Alice Srings to Gem Tree – Sun 16th Aug to Sat 23rd Aug

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.

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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.

15-08-20 Jessie Gap

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.

15-08-20 Corroboree Rock 1 15-08-20 Corroboree Rock 2

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.

15-08-20 Trephina Gorge

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.

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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.

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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.

15-08-20 Ruby Gap Road

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.

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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.

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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.

15-08-21 Arltunga 1 15-08-21 Arltunga 2, Old Police Station 15-08-21 Arltunga 3

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.

15-08-21 Binns 1   15-08-21 Binns 2

There must have been rain recently however, judging by the flowers along the way.

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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.

15-08-21 Binns 5, Zircon

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.

Alice Springs to Old Andado – Sun 9th Aug to Sat 15th Aug

Alice Springs – Sun 9th to Tue 11th Aug

A busy time catching up on schoolwork and preparing for Hils, Charlotte and Bonnie to leave for the UK.  Leaving Monday lunch Bonnie surprised us, with lots of tears at being parted from Pippa.

On Tuesday the Defender was due its 48,000km service.  I couldn’t recommend Suttons more highly, Neil is a wealth of experience and happy to talk through things – old fashioned customer service, the world needs more of it.

Chambers Pillar – Wed 12th Aug

Chambers Pillar is reached by taking a dirt road south to Maryvale Station and turning right.  Along the way are the Ewaninga rock carvings, or petroglyphs, symbols of the Altyerre, the laws of Arrente culture and dreamtime.  The meanings of most of these have not been shared, the Arrentre regard them as sacred and too dangerous for anyone not initiated in Aboriginal Law.

It is impressive to think the Arrente people were so well adapted to the environment, which to us appears uninhabitable, they had leisure time to make these intricate carvings.

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After Maryvale the track becomes rougher, but still a fairly easy drive.  The first glimpse of the pillar is from the top of a ridge which runs across the road.  From here it is easy to see why for the early explorers the pillar was a navigation mark – it clearly stands out from the landscape.  Reduced to photo size it loses its impact, it is a third in from the left.

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Approaching the campsite the road first passes window rock, of course you don’t know that until you get to the information station – first reaction is “if that’s the pillar it is disappointing”.

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To the local people the pillar is Itirkawara, an evil knob-tailed gecko spirit ancestor; for killing many and living with women forbidden to him he was banished.  Bringing a girl relative with him he stopped to rest and turned to stone.  The girl, crouching and with her face turned away in shame, became castle rock, a long thin outcrop near to the pillar.  A reminder of kinship laws, much like Narmanjolg’s feather in Kakadu.

The name Chambers Pillar, was given by John Stuart.  Arriving on 6th April 1860 he named it after his financial backer, James Chambers; nothing like a bit of sucking up to the man writing the cheques……

The best time to see the pillar is at sunrise or sunset, when the light highlights the contrast between the reds and whites of the rock.

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Many of the early settlers who came after Stuart left their names carved into the rock to let others know they had travelled through.  Funny how a hundred years or so renders graffiti historically significant.  Possibly “Nigel & Shaz 11-11-86” (bottom right) may not achieve such acclaim.

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Lamberts Centre – Thu 13th Aug

South from Maryvale the track follows the Old Ghan line, however from a heritage perspective it is a disappointment.  The little left is in poor condition, the siding ruins covered in graffiti and rubbish strewn – hard to look past this and imagine what it looked like in its heyday.  Also hard to imagine why people would travel all this way just to destroy things.

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The only glimpse we had of the old railway sleepers was where a grader, at the north end, had gone deep enough to expose a couple.  The track was in dreadful condition, evidence of the thousands of spectators for the Finke Desert Race a month earlier, the racetrack for which runs parallel.  Alternating between rutted deep sand and hard packed corrugations this was not a pleasant drive.

The only other reminders of the past were the dog spikes, constantly unearthed along the track, and where the track narrowed through an old cutting

15-08-13 Ghan Trail 4

Along the track the landscape changes constantly.  At the start it is red dirt country, with yellow grasses and shrubs, travelling over small ridges.  Halfway is a very unexpected area of green beyond which the trail travels between mesa type outcrops, including the descriptively named Nipple Hill.

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The trail ends at Finke, an aboriginal community.  Apparently you can camp there but it is not an inviting place.  Okay there may be more to the situation, but it is hard to travel through communities like this and not question, in some cases, how the traditional owners view the land.

