11-12 August: More spectacular hiking

Author: Mrs A

Location: Ormiston Gorge & back to Alice Springs

Saturday: Leaving our picturesque camp at Redbank Gorge, we drove a short way to Orminston Gorge along the Western MacDonnell Range towards Alice Springs. We parked up and got dressed up to do a hike.

It was a chilly morning – around 9 degrees with a cold wind which cut through your clothes. It just amazes us how it can go from 29 degrees yesterday to a top of about 15 degrees today!

We’d decided to do the Ormiston Pound hike, a walk that takes you into a spectacular flood plain surrounded by high red walls. We’d done the walk when we visited here years ago, and remembered the awe inspiring scenery we came across.The circuit takes you firstly high up onto the walls of the Pound for spectacular views, before dropping down and winding its way across to a dry river bed, where you rock hop back to the beginning via some permanent water holes – like gold dust in this arid landscape.The colours are so vivid in this incredible air, not polluted by traffic or smoke.As the walls begin to close in on you for the last couple of kilometres you begin to appreciate the beauty of the rocks, not just the ochres, reds and salmons, but also yellows, mauves, purples and much much more. As the sunlight hits the walls above you it reflects into the shadows, creating more colour still – an absolute feast for the eyes. Even Mark’s limited visual palette was amazed.We finished by walking past the waterholes – we recall that last time we were here we had seen some endangered yellow footed rock wallabies drinking here, but this time it was a little too busy for these shy creatures.The final green waterhole is apparently suitable for swimming – though any thoughts of diving into its icy depths were far from our minds as we walked past. It is home to ducks, white faced herons and darters, so definitely supports some aquatic life.We concluded our 9km hike with a burger from the cafe on site – well deserved we thought!

There are many more delights in the West MacDonnell Ranges we have not yet seen, plus the eastern ranges we are yet to visit. We will definitely have to be back. We have run out of time this trip.

After lunch we made our way back to Alice Springs – a little over 100km from this beautiful spot – and set up camp in a random tourist park we came across.

We had only been there seconds and a lady with a black dog came over and asked us how we liked our Zone. It turned out to be Wendy and Mel, fellow Zoners from Albury in southern NSW. After we had set up and showered, we popped over for drinks and to exchange travel stories.True to our experiences to date, yet more lovely Zoners.

Sunday: We had originally planned to move on, but with a long list of tasks to do in Alice Springs before leaving made the decision to stop another night.

Tomorrow we commence our journey across the Plenty Highway, a remote and rough unpaved road which stretches across country into Queensland. There will be no phone signal or internet access, and we are planning to take four days to drive the route to Boulia. It’s 814km door to door, the first couple of hundred kilometres are tarmac, and then it gets slower and rougher.Hopefully we will be back on line by Friday to update you how it went!

So, fresh fruit and vegetables purchased, spares and tools acquired, and online research into road conditions done, we are now as prepared as we can be.

We finished our day with a delicious Asian takeaway shared with Wendy and Mel and a couple of bottles of warming wine. Fabulous!

10 August: Into the West MacDonnell Ranges

Author: Mr A

Location: From Kings Canyon Resort to Redbank Gorge, West MacDonnell Ranges

Friday: We topped up with diesel just before leaving Kings Canyon Resort and I asked about the road conditions round the Menindee loop road to the West MacDonnell ranges. having had no internet for several days means we were reliant on a 10 year old copy of Lonely Planet…not so good. The young lady behind the counter said “I think its pretty bad, there’s lots of corru…corrug….what’s the word?” I filled in the word that she was struggling to remember…corrugations. She did though brightly volunteer we would need to purchase a pass to travel through the Aboriginal land the road goes through.

Not really knowing what to expect we set off, after a few kilometres of tarmac the road degenerated into a very bumpy track. Corrugated it certainly was. We let the tyre pressures down and I rechecked the suspension settings again. We set off and bounced our way along for several hours, only seeing a few other cars, one trailer being towed and no caravans.By mid morning Google was estimating we were still over 2 hrs from our planned lunch stop, and then…a miracle. We come round a bend to see two graders ponderously chugging up the road towards us, leaving in their wake a lovely smooth surface!

We waved our thanks to the drivers and “sped” off, the odd patch of sand still making the driving “interesting”. We were soon at our lunch destination, a fabulous lookout over an ancient comet crater.You wouldn’t have wanted to be around 400 million years ago when this bad baby hit earth. It was one of those views that we love in outback Australia – no sign of humans on the landscape for 360 degrees.

