Does everyone else give their car a name? Give it a personality?
Orlando is our 4WD Landcruiser (hence the name adaptation) 😬 He’s worthy of a little humanising. The most solid, reliable, trustworthy, tough, adventurous hunk of metal we have ever had the pleasure of owning. With a little house on his back he takes us the most amazing places and gives us so much joy. We follow remote dirt tracks with complete faith and confidence in his ability and because of that we see some bloody beautiful places. Crawling at a snails pace, windows down, a warm breeze messing up my hair, the fragrance of bull dust and gum trees in the air and sunshine glinting off the windscreen. Our happy place 🤗.
And you know what? Orlando just loves living in Central Australia. He really hates travelling fast on bitumen roads with lots of traffic and he despises big cities. Give him a rough dirt track to follow in the heart of the outback and he purrs like a kitten. Well, actually, with his big V8 engine it’s more like a throaty growl.
There’s no airs and graces. No bells and whistles. He’s not sleek and sophisticated to look at it. Comfort is not his finest feature. It’s what’s below the surface that counts – under the bonnet. Where other people fear to tread he just never lets us down. I like my cars like I like my men 😬.
Yes, we have definitely humanised our car. To the extent that Kevin makes me apologise to him if I dare say anything derogatory. After all, we don’t want to hurt his feelings. It’s a partnership. We look after him and he looks after us and our life sure would be a whole lot less fun without him.
That’s what 4WD ownership is all about. We wouldn’t have it any other way 😊.
These photos were taken around Ross River Homestead in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges.
It’s now been twelve months since Kevin and I relocated from Cairns to Alice Springs. It’s taken me this long to formulate an opinion on the journey from then to now and continue the story I started the night before I left Cairns. A life changing road trip from Cairns to Alice Springs (click on link)
It’s certainly been an interesting adventure from the day I drove myself the formidable distance of 3500km, over 4 days. Despite saying I never would, I actually passed four quadruple road trains (53+ metres in length). They are just too slow for even me to sit behind. Gripping the steering wheel really tight and a line of concentration on my brow, I just put my foot down and went for it. Each time was the longest 20 seconds of my life. I learnt early on that truck drivers don’t like being followed when one pulled over to get rid of me after I sat behind him for at least 100km out of Charters Towers. I stayed overnight in a cabin in Charters Towers, a cheap motel in Mt Isa and a tiny donga in Wauchope and then I was in Alice Springs. For me, just getting here took me so far out of my comfort zone. I was so proud of me and felt so brave.
For a couple weeks we lived in our Trayon Camper in a caravan park. The novelty wore off that very quickly. We bought a lovely modern unit in a nice location as renting in Alice Springs is astronomical in terms of cost and there was no way we could live long term in a Caravan Park – jammed in like in a sardine can, listening to the musical accompaniments in the facilities every morning not to mention the delightful aromas that waft by during the morning shower.
We needed our own little sanctuary. A place to call home and we found that to perfection. No regrets. I have lovely Sturt Desert Pea flowers growing in red sand. My life here is complete 😊.
One thing special about Alice Springs is the abundance of work. If you want a job you’ll find one easily. Within a month of moving here I had a new career. Kevin went from coming here as a truck driver to running the depot within six months. That’s Alice Springs. A guy we knew from our tourism past 20 years ago who was making scones at Mt Ebenezer roadhouse is now the Mayor. Our Chief Minister of the NT worked at Big W. Want to climb the career ladder fast, come to Alice.
So the move wasn’t a step backwards for us. It brought new opportunities. Someone asked me early on if our move here was a permanent thing or just an adventure. I wasn’t sure then but now I know the answer.
There are things I love about life in Alice and things I don’t like.
For people like us who love remote camping, 4×4 adventures, constant sunny blue skies, outback scenery, stunning sunrise and sunsets and the feeling of vast spaces, it’s a fantastic sojourn. Every weekend we have free we are out and about. There is so much to do and see out of town. I’ll never tire of campfires under the most amazing night skies and the sounds of the birds. Just wonderful. Alice Springs for us, is and has always been, about the stunning landscape around it.
The town itself has issues related to the high indigenous population. It’s very much a government town now with a high need for health and other government interventions. This is just how it is. Just little things annoy me, like not wanting to go to the cinema at night and risk my car windows getting smashed by roaming packs of kids. You wouldn’t believe how common this is. Getting the third degree by police going into a bottle shop – where will I be drinking and whom will I be drinking with and showing of ID to prove I’m me? I feel guilty just going in there to buy a fine liqueur to sip. Just a couple of examples. There are quite a few.
