Days 55-56: 29th-30th October
(and my final post for this trip)
After our extended break in Port Lincoln, it was time to head back into the heat and red sands of the mallee. Alligator Gorge was our main destination, but with a small deviation en route.
Wild Dog Hill
Whyalla, on the east coast of the Eyre Peninsula, might not seem a promising birding site. It’s better known for its steel industry and the massive iron ore deposits of nearby Iron Knob. But we followed a tip from FAB and drove out in search of Wild Dog Hill.
The conservation reserve just north of Whyalla was quite a surprise. With no wind, just the sun and silence, we could appreciate the spectacle of this sandstone outcrop surrounded by old-growth mallee.
We arrived in the heat of early afternoon ... exactly the wrong time to search for birds. There were a few of the usual subjects, but not the species we were after.
Our target was extremely optimistic. The Western Grasswren is elusive at the best of times ... and it proved so for us. We definitely heard it calling, but didn’t manage even a glimpse.
Never mind. It gave us a better appreciation of this vegetation. What at first glance looks rather uninspiring is actually ancient and fragile.
Anyway, the rough road in was worth it for the views of this quite extraordinary sandstone outcrop.
Late in the day we reached our camp in Wilmington. The village is on the northern edge of Mt Remarkable National Park, and just 12 km north of Alligator Gorge.
We’ve camped in all sorts of places this trip. Some scenic, some daggy, and some that have actually been quite horrid. But the caravan park at Wilmington has to take the prize for the most unpretentious.
The caravan park had a curious charm, with free ranging pet sheep and ponies, alongside plenty of native bird life. I think I’d give it 5 stars ... although I doubt that NRMA would.
Below are some more of the campground species … all within camera-sight of our camp.
Alligator Gorge, Mt Remarkable National Park
Our penultimate day of bushwalking - Alligator Gorge. We weren’t chasing birds ... just taking in the scenery. And it was spectacular.
The photos really don’t do justice to the feeling of this place. It was silent. No breeze reached the canyon floor. And it was cool.
After heavy rain, the river that cuts through the gorge can make it impassable. And it does rain here. The peak of Mt Remarkable can get a metre of rain annually, while the surrounding flatlands get just 300mm!
I gained a sense of why places such as this gorge were - and are - considered sacred by the First Peoples. In a hot, dry environment, it seems full of life and promise.
There was one bird sighting that came as a surprise ... and a reminder that we really are nearly home. Yellow-faced Honeyeaters are the dominant species at home, in Summer. And on the climb out of the Gorge we came upon a pair busy gathering nesting material. We were surprised to see them so far west. And a quick check of our field guide confirmed our suspicions ... this is about the limit of their range.
The short climb out of the gorge marked the end of our final excursion in the arid woodlands.
Reflections on our trip to the west
The past two months have been quite an incredible journey. For me, the plants ... and particularly the orchids ... have been the biggest surprise. I didn’t realise that I was so susceptible to their allure and mystery. Searching for these spectacular little flowers, and then working out just what it was I was seeing, appealed to every one of my obsessive-compulsive-aesthetic-photographic tendencies. I’m quite besotted!
The other major impression that the west has left on me is the vastness of space. So few people. Agriculture has had an irreversible impact here, it’s true ... as it has across most of Australia. But the overall sense of minimal development ... few concrete footpaths, McDonalds outlets, and shopping centres ... is wonderful. People don’t expect a supermarket on every corner. In fact, there are often hundreds of kilometres between Woolworths. I had no idea how liberating it can be to truly “away from it all”. We will be certainly return to this very special corner of the country.
[I’ve not shown Paul my ‘reflections’, but have suggested that in his final post he too record the impressions that the trip has left on him. I look forward to reading what he writes …]