everpresent. In Cape York, however, there is no rain in the Dry and so I enjoyed the novel sensation of camping on sandy river bottoms sheltered between high banks, made taller by the only big trees ever seen in that landscape. There were always warm, deep swimming holes, yes, but mostly the water meandered shallow and sluggish, always west to the Gulf of Carpentaria.
rock hopping, walking the wide squooshy sandbars, wading through shallow dappled water, or scrambling up the banks. Everywhere I go, I'm surrounded by a rag tag horde of different kinds of flies. Every time I sit down it's on top of an ant highway. But there is nothing scary here, nothing dangerous. I stop often to cool off in swimming pools, write under shady trees, watch unfamiliar birds and take lots and lots of photos. I indulge my obsession with trying to capture images of light on water.
Wenlock, the whole width of the river is suddenly deep between steep banks. Carrying my camera I don't want to risk wading so I scramble up a fallen tree onto a platform of fissured lava. This moonscape is harshly hot, and I push my way through twiggy low thickets plagued with flies looking for a way back down to the water, which I can glimpse: cool, shady and inaccessible. I find a patch of shade over a small bowl of coarse white sand and sit for a while before abandoning my upstream adventure and finding a long, dull way back to the campsite.
Jardine River National Park camping ground next to Eliot Falls and Twin Falls. The campground is busy for the school holidays, with dozens of people in every swimming hole. In my compulsive search for solitude I find myself at the top of Eliot Falls, where the water flows shallow, wide and flat before abruptly dropping into a fish hook shape cut in the rock floor. Wading across the top of the falls to the opposite bank from the formed tracks, I find little shady shelves where I can sit, feet dangling over the cliff edge, wrapped in the dense white noise of falling water which insulates me from everything but the heat.
decker swimming holes are separated by massaging waterfalls, and when not full of tour bus tourists, it is spacious and peaceful. Upstream at the Saucepan, the water falls over a wide low lip just the right height to sit and let it pound tense shoulders into submission. There is also a water chute, a very deep hole for diving and shallow holes like bathtubs (and the water is bath warm).
Coen River, upstream from the BendReturning to the Coen after 10 days further north in unbelievable heat, it was a novelty to feel a momentary chill when emerging from the warm water after a dip at dusk the first night. Next day, I set off upstream towards the top of the river valley which in the Wet must be white water but now is a dynamic sandstone chaos of hot rock, smooth beneath my bare feet. I love the way the Coen shows its bones in the Dry season. Centuries of flow have carved curves and cracks into the boulders as low water burbles fast and narrow between.
For me, in Cape York in the Dry, the strongest element in the landscape was the water, despite its rarity. Simultaneously holding light and dark, movement and depth, clarity and murky sludge, it was perceivably being sucked up into the arid air. Swimming in fresh water was the greatest pleasure I found there and my long rambling river walks were a sanctuary. Just as the rivers are life to this barren Dry land they were delicious oasis of delight everywhere we camped.
Wenlock 10 days later, the river was even lower and murkier and worse, the campsite had been so comprehensively trashed that we decided to keep driving for two more hours down to Coen, even though we would have to set up camp in the dusk. In the intervening school holidays, the river bank had been used for a toilet without digging a hole, dirty toilet paper was blown across the whole site, and as well as an abandoned full rubbish sack, there was plenty of loose litter. We took the rubbish sack and some empty bottles away with us, but weren't willing to risk staying by water potentially contaminated by human waste.