Not what we expected - Alice Springs, Glen Helen ….Maybe a lot more

Published: May 25th 2010
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Alice SpringsAlice SpringsAlice Springs

Note Stuart Highway snaking out to the right (and Darwin)
Prologue: Despite a week passing since I sent my note to the South Australian Dept of Transport (copy to the Dept of Tourism) regarding their abysmal lack of toilet facilities on the road, I have not heard anything back!

Ninety nine percent of the 430 kms from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs was more of the same. Anyone who has spent their life on the East coast would not understand ‘red’ but after a while you sense there is something missing from the landscape out here - green. Oh yes, we do get excited at the sight of green Spinifex, but real grass is very rare. Anyway, back to the story; as we approached the Alice we could see hills, small sharp hills that in fact more or less surround the town. The hills were only the beginning of not what we were expecting, but more of that later.

We were spoilt for choice with the number of caravan parks in the Alice and after being unable to get a powered site at the Top Tourist, in an area that Geoff was very uncertain about anyway, went for one that sounded quite good and was attached to a ‘resort’,
Motor Transport Hall of FameMotor Transport Hall of FameMotor Transport Hall of Fame

How could I not include this with the restored EH Holden on the tray.
and was a lot cheaper than the Big 4. Let’s just say that it had potential. The view of the ranges at Heavitree Gap, relative location to the city, price, very picturesque sites with lovely river red gums separating the individual sites and a supermarket and tavern on its boundary were the good points. Detracting from those were the permanent/on site vans, ill defined tent/camping area and sadly it has to be said, the aboriginals on the road bordering the park shouting to their friends/enemies up and down the road. Not being able to understand the aboriginal language, there was no knowing what was being ‘discussed’, but it was not reassuring.

There is a lot to see in the Alice and on Tuesday and Wednesday we spent looking at the incredible view from Anzac Hill, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of fame at the old Alice Gaol, and Geoff did the Old Ghan museum and National Road Transport Hall of Fame (incorporates the Kenworth Hall of Fame), not to mention the shopping precinct to restock the larder. The RFDS was a bit disappointing in that they do not seem to ‘operate’ from here; rather
Finke River Chasm at Glen HelenFinke River Chasm at Glen HelenFinke River Chasm at Glen Helen

Stunning view of the Cliffs behind Glen Helen resort with the Finke River curring through
they receive calls and refer them to Pt. Augusta who then decide the who/what/when for things to happen. We were a bit puzzled by that and especially since one of their jobs was a ‘code 1’ at a station just west of Uluru. On the subject of RFDS, Geoff was surprised that we have only come across one designated road airstrip on all our travels from Pt.Augusta. He asked whether the RFDS used the highways for landing in an emergency and the answer was a very strong “no, because the roads are not adequate (wide enough), and that the RFDS only lands on designated landing strips”. Interesting; make sure you get injured or fall dangerously ill close to a designated landing strip!

As you might expect, Geoff found the National Road Transport Hall of Fame (NRTHoF) very interesting and could easily have become lost amongst the old and the new vehicles. They have restored between 20 to 30 vehicles (very well it has to be said), but there must be at least 80 - 90 waiting patiently for the same treatment. Their ‘stock’ would appear to be largely donated or they have a very good negotiator travelling the country
Ormiston GorgeOrmiston GorgeOrmiston Gorge

One of the many superb views of this fantastic gorge
picking up vehicles as he sees them - probably pensioned off on country properties. As he wandered around the Ghan & NRTHoF sites he could see many RV’s of different shapes and sizes just over the various boundaries of the 2 sites. It would appear that a very large part of work done at the (NRTHoF) site at least is done by volunteers, who get free accommodation in return for their skills/labour. There is certainly enough work there to keep a very large number of volunteers busy for a very long time.

Before we left Melbourne we had a plan for the trip, and strangely we have ended up in some locations on the scheduled dates. However, it would not be right to say that we have followed the plan; it has been more of a guide to ensure that we arrive at Lawn Hill on the date that we booked - our only pre-booked location.

In keeping with our plan, although not necessarily in order, our next destination was Glen Helen and the West MacDonnell ranges so with RAIN falling in Alice Springs, we packed up on Thursday (20/5/2010) - in the rain, and headed West. It
Ochre PitsOchre PitsOchre Pits

Clear example of the area where ochre was, and is still, collected by the aboriginals
is not a long way to Glen Helen (130 kms) so we decided to take a look at the Alice Springs Cultural Precinct on the way out. Well we had to drive past it on the road out of the Alice and seemed like a good idea. Unfortunately we had only travelled about 5 kms before we stopped at the Precinct and had a) started the car, b) plugged in the caravan fridge on 12v, c) had the esky in the truck running on 12v, d) put the fog lights on, e) had the wipers on, and f) had all the usual appliances on in the car - console fridge, phone charger, GPS, fan etc. As it was raining steadily when we came out of the Art Gallery, about 1 ¼ hrs later, Geoff very gallantly offered to run to the other side of the car park where the car & van were parked and drive it to where his fair wife waited. When he tried to start the car, the battery was totally flat. Fortunately the power-pack was reasonably handy in the back, but it still meant working in the rain to get it and connect it to the
Serpentine GorgeSerpentine GorgeSerpentine Gorge

Ok, it is not the gorge, but the editor did not like the "blind shots" and we settled on this view to the west from the top of the lookout.
battery and get the car running again. By that time, Marg had worked out what had gone wrong and walked over to the car IN THE RAIN. I am sure Sir Walter Raleigh had it a lot easier!

