footwear and an open attitude, it becomes more easy. Sprinkled with common sense and blessed with good company, physical roadblocks are over come with a smoother outcome. Every fellow hiker has a unique personality - one constantly kept in touch with family overseas, another was so focused on wild birds and yet a third showed boldness and a spirit of adventure.
|Sunset along the Indian Ocean.|
In the dry season, the nights can be coolish in Karijini. We could feel the nippiness surfacing from below the floors of our cabins in the middle of the night - and next morning I realised the floor boards had gaps between them. Once walking on the trail under the sun, there was no opportunity to reflect on three degree Celsius nights, for with proper shoes and tops, the body warmed up, the eyes focused and the heart embraced the spirit of the outdoors. A hearty breakfast also helped, for the daylight hours were filled with as much opportunity to explore and wander. In June, the sun is up in the sky for only limited hours, and when we were in the wilderness, we realised we were heading towards the shortest day in the year - the Winter Solstice for the Southern Hemisphere.
|Kalbarri National Park,|
Picnics by the park tables are what I also fondly recall. We met other tourists, however briefly - but could exchange ideas on trails, enjoy the comfort of conversation and share our food. This was an alternative hiatus to the main silence of bush walking, for one is just engaged with one's self - mind, body and all - in conquering trails. There were the necessary moments of collective appreciation, standing there looking at beauty, and also small talk, but primarily it was the opportunity to reflect one's inner self and engage with the outer Natural world. So when lunch time came, it was also a relief, to chat and pour over experiences, moments and challenges.
|The surreal view along the Mandu Mandu Trail.|
Seven year old Harvey joined us with his younger sister Elsie at our long picnic table when their Dad, Alastair, went over to collect the gas stove from their vehicle. They are kids who did not ask for much, using their over turned caps as make shift plates when my group offered some Tim Tams and fresh pear slices. Harvey is like the neighbour's child whom you want to look after your house when you are away. Soon, Mum Karen came to join us with an impressive three year old, Byron, who had no qualms mentioning to us about the milk getting frozen in the Esky and who was so polite waiting for his Mum's permission to try a Tim Tam. Alastair heated a classic Italian coffee jug, the sun shone and we enjoyed being together.
There was one remarkable place where the walk over a couple of kilometres were carpeted with just white stones, as if it was laid by a fairy tale Giant for his drive way. Mandu Mandu Gorge, located on the Coral Coast, at the Cape Range National Park near Exmouth, is modest at three kilometres but offers rewarding scenery, both along the edge of the gorge and below on the river bed. The stark contrast between deep blue sky and the surrounding landscape gives aesthetic and inspiring vibes. The trail is mostly gentle, the collective view uplifts and the detail remarkable. The soles of our feet are especially massaged. Mandu in Indigenious Australian language refers to the sun.
Joffre Gorge and Falls in Karijini National Park is perhaps the most spectacular to me, offering vertical climbs over narrow edges and a sizeable deep coloured pool as the reward. More interesting is that one need not do all the physicals to be able to watch the beauty of the falls, for you can hike on an easy path to a look out point to view the best of all these. Many of the gorges are best experienced at dawn and dusk. What over comes one's understanding when being at such remote and unique sites is the timelessness and spirituality of the place.
Sitting on a spot in the early afternoon one day half way along the Kalamina Gorge trail, I could fully take in the journey of a creek to river to gorge. I noticed miniature waterfalls, banks beside deeper water and the carving on rock of steep walls. I enjoyed comparing the different shades of bold colours on the rocks. Nature had cleverly eroded the various surfaces into ergonomic seat like surfaces, several almost like man made, with the right measurements to fit the human body. I did not witness much wild life, although they were there. So the landscape was my focus for me in the so called middle of no where. Apart from so passers by, it looked like I had the whole place to myself. I began to soak in the first unassuming vibes. It may have been quiet but that does not mean the Earth is not alive. Ironically, the serenity and ambiance of this space inevitably made look inside myself, ease me into a meditative mood and then gradually feel the energy spark in me slowly fuse with that from the origin of it all - the Universe.