DM and MM's Northern Territory 2008 Diary

Day 6 - Glen Helen to Alice Springs

Tuesday, 19 August, 2008

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We rose at 07:00 again this morning. Not being able to buy milk at Glen Helen, we checked out the breakfast options at the restaurant. We opted for the "light" choice (the others being "continental", "complete", and "hot"), which was basically just toast, juice, and coffee or tea. The toast was self-serve, with a four-slice toaster and a basket of warm loaves of bread - obviously freshly defrosted because they were out in the sticks and the bread was almost certainly frozen for delivery. Since it was self-serve, we took advantage by returning to the toaster twice. We had raisin toast, muffins, and M. had some multi-grain bread.

Dawn light on the old keyboard
Dawn light on an old piano at Glen Helen Resort

The group of Germans from the bus who I saw at the car wreck yesterday came in for breakfast too as we ate. M. pointed out the driver, who I'd talked to, but I didn't recognise him - because the notable feature I'd remembered was a wispy beard, and I couldn't see it from the angle of our table. But as we left I caught a profile and confirmed it was indeed him.

We packed the car, then drove over to the fuel pump to fill the tank for the trip to Alice Springs. We had to get the receptionist to unlock the padlock on the bowser. Then we checked out and hit the road.

The first stop was Ormiston Gorge, just 10 km down the road. The Lonely Planet called the Ormiston Pound Walk 2.5 hours, but the sign at the car park said 3 to 4 hours. In the end it took us almost 5 hours in the scorching sun of another cloudless day. Much of the walk was across flat and shadeless terrain, so despite the cool air temperature we got quite hot.

Ormiston Pound and Ormiston Gorge Entrance
Climbing up the hill towards Ormiston Pound

The walk progressed along the access road a bit, then turned away to climb up a valley dotted with spinifex, mulga bushes, and scraggly eucalypts. The rock was completely different to the red sandstone of Kings Canyon, being an orangey slate or shale (not sure which), with clear cleavage planes evident, piled in angular blocks. Also it was a lot less busy, with only one man overtaking us at one point early in the walk, and an older couple trailing along in and out of sight well behind us - otherwise we had the track completely to ourselves.

Flaky rock, Ormiston Pound

The path led up a wide valley flanked by rock-topped hills to a saddle point and then down into and across a narrow gully, through which a dry creek bed ran. At the top of the saddle, a side path led up the left hill to a spectacular lookout point high atop the rocky outcrop. It gave panoramic views of Ormiston Pound to the north and the valley we'd walked up to the south. Ormiston Pound is an enclosed plain surrounded by a ring of mountains, which were visible on the distant horizon in all directions.

Ormiston Pound
View across Ormiston Pound

We continued along the path into the wide open valley of the Pound. A wide, flat river bed snaked through the Pound - we had to cross it three times despite walking in a straight line across the valley to the outlet through Ormiston Gorge. Crossing the river was easy, given that it was merely a sandy strip dotted with trees. In a couple of places there was standing water in small pools, in the bends of the river.

Crossing the Ormiston River
Ormiston River bed, Ormiston Pound

Into the Gorge we had to walk right down the river bed, here littered with large pebbles and rounded boulders scattered liberally amongst a varied sandy and rocky bed. The Gorge wound between soaring vertical walls of blocky rock, tilted at an oblique angle to the vertical and to the direction of the river. The angle caused the fracture planes of the rock to produce large flat surfaces slanted at crazy angles.

Ormiston Gorge HDR
Ormiston Gorge

We walked along the rocky bed in the shade of the northern rock wall, then back into the sun as we followed the bend of the river. Eventually we reached an area where other people were walking around, having taken the shortest direct route from the car park straight up the river bed into the Gorge. Following some of them back we came across a black-footed rock wallaby munching on grass on the river bed. We got within a couple of metres of it and it simply continued eating nonchalantly, without any sign of agitation at our presence.

Ormiston Wallaby
Black-footed rock wallaby, Ormiston Gorge

Back at the car, we rested for a bit, then drove off along the road to Alice Springs. We stopped at Ellery Creek to see the Big Hole waterhole, which was a short walk from the car park. Again, the Lonely Planet severely underestimated the length of a walk, quoting 20 minutes for the Dolomite Walk, which an information sign was actually 1.5 hours. So we abandoned plans to do that walk and continued on the road to Standley Chasm.

Ellery Creek Big Hole
Ellery Creek Big Hole

This gorge is on private land and costs $8 each to see, but for a once in a lifetime trip it was worth it. The easy walk along the river bed led to an amazing narrow gorge, only a couple of metres wide at its narrowest, walled by sheer rock, 80 metres in height. The valley is full of cycads - remnants of a wetter time thousands of years ago when they spread all across this region of the continent, and now left only in scattered and isolated populations like this one in sheltered gorges and valleys. This place, being fairly close to Alice Springs, had plenty of tourists, including a large Japanese group, many of whom kept making comparisons of the spectacular rocky scenery to something out of Indiana Jones.

Standley Chasm
Standley Chasm

After the walk, M. bought an iced coffee milk at the cafe at the entrance to the gorge, then we drove on into Alice Springs. It's a large town with the first traffic lights we've seen so far on our trip.

Just outside Alice Springs is the grave site of the Reverend John Flynn, founder of the Royal Flying Doctor Service. His ashes are interred beneath a concrete pedestal, on which sits a large round granite boulder. The original boulder was moved to this location from the Devil's Marbles, but has since been returned as it was removed from a sacred Aboriginal site without consultation with the local people. The Arrernte people donated a similar boulder, which is now the one which rests on the memorial. Flynn is the guy on our $20 note, so I took some photos of the memorial together with a handy $20 note, to establish the connection.

The guy on the $20 note
John Flynn's grave

We drove to the Alice Springs Resort and checked in, getting a room considerably more "resort"-like than at Glen Helen. We unloaded the car and then went straight out for a walk, crossing the dry bed of the Todd River into the heart of town. We walked up to Todd Mall, where most of the shops were closed already, it being just after 17:30. M. browsed a bit in an open souvenir shop. Then we discovered that the place we'd decided to have dinner - Lane - was closed for renovations. We checked our Lonely Planet and decided to try Oscars, which was just a short walk away.

It was a nice place with good food and we started with a dip trio with hot pita bread - a sweet potato and chili dip, beetroot dip, and something green that we couldn't remember from when the waitress described it (but definitely not avocado). M. had a penne spinaci e potate with feta and pine nuts and I had a "gnocchi specialista", which was hand-made potato gnocchi with chorizo, artichoke, feta, and chili - it was absolutely delicious. And I had to have a dessert, ordering the carrot cake. I asked the waitress for some ice cream on the side and she replied, "I like your style!"

Oscar's pasta
Dinner at Oscars

After dinner, we walked across to the Yeperenye Shopping Centre to get some food and milk for breakfast at the Woolies there. Then it was a short walk back across the dry Todd River to our room and a well-earned sleep.

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