Back on tarmac now we made our destination for the night, Redbank Gorge, in time for a late afternoon walk. The Gorge is one of several in the West MacDonnell ranges, which spectacularly rise up out of the desert plain and stretch several hundred kilometres. We rocked up at was to be one of our prettiest campsites on this section of the trip, with views down into the gorge. We quickly unhitched and drove down the steep access road, parked up and hit the short trail into the gorge proper.After a bit of rock scrambling we arrived at this little oasis, a pool of water in sharp contrast to the surrounding dry arid land. We spent a happy hour there watching the sun set fire to the walls of the gorge, then retraced our steps.This was a view that demanded a decent glass of red, and we counted our blessings once again to be in the position to watch the sun go down on such a stunning outback vista.

I wandered off to talk to our fellow campers and see if anyone had recently travelled the route we planned to take back to the east coast called the Plenty Highway. I got lucky, a couple had just come over on it last week, and had taken four days on what they described as “badly corrugated” track, espcially on the NT side of the border. Ah well, at least we know what we’re up for, as it is often hard to get a factual assessment. So many off-roaders like to puff out their chest and say “Its not bad mate”. This could mean anything from, ‘it is in fact pretty good (unlikely)’ to ‘it’s practically undriveable’.

You have got to admire the Australian way of minimising problems, the “She’ll be ‘right mate” philosophy, but when you are trying to get factual information to plan driving times it’s not helpful. This couple were very good, and detailed the type of road surface to expect on the different sections of the 650km of dirt we are to tackle in a couple of days time.

Mrs A and I then sat down with WikiCamps and made a few adjustments to our schedule!

7-8 August: Watarrka National Park for more hiking

Author: Mrs A

Location: Watarrka National Park (Kings Canyon)

Wednesday: It has been a good 8 or 9 years since we last visited this part of Australia, back then flying in to Alice Springs, hiring a Troopie (Landrover made up to include beds and a kitchen) and whizzing down to this area for a long weekend. It’s good to come back and visit at a more leisurely pace and with all our own gear.

We left Uluru by 9.30am and headed off towards Watarrka National Park, a good 300km away. A red dune side lunch spot gave us a break en route, and we arrived at the Kings Canyon Resort shortly before 3pm.

We have a fabulous site with incredible views across the national park, looking out over the 100 metre high red walls of the canyon. We got set up and jumped in the car to do a late afternoon walk in the national park to stretch the legs.We opted for a short and peaceful walk along the dry King’s Creek, an informative track with several birds accompanying us, particularly this ever-so-cute Dusky Grasswren a perky little desert dweller that didn’t seem to mind hopping around the rocks near us.The national park is home to more than 600 species of plant, 10% of which are extremely rare and date back to the dinosaurs. This area has the highest diversity of fauna in any of Australia’s arid zones.

We returned to camp for showers and to enjoy the sunset.The resort has a pub and restaurant so we decided to give it a try for dinner. Unlike so many places we have come across on this trip, this actually had a decent choice of beverages – including Fat Yak and our local Manly, Sydney tipple, Four Pines beer.

We both had some extremely delicious and perfectly cooked kangaroo steaks, jacket potato and salad. Highly recommended.

Thursday: A morning of getting our sheet and towel washing done was accompanied by a bacon and egg sandwich for breakfast – a fine start to the day. By 10.30am all jobs done and a warm breeze promising to expedite our drying we headed back to the National Park. Today we had chosen to do the Kings Canyon Rim walk, a total of about 8km walking when all the side trips are included.

The hike starts with a 100 metre climb up around 500 steps. I was pleased my legs had somewhat of a warmup this morning running around the campground washing machines and lines!Once you’re up the top of the walls it all gets a lot friendlier, with a lot of red rock hopping over the ancient fossilised sand dunes and sea bed. There is plenty of evidence of the area’s distant past, with fossilised ripples in the rock (they call it ripple-rock, of course) and evidence of the layers of silica in the rock from the drifting sand dunes.The landscape is unlike anything else, the beehive like structures stretching out into the horizon. I found it interesting to learn that the rock here is all actually bright white sandstone – the red comes from a fungi which grows on the rock and through a chemical reaction allows the red sands from the surrounding arid area to stick to it, hence creating the bright red colour which practically glows in the sunlight.While not busy, we were certainly not alone on this walk, several other hikers following on the same trajectory – mostly French, a few Chinese and Australians.

