Last Updated on April 14, 2019 by Red Nomad OZ
My hard-won title of ‘World’s Greatest Coward’ was in no danger of disappearing as I stood poised on the first of the 140 hand-hewn rocky steps descending into the depths of the chasm.
Above the Grotto: A loo and no view!
The Grotto’s inauspicious car park and ‘rest area’ had promised worse than nothing.
A desolate expanse of bare, rocky ground; bins overflowing with tourist season detritus (read wine casks, beer bottles, loo paper); and a public toilet so disgracefully messed up that even my expertise couldn’t turn into something scenic.
Hordes of Grey Nomads swarmed across the rocks towards the tree-lined gash at the head of the gorge. Water gleamed far below through a mat of vegetation. People posed. Cameras clicked. People departed. Motors leapt into life.
The Staircase from Hell
Further back towards the car park, a few steps led directly off the cliff edge into what looked like mid-air. Right next to the sign warning ‘Cliff Risk Area’ and a splendidly graphic depiction of a person tripping over a tsunami.
This couldn’t possibly be the ‘staircase’ to the Grotto. Could it?
No one else had gone down the steps to nowhere, and no wonder. If this was the ‘easy’ stairway I’d anticipated when we left Wyndham for the famous Grotto, I wouldn’t be going anywhere either!
But what’s the point of visiting new places if you’re too gutless to see them? What’s the point of craving new experiences if you’re too cowardly??
And ultimately, what’s the point of having life-changing adventures if they don’t actually change your life???
If I’d have been so inclined, I’d have crossed myself, but instead settled for divulging the secret location of my blog password in the event of my untimely death by misadventure.
At least death at the Grotto sounded mildly exotic – and with that morbid but strangely comforting thought, I faced the staircase from hell.
The Reward of the Brave
Fit, agile and possibly younger readers will doubtless marvel at my inability to trip down the rugged stairway as lightly as an election promise. But as I negotiated the switchbacks (sadly unrelieved by guardrails) with stairs cut directly from the cubic rock of the cliff walls and pointlessly clutching at sheer rock faces for support I descended through a portal into paradise.
Dark, and shimmering with fractured reflections from the towering cliffs above, the pool at the base of what must be a magnificent wet season waterfall, is estimated to be at least 300 ft deep.
Twisted tree roots keep the cubic rock crystals in place (please god) and water trickles over carpets of moss, full as a sponge. And the person or persons unknown who hung the rope swing from an overhanging tree high above the pool?
Let’s just say there’s a fine line between enterprise and foolhardiness!!
I gasped as I dipped my feet into the water, shaded for most of the day between the steep rocky walls of the chasm that surrounds it. I could only imagine what would have happened if my less calloused body parts had been immersed! But its frigidity didn’t deter the water monitors (lizards) swimming and sunbaking on the rocks, and on a hotter day would be heaven!
The Magic of the Grotto
Was I still in Australia? Or had I inadvertently slipped into Middle Earth?
The Grotto’s quietude, dream-like tranquility and the flicker of its ever-changing reflections must have had a mesmerising effect that blocked out all traces of the world above and stilled the passage of time. (That’s a poetic way of saying I can’t recall how long we spent down there)(or how many photos I took).
As we explored its nooks and crannies, careful not to disturb the lizards, was it a coincidence that I discovered my camera’s ‘Magic’ setting?
Of course that meant re-taking nearly every photo to see how ‘magic’ affected it!!
But finally, it was time to leave.
And as we reluctantly ascended back into the real world’s sunlight, dust and devastated car park the Grotto felt like a dream from which I wished I could not awake.
While I deplore the Aussie tendency for unimaginative place names, ‘Grotto’ is a geographically accurate description.
But it hardly captures the strange and unexpected beauty of this remote jewel of the Kimberley region, does it?
A New Name
So what would I call it?
HHHMMMmmm… lets see …
Mesmerizing Magical Middle Earth?
Cavernous Cauldron Chasm??
Happy Harmony Hollow???
Lazy Lizards Leap????
Nah, I’m no good at this. What would YOU call it?!
There were no steps back in 1967—- we climbed down the rocks, just as nature intended! 🙂
That said, that was the place I fell off while climbing down— luckily just the last 3m or so.
It is still one of my favourite places, even all these years later, & it is nice to see it looking just the same as in my old colour slides.
