Where is this?
The hilly terrain perhaps rules out a lush green prairie. And true, the cloudy sky is a more familiar sight in dear old Blighty. But would you believe me if I said the photo was taken in the arid red centre of Australia, in the height of summer?
Miraculous, but true.
They were saying it was a 1 in 50 year event.
It could (almost) be an English country road.
But no, this is the East MacDonnell Ranges, a short drive from Alice Springs.
I’d always harboured a rather romantic image of Alice Springs. This place dead centre of the outback. So very remote. The origin of the Flying Doctor Service. And the School of the Air. Surely it would be a sleepy, cosy and community oriented sort of place? It isn’t a town geared up for tourism in any big way, not that that’s a bad thing. Perhaps it doesn’t help that the advice very strongly is to refrain from wandering the streets at night.
The town has a large indigenous population and despite recent endeavours towards more effective integration there is still a huge feeling of separateness. It’s not my place to dwell on the injustices of the past but suffice to say that history has not treated these people well and the British had a huge part to play in that. Not that I ever felt threatened in any way. I just found it all rather sad.
The red glow from this rocky outcrop was visible from many miles away and we turned off the road to take a closer look.
The Ghost Gum, Trephina Gorge, East MacDonnell Ranges
Estimated at 33m tall, the largest Ghost Gum in Australia and thought to be over 300 years old.
We were in Alice Springs for just a couple of days, an opportunity to see some of the stunning landscape which surrounds it. A real experience of the outback. And I’m so glad we did, it is quite breathtaking.
I’d feared that we’d struggle to walk anywhere in temperatures in excess of 40C. Just stepping out of the airport felt like entering a furnace. Our allotted car had a deep scratch all down one side that wasn’t marked on the documentation. While Mike returned to the hire desk to remonstrate it rapidly became unbearable to stay inside the car without the aircon (he’d taken the keys) forcing me to find what little shade there was amongst the car park scrub. They must have known we were coming though, within hours the temperature dropped by several degrees.
Mountain ranges reminiscent of the Flinders Range in South Australia. I wonder if a snake had something to do with this one too?
The following day we struck out west, driving along the base of the 100 mile long West MacDonnell Ranges. At intervals along the road there are spectacular spots to stop and explore. And doesn’t the lushness add so much to this place? Fresh green leaves, red rock, the white trunks of the gum trees, blue(ish) sky, abundant water. It’s an absolutely stunning combination.
A near permanent waterhole, estimated to be at least 14 metres deep.
Back on the trail, water flowed generously across the road. You can imagine my thoughts on crossing it. Mike had different ideas. “Pah. A mere puddle.”
Well, you decide. I swear it was even deeper on the way back. There was an information sign visible from the far side too. Finke River. How many puddles do you know of that have names?
The Ochre Pits
A sacred place where indigenous Australians used to mine for pigments used in painting, for ceremonies, medicinal use and trading. Quite incredible to see the layered colours in the earth set out in a palette from white through gold to crimson. Ochre has always played an important role in Aboriginal culture. The mine is still owned today by descendants of the Western Arrernte people.
Ellery Creek Big Hole
A tributary of the Finke River has cut a gorge right through the West MacDonnell range over the millennia, with years of flooding carving out the spectacular waterhole at its foot.
There was certainly plenty of water around back in January. And as it turned out, it was catching up with us. Fast.
As the skies darkened we optimistically paid our dues to enter this protected indigenous site and set off down the path. Floodwater gouged out the crevice in the rock here too, producing a chasm a staggering 80 metres deep. It’s best to see it at midday when the sun is directly overhead.
For us the timing was somewhat academic, large rainspots were starting to fall. As they got heavier we turned back to the path, a brisk walk that turned into a somewhat undignified legging it back to the car as the shower turned into a deluge.
Looking back the way we’d come!
But my favourite stop of all had to be here, Simpsons Gap.
The now familiar colours, the gently flowing water, the perfect juxtaposition of those three rocks give it an almost zen like feel.
Rock wallabies inhabit these slopes. I tried very hard to spot one but perhaps the rain had proved too much even for them.
Could you want for a more idyllic spot? Even more remarkable given that it’s a mere ten minutes from the outskirts of town.
The following morning, on the way out of Alice Springs, there was a car broken down in the middle of the road that I’m convinced hadn’t been there the night before. It was only 7.30 a.m. and it had already lost all of its wheels.
Maybe Alice Springs wasn’t the place I expected to find. But no-one can deny it has character.