Joanne Marriott embarks on a canoe adventure along the Murchison River, uncovering hidden treasures and stories of an ancient past.
A perfect aperture hollowed into layers of ancient sandstone reveals a breathtaking panorama. The majestic Murchison River carves a wide arc through the precipitous gorge between castles of towering sandstone and rock balconies commanding views fit for a king.
Its verdant course breathes life into the dry valley floor like an essential vein, hydrating viridescent canopies of solitary gum trees, soldiering on the sandy flats.
I am peering through Nature’s Window, the most iconic site in Kalbarri National Park, and like Simba surveying his kingdom for the first time at Pride Rock, I am in awe. At the edge of this pinnacle, upon a layer cake of red and white striped stratigraphy, I find myself surrounded on all sides by the tightly meandering Murchison.
It seems a ceremonial gesture by nature to commemorate this formidable landscape in a monumental picture frame.
ARRIVING AT THE SITE
I am embarking on a canoe journey with Kalbarri Adventure Tours to explore the more remote sections of the gorge and delve deeper into the mysteries of the Murchison.
We clamber down a rocky staircase, traversing thousands of years of geological history with every step, catching fragments of a broadening gorge scene as steep cliffs loom closer and river redgums come into view.
Our pace quickens and within minutes we stumble onto a pale sandy shore, secluded in a narrow valley. We follow the tributary as it opens out into the main canyon and joins the Murchison at Four Ways Gorge.
The sound of silence is astounding and we pause to take it all in, humbled by the colossal cliffs above us. It’s an enchanting place filled with echoes of ancient times.
We amble along natural pavements and terraces endowed with palaeontological treasures and traces of ancient critters. Slabs of rust red sandstone reveal ripples frozen in time, telling the story of the gorge’s dynamic past, when shorelines prevailed and small waves lapped onto the beach.
Conscious of the ancient landscape, we tread carefully downstream, eyes peeled for more geological gems. We reach a steep sandy bank with a beach, where a fleet of kayaks and canoes are tethered at the shoreline.
We push off from the bank and propel ourselves along the tranquil waterway.
I crane my neck back to peer up at the towering red walls, stretching some 50 metres up to the sky. Rock ledges protrude above our heads and colossal slabs, fragmented and fallen, have come contentedly to a place of rest.
Striped red and white layers paint pictures of gigantic bacon sandwiches and red velvet cakes with generous lashings of billowing cream. By the waters edge, eucalypts grow on islands of rock, their roots drilling through cracks, finding conduits to deeper reservoirs.
Rectangular boulders and submerged slabs lie in wait. We see them just in time and our canoe slowly grazes across their surface. The silky richness of the green river is luxuriant in contrast to the parched hillsides with desperate wattles clinging to the scrubby slopes, leaves like needles saluting the sky, begging for rain.
The river narrows into a rocky gully...
The full feature appeared in the September/October 2018 issue of Outdoor Magazine. Subscribe today for all the latest outdoor adventure, travel news and inspiration.