Check the Pouch

Our last few days in the Northern Territory flew by. We got back into Alice Springs in the early afternoon, it’s amazing how far you can drive in a day when the road is smooth tarmac rather than a bulldust and hole riddled mess. As soon as we got back into reception Matt booked the van in for a wheel alignment and suspension check to see if we could locate and fix the disturbing banging that has been plaguing our drives. That evening we drove out to the convention center and waited to be picked up to go to The Kangaroo Sanctuary. Matt was really looking forward to this after listing to a podcast by Chris (Brolga) he had been keen to visit since we first began to dream about our trip around Australia.

The bus ride to the sanctuary was pretty fast but we had time to watch a little bit of the documentary where Chris was being chased around the sanctuary by the massive red kangaroo called Roger that was one of the first 3 joeys he fostered. It was entertaining but Roger was more than a little bit scary standing on his tail and trying to box with his human carer. Chris greeted the bus and showed us the shed where he used to live. When he first set up the sanctuary he had no money having spent it all on fencing and the land so he couldn’t afford a house so he slept and cooked in a small tin shed, it wouldn’t have looked out of place in a suburban backyard. He took us out the back, talked to us about his work, and showed us a couple of beautiful baby kangaroos, one of his adult rescues kept coming up to the group and he explained that sometimes, despite their best efforts, the kangaroos don’t become wild again so rather than releasing them he keeps them in the sanctuary. We then took a walk around the grounds.

The sanctuary was huge with dog proof fencing on all sides to keep the roos safe from harm. We learnt about red kangaroos and euros and how their family structures work and Chris told us about the importance of checking the pouches of road kill as often the babies are still alive after the mother has been hit by a car. We looked at Rogers memorial and then made our way back to the bus. Both of us were so happy that we’d waited around to be able to visit, it was an amazing place. For dinner we went to the Alice Springs Brewery and had wood-fired pizza as well as sampling a few of their beers before heading back to our transport museum camp and hitting the hay.

On Friday morning we woke up early and packed up the van so we could drop it off for the wheel alignment and suspension check. The mechanic very kindly drove us to the Alice Springs Desert Park so we could spend the morning looking at animals and wandering around the gardens rather than sitting in a stuffy office. We’d heard mixed things on the road about the park but after visiting we both thought it was really well done particularly their bird enclosures and the nocturnal house. There were mala, bilbies, heaps of different birds, as well as the standard dingos, emus, and kangaroos. We went on a couple of the ranger guided talks at different enclosures but I got bit frustrated with the ranger because she kept misidentifying birds and mispronouncing names so we ended up walking around on our own most of the time. It took us 4 hours to get around the whole park with our finish perfectly timed to go and pick up the van.

We were both entertained by the findings at the mechanic or lack of. They’d taken the van out driving multiple times, confirmed we weren’t hearing things and that there was a weird noise but they looked everywhere and couldn’t find the cause. The poor bloke that had been assigned our van seemed pretty frustrated that after all the work he hadn’t found anything but it was sort of reassuring that there isn’t something majorly wrong. That afternoon we went back into town and looked at the small but fascinating mega fauna museum, did our groceries for the next few days and went back to park amongst the tractors and trucks for one more night.

I was excited when we drove out of the town and started to travel north up the Stuart Highway, we both loved exploring the southern part of the NT but it was fun to get on the road and head towards a new place. We stopped in at the Tropic of Capricorn for a couple of happy snaps and then continued on our way until we stumbled across, of all things, a Mango Farm. Both being a bit perplexed we walked into the tiny cramped shop and bought a mango ice-cream and mango sorbet which we ate under a tree out the front. It was bizarre sitting on a lush green farm, next to a vineyard, in the middle of the desert. Back on the road we made two more stops, Barrow Creek to look at the old telegraph station, and Wycliffe Well. Despite me telling him that I was certain the “UFO Capital of Australia” would be terrible Matt was still very keen so we rolled in to have a look. After peering around the kitch, and let’s face it pretty shit alien themed art Matt turned to me with a look of disappointment on his face and said “is this is?”. Sorry love, that’s it.

