Mt Giles Overnight Walk

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.

mt giles walk map
National Park map of the Mt Giles walk.  Starting from the visitor centre on the left, it took about 6.5 hours to reach the base of the climb (where it says “suggested camping”), then nearly 3 hours to get to the top up the steep south ridge.
Mt Sonder from Mt Giles walk
Leaving at sunrise and equipped with tent, sleeping bag, food, satellite phone for emergencies and 10 litres of water, I set off back up the first 3km of Ormiston Pound walk that we had done about a week ago.    Mt Sonder can be seen behind with the peak we climbed a week earlier in the centre of the photo.
Dusky Grasswren
About an hour into the walk I spotted this dusky grasswren – still all fluffed up and getting ready for the day.
Over spinifex towards Mt Giles
On entering Ormiston Pound one leaves the track and heads east directly towards Mt Giles over spinifex plains.  Gaiters are a necessity to minimise the number of painful spikes although they do still come through occasionally.
Mt Giles and upper Ormiston valley
The upper Ormiston Valley with Mt Giles on the left.   The actual summit is the peak just sticking out behind the false summit ridge.  To get there one traverses around the south of the peak before heading directly up a rocky ridge.
lunch spot and water stash
1st lunch stop in the river bed after about 4 hours walking.   I left 1.5 litres of water in the bottle in the fork of the tree on the left to pick up on the way back.    Having also drunk about another litre and eaten some food, my pack was already much more pleasant to carry.
south of mt giles
Traversing the south flank of Mt Giles, looking back over the spinifex plains of Orminston Pound with Mt Sonder in the distance.   This area had burnt in the January fires, which gave it a moonscape appearance, but it did make the walking much easier.
gully on south of Mt Giles
A ravine on the south side of Mt Giles.    After watching a bower bird fly into the ravine with great purpose I thought it might be worth following it to see if I could find some water.
Mt giles pool
Sure enough, I found a lovely string of spring fed pools.  This one in the sun was just deep enough for a refreshing dip.    A nice unexpected diversion.   As always, pity about the flies.
south ridge to summit
Climbing the south ridge up to the summit.   It’s about 30 degrees so a lot steeper than it appears in this photo.   Although only about 2km, it took me nearly 3 hours including a stop for 2nd lunch.
over upper ormiston valley
Maddy would have appreciated this
mt giles east summit panorama
Looking east and south from the summit.    I arrived there nine and a half hours after setting off.    Fortunately there was a nice cleared spot to camp so I had a very comfortable night.
summit dusky grasswren
Another dusky grasswren – right on top of Mt Giles!   I also spotted some variegated fairy wrens
sunset from mt giles over razorback
Camping on summits when the weather is good is breathtaking.   Mt Sonder on the left, with the Sun setting behind the Razorback and Mt Zeil on the right.
dinner campfire
Getting the trusty MSR ready to cook dinner.

 

 

 

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.

sunrise panorama west
Sunrise panorama with the shadow of Mt Giles
sunrise view north
The welcome warm glow of the sun looking north.   It did get rather chilly in the early hours.
sunrise over ormiston pound
A 120 deg panorama view west and north over Ormiston Pound

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.

Mt Giles from namatjira way
A final look at the upper south flank of Mt Giles from the road while heading back to Alice Springs.    Most of the mountain is hidden behind the ridge in the foreground so only about the top quarter of the climb is visible.

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.
Bilby
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
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).
rungutjirba
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.

