31 May 2015
We have a much later start this morning. Kelly comes to pick us up at 7.45am for our trip out to the West MacDonnell Range. This mountain range was uplifted at the same time geologically as Uluru and Kings Canyon. It is the only mountain range in Australia to run East to West. Alice Springs sits in the gap dividing the East and West ranges.
Our first stop is to visit John Flynn’s grave. John Flynn founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service that supports the vast Outback community.
Then we drove for about 1.5 hours out to Ormiston Gorge, arriving just in time to sample a legendary iced coffee at the café there. The weather was quite cold so it felt a bit odd to be having a cold drink but we had to try the local fare. Some hardy souls had already completed the 2 hour Gorge Walk but we decided on fortification before we left (Kelly had biscuits for us as well).
As with Kings Canyon, today’s walk started with a steep climb up to the top of the gorge rim – absolutely worth it for the spectacular view from the top. It seems much greener than our other stops and Kelly shows us many of the different local plants – often with strong smells when crushed – with more bush pharmacy stories.
We climb over rocks and then descend into the valley floor where we walk along the river bed. I’m not sure about rivers here – they never seem to have any water in them – but apparently there often is water if you dig down. Red River Gums are expert at putting their roots down to find water. Judging by the measuring poles at most of the bridges that we drove over, if they do get rain they get an awful lot of it.
There is plenty of wildlife in the gorge – we see primarily birds. There is a deep waterhole below some tall cliffs. A beautiful walk – especially down in the valley out of the cool wind.
Next stop is Glen Helen Gorge where we head up to a campsite (that is no longer used overnight) where we use the kitchen and make our lunch from the box of goodies Kelly brings out of the truck – we have ham salad wraps. The pace is much slower today and we sit and chat for quite a while before cleaning up and packing everything back away. Then we have a brief stop at a lookout point towards Mt Sonder and the Finke River and a magnificent view of the whole area.
Next stop is the Ochre Pits. Ochre is widely used by the Aboriginals for painting both themselves and objects. At one stage it was far more valuable than gold and traded between them. The pits have vertical seams of multiple different colours of ochre. It is absolutely massive and hard to imagine that people have been removing ochre for millennia. Removing ochre is forbidden now for tourists but guides are permitted to use a little to show us how they grind the rock to a powder and mix it with water to form a paste.
Ellory Creek Big Hole is next. It is a good example of looking for a gap in the mountain range to find a water hole. Because it is between two high cliffs and doesn’t get any sunshine, the water is freezing. We are all wearing fleeces so swimming is not on our programme but we meet one hardy guide who thought he’d swim to the little beach on the other side but his chest felt like it was going to explode after about 10 metres so he got out again pretty quickly. Two very cold-tolerant individuals were swimming when we got down there and another two had a very short dip in the frigid water.
Our final stop for the day was at Simpson’s Gap – another water hole which is famous for its rock wallaby population (only about 30 individuals). We are fortunate to meet the ranger who points out various rock wallaby perfectly camouflaged on the rocks.
We get back into Alice Springs just after 5pm and Kelly has booked a table at Uncles’ Tavern at the Diplomat for us to have dinner together that evening. She has to go an clean out the vehicle etc first so dinner is not until 7.30 but we meet for drinks earlier to wait for her. It is a pub meal but pretty good and we all enjoy sharing travel stories, and we give Kelly an envelope with our tips and wish her well for her travels (leaving in 104 days) to SE Asia, Dubai and Africa.
For this and other similar trips see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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