Alice Springs Surrounds – Day Trips (Northern Territory) – 3

6/10/15  Our next day trip from Alice took us into the West MacDonnell Ranges via the sealed Namatjira Drive to the Big Hole, a large permanent waterhole on Ellery Creek. The temperature was well into the 30s and the very cold water was popular with people from the nearby campground. Shame we hadn’t taken our gear for a swim.

Ellery Creek Big Hole (NT)

Ellery Creek Big Hole (NT)

Not too far further along the road, Serpentine Gorge had a small waterhole shaded by high rock cliffs. Bees, attracted to the water, outnumbered the ever-present bush flies that forced us to eat lunch inside the car with the aircon running. Useful tip: When refilling a water bottle from a tap, first run the water long enough to ensure ALL the bees up inside the tap are gone. Di found the squishy remains of a bee in her water bottle a couple of days later and almost gagged.

Next stop was at the Ochre Pits, colourful outcrops of natural ochre in the cliff banks of a sandy creek from which red, yellow and white ochres have been sourced for thousands of years by the local Arrernte peoples. These ochres were used for cultural, medical and trade purposes.

Ormiston Gorge, our final stop for the day, was very impressive and came close to topping Simpsons Gorge for Di’s gong for “Most Gorgeous Gorge So Far”, but missed by just a narrow margin. Campers and day visitors were swimming in the large waterhole in the gorge and, hoping to see Black Footed Rock Wallabies, we followed Ormiston Creek a little way upstream until the rocks became too difficult to clamber over. It was certainly a lovely spot, nestled below the backdrop of the massive Heavitree Range.

The next day trip was to the historic mission at Hermannsburg, 90 minutes south-west of Alice. This was the first Aboriginal mission in the Northern Territory, established by the Lutheran Church in 1877, and the earliest surviving buildings date back to that time. We enjoyed an Apple Strudle and glass of Grandma’s Lemonade, which turned out to be made on Bickford’s Lemon Juice cordial as they’d run out of their own lemons. It was still refreshing and we’re now carrying a bottle with us in the van.

On the way back to Alice, we detoured to Wallace Rockhole, 17kms on a gravel road into the James Ranges. It turned out to be a small community, minus the rockhole. We did, however, find the Wallace Rockhole Pottery and spoke for a while with the organiser who gave us a very interesting tour of the operation.

Our final day trip was a biggie as we ventured into the western parts of the Simpson Desert country. We went south on the Stuart Highway and into Rainbow Valley. The drive in was a bit rough and very dusty, with long stretches of soft red desert sand. We saw our first stand of Desert Oaks on the way in as well, but they soon gave way to low shrub as we neared the end of the drive. The colours of the sandstone bluffs and cliffs were amazing. The outback has lots of beautiful landmarks, and this one is a real gem.

From there, we went back to the Stuart Highway and took the Hugh River Stock Route to the Old South Road and then on to Maryvale and Chamber’s Pillar. On the Stock Route, which was a very sandy and dusty stretch, we came upon a Commodore with a family from the nearby Mpwelarre Aboriginal Community, bogged to the rear axle in sand in the middle of the track. After a couple of attempts at extrication with our Maxtrax, the winch on the Land Rover pulled it free and they were on their way again.

The road to Maryvale was pretty good, but beyond it to Chambers Pillar, it was horrific with corrugations you’d lose a vehicle in. The track alternated between sections of gravel and deep loose sand which weren’t a problem, but I threw in the towel over the corrugations, 20kms short of the Pillar. It just wasn’t worth damaging Di or the vehicle, so we turned back and took the Old South Road straight back to Alice.


We spied a lone camel on the way and pulled in to Ewaninga Rock Carvings just before sunset when the light was at the right angle to best see the ancient weathered petroglyphs on the rocks. They were amazing, as was the surrounding spinifex which was in seed and as tall as wheat. The colours at sunset were spectacular.

Despite arriving home from the nine hour trip very tired and dusty, we’d had a really enjoyable day and seen lots of beautiful scenery.

”Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” – Greg Anderson

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