Lamberts Centre is the geographical centre of Australia, and lies just off the Finke / Kulgera road.  There is not much there apart from a scaled down version of the flagpole over parliament house and a bush camp; a very peaceful place to watch the stars.

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The road in was interesting – essentially 2 tracks that continually crossed like skiers making powder 8’s – very confusing and you had to be alert, the track was rough with washouts:

15-08-14 Lamberts Centre

Dalhousie Springs – Fri 14th Aug

Driving towards Dalhousie you are heading towards the Simpson desert, so things get more remote. Turning off the Finke Road it seems like you are in sand country already, the track a twisting thread of red sand amongst the scrub.  However once onto New Crown Station the sand disappears and things turn barren.  It is hard to imagine anything living here, but then you are surprised by water (OK very muddy water), evidence of recent rains.

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Eventually the road takes you to Mt Dare, South Australia’s most remote pub.  Its also the most expensive diesel we have seen at $2.35 a litre, but given the distances to get it here there is no cause to complain.

Heading south from Mt Dare the landscape remains bare and rocky, aad rough driving.  Not low range driving just very slow picking along the rocky track.

15-08-14 Dalhousie Road

Further south, entering Witjira National Park the rocks disappear, but the corrugations reappear; also returning are the grasses and shrubs – with the farmed animals not present it starkly shows the impact they have had elsewhere.

Although in places very barren, almost like a moonscape, it was by no means an unpleasant drive, watching the landscape change from place to place.

The springs themselves are fantastic.  An example of a mound spring; fresh water rises at 34-38 degrees, from deep beneath the surface.  It takes millions of years for the water, from the Great Artesian Basin, to rise to the surface.  When it does it brings minerals with it which solidify around the spring, eventually forming an encircling mound.

For thousands of years mound springs, which can be found throughout the NP, were the only source of freshwater, and have come to support various unique specie.  Perhaps the best known, to bathers, are the little fish which nibble at any dead skin – ticklish in an oddly pleasant way.

For us the best time to see the springs is sunrise, with the sun rising through the mist steaming off the surface, just magical.

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Also a pleasure to meet another 110.  Peter, Meg and their little boy Jack just in from the Simpson desert, great effort.

Old Andado – Sat 15th Aug

Leaving Mt Dare it is worth taking the shot detour to Dalhousie Ruins, the remains of the old homestead.  9km down the Pedirka track the drive is not hard, although the rock hard clay corrugations are unforgiving.

15-08-15 Pedirka corrugations

Built 1872-85 it was the most northern Pastoral Lease in South Australia, but was eventually abandoned in 1925 when various leases were amalgamated.  In the late 1890s a boy called Essington Lewis, then 15, was sent here by his father “to make a man of him”, makes modern parenting look rather soft….

A fascinating place to wander around and try to imagine life in such a remote place.  Water for the homestead came from another mound spring, which remains today.  The palms were a crop experiment, as a pest species only a few are allowed to remain for their historical significance.

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Passing back through Mt Dare the Binns Track, which is the most direct route, is a few km along the road.  The first 25km or so of this was not exactly pleasant, bull dust hole after bull dust hole – even the side tracks had become bull dust holes; car and trailer were covered. Then a surprising patch of green, presumably the cattle had been kept from this area.

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The homestead itself is a wonderful step back in time.  It has been left exactly as it was when Molly Clark moved to Alice Springs in 2006 and is now run as a charitable trust both to preserve the property and allow people to see what life was like.

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Kings Canyon to Alice Springs– Sun 2nd Aug to Sat 8th Aug

Best make a cup of tea, this is going to be a long one, and picture heavy.  There is just so much wonderful country and things to see in this area.

Kings Canyon – Sun 2nd Aug

From Boggy Hole the track continues south.  Contrary to what the ranger at Palm Valley had said, the track to the edge of the park was an easy drive – high clearance required but nearly all high range driving.

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The trickiest section was the last Finke River crossing.  Lots of rocky ledges, many with scars of vehicles taking the wrong line – happily, with Hils directing we avoided adding to them.

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Once outside of the park the initial track becomes a rough station road leading to the Ernest Giles road, which although a main road was in rough condition.  Back to corrugations!

Back on the bitumen you can turn south towards Uluru, or take the west road to Kings Canyon and ultimately back to Hermannsburg via the Mereenie Loop.  There is a resort near the canyon however, beyond this, where the road climbs over Morris Pass, there is a great free camp.