The weather here is both wonderful and awful to live with. Most days are so bloody perfect and it’s very liveable. In summer though the temperature can get scorching for a couple of months straight (45 degrees C), dust storms roll in frequently and the damn flies drive you insane. In winter the bird bath freezes in the bitterly cold morning, that all day cold wind gets right into your bones and ugg boots are a necessity. It can be a place of dramatic extremes. There are at least 4 months of the year where we didn’t use the reverse cycle split system air conditioners though. Perfect weather. So perfect. And I must mention how exciting it is when it does actually rain here – especially when it’s enough to make the dry Todd River flow. The feeling in town is pure elation and everyone’s out taking photos of a light sprinkling of rain.
I am so glad we came back here. There’s been times when the rose coloured glasses slipped off and my world became a bit bleak and grey. The Corona Virus situation made us feel trapped and isolated and I miss being close to family. There’s a sense of isolation living here, it’s very expensive to fly out of but overall I feel that I’ve gained a lot. Change, although hard to do, really is good for us as human beings. We grow. We evolve. We expand our horizons and attitudes. We learn what’s important.
So, is Alice Springs our forever place? An unequivocal NO. Has it been a wonderful adventure? Hell YES. It feels like we are on a working holiday trying to squeeze as much experience out of living in this amazing landscape as we can before we do move on one day.
I wouldn’t have missed this opportunity. Not for one moment. The photographs below say more than words.
In the sand dune country of the Simpson Desert, where the sand is red and the sky is blue, is an old station homestead called Old Andado. The homestead is perched in the valley between two parallel red sand dunes so is the perfect opportunity for a genuine desert experience. Not only that but the little ramshackle corrugated iron homestead with its dusty concrete floors is a living museum of the past. No one lives here now but inside it is as it was. A relic. It’s a home filled with the contents of a persons life that belongs to another era of time. The beds are made but covered in thick dust. There’s trinkets in the cabinets, pots on the old wood stove, a tea pot in a knitted cozy on the table, clothes in the wardrobe, a bottle of perfume on the dresser, drums of flour and sugar, photos of family, a long abandoned child’s tricycle out the front.
This is Molly Clark’s beloved home. Molly is still here but her body lies in a peaceful grave at the base of the sand dune 200 metres away. Her final resting place forever. She died in 2012 at the age of 89. I can feel her presence though as her home is exactly as she left it, full of her life. The old front door is unlocked and upon entering it’s like stepping into another era preserved by a patina of red desert dust. Frozen in time. A living museum.
Old Andado in 1993 was listed in the Heritage register so today is an untouched piece of history for 4×4 adventurers like us to wonder through. You half expect Molly to step around the corner and offer you a cup of tea and a scone. But it’s just silent. Just the desert wind blowing through the screen windows. The same wind that brings the dust. The atmosphere inside is so hard to describe and it certainly makes you more than a little introspective. It’s fascinating. I feel like a ghost from the future, intruding on a scene from the past. It’s eerie but peaceful. Looking at it with rose coloured glasses on a cool winters day, her life looks kind of idyllic but it would have been incredibly hard. Fifty degrees in summer under a few sheets of tin and a meat house out the back.
Molly Clarke with her husband Mac and three sons arrived at Andado Station in 1955. Tragically she lost her husband and her oldest son in the 1970’s. Then she lost her livelihood when the NT government forced her to destroy all her cattle due to a brucellosis and tuberculosis outbreak in southern states. Molly sold the property but retained the old homestead and a 45 square km block. With remarkable ingenuity she found a new business venture in tourism and set up camping facilities at the homestead and cooked meals for visitors.
After 50 years, poor health meant that she finally had to leave and move full time into Alice Springs, but right until the end Old Andado was always her home. It still is. The epitaph on her grave stone reads “At home in the country you loved. When the times get tough, the tough get going”. That tells us a little bit about Molly Clarke.
For a time volunteers and a caretaker looked after the homestead and her granddaughters continued on the legacy of preserving it. At the time we visit here today, there is no caretaker and nature is stealthily making its presence felt.
For now, I kind of like it though. It adds to the authenticity of an era now gone. It would be sad to see it disappear totally into the sands of time though.
In the visitor book on the kitchen table is a recent comment from one of the owners “It’s been a bloody long time between visits from me. I knew the place would be covered in dust and lots of dead plants. Sad to see after everyone’s hard work. Time to let bygones be bygones and secure the future of the place”.
Sounds like all is not lost and Molly’s legacy out here on the remote edge of the Simpson Desert may well continue for future generations. That’s a good thing. There is just so much potential to keep Molly’s tourism dream alive. It’s a special place.
