I love Watarrka. Been here three times. Gets more interesting and exciting everytime, based on what I learnt the previous times.
Parks and Wildlife of the Northern Territory sum up Watarrka as follows:
“Watarrka National Park contains the western end of the George Gill Range. This scenic landscape of rugged ranges, rockholes and gorges acts as a refuge for many plants and animals, making the Park an important conservation area and major attraction of central Australia.
Kings Canyon features ancient sandstone walls, sculptured by the elements, rising up 100m to a plateau of rocky domes.“
Since I’ve had to let go of my desire to walk around Kata Tjuta I’m going to indulge in Watarrka.
First I have to get there.
So successful was in my bid to kill time by aimlessly wandering around the Outback Pioneer Hotel and Lodge that I damned near miss my bus. The driver and bookings agent are waiting for me and we leave several minutes late.
The drive to the Luritja Road turn-off justified my decision to take the bus. Luritja Road itself however would have been a very pleasant ride, although it’d have taken me like two days to do the 160 km to Watarrka.
The driver is full of useful tidbits about the country and its history. He’s been driving the area as a bus-driver tour-guide for 21 years so I guess he should know.
He warns of the risk of dingoes in the campsite and around the resort. “Do not”, for example, “leave any shoes outside your rooms for the dingoes love them no matter how smelly they are”. As well as the usual warnings about not feeding them, don’t leave food lying around, don’t leave bags with food it them lying around and so on.
It turns out I’m on an AATKings bus tour. The driver is also a guide who consequently starts to inform the tour group about their options for the following day. They can choose the Canyon Rim Walk, or the Creek Walk. They all choose the Rim. They will start very early, like an 0500 pick up and be finished by 0900 shortly after which they shall depart for Alice Springs.
Quietly I think to myself that is one tight schedule leaving only enough time to walk the rim and no time to experience it. Poor buggers. Similar to the tour group at Uluru, they will have ticked off an icon without really knowing what it’s all about.
Not a lot of shade on the grassy tent area in the caravan park. Not particularly cheap either at 20$ a night for the privilege. Of course, being Australia, there’s no camping allowed in the national park thereby placing the Watarrka Resort in a similar position as Yulara in its right to print money. The resort is 10 km from the canyon itself.
The camp kitchen is a bit small and very hot. No airconditioning and both doors obliged to be closed coz of dingoes.
Night two of my stay, a couple of young Malaysian women come into the camp kitchen and mention that dingoes are around. Uh Oh! I don’t have the luxury of a room within which to lock and secure stuff. All of my stuff is open and vulnerable and at the right height for any intrepid dingo. And the Big Black Bag with my long term food supplies like dried shrimps, a bag of camel biltong, as well muesli and so on is open since I’m cooking.
At first glance every think looks fine. Then I notice a trail of white powder meandering away from the Big Black Bag, disappearing across the grass. They got my full cream milk powder. Buggers.
Later I’m lounging just outside my tent, my Keen sandals less than a metre from me, as is the rest of my stuff in the tent. The male comes up for all the world like a dog who wants to play.
Dingoes are wild dogs, wild animals, the do not ‘play’ with humans. There’s something cagey, lean and mean about them. Wild dogs. Don’t fuck with wild dogs.
But I don’t know what’s going on. Being cagey and smart I actually look around for the ambush attack or something by the female but she’s nowhere in sight. The male is definitely getting closer and being frisky, almost friendly. Almost. I don’t trust him. I am at his level sitting in my Helinox ground chair which, as the name suggests, is at ground level. I am eye to eye with a full grown male wild dog, a dingo. I begin to plan defensive moves. One on one I’d get bloodied but I’d win. He is not that big. And there are, somewhere, other people around the caravan park.
Right at the last second I get what he’s doing and what he’s after and I make my move but the bugger is faster.
And the large male fully grown wild dog Dingo runs off with one of my sandals in its mouth!
I leap up and give chase followed by the laughter of a group of tourists who’ve had the pleasure of witnessing the antics. I retrieve my undamaged sandal after a hundred metres or so.
They drag out a water bottle from the front pannier, chew on some empty water bottles I was thinking to use for the forthcoming ride along the Mereenie Loop and generally causing mischief. I had to bag E V E R Y T H I N G even remotely dingoable into robust panniers and bags and secure them tight.
A far more amusing experience than troubling and certainly I did not personally feel afraid.
Anyway, the rest of this post is unashamedly based on a six hour hike along the Rim Walk of Watarrka.
There’s no more text since there are a L O T of photos, though each photo has a caption which I hope adds a bit of context.
One bit of context I think should be added concerns all the health and safety warnings, of which I feel are just a wee bit over done. There’s a gate, a lockable gate at the entrances of the walks. There are no less than four emergency radios, and two immense boxes full of emergency survival stuff. For a six kilometre, three hour walk. How hard can it be? Who are the people the authorities are frightened of? Can’t remember where but one of the State Emergency Services dudes was telling me (I think it was in Yulara) of their ever increasing frustration at having to rescue numbers of heat-affected people because no matter the warnings the proliferation of information of how to keep hydrated and the dire consequences of not keeping hydrated people just don’t get it and some die. Lots need help. His frustration was palpable.
As I’m clambering over the rocks well off the Path, which is severely discouraged – remember you’ve only got three hours – other tourists began to take note. Sure enough, I noticed Random Tourists appearing along the Edge. And two of them, a young couple, 20s-something are sort of making their way down one of the more challenging scramble slopes. They are lightly dressed. They do not have hats. They are wearing shoes fit for a beach or inside a house, light slip-ons. They are each carrying less than half a two litre bottle of diet Coke.
And I thought … “How did you manage to get here, past all of them warnings and still not get it?” It is forecast to be over 40 C today.
Tens of tourists arrived just after I started climbing. This is in the ‘off-season’. The numbers coming through here must be immense given the scale of the infrastructure in the carparks. There would not need to be much of a percentage of dizzy ones who don’t get it to keep the State Emergency Services pretty busy.
I truly hope you enjoy the photos as much as I did in walking around taking them. T’was great fun.
There’s much to say and I hope it’s said in the photos. I would be interested to know if I should add some explanatory text to support the photos or describe more of a specific context. If so lemme know and I’ll try to do that.
Watarrka 16 December 2016