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Alice Springs and the West McDonnells

...with a short stay at Glen Helen

sunny 31 °C
View Sam Smart in World War II & Return to complete the Lap on SteveJD's travel map.

Since we are on the Explorers' Way, it is a good time to bring Mr Stuart back into the picture - John McDouall Stuart's 3rd expedition made it likely that a direct south to north route could be found for Todd's telegraph line. Chambers and Finke proposed Stuart as the man most likely to find a way and in 1860 he was on his fourth expedition into the interior. He again kept to the west of Lake Torrens, as he pressed on with his companions, he discovered and named the Stevenson, Finke and Hugh Rivers and Chambers Pillar.

The European discovery of the springs occurred in 1871 and later on, one of the surveyors on the Overland Telegraph team named it after Lady Alice Todd, wife of Sir Charles Todd, who was the driving force behind the telegraph line. The Todd river was named after Sir Charles and this is one of several place names which I hope will not be changed, as so many appear to be, as they effectively record some of the most important history of Australia (Aussie Towns and book 'Great Australian Explorers).

On our first full day in Alice Springs, we went to the Olive Pink Botanic Gardens. She was a botanist and later a passionate advocate for Aborigines. She applied for a 20 hectare reserve on the eastern bank of the Todd River and proceeded to live in a tent there for many years. She planted the garden with the help of her friend and gardener, Johnny JambiJimba Yannarlyi. It is an arid garden but is well laid out with paths winding through the various types of vegetation featured. We thoroughly enjoyed the garden and saw quite a few different birds and animals - and also partook of coffee at the Bean Tree Cafe, a well known Alice restaurant. Ms Pink was a fascinating woman who led a remarkable life.

Euro with joey

Euro with joey

65337a40-808c-11e9-a969-dfdacd5799e8.jpgViews of a hillside in the garden and Mt Gillen, a favourite view of Ms Pink's

Views of a hillside in the garden and Mt Gillen, a favourite view of Ms Pink's

Angry-looking Grey Fantail

Angry-looking Grey Fantail

Flashes of colour on a Crested Pigeon's wing

Flashes of colour on a Crested Pigeon's wing

Eremophila flower

Eremophila flower

Grey-crowned babbler with attitude

Grey-crowned babbler with attitude

The following day, our guide from Outback Elite Tours, Chris, collected us early and drove us out of town aiming to see Chambers Pillar and Rainbow Valley (John McDouall Stuart was on his fourth expedition into the interior when he and his companions came across this sandstone pillar which Stuart named after his patron, James Chambers, a former horse dealer who had obtained mail runs into the country which Stuart had opened up, becoming a wealthy man ('Great Australian Explorers').

On the way down, we stopped to see some interesting petroglyphs at Ewaninga but unfortunately no photographs were allowed. Chris provided breakfast before continuing to a rather odd place at Maryvale. We travelled through some 'interesting' sand tracks at the edge of the Simpson Desert and this all, unfortunately, made Judith a bit travel sick. Not long after this, we reached Chambers Pillar which is a wonderful chunk of rock shot through with colour. Stuart must have been pretty impressed, in spite of his previous travels.

We enter the (red) Simpson Desert

We enter the (red) Simpson Desert

A distant view of Chambers' Pillar

A distant view of Chambers' Pillar

The Window, another interesting rock feature near Chambers' Pillar

The Window, another interesting rock feature near Chambers' Pillar

20190502_IMG_4394.jpgA couple of views of Chambers' Pillar

A couple of views of Chambers' Pillar

Chris made a nice lunch for us here (salmon with Italian rice and salad).

Picnic site with The Castle as a backdrop

Picnic site with The Castle as a backdrop

Lunch prepared by Chris - delicious!

Lunch prepared by Chris - delicious!

Crested Bellbird by the picnic site

Crested Bellbird by the picnic site

Well-fortified, we then walked around another impressive feature, The Castle, in the process seeing the first 'dragon' of this journey, albeit small and camera-shy.