It was almost dark when we reached our campsite for the night at the Devils Marbles (Karlu Karlu) so we felt quite lucky to get a spot as the site is notorious for filling up in the early afternoon. We got the chairs out, set up our camp in our little site, and then went on a wander through the rocks finishing up on the lookout as the sun had started to set. It was a beautiful place. On our way back we met a couple who were playing Monopoly Deal in the picnic area and had a great chat with them. They showed us photos from their trip and we asked them about their experience on the Telegraph Track up the cape, something we were planning on doing but after chatting with them and seeing the videos will not being doing haha (it was the most riddiculous 4WDing I have ever seen). The next day I woke up early to photograph the sunrise, and what a sunrise it was. Because there have almost been no clouds while we have been in the NT the sunsets and sunrises haven’t been very inspiring but this morning it was perfect. I spent an hour snapping away and then went and picked up Matt so we could do the 4km walk around the park. By the time we’d finished I felt like we’d definitely covered Karlu Karlu and our last “tourist” destination for the NT.

Campsite Reviews

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – You all already know how I feel about this one but if not see Flats and Budgie Rescue.

Karlu Karlu – One of those amazing places that you can’t quite believe is a campground let alone one that is $4 per night but then you come crashing back to reality when faced with the bunch of arseholes that are the people you’re camping with. We had, not one but two people parked over multiple sites, kids climbing on literally the one spot in the park where the traditional owners ask people don’t go, a fat bloke drinking beer and breaking off branches to use a fly swats, a woman walking her dog, and multiple people not paying. The marbles were amazing but the people did ruin it for me a bit. $4pp/pn – 6/10.

Advertisement

Chasing the Bushman’s Ruby

If I have one regret on this trip so far its that we did not spend nearly enough time in the East MacDonnell Ranges. The guidebooks and information pamphlets I read said things like “enough to fill a day trip” and “where the locals go to ger away from the tourists”, they did nothing to explain the rugged and remote landscape that we barely scratched the surface of.

After the heat of the Fink we were both surprised to find ourselves driving into the ranges in our jumpers. A cool little breeze popped up after the storm with occasional patches of drizzle thrown in for good measure. It was blissful. We ticked off Emily & Jessie Gaps quickly and enjoyed the beautiful rock art depicting the caterpillar ancestral beings of Mparntwe (no photography allowed). 40km down the road was the poorly named Corroboree Rock where it is likely there were never any Corroborees there, instead the signs informed us that the dolomite outcrop was part of the Perentie dreaming story. We pulled up for lunch at Trephina Gorge Nature Park, I could have spent a week there. It’s a bit hard to describe the purple and red mountains, the sandy white river beds, green cool rock holes and towering ghost gums in a way that would give you a fair indicator of what it is like so I normally take a heap of photos, in this place with the light and the weather I couldn’t do it justice, it is the most beautiful place in the West Macs. We tragically spent all of 2 hours there, we had lunch, hiked to John Hayes Rockhole, hiked into the gorge, marveled at the biggest ghost gum in Australia, and on the way out came face to face with a perentie. It was getting late when we pulled up at our campground in Glen Helen but we had just enough time to do some bird watching before dinner and bed.

The next day was as packed as the first so we left early and drove into the NTs version of Sovereign Hill, Arltunga Historical Reserve. After the disastrous failure of Ruby Gap (more on that later) explorers discovered several gold reefs and went about another attempted resource boom. While there was a reasonable amount of gold it wasn’t even remotely the size or value of the Victorian Fields so the number of people was small but a town still sprung up complete with processing plant and police station. Matt and I spent the morning wandering in the ruins and then climbing into the mines (with encouragement from the visitor centre). This is a fantastic example of the looseness of the NT, they point at a mine, say “take your torch” and away you go, no lights, no signs, no handrails, just climbing over the piles of tailings into a hole. It was great. That afternoon we drove into the aforementioned Ruby Gap.



In the late 1880s a bloke going by the name of David Lindsay was exploring the East MacDonnell Ranges when he stumbled upon beautiful red stones glittering in the bed of the Hale River. Being a calm and logical man, he thought he had stumbled on the motherload of all rubies and promptly started the first gem rush of central Australia. For 18 months 200 miners worked to extract the stones which resulted in flood of “rubies” flowing into the market. The jewelers in London became both annoyed and suspicious and had the gems examined closely finding that they were in fact the more common, much less valuable garnet. I felt sorry for him, I really did until we reached the gorge and I picked up a handful of garnet in a few minutes. I’m not a geologist but if I was to find a stream full of beautiful clear stones my first thought would be oh look quartz not oh my god a stream full of diamonds. The value of precious stones tends to be based on the rarity of them therefore huge amounts of nice rocks = probably not that valuable.