The Garden of Eden is a part of the Canyon with permanent water, attracting birds and harbouring many of the ancient plants, with cycads lining the waterway. It was a diversion along the track that few took, but Mark and I enjoyed a break in the cool shade beside the water.After completing the circuit we returned for a relaxed afternoon, Miss Tassie rolling in the red sand and needing a lot of brushing (which she loves!). I suspect the two events might be linked. Are we being manipulated by a Burmese cat?

Another fine sunset over the George Gill Range completed our day. Off on a new adventure tomorrow.

6-7 August: Uluru National Park

Author: Mr A

Location: Yulara & Uluru National Park

Monday: Riding The Rock!

Catherine had heard that you could now cycle around the rock – one of the many changes since climbing it has been finally banned.

We lost no time after setting up camp to throw the bikes on the back of the car and head into Uluru National Park. It’s only 20km away by road, but we wanted to avoid the testosterone fuelled drivers who are often behind the wheel of a big four wheel drive for the first time after a rental from Alice. Combine those folk with the foreign tourists who have forgotten which side of the road we drive on here (as we encountered driving into the park just as one was driving the wrong way down the park check-in road!)…No…a few minutes loading the bikes was worth it.We left for our ride from the Cultural Centre and followed our noses as there were no signs for a cycling path, but there was this rather large rock to head for.We joined the pain path around the rock and checked the signage, it only showed walkers, but there were bike hire companies around and plenty of tyre marks, so off we went.Riding a bike always brings a grin to our faces wherever we are, but to be riding along under this brilliant blue sky, dwarfed by this towering red rock…breathtaking. We just couldn’t stop ogling this magnificent scenery. Neither of us are in any way spiritual, but we both felt this to be the closest we could get, just sitting quietly looking up at this massive granite monolith towering over us.

Miss Tassie also enjoyed the awesomeness of the Red Centre on an explore of the dunes near where we camped. When was the last time you saw a Burmese cat in front to Uluru, eh?

Tuesday: Visiting Kata Tjuta

A 45km drive in the morning, minus the caravan, took us to Kata Tjuta, which European explorers renamed The Olgas. This area contains an unusual geological formation of a series of large domed granite rocks, which in this crystal clear desert air, looks so spectacular against the almost perennially deep blue sky.The short walk we did here was one of the most enjoyable we have done from a scenic perspective for ages. It’s called the Valley of the Winds walk, and takes you up through the domes and in a 7km circuit.(Below, a friendly Grey Shrike-Thrush which accompanied us on our walk)We could easily have spent a few more days here, but we are now on a bit of deadline, given we have lost a couple of weeks from our itinerary. So soon it was time to pack up and move on.

4-5 August: Travelling to the spiritual heart of Australia

Author: Mrs A

Saturday – location: Arumber

We continued our journey south from Ti-Tree to Alice Springs, arriving late morning. We filled up with fuel and topped up our fresh fruit and vegetable supplies before heading to our campground for the night. We could have carried on driving towards Uluru, but really felt like a break from the car.

Arumber is located about 20 minutes drive outside of Alice Springs, and our destination (Temple Bar Caravan Park) is nestled in a dry riverside location, overlooked by the rugged red of the Western MacDonnell Ranges. We’d chosen to locate ourselves outside of Alice due to the bad reputation for theft within the outback town – and lo and behold, our camping neighbours tell us their friends experienced just that a few days ago.

The campground was full of birdlife, many Major Mitchell’s Pink Cockatoos in the trees, flocking to the grasses to munch on seeds. Several pairs of ring-necked parrots also frequented our camp, reminding us we are in the outback.We had a nice stroll around admiring the scenery and enjoying the feeling of being upright!Sunday – location: Petermann

After a peaceful night’s sleep we took off again on Sunday morning, commencing our journey towards Uluru. We picked up some final supplies in Alice Springs before heading south. It was quite surreal seeing signs pointing us towards Adelaide after all this time – our next big city south.

Uluru is a deceptively long way away from Alice Springs, and we had decided to break the 450km drive in two. Our final stop for the day was a free camp, about 1.5 hours drive away from Yulara.

There were no facilities, just rubbish bins, picnic tables and plenty of flat areas to park up. This didn’t worry us though, as we are completely self contained. Stepping out of the car, the cold and the wind was a shock – it was about 14 degrees centigrade, the coldest we have been in a long while – thank goodness for the diesel heating!

It was fabulous being away from any light pollution though, and before we retired for the night it was a great opportunity to admire the incredible starlit sky which seemed to go on and on forever. I can honestly say I forgot how cold it was in my admiration of the Milky Way – just amazing.