Carawine Gorge

By the time we left Marble Bar we had insufficient time to reach Carawine Gorge, so instead stopped approximately half way at the Meentheena Veterans Retreat. There are apparently a few of these ‘retreats’ for war veterans established throughout the country, but this is the only one in WA. It runs on a shoestring, funded only by camping fees ($15 per vehicle per night, Veterans pay less) & fund raising at the annual Marble Bar races (horse racing). Not sure if retreats in other states allow non-vets, but here we were welcome. It is an ex-station now owned by the dept of parks & wildlife, & leased to the WA Vet retreat association. Volunteer camp Host ’Scruffy’ gave us the rundown on the place & wondered if we were interested in volunteering ourselves. We put it into our ‘possibilities’ book. Camping was either around the main compound where all the facilities were (including what is probably the best camp kitchen we have seen) or down at ‘The Paperbarks’. This was a couple of kms away from the compound, with no facilities other than a composting toilet. However as the name suggests there were plenty of paperbarks, lining an attractive river waterhole. Annual rains fill it when the river flows 1Km wide, but mostly it is a pleasant shady & accessible waterside camp. Unfortunately for us we had strong winds all night making for a very dusty experience. Back at the main compound the following morning we availed ourselves of the thoughtfully constructed hot shower as well as the camp kitchen to fill our thermos flask. Sitting in comfortable surrounds talking with other visitors made for a pleasant start to the day. Scruffy suggested that as we were going down Skull Springs Rd that a visit to Skull Springs themselves was a must as they were “mind-blowing”. I bit my lip & didn’t ask any more info to determine just what
‘mind-blowing’ constituted, preferring a surprise. He gave directions – “Ya can’t miss it – no road signs as such, just a post with a camel skull wearing a hat” he said. Intrigued we assured him we would check it out.

Down at ‘The Paperbarks’. Meentheena Veterans Retreat.

Next stop Carawine Gorge ………. had it not been for a fateful decision to stop at the Oakover River for a lunch break on the way.

Just prior to the river crossing we took a track on the left & followed it parallel to the river for 2 or 3 kms. I had seen photos of the Oakover River in the past, or at least I believe I had. Somehow in my mind it was a relatively small babbling creek running between shady trees. What we followed was a wide (700 metres?) dry & very stony creek bed. Eventually the track turned down a steepish bank but a pair of wheel tracks continued on across the stones to a line of trees on the other side. It seemed very likely that there would be a waterhole, if not a narrower flowing creek there, so that’s where we headed, MrsTea expressing a few doubts as to the wisdom of doing so, & me confident that following the wheel tracks would be fine. I had this idyllic picture of a green leafy creek in my head driving me on. Sure enough there was water under the trees & it looked enticing, out on the stony river bed the sun was beating down. Up until then my confidence had been high, but it plummeted the moment I realised that our progress had abruptly come to a halt. I now realise that as a novice to driving in dry creek beds my skills in reading the surface ahead of me were simply not up to par. It was also incredibly stupid to have done what I’d done with road pressures in the tyres. In hindsight I can say that the surface of the creek bed had changed from where I had felt confident. The tennis ball size rocks had become a lot smaller & I had driven onto a bit of a sandbank where the tyres had broken through to soft coarse sand & our rear wheels were now buried with sand up to & almost covering the rear leaf springs. Anyone who knows the anatomy of a vehicle will realise that this also meant that the car was ‘bellied out’ into the sand across it’s width. I dearly wish we had taken photos, but I was in a quiet state of panic, not wanting to cause MrsTea to panic but just wanting to get us out NOW! As it happened I managed to keep the panic in check, used our shovel to create space under the vehicle, (whilst MrsTea dug with gloved hands), reduced tyre pressures to 18psi all round all the time trying to think what the best strategy might be. I have to say that 100kms from the nearest town & several kms off the highway where no-one could see our plight …. I was scared. Worst was the fact that even if we were were able let anyone know of our predicament I simply could not imagine how anyone else could recover us without getting bogged themselves. I put those thoughts aside as best I could & tried to focus upon our strategy, I was pretty sure it had to be right the first time as any failure would only dig us in deeper, literally. Initially I thought trying to reverse over our tracks back to a more stable surface might be worth trying but am glad I discounted that. In the end I put faith in the fact that the front wheels (plus those of the Tvan) had not bogged & decided to turn the front wheels to full lock & hope to drive out of the rut they had created. Thank the heavens it worked, the car & Tvan were up & moving & maintaining momentum at all costs was the aim. By now I was reading the surfaces a little better having walked on them but nevertheless had to drive further away from where we needed to go to get out of the river. Whether by luck or judgement I’m unsure but I managed to turn around & get the vehicle back to more secure ground before stopping. “I’m not stopping” I yelled out of the window to MrsTea as I passed her. When I stopped several hundred metres away from her my relief was palpable, as was hers when she reached me. Once we we had got out of the river bed it was more so. Took quite a while, plus lunch & a cup of tea for the adrenaline to stop pumping I can tell you! A lesson learned – I think we were incredibly lucky. Oh & to her credit, at no stage did, or has MrsTea said “I told you so” despite having every reason to do so!

Whenever anyone has told us about Carawine Gorge the description has also included warnings about getting bogged on the small stones/gravel there. It is a camp spot on an area which gets flooded in the Wet season, but hey…pffft, I was now a riverbed de-bogging veteran. (Ha Ha). We did witness several folk get temporarily bogged in the stones there, but honestly it just wasn’t in the same league as the Oakover River. No loose sand under the stones.

On the way to Carawine Gorge
We stopped to look at some rocks’polished’ by glacial movement in the last ice age. The day was hot & gusty, difficult to imagine it once being covered in ice!

The Gorge is a pretty spot, especially at sunrise when the red cliffs behind the water glow. It’s also a popular spot with up to 20 rigs there on our first night & about half that on our second. There are some very attractive spots at one end with grass (& visiting bulls to keep you entertained). No risk of bogging there but if the wind is blowing in the wrong direction it can be an exceptionally dusty place with every vehicle coming in sending the red talcum powder like dust through each camp.



Red Backed Kingfisher
Black Faced Cuckoo Shrike
Painted Finch
Took a cinder from a fireplace??
Peaceful Dove
Brown Songlark was well camouflaged.

On a somewhat sour note we found it disappointing to see some of the vandalism to trees. I have included a couple of photos on the slight off-chance that a reader may know who ’Noddy’ is, & if so let him know just how moronic his behaviour in the gorge was. From this day forward in our ‘household vocabulary’ reference to being a Noddy equates being a total idiot.

Noddy is a moron… don’t be a Noddy!
Axe attack
Ringbarked & dying!

A couple of days there in a non dusty spot finally got the Oakover River adrenaline under control. A fairly lazy time, a few gentle walks & trying to photograph a few birds.

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