The drive into the gorge started with another warning sign about the dangers of the road and what you’d need to survive it. After the ease of Fink I wasn’t too worried and the track turned out to be even easier as the sand was more gritty and there were more sections of solid stone. We also ended up in an accidental convoy with a family group including a couple of Tasmanians we had a chat with. They took up most of the space in the official campsite so we drove down the river and found our own isolated patch of sand for the night.

The next morning we woke up reasonably early and started the walk to Glen Annie Gorge. The hike was easy, mostly flat and the end was determined by when we wanted to stop and turn around. After around 2km we reached the most spectacular gorge in the MacDonnell Ranges, the red cliffs rose from the base of white sand in the riverbed that sparkled with thousands of garnets. As we moved through, we came across waterhole after waterhole surrounded by lush green reeds with birds darting in and out for a drink. Unfortunately, even my best efforts of capturing the beauty of it were thwarted by the horrible lighting so you’ll just have to go and see it in person for the full spectacle. That afternoon we drove north through another notorious 4WD route The Binns Track. The first 40km through cattle stations was fine but after that and where the NT government took on responsibility for road management it went to crap. The corrugations were so big at one point they looked like someone had lined up speed humps next to each other, we crept along at 20km/h with a concerning mechanical banging sound developing under the drivers side floor.

It was a huge relief when we pulled into the caravan park at Gemtree and things got even better when they had a spot for us to camp in and a place on the garnet fossicking tour the next day. We celebrated by getting fish and chips delivered to our van for dinner! What a great place.

Garnet fossicking was my first bucket list item for the trip so I was more than a little bit excited when we went and picked up our shovels, buckets, sieves, and water the next day. We followed a bloke out to the private mining lease and he showed us the ropes. I picked a hole and we got digging and found…nothing. After 20 minutes and not even a spec of red we decided to move to another hole and began chipping away underneath a tree. Almost instantly it started paying off and after 4 hours of work our tin was completely full of stones ready to be evaluated by the in-house gemologist. We managed to get the most stones out of any of the groups and had a couple of people come up to us afterwards and ask if they could use our spot for the tour tomorrow, we wouldn’t be around so had no issue with that. All our work and 1kg of raw garnet returned 6 cutters (stones with enough clarity and no imperfections that can be used to make into gems for jewelry) 3 x 4mm and 3 x 3mm. I picked the best one and had it sent away to be faceted as a beautiful memento of our trip. For afternoon tea we celebrated with scones and coffee and Matt conceded that maybe fossicking wasn’t too bad.

I’d have liked to spend a week at Gemtree and in the Harts Ranges but we needed to get back to Alice Springs for Matts first special activity of the trip. We went on the nature hike around the caravan park in the morning and spotted a few birds and some dingo pups rewarding ourselves when we got back with yet another round of scones and coffee before getting back in the van, turning on our tail and driving back south.

Campsite Reviews

Ross River – Beautiful campsite with our first grass in weeks and the bird watching was phenomenal. The entire resort was a bit of a strange set up, it had a feeling like it had been really touristy in the past but had partially closed. $30pn – 8/10.

Ruby Gap – Stunning, quite, secluded and beyond peaceful. If you want to visit you will need a high clearance 4WD. $Free – 8/10.

Gemtree – Man I loved it here. Devonshire tea, fossicking tours, fish and chips delivered to your van. I wish we could have stayed longer. $27pn – 9/10.

Mr 4X4 and a Most Unexpected Storm

We had a shocking sleep in Fink Gorge, it was muggy and hot which turns one of us into a star fish resulting in the other being squashed against a window all night. Trying to make the most of the cooler start in the morning we fired up Egg early and attempted to put a dint in the track before it warmed up too much. By 9am it was 35 degrees, by 11am it was easily pushing 40 and rather than setting up at our planned campsite for the night we decided to continue our drive and enjoy the air-conditioned comfort the inside of the van offered us. I’m a bit ashamed to admit we literally drove all day until 130km later in the afternoon we pulled up at the Henbury Meteorite Craters. If you think 130km in a day seems like the slowest drive ever please remember we were on a 4WD track for half of that where I think we averaged 10km/h and then spent the rest of the day on a sandy, corrugated, nightmare of a road where the speedo crept over 40km/h maybe once. I hope I’m painting an accurate picture of how grim it was. Needless to say, until the sun dipped over the horizon we hid under a picnic shelter and did a fantastic job of sweating everywhere and trying not to move.



