Russ on 25 December 2018

While at Khancoban we drove to Paddy’s River Falls near Tumbarumba.  By Australian standards a lot of water was flowing over the falls and the valley was very pretty and green.  Lots of steps down to the falls, but the walk was worth the effort.







After the falls the river flowed down the very pretty valley.  The falls are 18 metres high and located 15 Km south of Tumbarumba.











After the falls we went to Sugar Pine Walk about 8 Km north of Tumbarumba.  A quiet and peaceful walk among towering Sugar Pine trees planted in 1928.  The forestry people in NSW have preserved 2.5 Hectares for us to enjoy.  The Sugar Pines are an American import that have now been superseded by Radiata Pine, probably because it grows faster.  In the US Sugar Pines have grown to a massive 57 feet in circumference.


After the walk we went to Courabyra Winery for lunch.  The restaurant has a beautiful view over a picturesque valley.  We were seated in a shaded verandah and enjoyed good food and wine.  On another day, we had a counter lunch at Corryong at a pub and visited the grave of Jack Reilly, the man from Snowy River, and saw the statue of him in the town.  Jack was a renowned horseman who met and talked with Banjo Paterson about his experiences and life shortly before the poem was written










After a week at Khancoban, Cam and the two boys returned to Melbourne, it was great to have them with us and we really enjoyed their company.  The next day Deen and I went to Mathoura in NSW about 40 Km north of Echuca where we met up with Dey, a friend of Deens.  Packing up was a problem as Deen could not slide her extension back into the teardrop.  After about an hour of struggling and emptying her van we succeeded, phew.  My van travelled with all of Deens contents on the floor as we couldn’t put them back once the extension was pushed home.  The caravan park at Mathoura is very well maintained and small with only 6 well grassed sites.  It is next to Gulpa creek and near the Edwards River and backs onto an extensive Red Gum forest.








Sadly we hit Mathoura in a heat wave with every day so far being in the mid to high 30s.  From tomorrow the temperatures will go into the 40s with Wednesday 41 and the next 4 days 42 or 43.  The overnight temperature on Thursday morning will drop to only 27, so we have decided to return home on Thursday to miss the worst of the heat.

On Christmas day we all received a present of chocolates from the owner of the park, a wonderful unexpected gesture from a man who is a friendly and obliging host.  Deen and I went on a walk through the forest this morning, Tuesday, which we limited to 1 Km as it was too hot even early in the morning.


With that I will sign off until my next trip in 2019, not sure when or where that will be, but I will let regular readers know when I leave on the trip.  All the best for 2019 to all of you who read this blog.





Russ on 22 December 2018

My Christmas trip this year is first travel to Khancoban for a week and then to Mathoura for a second week.  Nadine will be with me for the whole time, Cam and his boys will be with us for the first week, Mel and Cooper only for 2 days as Cooper has end of primary school functions to attend.  We stopped at Euroa for two nights on the way and visited Tahbilk Winery, tasted wines and had a light lunch at the cafe.  It was a very enjoyable visit with excellent wines, good food and lots to see.  The underground cellars seem just the same as when Marg and I visited in 1964.


On the way to euroa we visited Gooram Falls off the Merton-Euroa road.








The caravan park at Khancoban has large grassed sites and good amenities.  It is very quiet at the moment with few campers, so we were able to select 3 sites with good shade for which we were grateful as the temperature was 30+ on most days.  The view from the park was excellent and changed as the direction of the sun changed.  This photo is an evening shot with a storm building.

The main reason for being in Khancoban was to scatter some of Marg’s ashes in the Upper Murray as close to the source as we could get.  Marg loved the Murray and we have camped on it from the source springs at Cowombat Flat (access only for walkers now), to the mouth at Goolwah, and many places in between.  So on Tuesday December 18th we headed off to Tom Groggin, about 50 Km along the Alpins Way from Khancoban.  We had planned to cross Davies Plain to get close to the source, but the road had been damaged and closed on November 29th, bugger.

The road to Tom Groggin was very windy but picturesque, the view of Mt Thompson an example.

We lit a fire for cooking and had BBQ lunch on the Murray at Tom Groggin in the picnic area, a lovely spot but very hot.  After lunch we crossed the Murray to search for a spot to scatter the ashes.  It was fun crossing and both Heath and Deen got wet feet from the bow wave pushed up by the cars, they were close to the edge taking photos.