I would have been WAY too gutless to climb down without steps, Bryan!! So luckily there WERE steps, even if I did find them scary, because it IS a magical place! I’m glad you liked it too 😀
I am travelling around Kununurra and Wyndham at the moment in the Wet and visited the Grotto yesterday. There is no toilet there and no bins anymore. Much cleaner. And the waterfall is flowing like crazy!
Wow! I’d love to see it in the wet, Tanya!! The waterfall was flowing, but not very much when we visited – it’d be great to see it in full flow, but that’d make the steps down even more scary (for me, anyway) 😀
@Mary – Ah, you’ve stumbled upon my little secret … but life’s too short NOT to be a little crazy!
@TAVP – Be sure and tell all your clients then!!
@Laurence – Well … who’s stopping you??
@Gregg – Enjoying the view is what it’s all about – but I just can’t stop with the photos!!!
@Spencer – You won’t regret it!
@Laurencec – Thank you!! Although I can take no credit for nature’s handiwork!
@Ann O’Dyne – I would have frozen my butt off in that water!!! And upon reflection, I feel quite certain your explanation for the swing is the correct one!! Maybe the descendents of the purslane gatherers have made it out here? It’s not such a leap, is it?!
did you climb down in your swimsuit?
thanks for sharing the beautiful lizard, and I can tell you that the rope was attached by a child, lowered from above, with another rope tied around it’s ankles.
Deptford Pudding blogger has just informed me that’s how purslane was gathered from cliffs in Kent
Love the grotto water reflections. Looks like some oil painting 🙂
Looks like a truly beautiful place to visit. I wouldn’t mind checking it out for myself one day.
Hey nice photos! Want to visit the place too because of your shots. haha
The photos are amazing specially the reflections in the Grotto Pool. If I was there, I will also take pictures. But I will take more time to enjoy every view.
Excellent photos! All looks amazing! Love it! Thanks for sharing. 😉
I salute you for forging on. That kind of descent without a guide rope or rail is not easy to accomplish. I also think you are crazy, but we’ll talk about that another day. Have a fab weekend. Blessings…Mary
@Rae – You’d just be exchanging one kind of cold for another if you actually went swimming!! I hope that’s some consolation …
@Nature Footstep – Thank you! It was a great adventure – I’m glad you could share it!
@Johanna – Ah yes, but you saw things I didn’t, so I guess that makes us even!
@Robyn – Alas no pictures of the steps! It was difficult enough negotiating them, let alone balancing to take a photo!!
@Greg – Well, that’s just as well! There’s WAY more of both as I travel through the Kimberley. Keep watching … Just between you & I, a seasoned hiker like you would have NO trouble on this staircase!
Red rock and blue skies are my favourite photo ‘look’. I can’t get enough of it!
That’s looks like an interesting place and well done for your fearlessness!
Do you have a photo of the stairs? I am confused if it’s the one with magic at the grotto as the caption. If not, May I see a stairs shot? I’d like to gauge if I’ll be brave enough to go through. Thank you. 🙂
Those photos are simply gorgeous, thanks for sharing. I’ve been scouring the web for what seems like forever, looking at the best Australia travel packages. I think I’ve picked one, and now all I can think about is the date I’m leaving. Love your blog.
I love the way you write, Red. Not only amusing but also informative. I really enjoyed this post, and wish we’d found the Grotto on our travels in the Kimberley. Ah well, next time.
that´s inspiring for sure. What a wonderful place. Wish I had the money to go there. It is really so unearthly you hardly believe it. Thanks for sharing your adventure.
and for linking up at NF_IP
Your images and words capture the magic and adventure in exploring this beautiful place Red. Makes me want to go up north from the cold at Nannup just to climb down to this gorge. Fabulous post.
@MJWC – Indeed there was, and that’s exactly what it felt like! Minus the megafauna and other dangers they faced, of course!!!
@SFlaGuy – Well! Is that a backhanded compliment, or WHAT!! Getting back was the easy part – staircases are always easier up than down (for me, at least)!!
@Christina – Yes, the twisted trees are the main ‘middle earth’ reminder! But I like the idea of being a differently aged Lara Croft!!
@Sallie – You’re too kind. And I’m sure you’re not a ‘typical’ anything!!! And not everyone shares my fear of heights/drop-offs/uneven rock!!!
Gotta add — I meant typical old lady traveler in the sense that I’d be afraid to climb down there — definitely NOT that I’d litter up the place.)
World’s Greatest Coward my foot ;>)… if you ever owned it, which I seriously doubt, you’ve definitely given it up now…. oh my gosh, that is a beautiful place, really does look like a movie setting for middle-earth. Gorgeous, magic indeed.