As it had rained most of the night and all morning we very quickly found out that the (numerous) “Floodway” signs, previously ignored, had taken on far more significance. No longer could they be treated as pleasant dips in the road; they could now be potentially holding significant amounts of water. This was something that we had never encountered on the 2008 trip, or to date on this trip.

Apart from picking up the turn off to Glen Helen (as opposed to going straight on to Hermannsburg) the road is pretty unremarkable and probably looking a lot less impressive than it could have due to the low cloud and constant rain. Geoff was beginning to wonder why the navigator had chosen to go this way, and was even less sure as we unpacked and set up the van in the rain.

The next day (Friday) we were greeted by what looked like more of the same weather, but by early morning the sun had broken through and everything started to warm up again. The sites began to dry out and the mud started to solidify - that was a very good thing! We set off to explore the various gorges that we had swept past the day before. The first gorge, in order of distance from the resort, was Ormiston Gorge and its permanent water hole. The water hole is supposed to be a 20 min hike, but I think they take in photo time and the return journey. It is a stunning little water hole teaming with little fish, bounded by tall rock cliffs and rewards the viewer with little visual gems where ever you cast your view. It is a place that you have to really stop and sip the pleasures slowly to appreciate its real beauty. We took lots of photos at ground level and ventured onto the ‘look-out’ tail; the lookout being visible from below and directly above the waterhole. Once again Geoff’s acrophobia was tested on the little goat track that meanders up the side of the cliffs until reaching the very substantially built look out. (It was definitely not a little track that meandered up - it was a very long flight of many, many steps and a steep rise!) From this point, the gorge can be viewed turning at right angles away from the waterhole around a small rock outcrop and heading east. It added a completely different perspective to the gorge.

The Ochre Pits were next on our schedule and whilst not a gorge as such, it was still a very interesting place to go. The ochre is in the form of multicoloured soft rock and has been exposed by the action of an intermittent stream. Colours ranged from deep red (maroon) to gold to a grey/white. Quite spectacular.

Serpentine Creek Bush Chalet can best be described as someone’s idea of a joke on the unsuspecting tourists. It was an awful drive over rocks and ruts to nowhere in particular. Serpentine Gorge further along the road was quite a different proposition and proved to be a bit of a challenge for those not familiar with the track markers. We ended up in the rather overgrown camping area which explains why we could not figure out where the trail to the real gorge went 😞. Back tracking a little to the last signage, we quickly found where the real track was. Margaret was over climbing hills so she elected to discover where the waterhole was, while Geoff took on the task of climbing to the lookout. The top of the track was reached by ensuring that his focus did not stray from the two feet making the progress up the rocky ‘path’. Some really gutsy photo’s were obtained by holding onto something solid, holding the camera at arm’s length and hoping that there was something good in the field of view - there was certainly not going to be any ‘re-takes’! The view (for the brief periods when he did open his eyes) was really sensational with the Gorge plunging straight away from his feet and winding into the middle distance. The rock formations in the walls of the gorge as you looked further up the canyon were awe inspiring. Turning to retrace his steps down the hill there was a magnificent view, framed by a white cypress and sugar gum, across the valley to the West and the distant blue ranges. It was well worth the trip, although he could not convince another walker that he met as he was about 1/3 of the way up and the years of cigarettes caught up with him.

Everywhere that we looked in this amazing region, there was something that grabbed your attention. Geoff tried to photograph some of the many rock walls that line the roads and hills of the area, but the photos don’t do them real justice. They really look like they were man-made - those dammed Chinese seem to be everywhere building great walls!

We have been trying to keep a track of our travels using the map feature in this blog tool. Hopefully this link will render our map
. You will have noted that we are still trying to work out the balance of photos to text and we might get there by the end of the trip😊

Epilogue: we have taken a bit of a detour back to Melbourne as Geoff’s mother is in hospital recovering from some serious surgery. Geoff’s sister had been managing things, however she and her husband had an overseas trip planned from ages ago and had to depart on Friday, so we decided to come back. All is under control, but it will be another 10 days (at best) before she will be released from hospital, so the next blog may be a little while coming.


25th May 2010

Sorry to hear about Geoff's mum
Hope everything works out well Eug
25th May 2010

The Adventures of Geoff and Margaret
Hi Ritchies -- just wanted you to know how much I am enjoying the descriptions of your adventures. Very sorry however to hear that Geoffs mom is in the hospital. I do hope that her recovery is quick and pain free. Good luck to all of you.
26th May 2010

Hi Mark, I am glad you are enjoying the blogs; I am trying to make them as interesting as possible. As you can see I have mastered (almost) inserting the map so now you should have an idea of where we are in the country. Thanks for your concern about my Mum. She turned 90 on Sunday and is doing as well as you could expect for someone that age who had had her circulatory sytem re-plumbed. We are visiting every day and although she had a set back at the end of last week, I am confident that she has turned the corner and is now headed for her 100th! Regards Geoff
26th May 2010

Thanks Eug
Hi Eug, I am glad you are enjoying the blogs; I am trying to make them as interesting as possible. As you can see I have mastered (almost) inserting the map so now you should have an idea of where we are in the country. Thanks for your concern about my Mum. She turned 90 on Sunday and is doing as well as you could expect for someone that age who had had her circulatory sytem re-plumbed. We are visiting every day and although she had a set back at the end of last week, I am confident that she has turned the corner and is now headed for her 100th! Regards Geoff

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