West and East Macdonnell Ranges

Saturday, Jun 25, 2011 at 07:50

Member-Heather MG NSW


Day 26
Sunday 26th June Ellery Creek Big hole campground
We pack up and leave Alice behind, heading out to the West Macdonnell National Park, pulling up on the roadside to collect firewood onthe way. Our intent is to get a site in the campground at Ellery Creek Bighole and we are not disappointed. We arrive mid morning to find only a few campers and select our sites close to one another so we can have dinner together around our campfire.
The campground is in a scenic location with the red rocky ranges behind and the waterhole only a couple of hundred metres down a wheelchair accessible path. We are surprised to find a new toilet block with flushing toilets and tank water. Last time we visited there were pit toilets. The camp fee is $3.30 per person a night and there are gas BBQs and a fire pit. John organises the 'little wombat' and stacks our wood nearby and I get the lunch.
We spend the afternoon having a look at the waterhole, so named because there are numerous pools of water in this creek and it is the biggest of them. It is a beautiful place and the reflections of the trees and rocky walls are just lovely in the still sunny day however the place is pretty smelly due to large numbers of dead and rotting fish. Their bloated bodies float around the perimeter. Apparently this is a normal occurance, partly due to cold temperatures as well as the growth of something on their gills because of oxygen levels in the water. This year it has affected much larger numbers and there are warning signs about the place being closed for swimming. I can't imagine why they are necessary or anyone would want to swim here at present!
John, Darrell and I decide to walk the short loop Dolomite Walk and set out across the creek bed, hopping over pools of stagnant water and off up a rocky valley. It's quite a scenic walk and I go on ahead, taking photos and enjoying a bit of uphill exertion after days of flat or minimal walks. John stays with Darrell who is a bit hampered by his sore knee and excess weight and is unable to walk at more than a medium pace. I find some desert roses to photograph and enjoy the interesting rock formations....almost like huge drystone walls erected by giants. Our return is along the sandy river bed, alongside large pools of water and occasionally under huge river gums whose shade is a very welcome respite from the heat of the sun.
Back at the camp we relax around the fire. We are paid a visit by the Park campground staff, a couple, who question our camping tag. It seems I have put the wrong date on...forgetting just what that is! Hopefully I am believed as I think some of the others here haven't bothered to pay for their night. We aren't spoken to about our fire, which will leave no trace being off the ground although it's not in the designated central pit, however a couple nearby who have built on on the ground are chastised rather sternly. I ask about the campground at Ormiston and fitting our van in, also about the road to Redbank Gorge where we want to do a walk later in the week. We are really pleased to see staff checking on the campgrounds and enforcing the rules as so often we wonder whether we are the only people who ever do the right thing and pay for our site.
Day 27
Monday 27th JuneRedbank Gorge..the Ridgetop campground.
Today we only have a drive of about 40 kms to get to Ormiston, all on bitumen, however John and I decide to get there by about 10 am as we know it will be difficult to find somewhere suitable for the van. We leave Barb and Darrell getting packed up.
We arrive at the tiny campground and find it cramped and busy, with sites so close together that even if we could find a place, we would not have room to put out our awning or park the car. I Have a flash of brilliance...well, a good idea anyway...and suggest to John that we try Redbank Gorge instead as the Park staff have told us that the road out there is currently in good shape. My most recent information online had told me it was 'High clearance 4WD only'!
We drive out to the junction of Namatjira drive and park in a level area near the grave of Henk Guth, a local painter and wait for Barb and Darrell. Its only half an hour before they pull in, we give them the update, and we are heading west another 24 kms past Glen Helen Resort.On our previous visit here 5 years ago the road was dirt past the resort however now its good, new looking bitumen until the turn off to Redbank. From there its around 4 kms on dirt, at the present time mostly in very good shape. There are a couple of creek crossings and small hills and we take it slowly, passing the Woodland campground turn off, and another km to the Ridgetop camp. We arrive to find it deserted and have our choice of sites although many are rather too narrow for our van and awning. It takes some time and careful manoevouring however John and I manage to park in a place with a view over to the ranges and Gorge behind and Barb and Darrell park in the adjoining site.