Thanks for showing it to us because I’m probably never going to get there (and if I did I’d be a typical gray nomad I’m afraid.)
It sure looks like a great place to visit, and yes, magical. It reminds me of Tomb Raider scenery though, rather than Middle Earth.
Oh – reflection shot. I thought you tripped with your finger on the shutter button. You create the most marvelous postings out of rocks, dirt, and water. This looks like a get-a-way that almost had no return ticket. Glad you made back.
Wasn’t there a movie years ago called Journey To The Center Of The Earth. Thanks for taking me with you on you little trek. Beautiful pictures as always.
@Andrew – Haha! YES!!! Perhaps Cops Copse or Policeman’s Plunge would also work!!! The birds are partly responsible, but even they wouldn’t strew toilet paper around with the same carefree abandon that we saw …
@River – My ‘bravery’ secret is Pilchard! He led the way and shielded me from the drop offs!! Like you, we wonder why people bother going to such places sometimes!!
@Joan E – Good one!! Albeit slightly risque to the smutty minded amongst us!!
@GL – A virgin visitor!! Welcome and thanx for dropping by … Dreary? Sad?? How can this be when you have two lovely trips to look forward to??? Maybe we can play duelling wildflower pix when we return …
@diane b – Yes, those two words describe it well! Weirdly, I find it easier to go up!! And the magic outweighs the mayhem!
@jenny – So you’re going to visit something I’ve recommended? Then my work is done!! Now all I have to do is convince the WA tourism board to pay me 🙂
@Ken G – Thank you so much! So great to hear from you, my friend!
@Journey Jottings – The contrast actually enhanced the experience! And the unexpected always makes a place far more memorable!
@PDP – Haha! Thank you!! But to whom would I give the photo credit? Olympus via Magic??!!
@Mary – Well, you’ve sure come to the right place if you relish imperfection!! But a little magic always helps!!
@TMWH – While I didn’t want to leave, something tells me I probably wouldn’t want to stay there overnight … if the creepy crawlies didn’t get me, the backpackers would!!!
Simply Magic, Simply Red. So many thanks indeed for brightening up an otherwise dreary and sad Sunday for me.
I really believe you should be awarded an honorary Walkley or similar for Online Journalism of the highest order.
You and Pilch (yes, I know who you are!) rival the Leylands but with more style than Ferris Trabilsie (an Adelaide Hair Styling icon).
The images from a previous trip to Port Fairy have been salivating ready for my visit there next week, staying at the Merrijig Inn.
And the next week (car situation permitting: that is, if I can get one in time), I’m off to Yorke Peninsula as the Cockies Tongues are in full bloom here in the south.
Cheers from The Mouth from The South, Ye Olde Fogey.
I can’t believe people came, took photos, then left.
Without standing and gazing? Marvelling at the beauty that nature has wrought there?
It’s such a beautiful, beautiful area.
I’m wondering if I would have been brave enough to climb down, I hope I would be.
The photos are very lovely.
An amazing reflections! And, of course, all the other pictures :)))
Croc Pond, which will ensure those who strew rubbish up top won’t do the same down the bottom. It wasn’t crows or similar that pulled the rubbish out of the bin? It is a good argument to not have a bins, or open ones at least. The monitor is very impressive too.
I love that I learn something new from you everytime I read your blog. This time it’s in my own state! The Grotto looks fascinating…breathtakingly beautiful and certainly with a touch of middle earth especially with the water monitors! Next time I head north, I’ll certainly be making a detour
Those photos are just stunning. I wouldn’t have wanted to leave, either! I agree with Diane–Magic Grotto is a perfect name.
Everyone needs some magic. I think it illuminates all of our differences, not your cowardly-ness. I sort of relish imperfection unfolding…& in such beautiful places. ~Mary
Stunning images of the grotto Red, the colours are without doubt magical. My stomach did do a lurch at the thought of the climb down, well done indeed and was so worth it for not only the images but for the memories! This last image is so worthy of enlarging and framing it would look fantastic.
What a contrast from the desolate car park view, to the rich tranquillity of rusty red rocks encapsulating your middle earth grotto – I’m not surprised time stood still.. it looks as though it has done there for aeons 🙂
Magic Grotto. You were brave to not only descend into middle earth but the climb out wouldn’t have been easy. I can see though that it was worth every frightening moment to get to see the ancient beauty of this place. It is sad that the tourists have left the car park and toilets in a grotty state.