Heading further north for some warmth.

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.

aileron man and woman
We liked these huge sculptures of Aileron Man and woman and child outside the Aileron Road house.
aileron woman
She was 30 feet high and quite realistic looking

We camped the night at Barrow Creek WWII staging post. A quiet free camp on someone’s farmland.


wycliffe well sign
Sign outside the Wycliffe Well roadhouse.
wycliff well aliens
Wycliffe Well is supposedly the UFO capital of Australia. The roadhouse is covered in anything and everything UFO.
karlu karlu sign
We had lunch at Karlu Karlu or the devils Marbles
balancing marble
Karlu Karlu or the Devil’s Marbles. Looks like just a little push…….
split marble
A “marble” split down the middle from water seeping into tiny cracks in the granite.
desert frog and crab
Weird and wonderful animals in the desert.

devils marbles

karlu karlu rock
The red granite up close. It’s very white underneath.
Steve in the marble
Steve inside a split rock

devils marbles 1devils marbles 2devils marbles 4

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.

wedding ghost 2
The bashful bride

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.

maddy at the pebbles
Doing the walk around the “pebbles”. It was still a bit cool.
crimson chat
A crimson chat near camp

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.

daly waters pub
Daly Waters Pub just off the Stuart Highway Northern Territory.
steve at daly waters pub
Steve at the bar Daly Waters pub

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.
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.

Kedron repairs in Alice Springs

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

steve with wires
Doesn’t look too good does it? This is sort of like the brains of the caravan hanging out! Steve assisting the electrician who’s out the window in the outside part of the hot water unit.
tdc hot water heater repair
These guys were great and worked out that it was a problem with the installation of the unit rather than the Truma unit itself. It’s really important how you do your wiring in these things!!!Don’t pull the wires too tight or they break! We are now amazed at how quickly the hot water comes through and we can now see if the unit is on or not. A great improvement. But then as if that wasn’t enough………….
Then we were REALLY surprised to find we nearly lost our spare tyre when this split. Thankfully Steve noticed it on one of his checks before we lost the tyre. There was corrosion starting in the joint in a fairly new caravan. We had to strap the spare to the back bumper to get it back to Alice Springs. I’m glad we had extra straps or this would have had to ride on the bed to get back here as the top and inside of the car are already full.
bad welding
We nearly lost our spare tyre when this metal bar just split at the weld point. The caravan is still under warranty, so Kedron helped us out on these problems.
welding repair
We went to a specialist welding and engineering place called SWEL in Alice Springs and Muhammad Sarwar PhD (Can you believe we found a Dr of Mechanical Engineering in Alice Springs!) was VERY professional and helped us out on the spot re welding it and adding a better design of reinforcing it. It now looks like it might last the rest of the trip and then some! We highly recommend this place, if you are out here and happen to need them!
weld repair and reinforce
Nice new welding job and improved stronger design.

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



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
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