Saturday, June 14, 2014

Barrk Sandstone Walk

The Barrk Track may be the best half day walk in Kakadu National Park, which, may not be setting the bar all that high, as despite covering 20,000 square kilometres, there are a dearth of walking tracks more than one to four kilometres long. The loop walk is supposed to be 12 km, but as we did it in about three hours, at a lackadaisical pace (we do everything in the heat and humidity of the Northern Territory at a lackadaisical pace) with a few stops, I don't think it is really that long. Nevertheless, an early start makes the walk more pleasant, particularly as it starts with a sweaty climb up to the Burrungui Plateau. 

The Burrungui Plateau (called Nourlangie Rock by white fellas) is, as far as I can make out without a topographic map, a series of higher sandstone cliffs and escarpments spread across about 24 km square kilometres. Along the base of the escarpment, large caves and overhangs have sheltered indigenous people for generations and now preserve some of the finest indigenous art in the world. 

 Burrungui From Anbangbang Billabong

The walk starts out following the tourist track past Anbangbang Shelter, Incline Gallery and Anbangbang Gallery. In all these locations there is evidence of past aboriginal occupation in the form of paintings and rock art, much of it layered over generations. After the Anbangbang Gallery, the track climbs a little and short side walk takes you out to the big sandstone pavement of Gunwarddehwarde Lookout (the aboriginals have a penchant for repetitive multi-syllabic names) overlooking the flat savannah lands to the south and in the shadow of the higher Burrungui Plateau. 

 Sandstone pavement

A sweaty climb follows up onto the plateau top, largely following the route of a dry creek as it runs down from a cleft in the plateau, but weaving about around big rock outcrops. Near the top of the plateau another big sandstone pavement gives higher views over the savannah. I expected a big National Parks, "Turn Back Here" sign at this location, but, surprisingly, there is nothing.

 Sandstone formations

Now the track weaves around the plateau past towers, turrets, and spires of layered sandstone. You wriggle between boulders, pass through narrow crevices, and scramble over slabs. We had breakfast on a flat tower looking north to the ocean, the flat savannah resembling a great inland sea. The track drops a little and passes over a higher flat "valley" before reaching the northern end of the plateau where another descent down another dry creekbed leads out onto the lowland savannah. The walking is faster and easier here, without big rocks to scramble around and the track is clearer. Shortly, the junction with an old road is reached and a short climb to the south leads to Nanguluwurr Gallery. Some of the paintings here were done in the 1960's by some well known and prolific local artists and feature the newer X-Ray line style. Others date back a long time and are simple hand sprays, yet others depict sailing ships, likely from the late 1800's. Strange arms, wrapped in intricate designs are thought to represent lace gloves seen on European women. 

 Aboriginal art

From the Nanguluwurr Gallery it is supposed to be six kilometres back to the parking area, but I suspect it is more like four. The track passes under impressive cliffs and roofs of the Burrungui Plateau (climbers are drooling, except for the heat), climbs gently over a small ridge, and, shortly you are back at the parking lot, having an early lunch in the shade of a picnic shelter.

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