Category Archives: Walks


In the dry winter months the sun shines on Broome every day and temperatures are always in the late twenties to early thirties.  Here the dusty traveller can quench her thirst with house fermented ginger beer from Matso’s, the local brewery.   Oh, it’s good.   Refreshing citrus notes fire up into a fierce ginger bite.  Perfect on a hot day.  Richard takes a liking to an angry ranga.   No, not a red haired Scottish barmaid, but a beer with a chilli kick. 

By chance we are also in town to see the famous stairway to the moon.  We join other tourists who flock to the seafront to see the full moon rise over the water, its golden red reflection creating the illusion of heavenly steps leading away from this world and into the mystic.  It’s amazing to see people gathering to watch a natural phenomenon in the party atmosphere of a New Years celebration.   There’s no countdown, but we have a very precise time for the moon to rise, 6:31pm.  It’s there on schedule and despite hundreds of iPhone camera flashes, it is still quite beautiful. The huge red moon slowly rises and the shimmering golden steps appear.  In a few short moments it is over, it’s just another full moon and the crowds disperse.

It’s busy.  Both West Australia and Northern Territory schools are closed for holidays and Broome is bursting at the seams.  We retreat to a bush camp and spend two nights camping in the sand dunes at Quandong Point.   Steak sizzles on the campfire barbecue and we toast Broome as the sun goes down over the azure Indian Ocean.

The next day we walk the beach looking for whales and dinosaur footprints.  Whales 1 Dinosaurs 0.  We see a humpback whale out to sea, but no sign of dinosaurs.  It’s disappointing. This area of the coast is known as the dinosaur highway and apparently  has more dinosaur tracks than anywhere else in the world.  We decide the huge tides have hidden them from us.

Deep red cliffs edge the beach,  contrasting with the white sand and deep blue ocean.   It’s a landscape in primary colours.  As the high tide recedes, it reveals a pavement of black rocks, forming hundreds of rock pools where sea salt crystallises in the hot sun as the water dries.  We peer into the rock pools at tiny fish and slow creeping sea snails.   Our campsite neighbour, a Frenchman, found a small shark in a pool earlier and skinned and filleted for dinner.  No sharks for us.

Our walk ends at a palm fringed point where a rickety old plastic chair looks over a picture postcard ocean view.  An invitation to sit and stare a while.

Where the rainforest meets the reef

The roads hug the coast in Douglas Shire, steep rocky cliffs running along sandy beaches, like a tropical Great Ocean Road.   Turning away from the ocean here you do not see mountain ash and tree ferns, but dense green walls of sugar cane, neatly clipped and standing to attention like a sailor’s crew cut.  The air is as warm and steamy as a gardener’s hot house.

The entry to Port Douglas is grand, lined with mature palm trees.   It’s a much bigger town than I’d imagined, a tourist Mecca.   The wharf is busy, with boats offering crocodile spotting tours in the waters nearby and ocean going yachts bristling with equipment and the scars of past voyages.

A white timber clad church stands on the bay.  It dates from 1880.   The little church is cool and peaceful inside.  The east window looks directly out to sea, framing the view to the Great Barrier Reef.  I wonder how many have sat in these pews, what stories they could tell of the history of Port Douglas.  Who was married here?  Who tried to save the church when it was destroyed by cyclone in 1911?   The building keeps its secrets.

We walk through the main shopping street, passing tourist souvenir shops, ladies clothing stores and hotel bars in colonial buildings.   Moccas famous pies live up to their reputation and draw a succession of hungry customers into a side street for lunch.

From Port Douglas we once again pass through lush green sugar cane country.   Cane trains stand loaded with harvested cane.  We are in the wet tropics now.  Clouds sit on top of misty tropical mountains.  We see banana orchards, each bunch wrapped in its own protective bag.

Stopping at Daintree village we wander down to the river.  Two fishermen tell us tall tales of man eating crocodiles.  They are not joking.   The number of signs warning of crocodiles is increasing as we travel north, as are the tales of attacks.  We take the warnings seriously…

The utes queue up for the old cable ferry that takes us across the Daintree River to Cape Tribulation.  It’s a steep climb up the other side.  Now we are truly in the world heritage Daintree rainforest.  

The forest is dense around us.   Strangling figs clamber up the trunks of fan palms, seeking the light.   Elephant ear vine leaves spread out to capture the few rays of sun that break through the rainforest canopy.  The forest glistens and drips in the steamy atmosphere.

We take a walk in the rainforest with Cooper Creek Wilderness Tours.   Almost immediately a cassowary crosses our path.  Strange flightless birds, in the same family as the emu and kiwi, they have a horn like growth on their heads, bright blue necks and red wattles hanging down below.   Standing 1.5 metres tall they could be intimidating, but Big Bertha completely ignores us as she strides purposefully past.