The lower photo is of Cam crossing, the other two show me on the approach and crossing.  You can see that the approach is excellent with a good depth of large rocks, much better than other times we crossed in the 1990s.  Then the approach had deep scoured out grooves and you had to drive carefully balanced on the top of the ridges.  We took a video of me crossing the river, it can be viewed on YouTube using this link:

After crossing the river we followed the track for a few kilometres until it turned away from the river to go over Davies Plain.  So we turned around and went down a steep side track to the river, low range first stuff.  It was a beautiful spot so we decided this would be where we scattered the ashes.  Access was down some 20 feet of rough steps that someone had hewn in the bank.  We used a winch strap to assist us going up and down but only Nadine and I used it.


The Murray at this point was washing over rocks and through pools, it was just delightful and so appropriate.

This photo is the downstream shot, the upstream one below is just as pretty.











On the right is a photo of me preparing to scatter Margs’s ashes.  We all took turns at scattering, a very emotional and tearful party.  Heath finished the scattering.











We took a few photos of each other and a couple of these are below.









It is good to think about Margs last journey being down the Murray passed all the places we have visited in a river she loved.  In the evening we sat around for hours sharing memories of our times with Margie, it was so good for us all to hear of others memories: and we were able to flesh out some memories that were not complete.  So it was a sad but very good time.

We have three more batches of ashes to scatter, one each for Cam and Deen and one more for me, which I will do at Memory Cove some time, a beautiful spot at the bottom of the Eyre Peninsula in Lincoln National Park.

I will be publishing another couple of blogs on this trip.




Russ on 11 September 2018

I am have enjoyed my stay in Kingston-on-Murray, the caravan park is right on the Murray and in an area of Australia that I haven’t stayed for more than an overnight stop.  It is also good to be in a place where you don’t have to sign your life away to buy a bottle of wine.  Just near where I stayed is Banrock Station Wine and Wetlands centre, a marvellous environmental initiative.  The company has been rehabilitating wetlands since 1993 and the progress they have made is amazing.  It is so positive to see a corporate entity so committed to environmental causes; they have spent $6M on environmental projects in 13 countries.  They have established several walks through the bush and wetlands that start at the cafe/wine tasting building.  The view from the building is wonderful.



The walk I chose was 4.5 Km and it takes you through some Mallee bushland and then onto a boardwalk through the wetlands.  The track is gravelled and an easy walk.  Along the way there was a patch of Spiny Daisy that had been planted, part of a national project to protect the endangered plant.  It was interesting to me that the first specimen of this plant was collected by Dr Beckler, the scientific officer in the Burke and Wills team.




After about 1 Km you move onto the boardwalk which winds through open water, reeds and trees.  I also came on a small snake, about 3 feet long, which gave me a start so much that I forgot to take a photo, I Googled it and I think it was a tiger snake.  The snake moved away and then slid off the boardwalk into the water, phew!









Along the way there was a shelter and fairy martins had built a nest on the steel structure, so I waited and waited and eventually was able to get a photo of one of the birds on the nest.  There was also a beautiful nest in the reeds by the boardwalk nearby, only about 5 cm across, so tiny.









There was some really interesting historical info presented along the way, this area was a lake – Lake Bungunnia – that extended to Menindee Lakes and Balranald in NSW from the coast of SA.  The lake was formed by a natural tectonic barrier close to the coast in SA, that collapsed 700,000 years ago draining the area.  Prior to that the area was under the sea until about 2 million years ago when the land was pushed up and the ocean level dropped.  The cliffs along the Murray have shellfish embedded from the time they were under the ocean.  The forerunner of the Murray started running about 3 million years ago.  We live in such an ancient and interesting country.

So off to Pinnaroo, a small town just over the border in SA at the same level (latitude) as Ouyen in Victoria.  After setting up I went to Ngarkat National Park which protects an area of remnant mallee vegetation.  It also provides habitat for an endangered Mallee Emu wren which has only a few populations in the wild; limited distribution that could be lost in a big bushfire.  However controlled burns are necessary as the wrens breed best in an area that has been burned within the last 16 years, as that maintains the spinifex at it optimum size and condition (they nest in the spinifex).





That is not my photo, but it is a lovely little wren.  The park is classic Mallee scrub, mallee gums, little bushes and sandy soil, but it is incredibly peaceful.  I walked through the bush and the only sound, apart from the sound of an occasional bird was my boots in the sand, when I stopped it was absolute silence.  It was a pity it has been so dry as last time Marg and I camped here we found some orchids, but none this time.  I really enjoyed the walk.




After the walk I had a picnic in the camping area, again very relaxing.  I used a boundary post to support the camera for this photo, it’s great having a camera that has a fold out screen.