Kings Canyon and Kathleen Springs

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.

macdonnells map
Our route through the Western MacDonnells and on to Kings Canyon with overnight stops marked.  (Google maps is outrageously conservative where it comes to gravel roads – it doesn’t really take 10 hours to get to Kings Canyon this way around) 
gosses bluff
Along the route we got a good view of Gosse’s Bluff which is the remnant of a very old comet impact that left this circular range about 5km in diameter.  While there is a road into the crater, we had visited it in 2010 so we did not go in this time. 
morris pass lookout
The view from Morris Pass on the Mereenie Loop with the red George Gill Range containing Kings Canyon in the distance.
black breasted buzzard
Along the way we spotted 2 new bird species – this black breasted buzzard and also 2 Major Mitchell Cockatoos, although I didn’t get a decent picture of the cockatoos.
kings canyon 1
We arrived at Kings Canyon at 2pm and set out on the 4 hour rim walk.    This worked out very well as you get great lighting in the late afternoon and no crowds – only a few individuals.  The tour buses seem to come in the morning. 
a rare information sign
There are a couple of rare information signs around the rim walk, however there are hundreds of safety and warning signs everywhere (shown below).   While they sometimes get in the way of a photograph I guess its better than having unsightly barriers everywhere.   Seems there must be people out there who need to be told that if you jump off the cliff you will probably die.

 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

lost in the bee hives
The first part of the walk goes through these beehive rock formations

bridge to cotterills lookout

bee hive tops kings canyon
Some of the tops of the beehives have miniature beehive formations themselves
sea ripples
Ripple formations in the quartzite
ghost gum and red quartzite
Green and white ghost gums contrast beautifully with the red and black rock. 
view from cotterills LO
After walking through the beehives, you emerge onto the northern edge of the canyon.   This view from Cotterill’s lookout, named after the person that opened the area to tourism in the 1960s

steve a the waterfall

red rock wall K C
Looking across to the south wall of the canyon 
kings canyon
nice late afternoon colours looking down the canyon
kings canyon dragon
We have seen quite a few dragons on this trip – maybe I need to get an identification guide and start a dragon list.   This guy is about 20cm long.
kings canyon gorge view
We descended into this gorge which feeds into Kings Canyon with the romantic name of the Garden of Eden.   It has a few small waterholes and one large permanent one near the end just before it plunges over into Kings Canyon.
kings canyon pool
Garden of Eden waterhole
nice honeycomb
Honeycomb rock formations in the Garden of Eden
rock wall kings canyon
The setting sun reflects off the spectacular south wall of the canyon
kings canyon panorama
Panorama from the south wall.   The rock is white, but turns red from dissolved iron in water seeping through it which oxidises when it reaches the surface and the water evaporates.    The light coloured part of the cliff is said to have fallen away in 1930 so not much rusting has happened yet.
steve making me nervous
You can peer down almost 100m vertically – I wouldn’t do this on the north side though.
rock tree and steve
From the south wall the walk heads through more sandstone plateau.  We are not sure if this is a ghost gum as it is pink.   The puddle in the background is from the rains that occurred the previous day.

ancient cycads kings canyon

cycad fruit
Cycad fruit
flora for honey eaters
We saw a few grey headed honeyeaters eating these flowers.
kestrel falls LO
Panorama from falcon falls on the way back down from the George Gill Range.

maddy at king tut

entry kings canyon
This structure is at the start of the walks in Kings Canyon.   It looked like there might be information boards, but once again it was mostly full of safety warnings.
doggies on the road
We were the second last to leave Kings Canyon, once the people go, the dingos come looking for scraps. 

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.

katherine springs
Kathleen springs

 

Redbank Gorge and Mt Sonder

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.

redbank gorge
There is a large permanent waterhole at the exit of Redbank Gorge (or entrance if you think of it in terms of the direction we were about to explore)
entering redbank gorge
About to enter the Gorge
redbank looking out
Looking back out from the mouth of the gorge

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.

redbank deep pool
A wider section on the 4th pool – it just kept going.   The water in this 4th pool was quite clear so I dived down with my mask and snorkel.   It was probably about 7m deep at the deepest point I could find.   There were quite a few fish swimming around, but unfortunately my cheap underwater camera batteries died at this point.
black footed rock wallaby 2
Black footed rock wallaby at the end of Redbank Gorge
black footed rock wallaby joey
Black footed rock wallaby with joey

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.

redbank gorge camp
Camping in comfort in 2019

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.

