A real surprise on the highway. The pub must be making thousands of dollars every night from drinks, pub meals and the campsite. Mostly grey nomads there and the pub knows how to entertain them for the night with a beef and barra bbq and live Aussie country music singalongs. It was nice to sit in comfy chairs with a cold beer at the end of a long hot day though.
Travellers have left all sorts of things hanging around the pub such as hats, thongs and underwear.
Bitter Springs, Mataranka
Bitter Springs is in the Elsey National Park. It’s a thermal pool where the water rises from underground at a fairly constant 34 degrees C. Dogs not allowed of course but the pool is only a short walk from the campsite where we’re staying. Reception hires out noodles and masks and snorkels. It was a lovely refreshing swim in this dust and 30 degree heat.
Jonathan went off fishing in the nearby river but after spotting this freshie lurking in the water, he decided an afternoon lounging in the hammock was much safer.
We’re now only 110 km South of Katherine and 424 km South of Darwin.
A historically interesting stop with more info about the building of the Overland Telegraph line.
Claims to be the UFO hotspot of Australia.
Has a caravan park that’s fairly run down and some alien souvenirs at the shop. Someone quipped on Wikicamps that Wycliffe Well was probably the last place aliens would visit.
The Devil’s Marbles/Karlu Karlu
These are 393km North of Alice Springs. They are huge, rounded boulders, scattered over quite a large area. According to Aboriginal legend, the boulders are the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent laid during the Dreamtime. To the first English people who saw them, it looked as though the Devil had emptied his bag of marbles around the place. Geologically I believe they are called a ‘degraded nubbin’.
The town has a population of around 3,200 and is 70% indigenous. It was interesting to read an article written in The Guardian this week that said people in the town are diagnosed with infections and diseases that have been eradicated from the rest of Australia for nearly a century. An African health care worker said the town reminded him of his home in Zambia.
We stopped at a very nice caravan park but that’s the best thing I can say about the experience. The only part of town that showed any signs of life was the pub which absolutely stank as you walked past.
This part of Alice Springs felt like a world away from the town with a convention centre, luxury hotels and landscaped gardens.The Casino was the final destination for Priscilla, Queen of the Desert where the three drag queens performed a show.
The Olive Pink Botanic Garden
Miss Olive Pink sounds like a formidable woman. She was an anthropologist who moved to central Australia in the 1930s to study and advocate for the Warlpiri and Arrernte people. She was a pioneer in using native plants and created the gardens as a ‘soulfeeding antidote to the restless rush and materials of what modern living entails.’
The NT writers’ festival was taking place at the garden and I took the opportunity to listen to a talk while I was there by Tim Low, a biologist from Brisbane who is writing a book about rare plants in Central Australia.
The Ghan stopped for a few hours in Alice Springs on its way to Darwin from Adelaide. It’s a very long train and these passengers had a very long walk down the platform in the heat.
A visit to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station was a must do.
The Bradshaw family had lived there from 1899 to 1908 when Thomas Bradshaw was the station master. His eldest daughter Doris later wrote ‘Alice on the Line’, about their time at the station which I had just finished reading. To get to Alice (which was called Stuart at that time, after the explorer) from Adelaide, the family could only travel by train as far as Oodnadatta. The rest of the journey took two weeks by horse and buggy.
Travellers complain today about corrugations in the road when they’re in their 4 wheel drives but the Bradshaws would have had a body jarring journey in the heat across the gibber (stony) plains. Thomas and his wife went on to have three more children while living at Alice Springs which must have been a frightening experience so far from any medical help.
The supplies for the station came once a year by camel. Imagine the size of that shopping list.
The West MacDonnell Ranges are fantastic for Astro photography. Alice Springs does offer a gentle glow of light pollution, but overall the area is very dark and the magnificent red ranges make for a great backdrop to a nightscape!
Here’s a multi-shot panorama of the range behind us on the campsite with the milky way rising:
And no stop would be complete without a star trails image taken over two hours whilst we chilled out to a movie!
And finally, for my Northern Hemisphere family and friends. As we move further North, it is possible to see old familiar constellations. Alice Springs is on the tropic of Capricorn, several degrees higher than home, and as a result, the whole of the “Big Dipper” manages to peak over the horizon! I have highlighted the main stars to make it clear 🙂
The MacDonnell Ranges stretch to the East and West of Alice Springs. Our campsite was directly underneath the ranges. It was a very peaceful spot with lots of wildlife. Winston was desperate to chase the rock wallabies bouncing around the hillside.
We drove about 80km along a sealed road through the West MacDonnell Ranges and stopped off at these scenic spots along the way.
Pets are not actually allowed into Standley Chasm but they kindly said Winston could come on the walk too.
The sheer scale of the installation is impressive. There are over 50,000 solar powered glass light globes on stems that are constantly changing colour. Pathways through the field are lit by low lights but it still felt a bit scary to walk out into such a huge dark area until you got your bearings. It was nice to find a quiet spot away from the tour groups and just appreciate the changing colours under an amazing starry sky. It’s almost impossible to recreate the experience with a camera. I didn’t manage to get one decent photo and Jonathan took these ones.
You can only visit the Field of Light by booking on an AAT Kings tour bus which picks up from all the resort accommodation. The exhibition has been extended until 2018.
We decided to spend 6 nights at the Ayers Rock Resort campground as they have a ‘stay 3 pay for 2’ offer in May. This really is a resort, with luxury to budget accommodation choices, a town square with an IGA supermarket, tourism centre, car hire, cafes, a hairdresser and more.
There have been a lot of changes since we were here in 2008. One of the most noticeable is the number of indigenous workers around the resort. A National Indigenous Training Academy is now based here where students are trained in the hospitality industry and all graduates have guaranteed employment at the end. They aim to have a 50% indigenous workforce by 2018.
Pets are not allowed to be driven through Uluru National Park and the Resort no longer has a dog minding service. There are three car rental companies at the resort so we decided to rent a car and take turns going to the Rock. A three day pass costs $25 per adult and the entrance is a 10 minute drive from the resort.
The Uluru Climb
Climbing Uluru is a controversial activity. There are signs everywhere asking visitors to respect the cultural sensitivity of the site but at the same time, there is a designated climb with a handrail. The climb itself is physically demanding and takes about an hour. Thirty six people have died attempting it, mostly from heart attacks. There are memorial plaques to five of the climbers who lost their lives. Jonathan, who has spent his life being irresponsible, decided it was something he had to cross off his bucket list.
“Apologies to the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, but mountains must be scaled to truly appreciate their majesty.” Jonathan Bradshaw May 2017.
Uluru Base Walk
The Base Walk is 10km along a flat sandy track. I cycled the track easily on the folding travel bicycle we had brought with us. This is a top tip as it was a really enjoyable experience and most of the people walking looked as though they regretted it. You can hire bikes from the cultural centre. You can also take a guided tour round the base on a Segway.