4th June to 11th June
Another week in Alice Springs passed us by very quickly. This time we decided to stay at the Big 4 Macdonnell Ranges Caravan Park as they came highly recommended and they had lots of activites for both kids and adults. First up though we had to get stuck into another lot of school work, which the kids did after much moaning and groaning and bribery. We spent the mornings doing school work then the kids got to play on their choice of either 2 jumping pillows, 2 huge playgrounds and 3 heated swimming pools………. Needless to say with that kind of bribery up our sleeve it made for quite a productive week in school. We had also decided to not do any ‘’town activities’ as we had little time to spare and Alice Springs was starting to become inundated with rev head motor bike types and rally car drivers in anticipation of the Finke Desert Race held over the long weekend and the circus was also in town, perhaps they were all related……. So with this massive migration into Alice we decided to head in the opposite direction out of Alice for the week and not poke our heads back around the corner until every last one of them had departed!!
So with map and tourist information brochure in hand we headed out to our first destination, Rainbow Valley Conservation Reserve, roughly 75km south on the Stuart Highway via a very rough dirt, corrugated and sandy road. We arrived just before lunch, chose a spot to camp at and started to unpack, the campground has limited places with fire pits and basic drop toilets. After we ate lunch we went for a wander around the designated walks around the park. Rainbow Valley is a small park and renowned for its spectacular color’s during sunset. The huge sandstone outcrop lies behind a claypan and holds significant importance to the Arrernte people and is part of the Merne (Bush Tucker) story from the creation time. The sandstone rock already has many hues of reds and whites on it during the day but as the sun sets into the west the truly vivid rainbow of colors emerge. We took many photos both during the day and at sunset, but they just don’t seem to do the colors any justice. That night we sat around our campfire and were spoilt with a clear bright sky filled with millions of stars. We all sat back in our chairs and stargazed, catching many a shooting star, pointing out the Southern Cross, saucepan, Venus, the Milky Way and watching a full moon rise bathing our surrounds with beautiful soft moonlight.
The next day we headed back to the highway and up the road for about 10km to enter Owen Springs Reserve. We checked out the Redbank Campground first in preparation for our next camp and then proceeded along the Owen Springs Reserve Road for a drive along the Hugh River to check out Lawrence Gorge. Owen Springs is a bit of a favourite with the locals as it is still a free camp and dogs are allowed. The drive north was fairly easy and we stopped in a small shady clearing in Lawrence Gorge for lunch, then proceeded to the ruins of the Old Owens Springs Homestead which was built circa 1873. There is not much of the homestead left but it is built in beautiful surroundings, particularly if the river has water in it, which is rare these days. The station has changed hands many times over the years starting with Thomas Elder in 1886, then Sidney Kidman in 1894. Eventually it was purchased by the Hayes family who owned other stations in the area, and finally the Northern Territory Government purchased it in 1999. After our history lesson we finished our day by driving east back into Alice fighting the maddening crowds and back to our campsite down south at Rainbow Valley. That night we were again spoilt with a truly amazing outback night sky.
The next day we packed up and headed south along the Stuart Highway to the Ernest Giles Rd in search of the Henbury Meteorite craters. These craters were made 4000 years ago by a large meteorite travelling at 40,000 kph, which thankfully broke up and hit the earth, causing the 12 craters which range in size from 7 to 180 metres and up to 15 metres deep. A large 44kg fragment of the meteorite was recovered and is proudly on show at the Spencer and Gillen Museum in Alice Springs. With another geology lesson under our belt we headed back up the Stuart Highway to Owen Springs where we set up camp at Redbank campsite. This campsite was on the river with no facilities and not many people, which was lovely for a few days of relaxation and schoolwork.
Our last destination for the week was back into Alice and then out east to the Trephina Gorge Nature Park. We had driven past this park a few weeks earlier but had run out of time for a visit so decided we had to come back for a few days. The campsite again had limited spots but we were able to find ourselves a great little patch of land with its own fire pit and not too far from the drop toilet. Trephina Gorge Nature Park is well known for its steep quartzite cliffs and River Red Gum lined watercourses. Within this park there are two gorges that divide the East Macdonnell range, Trephina, with amazing panoramic views and sandy creekbed, and the John Hayes Rock Hole with steep, narrow rock walls. The park offers quite a few walks for all fitness levels and the info boards are well set out with great information. They even do a ranger talk here on a Thursday evening, the day we leave. In the morning we set off on the short Trephina Gorge walk, straight up the sloping slabs of rock to look down at the sandy dry gorge, the views and scenery were amazing, the colors spectacular!!! The walk took us back down into the far end of the gorge where we sat in the morning sun and Nik and all the kids started a lifesaving ‘flags’ competition. After much debate about handicaps for the older kids they ended up enjoying quite a few rounds with the victory honors going to Jess, Zoe and Damon. With tummys rumbling we decided to head back to camp for some lunch then back out again to do the Panarama walk in the afternoon. This walk had an initial heart starter climb to begin with but ended up giving us some amazing 360 degree views of the gorges and surrounding ranges.
The next day after we had done our little warm up walks we decided to tackle the Ridgetop Trail which took us 9km one way into John Hayes Rockhole, Simon and Nik organised to leave one of our cars at the rockhole carpark for the drive home. We left about 10ish and proceeded a steady ascent up the rocks to the top of the ridgeline some 5km later………. With the promise of lunch when we arrived at the lookout the kids didn’t complain too much. The walk and views were, once again, spectacular even with clouds and an overcast day, we even managed to score some mobile coverage, something we had been without for a few days. It was hard to concentrate with our phones making noises like the pokies. With less than 4km to go we started our descent having a somewhat nervous moment when we noticed the track took us very close to going over a cliff…….until we realised that we had veered off the track a few metres before. After we righted our course the descent was tough going down some steep tracks and rocks, especially as we tried to dodge the spinifex grass and ant population. We were spoilt with one last look out at the John Hayes Rockpool, amazing how the masses of water over time can be responsible for carving out these gorges, before we arrived at the carpark for the short drive home. Needless to say that night we were all early to bed.
The next day on our way back to Alice we also called into both Jessie’s Gap and Emily’s Gap, we took lots of photos and also found a few geocaches.
We had a great week out bush, but my favourite by a long shot was Trephina Gorge, the sheer beauty left us all speechless. Our only wish left now would be to see these dry rivers and gorges after a deluge of rain now that would absolutely blow us away!!!!!!! So with the memory of the views of the ranges and gorges of the East Macdonnell’s it’s time we head off back to civilisation and the jumping pillows and heated pools of the Big 4 to plan our next amazing Northern Territory destination on our OZLAP……………