Deep into Walpa Gorge

Thrilling. Walking up and up into a narrowing Gorge with immensely high walls getting closer and closer.  The wind pushing and pulling all the while.  Cold winds.  Beanie and thick winter jacket winds. The sun was striking strong out on the flat lands but its rays were yet to infiltrate the Gorge.  Looking back and westwards to the flat lands, I was surprised by the intensity of the contrast between light and dark. You would have noticed that aspect in the video at the end of the last blog post. And yet all was visible as I walked.

Gradually the wide stony track narrowed, descended then wound over a small creek and up and around through vegetation and onwards (in the following photos, the widening gap at the end of the Gorge provides some indication of distance travelled).   20170902_081746.jpg

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20170902_081423.jpgGradually I lost sight of my bus companions and driver, although other tourists were wandering along. This allowed me to enjoy looking at the local plants.       20170902_080526.jpg

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20170902_080234.jpgOver a few boardwalks finally I reached the viewing platform at the end of the walk allowed me to hold on (against the ruffling of the wind) and experience the end of the rocky Gorge.  I looked up and the sunlight was beginning to hit the top of the Gorge walls.  The sun line lowered as I began the trek out of the Gorge.    20170902_081426.jpg

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20170902_083549.jpgAs I retraced my steps, the driver caught up with me and relayed some of the information he had shared with others. Since I had one-on-one time with him I was able to ask the questions important to me.  Then, as we crossed an exposed part of the rocky track, I was blown violently into the driver on the lower side of the hill – thankful he was in the right place to halt my movement. Completely lost my balance and grabbed the air and the ground without falling. The strength of the eddies and gusts were most surprising.

The scale of each gorge amazed me. The vastness of the land impressed me. 20170902_074726.jpg

20170902_083553.jpgThis was a simple 2.6 km return walk, and an easy walk but certainly not suitable for those with mobility or balance problems.  Documents suggest the walk takes an hour. I believe we were there for longer – savouring the moments, feeling the environment.  Just being.

Then we were travelling back to the Ayers Rock Resort past the red earth.20170902_092013.jpg

20170902_092014.jpgWith a driver who continued to surprise.  I was the only obviously Australian on the bus; the others seemed to be tourists from Asian countries.  Had we heard of Banjo Patterson, the driver asked.  I responded with a yes but the rest were silent and looked blankly seemingly unaware they were being spoken to. Unperturbed, the driver explained the significance of Banjo and then began to recite his poetry.  Starting with The Man from Snowy River followed by Clancy of the Overflow, he continued on to The Road to Gundagai before concluding with Mulga Bill’s Bicycle.  I have a vague feeling The Geebung Polo Club might also have had an airing that day. The driver’s pacing and intonation was excellent, and I was impressed with his memory and delivery. My fellow bus travellers persisted with searching their mobiles for god knows what.  Seemingly it was a cultural expression too weird, too unexpected, and too foreign. For me it was an additional element in a package of accidental experiences; one that layered riches onto my visit.

Driving to the Walpa Gorge, Kata Tjuta carpark

The features of Kata Tjuta became more clearly defined as the morning light strengthened.20170902_071738.jpg

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20170902_073150.jpgAfter alighting from the bus at the Walpa Gorge carpark, we walked a little way along the flat desert track then stopped to listen to our driver explaining the geological history and aboriginal stories associated with Kata Tjuta, the walking options, the nature of the local vegetation, and much more. I like walking alone, so when the driver decided to walk with us into the Walpa Gorge and be a guide, I held back. I realised generally the group were walking faster than my injured leg wanted to travel so that a slower pace was sensible.

Again I was aware of an ancient landscape much worn by the millennia. This video and the following photos show the effects of weather and climate on the rocks.20170902_073312.jpg

20170902_073424.jpgFrom the flat landscape the path ascended on irregularly sloping rocks and the surface was uneven.20170902_074114.jpg

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20170902_074717.jpgDespite that, a well marked track was obvious to most (there were other tourists who came and went and some seemed unable to stay on track – in order to protect the environment my driver yelled to them through the intense wind to get back onto the track).  20170902_083549.jpg

20170902_081632.jpg As I walked higher, I could see the thicker vegetation in the lower valley section of the Gorge,some of which is a grove of spearwood.20170902_074222.jpg

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20170902_074726.jpg Some of the vertical wall surfaces reminded me of the caves of the Meteora in north western Greece. For example, in Greece some hermit caves looked like: 20140607_190315.jpgBy contrast some of the Walpa Gorge walls looked like: 20170902_074846.jpg

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20170902_075556.jpg This video shows the nature of the Gorge walls, the stony uneven walkway and, most of all, you hear the wind.  Walpa meaning whistle in the local Anangu language.

 

Driving to the Valley of Winds, Kata Tjuta carpark

From the Kata Tjuta sunrise viewing area we continued westwards.

Kata Tjuta map

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20170902_071719.jpgWhen we reached a T junction the bus turned left/north towards the Valley of the Winds.  Walpa Gorge was the later second stop further ahead.  20170902_071724.jpg

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20170902_071904.jpg What were my plans? After extensive pre-trip research I knew that the Valley of Winds offered a range of walks the longest being a 7 plus km hike.  In addition I knew there were lookouts to climb. You can read further details here and here and here. Before leaving Tasmania I planned to walk all the options plus walk into the Walpa Gorge.  However, once in central Australia,  I changed my mind. I knew the rising temperatures and my perpetually sore feet made any choice to walk in the Valley of Winds unwise. I decided to walk in the Walpa Gorge only.

At the Valley of Winds bus stop, a few people left the bus ready to undertake various walks with the expectation they would be collected early in the afternoon.  I was fortunate that my bus driver was an ex APT tour guide still holding his accreditation (he had lost his job after lifting visitors’ heavy luggage and damaging his back). He was a superb source of information.  Before the walkers departed for the Valley of Winds tracks, I listened as the driver provided useful background and safety information.

The Valley of the Winds is stony, rugged and isolated. From a variety of sources over the few days while I was in the area, I heard stories of people with bloody fingers from trying to grab almost smooth rocks as they  clambered up and over near vertical rocks on the ‘track’.  I heard stories of people who did not take any water or sufficient water even in mild weather – and being found at the last minute with severe heat exhaustion, dehydration and in a very fragile state.  Some tracks, and those around Uluru are officially closed once the temperature reaches 36 degrees – but I think that is too extreme when the time a person will be out in that environment without shelter; surely it will be too long for the body to cope safely. In the case of the Valley of Winds the time between drop off and collection is around  5 hours yet the advice (drink one litre per hour) and warnings of signs, brochures and the words of bus drivers are often not heeded.

Four of us stayed on the bus ready to be driven to the Walpa Gorge carpark.