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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Palm Valley – Thu 30th to Fri 31st Jul
Setting out early in the morning gave a wonderful view of the local country.
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.
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.
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.
With incredibly clear skies we were treated to a fantastic moon rising over the darkening red cliffs.
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.
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.
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.