After Hermansburg we headed back west to loop around through the West MacDonnell Ranges. We stayed at Redbank Gorge camping area for a couple of days, checking out Redbank Gorge on one day and climbing Mt Sonder on the other. Then a day trip to Ormiston Gorge before driving past Ellery Creek Big Hole where we camped at a few years ago and finally a couple of days in Alice Springs.
The truck museum in Alice Springs was interesting. It’s massive. So many trucks, so much reading material. Anyone with a thing for trucks could spend days going through it.
We filled in most of the gaps that we missed the first time we came through the Uluru / Alice Springs area although would have liked to do the east side of Alice and down to Chambers Pillar. But with the desert country getting cold and the Kimberley waterholes nicely filled and flowing fresh from a good wet season, it was prudent we head up the Tanami Track to the warmer areas.
Kings Canyon is a gorge a few hundred kilometers from Uluru that we didn’t get to see last time we traveled through. Actually we missed a whole chunk of spots in the area. This time we left Uluru and did Kings Canyon, then the badly corrugated Mereenie Loop Track up to Hermannsburg and Palm Valley.
Palm Valley in Finke Gorge National Park was a standout. The awesomeness starts immediately with the track going in. The track is easy so doesn’t feel like you’re hammering the crap out of your car, but still feels like fun offroading as it follows the Finke River through some hills and arid landscapes. Often the track is actually the Finke River itself. It’s not often you get to navigate a river in a car!
Driving on Finke River in Finke Gorge National Park
The camp grounds are also great. It’s set among some beautiful red hills and cliffs and has good facilities: water, gas bbqs, flushing toilets and even warm showers. This is all at standard Northern Territory national park prices. There’s a nice little walk out of the camp grounds to Kalarranga rock formations.
Then Palm Valley itself is also awesome. The short vehicle track from the camp ground to Palm Valley travels through some nice red cliffs and rock formations and through a few steep dry creek crossings. It’s much rougher than the first track into the camp grounds but it’s only a few km long.
Track into Palm Valley
Steep rocky section of track
The Palm Valley walk is easy and a bit different than your usual gorge walk. A lot of the walk is in the river valley itself, which is a piece of cake since the valley is bed rock worn smooth by the water flow a few years ago. The palms and dark red cliffs and smooth river valley make it a unique walk.
Here is an artistic photo of the red cliffs with the shadows of the palms on the cliffs. Most people just take photos of the actual palms.
After a couple of nights in Palm Valley we visited Hermannsburg – an old aboriginal community that started as a Lutheran mission in 1877. We grabbed a pie at the bakery, coffee and scones at the cafe and checked out some of the old buildings.
We we’re a bit rushed last time we visted Uluru so we had to have another look. This time, with a baby in tow, we decided against the steep, treacherous and sometimes deadly climb to the top and instead did the 10km base walk.
On the base walk we found some sandalwood bush plum. They weren’t very sweet, tasted bitter and sour with possibly a slight hint of plum flavour.
The different perspective of the base walk was great. We got to see lots of different views of the rock that we had never seen before. The next day we did the valley of the winds walk through Kata Tjuta / Olgas and had a fancy dinner at Yulara Resort.
On the way out of Uluru we stayed at Curtin Springs road house. We ended up having a big night out at the bar, drinking beers and chatting with the owner of the Curtin Springs cattle station until late. In the morning we felt a bit ginger so decided on another visit to the bar for a bacon and egg sandwich before heading off for Kings Canyon.
After a week or so of bush camping on the Savannah Way, we crossed the border into Queensland on the Barkley Hwy and rolled into Mount Isa for some much needed shopping, showering and general clean up. Mt Isa is a mining town. There’s a couple of mining related tourist attractions around town but, being from WA, there was no novelty for us. We walked around town, had a beer at a bar or two, did the shopping, but mostly just chilled out in the caravan park which had a swimming pool. With a population of around 22,000 people, it’s a pretty big town with heaps of shops and places to eat and drink.
After Mount Isa is Cloncurry. We pretty much just drove through. We had a look at the museum but it was closed for the christmas break. From Cloncurry we turn south east onto the Landsborough Hwy on our advance towards Brisbane. We passed the Walkabout Creek Hotel in McKinlay, made famous from the movie Crocodile Dundee. It’s a beautiful old timber building, well maintained and kept super clean and tidy. Good spot for a glass or two of liquid motivation. There’s also accommodation. We grabbed a drink and continued our journey.
