Our last day in Kakadu National Park we followed Gubara Creek up onto the convoluted plateau north of Nourlangie. A good gravel road (9 km) ends at a parking area and track head to access the creek. The last 300 metres of road to the parking area is rough, so it is just as easy to park in a large circular pull-out and walk the short distance to the track head. At the "official" parking area, the wooden signs had been removed, and a couple of pieces of paper loosely sellotaped to a post indicated that the "signs are under maintenance." There was some other verbiage on the sheets of paper, describing the distance and the need for a permit if you are going to camp, but, the most notable feature is how familiar this form of repair is in Kakadu National Park. The campground we had left the caravan at similarly had the fee collection box "under repair." Doug wondered out loud how long the paper signs would last. Not long, it seems, as they had all fallen down by the time we returned that afternoon.
Shady Monsoon forest in Gubara Creek
The first three kilometres is on a good track, the best we have walked on in Kakadu, apart from the short tracks around the art sites. Most tracks look a bit like this picture below which was taken on a billabong walk but could have been taken anywhere. There is a scant footbed buried under there some where and, if you are taller than me, and taller than the three metre high spear grass you might also be able to see a track marker. The Gubara track, however, is clear and comfortable to follow, at least in the cool of morning. At 3.00 pm when the air is dripping with humidity, it is not that comfortable, it is, however, still easy.
Typical Kakadu track
Near the end of the track, a big metal footbridge spans a dry creek. A wooden sign (not yet burnt to a cinder or removed for repair) indicated the pools are to the left. If you are wondering what lies straight ahead I can tell you as I explored it a short distance on the way back out. A surprisingly good beaten in path leads through boulders to a dry creekbed and up onto some flat rocks above a small dry waterfall. Beyond that, you are on your own. The creek is shallow, dry and provides no easy passage into the spinifex and vegetation choked valley beyond. Short broken cliffs are scattered up either side of the shallow valley. This valley would give passage to the higher lands above, but it would be a battle.
Doug in Gubara Creek
We, however, turned to the left and followed a beaten in path through a thicket of palms to a small pool on Gubara Creek where we had breakfast. The most logical place to wander for the day was up Gubara Creek which is shaded by monsoon forest, and relatively easy to travel. The creek itself is in a short gorge for the first two kilometres but the bottom is open, either boulders or sandstone ledges. Travel is not what you would call fast, but it is painless and interesting. Early on, a steep sandstone wall would offer fabulous climbing in a shady cool location. A bit further up, the roots of a large tree lay like a bundle of snakes across the rocks. Further still, and a short waterfall is encountered, and soon after a deep pool which is easily circumvented via rock ledges on the left. Finally, just before the short gorge disappears altogether there is one last waterfall which is easily scrambled on big sandstone ledges.
Doug below the cliffs in Gubara Creek
Suddenly, the gorge has dissolved and the creek forks into two smaller tributaries. The right hand one is dry soon after the junction and in a couple of hundred metres becomes narrow and bushy. The left hand fork still has water, but rapidly becomes narrow and vegetated. On either side, turrets, spires, and corridors of sandstone cliffs are laid out in echelon formation making a maze of passages, tunnels and corridors. We scrambled out of the left hand fork and after wandering through sandstone corridors found a short pagoda like cliff onto which we could climb. The surrounding terrain, while not holding great vertical relief is incredibly complex. Vegetation of varying degrees of vigor is wrapped around and into every little crevice and corridor. A labyrinth of sandstone towers, turrets, boulders, pagodas and small escarpments lies criss-crossed across the terrain. We had lunch while pondering the difficulty of navigating and travelling through this almost impenetrable terrain and understanding more and more why the aborigines routinely burned the understory vegetation in the top end of Australia each year. Walking through the scratchy, irritating understory, I feel like lighting a fire myself.
Scrambling on the Gubara Plateau
You could keep walking up on the plateau here, although, this upland terrain is not a level plateau rather it is higher country than the low level floodplains but rugged and jagged with variously eroded sandstone formations. A common multiday route in the area is to hike east to peak 424 on the Arnhem Land plateau. Apparently, at least early in the dry season there is plenty of water and there are indigenous art sites scattered all over the place, but, such a trip is for the hardy and experienced. It's easy to underestimate the difficulties of traveling through this country.
Above Gubara Creek