Today I went out to Karte National Park that also protects remanent Mallee bushland and the Emu Scrub Wren.  We had camped here as well and looking at our campsite bought a lump to my throat and lots of good memories.



On the road to Karte there were many stumpy tail lizards crossing the road, their shape is distinctive so you have time to avoid them if you are careful.


There is one walk at Karte so I did that, not as peaceful as yesterday’s walk at Ngarkat because it was windy, but still enjoyable.  The track winds up a sandhill and then returns to the campground.


Tomorrow I will be off to Bendigo for a week or so and then home.  I have some tests to complete and Bendigo is the furthest that Melbourne Pathology operate;  (I got the specimen bottles from them before I left home so I have to use them now, both the bottles and Melbourne Pathology).

Russ on 8 September 2018

Wilmington is a very small town near Mt Remarkable National Park, east of Port Augusta. The central feature of the park is Alligator Gorge and the walk through it. It is a delightful walk with towering walls both sides and the gorge reduces in width to around 3 metres in a part called the Narrows. The path is rough with lots of rocks to clamber over or around.











In one section water has formed the rock into flat terraces. Some of the flat rock have ripples in the surface, evidence of being formed under an ancient ocean.











After visiting the terraces you retrace your steps and then walk through the narrows where the walls of the gorge are much closer.











There are two other walks that lead to lookouts over the gorge that give an idea of the narrowness of the gorge.









After the gorge walk I had a picnic lunch in the company of two couples who I invited to join me as the other picnic tables were full. As it turned out they were avid orchid hunters so we shared a lot of experiences. I was keen to find orchids on my walks as Marg and I had seen a number of orchids when we last visited here, and I was successful. These two orchids are Lady Finger Orchids, one blue and one pink.








I was also able to spot a spider orchid, so I left the gorge a happy man.




I packed a picnic lunch on Tuesday and set out for Hancocks Lookout where you can look over Spencer Gulf, Port Germaine, Whyalla and Port Augusta. It is a great view but the wind was howling and cold, so much that the tripod I was trying to use wobbled and even nearly blew over, so no panorama. So back to camp and a picnic at home.


Next stop will be Kingston-on-Murray, an area of Australia I have travelled through many times but never stayed for more than an overnight stop.

Russ on 4 September 2018

I planned 2 days in Quorn, but my arrival at Quorn clashed with a gathering of the Commercial Vehicle Association of Australia, truck geeks, so I was only able to stay for one night, as the park was booked out Saturday and Sunday nights. However I was able to bring forward a booking I had made on a nearby station, Argadells. The station is about 28 Km from Quorn and has a small camping area with 12 power sites, the owners are away so I will be here by myself for the next two days. Clint, a station worker, let me into the place and he will be back on Monday, so it will be a peaceful couple of days, no 3G or TV.

On Saturday morning all the trucks gathered in Quorn, quite an impressive line up, boys with their toys. I took a hand held panorama as my tripod was in the car, and I think it worked out OK.



Argadells have a gorge on their property, Hannemann Gorge, named after the person who owned the property from 1887 to 1910. They have put a road through the gorge, which has some spectacular rock escarpments. The owners normally charge $50 for you to drive through the property, but Clint wasn’t concerned about that and encouraged me to drive around the place, which I did. The view from the campground is toward the gorge, photo on left. Saturday was stormy with occasional showers, which you can see in the photo on the right, which is from the campground in the opposite direction.









Hannemann Gorge has some spectacular rock faces with the strata layers standing vertically. The upheaval that created these ranges happened 500 to 600 million years ago, at the same time as the Flinders Ranges were formed. So the Flinders are older than the McDonnells.









While in the gorge I was lucky to see a yellow footed rock wallaby at fairly close quarters, quite a beautiful animal. All the wallaby’s feet are yellow, as is the tail, which also has black stripes. The white flash on the cheeks is common to other rock wallabies. It was a fine-looking animal. The thing that surprised me was the tail, which seems very big and long in proportion to the size of the wallaby.









Warren Gorge is another nearby gorge, it was similar to Hannemann Gorge, but with a rougher road through it.









Argadells is located in the Willochra Creek Valley and the drive through this valley was very scenic. The two photos show the views from a lookout over the valley; the photo on the left is toward Hawker and the Flinders Ranges. The other photo is down the creek valley toward Quorn.









