Mt Augustus and the Kennedy Range


Mt Augustus

On the road to nowhere? No, just the road to Mt Augustus

My road trip to Mt Augustus and the Kennedy Range (for travel dates refer to the Travel Map).

That year (2011) I decided to spend my birthday out in the wilderness on my own. Being in the southwest of Western Australia, wilderness is everywhere and the question was which kind of wilderness do I want? I’d heard that the arid regions in the north had experienced a significant amount of rainfall and this was a good year to see the desert in bloom. Further, I’d read about this red rock, twice the size of Uluru somewhere northwest of Meekatharra (it is not a monolith like Uluru, though). All sounded very intriguing and none of the people I talked to had been to the place. So I settled for Mt Augustus in the Gascoyne region. I trusted my 27-year-old Toyota Corolla to be up to the challenge, as I was driving over 1000 km to Mt Augustus, with the last few hundred being on gravel roads. And that was only one way.

I was going to head up to Perth, take the inland road from there up to Meekatharra, head northwest to Mt Augustus, then go further to the Kennedy Range and hit Highway 1 at Carnarvon and go back south. Not far north of Perth, I could already see the difference from when I’d been here a few years before, as the bush was carpeted in wildflowers. This was to carry well into the arid regions and even the red sand was to sprout life in colours of all sorts.

The first interesting stop was at The Granites, just outside of Mt Magnet. The place hadn’t been looked after for quite some time as the information boards and walkways were rather dilapidated. Nonetheless, it was a very interesting place indeed! The landscape was quite remarkable with it’s rocky outcrops, rock formations and eroded cliffs. Apparently it used to be (perhaps still is) a location of special importance for Aboriginal people. Being there it felt just like that, I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but it felt different from the surroundings, in a good, almost enchanting way. A very agreeable spot. I went looking for rock paintings, but didn’t find any, although I’m sure there were some somewhere…

Meekatharra (Yamatji Aboriginal for “place of little water”) was the usual, bit rough outback town, with iron grids protecting doors and windows of every house and shop. I filled up my water tanks at the local petrol station, then went on to buy some wine, only to find out there wasn’t any for sale before 12 o’clock. Bummer! I couldn’t be bothered waiting, since it was only around 8 am, and decided to hit the road after a look around town.

I didn’t make all the way to Mt Augustus that day and camped in the bush for the night. Early next morning, after driving for an hour or so, I saw Mt Augustus rise from the featureless flat desert. And what a site it is! Being a National Park, one is not allowed to bush-camp, one has to camp at Mt Augustus Station Campsite. Which is fine, they even have a little shop and showers, and the most expensive petrol I’ve ever pumped at over $2 a litre! But then, if they didn’t sell petrol, it would’ve been impossible for me to go there in the first place and experience this amazing place. The local Wajarri Aboriginal people call it Burringurrah, it stands 715 m above the surrounding sand plain and is a bit younger then the 1,7 billion-year-old (!!!) granite on which it sits.

I spent a few days exploring the area and hiked to the top of Mt Augustus. Sitting on top of a billion-year-old rock, looking over the sand plain fading into a distant haze in every direction, is a very humbling experience. One feels but a grain of sand in the scheme of life, dwarfed by the landscape that has been here forever and the thought that 20,000 years ago people were already here, perhaps looking at the same view, with similar feelings and thoughts. An experience often repeated throughout Australia.

I then made my way to the Kennedy Range. I had stopped beside the road to have a closer look at a rocky hill nearby, when a ute pulled up and the guy in it asked me if everything was OK. I said yes, that I was just having a look around and stretching my legs. We had a bit of a chat and I asked wether he had a farm in the area, to which he replied: “Yep, got a station and you’ve been driving on it for the last two hours, and will be driving on it for the next two hours.” Farms are large indeed around here.

The Kennedy Range is a plateau that rises from the sand plain with weathered, quite spectacular sandstone cliffs on it’s eastern and southern edges. It reminded me of a western movie setting. The Range was of great importance to the local tribes, as it marked the boundary between the Maia people of the east and the Malgaru of the west. Many sites show that Aboriginal people have lived in the area for at least 20,000 years prior to European arrival. There are lots of gorges to explore and a trail that leads to the top of the plateau. I was the only person when I arrived, only the next day a couple I’d met on Mt Augustus Campsite turned up. The camping at Kennedy Range was free, but there was only a bush toilet and no water. Luckily I’d filled up my tanks at Meeka and Mt Augustus Station. Upon close inspection, I found that the water from Meekatharra was full of algae and other crap. No problem, I thought, I’ll use it for cooking and drink the water from the Station (I had water purifying tablets). Turned out the water from the Station was salty. Pondering my options I decided on salty, which perhaps was just as horrible, as the tablets give it a chlorine taste. So every day I was drinking what seemed like scooped out of a saltwater swimming pool. I do not recommend it! And it was hot, so I had to drink plenty. Ultimately, this cut my stay at the Kennedy Range short. I wanted to get into Carnarvon and buy proper drinking water. Still I thoroughly enjoyed the place and found a lot of interesting wildlife, from insects to reptiles and birds.

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