Leaving Borroloola, we back tracked to Cape Crawford then headed south on Tablelands Hwy – a single lane sealed road that runs for about 500km, joining up with the Barkley Hwy which is the main thoroughfare connecting northern NT to Queensland. The sealed road is wide enough for one car only. When an oncoming car approaches you need to take to the gravel gutter. This is very flat flood plain country, quite remote just south of the Gulf of Carpenteria. We stopped off on the side of the road for an overnight rest. Across the road there was some recently burnt out scrub, which along with the setting sun and incoming storm clouds created some interesting colours and a nice photo. A few burnt out cars and cattle around the place too. Note how the contrasting images, with the 44 gallon drum and the burnt out car, make a statement about our impact on the earth and the environment.
Borroloola saw the end of our dream to conquer the Savannah Way through the gulf country to Queensland. Continuing was not possible due to heavy rainfall. Nathan River Road was exciting for its mud sliding and near boggings but further east around the Queensland border the creeks were too deep and fast flowing to pass. It was expected – we knew that tackling Savannah Way at the start of the wet season was always going to be touch and go. A week earlier and we would have made it.
Don’t worry, the wrath of the rain gods was offset by the generosity of the barra gods. I landed myself a record breaking 76cm barramundi in the McArthur River at Borroloola. Caught him on a soft plastic lure late in the afternoon. I’m super satisfied at this stroke of luck. Unable to complete the Savannah Way meant after Borroloola we had to head south towards central Queensland to catch the bitumen, leaving barra country and any chance of catching more barra. So it was my last chance which made landing the barra all the more sweeter.
On the way to Borroloola we stopped off at Cape Crawford and the Heartbreak Hotel. This is some pretty remote country so the hotel is a welcome stop. We got there around lunch time and the hotel was closed until evening. We would have loved to grab a beer at Heartbreak Hotel but didn’t want to wait around 6 hours. Instead we hit up a steak sandwich at the restaurant. We also caught a glimpse of a frilled neck lizard. He didn’t want to display his frill for the camera but we still got a couple of shots.
We checked out the fishing village at King Ash Bay, a few km from Borroloola. We were impressed – usually these fishing camps are strewn with debris, abandoned cars, sheet metal, etc. King Ash Bay was clean, neat and well maintained. It was here we discovered the second corrugation failure on this trip – the bonnet latch. It’s held by 3 bolts. One bolt was missing. I believe the missing bolt vibrated loose from corrugations. With only two bolts, the corrugations caused the latch to swing back and forth fatiguing the metal. A few million corrugations later and it sheered off the bolt mounts. The way we noticed the problem was very lucky. A chap had stopped on the side of the road and needed a jump start. We stopped to help. I pulled the hood lever but it didn’t pop. A bit of prodding and poking at the latch and we managed to free the bonnet. This was lucky – the bonnet becoming free at speed is a costly and dangerous situation. The solution to get us back onto the road – a bit of rope holding down the bonnet. Nothing like a dodgy bush mechanic fix on our fancy new hilux.
After an overnight at Towns River, we continued our journey on Savannah Way south on Nathan River Road. This part of the trip got interesting, with some areas having received heavy rainfall making the track pretty wet and slippery. We had to pass through many muddy puddles, including a few long, deep pools that had us holding our breath as the car lost speed and bogged down in the thick mud before barely making it to the other side. We had a look at Maria Lagoon and the Limmen River Fishing Camp on the banks of the lagoon. The track to the fishing camp was pretty bad. The main Nathan River Road is constructed with camber and gutters and gravel to help resist water, whereas the track to Maria Lagoon and the Limmen River Fishing Camp is just pushed straight through the dirt, becoming pretty muddy when wet. We had a look at Butterfly Springs camping area and rock pool but decided to push on as the rock pool had not received enough water to flush out the stagnant water from the end of the dry so wasn’t good for swimming. It’s much better just after the wet. We passed an airstrip with a steel bull mailbox complete with large bull package, stopped for a photo, then continued to the Lost City camping area. Here we walked the trail through the lost city as the sun began to set, bringing out the red colour of the sandstone pillars, then retired for the evening.