The creek is dry most of the time but apparently rises quickly and floods during storms. The flood-water can spread for a kilometre across the valley, and people have died in cars caught in a flood in recent times. From an earlier time, alongside the road is the grave of Hugh Proby, the third son of the Earl of Carysfort, who was drowned in the flooded creek in 1851, when aged 24. Cattle had stampeded in a thunder-storm and he was trying to round them up, but was cut off by the creek, which he tried to swim across on his horse; sadly he was washed away some distance downstream and drowned. His brothers and sister had the marble stone engraved and shipped out from Scotland in 1858. It weighs one and a half tonnes and they used a bullock team to haul the slab to site, a big job.


Sunday saw me on the Pichi Richi steam railway on a 32 Km journey through the Pichi Richi pass. This railway line was the original Ghan track and is preserved by volunteers since the track was relocated in 1980. The railway winds through hilly countryside and rises from 961 feet at Quorn to 1332 feet at the summit of the journey and then drops to 891 feet at Woolshed Flat terminus. It is quite a work of engineering as the line clings to steep rock-faces, goes through deep cuttings and with a lot of bridges. Lots of sharp curves at the limit of the turning radius of the steam engine.

Because of heavy fathers day bookings the normal train capacity was augmented by a railmotor and its carriage, which was hooked on the back of the train and pulled along by the steam engine. As well as that every carriage that the railway owns was pressed into service.








At Woolshed Flat they swapped the steam engine to the other end of the train using a spur track, which also facilitated putting the railmotor on the other end.









The train had to slow right down over bridges and around the tight curves, but its top speed was probably only 30 Km/hr

Back at Quorn we disembarked at the old station, a well preserved stone rendered building. The town has a number of attractive old buildings including a lot that look like they are old and current pubs.








Monday I went back to Port Augusta to see the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens and it was well worth the trip. The gardens are an extensive collection of an amazing variety of Australian plants beautifully landscaped with an interlocked extensive range of walking tracks. I really enjoyed the walks, the variety of plants all labelled, and the informative signs along the way. It was interesting to read about wattles and their generally short life of 10-20 years. But the Acacia Western Myall can live up to 1000 years and is an exception. The Western Myall in the photo is one tree.


You could be taking photos the whole time you walked but here is a sample.








It was a bit early to see most bushes and trees in flower but there were patches of colour plus a perennial favourite of Marg and I, the Sturt Desert Pea.









The gardens have set out an area for reflection and memories with poem on a plaque inviting people to enjoy their memories, it was quite moving.



Placed throughout the gardens are sculptures that are all related to native flora and fauna.


As you walk around the gardens the backdrop is the Flinders Ranges that run down the eastern side of the gardens in the distance, it is a wonderful backdrop, the photo does not do it justice.



The three arid land gardens I have visited on this trip, Olive Pink, Desert Park and Arid Lands Gardens are all different but all well worth a visit and reinforce the incredible diversity and beauty of our flora.

Back at camp I met David and Deb camping in a Kimberley Karavan, so we had lots to talk about, and Deb invited me to share their dinner which was delicious, so it was a late night for a change.

Tomorrow it will be off to Wilmington and a revisit of Mt Remarkable National Park.




Russ on 29 August 2018

I decided to only stay two days at Ross River in the East McDonnells so I am less pushed to get to Quorn. They have a well-treed campground with some grass which they are trying to rejuvenate. One thing about the place is that it is not busy, only five other camps. The campground is surrounded by rocky hills on both sides, a very pleasant outlook.  My camp is in both photos near the centre (white car).








After setting up I got a picnic lunch ready and headed for Arltunga Historical Reserve. This reserve contains the ruins of a gold mining settlement established around 1897. You travel there via Binns Track initially put in by Bill Binns, a ranger who had to visit 6 or so small reserves in the East McDonnells. The track he made saved him having to backtrack to the Stuart Highway between every reserve. It is still a fairly rough and winding track.

A number of the buildings have been rehabilitated and others are still ruins. The police station was built in 1916 to replace one that was nearly a ruin already and that did not have a lockup. The policeman used to shackle prisoners to his bed. I put the drone up to take an overview of the settlement, the police station is about 1 Km away from the settlement. This is possibly because the station site was established first and the settlement was built near a reliable well that would be used to feed the stamper and boilers.








Even though mining ceased in the early 1900s the police station stayed here and was manneduntil 1945 when it was moved to Hasts Range. The mining settlement had an assay office, then a second was built because the miners complained that the first one shook so much with explosions during mining that the assayer could not be sure of weights. Other buildings were a Post Office, a managers house, blacksmith shop, gold office, boiler-house, 10 stand ore stamper, and miners cottages. The photos below are of the manager’s house (left) and the first assy office.








