Mount Augustus in WA, twice the size of Uluru, is sometimes called the world’s largest monolith. It’s not really a solid rock as such, but it’s still an impressive lump.
The coast of WA’s Gascoyne region is well known for its stunning attractions but if you drive a few kilometres inland, you’re into the magnificent, wide-open landscapes of the Australian outback. As it happened, the challenge of the outback started before we’d even left Carnarvon to explore two of outback WA’s remote national parks and at the same time touch base with Charles Kingford Smith, once a pioneer mailman.
The ‘few spots of rain’ predicted for the night before roared through like an express train of gale-force winds, torrential rain and a thunderstorm. This closed many inland roads, including the ones on our route. It was another four days before our roads had re-opened and we could leave for our first destination, Kennedy Range National Park.
To reach this park, we first drove 180km on a mainly sealed road to the tiny town of Gascoyne Junction, at the same time following the Kingsford Smith Mail Run, one of the Gascoyne region’s ‘Outback Pathways’. This pathway runs for 800km from Carnarvon to Meekatharra and celebrates both Smithy’s achievements and that of other pioneer mailmen in the area. After reaching the town, we turned north, leaving both the bitumen and the Mail Run behind.
Soon the ridges of the Kennedy Range came into view. These ridges are a huge eroded mesa with a 100m-high scarp, deeply cut by gorges on its eastern and southern sides. At the foot of this multi-coloured scarp is the national park’s Temple Gorge campsite. On our arrival, the on-site camp hosts gave us a wealth of information and suggested the best places to camp. (Campers here have to be self-sufficient, with a single toilet the only amenity provided.)
We quickly set up camp as we were eager to start hiking the nearby trails. Of all the walks, the scramble to the top of the scarp was our favourite with its views of the camp and the wider Lyons River Valley from the edge of one of the ‘fingers’. In fact, we enjoyed this trip so much we did it again, this time walking further across the top to a different ‘finger’.
Another excellent walk was up Temple Gorge, with its wonderful red, pink and orange cliffs and the rock formation that gave the gorge its name. Our last walk, a short stroll up Honeycomb Gorge, took us to a stunning cliff face covered in honeycomb-like sandstone patterns.
After three days we left this delightful camp and drove, on a reasonable dirt road, to Cobra Station, where Smithy’s mail contract ended. Smithy had already made his mark on aviation during WWI, and his main ambition after the war was to fly across the pacific.
In 1924, to raise money for this venture, Smithy and a friend had an innovative idea to deliver mail and freight using trucks, instead of by camel and horse wagons commonly used in the outback then. Their contract ran from the Carnarvon Post Office to the Bangemall Inn, no named Cobra Station.
After a brief stop to look at this historic building (built in 1896), we continued on to Mount Augustus National Park. Mount Augustus – or Burringurrah as it is known by the local Wadjari people – is a massive lump of red rock and, at just over twice the size off Uluru, is the world’s largest monocline (a step-like fold in layers of rock).
As there’s no camping allowed within the national park or on the surrounding station, we had to stay at the Mount Augustus Outback Resort. The next day, we explored some features of the scenic Bowgada Drive that encompasses Mount Augustus. First stop was Cattle Pool, an attractive permanent waterhole. It’s waterholes such as these that ensured the traditional owners, the Wadjari people, could occupy this land for thousands of years.
From there we headed to the Flintstone rock art site near the start of the climb of Mount Augustus. It’s a bit of a squeeze to climb under the rock to see the petroglyphs, and once under, it does require some gymnastic manoeuvres on the slippery rock to see everything. It’s a most interesting site, as were two other art sites further along the road.
CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN
Back at camp, we readied ourselves for the next day’s climb of the mountain. All advice says that the climb isn’t a doddle and that we should go well prepared with strong boots, sunhat and sunscreen, plenty of water and to sign out in the resort’s intentions book.
Next morning with the sun rising as we drove past the north face of the mountain, we were fortunate to see these ancient red rocks at their best. Leaving the car park at 8am, we started climbing the first of the three sections that make up the ascent, with the first being a gentle 1.5km, 110m ascent over large rocks and through light scrub.
This proved a good warm-up for the next section, a steep, 1.5km, 340m climb. Taken slowly, this mainly rocky section didn’t prove difficult and we gained height quickly. The third section is 3km and rises 200m to the top.
Not far after the start of this section, we moved onto a lovely flat track in a saddle, a stark contrast to what we’ve been on before. From there, the long summit ridge comprised alternatively flat, then steep rocky sections and we seemed to take forever to get to the top.
In just under three hours we’d made it and we’d like to thank the person who’d put a picnic table on the top. What a welcome place to sit while we regained our breath. We felt on top of the world with spectacular views of huge skies and the dry shrub lands below that spread across the red sand plain and eventually faded into the distant horizon.
The descent presented no problems and we were back at the car park six hours after we started – a fitting end to out last full day in this area.