After a few days in Sydney is was good to get back to Alice Springs. It was also fantastic flying over lake Eyre again and seeing even more water than a few weeks back. After voting for the federal election and a delicious lunch at our favourite cafe, we headed north up the Stuart Highway to warmer parts. It is getting too cold for us with the temp down to single figures at night.
We camped the night at Barrow Creek WWII staging post. A quiet free camp on someone’s farmland.
I am excited to find that as we drive north we are back in the termite zone. So far there have been none as beautiful or with as much character as those in outback Qld, but they are getting better as we head north. There was only one which was worth stopping for.
We then drove through Tennant Creek and camped just past town at “The pebbles”. These rocks looked like a smaller version of the Marbles and are also a sacred site/meeting place but this time for women’s business. It was here that Steve found a new bird a crimson chat.
We drove 3 days from Alice Springs and FINALLY found a place that is getting warm enough for us. Tonight we are at a free camp near Daly Waters pub. Our camping is free tonight, so we walked in to the historic pub for one of their Beef and Barra meals. We love that we are once again in the Barramundi zone. This was a very busy little pub in the middle of nowhere. There were many tourists but also locals and farmers still in their work clothes/hats having a beer after work.
After many months of camping in luxury it was time to see if I still had it in me to do a tough overnight backpack trip. Mt Giles in the Western MacDonnell Ranges seemed like a good opportunity. This 30km round trip takes you into an interesting remote valley then up the 3rd highest peak in the range.
Night time shots from the summit. Clockwise from main: Orion and the crescent moon in the fading light; the lights of Hermannsburg about 30km to the south; Scorpius, Jupiter and the Milky Way taken at about 2am.
After leaving the summit at about 8am, I retraced my steps back to the start. A bit of a slog without the novelty that came with the walk up. However with a much lighter pack, downhill grade and better experience of how to negotiate spinifex country, I got back to the start of the walk after just 7 hours and with about half a litre of water to spare. I was a bit surprised that I went through almost 10 litres, even with reasonably cool weather.
Unfortunately the car suddenly gave out an abrupt beep and displayed the rather undiagnosable message below. On the plus side, we were only about 300km from a dealer in Alice Springs when this happened and we were heading that way anyway – so things could have been worse. However it was at the start of a long weekend, so I could only get the car checked after 4 days. I was reluctant to drive too much during this time, but Alice Springs is actually quite a nice town and there are quite a few things to do in the nearby area.
With visiting the Alice Springs Desert Park, doing a 22km circuit walk in the Simpsons Gap area, climbing up Mt Gillen and doing a bit of general maintenance and tinkering, three interesting days have gone by quite quickly. Now I am sitting in the Olive Pink Botanical Garden while the car is being serviced and hopefully will be on my way again shortly.
Feathered visitors to my blogging spot
We had visited the Desert Park in 2010, and were quite impressed so it was worth another visit. The highlight of the Park is probably the nocturnal house where you can see some of the deserts normally unseen critters. As they are watering some of the outside areas, several plants are flowering (unlike elsewhere, where the drought and recent heatwave has left most plants withering or dead), so I also hoped to spot a few birds. While there were certainly quite a few there, I never saw any new species. They do have some aviaries too, but of course I can’t count those!
The following day I did a nice full day circuit walk. Starting at Simpsons Gap about 15km west of Alice Springs, I left the car and jogged back along the road for 4km to where I had hidden my pack in the bush. From there I followed the 7.5km Woodlands track to the junction with the famous Larapinta Trial, followed this west for 2km to the waterhole at Bond Gap, then retraced my steps back to the junction. Finally I followed the Larapinta Trail back to Simpsons Gap.
The Woodland trail passes through several habitat types including river red gum flats, various acacia woodlands and mulga country. I was hoping to see some birds but in the middle of the day, there was not much to be seen. Fortunately I decided to follow a 1km detour up the dry Reedy Creek the stop to have some tea under a red gum. After a few minutes I heard a few birds calling and on investigation found a small rock depression about the size of a suburban birdbath with water in it from the recent rain. I sat for about 15 minutes watching from a distance and saw quite a few visitors including the new painted finches below (not the greatest photos, but it was a new species for me).
The entrance to Bond Gap
Driving back from Simpson’s gap in the dark I noticed the torch lights of some people making their way down Mt Gillen which gave me the idea of doing a sunset walk there the following day. It was a short but really spectacular walk of about 2 hours return. I just wish I had brought more warm clothes and my stove to make tea to keep me warm so I could have stayed up there to watch the stars come out with the lights of Alice Springs below. However it was rather windy on top so I had to leave about 20 minutes after sundown and enjoy the stars on my decent.