If we slept poorly in the Fink it had nothing on Henbury, with the back of the van open to the non-existent breeze the inside didn’t get cooler than 32 degrees. It was less than ideal. Both completely shattered from two nights with next to no kip we decided to drive straight to Rainbow Valley to sit back and do nothing for the better part of the day. We were that exhausted we even stopped and had a coffee at a less than salubrious roadhouse. Yummy. It all wasn’t doom and gloom though because the dramatic landscape of Rainbow Valley woke us both back up with multicoloured spires of sandstone arching across the horizon. We claimed our spot, set up a bit of a camp under a picnic shelter and went for a walk through the dunes and amongst the stone formations. Back at camp we completed our goal of doing nothing, I lay around in my hammock, Matt sat in his chair reading and occasionally ran off to catch a lizard or two. The area was very quiet with maybe two or three cars visiting during the entire afternoon. Around 4pm, just as dramatic dark clouds were rolling in, 3 groups rocked up in flash 4WDs. Matt and I watched on in amusement as they set up 2 cameras (one proper TV camera and one expensive DSLR) and busted out a drone. Matt loudly said to me “do you think they’re shooting an episode of Neighbours out here?” which the guys seemed to find very amusing. One came over and explained they were filming a 4WD show.

We spent the entire afternoon watching the team run around getting shots of a bloke in a fancy hat and a button-down shirt while making snide comments. As the clouds rolled in further the light clearly got too bad to shoot so they all came back into camp. I’d started on dinner and noticed some rain on the horizon so also brought all our belongings in undercover. To our surprise instead of driving back out to Alice Springs the guys started setting up swags and cooking dinner on the fire, that’s when it started to rain properly. Because of the rain they all came under the shelter and asked if they could sit with us for dinner, we were more than happy to shuffle over and had a great chat with them all. Turns out the show they were filming for has been running for 14 seasons on channel 10 (whoops) that the main guy Pat Callinan is known as Mr. 4X4 and is a bit of a four-wheel-driving celebrity (also whoops). They were a great bunch and didn’t mind in the slightest we didn’t have a clue who they were. Conversation flowed easily about their plans, our plans, whether they’d been to Tassie, things about our van and their cars, camping set up, all while watching a thunderstorm roll over the desert and pouring rain wash the dust off Egg. What a great night.

The rain continued into the evening and brought the temperature back into the low teens so needless to say we slept like logs. We said goodbye to Pat and his crew, promised to start watching his show (at the time of writing this we’ve seen 2 episodes and they’re great) then got back on the road heading North East.

Campsite Reviews

Henbury Meteorite Craters – Hot, dry, minimal shade and not particularly exciting but it had picnic areas and a nice loo. The walk around the craters would have been amazing if we hadn’t seen the Tnorala site the day before but because they were so much smaller it was a bit underwhelming. Do Henbury first and it’ll be much more excting – $4pp/pn – 6/10.

Rainbow Valley – Even without the excitement of a film crew this was a beautiful spot and had possibly the nicest smelling drop toilet in the NT. $4pp/pn – 8/10.

West Macs

Thanks to Mr Budgie we weren’t even remotely near where we’d planned to be on the date that we departed Alice Springs so we sat down and worked out an alternative route for the next 10 days. Instead of backtracking to the Fink Gorge we decided that it would be better to drive out to the West MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja) and go the long way around back to the gorge.  

The Macs, as they are known locally, are a 644km long series of mountains that cut Alice Springs almost perfectly in half (divided into East and West). They were named after Sir Richard MacDonnell (a previous governor of South Australia) by the explorer John Stuart who “discovered” the range in 1860. The ranges lay claim to the 5 highest mountains in the NT and are approximately 300-350 million years old. Realised pretty quickly they are also an incredibly popular tourist location and the busiest place that we’ve been so far this trip.

Because there is so much to see in the area we decided to keep it simple and just work our way across from right to left stopping at the destinations that interested us. We skipped Simpsons Gap with the intention to visit it later making our first stop Angkerle (Standley Chasm). We were more than happy to fork out the entry fee of $12pp to the traditional owners as Angkerle is the most dramatic of the numerous chasms in the range. The red quartzite walls towered 80m above us with the gap itself only 8m wide. Continuing along the road we came upon our campsite for the night at Ellery Creek Big Hole intending to go for a swim in the beautiful waterhole amongst the cliffs and trees. Despite the warm and sunny weather it wasn’t to be, enthusiastically splashing into the water we were greeted by the most freezing liquid I’ve ever put my feet into. I used to surf in Tasmania in winter and have had numerous ice baths in my time and it had absolutely nothing on this water. It was that cold it made my bones ache. I managed to get up to my butt and Matt hit the middle of his shin. We decided to spend our time more wisely by sitting on the sand and reading our books in the sun until it was time to go back and make dinner then head to bed.