Up on the ridge the camp looks back towards Kings Canyon, a wonderful place to spend a peaceful night, watch the sun go down and enjoy dinner over the fire.

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The local scorpion seemed to enjoy the warmth too.

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Uluru / Kata-Tjuta (via Kings Canyon walk) – Mon 3rd to Thu 6th Aug

Access to Kings Canyon is not through the resort, but a few km along the road.  Whilst there is a walk along the base the main event is the rim walk, a fantastic path along the top of the canyon.

It starts up a steep climb to the left edge of the canyon.  Ascending straight up rocky steps this is a real heart starter, with benches in a few places along the way if you need a rest.  From the top you start to get a feel for the size of the canyon.

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The canyon cuts into the George Gill Range, an intersection of three major landforms.  To the northeast are the Macdonnell Ranges, to the south and west the sandplains of Lake Amadeus and the western deserts and to the southeast is the Simpson Desert.

Once over the climb the walk is relatively flat, running through interesting sandstone formations and then giving birds eye views of the sheer canyon walls.

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The rock here is sandstone, and there is some interesting evidence of the its origin – formed in layers as a shallow lake repeatedly flooded then dried, the ripples left by the water can be seen in places.

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The plateau around the canyon is eroded into dome shapes reminiscent of the beehives of Purnululu.  To the Luritja people the domes are kuninga (desert quoll) men who travelled through here in dreamtime.

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Just before the halfway point the canyon takes a 90 degree turn to the left, and the trail climbs down into the Garden of Eden, a protected oasis sitting protected between the canyon walls.  With permanent water holes this is a beautiful place, home to a range of birds and animals which would otherwise not survive in this area.

15-08-03 Kings Canyon 16, Garden of Eden

Crossing to the other side of the canyon and heading back towards the start gives more incredible views of the sheer rock walls.  The red-brown colour is only a thin veneer on the surface of the Mereenie Sandstone, compacted white beach and dune sand from 360m years ago.  The last known rockfalls were in the 1930’s exposing the lighter patches on the cliffs.

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It is not all about the rocks.  In sheltered spots various relic plant species have survived from when dinosaurs were around.  The cycad is one example, a fascinating glimpse of the past.

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Some of the local wildlife is also not too camera shy.

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All in a brilliant walk, well worth the three hours it took to get round.

Driving on to Uluru brought the first sighting of wild camels, in this case running down the highway.  An interesting sight, wouldn’t want to hit one in the dark as they are not small.

15-08-03 Road to Uluru

Also along the road is Mount Connor, an impressive rock outcrop which no doubt catches a lot of visitors out.  It certainly fooled the girls, who were convinced it was Uluru.  It is actually a lot bigger, and one of the giveaways is the scree slope, which Uluru does not have.

15-08-07 Mt Connor 1

Ayers Rock Resort

Originally there was a camp ground next to Uluru.  However the resort now sits outside Uluru/Kata-Tjuta National Park, catering for all budgets, from backpacker through to the luxury Sails in the Desert.  Suffice to say the campground is not scenic, but is comfortable enough.

There is an enormous range of things to do with the resort as your base. Some are free, like the local man talking about traditional weapons on the green, but from there your wallet is the only limit.  One the girls enjoyed hugely was the astronomy talk under the stars.

Uluru

One of the most recognisable landmarks of Australia, and sacred to the Anangu people, Uluru is 9.4km around and 348m high.  It is also a fine example of an inselberg, or an isolated knob in an otherwise flat lowland.  Statistics aside it is magnificent, changing colour through the day.

Viewed at dawn Uluru slowly transforms from a black mass, stark against the dawn glow, taking on its familiar red hue as the sun rises.

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Then as the sun sets it darkens again from red to purple.

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Uluru Base Walk

To appreciate the scale of Uluru it is best viewed from a distance, however to see its features the base walk is well worth doing, although being a flat path it is nowhere near as dramatic as the Kings Canyon Rim walk.

Along the walk you are requested not to photo certain sites, as the rock features themselves represent sacred stories, so a picture of the features would reveal those stories.  Frankly that seems odd, if the stories are not shared how would an outsider know what the rock feature represents – we avoided taking pictures of those areas in any case.

Close up Uluru is nowhere near as smooth as it looks from a distance, around its base are various caves which provided shelter to the Anangu, higher up erosion has left the surface folded and pitted.