The only facility here is a long drop toilet but we are just so happy to have a beautiful quiet, peaceful place to stay. After lunch, John and I walk to the Day visitors parking area about 1.5 km away and then do the short walk up the creek to the aptly named 'Redbank Gorge'. Here the fish have also died and it's similar to Ellery Creek but the place is spectacular and I remember why I loved it so much last time we were here. We wander back along the creek bank and then the road with John complaining about the small hill just near the Campground and it is rather hot and dusty but good exercise!
We get the fire organised and enjoy the environment despite other campers arriving. Two young brothers set a small tent up near our van and I offer to heat water and their evening meal as they have today done the Mt Sonder walk as day 1 of their Larapinta Trail hike and are pretty tired. This causes lewd remarks from John and Darrell who fantasise about my intentions with two young men however I am always mindful of the welfare of such adventurers who seem so naive and unprepared and treat them the way I would like someone to look after our daughters and son. I only have the best of intentions...as a mum and Nana!
The four of us enjoy the campfire and the clear starry night long after the other campers retire and I wonder whether our noises interfere with their getting to sleep however I guess after a long tiring days walk they shouldn't have much difficulty.
Day 28
Tuesday 28th June Redbank Gorge
This morning John and I get organised to do the strenuous return walk to the summit of Mt Sonder and I pack us lunch and snacks, water and the other necessary items for our day. I also take the phone in case there is a signal on top of the mountain.
We drive to the day parking area, fill in the registration book, and set out at 9am just in front of an English couple around our age. For the first half km or so we follow the blue Larapinta trail markers across the dry creek bed. There's a sign advising that it's an 8 hour 16 km walk and we take the left turn starting up the hill on a sometimes rough and rocky track. Before long we are up and looking back on our van in the distance, already enjoying views as we had around the side of the first small hill. From here it is a series of steady uphill walking as we follow the ridgeline over small dips and rises. After an hour we arrive at the Mt Sonder Lookout and the summit is a 6 hour return walk from here.
It is a rewarding walk with continual wonderful views over the Macdonnell ranges to the South and the land to the north. I stop frequently to photograph both the landscape and the many wildflowers, some of them unfamiliar to us, and we find a spot to have our morning tea, sitting close to the edge of the mountain side.
We continue ever higher and sometimes back down as we follow the spine of the mountain but there's only one small downhill where I feel I should pack the camera away in case I slip and it is by no means difficult. In some places the ridge is only maybe thirty metres wide and because the vegetation is low and stunted we have views all the way. With each hill we think surely this will be 'it' but we are surprised (and relieved) when we finally arrive at the top as theres a point which looks higher with a trig marker just across on top of a rocky difficult knob which we expect to have to scale first. We arrive around 12.15 so have made good time having had two reasonably lengthy stops for food. I have also taken many photos along the way.
I pull out the phone and am happy to discover quite a strong signal, sending a couple of important text messages. One is to our daughter who is due to fly to France tomorrow for a month, and the other is to friends who are planning to meet us tomorrow. I have let them know that we will be at either Ormiston or Glen Helen Resort however we have decided we would rather stay another two nights at Redbank instead and want them to meet us there.
With the phone messages out of the way, I take photos and absorb the 360 degree views across the Macdonnell Ranges to Gosse Bluff and beyond.... the country we travelled on the Mereenie Loop last week. We look towards Ormiston Gorge and beyond, to Alice and back across to unknown country to the North and North West. It is truly worth the effort to get here. We enjoy our lunch and sit for a while, I fill in the visitors book, and balance the camera on a rocky cairn built by other walkers and take our photo.
Before long we are joined by the English couple we met at the start of the walk, and then by two men who were setting up a tent near our van. We have our photo taken together and I return the favour for the couple before John and I set out on the return journey. It is just as rewarding a walk on the way back as we look out but the heat of the sun increases and its warm up there during early afternoon. I am glad we have packed the third water bottle.
