Thursday 16th of December – Monday 20th of December 2010
Leaving Alice Springs in the afternoon we drove 500 kilometres up north towards Tennant Creek to have a look at the famous Devils Marbles.
We used the carpark as a camping opportunity as many others and after having fought an unsuccessful fight against very aggressive mosquitos finally crawled into our tent to sleep. We were rewarded with one of the best tent pictures ever:
The merciless sun already sent out heated arrows but we nevertheless explored the great area.
We even got to see one of the famous dingoes (a wild dog) that came by the camping site.
Enjoy this short clip for a good panoramic overview of the scenery:
A bit further north we stopped at the Devils Pebbles, the little sister of the Devils Marbles but all in all not a very interesting site.
More interesting in this heat was the Mary Ann Lake where we took a swim.
Back in the hot car we drove a couple of kilometres north and then turned east on the very boring highway. A few remote petrol stations every 200 kilometres provided a bathroom and a cold beverage but we didn’t stop for long knowing we had a long drive ahead of us. Finally after 660 kilometres we arrived very late at Mount Isa, a town of residents and stayed the night at a the only hostel in town which turned out to be a very crappy one.
The next day nothing new happened except for endless driving (590 kilometres) on the Flinders Highway through Cloncurry, Julia Creek, Hughenden to our camping site at the Porcupine Gorge National Park where we had a good night’s sleep.
Here the Porcupine Gorge Lookout:
A nice little clip for you to enjoy as well:
Now further north, direction Cairns, with a quick stop at the Kalkani Crater rim. Here we were surprised by sudden and very heavy rain after which my camera refused to function. Still we have some pictures from before.
After that we drove further along our last dirt track for quite some time:
We spent the night at the War Memorial Camp ground, had breakfast and a nice coffee in Mareeba and guess what, continued driving north. It already became apparent the last 100 kilometres that we had left the Outback behind us and had entered civilisation again since the frequency of towns and other cars and people rose quickly. It is interesting how even smaller villages in a row can give you that feeling of civilisation in contrast to the vast remoteness of endless land and streets.
We passed some parts of the Atherton tablelands which are the hinterlands of the tropics and again accidently, as it happened already several times before to us, came across the most beautiful waterfalls ever – the Emerald Falls. I know I said this before about the McKenzie Falls in the Grampians and I stand to my word, so to put it more correctly, this was the most beautiful waterfall EXPERIENCE ever. This is because you can actually swim close to the waterfall – something we had never done before! And let me tell you if you are a novice too, this is an experience of a kind.
This waterfall was quite a small one but still the current of it made it almost impossible to swim directly towards it…
Have a look:
On our way back we met some other Germans, exchanged travel stories and tips and headed off again. Next stop was Kuranda with the Barron Falls. Obviously, there isn’t much water although we got drenched with a sudden afternoon tropical shower – not cold but pretty wet. Imagine the difference between the dusty, hot, remote Outback and the crowded, humid, rainy tropics… very strange if you go from one extreme to another. Anyway, we came back to the Barron Falls a couple of weeks later and have a look at the difference:
Finally we drove to Cairns, checked in into a hostel and realized that at last we had left the Outback after all.
Dec 16, 2010
After a fantastic time in the MacDonnell Ranges it was time to say goodbye, finally leave Alice Springs and head north to Tennant Creek. However, we were keen to use the last remaining hours for a short trip to the closest gaps in the East MacDonnell Ranges.
Before that we took the opportunity to do some sightseeing in Alice Springs itself – at last. We hadn’t visited any museums, wildlife parks or whatsoever around there so far and reckoned it not to be worth the time. A short drive to Anzac Hill for an overview over the city was fine, though.
Afterwards we took the Ross Highway into the East MacDonnell Ranges again. After only 10 kilometers we reached Emily Gap, its Aboriginal name being Anthwerrke.
It is an important site for the Eastern Arrente Aboriginals, therefore you will find a few Aboriginal paintings in very good condition as well. This time they are not enclosed by fences, so you get a really close look - better show some respect and don’t mess around with them.
Next stop was Jessie Gap, also only a few kilometers away. You will find some well-conserved paintings here, too.
We left out Corroborree Rock, another few kilometers east, Arltunga, an old goldrush mining ghost town, and Ruby Gap National Park this time. This gives us a perfect excuse to return there someday. Did we mention already that somehow we had fallen in deep love with this impressive landscape called the Outback?
We had a lot of driving before us in the next few days, up to Tennant Creek and to the Devil’s Marbles, and all the way up to Cairns after that. Hence we hit the road, to be precise the Stuart Highway. On our way up we passed the Tropic of Capricorn.
After a lot of driving we reached the Devil’s Marbles Campground in the dark, attacked by countless mosquitoes, set up our tent as fast as humanly possible and prepared ourselves to get up early the next day to wander around some fabulous rocks.
Dec 15, 2010
After a little rest we were refreshed to go adventure hunting again on the next day. This time we took Clara & Julien with us, a nice French couple, living in Alice’s Secret as well. And this time we went to the East MacDonnell Ranges, all the previous sites so far were located in the West MacDonnells.
Our first spot today was Trephina Gorge. It was pretty hard to find any meaningful signs here that clearly lead the way on the walking trail. Hence we just followed our nose and went straight in, accompanied by the humming of countless bees in hives all around us.
We wandered along the sandy creek for some time ..
.. until we decided to having seen enough – or having fallen into the mud enough, to be honest.
A local had advised us to visit John Hayes Rock Hole, a chain of ponds where the water flows from one pond to the next like a cascade. The way there was strictly signed as “4 wheel drive only”, and that was no exaggeration.
