Mandu Mandu Gorge
Start - Off Yardie Creek Road
Length - 2.9km (Loop)
Grade - Orange
Terrain - Single Track, Rocky Ground
Vertical Climb - 77m
Time - 1 Hour
Signed - Yes
Cost - National Park Fees Apply
Date Hiked - 4th August 2021
Best Time - Dry Season (April to September)
Traditional Custodians - Thalanyji People
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.
Finding some rocky seats under the shade of a larger tree, we tucked into our late lunch and talked about how we had found the trail so far. I always enjoy a good sit, especially in an area as stunning as this so I kept the camera close so I could take photos as I soaked in the surrounding views. The spot that Candy and Hal had chosen for a break was where the trail leaves the rocky creek bed and starts to climb up onto the higher ground before taking you back to the car park via the hilly northern end of the gorge. To have this as an out and back trail along the creek would have been a travesty so I like that the loop gives you a different perspective for each half. With rolls consumed and a nice break under our belts, we followed the sign pointing us to the walk trail as it leads into the bushes. Looking up at the hills we would have to climb, I could see the path snaking up and around the edge of the gorge. Knowing I would most likely catch up to the group quickly given the hills, I took my time at the base of the climb photographing the wildflowers that were brightening up the sea of pale greens and greys along with the dark orange of the rocks and dirt.
From the bottom of the gorge to the highest point on the hike is about a 50m vertical climb so not too hard for most people but the heat can make it feel much harder than a similar hill around Perth. Climbing out of the gorge was refreshing as the views opened up and you start to see where you had just come from. The white ribbon of rock that forms the creek provides a nice contrast against the layers of green and orange that rise up from the valley floor. Stopping to say hello to Caris and Candy that were taking a break at one of the trail markers, I couldn't stop taking photos of the views looking back down the gorge. With some of the best views to come as we climbed higher, I continued on to where Hal had stopped at the top of the first climb. We had a bit of a chat while we waited for Candy and Caris and given this was the best of the views looking down the gorge, I continued to snap away. Eventually Caris appeared and then disappeared down the track as she wanted to keep moving so I finished off my photographing and joined her on the next section.
Giving you a bit of respite from the last hill is a curved section of flat walking that leads towards the first of a few valley crossings. The views from here continue to be spectacular and I had good fun shooting all the angles looking down towards the dry creek bed. Caris shot off ahead and by the time I had caught her up, she had already scaled the mini-hill that comes after a crossing of one of the feeder creeks. I enjoyed the new perspective and was intrigued by all the little gorges that branch off from the main Mandu Mandu Gorge. I'm sure they are crawling with all different types of wildlife under the protection of the national park and I was keeping my eyes out for the Black-flanked Rock Wallaby that we saw plenty of at Yardie Gorge. Candy and Hal were still at the top of the climb, most likely enjoying the wonderful views so I made my way towards the little rock scramble that Caris had already negotiated and was quite proud of doing all on her own.
At the base of an old and weathered tree, there is a slight rocky scramble but it's nothing too serious and if you aren't confident with your footing then take some time to map out each step you need to take. Candy and Hal had started up again and were down below looking like miniature figurines. While we waited for them, another couple coming the other way joined us and we had a brief chat about how stunning the hike was and our travels so far. Trying not to be rude, I had spotted a few insects and some brightly coloured ants running about so casually tried to photograph them while still engaging in conversation. I am always amazed at how much life is about when you just stand still and observe for a while. With the gang back together we headed up to the summit of the highest point of the hike at a giddy 80m ASL. Walking through the spinifex and following the white marker poles, it was a pretty nice spot to take in the fantastic views of the ocean, gorge below and the trail leading along the edge of the cliff.