The next day we woke up reasonably early and made our way back to the waterhole to watch the birds come into drink. We saw grebes, painted finches, budgies, a kingfisher, various honeyeaters, and some very nice Black-fronted Dotterels. After breakfast we went on the Dolomite Hike an enjoyable short but varied walk. Our first stop for the day was Serpentine Gorge, as the name would suggest this narrow and shady gorge snakes its way through the range and towards the horizon. We were feeling a bit lazy so we did the lookout walk and wandered into the waterhole. On the way back Matt spotted a Little Button Quail and I spent 20 minutes trying and failing to photograph the tiny, speckled bird. We popped into the slightly uninspiring Ochre Pits for lunch (the Lyndhust ones are so much better). By this point I was feeling pretty rubbish, tired with body aches thanks to my second Pfizer vaccine I’d had the day before so instead of going into Ormiston Gorge for another hike we pulled up at a stunning little campground called Big Gum. I’d just got comfortable in my hammock for a bit of R&R and Panadol when Matt pointed out a group of women that were struggling in the soft sand a couple of campsites over. Matt wandered across and suggested that they reverse into a bit of harder track. Well they floored it in reverse and wedged themselves straight in a dune. Thinking that we might have to tow them out we drove Egg over and set about digging in and placing our recovery boards. Matt jumped in the drivers seat and got the car out and back on the track, with a push from me and the girls. So much for a restful afternoon!

Following a peaceful night on the river we ended up back tracking to Ormiston Gorge. At one of the other campgrounds we’d been told that the Ormiston Pound Circuit hike was one of the best in the ranges and couldn’t be missed. It was stunning. I feel like I’m saying it every single post but this walk was and remains my favourite of the trip so far. We started quite early as the temperatures are pushing into the mid thirties most days now. The first part of the walk followed a creek and then climbed over a short rise where about 20 Spinifex Pigeons called home, we continued climbing steeply to a lookout then around a ridge, down the other side, and a bit further along into the gorge. The final part of the hike is a wade through the waterhole and then an easy stroll back up to the visitors centre. We ended up having lunch in the little attached café which was great, the food was nice but a Western Bowerbird popped in for a visit and I managed to get a photo of the bird that I’ve been looking for during the past 2 weeks! A short drive down the road we made camp at Redback Gorge, a clean site with an outlook directly onto Mount Sonder. The campgrounds were quite small and close together but almost all the people staying there were getting up at 4am to climb to the summit making it a very quiet evening.

Not being as enthusiastic about mountain climbing in 35 degrees as our fellow campmates Matt and I decided to complete the cheats option and rather than going the whole way up walk the first (and hardest) 2.5km to the saddle of the mountain. Due to the shorter length rather than starting at 4am we commenced the climb at 8am and what a climb it was. 2.5km of stairs made from stones without more than 100m of flatish track to shake out the legs was much harder than I thought it would be. Sweaty and pooped we reached the top and were rewarded with outstanding views of the range and the summit of Mount Sonder, it was worth the effort. Back in the carpark we barely had time to catch our breath before we were back on the road and driving towards Tnorala (Gosses Bluff). The 4WD track into the reserve was just corrugated enough to make things difficult and we bounced along until we drove through an opening in the cliffs and into the comet crater. We were both completely taken by how big the hole in the ground was, how obvious it was that a comet had smashed into the earth and that we were allowed to drive directly into the middle of it! We did a hike around the middle and a small, short climb to a lookout.

I’d really like to write that we didn’t visit Hermannsburg for a third time, especially since we had more of enough of it the first time but we did…and we went back to the biased mission for lunch. It’s almost become a routine for us now, Hermannsburg, fill up with fuel while trying to work out if the other cars are parked or abandoned, fill up the water next to the footy oval without a single blade of grass while dodging the rubbish, then go and spend money at the mission that did so much to “help” the local indigenous population. If I never visit there again it will be too soon and the government should be disgusted that there are towns in Australia that look in worse condition than those in third world countries, it’s honestly disgraceful. Anyway, enough of my political ranting we left town, turned left and finally returned to the Fink Gorge. I turned to Matt and said “should I just try and avoid looking at animals so we don’t have to rescue any this time?” he responded with a resounding yes.

