Alice Springs – Sun 16th to Wed 19th Aug
Sadly the bulldust took its toll, with the engine light yesterday coming on as we pulled up at Old Andado. A number of calls later and a flatbed was arranged, at which point the engine light went out when I moved the car. Just typical!
Sad to see the 110 winched onto the tow truck, the first breakdown of the trip. At least it happened somewhere with a phone and hot showers. Plus the scones made next morning by the camp host were excellent.
Back in Alice Springs it turned out to be a dusty MAF sensor, so easily sorted. Also some useful advice from the dealer – “if it is running OK, has oil and water and the belt is OK then it is fine to drive”. So much for the handbook saying “seek assistance urgently”.
The rest of the time here was a chance to catch up with shopping, school etc. Also to refit the front diff guard; this had needed doing since before Broome but Australia Post’s incompetence had until now frustrated all attempts by Ben at APT to get a replacement part to me. Full marks to Ben, top customer service.
Ruby Gap – Thu 20th Aug
Heading out from Alice Springs the East Macdonnell Ranges are a landscape of gaps, rocks and gorges. Compared to the West Macdonnells, trees and bushes are much more common, whether from a variation in soil or climate I don’t know. It makes it seem a less barren and inhospitable place.
Jessie Gap is about 15km out, and just a short walk from the road. The gap itself is not that special but it was worth the walk to see a couple of what look like barking owls roosted just off the path.
Driving on brings you to Corroboree Rock, an eroded outcropping of the 800m year old Bitter Springs Formation. No reason is given for its name, presumably it was a meeting place; we are told it is part of the Eastern Arrernte Perentie Dreaming.
Next up is Trephina gorge. About 8km down a simple gravel road the gorge is most noticeable for the deep red of its walls, contrasting with the dry sandy river bed. This is not a particularly long gorge, and easily reached from the day parking. There are also a couple of campsites nearby.
Heading further east the road divides, to either Arltunga or Ross River Resort. On the way to Ross River the Binns track emerges from the south, with N’Dhala Gorge about 10km down the track. The track crosses probably, in this season, the only water crossing in this area – apparently it can be quite deep, but with a dirt causeway bulldozed across was no problem; more difficult is then negotiating several dry river, soft, sandy river crossings. The landscape along the track is magnificent.
Although N’Dhala has some stunning landscapes it is best known for its rock etchings, or petroglyphs. Many are connected to Caterpillar Dreaming, in this example relating to the lifecycle of utnerrengatye and ntjarlke. The long carving in the middle is a butterfly testing its wings after emerging, the star is the flying butterfly.
Backtracking to the Arltunga road the bitumen ends, with about 40km of dirt twisting over ridges – enjoyable but not a fast drive. From Arltunga Ruby Gap is down a side turning via Atnarpa station; beyond the station it is about 40km, or two hours of proper four wheel driving, through magnificent hilly scenery and out into the middle of nowhere.
The campsite is pretty much an information board which simply says “camp anywhere along the river”. That’s fine so long as you can get through the soft sand of the riverbed to make it to camp – about 1km in there is a great little spot up on the river bank which catches the setting sun.
It is hard to imagine this place was once the scene of mining frenzy. The sand in places has a red tint; in March 1886 explorer David Lindsay found what he thought were rubies and by May 1887 over 200 people had walked hundreds of km to prospect. Unfortunately in June 1888 they turned out to be garnets, of little value, and the boom collapsed.
Gem Tree – Fri 21st to Sat 22nd Aug
Whilst Ruby Gap would be a wonderful place to lose yourself for a few days, it does have a lot of flies and is not the best place to have a sick 10yr old. So a quick tour along the river and then back out towards civilisation. The scenery is magnificent, and a great view of our camp on the way back.
Arltunga was also the scene of a mining boom, albeit for gold not rubies. Again people travelled for hundreds of km, through scorching heat, to try and wrest their fortune from the dirt. So short of water was this place that the miners had to bring their ore to a central point for processing.
With Pippa unwell we unfortunately did not do the walk through mine workings, where you can crawl through an old mineshaft (bring a torch…). You could spend days here walking through the history, like the old 2 stamp battery and the (restored) police station.
From Arltunga to Gemtree it is pretty much all station land, and a lovely drive, aside from the last 30km before the plenty highway – back to the corrugations.
There must have been rain recently however, judging by the flowers along the way.
Then about 10m before reaching the Plenty Highway the track passes the zircon fields; no permits required to have a fossick. However it does help to have the proper kit otherwise the zircons look just like all the other stones in the dirt.
Gem Tree was once a cattle station but is now devoted to tourism, with the campground thoughtfully laid out to provide shade and some privacy on most of the sites. Family owned, it is a lovely little place.
One of the joys of travelling is the friendships built along the road, and bumping into those friends down the track. It was a complete surprise to see John and Amanda, of Fifty Toes Walkabout, pull in on Saturday, but wonderful to catch up and find out were travelling in the same direction.
On Wednesdays and Saturdays Gem Tree offers a camp oven roast. $15 for roast beef and all the veggies, all cooked over coals in camp ovens, fantastic value. After dinner they show a film which gives some of the history of the place – crazy to imagine the grandfather turning in his job as an east coast school principal and heading into the bush, with his wife who until then had had domestic help for everything and, once they had got beyond two years waiting in Boulia for rain to come, didn’t see a white face for seven years.