I’d heard that Carnarvon Gorge is really worth a visit. Even though our route south along The Great Inland Way took us past Carnarvon National Park, I realised it was unlikely we would get to go there this time.
But hey, we were on a road trip. Spontaneity and diversions were the order of the day. After chatting with our host, Jaki about her life working for the mines (so very different from mine), we left Emerald in good time.
Country Dress Code
We stopped in Springsure for a wander up and down the main street and to potter in a lovely homewares shop. I bought a polo shirt made from Goondiwindi cotton. As you do. Sipping coffee at a little outdoor table, I wondered how a woman getting into her ute over the road was able to stand the heat in her a long sleeved shirt, jeans and work boots. Later I found out that this is country uniform. I was out of place in my shorts and sandals, not her.
As we approached the turn off to Carnarvon Gorge we made a quick decision. Taking the turn off, we’d allow ourselves a couple of hours for the round trip back to the main road. The farms (stations really) we drove through were unfenced. Cattle grazed along the roadside, unconcerned by the occasional car or caravan.
Dry fields stretched into the distance. A strange crop turned out to be a legume shrub called leucaena, used for cattle feed.
I started to feel excited that we would actually get to Carnarvon Gorge. There would be no time for a walk or further exploration. Unfortunately, progress on the dirt road was slow and we didn’t seem to be getting any closer. Finally, we gave ourselves ten more minutes before we would have to turn around.
Then we rounded a corner and passed a sign to Heli-Central. We stopped the car, looked at each other, did a U-turn and drove into the driveway. There were no other cars. Just a corrugated iron shed and another open covered structure.
On the other side of a low fence, was the white helicopter, doors open. We stepped out of our car and called “Hello? Is anyone here?” No answer. We looked in the shed. No one. There were signs that someone had been there recently. A small backpack. An open booking ledger. A used coffee cup.
We wandered across to the helicopter and peered through the open doors. The key was in the ignition. I resisted the very strong temptation to turn the key. After about five minutes we decided to drive on to the gorge which we now realised was only a couple of kilometres away.
At the campsite we discovered that the helicopter pilot had returned from lunch and was available to take us for a spin. Back at Heli-Central, Lance enthusiastically told us that he could take us for a ride with a “Bloody oath, mate”. I laughed to myself. It was the first time I’d heard this expression in real life. Lance’s passion for his job was almost palpable. There was a bit of paperwork to do which included divulging our weight. The scale provided for this purpose confirmed that nearly two weeks on the road had done nothing for my waistline.
A short briefing about safety, and the use of the headphones and microphone and the rotor started to turn. It had all happened so quickly and unexpectedly that I couldn’t quite believe that I really was climbing into a helicopter.
As it turned out, the helicopter doesn’t fly over the gorge itself (not allowed by Parks and Wildlife for noise pollution and other reasons). Instead we were taken over the twists and turns of Moolayember Gorge with its steep sandstone cliffs, and regions untouched by human feet.
It was spectacular. I felt like I was in a dream. Lance pointed out various rock formations including the Magnificent Three Sisters and deep narrow gorges filled with tropical plants. On a previous flight he had seen a dingo on one of the sandstone ledges.
We flew over Bandana Station where you can go to view the cliffs as they change colour when the sun sets. I learnt that the station is over 42 000 acres. Around 2500 cattle graze there. That’s about 16 acres per head of cattle.
All too soon we headed back to Heli-Central. The next couple were already waiting expectantly for their flight. I had forgotten how powerful a helicopter is. As they took off, a large cloud of dust blew towards me. I quickly covered my face and closed the car doors.
An adrenaline rush
Adrenaline still high, I took to my phone to let my Facebook friends about my unexpected helicopter adventure. And I added something to my growing bucket list. I must return to Carnarvon Gorge.