At the entry to the Fink Gorge is a sign, it says something along the lines of do not attempt this 4WD track if you are inexperienced, don’t have a PLB or EPIRB, don’t have enough food or water for several days, don’t have recovery equipment and so on. It is a very scary sign that made me want to turn around and go in the opposite direction even though we have all of the required things listed. You’d think the track would be an absolute nightmare based on it but no, as far as 4WD tracks go it was pleasant and easy, I drove on worse things doing my course in Tassie. The hardest part was that the soft sand combined with the very slow speeds and heat meant Egg was getting very hot and bothered by the time we pulled up. With the smell of hot engine in our noses we took our chairs down to the river and sat in the cool water while the gorge walls turned red and the birds came into drink. Lovely.

Campsite Reviews

Ellery Creek Big Hole – The waterhole was lovely but the campsite was squashy and there were some idiots the night we stayed. One guy was blasting music from his car and then went and slept on the ground next to the waterhole, another wouldn’t stop flying his drone around. $4pp/pn – 6/10.

Big Gum – 4WD only and I can not emphasis that enough, we were watching people in 4WDs get bogged not only on the tracks but in the actual campsites. Powder soft sand but worth it for the river, trees, and whistling kites. $Free – 8/10.

Redbank Gorge – If you enjoy campsites with a view this place is for you. Mountains and more mountains with a gecko in the toilet and very considerate fellow campers. $4pp/pn – 8/10.

Morwell Fink River – Beautiful, peaceful next to our own private bit of river/waterhole. There were a lot of bugs at night but we got rid of them with a decoy light and the rest were eaten by a resident bat that flew over us multiple times. $Free – 8/10.

Flats and Budgie Rescue

After the awe of Uluru-Kata Tjuta you’d have thought we’d have had enough of massive geological wonders? Well think again the next spot on our hit list was Kings Canyon. While it looks small on the map the drive between Curtin Springs and the canyon was almost 300km so we decided to tackle the main rim walk the next day and just take our time heading up to camp. We did end up going on a small walk after lunch at a spot called Kathleen Springs where at the end of a short 1.3km trail we found a beautiful little waterhole. We parked up early at the Morris Pass Lookout free camp and while I told myself I’d use the time to catch up on my blog and write some post cards, in reality I ended up spending hours alternating between reading my book and looking out over the spectacular view of the ranges, by far the most scenic site we’ve stayed at.

The next morning after a healthy porridge breakfast we drove into the canyon and commenced on what turned out to be the most offensive beginning of a hike I’ve ever experienced. The “stairs” to the top if you can even call them that were so steep it felt more like rock climbing than hiking. We reached the summit eventually, but I can’t imagine how horrible that would be in summer, the defibrillator located at the top gives a decent indication of how challenging it is. The rest of the hike was wonderful which is very high praise from me due to my fear of heights and most of the walk circulating around a massive cliff with a short dip into an area called the Garden of Eden. The rock features looked like miniature versions of the Bungle Bungles and the cycads added to the otherworldly feeling on the place. If there is one thing I can say about the NT in the few days we’ve been here is that the colours are so vivid it’s like someone has turned the saturation up in the world. Because the rim walk was only 6km we decided to do the canyon floor walk after lunch as well. It was nice but not particularly interesting so if you’re there and limited on time I’d give it a miss.

On our way back to camp we stopped in at the information centre tided up to the caravan park and bought our $6.50 pass to drive on the Mereenie Loop road. Matt only realised we’d need one going over the maps the previous night. We’d heard a lot of bad things about the section of road but driving on it the next day it was honestly fine, the last 15km were very corrugated but it wasn’t any worse than Arkaroola so we made pretty good time. We filled up for petrol in a town called Hermannsburg which Lonely Planet describes as “an appealingly run-down and sleepy place” which I think may be their attempt of a politically correct description of a mainly indigenous town that Matt and I would describe to you as a shit hole. We were running very low on water and petrol so there wasn’t much of an option than to suck it up, dodge the feral dogs and rubbish and head on in. To be fair we did also end up visiting the Historical Mission which was interesting and served a reasonable lunch of scones with jam and cream but the information given throughout the complex seemed to be weighted heavily in the favour of the church rather than giving a more balanced view of what was happening there at the time.