Panoramic view of The Castle

Panoramic view of The Castle

The Castle

The Castle

Brown Falcon spotted on our way out of the parking area

Brown Falcon spotted on our way out of the parking area

By the time we got back to the vehicle, Judith was feeling a bit easier but Chris suggested that, as the road to Rainbow Valley was worse than we had experienced thus far, it would be unwise to press on with the original plan. He therefore detoured on the way back to a few other places of interest, including what remains of Rodinga, an old settlers' camp dating from the extension of the Ghan line to Alice Springs. We also visited the Titjikala Aboriginal Art Gallery where we saw a group of Aboriginal women working on felt hats, ready for an annual felt hat competition - you live and learn! Chris also found a Major Mitchell cockatoo within camera range!

Some very 'metallic' looking bands through some rocks near the roadside

Some very 'metallic' looking bands through some rocks near the roadside

Chris managed to find a Major Mitchell Cockatoo (not clockwork!)

Chris managed to find a Major Mitchell Cockatoo (not clockwork!)

Old stockyards near Rodinga

Old stockyards near Rodinga

Old bogie wheels and buildings at Rodinga

Old bogie wheels and buildings at Rodinga

We then set off for what was planned to be a three-night stay in the West McDonnells. We stopped in at Simpson's Gap which was very interesting and we saw a little Black-footed Rock Wallaby on the hillside. Both Simpson's Gap and the Simpson Desert were named after A.A. Simpson who was President of the South Australian branch of the Royal Geographical Society.

Memorial to 'Flynn of the Overland' - Rev. John Flynn, founder of the RFDS, and his wife

Memorial to 'Flynn of the Overland' - Rev. John Flynn, founder of the RFDS, and his wife

Dry riverbed leading to Simpson's Gap

Dry riverbed leading to Simpson's Gap

Simpson's Gap from the path

Simpson's Gap from the path

Zebra Finches were abundant in this area

Zebra Finches were abundant in this area

Judith standing by the remaining pool in Simpson's Gap

Judith standing by the remaining pool in Simpson's Gap

Black-footed Rock Wallaby spotted on our way out from the gap

Black-footed Rock Wallaby spotted on our way out from the gap

As we continued towards Standley Chasm, we found that just about all of the northern side of the road had been burnt out. When we reached Standley Chasm, we found that there had been a wildfire in January which had been started by a lightning strike. The buildings at Standley Chasm had only narrowly been saved by the efforts of the volunteers of the Alice Springs Bushfire Brigade. Given the narrowing of the gorge, it must have been a horrendous job. The chasm is named in honour of Mrs Ida Standley who was the first school teacher in Alice Springs. Previously, it had been known as Gall's Spring and the Aboriginal name is Angkerle, for which I can find no interpretation. Maybe it was just a place name?

Grey Shrike Thrush for company while we had lunch

Grey Shrike Thrush for company while we had lunch

Zamia palms beginning to show green against the blackened cliff

Zamia palms beginning to show green against the blackened cliff

517d1e20-81c7-11e9-8d69-b395a0b512c2.jpgTwo views of Standley Chasm

Two views of Standley Chasm

But thou shalt go no further!

But thou shalt go no further!

We continued along Larapinta Road to Glen Helen Lodge with the bush burnt out nearly all the way there. As we drove in, we were faced with a dry, dusty and rather shabby looking set of buildings. Inside was a lot more promising with a lovely reception area, bar and restaurant area. However, when we got to our room, we found a grubby cubby hole with not even a kettle - no chairs, mismatching windows which would not open, no drinking glasses, no rubbish bins - very basic at a premium price. There were no notices to this effect but it seems that the water, presumably bore water, was undrinkable. Bottled water was provided but this was so far from what we had expected that we cancelled the next two nights and booked two extra nights at the Big 4 in Alice Springs (a real oasis).

b8a63cf0-81ca-11e9-bab9-e5ec648fbc55.jpgOur first impressions of Glen Helen 'Resort'

Our first impressions of Glen Helen 'Resort'

The gorge area at Glen Helen was lovely, with the Finke River running along below the lodge to a waterhole where swimming was allowed. It could be a lovely place if they showed the same attention to the accommodation as they have to the eating and drinking areas. In fairness, we did receive a full refund for the two unused days.