We arrive back at the car at 3 pm so feel that we must be in reasonable fitness. Its pretty nice to put the aircon on in the car on our short trip back to the van and our backs are wet from carrying the day packs. Barb and Darrell have returned from their drive and we take off the boots with a sense of relief as our feet hit the cool air.
Some five minutes later our friends arrive, having driven the 1500 kms from Darwin in two days. How fortunate that they were in Alice Springs when I sent the text message from the summit just three hours ago as they would have wasted hours looking for us! We exchange greetings, introduce them to Barb and Darrell and leave them to get set up.
I put on the gas hot water and prepare a much anticipated coffee. Before the water is fully heated I enjoy a beautiful though short shower and remember why we continue to tow this heavy van! These small luxuries are very welcome after a strenuous walk.
I discover signs of a mouse inside the van and am a bit upset to find that t has taken a liking to the silicone edges of the lids my very expensive and almost new stacking Tefal cookware. There are small nibble marks around a couple of them however I guess they are not ruined, just a little ragged. They will forever be a reminder of our wonderful time here. I get John to set the two mouse traps ad hope we have results overnight.
The remainder of the day is very busy as we catch up with the friends, and I prepare a damper and our evening meal. I would rather just sit around but wish I have organised something in advance instead! We enjoy the damper with Golden syrup and raspberry jam as our after dinner treat and I am glad now that I made the effort.
Once again it is our group who is out of bed and making noise long after the others around us have retreated to their tiny tents. We have warmth from the fire and our van has plenty of lights and power. We finally call it a night and are in bed by 10.
Day 29
Wednesday 29th June Redbank Gorge
By this morning, the pit loo which had previously not had any odour has turned into a bit of a stinker, due we think to the number of campers mainly young women who must have used it frequently during the night instead of 'going bush'. There is a queue which does not make me comfortable however I guess its to be expected!
There is no sign of the mouse so I clean out the two drawers and we set the traps hoping for results while we are out today.
Barb and Darrell are packing up as we head out of the campground with our friends and our lunches packed. They have to return to Alice for a couple of nights to have the back window replaced and we will meet them at Trephina Campground in the East Macdonnells on Friday.
Today we are going to Ormiston Gorge to do some of the walks even though we know that the water levels there will prevent us from doing them as a loop unless we wish to swim 'through cold deep water'. With packs on backs and my camera along we start out to complete a section of the Pound walk. Its a rewarding and scenic walk along a valley and then up to a lookout over the pound, via a short detour. We have morning tea here and enjoy time spent walking with friends who share many similar interests. We leave the length of the walk up to them as they aren't used to walking the distance or at the speed that we do, and we continue along a narrow rocky track down and into the pound, across the flat land and crossing a couple of small creeks still with pools of water and welcome shade from river gums. As we get close to the gorge, we decide to lunch in the shade of one such tree sitting on the gravelly sand and small rocks. By now its long after midday and we decide to start back so we have time to see other parts of the gorge. Its our second visit here but their first.
The return walk is very hot and tiring and we need water when we reach the car. Then its a walk up to the Ghost Gum lookout above the Gorge and over the campground and visitor centre. We are glad that the flights of steps are in shade by now as we are still sweating from the exertion of the other walk. The views from the lookout are well worth the short climb and we take photos and enjoy the place for a while. Its no use continuing because this walk is also only accessible as a loop walk if we are prepared to 'swim through cold deep water'...and none of us thinks this would be much fun!
We return to the car and our friends go in search of a hot shower in the camp ground. I find a western bower bird which is obliging enough to sit on a branch while I photograph him. Our friends are back within minutes informing us that the showers are locked until 4 pm so we get in the car and start back to Redbank. On the way we photograph Glen Helen Gorge and stop for firewood so its around 4 pm by the time we get back to the van.
On arrival we find the firewood has been stacked neatly in the existing fireplace and the makeshift one on the ground behind our van (here when we arrived) has been cleaned up. We hope the National Park people don't think we built it.