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Some of the caves had specific purposes.  Walking clockwise you first see where young boys being trained into manhood lived, a place of teaching to prepare them for adult life.

15-08-05 Uluru 6, Boys Cave

Then just around the corner is the men’s cave, close enough to keep an eye on the boys!  The rock lumps are supposedly old men continuing to keep watch.

15-08-05 Uluru 7, Mens Cave 1

Water, despite being scarce, clearly plays a part in shaping Uluru, carving out channels and waterfalls, and leaving black stains on the rock.

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This one caught our eye, it looked a bit like a head with the face on the left.

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The girls certainly enjoyed themselves, although it was pretty hot – would be a hard walk in the summer.

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Uluru / Kata-Tjuta by Helicopter

Now this gives a completely different perspective.  Hils had been wanting a flight for ages, and what better place to do it at sunset.  She had a fantastic time.

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Not only do you get a great view of both formations, but also of the surrounding area rippled with ridges and dunes.

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Kata-Tjuta walk

When Ernest Giles came across Kata-Tjuta he named the highest peak Mt Olga, after Queen Olga of Wurttemburg.  In Pitjantjatjara Kata-Tjata means “many heads”; Mt Olga is just one of the 36 sandstone domes which make up this fascinating landscape.

15-08-06 Olgas 1

We walked into the Valley of the Winds. Although from a distance the rock looks smooth like Uluru, in reality it is a conglomerate of sand and larger stones.  Being so close to the rocks, vivid red in the sun, it was a good time to dig out the panoramic camera.

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It is a much more up and down walk than around Uluru, picking its way between the domes.  The full route goes round in a circle, a pretty long walk, but you can turn around at a great lookout.

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Another great walk, but again not one I’d like to do in summer, even though Valley of the Winds is aptly named which helped cool things down a bit.

Uluru Camel Farm

This was a great hit with the girls.  The farm is adjacent to the resort and, as well as longer treks, offers short rides around the paddock.  Bonnie was delighted to hear her camel shared her name.

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I’d had a sunrise trek on a previous visit to Uluru, an amazing experience but not really for young kids, so sat this ride out.

Rainbow Valley – Fri 7th Aug

With Hils, Charlotte and Bonnie due on the 10th to fly from Alice to the UK it was time to start heading back, so a long day in the car.  We’ve been experimenting with trying to get schoolwork down whilst driving – it seems to work OK on bitumen but off-road is too bumpy.

Rainbow Valley is a small conservation park about 90km south of Alice Springs.  The colours in the cliffs are very striking, from vivid red at the top to chalk white at the bottom.  In front of the cliffs there is a clay pan, after rain it fills with water and gives great reflections of the colours; sadly it was dry, a lovely view in any case.

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Alice Springs – Sat 8th Aug

Back to G’Day Mate to refresh and prepare for our journeys; Hils, Bonnie and Charlotte to the UK, Pippa and I south into the bush.

Alice Springs to Boggy Hole – Sun 26th Jul to Sat 1st Aug

Alice Springs – Sun 26th to Mon 27th Jul

A short drive south of Tennant Creek are the Devils Marbles, a quite extraordinary landscape of huge red boulders perched on top of each other.  Sacred to the local people they are known as Karlu Karlu and were an important ceremonial site.

Fascinating to look at, they are the result of a granite dome being eroded along horizontal and vertical cracks, leaving the boulders visible today.

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Heading south it then all gets a bit surreal.  Wycliffe Well Holiday Park claims to be UFO central of Australia, based on number of UFO sightings.  Perhaps it helps persuade people stay at the campsite; all a bit x-files though.

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After that it was just a case of driving until we got to Alice Springs.  There is not much to see, the road runs through barren county – in the summer months, under blazing sun, its hard to believe anything could live here.

Despite its name the G’Day Mate campsite was great, a bit cold to use the pool but lovely grassed sites and all facilities.  Just a couple of km from the town centre it made a useful base for a couple of days restocking and getting some schoolwork done.  Also good to see another 110 on the site, just finished the Canning Stock Route, great effort.

Ormiston Gorge – Tue 28th to Wed 29th Jul

To the west of Alice Springs lie the West Macdonnell Ranges, with the West Macdonnell (Tyurretye) NP stretching for just over 160km.  It’s a bitumen road all the way so no problems getting there, with easy dirt side tracks to the various attractions.