The rainforest tour is fascinating.   We see primitive spiders that gather up their silk at night and camouflage themselves to look like thorns on the branch of a tree.   We hear about the yellow cyrus, the toxic white walnut, the zombie fungi and a tree that expels cyanide gas when chopped by an axe.   I am amazed by the height of the fan palms.  Here they form the rainforest canopy, a roof top of green that shades the plants below.  So tall, so high above us, we would need binoculars to spot birds or canopy dwelling marsupials.

Unfortunately, feral pigs cause damage to the rainforest that will never be healed.  While vines grow quickly here, many plants grow so slowly they can never recover when seedlings are wiped out by a wallowing pig.

Howard and I spy another rare creature here, a short, elderly, bearded Japanese man, in the rainforest with a film crew.   Dr Suzuki, we presume.

The evening light is growing dim.  We need to catch up with the rest of the party who have gone on ahead of us.   We have planned to meet at Noah’s Beach.  So we leave the wilderness tour and head down the winding unsealed road to find the campground.  

When we arrive, it is dark.  Driving around the wilderness campsite we peer at the campers in each of the sites.  No, we don’t recognise them.  Back on the road, we decide to circle around again.    I glance at a sign board at the entry, there is a piece of paper flapping in the wind.   

Stop!   I look at the paper, it says “See you at Coconut Beach.  M & O, M & H, D & S”.  

Where on earth is coconut beach?

We drive down the road, looking for a sign.  A voice crackles over the radio, “Turn right at Masons Store”.   

Turning right after Masons Store we find the lovely Cape Trib campsite on the beach and are reunited with our convoy.

The Valley of the Winds

Kata Tjuta plays second fiddle to Uluru, her big brother.  He dominates the national park they share.   The Rock has become so well known overseas as an Aussie icon that it rivals the Sydney Opera House as “the” Australian tourist drawcard.  Few tourists have heard of Kata Tjuta, even under their former name, The Olgas.

But, they are really missing out.  Kata Tjuta is remarkable.

Today we are planning to take the Valley of the Winds walk into Kata Tjuta.   It is one of two walks that are still open to tourists.   Most of Kata Tjuta is closed now, except to the local aboriginal people who come here to carry out their traditional ceremonies.

From a distance, Kata Tjuta seems to bubble up out of the depths.   There are thirty six curvy domes in this cluster of rocks.  She shares her colours with Uluru, the same dark red rock, the same sultry burgundy shadows.

Path to Kata Tjuta

Path to Kata Tjuta

It is another cool, bright day.  We trudge up the sandy path from the car park to the start of the walk.   It is not busy, but there are a few walkers here.  Some Germans stride by dressed in full walking regalia, carrying walkers’ sticks.  A group of twenty somethings straggle past, chatting in French and Spanish.   A Scandinavian couple stroll along, she has one bare foot, one clad in a walking shoe.  It is not clear why.

We are lucky, the cool breeze seems to be keeping the flies away.  No need of the fly net today.

Valley of the Winds Walk

Valley of the Winds Walk

As we walk into Kata Tjuta, we are immediately in awe at the size, shape and texture of the red domes.  We pass into a channel between two towering walls of rock.   The sound of the wind grows louder but changes in nature.  I hear waves breaking on a beach.  It’s a calming, relaxing sound, like the womb noises modern mums play their babies as a lullaby.

Colours of Kata Tjuta

Colours of Kata Tjuta

Although it is 11 o’clock in the morning, the sun has not risen high enough in the sky to warm all of the rocks inside the channel.   As we walk the sun begins to scale the last rocky barrier and sets a dramatic contrast between the dark shadowy rock on our left and the glowing pink red slope, bathed in sunlight on our right.   We pick our way carefully between the two, yin and yang.

The path turns to the right and we are walking into a valley, lush and green around a dry creek bed.   Zebra finches flit through the trees around us.   Budgies wheel and turn, flying between us at head height to investigate who goes by.

Rock formations

Rock formations

The huge red rocks cradle us.   We are held in a Kata Tjuta embrace.   This is a magical place.  I feel the same nurturing power I felt at Tnorala, the site of the celestial impact.   I have heard some people suggest that sites that are still cared for by the ceremonies of their local people retain a power that was once felt across the land.  Perhaps there is some truth in that.

Kata Tjuta's song in stone

Kata Tjuta’s song in stone

Looking up as we walk along, we see curves, hollows, rounded caves and pools high up in the rock.   The varied shapes work as one to sing a harmony in stone.   A note called in one cave is echoed in a hollow below and forms a chord with a triplet of pools on the opposite wall.   The rock sings in the wind.

Richard plays David to Goliath

Richard plays David to Goliath

We climb further into the centre of the red domes of Kata Tjuta.

We scramble up steep, slanting faces of rock and stand in a cavern that glows pink red then darkens to shadowy blue black.  Birds fly high above us and perch on ledges on the rock faces, singing their songs of freedom.

Through the shadows

Through the shadows

The path becomes steeper and more challenging.   The rock falls away beside us to another fertile meadow filling the rocky landscape with trees and grasses found only here in this unique ecosystem.