I am feeling quite dehydrated so have a couple of good hot pots of decaff coffee and get dinner preparations under way. John organises the fire as we will cook our beef and chick pea rendang curry on it and it requires a little time for the meat to tenderise.
This campground is beautiful as the sun sinks and the surrounding countryside is bathed in red light. I enjoy the views across the valley to the Gorge and Mt Sonder and think it one of the nicest camp sites we have had. So glad we decided to have 4 nights here instead of squeezing into Ormiston. It is half the price and twice as nice at least! ($3.30 pp per night).
The four of us sit around the fire, reminiscing about the close to 40 years we have known one another, and also our recent travels - theirs to Kakadu and Arnhem Land. They have a landcruiser and Ultimate camper so can access places we can only dream of but we are very happy with the way our van has performed this trip.
No sign of the mouse yet...maybe he has departed the van. There are none visible around the campground tonight so John may have trapped the only ones a couple of nights ago.
With the dishes done, John and I conserve water tonight and use a small amount heated over the fire to have an all over wash once we retire for the night. Before sleep I read up on information about places to the north of here and try to decide where we will visit and stay after next Monday.
Day 30
Thursday 30th June Redbank Gorge
The sun rises so late...its after 8am by the time the first rays hit the campground however the birds are twittering long before and its light from 7am. It will be another fine sunny and glorious day.
I am up not long after 4am.....sleepless for some reason, and take the opportunity to catch up on days of journal entries and photo editing. The first sounds of other campers don't happen until after 7 and its a much quieter place than yesterday. Hopefully the toilet will be a more pleasant place this morning as well!
We get the morning routine over, pack fruit and water and embark on a drive to Glen Helen Resort. Our hopes of doing a longish walk there are dashed when we only find signage which leads us a couple of hundred metres to the point where the water lies in deep pools at the gorge entrance. It is a very scenic place and I take photos before we walk the small slope back to the car. John seizes the opportunity to top up with diesel ($1.19 lt) and I visit the flushing toilet! On our way back to Redbank we stop to pick up firewood from the banks of a river bed and call at the Mt Sonder Lookout for yey more photos.
At Redbank we drive to the Picnic area and set out to walk to meet our friends who are hiking to the Mt Sonder Lookout. We discover(on signage) that the name of the small showy shrub with vibrant pink pincushion like flowers which grows high on the slopes is Mountain Hakea and that it is confined to this area only. It requires fire to open the seed pods.
We are soon breathing heavily as we ascend the first short rocky steep steps and feel the heat of the day burning our skin. Hopefully we will meet the others before we have to go too far as we dont have much water with us. We walk for around half an hour before I hear voices above us and we spot moving figures so we find a place in the shade of a small tree and sit and wait, once again enjoying the wonderful views even at this level.
Our friends have enjoyed their walk very much and we chatter as we make our way back down to the creek bed. They want to see the gorge so we re do the dusty, sometimes rocky and uneven track to this beautiful place and wait while they take photos. The return to the car is a little arduous in the midday heat and we are glad when we reach it and can put the aircon on for our short drive back 'home' to our camp.
Its a lazy afternoon spent lunching, reading and making travel plans for the remainder of our trips then getting the campfire started and meals prepared. I know I will not want to leave this place. It is a highlight of this trip and meeting our friends makes it more special as they and we enjoy many common activities and interests.
We are hoping that we two couples may be the only occupants of the campground tonight but are disappointed when a troopy arrives and parks between our sites...even though all of the other ones are vacant! They are a German couple and have limited English. They have either not seen or can't read the signage which tells us that 'firewood collection is prohibited' and proceed to wander around gathering wood and breaking branches off trees. We decide to ignore it!
Dinner is a stirfry cooked inside on the gas and then eaten in the light of the fire and we make the most of the last night together, sitting up until around 10.
Day 31
Friday 1st July Trephina Gorge.
John and I have packed up and bid our friends good bye before 7.30 am and feel only a little remorse at having woken the German couple in the troopy about an hour before daylight!