To be able to camp here between the red dunes is a true Simpson Desert experience. I understand why Molly loved it here for so long despite the hardship and the remoteness. Her front verandah is the epitome of peacefulness. The silence is absolute and standing on the crest of a red sand dune under a vibrant blue sky looking at dune after dune on the horizon is just mesmerising.
The 4×4 Track here from Alice Springs is incorporated into the Binns Track which stretches from Mt Dare to Timber Creek at the top of the NT. We however, came here especially just as a long weekend jaunt from Alice Springs. The 330km track via Santa Teresa took us a bit over 5 hours and was a lovely scenic drive. A bit of bull dust, corrugations and sand but overall an easy drive. Certainly a fantastic way to experience the red dunes of the Simpson Desert without having to drive all the way across to Birdsville.
So to Molly Clarke, we thank you. I’m sitting here in Molly’s kitchen writing this.We were first here 30 years ago and it feels exactly the same now as then. Molly had gone into town at the time. It feels like that now.
NOTHING BEATS A SWIM IN THE RED HEART OF AUSTRALIA
Hidden throughout the panoramic Western MacDonnell Ranges, to the West of Alice Springs, are a myriad of Gaps and Gorges with pristine waterholes.
These waterholes are beyond a doubt, in my opinion, the most exquisite feature of Central Australia. Tourists worldwide flock to that big red rock, Uluru, which is special, but an expensive and commercialised natural attraction. For me, its the natural and serene gaps, gorges and chasms of the MacDonnell Ranges, the spine of this ancient landscape, that totally capture my heart.
The landscape around the town of Alice Springs is as old as time and visually striking. Its the way the colours change with the direction of the sunshine that makes the magic. The ranges glow like fire at sunrise and sunset, like they are filled with a strange energy source . During the day are stunning shades of red, orange, pink, ochre and purple on the sheer walls of rock framed by an endless blue sky. Clumps of golden spinifex grass and a lonely white ghost gum perched elegantly on red rock paints the scene. These are the colours of Central Australia. The reflection of this landscape in a pristine, cool waterhole is the pure magic of Central Australia.
Nothing is more special than a swim in an Outback waterhole on a hot summer day. A picnic on a sandy beach under the shade of a gum tree. An inviting waterhole with rippled reflections of red rock and blue sky. A little slice of outback heaven. I find the view through a fly net is still lovely too. The little blighters are a bit thick in summer and love to try and get in your eyes and your mouth. I wouldn’t be the first person who has accidentally swallowed a fly here.
Despite the presence of flies, I love all the waterholes and each one is unique. You can do a waterhole crawl and see them all in one day but each is worthy of spending time, taking a picnic, swimming, exploring, relaxing and just absorbing the view and the serenity of the scene in front of you.
To the west of Alice Springs my favourite waterholes are Ellery Creek Big Hole, Ormiston Gorge, Glen Helen Gorge and last but not least,the adventure swim at Redbank Gorge, 155km from Alice Springs.
Redbank Gorge is unique and I classify it as the adventure swim. You need swim across the waterhole to enter a narrow cleft in the range. The further in you swim, the narrower and more stunning it is. Its icy cold, crystal clear and just beautiful with gorge walls towering at arms length on either side and a patch of blue sky way up above. This gorge is the furthermost from Alice and the 1.2km walk in involves a bit of rock hopping.
Of course, the best time to enjoy the waterholes is when its hot and you can savour a cool refreshing swim. There is no finer way to cool off in the Outback when its hot. Alice Springs in summer is hot but the waterholes are blissfully cold and picturesque to boot. Bring a noodle, float in the shade and ENJOY.
The road is rough as guts and a bit of a 4WD adventure but the sight of Ruby Gap and Glen Annie Gorge in Central Australia is so worth every corrugation and diff scraping boulder. This is the real Outback of Australia. Red rock, gum trees in dry river bed and that sky that is the bluest of blues.
“ Surely the sky is not really that blue”, I say to Kevin, as on a warm sunny November day, as we hike along the river bed in Ruby Gorge.
We take off our Polaroid sunglasses to check and it was even bluer without them. An incredible shade of deep sky blue, a stunning backdrop to the red ochre walls of the gorge. These are the colours of the Outback that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. The clarity of light here is brighter and it’s a special sight to behold.
Ruby Gap Nature Park is a “must see” piece of Central Australia. This part of the far Eastern MacDonnell Ranges will leave an imprint on your soul. I kid you not. It’s a remarkably pretty piece of country in a dry arid region. Only accessible by high clearance 4WD, it’s raw, natural and way less touristy than the Western MacDonnell Ranges. No allocated camping bays, no board walks, no fenced off areas, no caravans and most importantly no crowds of people.
