We have now ticked off the big ticket items that attracted us to the Red Centre – Ayers Rock, The Olgas & Kings Canyon. Typically when we plan a leg of our journey it starts with one or two key points of interest and then we go about researching what else is around the area and begin to plot out a route. We don’t like to have a strict schedule and things are forever changing , so all we knew at this point was we needed to be back in Alice for the camel cup on Saturday 14th July so we have 4 full days up our sleeve to get back to Alice and explore more of the Red Centre on our way. We have been given some great advice from our friends Ben & Rachel who have recently done this track as well as from recent chats around the camp with other travellers about to embark on the same journey.
From our free camp overlooking Kings Canyon we have 150km of rough gravel road until we hit bitumen at Hermannsburg, we have spoken to plenty of people that are going the opposite way to us and have come off this road saying it is pretty bad, caravans snapping axels and loosing tires on a daily basis. Funny thing about dirt roads is that everyone has a different idea when rating the roads conditions, you will get told it is the worst road in Australia by one bloke then the next guy will tell you it’s not that bad…you just have to wait and see for yourself and drive to the road conditions . Plenty of people are dragging their vans and campers trailers along this road (it is school holidays and arguably the busiest time in human history around this area) we over take 6 vans on our way and pass one who has lost a tire so we are happy we left the van in Alice Springs. Without the van on, the Troopy flies along the rough roads, we drop the tire pressures by 10 PSI to smooth the ride and make sure everything is tied down well. If the corrugations are in a consistent pattern the key is to drive at 70-80km/h get your speed up and you glide along the rough road, if you sit at 50-60km/h or lower you will get shaken to bits and it will be a long slow painful day. We make it to the bitumen fine, the road was rough and it would be horrible to tow anything down it but overall it wasn’t that bad. Enough talking about roads so here is a wild camel we saw along the road.
We stop in at Hermannsburg, a weird little historical village that was a German Mission for the Aboriginals in the 1877, not really our thing but they have a well renowned bakery famous for their apple strudel (HOT TIP: it costs $12/person to go into the historical village and the cafe/bakery is in the middle, if you tell the lady at the entrance all you want to do is go in and buy something and leave they should let you in for free).
Only minutes away from Hermannsburg is the entrance to Palm Valley, our next stop. It is a bit of an off road track down a creek bed to get into Palm Valley camp ground but manageable for most vehicles and caravans if you take it easy (probably not big busses or motor homes). We setup camp with a first in best dressed and honesty system. This National Park, Finke NP, offers solar showers and toilets so it is a great little spot that we could have stayed longer at but we only have one night.
Camp Location: Palm Valley
Cost = $6.60/person/night
Travelled From: Morris Pass Lookout, Mereenie Distance
Travelled: 190 kilometres
We wake up early and it is freezing out here so we don’t even have breakfast, we pack up and drive to the beginning of the palm valley hike before we stop to eat after heating up in the car.
We set off on the hike with only 4 other cars in the car park so it feels as though we have the walk to ourselves. It is an unreal hike. Walking through the gorge full of palm trees, you climb your way up to a ledge at a corner of the gorge and get a 180 degree view down both legs of the gorge.
By the time we finish the hike the car park is packed and there are people everywhere so we are glad we got into it early. The track into the car park from camp is a little challenging so many people also leave their cars at the camp ground and walk the extra distance rather than take their vehicles (bugger that, it would add another hour at least one way), others just drive as far as they feel capable. This was a great little track for Holly to practice on the way out, nothing too crazy, we just cruised in 2WD but you still had to pick your line and take care over some steep rocky drop offs. Holly killed it; we got some funny looks from blokes driving in 4WD and really giving it to it up sections and scraping over rocks while she just cruises on past.
We make our way out of the park and back to Hermannsburg to fill up with some diesel but they are all out due to some issues with their supplier in Alice Springs…hmmm we just have enough to make it to the next station so we hope they have some.