We make the journey back to Alice Springs, once again enjoying the unique landforms of the beautiful West Macdonnell Ranges. We pass a vehicle broken down on the road side with a small fire beside it, a couple of Aboriginals sitting around and one trying to thumb a lift into town but we don't stop. A little later we see tyre tread on the road so maybe its tyre problems which plague them but we don't feel like getting involved as we are anxious to get to our next campsite so we can have a choice of places to try to fit our van in this small ground.
As soon as I have phone reception I plug in the laptop, send and access emails, get virus updates and have a quick look online. It is all done by the time we pull in at the service station for gas exchange and fuel. I purchase a loaf of bread but we aren't able to use toilets there...signage says because of' health and safety issues'! We deposit our garbage in their bins in exchange for $140 fuel and gas!
We don't try to find parking and grocery shops today and can survive until Monday so we are soon on the Ross Highway and on our way to the beautiful and quieter East Macdonnell Ranges, specifically the Gorge Campground at Trephina. We pull over for firewood and toilet on the way.
The road narrows in a couple of places to one lane bitumen and then after the turn off to the Nature Park, theres about 5 kms of dirt and two creek crossings which are both running. Its a change from our previous visit when these were dry.
At the campground we meet Barb and Darrell who are parked and waiting for us to choose a site. I am ecstatic to find the sites (where we stayed with our pop top 4 winters ago) vacant and we decide to try to park there. It is at the end of a long narrow area and its a tight squeeze as we manoevure the van and turn around in the area then get level. John assists Darrell with reversing in beside us and before long we are getting set up and organising lunch. We are close together but we have privacy up the end and there is bush all around us on three sides. We have a table and a water tap, also a fireplace which will be useless as it is right beside our van however we will use our 'little wombat' for the next three nights.
After lunch and a sit around while we catch up on the past couple of days, we set off for a short walk to the Gorge, about 2 kms in length. Its quite a sight to see shallow water covering much of the sandy river bed as it trickles its way further along the gorge floor. The holly grevilleas are in bloom. It's a beautiful slow walk as we circle the gorge and return along the floor, jumping over the deepest water and trying not to get the insides of our boots wet.
Darrell declares that he has 'seen enough rocks and gorges to last a life time' and he is keen to move on. They will stay here until Monday with us I think and then head north while we spend the night in Alice Springs to do laundry and grocery shop. We will meet them on Wednesday at Tennant Creek and afterwards again in Mt Isa where we hope to have a major service done on our Navara during the next couple of weeks.
Its a cloudy and warm afternoon, almost humid, and we would not be surprised to see showers however they don't happen. The fire is lit and we have an easy dinner of left overs heated in saucepans on the gas. Our converstation veers back towards the remainer of our journey and I can foresee difficulties if we continue to travel together for much longer. Maybe short breaks when we travel individually and then meet up is an option from hereonin if it can be arranged.
John and I are happy to cover shorter distances and pull up early afternoon, enjoying bush camps while the others don't and I can see why as we are comfortably set up for bush camping and they aren't really. I am rather apprehensive by the time we say good night and return to the van. We both want to see the corner country, via Boulia and Bedourie then Windorah but I am determined not to rush it too much and will not plan too specifically. I enjoy the feeling of not knowing just where we may be by evening and prefer to let the journey happen. Also I feel this is our trip and I don't want it hijacked! We will have to be diplomatic and wait and see what happens as we do enjoy their company very much and more importantly they are family!
Day 32
Saturday July 2nd Trephina Gorge
Unusually we wake to a very cloudy morning. After breakfast and the morning chores Barb and Darrell depart for a drive to Arltunga Historic site, a place we visited last time we were here. I pack our lunch and water and John and I set out to walk along the ridgetop to the lookout and then return. It is a section of the walk which ends at John Hayes Rockhole which we walked in its entirety then back along the road 8 kms before but we still remember how footsore and weary we returned that day and don't want to repeat the experience.
