Outback Oasis

Photos and article by Eleanor S. Morris

QUEENSLAND, Australia - Even before Crocodile Dundee, just about everyone had heard of the Australian outback. And what a wild, adventurous place it is, what with kangaroos and wallabies, brilliant birds and platypuses, aborigine caves and deepset gorges.Although much of the outback consists of dry plains dotted with sparse vegetation, in the center of Queensland you'll find a dense green oasis, thick with lush plants and alive with an exotic assortment of birds and animals: Carnarvon Gorge, one of Australia's most magnificent parks.

Among the sights:

* MOSS GARDEN - A good start on the voyage of discovery is the 3 1/2-kilometer (about 2.2 miles) hike to the Moss Garden, where seeping moisture within Violet Gorge keeps the sandstone rocks dripping wet (and forms a small waterfall as well.) The trail wanders across Carnarvon Creek seven times, over rocks set in footsteps across the stream. The creek is so clear and calm that visitors are amazed that these were the waters that created the gorge. Thousands of years of runoff, carrying boulders from the area's basalt cap, eroded the underlying soft sandstone and carved out the deep gorge. The path winds through dense casuarina groves and endless tall slender blue gum trees, wattles, bottlebrush and other plants. In the wilderness you'll hear bird calls as well as kookaburra laughing. Inn the Moss Garden mosses and delicate ferns carpeting the rock walls make it look like a formal garden. From the Moss Garden the trail leads half a kilometer farther to Aljon Falls in Wards Canyon, with the Art Gallery at the end of the trail making quite a grand finale.

* ALJON FALLS AND WARD'S CANYON - The rocks of Ward's Canyon, instead of absorbing water that flows into the gorge, resisted erosion and formed two waterfalls. It's a good climb up to the falls, but worth it; the shaded pool formed by Upper Aljon Falls makes a fine cooling-off place, and maybe you'll spot some specimens of a rare king fern, a "living fossil" unchanged for more than 300 million years.

australia* THE GORGE - the rugged sandstone Carnarvon Range rises from the plains of central Queensland to form the ramparts of a deep gorge, a microhabitat within which great gray kangaroos and whiptail wallabies roam, kookaburras, apostle birds and currawongs call, platypuses splash in the creek, green tree frogs croak and king parrots flash their brilliant plumage and the trails lead to waterfalls, green fern gardens, natural amphitheaters and caves bright with Aboriginal art for which the Gorge is renowned; a place of mystic Aboriginal folklore and legend.


* THE ART GALLERY - Centuries of Aboriginal living in the Gorge are recorded at several australiaoutstanding sites. Two of them are on this trail, the Art Gallery and Cathedral Cave. The Art Gallery is a major Aboriginal site, its lower walls covered with hundreds of stencils and paintings - stenciled human hands, boomerang shapes, strange cross hatchings. And there are more in the shelter overhand of Cathedral Cave, 2 1/2 miles farther.

"Today we can only speculate about the significance of this interesting tableau of stencil paintings consisting of hands and stone axes in silhouette," says Oueenslander Grahame Walsh, author of AUSTRALIA'S GREATEST ROCK ART.

* OUTBACK AS WILDERNESS - Although there is an information center in the park and qualified and experienced rangers manage the park seven days a week, certain safety suggestions are reminders that this is a wilderness. During and after rains, trails quickly become impassable, and it is advisable for campers to bring food for several extra days as well as extra tarpaulin for emergency use. Hikers must carry water since untreated creek water is unsuitable for drinking.australia

*ACCOMMODATIONS - Campground: The Ranger, Carnarvon Section, Carnarvon National Park via Rolleston QLDF 4702, Australia; (079) 84 4504. Oasis Lodge: Oasis Lodge Carnarvon Gorge via Rolleston, QLD 4006, Australia; 617-4080-1888; email: info@oasis-cairns.com.au; www.oasis-cairns.com.au

For More Information:

Contact Tourism Queensland, Plaza, Suite 330, 1800 Century Park East, Los Angeles, CA 90067; (310)788-0997, fax (310)788-0128