Skipping over Standley Chasm, first stop was Ellery Creek Big Hole.  This is a permanent water hole fed by Ellery Creek, a tributary of the Finke River.  Sitting in an impressive cut through the ridgeline, in warmer months it is also a lovely swimming hole.

15-07-28 Ellery Creek Big Hole

The local 4WD store in Alice had recommended missing Serpentine Gorge, as at this time of year it is dry.  So next up were the Ochre Pits.  A melee of different bands of colour, from purple through red and yellow to white this remains a sacred site and is still in use by the Western Arrernta people; red the most symbolic, used in all ceremonies.

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Ormiston is a compact little site just outside the mouth of the gorge which gives its name.  Whilst it has hot showers the trade off is no fires, a shame as the nights were getting cold.  The dingos didn’t seem to care though, there are around a dozen in the area and there aren’t shy of coming into camp, but, despite one creeping up and giving Hils a shock, they did not seem to be any danger.

Whilst it is possible to walk directly into the gorge, the best way is via Ghost Gum Walk.  First climbing up the side of the gorge and then descending into the gorge itself this gives great views.  The walk back through the gorge is over rocky ground but well worth the effort.

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Just up the road from Ormiston is Glen Helen; slightly more in the way of facilities but in our opinion not such a good campsite.  The gorge here, a short but narrow gap in the ridge, acts as a bottleneck on the Finke river – in flood times the river can back up, creating a large lake.

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Palm Valley – Thu 30th to Fri 31st Jul

Setting out early in the morning gave a wonderful view of the local country.

15-07-30 West Macdonnells

Pushing on beyond Glen Helen is Redbank Gorge.  It is possible to camp here, the trade in this case being fires are OK but no showers – of the two sites here the one nearest the gorge gives panoramic views, sitting up on a ridgeline.

The gorge itself is an easy walk up a dry river bed, sandy at first then over rocks as it narrows to a ravine behind a small lake.  It is possible to swim across and walk the ravine, however the water is freezing.

15-07-30 Redbank Gorge

The drive on from Redbank is perhaps the most picturesque of this route.  The road climbs over a divide, twisting along the contours; as it gains height the arid, rocky landscape is replaced by grasses and small trees. Finally the road reaches a summit, a perfect viewing point for Gosse Bluff.

The huge crater is thought to be the remnant of an enormous impact, from a comet or asteroid striking earth around 140mm years ago.  The Western Arrente people believe it was formed in creation time; as a group of women danced across the sky as the Milky Way one rested her baby in a wooden carrier, a turna, which crashed to earth and transformed into the circular walls of Tnorola.

15-07-30 Gosse Bluff 1

Once past the bluff the road ends in a t-juntion with the Mereenie Loop.  Left is Hermannsburg and Alice Springs, right is Kings Canyon.  It is dirt either way, and rough in places.

Hermannsburg was established in 1877 as a Lutheran mission before being taken over, in 1984, by a Pastor Carl Strehlow, credited with translating the bible into Western Arrernte.  Handed back to traditional ownership in 1982, it is possible to camp here however the rubbish strewn around the community does not give confidence.

Palm Valley is part of Finke Gorge National Park, down a dirt road just before Hermannsburg.  The road crosses the Finke river a number of times but in reality it’s a fairly simple drive.  It’s a lovely place to camp, especially with the hot showers, and is the only place in central Australia where the red cabbage palm can be found.  According to the ranger the nearest other palms are in Mataranka, the theory being seeds were brought south as trade goods.

The rocks around Palm Valley were some of the darkest reds we had seen, glowing a vivid amber as the sun set.

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With incredibly clear skies we were treated to a fantastic moon rising over the darkening red cliffs.

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Boggy Hole – Sat 1st Aug

Whilst a lot of time can be spent off the bitumen in this area, much of it is on dirt roads with their inevitable corrugations.  To find a “proper” 4wd track is always a pleasure, this was one of those tracks.

Heading south from Hermannsburg the first 10km is heavily corrugated red dirt, but then the track drops into the Finke River and shows its beauty.  Winding its way along the river, through sand and across alluvial stone, the scenery is magnificent.  In its current condition it was not a hard drive, with tracks already cut; cutting a new track after the river flows would be much harder.

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Stopping around halfway through there are a few places to camp.  Arguably the best is high on the left bank, looking down on the valley below, pelicans on the water hole and nothing but the wind for soundtrack.

