Hanging out in Alice

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.

check engine
Nothing actually looked wrong or sounded wrong with the engine and the message above doesn’t give you much to go on.    I tapped a bit off dust off the air filter, but that didn’t help, so we headed back to Alice.

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.

blogging at olive pink
Blogging at the Olive Pink Botanical Garden in Alice Springs while babblers babble, pigeons fossick, honeyeaters twitter and weebill’s wobble in the breeze blown mallee trees.

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!

military dragon and thorny devils
Thorny Devils and a Military Dragon – both eat nothing but little black ants.   This is the only place where thorny devils have bred in captivity – the park operators say this is probably because of the good supply of tasty ants that they can get by simply putting a bait trap out the back.
The endangered Bilby in the nocturnal house.   Now restricted to a few areas in the north Western Australia.    This is a 1/4 second exposure on the ISO6400 setting, so its actually almost dark in there.
Mala.   About the size of a small rabbit, these individuals are descendants from the last wild mala found on the Australian mainland – none have been found since 1991.     However the Australian Wildlife Conservancy has established a large predator free area at Newhaven with a program to reintroduce mala from several captive populations and the last remaining wild populations on 2 small offshore islands.
Hooded Robin
Hooded Robin at Alice Springs Desert Park (outside the aviary)
big red roo
A rather tame big red kangaroo.  Although they had a kangaroo enclosure, this one was outside just next to the path.

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.

gillen and simpsons gap
Looking east from the woodlands trail.  Simpsons Gap can be seen cutting through the left hand range about 5km away.  In the distance on the right is the profile of Mt Gillen above Alice Sptings – a really spectacular short walk that I did the next day.

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).

Bond gap

The entrance to Bond Gap

bond gap pool
The permanent waterhole at Bond Gap.   While the water was cold – probably about 15 – it was nice to plunge in to get the dust off and get rid of the cloud of flies I had accumulated over the preceding 12 km.    They scattered to the nearby rocks when I went under and didn’t seem to return for about 10 minutes until I had warmed up again – enough time to enjoy lunch and a cup of tea.   This makes me think that they perhaps have infrared vision and are attracted to warm moving things (as well as stationary recently deposited warm things).
The rugged peak of Rungutjirba and a ghost gum along the Larapinta trail back to Simpsons Gap
Simpsons gap at dusk
Simpsons Gap at dusk.   Normally crawling with tourists, I had planned to end my walk here late in the day to experience it at a quieter time.    It paid off.  I had it to myself and by the time I left even the flies had gone.

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.

Mt Gillen start
Mt Gillen summit – roughly in the centre of this photograph.
Mt Gillen scramble
There is a short scramble to get onto the summit ridge
Alice from Mt gillen
Looking north east from the summit to Alice Springs in the distance (and an outlying eastern suburb in the centre).
mt gillen summit panorama
Mt Gillen Summit Panorama looking east.  Mt Gillen sits about 300m up from the surrounding area on the Heavitree Range which forms the southern backdrop to Alice Springs.  The water on the right is part of the Alice Springs sewerage treatment works.
mt gillen view west
Looking west from the summit over the Western MacDonnells.
Mt gillen sunset
Where else would one rather be?
southern cross over mt gillen
The Milky Way with Southern Cross and Pointers rising over Mt Gillen from about two thirds of the way down.   The Large Magellanic Cloud is on the right.   I took this photo as a 40 second exposure on ISO 800.  The lights of Alice Springs illuminated the cliffs in the background and I moved about 15m to the left and waved my torch over the slopes leading up to the cliffs to light up the middle and foreground which were otherwise shadowed from the Alice Springs lights by a nearby ridge.

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