There are a couple of picnic areas at Arltunga and the one near the information centre is very nice with gas BBQs, so I had lunch there. The information centre has lots of historical information and a lot of relics, there is also a small cinema where you can watch a 20 minute video on Altunga, but the power failed when I was 2 minutes into the video! So off the Trephina gorge,not a spectacular gorge but worth a visit. The walk into the gorge is only 500 metres, but there are longer walks to the top of the gorge and other places of interest. There are also 3 well organised treed campgrounds within 1 Km of the gorge and a picnic area with gas BBQs. You enter the gorge along the creek between rocky escarpments and then the gorge takes a turn to the right.









The view coming out of the gorge is also excellent.



When I got back to the car I set up the drone and took an aerial shot of Trephina gorge.



Next day it was off to visit N’Dhala gorge.  The road to N’Dhala gorge, another part of Binns Track, runs passed the campground so it is easy to access via 11 Km of twisting, rocky, sandy track with 6 river crossings – all dry. It was an easy drive, a bit rough in places with some corrugations but better than a lot I have driven lately. The walk into the gorge is 3 Km return and is an easy walk with some rock scrambling. The gorge looks inviting from the start, both from the air and on the ground.  I started in thinking I may not do all the walk, but when I gor to the end I was disappointed, there was a really nice feeling about the place that I enjoyed.









There are several waterholes along the gorge, which retain water for about 3 months after good rain. This made life easy for the aborigines and they had time to make petroglyphs in the rocks. Their dreaming around the gorge is about caterpillars and the photo on the left shows (just) a track from the bottom to the top, which is of a butterfly walking and testing its wings, at the top it flies away and becomes a star. The aborigines beat the christians with their assent into space.  The one on the right is of unknown meaning to us. These petroglyphs are between 2,000 and 10,000 years old. They are made by holding a hard sharp stone and hitting it with a heavier stone, called pecking.










Walking along the gorge lots of photo opportunities present with rock escarpments, rocks and small trees as contrast to the browns and oranges.  The left photo is the view walking along the gorge and the right is the view walking out of the gorge









On the drive to and from the gorge you pass a rock formation that represents seven sisters to the aborigines and their dreaming. They clearly show the strata that is so commonly visible at all sorts of angles in the McDonnell Ranges.


I have enjoyed my time around Alice Springs, there is lots to do and see, but I am well over having dust over everything. Nothing is clean, you wipe things down and next day they are coated again. It just floats in the air, you don’t have to be driving on dirt roads to get things dusty. Its lucky I have a light brown floor in the van, it stays looking clean even if it isn’t.

So down the Stuart highway tomorrow.  It’s tomorrow now (Wednesday) and I got an early start, on the road before 7, so I decided to go to Marla, a trip of 550 Km including a diversion into The Alice for fuel.   Tomorrow I will head to Glendambo, 488 Km, and then on Friday into Quorn, only 326 Km.  So I can have a couple on nights in Quorn and then head out to a farm near Quorn for a few nights.


Russ on 26 August 2018

While in The Alice I visited Olive Pink Botanic Gardens, a place Marg, Eric, Glenn, and I visited in 1990.  It is much more developed than then, but still a dry land landscape.  Marg and I and Eric each bought a seedling and I was keen to see how they had developed, they sold seedlings to raise money to run the gardens.  The gardens maintain a database that holds sponsor details, but it was not easy to access so I left them with a request to locate our plants.  Tomorrow I will see two of them, sadly one of ours has died, but the other and Eric’s are still going, so I am looking forward to seeing them.

At the gardens you can climb a hill at the back of the gardens and get a view to Heavitree Gap, the southern entry to Alice Springs and over the gardens.









Olive Pink was an amazing woman who worked to get the gardens made a reserve and was also active in defending aboriginal rights, she also employed an aboriginal gardener and was the first employer to pay him and any aboriginal, pay equal to that of a European.  She lived in a tent in the gardens for 17 months from 1958 without water or electricity until a hut was built to house her.  I think it was her gutsiness and dedication that attracted us to support the gardens all those years ago.  It was quite a nostalgic visit.


I also visited the old Telegraph Station, a collection of lovely old buildings and with a wonderful picnic area.  I got one photo before the camera battery went flat, not so enthusiastic to go back for a second visit though, old buildings are not my thing.  However it reminded me of Burke and Wills and the competition between Vic and SA to be the destination of the overland telegraph, B & W for Victoria and Stuart for SA.  Eventually SA won after Stuart successfully crossed Australia, while Burke and Wills died in their attempt.


