From the majestic West MacDonnell Ranges we cross over to the lesser known but just as spectacular East MacDonnells. In fact, the East Macs would become our favourite of the two once we had discovered its many hidden secrets. Our first destination is the Ross River Resort, a former cattle property with pioneer history of its own and plenty of nearby sights to take in.
An early morning rise and we had the X3 packed and hitched. Although the Patriot Campers X3 is pretty quick to unpack/pack we were still slowest of our group. There was no competing with the pop-up Odyssey, and even the TVANs were impressively quick to open and set up. We would need to be on our game to avoid holding up the group when breaking camp.
The run from Kings Creek Station to Ross River Resort is just over 500km – we had hoped to cut 150km from that by short cutting across the gravel Ernest Giles Road but word came through that it was impassable with several creeks flowing deeply across it. This meant retracing our route on black top to Erldunda, then heading up the Stuart Highway.
The convoy stopped for lunch at the Finke River, a great little rest area on the bridge’s northern approaches. The river was flowing, which doesn’t happen often so a walk down to its edge was worthwhile. One the way back we found this interesting little memorial to a local identity with many talents.
Just north of the Finke we reached the Hugh River Stock Route, a gravel short cut that took us across to the Old Ghan Heritage Trail, or Maryvale Road. This 430km long road runs from the Finke-Aputula community to Alice Springs, following route of the original Ghan railway before it was upgraded and relocated to the west in 1981.
Around 30km from Alice Springs we stopped in to the Napwerte-Ewaninga rock carvings conservation area. The park contains a concentration of petroglyph rock carvings estimated to be 30,000 years old, etched into sandstone outcrops beside a clay pan that must have been a favoured location of aborigines to hold ceremonies. The traditional owners request that pictures are not taken of the carvings because they are sacred and should not be seen by women and children, so you’ll have to head there yourself to check them out.
From Ewaninga it was a short run to the outskirts of Alice Springs to refuel, then a run eastward on the Ross Highway through the amazing escarpments of the East MacDonnell Ranges. We camped right amongst the ranges at Ross River Resort, a roadhouse and camping ground centred around an 1890s homestead building that is now a bar and restaurant.
The homestead building was adorned with old artefacts and items from its colonial past, such as first class seats from the original Ghan train carriages. It was here that we came across another “ThE CARP” motif painted on a rusting car door, its meaning is a riddle we are yet to solve.
Quite near to Ross River is the N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park, a beautiful little gorge containing numerous petroglyph rock carvings along its walls plus rare plants and beautiful little rock pools. We spent a morning exploring the gorge and soaking up this serene little oasis.
Our history lessons didn’t end here though, after lunch we were on the road again, headed to the gold rush ghost town of Arltunga. This was site of the first town in the Northern Territory, that withered when the gold ran out and the settlement of Alice Springs became the major centre when an overland telegraph station was placed there. While some of the buildings have been restored most remain in their dilapidated state of collapse and erosion, including the ore processing mills and rusted cyanide vats once used to extract gold from the ore.
We hoped to visit Ruby Gorge while in the area but the road was reported to be in bad shape, so the group pushed on to our camp for the next couple of nights at the brilliant Hale River Homestead. This 1900s homestead is on the Old Ambalindum Station and offers a great insight to life as a pioneering pastoralist. The old workshop shed has been turned into a bar and dining area with great character while the grassed and tree shaded camping area is fantastic.
The station manager gave us a tour of the place and took great pride in the soil conservation work he had been doing, rehabilitating eroded gullies and hillsides into arable fields with good grass cover. The homestead also has an impressive solar/battery installation to provide off grid power, and to top things off it had a great little swimming pool built into a sea container that we all gathered to in the afternoon. The day finished with a fantastic catered dinner in the old workshop shed to ensure we all slept well on full tummies.
Hale River Homestead sits on the renowned Binns Track, a series of gravel roads that traverse the Northern Territory’s National Parks from top to bottom. Today our plan is to follow the track southward into western fringe of the Simpson Desert. Join us on the next blog to find out where the Binns Track takes us. 😉