Saturday, July 21, 2012

OZ Top Spot #14 – The Grotto, via Wyndham, Western Australia

Reflections at the Grotto, via Wyndham, Western Australia
The Grotto Carpark
My hard-won title of 'World's Greatest Coward' was under serious threat as I stood poised on the first of the 140 hand-hewn rocky steps descending into the depths of the chasm.

The Grotto's inauspicious car park and 'rest area' had promised worse than nothing.

A desolate expanse of bare, rocky ground; bins overflowing with tourist season detritus (read wine casks, beer bottles, loo paper); and a public toilet so disgracefully messed up that even my expertise couldn't turn into something scenic.

Warning sign at the Grotto

Hordes of Grey Nomads swarmed across the rocks towards the tree-lined gash at the head of the gorge. Water gleamed far below through a mat of vegetation. People posed. Cameras clicked. People departed. Motors leapt into life.

Further back towards the car park, a few steps led directly off the cliff edge into what looked like mid-air. Right next to the sign warning 'Cliff Risk Area' and a splendidly graphic depiction of a person tripping over a tsunami.

The Grotto, Wyndham
This couldn't possibly be the 'staircase' to the Grotto. Could it?

No one else had gone down the steps to nowhere, and no wonder. If this was the 'easy' stairway I'd anticipated when we left Wyndham for the famous Grotto, I wouldn't be going anywhere either! But what's the point of visiting new places if you're too gutless to see them? What's the point of craving new experiences if you're too cowardly??

Magic at the Grotto, Wyndham, Western Australia
And ultimately, what's the point of having life-changing adventures if they don't actually change your life???

If I'd have been so inclined, I'd have crossed myself, but instead settled for divulging the secret location of my blog password in the event of my untimely death by misadventure. At least death at the Grotto sounded mildly exotic – and with that morbid but strangely comforting thought, I faced the staircase from hell.

Fit, agile and possibly younger readers will doubtless marvel at my inability to trip down the rugged stairway as lightly as an election promise. But as I negotiated the switchbacks unrelieved by guardrails with stairs cut directly from the cubic rock of the cliff walls and pointlessly clutching at sheer rock faces for support I descended through a portal into paradise.

Reflections in the Grotto Pool, Wyndham, Western Australia


Dark, and shimmering with fractured reflections from the towering cliffs above, the pool at the base of what must be a magnificent wet season waterfall, is estimated to be at least 300 ft deep. Twisted tree roots keep the cubic rock crystals in place (please god) and water trickles over carpets of moss, full as a sponge. And the person or persons unknown who hung the rope swing from an overhanding tree high above the pool?
 
The Grotto?  Or Middle Earth??  YOU decide!
Let's just say there's a fine line between enterprise and foolhardiness!!

I gasped as I dipped my feet into the water, shaded for most of the day between the steep rocky walls of the chasm that surrounds it. I could only imagine what would have happened if my less calloused body parts had been immersed! But its frigidity didn't deter the water monitors (lizards) swimming and sunbaking on the rocks, and on a hotter day would be heaven!

Water Monitor, the Grotto, Wyndham
Was I still in Australia? Or had I inadvertently slipped into Middle Earth?
The Grotto's quietude, dream-like tranquility and the flicker of its ever-changing reflections must have had a mesmerising effect that blocked out all traces of the world above and stilled the passage of time (a poetic way of saying I can't recall how long we spent down there)(or how many photos I took).

As we explored its nooks and crannies, careful not to disturb the lizards, was it a coincidence that I discovered my camera's 'Magic' setting?

The Grotto Rope Swing
 Of course that meant re-taking nearly every photo to see how 'magic' affected it!!

But finally, it was time to leave.

And as we reluctantly ascended back into the real world's sunlight, dust and devastated car park the Grotto felt like a dream from which I wished I could not awake.

While I deplore the Aussie tendency for unimaginative place names, 'Grotto' is a geographically accurate description.

But it hardly captures the strange and unexpected beauty of this remote jewel of the Kimberley region, does it?

So what would I call it?

HHHMMMmmm... lets see ...

Mesmerizing Magical Middle Earth? 

More Magic at the Grotto!
Cavernous Cauldron Chasm??

Happy Harmony Hollow??? 

Lazy Lizards Leap????
Nah, I'm no good at this. What would YOU call it?!

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AND ... for more fabulous photography from around the world, visit Nature's Footstep Inspiring Photography meme!  Click HERE to go there right now!!!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Australia's Scenic Public Toilets #26 - Five Rivers Lookout, Wyndham, Western Australia


Western view from Five Rivers Lookout, Wyndham, Western Australia
The lookout with the most staggering scenery in Australia will always be a matter of personal taste. There are so many contenders that jaded travellers have been known to pass up the opportunity to see yet another lookout over even more staggering vistas.
Southern View - Five Rivers Lookout, Wyndham, Western Australia
And being lookouted-out is a known syndrome.  Well ... ALMOST!
But the view from imaginatively named Five Rivers Lookout overlooking the Cambridge Gulf is beyond staggering.

In fact, the stupendous panorama from Mt Bastion, towering ~330 metres above the gulf and the port of Wyndham where five significant rivers meet is several kinds of awesome.

Northern View, Five Rivers Lookout, Wyndham, Western Australia

And with not one, but TWO scenic public toilets, Western Australia's northernmost town Wyndham immediately scoots to the top of Australia's most scenic public toilets list.