We it’s not just all fun and games out here in travel land, watching the sun set while sipping cocktails! No, we are back in Alice Springs but not doing the usual things you do here. We are getting things fixed on the caravan! After getting a leaking water tank replaced in Dec and the battery monitoring system adjusted to the proper setting, so we could actually see how much battery power we have left, we thought all was now good. A couple of months ago we (eventually) worked out that the hot water system had never worked properly and since we paid a lot extra for the premium system, we thought it was time to get this fixed and not waste as much water each time we showered. This is important when you want to be off grid for awhile. M
If that wasn’t enough the car then began to play up for the first time. This is the new car that I was just beginning to think I liked. Alarms suddenly started going off telling us (250kms from Alice springs with no telephone) to pull over, check our engine, crash warning detection disabled, see your dealer. See your dealer!!!!! This of course did not tell us what the problem was and there was nothing out of order with the engine that was obvious, so it was just annoying seeing these flashing lights all the way back. We were losing engine power at times too but managed to get back to Alice. Toyota will have a look at it next week. M
On the upside, we got to return to our favourite city quality cafe for a delicious lunch, Steve got some good coffee and we both got a good haircut. Not as good as Sylvana in Seaforth though! M
From Redbank Gorge we drove around to Kings Canyon via the Mereenie Loop. We had missed Kings Canyon on our 2010 trip so we decided it would be good to go this time even though it would require quite long drives with 150 km of corrugated dirt on the Mereenie loop then about 450 km back to Alice Springs the next day to be back in time for our appointment to have our hot water system fixed – it was rather shocking to be on a tight schedule again.
In addition to the warning signs there are 5 first aid stations with emergency phones, defibrillators and helipads. Also this rather interesting chart suggesting that you check the colour of you urine to make sure you are drinking enough
We spent the night at the King’s Canyon Resort. Definitely a place to avoid. It was the most expensive caravan park we have encountered: $40 for a patch of dust with no water or power and the bathrooms were filthy. I guess they take their guidance from the resort at Uluru, which also has a monopoly and has the dubious reputation of providing the worst value for money accommodation in Australia.
The following morning we dropped into Kathleen Springs, which is a beautiful spring fed waterhole about 20km east of Kings Canyon, then continued on the long drive back to Alice Springs.
Our camp for the next two nights was on a ridgetop near Redbank Gorge. This lies near the western edge of the MacDonnell Ranges at the foot of Mt Sonder and Redbank Gorge which are both well worth the effort to explore.
Redbank Gorge cuts through the mountain range as a narrow chasm of similar dimensions to the slot canyons in the blue mountains, but without any greenery and with quartzite walls instead of sandstone. The gorge has several pools with very cold water and although there were some hardy folk swimming up the gorge we opted for the comfort of wetsuits and an air mattress
There were a few floating toys left lying around by previous visitors and Maddy initially tried to use these but it turned out later that it was easier for the two of us to share our air mattress.
From left to right: looking back out from the end of the second pool; exiting the third pool.
Continuing up the long narrow 4th pool.
After exploring the gorge we returned to our campsite about 2km from the gorge where we realised that we had selected exactly the same spot that we had chosen on our visit here 9 years ago. Only this time we had a bit more comfort. On the last trip we used a bug dome tent and slept on air mattresses on top of the table on the left and our shower was a simple bag hanging from the tree that can be seen behind the caravan.
Camping rugged in 2010. Note the solar shower hanging from the same tree
The following morning we set out early to climb Mt Sonder which is a 16km round trip walk with a height gain of about 600m. Mt Sonder is the 4th highest mountain in the MacDonnell Ranges, but is the highest that can be reached as an easy day trip. The 3 highest peaks, while not needing any crampons of ice axes, require either 2 to 3 day walks or in the case of the highest peak – Mt Zeil, special permission to go there.
After many months, finally a proper termite mound that caught Maddy’s attention. It had interesting brown spikes on the red base.
It’s definitely taking more effort to spot new birds these days. Unfortunately the drought in central Australia isn’t helping. Many waterholes that are often described as being a birdwatcher’s heaven have been reduced to a dusty hollow. However I am still making slow progress and today reached a new milestone with this grey headed honeyeater spotted at the Ormiston Gorge campsite. Hopefully when we head north to areas that have received a bit of rain from Cyclone Trevor and then beyond to the tropical top end of Australia we will see a bit more. For our complete bird list with photo’s click here: Bird List