From Hermannsburg there is bitumen all the way to Alice, you can go straight East from here or up and around the Northern loop through the West Macdonnell Ranges which is what we have planned to do. On the way we stop into the Gosse Bluff crater site. It was a short steep walk in and up to a lookout in the middle of the crater. Not sure if we have just been spoilt lately with awesome hikes but this is not that impressive and we struggle to make out the shape the crater would have made (mainly because of the regrowth that has covered the landscape, so it didn’t look like much after we were expecting a massive cleared dirt crater). Next we pull into the Glen Helen River homestead for diesel and luckily they have plenty. This place is totally packed and busting with vans and families but we have been told about a ripper spot to stay (thanks Annie) just on the opposite side of the road down by the Finke River. We are nice and close to the homestead so duck back here at night to watch game 3 of the State of origin.
Seriously cool free camp, you can drive along the rocky rivers edge until you find a spot to yourself, the river is lined with people but still plenty of space in-between each other. This was an awesome sight at night with every camp having a roaring fire by the flowing river. We needed the fires as it was bloody freezing (collect your wood well in advance as collecting firewood in any national park is a heavily frowned upon.. and hard to come by anyway). Big vans and busses can park up higher on more solid ground but any vehicle really can make it down to the river you just have to steer clear of the sandy spots if you were in a 2WD.
The nights have been cold in the Red Centre but we feel that this night to be the worst so far, it is coldest just before the sun begins to come up. We stoke the fire up in the morning to warm up before breakfast and then we set off to do a day of hikes.
There are so many hikes around this area we cannot do them all but the one that seems to be talked about the most is Ormiston George so we head there to check it out. There are a number of different tracks but we choose the Pound Loop. It is again stunning, you get great panoramic views as you hike up and around the surrounding mountains before finishing the walk through the gorge. Again we have beaten the crowds by getting up and going that bit earlier, its hard in the cold but it’s worth the initial struggle to beat the busy crowds.
With still plenty of time left in the day we are looking for what is next to see but after a big hike we are looking for a short easy walk and the Glen Helen River George is perfect. A little stroll you can do in thongs (like Holly did) to 2 large cliffs bookending a water hole. Beautiful little spot a number of ladies set up painting the landscape.
Back to 2 mile camp along the Finke River, we setup early and at this time of the day the sun is beaming so we sunbake and begin building a huge fire and improve our bed setup so we don’t freeze again. We add as many layers of blankets, towels, clothes and whatever else we can find to prepare for the freezing night ahead.
Camp Location: 2 mile camp – Finke River
Cost = FREE!
Travelled From: Palm Valley
Travelled: 146 kilometres
Waking to -4⁰C we get out of the troopy and get the fire going again in the morning. The water containers that were out overnight have a thick frozen layer of ice on top with the taps all frozen shut so we struggle to even make tea and coffee.
Once we warm up we head east to our next stop, the Ochre Pits. A pretty cool cliff face full of coloured ochre, one of the few places in the region where aboriginals source, use and trade the natural ochre powder.
Our legs have had enough of the big hikes so we decide to just chill by the ‘Ellery Creek Big Hole’ water hole; only a short little walk in and is similar to the Glen Helen River George but bigger. We sun bake and have a snooze before I decide to brave to water and jump in for a dip. It was freezing and takes your breath away, my arms and legs go stiff and numb so it’s a quick in and out, you do feel nice and refreshed afterwards however (Holly is a chicken and doesn’t want to jump in).
Making our way closer to Alice Springs we have a camp marked out just off the highway but once we start driving in and pass the camping spots the track goes on for ages and is actually a cool little 4WD track that we are keen to explore and give Holly another good practice, this time a little more testing which is a bit of fun. We make our way all the way to the end of the track and camp by ourselves in bush near Hugh Gorge. We again enjoy a fire at night, soon getting a little spooky hearing dingos howling from the ridges (some closer than others…).
Camp Location: Hugh Gorge
Cost = FREE!
Travelled From: 2 mile camp – Finke River
Travelled: 101 kilometres
We wake up early as we now have to race to Alice, load up on food before showering and heading to the Camel Cup. We could of stayed back in town on the Friday night to save the run around but a free camp is better than any paid van site.
The Camel Races are held this year at Pioneer Park, the local racecourse, which luckily for us is not far from where we left the van. We have a great day; it is good to get dressed up after being in the same dirty closes for so long.
Camp Location: Wanngardi Park
Cost = $25/night unpowered for the pair of us
Travelled From: Hugh gorge
Travelled: 65 kilometres
So that’s our time in the Red centre; we will wake up early, hook up the van and have 2 days of driving to make it to our next stop at Lawn Hill in QLD!