Alice Springs and The MacDonnell Ranges

Trip Start Jun 18, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Day 1 - 19th August

For a lot of people, the words "Alice Springs" conjour up various images, that we think represent outback Australia.  Before I came to Australia, Alice Springs said to me a desert oasis, upmarket stores and homes surrounded by Palms, busy with tourists jetting in from the corners of the world.  With the sun shining down all year round, there would be quaint outdoor cafes, much like those in the Med, full of the beautiful people chatting away.  In short, like a dream town.

So it was a bit surprising that it's pretty small, around 26,000 people, and it's a little on the rundown side of things.  An oasis it may be, but it's hardly paradise.  Especially with drunk people screaming at each other and then pissing on the pavement.  At 11am.  The sun was shining, but the temperature was still very low, and at night, around freezing.  No outdoor cafes either (at least, that we could see) but they did have a nice small square to sit in.  And get drunk and have a row.  Then a piss in the street.

It's a very compact place, so it didn't take too long to walk around.  A few general stores for the locals, plus a host of Aboriginal shops selling everything from art to tools made by local clans.  Interesting stuff, but to those of us on a budget, not really something we will be buying.  We spent a couple of hours in a internet cafe, run by perhaps the most grumpiest bloke in the country - certainly the most grumpiest bastard we've met since arriving in Australia.  At one point some dreadlocked girl came in to ask if she could put up a poster campaigning against an Uranium Mine in the area.  His reply wasn't something I ever thought I would hear: "No.  I've nothing against Uranium".  I think he just didn't like the girl.

So that done, we mooched around a bit more, then went out to the original site of Alice Springs.  It was originally just a Telegraph Station, down by a small waterhole in the otherwise dry Todd River, which gave the place it's name - even though it's not a spring at all.  And the women who it was named after? Never even came to the town.  Ungrateful sod.

We also went up to Anzac Hill, a small, steep hill right next to the town centre, home to a War Memorial and a great lookout over the town and the surrounding MacDonnell Ranges.

Speaking of the MacDonnell Ranges, we went out to a gap in the range, where the Todd River "flows" through, called Simpsons Gap.  We went out there just before Sunset, and it was empty except for us and a small colony of Black Footed Rock Wallabies.  Cool little fellas, who aren't doing too well due to habitat destruction etc.  At least here they are protected.  A really nice place to be at sunset.

Day 2 - 20th August

The MacDonnell Ranges spread either side of Alice Springs.  The Western side however is more accessable, and since we don't have a high clearance 4WD, we stuck to this side of the range.  One of the most popular points is Standley Chasm, a narrow gap in the range, which is lit up by the ever moving sun.  At midday, the whole thing is lit red, as the rocks are hit by the sunlight.  At least, this is what the Lonely Planet says.

It's actually privately owned, I don't know who by, but they must make a fortune.  It's $8 a person just to walk to the Chasm, which requires a bit of scambling over rocks and mooching up an almost dry river bed.  We got here around 11am, so the sun hadn't quite lit the place up, but it looked nice enough.  Unfortantly it's so high that it's very difficult to get it all into one photo, so you'll have to take my word that it was quite impressive (although not $8 impressive, but then again I don't think people should charge others to see some stunning geography - it's not like they built it).  We also managed to get the place to ourselves, which was very surprising - the car park was pretty busy, and we didn't pass too many people on the walk up.  I suspect some may have turned back before the chasm, I'd imagine it's quite difficult for the elderly to get there.  

We wanted to go up to the second chasm, but we couldn't quite find the path to it.  At the end of the main chasm was a very steep climb up more rocks, which I assume was the path.  But I suddenly got very tired so chose not to go up there...

From the Chasm, we went as far as the sealed road would take us, up to Ormiston Gorge.  Yes, another Gorge, but this time we were up on the rim, rather than down the bottom.  We did the Ghost Gum Walk, which took you up to the Gorges Rim (with a very steep walk!) and then followed the rim edge around a few KM where the path eventually ended up taking you to the gorge floor, albeit with more rock scrambling, then along the sandy river bed past a few freezing swimming holes.  A very fun walk, and with the cool temperature more easy than previous hikes.  The views were fantastic, from both top and bottom, and again the place was very quiet, although the car park was busy.  I'm not sure where everyone goes, since there are normally only three or four walks to choose from, and all eventually cross each other.  Regardless, a very impressive place, which I imgaine is really nice at sunrise/sunset.
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