Murchison River Gorge - Day 2

Murchison River Gorge Index

The Gorge

It must have rained throughout the night as the air felt moisture-laden as we packed up camp that morning. After a while, the sun peaked out from the clouds and the warm rays seemed to sweep away any residue of the lingering morning dew that was left. It didn't take long for the remaining clouds to dissipate, leaving a clear azure sky in their wake, perfectly reflected in the mirror-like water of the still river.

The Gorge We set off at 08:20, continuing Northwards on our way along the riverbank. Not too soon after, I noticed a bevy of black swans (Cygnus atratus) floating silently on the river keeping a close eye on us as we passed by. The bands in the rock seemed to have gotten more pronounced here - black, grey, orange, red, and brown fissures tracing elaborate patterns both in the rockface and on the ground, the latter mixed with patches of earth and the occasional tracks of feral goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) and dogs (Canis lupus familiaris).

The Gorge

After passing a gauge station (with winches and load bearers) of some sort at the 1.87 km mark, fields of boulders began to materialise ahead of us. There was plenty of boulder hopping from then on, being the most efficient way to navigate through the maze of immovable, ageless rocks. The cliffs seemed to have a life of their own - receding and reappearing on our right, then disappearing once again before reappearing across the river on our left - it seemed almost coy-like, the cliffs were curious about us but too shy to come over to shake our hands.

I found myself constantly being left spellbound by the layers and layers, the patterns, all the cracks and the fissures, all of which indicated the unbelievable age of the earth - the huge timescales involved to always remain unfathomable to creatures such as us who's existence occupies just a tiny, insignificant blip in time.

The Gorge

The Gorge

After walking for approximately 5km, we decided to stop by some pools of water to replenish our supply. The water was clear and (as expected) had a briny tang to it. To my surprise however, it wasn't too unpleasant to drink. The pools did have green algae lining the rocks though, so all of us made sure to treat the water prior to consumption (using the Sawyer Mini Water Filter and the Steripen Adventurer Water Purifier) in order to minimise the chances of any ill-effects - think deadly Cyanobacteria (Phylum: Cyanobacteria)!

Lingering Death

The morbid thoughts of death ended up lingering for a little while longer, for soon after we came upon a tribe of feral goats (Capra aegagrus hircus), numbering about seven perhaps, perched atop the cliff and bleating whilst looking down upon us. These feral goats have managed to displace the Black-footed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale lateralis) from the area by occupying their shelters and consuming their food sources. There is good news however, as the park authorities currently have plans to reintroduce the Rock Wallaby via a program called 'Western Shield' that involves captive breeding and relocation. As soon as I passed the goats, I noticed the broad wings and the diamond-shaped tail of a Wedge-tail Eagle (Aquila audax) soaring and circling high above. The combination of the two should have made me realise that something was amiss, but I only ended up linking the two events in retrospect. Just as I was rounding a large boulder, I noticed a juvenile goat lying on its side with its neck twisted at an impossible angle, most likely caused by a fall from the cliff above. The goat was making gurgling sounds and was coughing up blood. I considered putting it out of its misery then, but at that stage it would have been dead within minutes.

Life is but a wink of eternity...

Next : Murchison River Gorge – Day 2 - Onwards (Part 2)

Murchison River Gorge Index

Murchison River Gorge Index

Things seemed to brighten up (in more ways than one!) as the warm sun beat down upon us and wildflowers seemed to begin to crop up. Vivid splashes of colour would appear every now and then - purple splashes of the five-petaled Fairy Fan-flowers (Scaevola aemula - Scaevola meaning 'left-handed'), pinks of the Geraldton Wax (Chamelaucium uncinatum), yellows of Calendulas (Calendula sp.) and Wattle flowers (Acacia cyclops), and the bright, intricate structures of Grevillias (Grevillea sp.). The River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) were ubiquitous though, a fact that all other hammockers would be very appreciative of.

River Red Gums

River Red Gums



We made another river crossing shortly after but this time we had to wade across the knee-deep green water instead of hopping across from rock to rock. We came across some emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) tracks on the other side, the middle toe measuring approximately 15cm. Emus are ratites and are the largest birds that are native to Australia, and the size of the tracks left no doubt in my mind that that was most likely true.

We crossed the river again, walking across and along long sections of sand that once again reminded me of portions of the Cape to Cape Track. We came upon an area that had large swaths of flat grass that would make a nice campsite not too long after that, and I was a little glad to be stopping for the day since all the exposure to the sun had left me a little drained.

I spent some time watching the sky that night. The stars were bright, brilliant jewels glittering in the dark, cloudless sky. The Milky Way was also very conspicuous and blazed across the sky to the West, and closer to the horizon were a few planets - both Mars and Saturn - that were about to set. The Delta Aquarids were also close to their peak, and so, in the time of an hour or so, I ended up seeing a total of 13 meteors.

Hover over the image to see the labels

Speaking of emus (Dromaius novaehollandiae), this was the first time the 'Great Emu' was very obvious to me. The 'Great Emu' is one of the constellations in Australian Aboriginal astronomy, constellations that use the dark dust clouds that sweep across the Milky Way instead of patterns made by the stars. I personally find the use of the dust clouds to be far more intuitive but this method means that constellations are then restricted to just along the Galactic Plane. The head of the 'Great Emu' is very easy to find as it is basically the Coalsack Nebula, which lies just below the Southern Cross (Crux Australis). The rest of the body of the emu is made up of the dust lanes that stretch across the Milky Way, with the neck and body trailing out just before Scorpius, and the legs just after. I felt really small and insignificant then and completely understood how people could (and still somehow can) attribute the vastness and sheer splendour of the night sky to divine origins.

Hover over the image to see the outline of the emu (head and beak on the lower right)

I found it somewhat humorous when the temperature plummeted soon after, as it almost seemed as if my previous thought had angered some deity somewhere. Starting to shiver, I decided that it was the perfect time to head back to my warm and comfortable sleeping bag...

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Next : Murchison River Gorge – Day 3 - Hawk's Head

Murchison River Gorge Index