Dreamtime by Air 2003 – Part 3

(Click on photographs to see a larger version. Note: Some file sizes are quite large; not recommended for people using a dial-up connection.)

Here is a map of where we went. The numbers correspond to the days in the trip report.

<< Previous episode.

Day 5, Friday 15 August, gorges of the West MacDonnell Ranges

Mount SonderAfter a hearty breakfast, we went for an short walk to the nearby Glen Helen Gorge, to photograph it in the early morning light. Others did the same, and arrived back late for the tour bus which was taking us to many of the spectacular gorges in the West MacDonnell National Park. These gorges can also be reached by walking the Larapinta Trail, which runs for 223 kilometres along the backbone of the West MacDonnell Ranges from Alice Springs west to Mt Sonder.

On the way out of the carpark, we stopped to photo Mount Sonder, called the sleeping woman by the Aboriginal people. This is one of the mountains made famous in many of Albert Namatjira’s paintings.

Ormiston GorgeAt Ormiston Gorge, about 8 km from Glen Helen, most of our party climbed the excellent steps to the top of the gorge, then walked down an easy trail to Ormiston Creek, a tributary of the Finke River. Spectacular views in all locations; our photos do not do it justice.

Ormiston Pound is a 7km walk along the ridges to the flat pound area, where there are walls of coloured rock, however that was a bit too long a walk for the group today, so we didn’t do it.

Ochre pitsAt the ochre pits, about 18km from Glen Helen, we marvelled at the ochre-coloured sandstone. Most of our group had seen ochre cliffs and pits before, but all
agreed these were the best we’d seen — not least because we could walk right up to them and get a close look. Signs explain the significance of the ochre to Aboriginal people and admonished us not to dig or take away any ochre.

Next on the agenda was Ellery Creek Big Hole, a beautiful clear, deep pool, one of six permenant waterholes on the Finke River.

Ellery Creek Big HoleAfter a 150 metre swim to the other side, you can get out on a white sandy beach and walk a little further up the gorge. The water was very cold, so we didn’t take the swim, but we did watch some other people setting off with flotation devices. People have died in the pool when the cold suddenly overcame them.

You can also take a walk from the back of campsite through higher terrain and back along the creek bed to the main waterhole, and climb up to a cave for a great lookout to the main waterhole below.

Serpentine GorgeAfter lunch, we went on to Serpentine Gorge, where a 1.3 km walking track goes from the carpark to the gorge entrance. We took about a 30 minute walk in the gorge. Reflected light on the cliff through the gap provides a stunning range of red rock colours. There was an optional 600m deviation to climb up cliffs to the lookout, and a number of us made the long, steep climb to the lookout. It was well worth it for magnificent views over the ranges on one side, and of sheer cliff walls on the other. As with most of the walking tracks around this region, the track was made by the inmates of the Alice Springs correctional centre.

Upon returning to Glen Helen Lodge at 5:15, we rushed off to photograph Glen Helen Gorge in the late afternoon sun. As with all this red rock country, the colours change dramatically in different light.

Still at Glen Helen Lodge that night. We had an excellent meal in the Albert Namatjira room of the restaurant, which has a nice range of Albert Namatjira paintings. (Other rooms have other paintings of the interior.) The three course meal started with sherry and ended with port (included in the price), but drinking water cost $4 for a large bottle.

Day 6, Saturday 16 August, Davenport Ranges and Devils Marbles

As the sun rose we breakfasted in haste, loaded luggage and lunches, and boarded the bus. Then the photographers decided they need to photograph Mt Sonder in the morning light, so they stampeded up the hill.

West MacDonnell RangesWe drove beside the West MacDonnell Ranges from Glen Helen Lodge 132 km to Alice Springs to board the aircraft. About 8:30 we sighted the Heavytree Ranges and soon after we passed through Honeymoon Gap.

Alice Springs airport is large and nicely set out (we inspected parts of it while dashing inside to use the toilets), but we got lost several times trying to locate the general aviation area. Finally got there, and loaded the bags.

We had planed to visit Utopia Art Centre, to see Aboriginal women’s art. The community council advised that the arts centre was burnt to the ground, together with the art coordinator’s house, when it was discovered he had been selling their work overseas and pocketing the proceeds. The art coordinator was also sacked. That landing was cancelled.

We flew north and landed at Karundi Station in the Murchison Ranges, out to the southeast of Tennant Creek, 50km from the main road. A curious wild horse came onto the airstrip as we were approaching, leading to an exciting landing with very little strip left.

A Sahara Tours 4WD bus from Alice Springs met us, and we had morning tea by the airstrip, over an open fire. Our pilots left us here and flew to Tennant Creek. The tour bus took us into the Davenport Range National Park. On the drive, the only wildlife we spotted, except for birds, was a western brown snake sunning itself on the road. As these snakes are extremely poisonous, even the keen photographers did not get out for a closer look.

We stopped at Whistleduck Creek, in Waramungu country, and had a nice picnic lunch next to Irrmweng Rockhole. The whole group wandered off along pathless areas, but we didn’t reach Injaidan Rockhole. The creekbed was full of water-rounded stones guaranteed to cause grief to anyone in street shoes. Meanwhile, the group had spread out in every direction, and the guide was getting anxious to gather the straying herd before anyone got lost. We left this beautiful spot a little after 3 pm.

After this we drove 80km or so back to the main road. We stopped at the homestead store to thank the owners and buy ice creamss at the tin shed store.

Devils MarblesNext we backtracked slightly for a vehicle tour of Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve (Karlu Karlu), and to take a walking path through them. We stayed until sundown, to photograph the changing colours on the red rocks. Magnificent. This immense collection of gigantic rounded granite boulders is said to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent.

Devils MarblesThis 1,802 hectare Reserve extends along both sides of the old Stuart Highway approximately 393 km north of Alice Springs. The nearest settlement is Wauchope, 9 km to the south, where fuel and limited stores can be obtained.

After sundown we drove the 100 km or so to Tennant Creek, which is located on the 1870 telegraph line but was only established for the 1930’s gold rush. We stayed overnight at the Bluestone Motor Inn, PO Box 8, Tennant Creek NT 0860 phone 8962 2617, near the centre of town. It was very comfortable, with curiously shaped, almost hexagonal, rooms. We had a good meal in their restaurant. Luckily for us the quantities were more in line with city meals, rather than the typically gigantic outback meals, a fact which caused a few of the heartier eaters in our party to complain.

Tennant Creek has about a 70% indigenous population, not a lot of work, and a reputation as a tough little town. The shops near the motel all had metal grills over all the windows and doors. The outside drink machine at the Battery information centre had a grill surrounding it. Several buildings in town were rundown and partly trashed. It has, however, been thriving the past few years, as the town has been a major supplier of materials and labour during construction of the Alice Springs to Darwin rail link. http://walkabout.com.au/locations/NTTennantCreek.shtml

Continued…

Page last updated 4 October 2007.