Today I went back to Olive Pink to see our trees feeling quite emotional recalling Margie and the trip we made with Eric so many years ago, in 1990.  Our tree is an Acacia Ammobia or Mt Connor Wattle, it is a spindly tree, but I am assured it is going well.  Eric’s is an Acacia Peuce, same as ours that died, it is an endangered tree that only grows in 3 small patches in Australia.  One is on the edge of the Simpson Desert near Molly Clark’s Old Andado Station, which we visited and camped at this site with Eric on our way to Alice Springs.  In the photo on the left our tree is the little one left of the bigger tree, between that tree and the shrub.










The photo with me in it is of Eric’s tree, he would be pleased at how well it is growing in a dry, salty and alkaline soil (PH 9).  I was going to subsidise another Acacia Peuce, but the cost is now $1,000, so I subscribed to a garden bed in Margies name.  The bed is one of Bushtucker plants, appropriate I think given Margs love of cooking.  Her name will appear on a plaque on that bed.

My second last day in The Alice and I headed west to John Flynn’s grave.  John ran the Australian Inland Mission for many years and started the Flying Doctor Service initially based in Cloncurry.  A South Australian, Alfred Traeger, developed the pedal radio that broke the tyranny of distance  in the outbackand facilitated the establishment of the Flying Doctor Service.  The pedal radio had a range of 500 Km, the pedals drove a small generator that powered the radio.

The mountain in the background is Mt Gillen, part of the West McDonnells.  After that it was off to Simpsons Gap, no one knows who Simpson was but now it is his gap.  It looks good as you approach by car and also as you walk towards it.









There was water in the pool at the Gap and the scene was so typical of the west McDonnells.











About 20 Black Footed Rock Wallabys live at Simpsons Gap and on the way out I was lucky to see a couple of them.  They have black tails and feet and a white flash on their cheeks.  They have textured foot pads that help them grip the rocks.  The wallaby in the left photo then moved and played Foo, as in “Foo has Struck”.









This wallaby is an adult at just under 0.5 metres, in the next photo you can just see a smaller wallaby at about 0.3 metres.  He/she is hiding behind some grass and a dead tree.



You walk out alongside the dry creek, a classic dry inland creek.


Tomorrow it will be pack-up day before I head out to the East McDonnells on Monday for 3 days.  I think it will be a 3G free zone.  Then I will head south to Quorn for a few days, but it will take 4 days to make that journey.

Russ on 22 August 2018

Left Glen Helen (Tues 21st) at about 7.45, temperature 2 °C, by 8.00 it was 7 °C and by 8.15 13 °C, the sun has a big impact, so glad to have power and a heater.  On the way in I visited Standley Chasm (Angkerle), the walk in is wonderful along a spring fed creek that you can hear running.  Beautiful Gums, Cycads and other plants.











The Cycads include some up to 1000 years old.  They develop pollen every few years and the male plant exude a smell that attracts a small thrip about 1 mm long to the flowers.  The female plant then exudes a stronger smell and the trips fly there and pollinate the female flowers.

The chasm is an amazing sight, not so dramatic as at midday when the sun shines in for an hour or so.  Upheavals created cracks in the hard rock and a softer rock, Dolerite, was forced into the gap.  Water over the years has eroded the softer rock creating the Chasm.











At the carpark I was approached by a fellow traveller who advised me that the caravan brakes were making a bad noise.  Not good so I was lucky and able to book the van into a mechanic tomorrow for a check.  Lots of places were booked out but this place squeezed me in, I must have sounded desperate.  Tomorrow after dropping the van off I will visit places around Alice Springs.  I did shopping today and had to wait until 2.00 pm before the grog shops opened and you have to wait until 6.00 pm to buy port.  No casks at all and every grog shop has 3 cops at the door!

Dropped the van off and headed for the Alice Springs Desert Park, what a great place an arid version of the Cranbourne Botanic Gardens in Melbourne.  Absolutely wonderful, so well done.  It started with a bird show where a number of birds that were absolutely free performed on queue.  First was a magpie who swooped over our heads many times and then flew off when his time was up.  Then a falcon, then a white faced heron and then a barn owl, we were asked to watch a tree stump and then the owl appeared out of it, wonderful stuff.  The final performance was by a wedge tailed eagle.








All the while there was a tawny frogmouth watching from the superstructure, it was a great show that went for about 30 minutes, and was included in the entrance fee ($22)


Then I set off to walk through the park, about 3 Km of paths through different vegetation.  Along the way you pass a dingo and emu enclosure.









The landscaping was extremely well done and highlighted by lots of plants in flower, the walk between exhibits was very enjoyable.