The Aboriginal name for the Finke River is Larapinta, hence the name of the road from Alice Springs following the course of the river.

Gorge wall opposite the dining area

Gorge wall opposite the dining area

Australasian Swamphen in the reeds by the Finke River

Australasian Swamphen in the reeds by the Finke River

Swimming hole in the gorge

Swimming hole in the gorge

On the way back we stopped at Ormiston Gorge which had burned areas around it but the gorge itself seemed to have been spared the worst. (The origin of the name, Ormiston, eludes me - thank goodness do I hear you say?! On our way out, we noticed a lonely grave on the corner of Larapinta Road and the access road. It seems Hendrik Guth had asked to be buried out here. He had been an artist and founded Panorama Guth, in Alice Springs, which housed a 360 degree painting he had made. This unfortunately burned down some time after his death so we could not see what he had achieved.

Ormiston Gorge

Ormiston Gorge

Ghost gum clinging to a ledge in the gorge

Ghost gum clinging to a ledge in the gorge

Little Pied Cormorant in the gorge

Little Pied Cormorant in the gorge

Further down the road we turned off to some fairly extensive Ochre Pits, as well as revisiting Standley Chasm and Simpson's Gap. The flies continue to plague us outside Alice Springs.

Walking to the Ochre Pits through fire-blackened bush

Walking to the Ochre Pits through fire-blackened bush

20190504_17_Ochre_Cliffs.jpgTwo overviews of the pits

Two overviews of the pits

20190504_IMG_4499.jpgTwo closer views of the coloured veins of ochre running through the pit wall

Two closer views of the coloured veins of ochre running through the pit wall

Spinifex Pigeon at Simpson's Gap

Spinifex Pigeon at Simpson's Gap

Farewell view of Simpson's Gap

Farewell view of Simpson's Gap

One Zebra Finch begged to have its photo taken

One Zebra Finch begged to have its photo taken

On one of our extra days, we visited the Alice Springs Desert Park which was nicely laid out but we saw little wildlife outside fairly small aviaries and enclosures. The Nocturnal House was excellent, giving us views of creatures which we would otherwise be most unlikely to see.

Princess Parrots in one of the aviaries

Princess Parrots in one of the aviaries

Thorny Devil in the Nocturnal House

Thorny Devil in the Nocturnal House

A nice selection of grasses in the park

A nice selection of grasses in the park

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (take the tail on trust!)

Red-tailed Black Cockatoo (take the tail on trust!)

We then had a disaster as the laptop died! We took it into Red Centre Technology and looked at buying a replacement but tried to get a replacement motherboard provided under warranty (just in warranty by a few days!). Unfortunately, Dell need a permanent address so agreed to extend the warranty to cover us when we get back to England. Meanwhile, a young chap did not want to be defeated and managed to kick it back into life - apparently it had been a Windows problem - how unusual! This all took a day and a half so we were lucky to have the extra time.

While our laptop was in 'hospital', we visited the Old Telegraph Station which has been well preserved and is a very interesting window on relatively recent history.

General view of the main cluster of buildings

General view of the main cluster of buildings

The Post and Telegraph Office

The Post and Telegraph Office

The Stationmaster's residence

The Stationmaster's residence

The original location of the 'Alice Springs' - rather dried up in the middle of the Todd River bed

The original location of the 'Alice Springs' - rather dried up in the middle of the Todd River bed

Next stop - Devil's Marbles!

Posted by SteveJD 02:48 Archived in Australia Tagged animals birds rfds alice_springs glen_helen simpsons_gap standley_chasm ormiston_gorge west_mcdonnells Comments (0)

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