After refueling and another short drive we pulled up at Palm Valley and mad ourselves at home. We ended up chatting to a nice bloke from Sydney who turned out was on first name terms with Moose, the publican from Copley. He also massively rated the town, small world. That afternoon we hung around the campground, enjoyed the river and the abundance of amazing birdlife including Major Mitchell Cockatoos!

Palm Valley, as its name indicates is famous for one thing…palms, specifically red cabbage palm trees (9,000-15,000 of them) that are found nowhere else in the world. On the 5km loop walk the following morning we read about the palms and learnt that no one knows how they got there. The hike was lovely up and down hills, through valleys full of…well palms, and around an area that a few months before probably would have been quite wet. We had another lazy afternoon back at camp hiding from the ever-increasing heat. I think we will soon be restricted to morning outdoor activities as hiking in 35 degrees isn’t much fun. On our last day camped up in the valley Matt picked two more walks in a different area of the park. One was a short and steep lookout hike (1.6km return) and the second was the Mapaara loop. Along the way of the second walk we learnt a dreamtime story about a tawny frogmouth man and his son. I won’t actually repeat the story here because it was really disturbing and involved eating family members, we were both a bit flummoxed by it. At the end of the walk we ran into another couple in a Delica so we had a massive chat and compared vans, they had a long wheel base diesel and exactly the same roof racks that we managed to break. We gave them the heads up and told them where to check for issues to try and prevent theirs from filing which they were very appreciative of.

This is where our trip got derailed for the second time, we were on our way to our next campsite down in the Finke Gorge when I spotted a little budgie flailing around on the side of the track. We got out and Matt managed to catch it. On closer inspection it was a very cute baby budgie with one wing that looked like it had been plucked rendering it unable to fly. It would die if we left it so we packed it into an ice-cream tub and drove out the way we came to find some phone service and the nearest vet. Of course, being the middle of nowhere the nearest vet/animal rescue was Alice Springs so off we drove on a 120km detour. Things continued to go wrong for us when a roofing nail buried into the back tyre and gave us a flat 70km later along the highway. We both jumped out ready to put our tyre changing skills to work and in retrospect probably feeling a little bit too confident. Matt jacked up the van and I got the spare down, we pulled off the flat and discovered that the jack wouldn’t go high enough to get a fully inflated tyre back on. We tried to put the flat one back on so we could adjust the jack but even that wouldn’t go on. What should have been a 5 minute job turned into a 45 minute ordeal of hailing people on the side of the road to see if anyone had a second jack so we’d be able to move ours to the correct spot (we jacked up the body of the van accidentally), after several groups of grey nomads, one bloke that was running late for an appointment, two motorcyclists, and another couple a bloke that had a jack stopped, helped us out and got the tyre changed. We learnt a lot from that one.

In Alice Springs we dropped the very sweet budgie to a wildlife carer, grabbed some dinner and parked up the van at the Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame campsite.

We ended up spending two days in Alice but they were two very boring days of laundry, groceries, tyre repair, post office, and booking the van in to get a few things looked at so I don’t have any interesting photos or stories. We will be coming back to Alice Springs in about 10 days to do something on Matt’s bucket list so I’ll write more about it then. The one thing we did was visit the Reptile House where we saw, held, and learnt about scaly friends. Things like, what’s the main difference between a lizard and a snake? Lizards have ears.  

Campsite Reviews

Morris Pass Lookout – Another free camp we found because of the disgusting prices being changed at caravan parks. The Kings Canyon “Resort” wanted $50 per night for an unpowered site, you can shove that right up your proverbial mate. Stunning scenery and would have been perfect if on the second night we hadn’t been parked up next to the Von Trapp family who felt like the campsite needed to listen to them sing…poorly for 90 minutes. They only shut up when Matt started blasting a finance podcast at their van. $Free – 8/10.

Palm Valley – Yet another one of those sites where we pull up for one night and end up staying 2. Beautiful red cliffs, river, birds, and showers. $4pp/pn – 9/10.

Central Australian Transport Hall of Fame – Not sure where to start with this one. Imagine a gravel car park but instead of normal cars it is full of rusty tractors and trucks, now visualize two toilet blocks, one is in an elevated shipping container and looks like something that would be used at a music festival, the second is in a run down shed and instead of walls between the toilets/showers you have those old, carpeted, office cubical dividers. Yeah. Why did we choose to stay there? Because once more the caravan parks are stupidly expensive. Nothing under $38pn unpowered, ludicrous. $15pn – 4/10 (pretty grim but we’ll go back).