We climb higher and higher.   Knees begin to feel the strain as we lever ourselves up the rocky path.   We can’t see the top of this climb, but we can hear the voices of walkers ahead of us.   Finally, we reach the summit of this testing red rock track and look through a natural window on to an expanse of green, a heavenly valley.  We gaze out from the darkness of our perch to the sunlit valley below, like birds preparing to take flight.

Window on another world at Kata Tjuta

Window on another world at Kata Tjuta

Sitting still and reflecting on the view, we become cool after the exertion of the climb.   Time to move on.   We complete the walk, drinking in the unique sights and sounds of this place.

Eventually we find ourselves back on the path to the car park.   We pass walkers who are on their way in and smile a greeting.  They will understand when they return.



Kings Canyon

Walking boots, sunglasses, water bottles? Yes. We are ready for the Kings Canyon rim walk. A stiff breeze keeps us cool as we make our way to the start.

I look up and point. “There’s someone climbing the canyon wall”.

“No. That’s the path”, says Richard.

Up to the rim

Up to the rim

Up we go. The track climbs almost vertically from ground level up to the rim. It’s steep, a five hundred step climb. Hearts pumping and slightly breathless, we get to the top.

What a view. We can see for miles and miles across the spinifex plains.

The rust red golden hues of the canyon surround us as we walk further along the rim. Massive rocks with tessellated angular surfaces like crocodile scales, loom ahead. Hardy white cypress pine trees force their roots deep into crevices in the rock to find water to survive. Palm like cycads sprout from rocky corners. The rim has its own thriving ecosystem, including rock wallabies and euros. It is surprisingly green up here.

Richard in Kings Canyon

Richard in Kings Canyon

The path takes us through a narrow space between two huge rounded masses of rock. We catch glimpses of strange otherworldly shapes on the other side. When we step through we are transported into a forgotten village of beehive shaped stone dwellings. The flat rock at our feet could be a man made pavement from ancient times. I touch the rock, to reassure myself that this is real, not a dream. Where are the ancient people who lived here? I see why the local people tell tales of a dreamland race who live here in the rocks.

Red holly grevillea grows here in profusion. A beautiful plant, it has the delicate red flower of a grevillea and spiky, grey green leaves, shaped like holly.

I lean down to touch ripples in the rock at my feet. They are cold and hard. I am touching the frozen memory of wind rippling the dunes that formed this sandstone. I am travelling in time.

It is wild and windy. Cool bright weather like this is perfect for the walk. It is about six km walking on rocky surfaces with little shade. On a hotter day, the rock would reflect the heat of the sun and it could be unbearable.

Canyon view

Canyon view

We are totally immersed in the world of the canyon rim. Everywhere we look we see the intense rust red colours and strange, awe inspiring structures sculpted by the wind and rain. I’ve never been anywhere like this before.

The path takes us to the edge of the canyon and we walk down a black wooden walkway into the chasm. Below us we can see the creek. We look down on the tops of tall gum trees growing out of the lush green oasis created around the waterway. Birds are singing. They call this place the Garden of Eden.

Canyon wall

Canyon wall

Climbing again to the other side of the rim, we catch a view of the walls of the canyon. The craggy rock has split through to form a wall that is flat and smooth, as if a knife had cut it. The heart of the rock exposed is paler than its craggy skin suggests. The flat walls are amber and white, contrasting with the deep red gold around us.

Two small figures can be seen on a precarious rocky ledge opposite us. Some foolhardy tourists have diverted from the path and have clambered down on to the edge to get a better view of the walls of the canyon. I feel my stomach dip in vicarious vertigo. From our vantage point we can see that the rock breaks away beneath them and curves way back into the wall of the canyon. What madness.

We walk on, way back from the edge. The flat rock catches the rays of the sun and glows. The camera will not be able to capture the intensity of the colours around us.

Canyon walk

Canyon walk

We glimpse the view in gaps between the hard glinting surfaces of the towers of red gold rock. It is as if we are looking into the dreamland world again. We see a plateau apparently densely populated with stone villages from another time and place. The beehive shapes intrigue me.

The walk begins to descend and we catch sight of the car park far below us. Gradually we climb down from the rim leaving that strange, beautiful world behind us.

The red centre is a wonderland. Every day we are in awe of the land around us. Tomorrow we visit Uluru then Kata Tjuta. No doubt I’ll fall in love with them too. But it’s the landscape as a whole that inspires.

Travelling long distances, I see the beauty in the ever changing shape and colour of this country in its natural state. It’s a rare privilege. Most of the landscapes we see have been so manipulated to our needs that we have lost this. We’ve lost the horizon. We’ve lost our connection to the natural world.

I’m not suggesting that travelling in a car over long distances is the best way to get in touch with nature. Of course not. But the real attraction of the red centre for me has been the ability to see not just the tourist sights but the form of the land itself. Walk it, cycle it, drive it, fly it, it doesn’t matter. If you travel in this country you have an opportunity to see natural beauty without human intervention and on a grand scale.