mt sonder summit sign
The start of summit day – equipped with helmet, snow goggles, alpine boots and in my hand: the all important net to cover your face in case you encounter a fly blizzard.
ripplestone on the trail
Interesting ripple formations on the 650 million year old quartzite.
heading up mt sonder
Roughly half way up.   The peak in the distance is Mt Zeil, the highest peak in the MacDonnell Ranges
mt sonder 2
Continuing up the ridge to Mt Sonder.    It was a rather overcast day and eventually it actually rained.    While we had occasional drops falling on us most of the way back down, fortunately the hard rain held off until we stepped back into the caravan – almost to the second.   It then came down in buckets for a few minutes, but probably no more than 5mm altogether.

After many months, finally a proper termite mound that caught Maddy’s attention.  It had interesting brown spikes on the red base.

on the trail mt sonder
About 1km from the top
mt sonder hike 2
Looking back up at the decent to the west col.
looking back
The view to the west from near the summit looking back over the ridge we had climbed
distant views
The track up Mt Sonder is very well built and easy to walk.   So no scratchy bush and spinifex to manage.
summit cairn
Mt Sonder “summit” cairn.   The actual summit is in the background, but the authorities don’t seem to want you to climb there saying it is too dangerous.    It doesn’t look too bad to me.
distant views 2
Views to the south
wraps and tea lunch
Tea and lunch on the summit.
more distant views
Views to the east towards Mt Giles (the 3rd highest peak in the MacDonnells) and Ormiston Pound.
looking back to the start
Looking back down the west ridge. The walk starts at the carpark shelter which appears as the white dot that can be seen to the left of the darker mound in the middle.
moody sky
Rain storms started appearing all around as we decended
roach
Apart from the usual clouds of flies and this yellow roach, we saw almost no other wildlife on the walk.
philips plant
Seed pods on what appears to be a mallee growing on Mt Sonder
mt sonder after rain
After returning to the caravan we enjoyed a cosy cup of tea while the rain pelted down.  Mt Sonder itself disappeared in the mist, so we were glad we timed the climb when we did.
crested bellbird
The rain brought out a few birds.  I got this reasonable photo of a crested bell bird that issues a strident series of whistles – at first quite attractive, but after a while it got a bit monotonous.

Bird number 250

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

grey headed honeyeater

Dalhousie Springs and Simpson Desert

After a lonesome night at Foggarty’s Claypan we pushed north to Dalhousie Springs in Witjira National Park.  These are the largest complex of natural springs on the great artesian basin and it is estimated that 43% of the naturally flowing waters of the whole basin emerge here.   Today there are also many artificial bores mining the waters of the great artesian basin. As this happens faster than it recharges, flow rates are dropping and several natural springs have dried up however, however there are steps being taken to reduce the wastage and the flow from man made has reduced about 25% since it’s peak of 2000 megalitres per day (ref Wikipedia)

witjira sign

After many dusty kilometers, arriving at Dalhousie Springs is truly remarkable – with trees, reeds and general greenery emerging from the bright white desert sands.   To cap it off, it is possible to swim in one of the spring fed lakes in water that varies between 34 and 39 degrees C.   For the first 2 days we were there, the air temperature reached the low 30s and with the sun baking the surface of the already hot pool, it was probably near the top of its range.    So while it was very welcome to wash off the dust and get away from the flies, which don’t seem to like venturing out over water, it was not at all refreshing and one soon overheated and had to get out.    However for night time dips and on our third day there, which was significantly cooler, the pool was lovely.

dalhousie springs main pool
The main swimming pool at Dalhousie Springs
dalhousie spring
Heaven – a lake in the middle of the desert
dalhousie camp from the air
A view of Dalhousie Springs from the air. The main pool is in the middle with the camping area to the right.    There are about 60 springs in the area a few of which can be seen behind
dalhousie outflow
A view of some of the greenery stretching into the distance resulting from the outflow of some of the larger springs

On the road into Dalhousie Springs we stopped off at the old Dalhousie Station homestead ruins.   These were established near some of the southern most springs of the Dalhousie complex in the late 1800s and operated as a cattle and sheep station, but eventually abandoned – first by the European settlers, then later by the aboriginal workers who remained behind for several years and continued to run it as a cattle farm.  The date palms that were planted around the springs have become a bit of a problem, crowding out other species and altering the nature of the banks of the springs and propagating themselves to other springs in the area.   Eradication programs are underway, but a couple of male trees have been left at the homestead ruins for historical reasons.