Big Red Rock

After a few days of enjoyable ignorance we decided to check the news on our last morning in SA . We were both surprised when we got there that we were able to travel straight though unchecked and it was only another 20km up the road where we ran into the police. Much more relaxed than the SA lot we showed our passes, IDs, and were immediately let in. Another 100 clicks up the highway and we reached our spot for the night Erldunda Roadhouse. We picked this meeting point of highways to enable us to reach Uluru the next day and still have time to see a bit of it. From the outside and our dusty campsite it didn’t look too encouraging Erldunda turned into a bit of a desert gem, with a free washing machine, pool, and pizza for dinner.

The next morning full of anticipation and excitement (well I was anyway) we entered Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. Even though I’d visited before it was no less incredible watching the enormous red monolith appear on the horizon and grow as we drove towards it. I wish I’d taken a picture of Matt while he was driving around the base and the way he was tottering on the edge of his seat and peering through the screen to try and see the top. We looked around the cultural center, went on three short walks (Minymaku, Watiku, and Dune Viewing), and set up our van in the sunset viewing carpark to watch what turned out to be a bit of a dud sunset and cook up some snags. Following dinner, we went into the town/resort of Yulara to catch our bus to the Field of Light art installation. I’d booked our pick up spot as the fanciest hotel I could find with the intention of having a drink before hand in a nice bar but it wasn’t to be, because Matt an I opted not to pay $45 per night for an unpowered site and stay up the road we couldn’t get served, not even one beer. After the disappointment of the booze denial the Field of Light more than made up for it. We had a 40 minute allocation to explore the 50,000 handmade, light emitting, bulbs and it wasn’t nearly enough. Photos do it no justice, it was just stunning.

Day two started with our second running over belongings event when Matt decided to shift the car and promptly ran over the washing up bucket containing 2 plates, a knife, the tongs, and my cup. I was stoked that it wasn’t my fault this time but was less happy to lose my insulated cup. Matt gave me his as compensation, so I was in a good mood again by the time we got to the Camel Farm. After hearing some great things about the Uluru camel tour we booked in for the 90 minute short version ($80pp rather than $135). We got introduced to our camel Kahn, had a quick safety chat, were shown how to mount a camel, and away we went. Riding on camels was very relaxing and the guiding was fantastic. We both learnt a lot about the camel farm, capturing feral camels, training them, and a heap of camel facts.

The afternoon was spent completing the 11km circuit of Uluru and learning more about the Anangu and the Tjukuritja (creation period when ancestral beings created the world/traditional law). It was interesting to see the complexity of the rock face up close and the lines and shapes within. There were a couple of places where artwork had been drawn on the roof of overhangs and small caves and areas where campfires had blackened the stone. Our favorite spot was the waterhole where we saw birds drinking and I saw a hopping mouse.

Our third and last day (entry is $ per person and only allows admission to the park for 3 days) was spent at the less popular and more impressive (in my opinion) Kata Tjuta. This area is of particular importance to Anangu men and is a 45km drive from the park entry. We decided to complete the Valley of the Winds walk which is by far the best walk in the park. The track was challenging but highly enjoyable and there were amazing lookouts and purple wildflowers everywhere. We made one last stop in the park to fill up our water tank, said a fond farewell to the incredible place and drove on to Curtain Springs to camp for the night.

Uluru Tips
Don’t pay an extortionately high amount for accommodation in the town area, there is a free camp on the side of the road 20km from the entry gate.
The IGA is surprisingly well priced.
Fuel is unsurprisingly not well priced, we paid $2.12/L.
Getting to the sunset viewing area an hour or two before the sun goes down will ensure you get the best spot to watch the rock change colour.
Use all 3 days, the first time I visited I didn’t even get to stay for a whole day as it was on a guided tour and was way too short. We felt like we covered everything well using all three.

Campsite Review
Erldunda Roadhouse – Great spot and very quiet if you are in the unpowered area, the powered sites looked like a casserole of madness. Said hello to their emus, very friendly camels, and rooster Cluck Norris. $30pn – 7/10.

Sandy View Rest Area – It’s a rest area on the side of the road but was quite a nice one. Next to no traffic after 9pm and a view of Uluru from the top of the dune. $Free – 5/10.

Curtain Springs Wayside Inn – Another spot that was effectively a car park but a big upgrade from the rest area. We had drinks in the beer garden and watched their cockatiels then splurged $4 each for a shower which turned out to be the best camp shower I’ve had on the trip so far. $Free – 7/10.