After embarking on the longest hike at Carnarvon the first full day, the second full day Mom & I decided to take it easy. We were obviously the last in the entire park to awake because people were returning from hikes as we were toting everything to the showers. We chose to explore the trails not on the main path/at other areas of the park.
FIRST STOP: BALOON CAVE
Only 250 meters from the parking area, it took us an hour to get to Baloon Cave. Why? Mom & I were about to cross over a stream when I heard something rustling in the bush. This was not an uncommon experience for us, but it was louder than other times (trust me, we had been hiking for four days & I was beginning to become a pro at identifying sounds in the distance). In our experience in Australia, 6 out of 10 times the noise turned out to be a bird in the trees; 3 out of 10 times the noise turned out to be a lizard in the leaves. To our advantage, this happened to be the 1 time out of 10 that it wasn't a bird or reptile.
The commotion happened again. When it's a bird causing the disturbance, the branches/higher parts of the bush move. When the rustling happened a third time I realized all the tall, skinny leaves of the bush, from the ground up, were moving. This was definitely not a flier, and the creature had to be bigger than all the small, brown lizards we had seen yesterday while hiking. My first thought: a goanna (the large lizard I almost walked into at Eungella National Park). Mom and I both crept forward from different angles. I stepped off the path as quietly as possible and heard mom whisper "it's a porcupine". As soon as she uttered the phrase my eyes grew to the size of saucers and I immediately smiled becauseI knew what it was... Nothing else in this world looks like a porcupine, and there are no porcupines in Australia. Ladies & gentlemen, I present to you the world's only other identified monotreme: an echidna!Both monotremes (I previously mentioned the second is a platypus) are native only to this area of the world, andunless you're planning on going to a tiny Pacific island, Australia is where most reside. Here he was, in front of our eyes, delving through brush and dead leaves in search of termites. If not for the noise, neither Mom nor I would have noticed him just two meters from the path because he has great camouflage. I stood frozen, snapping photos, and FINALLY took one that showed his beak & face. It was difficult to not get a blurry picture because he was constantly moving or digging, and kept turning his back to me. All this time mom was able to move in closer and experience her first monotreme in the wild (or in person for that matter). The echidna was so different from every animal I've ever seen. His spikes, his colors, his funky beak. Mom & I especially loved the way he walked. It wasn't a smooth, graceful gait. The echidna's gait reminded me of a penguin's. The way you would look if you tried to walk quickly with your pants around your ankles.
Even if we didn't go on to Baloon Cave, Mom & I would still have been elated to see an echidna in the wild. Carnarvon National Park's website never even mentioned having echidnas in the area. I'm passing the secret onto you!
SECOND STOP: ROCK POOL
By now Mom & I realized Queensland Parks' website was inaccurate. According to the page, at Blackdown Tablelands we would see goannas everywhere & wake with the native critters. Didn't happen. In fact we saw no native wildlife during our entire stay. At Carnarvon's website Ward's Canyon was described simply as "home to the world's largest fern... a short, steep rise up through spotted gums leads to the lower falls"; not the hidden layout it turned out to be. As stated earlier, there was no mention of echidnas as part of the park's wildlife. The newest example: Rock Pool.
The website states "Here you can enjoy a swim... or spot platypus or turtles." Mom & I knew we wouldn't see any platypi before even arriving at the pool because we could hear children splashing, screaming and yelling ahead. I was imagining a small, cold pool of water, fed from a slow stream, that had eroded an odd-shaped hole in a layer of rock. Wrong. This was literally a large rock with water beneath it. The kids and the scenery were a bit of a letdown. Mom kept urging me to swim & try the water out. An open area in the middle of a national park & you want me to submerge my limbs in the cloudy water mom? There's a reason every Lonely Planet Australia & In A Sunburnt Country (a fun, non-fiction novel written by an American) warn you against swimming in streams/rivers/creeks/billabongs/lakes: crocs. No thank you, I'll enjoy the landscape from the shade of the Casuarina tree.Since Rock Pool was a bust and the two trails didn't take as long as expected, Mom & I returned to camp at midday. I had been nagging her since we first arrived at Carnarvon to hike Boolimba Bluff with me. The three kilometer hike leads you to a lookout "with spectacular sweeping views over and about the gorge." However -- and this time I will give credit to the Queensland Parks' website -- there was a steep climb up 1,000 stairs and several ladders. As much as I wanted Mom to go, I knew she had seen enough lookouts and to be honest, I didn't know if I could even complete the physically demanding climb. However, the previous trails had prepared me for this hike... or so I thought.
Mom strolled with me to the first terrace of steps on Boolimba Bluff's path. There she acceptingly popped a squat and started to write postcards. I bid her farewell & got about 15 steps further when I halted to a stop."Wait!", I thought, "This is a three hour hike. What if I get hungry?" So I turned 180 degrees and marchedright back to Mom. Equipped with a stack of Pringles, half a pack of Shortbread Cream cookies, and Crystal Light ,now I could set off. I brought my music player with me which, in hindsight, was a lifesaver. I did want to listen to the bird calls and wind blowing. However, I did not want to listen to my heart thumping out of my chest or my labored breathing as I hiked further and further upward. I passed only two people the entire 6.5 kilometer trek, which goes to show this was no easy stroll.
A bit tuckered a.k.a. tired I realized I was still walking on low ground compared to the rest of the landscape. Not a good sign! Then, I reached the climax. The posted sign simply stated the climb was incredibly steep, incredibly long, and incredibly treacherous. Boolimba Bluff was not for unattended children or anyone who was not "very fit". I never considered myself very fit. Was I cut out for this leg of the journey? I had come too far. I was determined not to disappoint Mom or myself.
Truthfully no gym membership, cardio class, or amount of hiking could have prepared me for this part of the trail. Not man-made steps... they were made of rock in odd shapes, colors, and thicknesses -- meaning they're not in a neat, curving line. They were not evenly spaced vertically -- you went from three "normal" stair heights to literally leaping for the next. They were rock steps -- uneven surfaces; loose and shifting under a person's weight. And there were 963 of them in a row. Rock steps for the next 500 meters non-stop. No terrace to stop & catch your breath. No bench for resting along the way. No railings if you stumble. At one point I knew I was pushing myself too hard when I briefly felt dizzy & had to steady myself against a large tree root. To my legs, knees, ankles, butt, lungs, and heart this section of the hike felt like Hell's Stairstepper. I was soaked in sweat. My hair was smeared on my neck. I knew my face was beet red because I felt like I had a fever. Halfway up & ready to be life flighted out of there, I was relieved that I did not push Mom to come with me on this hike.
I emerged from the intense climb deliriously glad it was over. I dragged myself to the lookout, plopped down on the bench (now they provided one!), devoured my cookies & took in the scenery. Boolimba Bluff's view was exquisite. I looked over most of the valley Mom & I covered on foot yesterday. I tried to find the main road we drove in on or the campgrounds, but all I saw were green treetops. Yet I could see the rock walls that were now level with me & watched them continue out of my eye's sight, forming Carnarvon Gorge. Not only were the views great, but after reading the informative sign, I couldn't believe the age of the terrain and struggled to imagine what the land looked like so long ago.