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Sadly the world is a small place, it was not long before a couple of other vehicles arrived.  Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, unfortunately this pair had driven 3 hours into the bush to crank up the stereo, get boozed up and let off fireworks.  Really, why bother, just go to a nightclub if you want flashing lights, a skinfull and to shout at each other.

Despite the noise echoing across the valley, it was still a fine spot for a campfire and some marshmallows.

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Litchfield to Tennant Creek – Sun 19th Jul to Sat 25th Jul

Litchfield – Sun 19th to Tue 21st Jul

Many people had said to us they thought Lichfield is better than Kakadu; so we were looking forward to seeing it, having loved Kakadu.  We were not disappointed; not necessarily better but a different experience, without the art and ranger walks but with plenty of natural scenery to explore.  Also a bonus, park entry, unlike Kakadu, is free.

Originally, based on a recommendation from Chris & Rachel, we planned to stay at Sandy Creek, which is about 10km down a dirt track including a 400mm deep water crossing – keeps the caravans out.  However John & Amanda subsequently talked up Buley Rockhole, which benefits from the waterhole being 250m rather than 1.5km from the site.

Buley is the first campground you get to after entering the park, being a couple of km down a side turning which also leads to Florence Falls.  There are only about a dozen sites here, all with firepits, and even by 11am it was getting full.  Facilities here are limited, just a long drop toilet but it was wonderfully peaceful.

Rather than drive on to Sandy Creek and hope there was space, we took a well secluded spot with some shade and made it our base.  Just nearby was the most magnificent bower, with a pair of birds flitting to and fro.

15-07-21 Litchfield, Buley

The rockholes are a series of cascades in Florence Creek, with the small plunge pools filled with totally clear water; the last pool being the largest.  Being right next to the day use car park, on a tarmac road, they were very popular with day trippers – you need to get up early to have them to yourself.

15-07-20 Buley Rockholes

We got to most of the sights in our stay here.

Florence Falls

These are an easy 2km walk from Buley.  The walk runs alongside the creek and offers more swimming holes away from the crowds plus some lovely views of the water and its wildlife.

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Getting to the base of the falls is a good descent, but stairs have been installed to make things easier.  Another popular place, the car park was full, as was the swimming hole – it took a while to get photos without bobbing heads.  A lovely place to have a swim, if a little cold.

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The walk back brought us a beautiful little tree snake, hunting frogs in the bushes.

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Lost City

At the end of 10km of winding but easy dirt, this is an area of rocks which supposedly look like an abandoned city taken over by the wild.  Well, kind of….

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Wangi Falls

If you take a day tour to Litchfield its likely you will end up here, it is the most commercial of the attractions with a café and picnic areas.  The falls tumble impressively down a sheer rockface into a very large swimming hole – no avoiding heads in the photos here, it was jammed.

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The edge of the pool is home to water monitors, with one cruising past, oblivious to the crowds, looking for dinner.

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Tolmer Falls

Probably the prettiest of the falls, this is a thin ribbon cascading from a great height into the gorge below.  Sadly access to the gorge floor did not seem to be possible, the signs saying it was closed to protect a bat colony.  The walk gave us a great view across the treetops of the park.

15-07-21 Tolymer Falls 15-07-21 Tolymer Lookout 1

Reynolds River

Litchfield has two main bitumen roads, one at the north end and the other to the south.  Between the two runs the track which passes Sandy Falls.  Halfway along this track crosses Reynolds River.  This is rather intimidating, narrow and long with no depth markers but word of mouth indicating 500mm.  It made for a fun crossing; being so narrow the bow wave slaps back off the banks.

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Magnetic Termite Mounds

These are a wonder of the natural world, apparently even David Attenborough said so.  To date the mounds we have seen have been “cathedrals”, or as the girls called them, “dragon poo”. The mounds here are very different; very wide north to south and very narrow east to west.  Rather clever, it means the termites enjoy the morning and evening sun but avoid the heat of the day.

15-07-21 Litchfield, Magnetic 1 15-07-21 Litchfield, Magnetic 2 15-07-21 Litchfield, Magnetic 4

Mataranka – Wed 22nd to Fri 24th Jul

The beginning of the end of warm weather!  Time to head towards the centre, where the overnight forecast was worryingly close to zero.  Mataranka is famous, as far as we can tell, for two things, Jeannie Gunn’s book “We of the Never Never” and its hot springs.  Whilst we can’t comment on the book, the springs are excellent – we chose Bitter Springs over the better known Mataranka Hot Springs.

