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.
Remote. Adventure. Bloody good scenery. To top it off it’s a must do if you visit Central Australia seeking to utilise your 4×4 in the manner it was created for.
The Finke River Route is fun, not too extreme and certainly do-able over 2 days. In fact its do-able as a day trip but an overnight camp surrounded by such spectacular Central Australian scenery is part of the experience.
On this occasion we did the track from South to North – the Finke River 4WD Route starts at Ernest Giles Road and finishes at Hermansburg (or visa versa), a distance of 70 odd km that will take 5.5 hours.
We did the track on a normal weekend. Of course, in our case there was a fair distance of bitumen bashing to get too and from either end from Alice Springs.
The signage on Ernest Giles Road (which is the dirt road short cut to Kings Canyon) suggests that you should travel in a group of at least two vehicles and carry epirb, sat phone and sufficient recovery gear. We went solo and at no stage even came close to needing any recovery gear. With a high clearance 4×4 and good tyres with reduced tyre pressure it is no problem. A few slow going rocky sections, a few deep sandy sections and quite a bit of easy pleasant driving.
The scenery all the way was really lovely. Through and over red sand dunes at the beginning and then zig zagging along the Finke River, between red gorge walls. It’s slow going but an enjoyable drive. On a few occasions the track meanders both ways and you seem to have a choice of directions but we never lost our way. All tracks follow the course of the Finke and just deviate for camp spots or to avoid chopped up or challenging sections of track.
So what were my highlights of the weekend? Driving through red sand dunes, detouring to Illamurta Springs Conservation Reserve, camping overnight at Running Waters which was so lovely for a swim and the reflections of glowing red rock in the water at Sunset. Boggy Hole was a really nice remote camping spot too but I think Running Waters was better camping for easier access to the waterhole and the ability to spread out more. We discovered Running Waters on Wiki Camps.
I would classify this as an iconic Central Australian 4WD experience not to be missed.
I can hear you thinking already ” What? A holiday to Alice Springs? A dry, dusty town in the middle of nowhere? Surely there’s nothing to do or see. Its too remote, way too hot or way too cold and too many flies.”
Let me set you straight. Every one must have a pilgrimage to the red heart of Australia. Its a destination where we reconnect. With each other, with the natural environment and with this beautiful country. The outback has charms that international visitors long to experience. The colour, the soul and the heart of this unique landscape will leave an imprint on the soul of every member of your family in some way. You’ll cover some distance but its a vast region.
During the day this is red rock, blue sky country. In summer its hot, in winter it can get very cold but those colours are always there. Bright and cheerful. No gloomy, dismal grey skies here. Nights are just as special. This is dark sky country at night. The chandelier of stars will leave you spellbound. This part of Australia is dramatic and its extreme. Its the real Australia, the outback, and believe me that red sand gets into your blood.
A holiday to Alice Springs is mostly about exploring the natural world. Not playgrounds, fancy resorts or man made attractions. Its a place to get immersed in the large scale scenery that’s just so uniquely Australian, under a perpetually bright blue sky. What ever mode of transport takes your fancy – a camel, a bicycle, a segway, a 4WD vehicle, your two legs with a backpack or even a noodle in a waterhole. There’s exploring to be done. Adventure filled days. Over red sand dunes, through dry riverbeds, to gaps, gorges, chasms and of course you just gotta camp a night or two. A night sharing stories and quality time around a blazing campfire with a billion stars overhead and the howl of a dingo in the distance is unforgettable.
So where to start? The Desert Wildlife Park is a fantastic introduction to the Central Australian environment. An absolute must do and so cleverly done to completely blend with the landscape. The best way to see our dangerous snakes and our birds of prey up close. The finale at the end will send tingles down your spine but I don’t want to ruin the surprise so I’ll just leave you hanging.