On our first full day at Dalhousie Springs we went for a walk to another set of springs about 3km away called kingfisher springs.   These did not have good swimming access and if it were not for some feral cows which had trampled down an access route to the biggest pool it may not have even been possible to see it because of the dense surrounding vegetation.   However, apart from this benefit, it’s sad to see cows in National Parks as they damage the ground and vegetation and foul up waterholes.    We seem to be seeing cows in National Parks all over the country, it’s surprising that one does not hear about this issue more.

 

Views from around Kingfisher Springs.   There are also some date palms infesting these springs.   Although some of the larger ones have been removed, there are already many smaller ones growing back.

Some interesting vegetation and dingo footprints on the walk.   The night before we had heard dingos howling, and even on the walk we heard a few in the distance.  The following night we caught a brief glimpse of one walking past our campsite, but by the time we got the torch out, it had disappeared.

Dalhousie Springs lies on the western edge of the Simpson Desert. As it isn’t feasible to take a caravan across the the Simpson Desert we decided to take a day trip into the western edge of the desert to Purni Bore.   This was a bore drilled in the 1960’s in a search for oil, but instead it struck artesian water.   Although the oil company capped the bore before leaving, after a few years, it corroded and water started flowing out freely at 18 litres per second creating a permanent lake between two dunes and an oasis for birds, animals and travellers.  However in recent years, the bore has been recapped and now only a trickle has been left which still attracts some wildlife.

Purni Bore is east of Dalhousie Springs, so to avoid driving into the sun, then spending time there in the heat of the day with no wildlife active then driving back into the setting sun, we decided to set off 2 hours before sunrise to get there shortly after sunrise.    After the initial shock, it was lovely driving first by moonlight, then watching the sun rise as we approached the dunes.   Then after a couple of hours at the bore, we headed back with the sun overhead and returned to Dalhousie for a dust-off in the pool in the early afternoon.

dawn on french line
The first signs of dawn – about an hour after setting off.   Venus heralding the sun.
dune dawn
Crossing one of the last dunes before Purni Bore.   The flag on the car is to signal to possible oncoming cars when cresting the top of the dune.   We never saw another car until much later in the day, but in busy times, head-on collisions can be a problem, so sporting a flag is now mandatory in the Simpson Desert.   We had the option of paying nearly $200 for a flag pole sold in roadhouses for this purpose, but opted to buy a high visibility vest for $8, cut it to the regulation size and cable tie it to a tent pole instead.   Maybe it would not last a full 4 day desert crossing, but it survived our 150km round trip and was a little bit cheaper.
sunrise on the french line
Sunrise on the Simpson Desert Dunes

Flowers on the dunes at first light before they have woken up on the left and on the right: a few hours later after they have had their morning coffee.

simpson desert french line
The French’s line across the Simson Desert – about 400km of crossing dunes and claypans in an almost straight line perpendicular to the dunes – we only had to cross the first 15 or so dunes.
happy spinifex (2)
Although we were officially in one of Australia’s driest deserts, the vegetation looked a lot more vigorous than in other slightly less arid areas.   Either they are better adapted to it, or they caught some recent rains from the edge of cyclone Trevor, which dumped a fair bit on areas a few hundred km. to the north.
red dingo
As we arrived at Purni Bore, a nice tan dingo trotted off.
camel spine
Remnants of a camel skeleton at Purni Bore.