Every day over thirty million litres of incredibly clear water wells up at 32c and flows into the Little Roper River.  In the early morning, given the warm water, the springs steam gently.

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You can float along with the current, exit down the bank and come back to do it all again – the girls were in heaven, even more so as we met up with Roger and Jada, so they had Harry and Alison to play with (thanks to Roger for the pics in the water)

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Before we left Sydney I must admit the world of whipcracking was unkown to us, we were blissfully unaware there is a Guinness World Record for the number of cracks in a minute.   By a lucky coincidence the holder of this record is Australian, and was performing at the Mataranka Homestead; an awfully late night but an incredible show of skill – almost impossible to photo as apparently the tip of the whip travels faster than sound, hence the crack.

The record by the way is 530 in 60 seconds, Nathan Griggs is the holder.  His finale with flaming whips was very exciting.

15-07-24 Mataranka, Whip 1 15-07-24 Mataranka, Whip 2 15-07-24 Mataranka, Whip 3

Tennant Creek – Sat 25th Jul

I’m sure there is something good to be said about Tennant Creek.  Perhaps the road south to Alice Springs.  Yes it has a working 10 stamp battery from the gold mining days, but you may not have the energy to see it after a night listening to the locals shouting into the small hours and their dogs howling.

And for the pleasure of this experience the campground asked an extra $5 per child……..

Not one we have put on the list for a return visit.

Jabiru to Ubirr – Sun 12th Jul to Sat 18th Jul

Ubirr – Sun 12th Jul

We had stayed overnight in Merl campsite, a rabbit warren of a place with secluded clearings at the end of tracks.  Suprisingly it was almost empty, although that may be to do with the mosquitos which were vicious; so much so that we debated whether or not to stay another night however going back to Jabiru would have meant missing sunset from the lookout.

Ubirr, like Nourlangie, has some fantastic rock art, and again there was a free ranger guided tour.

First up is Mabuyu, who after having his fish stolen waited until nightfall and then trapped the thieves in the cave where they slept – they never came out, a lesson against stealing.

15-07-12 Ubirr, Mabuyu 1

Also like Nourlangie there is a shelter, used until late last century.  With rock art often the act of painting i.e. the education is more important than the resultant picture, and older art is simply painted over.  Here the art shows various food sources, in a great sweep from left to right, for example the pig nosed turtle appears

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Interspersed is contact art, from when white faces appeared.  For example, alongside the turtle (above) is a figure smoking a pipe with his hands in his pockets – a smaller version occurs further along, also hands in pockets.  Also visible are a pair of hands with forearms; it seems some Binninj were terrified of white women, thinking that when they took their gloves off they were removing their skin.

15-07-12 Ubirr, Contact Art 315-07-12 Ubirr, Contact Art 1

Interesting in the art here is evidence of a thylacine, a Tasmanian Tiger, so this dates from before they went extinct in this area c.4000 years ago.  With the introduction of the dingo from Asia the thylacine was out competed until its only home was Tasmania.

15-07-12 Ubirr, Thylacine 1

Whilst the local people acknowledge they painted some art, other art they say is not theirs.  Mimi spirits are believed to have painted some; being very tall and thin they can lift rocks down to paint and then put them back – this painting of sorcery figures was about 20m up on the shelter roof, if it wasn’t the spirits then someone was rather good at building ladders.

15-07-12 Ubirr, Mimi 1

Other paintings are believed to have been made by ancestors from Creation Time.  For example by the Rainbow Serpent

15-07-12 Ubirr, Rainbow Serpent 1

Finally, climbing towards the top of the rocky outcrop, there is a fascinating area, what looks like a teaching spot, with the art under an overhang faced by rock ledges easy to visualise as seats.  So far as has been shared there are two stories here.  Firstly a lesson in punishment – a girl was punished too severely or eating barramundi at the wrong time, leading to an interclan battle, shown in the painting, in which many died; apparently young boys are taught this while the men point spears at them, try doing that in a modern classroom!

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Secondly a lesson on crocodiles.  We heard two versions of this story.  In the first the Namarrgarn sisters turned themselves into crocodiles so they could kill whomever they liked i.e. beware of crocodiles (to the local people Crocodiles are Ginja).  In the second they enjoyed disguising themselves as crocodiles and jumping out on people, but did it so often they were transformed into the large scales behind the crocodile’s head to forever look sadly at people on land wishing they could return i.e. a lesson on behaviour.

