Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Mandu Mandu Gorge Walk Trail (Cape Range National Park)

A short but rugged walk, the Mandu Mandu Gorge explores one of the dry gorges in Cape Range National Park. Initially heading up along the dry pebbled-lined creek bed, the trail rises steeply to leave the gorge and follow the gorge rim back to the car park.  Featuring red walls of limestone and excellent views of the Indian Ocean, this is an enjoyable short trail in the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area

Distance: 3 km (loop)
Gradient: A mix of a gentle walking along the creek bed, a steep ascent out of the gorge and steep ascents and descents in and out of the side gorges
Quality of Path: Generally clear and well maintained trail, with some rough ascents/descents in sections
Quality of Signage: Clear trailhead at the start of the walk, with waypoint poles and signs at trail junctions.
Experience Required: Bushwalking Experience Recommended - particularly with arid climates
Time: 1 Hour
Steps: Many steps in places
Best Time to Visit: Autumn-Spring on cooler days, and preferably early in the morning. This is an area prone to extremely hot temperatures with little to no shade. People have literally died on other walks in the park due to heat exhaustion. Do not even think of doing this walk in Summer or on very hot days
Entry Fee: Yes. National Park fees apply
Getting There: From Exmouth, follow Yardie Creek Rd into Cape Range National Park. Follow the signage in the park past Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks. Mandu Mandu Gorge is the left turn after Oyster Stacks

Being sick while on holidays is never fun, and as a result of terrible congestion in my lungs and sinuses, Alissa and I had a rest day in Exmouth that nevertheless did include an excellent afternoon at Turquoise Bay's stunning drift snorkel. The next day we would be relocating to Coral Bay for two nights, but before leaving Exmouth we drove around the North West Cape one last time into Cape Range National Park to tackle the two other gorge walks in the park, starting with the three kilometre trail through the dry Mandu Mandu Gorge.

Located only a short distance from the popular snorkel spots of Turquoise Bay and Oyster Stacks, Mandu Mandu Gorge is one of a series of deep gorges that cut through the Cape Range and give the land-based sections of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area its own character that is far removed from the tropical rainforests of Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. From the trailhead, Alissa and I followed the rocky path as it made its way into the gorge's dry river bed.

All along Cape Range's coast, a series of dry pebble river/creek beds can be seen. Given how little rain actually falls on the North West Cape, these creek beds would be dry most of of the year, however their depth and width suggest that Cape Range was a lot wetter at one time in its history. The dryness of the area has been something of a blessing for Ningaloo Reef - little rainfall has meant little to no agricultural development along the reef, with none of the fertiliser run off that has caused havoc on the Great Barrier Reef. The result is that Ningaloo is one of the healthier major reefs in the world during a period of severe coral bleaching events.

The trail heads up the dry gorge, basically following an unmodified route along the uneven pebbles of the creek bed. This is rocky and uneven walking, and even though we had started early in the morning the rock was already making for hot and uncomfortable temperatures. When you see the gorges in the park, you might wonder why there aren't many more or many longer walks in Cape Range, and while WA does have a tendency to build fairly short walks I can't imagine a 17 kilometre walk through Mandu Mandu Gorge would be particularly comfortable or safe if you overheated 10 kilometres in.

In spite of the less than comfortable temperatures, the scenery on offer along the gorge was stunning, with sheer walls of limestone on either side. I love that Western Australia is blessed with so many gorges up in the north from Kalbarri onwards, but it is amazing how different they can be - from the sandstone of Kalbarri to the iron-banded formations of Karijini to the rust red limestone seen here.

Unlike the deep narrow slots of Karijini, the gorges of Cape Range are wider and shallower, with the overall appearance at times making it appear like a series of cliff walls at the base of several small mountains or hills.

Nevertheless, the gorge walls grew taller and more spectacular the deeper into the gorge we went, making for engaging walking.

While it would be possible to follow Mandu Mandu Gorge for quite a distance further 'upstream' (and Google Maps shows it is quite an extensive gorge), the Mandu Mandu Gorge Walk Trail veers left from walking along the river bed as it makes it way up to follow the gorge rim along the return journey. Had we not lost a day due to illness and if the temperatures had not been so hot, I would definitely have considered exploring a bit further, however Alissa and I were pretty keen to get out of the still air of the gorge and feel some of the cooling breeze up above.

Passing through a stand of Eucalypts, Alissa and I followed the white marker poles up and out of the gorge.

While not overly complicated, the climb out of the gorge was nevertheless sweaty work made more difficult due to the sheer radiant heat of the gorges. This is definitely a walk I would not be doing in Summer or in the middle of the day.

Along the ascent, Alissa and I were able to have good views back down the gorge, with the waters of Ningaloo visible beyond. It is such an amazing dichotomy that such a dry and barren-looking place like Cape Range can be so close to a reef that supports such a rich and vibrant marine community of animals and plants.

Once out of the gorge, the trail heads along the gorge rim. The rim is not uniform in height, with a number of smaller side gorges feeding into the main gorge. The track drops down and through the gorges as it makes its way up and over the small hills.

While this walk is short, these side gorges are the reason why this is rated as a Class 4 trail as there are spots that require a small amount of rock scrambling to get up and out the other side.

The challenge of these short scrambles are more than amply rewarded however, as this stretch along the gorge rim provides some excellent views of Mandu Mandu Gorge's rugged landscape.

From this higher vantage point, Alissa and I could see more of Ningaloo's waters. We could also see how the white pebbles of the creek continue all the way out of the gorge and to the ocean.

The trail continues up to the highest point of the walk, with the lovely cooling breeze making for far more comfortable conditions.

The view of the gorge from this high point is quite spectacular, and allowed me to capture a panorama of this bend in the gorge's course.

From the high point, the trail again descends into another rocky side gorge. The descent into this side gorge was more difficult that the first, however the ascent out was a little easier.

Up the other side, Alissa and I could see our car and the trailhead, with only a short stretch of track to follow before reaching the completion of the Mandu Mandu Gorge Walk Trail.

While less epic than the deeply-incised canyons on the eastern side of Cape Range as seen along the Badjirrajirra Trail, Mandu Mandu Gorge was another interesting inland feature of the Ningaloo Coast World Heritage Area that proved yet again that Ningaloo's charms are not limited to the stunning coral and fish of the reef. While only a short walk, the trail provides an excellent example of the rugged landscape that makes up Cape Range, and is quite different to the Badjirrajirra Trail and the other gorge walk at Yardie Creek. While I still would rate the Badjirrajirra Trail as the best trail in the park, the Mandu Mandu Gorge Walk Trail is nevertheless worth checking out - especially given it is so close to two of the best snorkeling spots in the national park.


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