As you walked around the park you visited about 10 averies some being walk through, some being closed off with glass windows.  It was fantastic so many different species of birds, wonderful to watch, difficult to photograph, I have a bit to learn with my new camera.  I took about 150 photos of birds and the following are the best from those.








The photos are of a red crested robin, a beautiful little bird, and a dotterel, a type of plover.  The dotterel was on a nest and the male and female swapped while I was watching and they were brooding 6 eggs.









Above are photos of a red tailed black cockatoo and a group of mulga parrots.  There was also a nocturnal house which had lots of exhibits of lizards, snakes, spiders, little mammals, and insects, it was very interesting and well done.  the lighting made it hard to take photos without a flash.








The snake is a Mulga snake and the mammal is a Greater Stick Nest Rat (nocturnal).








Above we have the Thorny Devil and the Central Netted Dragon.  Then off to another aviary.









A classic Aussie outback bird we all love, the budgie, and an Australian Bustard.  So the Desert Park was a great experience, not to be missed if you go to Alice Springs.

In the afternoon I picked up the repaired van – new back plates, new brake shoes, new magnets, new seals and $895 later and I was back in business with somewhere to sleep tonight.  Good to have that out of the way.  Tomorrow off to Olive Pink Gardens to check on the Acacia Peuce we planted there 30 years ago.

Russ on 20 August 2018

As I mentioned in my Kings Canyon blog the McDonnell Ranges were pushed up 300 – 350 million years age in a massive upheaval. So much so that at that time the west McDonnells were the height of the Himalaya’s at 10,000 metres, which is quite amazing given that the highest mountain, Mt Zeil is just 1,531 metres.. The upheaval was so violent that the rocks were all cracked and that allowed crevices for water to erode them over the millennium to there current height of a hundreds of feet. That some of the rock layers now stand vertically is testimony to the violence of the upheaval. It is interesting that rocks in the creek beds of most gorges is quartz, very different to the rocks of the gorge walls.

Ormiston Gorge was my first stop, one of the most popular in the West McDonnells, and rightly so. It was formed in the giant upheaval when hard rock layers were forced into a giant U shape, which was filled with soft stone, Dolomite. This soft rock was eroded leaving the gorge. The road in is bitumen and the path to the gorge a 5-minute stroll on a paved path. The climb to the lookout is a bit rougher but there are lots of concrete steps that make it easier to ascend. The view at the top is worth the climb.








The view out of the gorge of the Finke river that flows from the gorge is good as well.



The pool, trees and rocks makes the gorge, it is a beautiful spot.








Then on to Ellery Creek Big Hole; an average name for a really beautiful spot. It has a dirt doad in but easy travelling, there is a good campground with flushing toilets and gas BBQs. Only a couple of sites would suit caravans.








On the way out a look back needed another photo.



At the waterhole there was one of Marg and my favourite birds, a Cuckoo Shrike Thrush, a beautiful grey bird with an absolutely wonderful song.

Now it was off to Serpentine Gorge is one of the less visited gorges so the road in was dirt, and the track a bit rough. It was about a 1 Km walk to the gorge. Another feast for the eyes.











Near Serpentine Gorge on a separate 4WD access road is the few remains of a lodge established by Ansett in 1958/59 in an attempt to attract tourists. They used to bring people in using converted Blitz Wagons from the second world war, it was a rough trip. They also had issues with water supply and had to truck it 20 Km from Ellery Big Hole. Ormiston and Glen Helen Gorges were developed and proved much more popular. It was folded in 1968 at the end of a 10 year drought, and was dismantled and donated the Lutheran Mission in Alice Springs, and the buildings still exist.


The Ochre Cliffs was my last visit for today, a large ochre deposit that has been used by aborigines for thousands of years and is still in use today. The cliffs are 10 metres high and run for quite a length. Ochre has been used for decoration since prehistoric times around the world.

The predominant ochre here is yellow, a mixture of white clay and iron oxide (rust), red-brown ochre is the same clay with Haematite, a different oxidised iron. The white ochre has no iron and is just white clay. Tiny fragments of mica and quartz give ochre its sparkle.








Today Monday 20th I went to the gorge at Glen Helen and Mt Sonder. The Finke runs through Glen Helen Gorge and is the oldest river in the world, as parts of it run in the same course as it did some 300 million years ago. It is the river that flows (seldom) for 700 Km through Glen Helen Gorge and eventually to the edges of the Simpson Desert; there it spreads out to at least 1 Km wide from memory. We crossed it when we went to the edge of the Simpson on our last trip to Alice Springs. I cannot put the drone up to photograph the river as it is within 5 Km of Glen Helen, a no fly zone.  The Finke starts at Ormiston Gorge and at Glen

Helen gorge was a shallow surface river at the level of the top of the cliffs at the gorge. About 15 million years ago the land surface tilted to the south and this gave the river more power to erode the cliffs and gorge to what it is today. There are 9 species of fish in the river, all native, and permanent waterholes like at Glen Helen they survive long periods of dry and when the floods come they repopulate the rest of the river again.