So few other people that you can swim in the nuddy (because you walked 3 km to get to Glen Annie Gorge without togs and didn’t know that the swimming hole would be so amazing). We love a place to camp in the bush in solitude. Just the sounds of the wind, the birds, the crackle of a campfire and the wild donkeys that ee-aw from the scrub. This describes our campsite here to perfection.
Ruby Gorge was so named because of the gems scattered in the sandy Hale River bed. They are actually garnets not rubies as first thought by explorer David Lindsey in 1886. We fossick as we hike the visually spectacular 6km return from our campsite to Glen Annie Gorge and collect ourselves a few.
Glen Annie Gorge is so lovely with a long waterhole framed by reeds and the towering red Gorge walls. It’s peaceful. Just the wind, the ducks and flocks of finches that flit between the gum trees. A swim here is pure magic and just divine on a warm November day. Almost a religious experience.
At the end of the Gorge we find the lonely grave of JL Fox who died in 1888. No idea who he was but there is an eerie quality finding an old grave in such a remote, timeless place, surrounded by ancient sunbaked hills as old as time. And year, after year, after year, time marches onward and the grave of a man who once existed just bakes in the sun on a lonely hill………..
A poignant moment and then we swim in the heavenly waterhole. Because right now we are in this lovely gorge under the clearest blue sky and we are alive. Living the life that makes us happy. What more is there?
Gourmet Pizza at Ruby Gap with a long cool spritz. I learnt on this trip that you can indeed make a magnificent Italian Pizza on a gas burner stove in a tiny camper. Oh the joy. Long gone are the days of a tin of baked beans with mini cocktail frankfurters.
The landscape of this beautiful red heart of Australia never changes. Its ancient and timeless and has a feel that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Its the landscape that makes Central Australia remarkable, worth visiting and with a bit of 4 wheel driving and free bush camping, Boggy Hole on the Finke River is the perfect place to experience the heart of Outback Australia.
The Finke River is located to the west of Alice Springs. Like all Central Australian rivers, the Finke is dry but is special because its the oldest, unchanged river bed in the whole world. Its been eroding down in the same course for 60 million years. That’s pretty special. Along the river bed is the occasional waterhole that creates an oasis. Boggy Hole is one such waterhole. Its there we go to find that ‘heart of the outback’ that we are longing for, with the striking outback colours.
Boggy Hole is located in the Finke Gorge National Park to the west of Alice Springs. Following Larapinta Drive, it’s 125 kilometres of bitumen to Hermansburg and then just before entering the Aboriginal settlement there is a sign post to the left indicating ‘Boggy Hole’. A very rough and corrugated dirt road. This is where a little bit of adventure starts and Kevin stops to let some air out the Coopers. We keep following this road straight (don’t deviate) until it reaches the dry Finke River bed where it becomes a two wheel track following the watercourse.
And there we are. Four wheel driving in the Outback with the windows down. Just the two of us. In complete solitude. Its like a breathe of fresh air. Meandering our 4WD slowly down a dry river bed, around gum trees, over boulders and through soft sand. The bluest of blue skies above and the rich red of towering gorge walls to each side. The clarity of light and colour is amazing. A little bit of outback magic goes a long way.
Although the distance is no more than 15km it takes us a couple of hours to reach Boggy Hole. We have our own private oasis here. Water is the all magic ingredient when camping in the bush even if its just to look at. We explore on foot and then swim through the weeds to reach the deep, cool green water on the far bank. We didn’t have togs on but when you have the place all to yourself what does that matter? It was a most delicious swim.
As dusk approaches we prepare for the show and light the campfire. The setting sun is always the most spellbinding show in outback Australia. And it doesn’t disappoint. The sky turned from pure gold to a fire in the sky. The gorge walls glowed with an intensity that was mesmerising. Like a light bulb inside them. And the scene was reflected in the still waterhole giving us a double glorious view. It seemed to last for ages but eventually faded and we sat by the flickering firelight waiting for the encore performance. The star show. The night sky in Central Australia is truly a spectacular sight and there is nothing better than looking at it next to a campfire. Look at the fire, look at the stars, look at the fire, look at the stars……… Its so good.
A lovely sleep followed with a cool breeze and a view of the stars through the windows. A couple of curious dingos wandered by during the night for a drink at the waterhole. Little things that enhance a bush experience.
This is what camping in Central Australia is all about. Complete solitude, blue skies with red rock, green shady waterholes, campfires, clear star filled nights and 4 wheel driving along dry riverbeds. A little bit of outback magic.