Mandu Mandu Gorge
Cape Range National Park
Directions - Located about 65km from Exmouth, head north out of town on Murat Road and take a left on Yardie Creek Road. Follow the signs for Cape Range National Park and keeping driving until you see the turnoff for Mandu Mandu Gorge on your left. Take the unsealed road all the way to the end where you will find an information board for the hike on the south side of the car park.
The Hike - With a day set aside to explore Yardie Creek and do the boat tour there, I thought it best to also add on a visit to Mandu Mandu Gorge as it was on the way back to Exmouth and we had plenty of time left in the day. With a nice introductory walk along the edge of Yardie Gorge, I was keen to see more of Cape Range and what it had to offer. Joining myself and Caris was Candy and Hal as they were also wanting to see as much as they could on our week long holiday.
Everything along Yardie Creek Road is well sign-posted so it wasn't hard to locate the turn-off for Mandu Mandu Gorge and the unsealed road was easily managed by our CH-R hire car. Unlike the Yardie Creek car park, this one only contained a handful of cars so it was fairly safe to assume we would have the trail to ourselves for the most part. Re-filling water bottles and bringing along our packed lunch, we left the car park and located the start of the trail. Being the dry season and a pretty cool day (the max temperature was in the mid-20s), it wasn't a big issue hiking during the middle of the day but if the forecast is for 30C or above then beware that it can get even hotter in the gorges and you should be well prepared with at least 3L of water and suitable clothing. It still felt pretty warm on our visit and with my nerdburger floppy hat on, we followed the signs and started the hike. I knew this was a loop trail but didn't notice an obvious fork in the path to decide if you wanted to go clockwise or anti-clockwise so in the end we just kept walking and did the anti-clockwise circuit.
This meant we would be tackling the dry creek bed section first and this was perfectly fine with me as I had planned to do this anyway. After a short linking trail that was bordered by some lovely wildflowers, you catch a glimpse of the pale coloured rocks that form Mandu Mandu Creek and where the trail eventually joins. The others had raced ahead while I hung back to photograph the early wildflowers that included a Cape Range Grevillea, a couple of varieties of Cassia and some form of Acacia that looked stunning up against the bright blue sky. Eventually you reach the rocky creek bed and so begins the crunchy walking where the ground starts shifting underneath your feet. It's hard to picture how much water it would take to make the creek flow as wide as the rocky area covers and given the heat this area experiences, I don't think it flows for very long. The last big downpour they had was in mid-June with 43mm falling and I would be interested to see if that had any effect on the creek levels.
I caught up to Caris as she admired some wattle on the edge of the creek bed and we walked together as the trail markers take you deeper into the gorge. Having hiked a few gorges in my time, this was one of the widest I've experienced and it made for a wonderful experience. The further we ventured in, the higher the walls got on either side but it never felt like you were enclosed at all. Candy and Hal were much further ahead so served as nice focal points for some of my photos highlighting the scale of this place. The Cape Range is much flatter on the western side than it is on the Exmouth side so everything seems much gentler and well worn. Being an ancient landscape, you get a good sense of that from the rocks that form the basis of the creek bed as you imagine how long it would have taken to break them all down and deposit them in such a smooth shape given the lack of rainfall up here. Entering the section of the gorge where the vegetation starts to ease and the higher cliff walls start to dominate, this felt like the beginning of the really enjoyable hiking.
Being as white as a ghost, Caris was keen to head into the shade and I didn't mind this as the light wasn't as bright plus it was slightly cooler. Candy and Hal continued to march onwards and were soon under some of the biggest rock walls you'll see along the trail. We slowed down in places, mainly to enjoy the wildflowers growing on the fringe of the creek bed including what I believe is a Sturts Hibiscus. Caris was also taken by a lone plant clinging to the cliff that looked like a Desert Rose and it was certainly a survivor in this harsh landscape. The shade couldn't last forever so we moved on and ventured on down the gorge to marvel at its scale and beauty. The scenery never felt stale as the trail moves between little outcrops of bushes and there is always a new view of the gorge to experience. We eventually caught up to Candy and Hal as they had stopped in the shade for a break and we figured this was a good place to break out the rolls we had made that morning.