The aborigines call the river Lhere Pirnte, which is pronounced Lara Pinta, hence the Larapinta 12 day, 223 Km walking trail that starts in Alice Springs and ends at Redbank Gorge. My friend Eric walked the trail not long after it first opened in 1990. At that time it was half as long as it is now, the trail as it is now was opened in 2002.  There was a Heron fishing while I was at the gorge.



Then it was off to a lookout to view Mt Sonder at 1,380 metres the second highest mountain in the McDonnells.  I had to take the panorama with a hand held camera as there were bushes at tripod height, it turned out OK after a couple of tries.


From the lookout you see the Finke river and a free campsite, the 2 Mile, a great spot but no facilities.  You also look down the length of the McDonnell ranges.








You can only get part of the view into the photo.  Tomorrow off to Alice Springs for 3 days.

Russ on 19 August 2018

Off in the early morning (Thurs 17th) to complete the Kings Creek Walk, which traverses 1 Km along the valley of the canyon. It was a delightful walk in the cool morning, 17 °C, with lots of attractive healthy trees and shrubs. The walk is fairly flat with a few easy rock scrambles.








Unfortunately a couple of massive boulders wiped out the viewing platform 2 years ago so the last 50 metres are closed so you cannot see the waterhole at the base of the waterfall. I think National Parks and the traditional owners have taken the opportunity to close it off as it was a sacred place to the aborigines. But you can see the rock wall next to the waterfall from the end of the path. This is the same rock wall that was in my last blog, it looks much smaller from down here.

The right hand photo is looking up at the rim walk and you can just see a small bridge on the central left of the photo that leads to a lookout on the rim walk.








On the way out I noticed a Grevillea just starting to flower, it has very prickly leaves and usually grows in more rocky areas, but there were plenty in the creek, but only one in flower.




So it is pack up today and head for Glen Helen Gorge Lodge for 3 nights. I bought the pass for Mereenie Loop Road as it passes through Aboriginal lands, only $5.50 for a day pass. A fellow camper found out that the road has just been graded which is great, apart from being very dusty. The road is usually very corrugated so I am travelling just at the right time.

Well I set off early on Saturday to go to Glen Helen Lodge in the West McDonnells via Mereenie Loop. This is a shortcut, you can travel via Alice Springs on the bitumen but that is roughly 200 extra Km. The road is notorious for corrugations but supposedly has just been graded. I think the grader driver forgot to put the blade down! The dust was very heavy and in places there was bulldust and sharp undulations that, if you took at speed, could be dangerous. So at camp it was another clean out the dust task. I may be over long drives on rough dusty roads.

On the way I passed a classic road sign.


After that I passed Gosse Bluff, an ancient crater. The object from space landed 142.5 million years ago (wow) and scientists believe that it was a comet 600 metres across, a massive object. The force of impact is estimated at 1 million times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It left a crater about 20 Km across (wow again). The crater in the photo is now about 2 Km lower than the original and about 5 Km in diameter, worn down significantly by weathering. It is still an amazing geological feature.  I had the van in tow so I couldn’t travel in to see it as it is a rough 4WD track into the crater.



I then went on the Redbank Gorge which is the gorge furthesy West from Alice Springs in the West McDonnells. It was a 4WD track in, but they didn’t say no caravans so I went in and probably shouldn’t. The parking area was extremely tight and I managed to collect a rock while turning around, bugger, some damage to the van. Had to back up onto an open small clearing off the road to park, needed 4WD to get up the edge of the road. Then it was off to walk to the gorge, a very rough track with lots of rock scrambling, but the scenery was delightful.


The gorge itself had a very narrow opening and was filled with water so I could only look, but it was worth the walk.











From here it was on the Glen Helen, it describes itself as a Lodge or Resort. More like basic bush camping. Small sites, no rubbish collection, basic very old toilets, (I think they bought them from a 3rd world country after they had been rejected), power and water far from your site, I could go on, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it, and it’s more expensive than the excellent Kings Canyon Campground. Plus they are hosting 170 runners over the next 2 days and nobody was warned about that before we passed over our money. Not good.

Tomorrow (Sunday 19th) I will visit a number of gorges in the West McDonnells, I’m looking forward to that.