On Day 2 of our touring of the Kalbarri region, we were heading to inspect the inland gorges created by the long work of the Murchison River (600 million years!), cutting its way 150 metres down through the red Tumblagooda sandstone of the region. The river winds its way for 80 kilometres through the gorges of the Kalbarri National Park. We were starting our visit at the Kalbarri Skywalk which was opened on June 12,2020 costing the government around 24 million dollars, a project designed not only to create local jobs but to boost tourism to this area of Western Australia. The skywalk consists of two cantilevered platforms stretching out over the Murchison Gorge, one for 25 metres and the other for 17 metres.
The platform supports were all installed below ground and required considerable excavation of gorge rock. This rock was stockpiled nearby and then reused in the landscaping of the area. The views over the gorges enabled by Sky Walk are wonderful and suggest similarity with structures over the Grand Canyon in Colorado USA.
It became clear after our slow walk around the Skywalk area that a lot of goals were set for the expenditure of such large amounts of money on this huge tourist infrastructure. There appeared to be a happy co-operative relationship with the Nanda people in this Yamaji Region, particularly in providing jobs in the area based on the region’s aboriginal heritage but also to ensure their culture and artwork was a central part of the design of the platforms and the surrounding pathways and gardens. There was also quite the emphasis in this project of ensuring best practice environmental preservation was incorporated into all aspects, particularly in the way the sculptures of local at-risk animals were presented along the meandering walkways as visitors approach the Skywalk platforms.
One of these local success stories is the Chuditch, one of 18 native animals in the park and one of Western Australia’s largest marsupial carnivores. Loss of habitat from goats and decimation of the population by feral cats and foxes caused them to be wiped out in this region. They were reintroduced into the park in 2000 and they are thriving.
Whilst not at risk in the park, the emu was beautifully presented, strolling along the side of one of the access paths.
Apart from the amazing views down into the gorge, there were a lot of information boards around the Skywalk for visitors to read the pertinent local issues, such as the millions of years of the geological formation of the area, the botany of the local plant species and a particular interest in what fossil footprints in the red sandstone tell us about the extremely ancient living creatures that once moved about this landscape.
A form of display that I have not come across elsewhere was the recreations in stone and metal of the ancient arthropods who “left tracks and burrows in the wet sand as they moved along. When the surface dried, sand particles compacted forming sandstone, preserving their tracks. Overtime, water has worn away the overlying layers to expose this ‘moment in time’.” (Park Info Boards) Arthropods are examples of very early living creatures and their fossilised tracks are common throughout the park. Such tracks have been found in other parts of the world (eg. Antartica) but this park remains one of the best places in the world to see these remnants of early life on the planet.
Our visit to Sky Walk was a lengthy stop due to the amount of time spent viewing the deep gorge, reading the information boards and generally marveling at the landscape. But it was time to move on to our next site in the park which was called ‘Nature’s Window’. If you have looked up any information on this area of the WA coast, you will have seen the iconic photo of this rock formation that frames the views over Murchison River. Although a short walk, the climb down to Nature’s Window was spectacular, not only for the views but the striking rock formations that we needed to clamber around. We didn’t have the time, the energy or the physical skills necessary to do the 9km walk down into the gorge, around the loop of the river below and then back up the side of the gorge.
So it was back to the car park to move on to our third destination of the morning, the Z-Bend. Like all hard-walking travelers, we were due a toilet stop at this car-park which was where I encountered the puzzling sign to the right. I am not sure what the problem with feral bees was, were they hanging around the taps and drinking too much water, attacking the native bees or stinging the weary hikers! The other local animal highlighted by information in this car-park was the black-flanked rock wallaby. Apparently the Z-bend gorge we were heading for is a great place for spotting these wallabies in the caves in the cliff faces.
It was an easy walk from the informative car-park to our lookout over the Z Bend section of the Murchison River Gorge. The walk through the heathland to the edge of the gorge was lovely with lots of flowering trees and shrubs along the way.
Apart from admiring the view when we got to the lookout point that can be seen in the image above, there were two hikes we could have taken from this point. One was the Four Ways Trail, described as a strenuous hike, which was a 6 km trail along the river below. The other was called the River Trail, described in the sign here as ‘demanding’; it was only 2.6km. The photos on the right show how demanding it is.
After returning from our inspection of the beautiful gorges in the National Park behind Kalbarri, we returned to our campground for lunch and an afternoon relax before heading out again. We decided we would go for a swim at one of the Kalbarri beaches that was advertised very colourfully and extensively in the Kalbarri Holiday Planner magazine which we had picked up at the newly reopened Tourist Office (Cyclone damage!) the day before. The swimming spot was called Blue Holes and it was described as follows…
“Part of an inshore limestone reef system, this area was declared a Fish habitat Protection area in 2007. Home to more than 70 species of finfish…Blue Holes offers a range of recreational activities including swimming and snorkelling.”
We decided that Blue Holes would be fairly easy to find as it was at the end of Blue Holes Rd. There was a good size car-park behind the dunes and there was a large grader there pushing sand around but this didn’t suggest that there would be too many problems finding the Blue Holes and having a swim. We moved out of the carpark over the dunes to the beach but we couldn’t spot any obvious blue holes, large rocks or coral, similar to what the image on the left depicted. It was just a beach with large Indian Ocean waves crashing onto the stone and sand; swimming here didn’t look particularly attractive.
Disappointed we headed back to the carpark and as we approached our campervan, we encountered a group of cheerful locals going for a walk. We complained that we were unable to find the advertised ‘Blue Holes’ which rather than confusing them, made them all laugh. They explained that our failure to find the Blue Holes was because they were no longer there! The wretched cyclone had picked up a couple of huge sand dunes when it hit the coastline and dumped them into the blue holes. They were ‘gonesky’, another Kalbarri casualty of Cyclone Seroja.
We finished our time at Kalbarri, a little sad for this beautiful place with so much to offer visitors. However it was clear that as long as another cyclone didn’t appear too soon, the future was bright for tourism in Kalbarri.