Exploring the Northern Territory, June 2006. Part 5. Ruby Gap to Tennant Creek.

Sunday, Oct 08, 2006 at 19:31


It took a full day adjusting to being on our own again. We tidied Troopy up a bit then went for a walk along the sandy river bed keeping an eye out for garnets. They were everywhere and in places the sand was red with tiny garnet chips. We lay down on the sand and used a pair of forceps to gather up a small collection of larger chips. How would we feel if we thought they were rubies? Three other vehicles came in about lunchtime and later a single Oka, but the silence is all around us still. And despite a stiff breeze there are plenty of flies.

We noticed that the water between the pools is running today and has spread across the track. We wondered if it was influenced by atmospheric pressure as it looks as if a change is coming through. These sandstone rocks act as a giant sponge storing water in them so maybe if the pressure drops some water can seep out? Just a theory!

We finally left Ruby Gap having soaked up its peace and quiet and its beauty. The contrast of brilliant red rocks, white barked gum trees with bright green canopies, bright blue sky and sand is almost overwhelming, and very hard to describe. The rocks here hold plenty of interest too with complex folds and faults testifying to the forces within the earth and vast eons of time that have rolled by.

Leaving Ruby Gap we followed a couple of vehicles towing trailers and had a good chat with them on the UHF radio, swapping notes about good tracks and places to camp. Once back on the road we headed for N’Dhala Gorge which we had enjoyed on a previous visit. The road in was very corrugated, and we found that there were now some basic amenities provided at the small camping area. We walked almost to the end of the gorge amid the brilliant orange-red rocks and fresh green trees – there is more vegetation than last time, giving the place a quite different appearance. We ended up locating quite a lot of the petroglyphs there, though it is necessary to search for them. Once you get a sense of what to look for and where to look it gets a bit easier. There were plenty of water signs and many unusual shapes representing the Caterpillar Dreaming.

Finally we went on the Ross River campground where we found a washing machine and set to work to get the accumulated Simpson Desert red dust out of our clothing and bedding. The following day we stayed put and planned a route and an itinerary that would take us to Lawn Hill in Queensland. It was a pleasantly warm day with a cool breeze reminding us that it had got down to –4 degrees this morning with a heavy frost sparkling on the grass. The next morning was similar and we were grateful for our warm doonas.

A major shopping expedition kept us occupied in Alice for much of the day – meat and groceries, beer, chemist, petrol, gas and a new shovel as the old one has a broken handle. We headed out to the Old Telegraph station where there is uncluttered parking, both for a look around and to pack all our shopping away, which was quite a major exercise. That done we headed north on the Stuart Highway and drove until we came to the first roadside camping area where we pulled in for the night. There we shared a fire and a yarn with Ron and Alison, a NZ couple who have been touring Oz for the past 5 years. We turned in early and even the passing trucks failed to disturb our slumber.

Our first stop next morning was only about 25km further up the road at Native Gap in the Hann Range. There is an interesting little reserve there where we spent some time exploring along a small rocky scarp where there was some unusual vegetation, like figs and Wonga Vine, and a lot of birds. There is a picnic area with a pit toilet but no camping. However there is a section of old highway nearby that would make a good overnight stopover. There is also a microwave tower behind the reserve up on a ridge where there were masses of flowering grevilleas to admire.

It was a warm afternoon and we were starting to feel drowsy. To wake us up we stopped in at the Barrow Creek Telegraph Station. The building are in quite good condition although we were not able to go inside, but we were able to get some appreciation of what it would have been like to live there. The building was constructed to provide security, to collect enough water and to keep summer temperatures bearable inside.

From there we continued on towards the Devil’s Marbles. With our tendency to head off on side tracks we found ourselves on an unmarked track that eventually led to another microwave tower. From that vantage point there were spectacular views north over the Devil’s Marbles valley and its many rounded boulders, and south towards Alice. All around was a flat horizon just broken here and there by a few stumpy hills. We felt miles from anywhere and a bit further down the track seemed as good a place as any to spend the night. It is very rocky all around us with plenty of prickly Spinifex and some tough wattles and hakea in flower.

The wind came up during the night so next morning we just got dressed and drove down to the Devil’s Marbles carpark where we had breakfast at about 8am. There was no-one around at that hour so it was a great opportunity to get some photos of the marbles; by 10am the place was very busy.

We spent a few hours there, exploring around the rocks, sampling some of the little dry figs from the heavily laden trees growing in among the boulders, first checking that they weren’t full of ants. The colours and shapes make this a special place, and it’s easy to see why the aboriginals would have thought so too. We also checked out the campground where for a nominal fee you have pit toilets, picnic shelters and a fair bit of space.

Our nest stop was at Tennant Creek where we stopped for a few essentials before going up to the Battery Hill tourist area.[Image not found] It was disappointing to find this facility in a very run down state. However there was a very good mineral museum there with a lot of technical information about the various minerals on display, so we spent some time having a good look. Leaving there we turned off north of the town towards the Pebbles, smaller versions of the Devil’s Marbles. We did see them in the distance but must have taken a wrong turn as we ended up in an old quarry that was not very scenic.

We went into the Telegraph Station there but found it being restored, but spent a while looking around the out-buildings. We were particularly taken with the cellar dug into the ground where food could have been kept a bit cool and secure.

We turned east at the 3-ways junction and headed to the 41 Mile Bore where we found a good spot well back from the road. We were still close enough to get some water from the tap so we could also do a bit of washing. There was just enough wood for a camp fire so we had a BBQ dinner and settled in for a comfortable camp on a warm territory evening.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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