Warrumbungling in Oz


Text by Liz McKenzie and Photos by Richard Nelson

Eastern Gray Kangaroo in Warrumbungle National Park

Eastern Gray Kangaroo in Warrumbungle National Park

It’s my last day in Warrumbungle National Park, a few hundred miles inland from the east coast in New South Wales and edging up toward the subtropics. Usually this is a dry, brittle place, but this year it’s humid and jungly. 

Luckily the campground has lots of trees and I’ve had my tent snugged under one that gives pretty good shade. When I took down the tent around ten this morning, it was already like an oven inside. Temperature’s about 95 degrees now, dense and muggy with only a slight breeze. They say Warrumbungle means “Crooked Mountain”, for the jagged volcanic peaks and plugs, but I figure it should mean “Sunstroke.”

I’ve talked with lots of Australians in this campground and most haven’t even mentioned the heat. A couple of young guys from Sydney asked about winter weather in Alaska and when I said Sitka’s been down in the teens, one of them said, “God, I really can’t imagine what that would be like. How do people survive?” There we were in the full sunshine—they seemed fine after a long hike up a shadeless mountain and I was about to keel over just standing there. 

Every day I’ve been heading out before dawn to record birds and hike around before the heat. For some reason, I’m obsessed with recording kookaburras—the big kingfishers that have a classic maniacal laughing voice. So I go out in the evening, find where they’re roosting and the next morning I stumble through the dark to that spot and wait, while the quick little mosquitoes look for a spot without any DEET. 

 It’s about noon and I’m sitting at a picnic table under a big metal roof that’s creaking and conking from expansion whenever the sun comes out from behind a cloud. The cicadas are buzzing like miniature chainsaws and there are horseflies zinging around me, but luckily they don’t seem to bite.  RN

Mark Bethka