Set amongst some of most spectacular and unusual scenery in Australia, Wyndham's vista includes the magnificent escarpments of the Cockburn and Bastion ranges, vast river floodplains, tidal salt flats, wetlands, billabongs, mangrove swamps and two 7-9 metre tides per day.

Five Rivers Lookout Amenities, The Bastion Summit
And despite being ~100 km from the coast, the Gulf's killer combination of tropical waters, incoming river flows, massive tides and remote location makes it ideal for fishing.

If fishing in crocodile-infested waters is actually a drawcard!

Perhaps it's fitting that the meeting place of the Ord, Pentecost, Forrest, Durack and King rivers offers a choice of two amenities blocks – the view is so extensive it's impossible to fit into one photograph.

Red Circle marks Jetty Loo Location, Cambridge Gulf, Wyndham

Mix business with pleasure at the unobtrusive lookout loo, in the barbecue area behind the lookout carpark, with one of the best outlooks in Australia; or at the jetty loo slap-bang in the middle of the Five Rivers Lookout panorama.

But between you and me, with scenery this staggering, it's not all about the amenities at this awesome Aussie attraction.

Just don't tell anyone I told you so!!

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Sunset over Cambridge Gulf, Five Rivers Lookout, Wyndham, Western Australia

Monday, July 9, 2012

Good morning from ... Kununurra, Western Australia!!

Mirima National Park, Kununurra, Western Australia
A good morning in Kununurra starts really early.  That's because this town in the East Kimberley is just west of the Northern Territory border and the Central Australia time zone.  Crossing the border into Western Australia means you gain 1½  hours so what was 7:30 am in the Northern Territory is now 6:00 am!

And the sun is well and truly up by then.


The view from our campsite at the Lakeside Tourist Resort, Kununurra
BUT ... there's no point fighting it because instead of setting around 6:30 pm, the sun disappears at 5:00 pm.  So rising at the crack of dawn is just a smart way of using all available daylight hours.  Or so they say!

We tested out the theory with magical sunrise visit to the small but impressive rock formations of Mirima National Park, only a few kilometres from our campsite on Lily Lagoon.

And darned if it didn't start our Kununurra morning perfectly!


Here's five good reasons why:
1.  There was no one else around!  Well ... apart from the two manic joggers busy filming themselves running for Facebook.  If you're one of the 'lucky' ones to have seen the footage, it's my sad duty to inform you that it's SO not spontaneous!

2.  The light was perfect for photography.  TOO perfect.  Maybe it's time to accept that not EVERY photo I take is an oil painting, and start culling before my SD card fills up.  Again.

The snake at the summit, Mirima National Park

3.  There was a lot more wildlife about.  Sandstone shrike-thrush, Kestrel, White-quilled rock pigeon.  Oh, and what's that snake-shaped shadow along the look-out ledge?  That would be a three metre snake, of course!
It's a python, right?!
But it's *only* a python ...

See?


4.  Getting up this early left the rest of the day free.  And what better way to spend it than on a mango-cheesecake-and-mango-smoothie bender?!  Kununurra's Ord River irrigation scheme means the area is an agricultural wonderland with WAY more than mangoes on offer ...

In places like this!

Mango Smoothie heaven!  Sandstone Gallery, Kununurra


5.  And the smug, superior, self-righteous glow you'll wear after such a sublime start to the morning lasts all day!  Trust me!!

Mirima National Park Rock Formations, Kununurra, Western Australia


Want more information?

PS  Please accept my apologies for not having visited many blogs in the last few weeks.  I've had limited power to charge my netbook battery and limited internet access.  I'll visit y'all to death as soon as I can!!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Signs #20 - Croc? OR CROCK!!

Swimming sign at Elsey National Park, Northern Territory

“Hey guys! The swimming hole's open - but I'll go in first and check for crocodiles,” said no one ever after reading this sign in the Northern Territory's Elsey National Park.


Looks inviting, doesn't it?!  BUT ...

It's a relief to learn that despite other signs in the park indicating crocodiles ARE present, the 'reduced risk' in the 'crocodile management zone' means this swimming hole on the Roper River is OPEN!

But there's a subtle distinction between 'low risk' and 'no risk'.
Isn't there?

And if it's SO safe to swim in the waterhole, why is there a contact number for sightings?

No crocodile hiding places here, right?!
Just askin'!

But what am I saying! Government organisation risk management practices are so sound and reliable, there's no question of accepting them.

Is there?

But conducting a check for one of the most cunning and dangerous predators on earth might take more than a quick look for the most common signs. Slide marks on the banks? No! Odd bumps that could be eyes, nostrils or tails in the water? No! Suspicious looking logs? No!

Of course there's no way of knowing whether any of the vegetation or rocks in and around the water may be harbouring a crocodile, or even whether your preliminary check was successful unless you go in the water. But if you DO see a crocodile, at least you'll have the consolation of knowing it'll be removed!
SO … who's going to be the guinea pig in first?!?!

AAAARRRGH!  Is that a CROCODILE in the water??**


For more fabulous signs from around the world, visit Lesley's Signs, signs right now!



**Please note:  this crocodile was NOT photographed in the Roper River at Elsey National Park!  It was, however, photographed in the Northern Territory!!
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