15-07-12 Ubirr, Lessons 3

In the same place is what looks like a small depression in the rock – its a grinding hole for making flour, with a round stone being used to grind the grains.  Current thinking is it takes about 1000 years to wear away about an inch, this one is well over 2 inches deep!

15-07-12 Ubirr, Grindstone

Ubirr is not only a significant for its art, but is also a fantastic viewing point for the adjacent wetlands, especially at sunset when the sun paints the rocks.

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Jabiru – Mon 13th Jul

Before hitting the road to Darwin this was a chance to pick up supplies and chill out by the pool.

With great timing there was also another ranger talk with Christian, this time covering the history and development of rock art in Kakadu and Arnhemland, absolutely fascinating and included some of the art we had seen previously.

It was also an opportunity to ask Christian, given the local languages are oral only i.e. never written down, where the wonderfully complicated spellings had come from.  Apparently they are the result of white phoneticists assigning spelling according to sounds, but are also constantly being changed and updated – it seems Kakadu should really be Gagadju.

Marrakai – Tue 14th Jul

Time to start the journey to Darwin.  The quick route is along the Arnhem Highway, but there is an alternative.  Shortly after the South Alligator river a track heads south, eventually joining up with the Old Jim Jim Road.  What a fantastic drive, this must have been what Kakadu was like to drive before the bitumen was laid.  At first it winds its way through woodland, before passing a several billabongs where you can camp, although you would be pretty close to the crocs…

15-07-14 Red Lilly Billabong

The track then passes through grassland before heading back along the wetlands, and our second encounter with a water buffalo.

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The wetlands are fantastic, with plenty of birdlife

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Finally the track runs through some woodland, cut by a few creek beds which gave the articulation of the trailer a test – all good – before popping out an a lovely smooth dirt road.  The Old Jim Jim road runs through an army base, plenty of keep out signs!

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Our destination for the night was the Purple Mango Café.  Newly opened, the owners have opened up their lounge, put tables on the deck and serve some great pizza from the woodfired oven.  A great stopover place, and convenient for the jumping crocodiles.

Darwin – Wed 15th to Sat 18th

A good question is whether it is wise to teach crocs to leap into the air, next to a boat, for some meat.  They are not dumb, so how long before they think about leaping into the boat.  Suffice to say the cruise boat had bars on the sides, but I wouldn’t be taking a tinny on the Adelaide River, especially near Fogg Dam.

15-07-15 Jumping croc 1

We hadn’t chosen the best time, being early in the morning the crocs don’t jump as high as later on when they have warmed up.  They still jumped pretty high, with the females getting in first.

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There are two large males in the river where we were.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to see Brutus, who once made the Sydney Morning Herald, but we did see Dominator.  Daft name but I’m not going to tell him, he must have been over 5m long.

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We were also lucky to see a crocodile nest.  The female guards the nest until the eggs hatch then hangs around for a mount before vanishing.  It looks like, well is, a pile of grass but is quite a feat of building – the temperature determines the gender, and the eggs will only hatch in around a 2 degree range

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The girls piloted us safely back to shore.

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In Darwin it seems all the campsites are all on the Stuart Highway, handy for getting into town but not exactly quiet.  The Free Spirit was fine, a lovely shaded spot.  I’m sure it is possible to spend a couple of weeks in Darwin seeing the sights, more of a whistle stop tour for us plus a chance to stock up on supplies and pick up the girl’s term 3 work from the post office.  A great time was had nonetheless.

Mindl night markets

These run on Thursday and Sunday, and are quite an outing.  Hils got a leave pass, I stayed back to look after the girls.  By all accounts the place was heaving, had more types of food than you could name, plenty of entertainment and is a real local social occasion with crowds having dinner on the beach

Leanyer Water Park

This is a great facility, and better still is free.  A three tube water slide, plus attached water playground; the girls couldn’t get enough of it.  One of the tubes is a tandem, you go down on a blow up figure of 8, and better still the tube is dark – Hils screamed the whole way.  This was also the venue for catching up with John and Amanda, great to update up on their travels since we last saw them, briefly, on the road in the Kimberley.

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WWII Oil Tunnels

A bit of local history.  The Japanese bombed the original fuel tanks, so it was decided secure facilities were required and tunnels were sunk into the hillside.  Many technical problems later saw the war ended and the tunnels never used.  A couple of them have been opened up and are a fascinating insight into Darwin’s past.

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