Despite being only 4 kilometers long, the track can appropriately only be described as a rocky riverbed filled with holes, dirt and mud. It took us approximately 30 minutes to get to the Rock Hole, and the same time back. But the drive was real fun, we enjoyed it totally and at the end the John Hayes Rock Hole waited for us, of course.
On the way into the Chain of Ponds normally some swimming and some climbing has to be exercised. We tried to give it a try climbing up there only.
Now the problem is – if anything happens to you around here, you’re really out of luck. There’s nothing like a predefined climbing trail. The Rock Hole generally is not thought to be a place for climbing around. No network reception, no stable cliffs, no one else to help out, and the only way in and out of the Rock Hole is the hardly passable track. You better watch your steps very carefully around here… nevertheless, some fearless adventurers cannot be held back by such negligible obstacles!
And a real explorer always knows his way around to some alternative route – obviously I took the other route. How could this photo have been taken, if not?
In reward you get a view that most probably not too many other people have enjoyed ..
Take a look at these amazing ponds from top to bottom – actually, there are even more ponds in the back covered behind the rocks:
This was a fantastic climb, although being pretty steep and unstable here and there. The way back was not really easier ..
After so much fun we cruised back to Alice Springs in the dark, listening to some music .. and trying to avoid hitting any cattle that stood on the street here and there.
Dec 14, 2010
After spending the night at Ormiston Gorge campground we discovered the great facilities it offers, i.e. the gas stoves! In the middle of nowhere, and you get free gas on a perfectly working gas stove. Now that’s the right time for pancakes, isn’t it?
Beefed up after a great breakfast we were prepared for a full day ..
First stop was Serpentine Gorge, back in the direction of Alice Springs on the Larapinta Drive. Again .. different from all other gorges around and very unique in its views.
We walked to the top of the Serpentine Gorge – it was already quite hot and exhausting.
The landscape from the top of the gorge is just breathtaking as you can see a fair amount of the MacDonnell Ranges from east to west:
Hoping to find refreshment at the bottom, we went there as well, but weren’t quite up for a swim already .. it’s still a beautiful place.
After Serpentine Gorge we stopped at the Ochre Pits. This site stands out a bit from the rest of the other sites in the MacDonnell Ranges as it is a place with a special meaning to the Aboriginal people. They came here for thousands of years to harvest the rich-colored ochre from the pit. It was then used for trade or in ceremonies as a particular body paint.
From here we rushed to Ellery Creek Big Hole, a big waterhole back on the way to Alice Springs. There was quite a crowd around, swimming and frolicing in the sun. Well-prepared we joined in our swimwear and took a refreshing bath .. we observed a few teens jumping off the cliffs from 12-14 meters high, wondering if we could do the same. There were a lot of rocky formations present just below the water surface, but it seemed fairly possible. I climped up first .. and ..
.. jumped down. After the first second or so during the free fall I suddenly thought, this might not be such a good idea after all. Too late, anyway .. you can hear me scream in this video:
We made a short, last stop to visit the Standley Chasm. We saw something that you will probably not find on postcards – water at the bottom. As previously mentioned, it had rained a lot during the last weeks ..
Back in Alice Springs we checked in in Alice’s Secret again and had a well-earned rest.
Dec 13, 2010
After multiple days of trying to repair our car myself, exchanging parts here and there and finally getting some professional advice (at no charge – but we returned with a few cold beers, thanks again to Marc from Alice Auto Repairs!) we found that after having spent 500$ altogether on parts and due to consequential damage the cause of all our problems were simply worn breaker points. We got a set of new breaker points and a condenser in the last minute before all shops closed down for the weekend, and Marc again was kind enough to explain in detail how to assemble and adjust them. We did, and voila! After 4 weeks of trouble, actually since Adelaide, only 17$ were all that was needed to let the car start and run smooth as ever. Phew .. and by now we had a new rear muffler, a new battery, a new distributor cap including a new rotor, a new lead coil and a new air filter as well. However – our LandCruiser had still brought us all the way through the Outback up here. Bravo, LandCruiser!
As a result of breaking my fingers multiple times and swearing at the car while fixing it I unfortunately developed symptoms of a heatstroke. Maybe the sun had to do with it as well. Therefore, we stayed another day in Alice Springs and rested. But on Dec 13, 2010, we were all set for a glorious return into the West MacDonnells…
Our first stop after leaving Alice Springs was Simpsons Gap which is pretty close to the town. Again, this gorge differed completely in appearance from the gorges we had been to before. But similarly there was plenty of water directly in the middle of the gap.
To get through the gap, there is only one way: through the water.
No swimming here, however. So we just put our shoes off and tipped our toes into the water.
After Simpsons Gap we headed back to Ormiston Gorge, the gorge closest to Glen Helen Gorge and quite a few kilometers away. We took a short detour for a walk to see some genuine Ghost Gum trees. And we found some really beautiful, huge trees..
Ormiston Gorge again surprised us, this time with its sheer size. It’s a really massive gorge and consists of multiple layers of quartzite rocks, once kilometers apart, that were shifted upon each other due to earth movements.
We went for the Ghost Gum Walk up the rim, into the gorge and back and were warned beforehand about it being steep and moderately difficult, involving climbing. What we didn’t expect was that because of all the recent rainfalls it also included some serious swimming.
It was a delightful experience, though. Carrying Inka’s shiny new Canon camera I made several successful attempts at circus-like, artistic movements in order to not throw the thing into the water after slipping over some slimy rocks ..
See the marvellous view yourself:
Somewhere along the way we noticed how our sunburns (from Glen Helen Gorge) had developed over the last few days. Not for the better, I’m afraid .. actually those are blisters, not water drops.
It was already late in the afternoon by now. A campground close to the Ormiston Gorge was the best choice to stay overnight, so we made camp there – a great night out in the MacDonnell Ranges.