Purni Bore info signs (click on the images to read)

 

purni bore and steve
The bore itself, now capped and controlled allowing only a small lake and soak for wildlife that has become dependent on it to drink.   Gone are the days of the vast lake with waterbirds etc. Spot the fly trying to take the limelight?
purni dune
Exploring the area around Purni Bore – The former lake bed and dead reeds on its fringe can still be seen.
my shoe treads
Maddy’s shoes have soles that are designed to camouflage one’s tracks to look like dingo tracks!
desert tomato
The flowers of the desert tomato
Common Bronzewing 3
Although there were plenty of birds at Purni Bore, unfortunately I saw no new species.  However I got this nice photo of a common bronzewing showing off its wings.
zebra finch tree
There were thousands of zebra finches, but I am not exaggerating when I say that there were probably a thousand flies for every zebra finch.
galahs purni bore
Also plenty of galahs and the other usual suspects like singing honey-eaters, crows etc.
Eyrean grasswren
Although we saw no new birds at Purni Bore itself, we did spot this Eyrean Grasswren on the drive back.
maddy and dingo
While waiting for birds to come and drink Maddy was treated to a close encounter with a dingo

dingo drinking

white dingo
Dingo’s look thin and scrawny, but apparently they are naturally this way.
purni bore simpson desert
This is the remaining small lake at Purni Bore – the size of a small swimming pool.  Unfortunately trampled and fouled by cattle and feral donkeys, like so many other water holes in outback national parks.   But I guess this one is not natural so I shouldn’t complain.
sand hills and spinifex
The vegetation on the dunes is surprisingly diverse and vibrant

new groth after rain

hot and cold showers in the Simpson desert
If you do camp at Purni Bore, one of the luxuries is a hot shower courtesy of the bore.   The water from Purni Bore comes from an aquifer that is 1200m deep and comes out at 85 deg C
tea and fly net
The best way to enjoy a cup of tea –  Although age is catching up on me,  I haven’t lost a tooth, it’s just a fly on the outside of the net.
red sand track simpson desert
Heading back to Dalhousie Springs
Simpson desert sign
It was dark when we passed this sign on the way in so took this shot on the way back.   By comparison this is a surprisingly unemotional sign with none of the usual big red and yellow Achtung words with forebodings of misery, death and damnation that usually appear at the start of far less serious tracks or routes.

 

 

 

 

Lake Eyre from the air

We were pretty disappointed we were not able to do the Birdsville track on this trip. The floods in northern outback QLD near Winton have flowed down and cut off/closed the road. Now we hear that cyclone Trevor has dumped more water and there is a second lot of water coming down.  Never a dull moment in this country.   But the good thing to come out of all this, is that Lake Eyre is filling up. Lake Eyre is Australia’s biggest lake but it is dry most of the time.  It will contain some water 2 or 3 times in a decade, but only fills 4 times a century.      When were there in Jan 2010, it was reasonably full, but the only way to really appreciate the lake is from the air as even getting to the water’s edge can mean walking some kilometers over the lake bed’s thin salty crust which sometimes breaks leaving you covered half way to the knee in black muddy ooze.     At the time we looked all over the “town” of William Creek for the pilot Trevor to take us up to see the lake in flood as you could not see it from the shore.   However he was nowhere to be found.     So since we were relatively close (in Coober Pedy) we thought we would have another go at getting a scenic flight over the lake.

Things have certainly changed since 2010.    The permanent population of William Creek has dropped from 4 to 1 and that one person happens to be the elusive pilot who now pretty much owns the town of William Creek (i.e. the pub and fuel station, the campground and the scenic flight business).     However while the permanent population is 1, the town is certainly not quiet, as there are a whole host of pub staff, managers, admin staff and pilots, but all of them are itinerant workers.   Trevor’s scenic flight business has grown and now operates well over 10 aircraft out of 3 airfields offering scenic flights over the Flinder’s Ranges and outback South Australia.    Unlike last time when getting a flight meant trying to track down the pilot, now a scenic flight can be booked and paid online.

