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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Walking Watarrka; the King's Canyon Rim walk

After a couple of postings reflecting some personal highlights of my recent trip to Ecuador, it's probably time to come a bit closer to home for this one. 

The George Gill Range lies 300 kilometres south west of Alice Springs in central Australia, and about the same distance north-east of the more famous Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. It was named in 1872 by one of the toughest of all 19th century European desert explorers, Ernest Giles (who will surely feature here one day in his own right), somewhat prosaically for his brother in law, George Duff Gill of Melbourne, who helped finance the expedition. The western end of the range, covering some 72,000 hectares, has since 1983 been protected as Watarrka National Park.
Views of the George Gill Range, above and below, from the north.

The walk of some seven kilometres around the rim of Kings Canyon, the best-known feature of the range, is very much a favourite of mine, though I only 'discovered' it relatively recently. The creek which flows through it was also named by Giles, for a Mr Fielder King, though we know little of him other that he lived on a property that Giles had visited, and Giles regarded him as an "old and kind friend".

The walk features both exposed arid land forms, many of them dramatic, and surprisingly sheltered oases in gullies in the rock. It begins with a fairly daunting stone stair case climb to the plateau, but thereafter it is an easy walk on level ground until a long undulating descent.
A section of the climb; it takes about 15 minutes, but it's always good to get the worst part over first!
Looking back from the top of this climb, giving an idea of the ascent, to Kings Creek flowing into the plain.
The hard pure sandstone of the plateau is some 50 metres deep and is believed to have formed from wind-blown dunes some 360 million years ago; very little soil is found on the plateau.
Route of the walk near the start, on pure Mereenie Sandstone.
To the right is dramatic cross-bedding on the surface of the 'beehives' which characterise the plateau.
This crossbedding (detail below) is regarded by geologists as further evidence of a wind-blown dune origin.

Later (around 320 million years ago) a dramatic period of mountain-building tilted and thrust up iconic forms such as Uluru and Kata Tjuta, and forced fault lines into the Mereenie Sandstone. These fault lines formed cracks which weathered and eroded into the modern beehives.
The 'beehives' provide some of the most dramatic aspects of a dramatic walk.

By contrast, the walls of the canyon itself, seen from above magnificently from vantage points along the route are sheer for the top 50 metres at least.
The hard sheer Mereenie Sandstone walls of the canyon.

Below the Mereenie layer is an older, softer, redder one of Carmichael Sandstones,
formed  under a sea 440 million years ago.
These are crumbling and undermining the Mereenie layer, causing huge boulders to fall from the walls.
The plateau is a tough environment but inevitably plants thrive there, though the going is obviously hard in same instances.
Ghost Gums Eucalyptus (or Corymbia) aparrerinja, above and below.

Here the Ghost Gum roots are sprawling across the surface seeking access to water.
Also searching for water on the rocks are the roots of this Rock Fig Ficus brachypoda.
Baeckea polystemmonea, another shrub clinging for life to the rock face; flowers below.
This is a generally uncommon species, but is readily found along the walk.

Acacia macdonnellensis, limited to the central desert ranges;
the name comes from the nearby MacDonnell Ranges.
In the sheltered depths of the gorge itself however, and in one particular rocky gully along the walk, conditions are dramatically different, cool and sheltered, and life is very different.
Known locally as the 'Garden of Eden' (!), this mini-gorge supports River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis)and MacDonnell Ranges Cycad Macrozamia macdonnellii (also below), a relict of ancient wetter times.
MacDonnell Ranges Cycad with male cones.
Animal life is less evident in these exposed conditions (especially with lots of walkers) but it is there.
Little Eagle Hieraaetus morphnoides on a nest on the canyon walls.
Spinifex Pigeon Geophaps plumifera, an exquisite dryland pigeon of rocky areas.
Grey-headed Honeyeater Lichenostomus keartlandi on Grevillea wickhamii.
Ring-tailed Dragon Ctenophorus caudicinctus.
A beautifully camouflaged grasshopper - though it doesn't seem to have saved it from losing an antenna!
This brief posting really doesn't do justice to one of Australia's great walks, but hopefully it will at least encourage you to add it to your 'must do' list - it deserves to be there.



Susan said...

Been there, done that :-) I see from your post I've misidentified one of my lizards. We have a couple of very similar landscape pics. It's obvious that everyone comes across the same dramatic or interesting views as they do the walk. The ranger runs it every evening, just to make sure no one is left up top overnight.

The happy wanderer. said...

It's certainly wonderful and interesting place to visit, especially when you do that rim walk.