We are soon climbing steadily along a narrow, rubbly track as we make our way up and along the ridge above the campground and Gorge. The pungent scent of wattle fills our noses and all around the vivid yellow of the blossom on the small stunted shrubs colours the landscape.There are frequent good views over the bluff as we get higher and then the track takes us along the ridge through rough and dry terrain and across a couple of small rocky dips. One has small pools of water lying between the rocks. I stop to take photos mainly of flowers and we are surprised to see a couple of the Mountain Hakeas which we saw on Mt Sonder in bloom in one place.
It is a longer walk than we remember and takes almost two hours to get to the lookout so we think it must be at least 6kms one way. Despite the overcast conditions it seems very hot and humid and we are grateful that there's a breeze up there and that we have enough water.
We sit and enjoy the views over the landscape and the rocky edges which seem to drop straight to the land far below. We have an early lunch then I spend time photographing the views before filling in the visitor book. John finds our names from our previous visit in May 2007 on the second page before we start back.
It is an enjoyable return walk and we only meet one group, a family of four, along the way. We are back in the camp ground in just under two hours, hot tired and thirsty and ever so glad we decided not to walk the whole loop. The hot boots are removed and I enjoy a pot of coffee. The campground is very quiet as most of the campers from last night have departed and Barb and Darrell have not yet returned from their drive.
I make a pizza dough and then turn on the hot water for a welcome shower which we have mid afternoon. The clouds clear and by the time we have the fire lit the sky is blue again. The four of us sit around the fire and talk about our day, the next part of our trip and more. Maybe John and I will do a detour north from Mt Isa to Normanton and a campground where he can fish for Barramundi in the river nearby for a week or so before we get the car service done. We will be around 1000 kms short of the 120,000 kms otherwise.
Our pizza is delicious hot and spicy and our campfire keeps the chill of the night away. John manages to burn a sizeable hole in my chair when a piece of wood falls out of the fire and a hot coal lands on it, luckily when I am not sitting there!
We are the last campers to retire to our vans around 9pm.
Day 33
Sunday 3rd July Trephina Gorge.
I am awake early and spend a couple of hours editing photos before anyone else stirs. After breakfast, John Darrell and I set out to do the short loop walk across the creek and up to a lookout then back down and around the hill to once again cross the creek. Last time, the river bed was dry however now we have to find a 'path' and hop across from one shallow rise to another, in an effort not to get water inside our boots. It's a bit precarious but we manage and are soon on our way up the rocky narrow track. I take the lead and walk as quickly as I can, partly for exercise to get me breathing hard and also so I can pause and take photographs.
It is a crear sunny morning and the landscape looks fantastic, bathed in the early morning light. Below we see the river winding its way around and through the valley floor, the sun shining on the shallow wet and sandy floor. There is a diverse display of wildflowers in purples, yellows and white...dotting the landscape with small splotches of colour.
We can see the campground, most of which is obscured by trees. I reach the summit quite some time before the others as John keeps Darrell company as he puffs and pants his way up the sometimes steep and rocky path. Better to have someone on hand if he collapses from the exertion!
We are back well before the 90 minutes which the signage indicates is necessary to complete the walk and I decide to remove my boots and walk through the cool refreshing water this time. The men persist and find their way across however Darrells shoes are wet inside.
Back at the vans, I wash my feet and then put the boots on. Darrell drives the four of us to John Hayes Rockhole along 4 kms of sometimes very rough 4WD track. Its a slow trip but eventually we get there, pay the rockhole a visit and then do the short walk up to the lookout from the carpark. The reflections at the rockhole are spectacular...and make a great composition for photos.
We are soon back in the car and on our way home for a very welcome lunch. The afternoon is a lazy one for all of us...reading under the shade of the van awning or trees nearby. I know I will miss the serenity of the camp ground and don't look forward to leaving tomorrow to stay in Alice Springs.
We enjoy one last camp fire..maybe the last of this trip together. As usual, we are the last party to retire to the vans.


Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt. John Muir
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