Another change since 2010 is that the lake has been renamed to Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre to acknowledge the Aboriginal name.   I’m not sure what it means, but in Zulu Kati Thanda means something like “love the middle” and since the lake is in the middle of Australia, it kind of works.

We selected a 2 hour flight which enabled us to see the full extent of lake Eyre.    Starting from William Creek, we headed about 50km east over Anna Creek Station (the world’s largest property at over 2 million hectares) to the south western part of the lake.   From there we headed north for about 80km following the main inlet channel (the Warburton Groove), then about 20 km east up the Warburton River towards Birdsville, before turning back south to the bottom of Lake Eyre north and back to William Creek.   The Google maps images below show the features on the right hand side and our approximate track on the map on the left.

bordig
Boarding the Cessna Grand Caravan – we were hoping to be in a smaller plane with windows that open (to let the flies out if nothing else), but it seems Lake Eyre flights have become quite popular and bigger planes are now necessary.

Looking out over William Creek shortly after take off.  Close up on RHS

The SK on the left photo stands for Sidney Kidman, who owned a large cattle company that once held land covering over 1% of Australia.

lke edge rom hllors poit mpig re
Approaching Lake Eyre.   The water can be seen in the distance with about 3km of salt crust between the land edge and the water at the moment.  The road to the Halligan bay camp ground can be seen running from the left

Halligan bay camping area LHS and tracks from some idiot on a motorcycle that rode out onto the salt and got stuck.

strt o wter
Approaching the start of the water in Belt Bay
rtesi sprig i lke
An artesian spring in the middle of the lake.  Normally it would be isolated in the salt bed but at the moment it is flooded.

Scenes over the lake

lies i ple
Yes the plane was full of flies

Pelicans have already started to appear even though the water reached the lake only about 4 weeks ago

wig over upper wrburto groove
Approaching the northern part of the lake with the Warburton River snaking off in the distance
wrburto delt
The Warburton Delta, where the river enters the lake carrying water from the January floods in northern Queensland.    The lake Eyre catchment covers about 1/6th of Australia and none of the water reaches the sea.  If it even reaches lake Eyre it simply collects then evaporates

The flooded Warburton River with trees lining the normally dry river bank

kllmi ilet strt
Looking back south from the northern point of our flight.   At this point the Warburton river splits and a small portion of the flow goes to the left entering the lake about half way down the eastern side at the Kalaweerina Inlet

 The green on the left is where grass and reeds have started to grow after just a couple of weeks of water.

  We were not the only flight – spot the plane on the left (close up on the right)

kllwe meets the wrburto groove
The water from the Kalaweerina inlet portion of the lake meets the main inflow coming down the Warburton Groove behind.    At this point we were flying at about 3500 feet to get a better overview of the lake.   Earlier we were at 500 feet to see birds and some of the smaller features close up
groove lookig orht
Looking back up the Warburton Groove that carries most of the water into the lake.   As the water flows in and slows down, the salt crystalises on the dirt particles and sinks to the bottom leaving the water clear.   This can be seen above where the central flow down the Warburton Groove is still murky, but the edges have become clear as well as the water coming from the Kalaweerina Inlet on the right.
hut peisul with mdig gul
The top of the Hunt Peninsula which separates the two lobes at the south of Lake Eyre – the first to fill is the western Belt Bay which is in the foreground and is the lowest point in Australia at about 15m below sea level.   Once this reaches a certain depth it spills over into the eastern Madigan Gulf in the background
mithel isld
Mitchell Island – one of several that will soon provide a safe nesting haven for birds.
wter t bottom o belt by
The head of the water at the bottom of Belt Bay
view rom south o lke
Looking north over Belt Bay with the upper edge of the lake 120km to the north
iro ore o sure
Iron deposits on the edge of the lake.  I wonder if this is why Gina Reinhart once expressed interest in buying Anna Creek Station.
ldig i ross wid
Landing at William Creek.  The town on the left is dwarfed by its airfield
job irig his egie
Jacob the pilot cooling his trusty turboprop – the City of William Creek