The Gaps, Gorges and Chasms of the Western MacDonnell Ranges that extend 130km+ west from Alice Springs are quite extraordinary and will be a highlight. Its an easy sealed bitumen road all the way to Glen Helen Gorge and so many stops on the way. The scenery is pure magic and the swimming always an adventure. Nothing beats a waterhole crawl and, yes, there are beaches – outback style. Click on my link here for more information THE AMAZING OUTBACK WATERHOLES AROUND ALICE SPRINGS
If you’re anything like me, while in Central Australia, you will definitely want to sit on top of a red sand dune under that blue outback sky. An absolute must. Its just something you have to tick off that bucket list. Uluru will give you this opportunity in a fashion but for me the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert are unrivaled and you don’t have to drive all the way across the desert to Birdsville. A little bit of 4WD adventuring can take you out to Old Andado Homestead in about 5 hours through some amazing remote scenery. This place will allow you to sit on a red sand dune and look into the horizon at dune after dune after dune. Its something special. Read more about Old Andado by clicking on this link Old Andado Homestead and the Red Sand of the Simpson Desert.
While your out and about in a 4WD, a camping trip to Ruby Gap Nature Park is a must do. You can get cabin accommodation at nearby Hale River Homestead and do a day trip from there but camping in this remote wilderness is my personal preference. Ruby Gap is in the Eastern MacDonnell Ranges, the scenery is magic+ and a bit of 4WD action is always loads of fun. A bit of sand and rocks to low range through beside towering red gorge walls. A swim in the silent, majestic Glen Annie Gorge was just sublime and who doesn’t love searching for garnets in a dry river bed? This place just blew me away. See more by clicking on this link RUBY GAP NATURE PARK – Paradise Found in Central Australia
If exploring by 4WD is just not in your list of capabilities but you still want an authentic, rustic experience in the outback, I would highly recommend Ooraminna Station Homestead only 25km out of Alice Springs down the Maryvale dirt road. Spend a night or two in a charming, authentic stone, timber, tin or log cabin. Our rustic log cabin had an open fireplace, so much character and beds for a family of five. I absolutely loved the experience. Absolutely charming. Dinner at the Homestead ‘hotel’ was just excellent, the views stunning and you can do a little exploring on foot in red sand country. A larger budget required but worth splurging just a bit.
So have I whet your appetite just a little? I’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg with a few of my favourite options for a holiday here. I’m an adventurer at heart and Central Australia is always awe inspiring and never boring. The Outback holds a special place in my heart. Trust me it grows on you. Yes, there are flies. In summer in particular. Bring fly nets to keep your sanity. They are a life saver. Yes, it gets hot in summer but those waterholes are always cool and wonderful to swim in. Yes, the mornings and evenings can get below zero in winter but you’ll usually be back in a tee shirt by lunch time and that winter sunshine and blue sky is just bloody perfect.
Our borders are open tomorrow (sorry Victoria and Sydney) Get ya bums over here and enjoy what’s left this year of winter sunshine.
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.
I’m nervous. But a little excited. This is a first for me. Driving myself the long, remote distance from the Tropical North to the Red Centre of Australia. Its a long way. My husband has told me to stick to the main highway as I’m travelling solo but its still long vast distances.
This drive is not just a whim of fancy. Its life changing. We are moving lock, stock and barrel. Relocating our home base from Cairns to Alice Springs. Our country desert dweller hearts are rejecting the busy city life style. We are heading home. Our boys are doing their own thing now and we are free.
Once upon a time this was an easy thing to do, relocating. When I was in my 20’s I didn’t think twice about it. Just loaded my worldly possessions in my little Holden Torana and off I went to Alice Springs. My worldly possessions were a few kitchen appliances, a little TV and a suitcase brimming with clothes. It was the best thing I ever did. Change was exciting. I caught the Ghan to Alice and loved the unique feel of the place immediately. The rest is history.
As I have gotten older though, such a huge change, that was once a pure exhilarating adventure, now feels kind of daunting. It feels monumental and complicated. There have been obstacles to overcome. The worldly possession list has of course expanded exponentially. Selling our home in the tropics, with its memories, has been an emotional roller coaster and a task of mighty proportions turning it into a modern buyers show case. Painting, cleaning, replacing electrical fittings, de-cluttering, inspections, agents, lawyers, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork…..
Now its done. The house sold quickly, the furniture is in a container doing a weird lap of Australia and I’m sitting in a hollow, empty space listening to my keyboard strokes echo. By the way, the acoustics in an empty house are amazing.
In two days I drive away. To a new life. To join my man who is already there. That inner child in me is rejoicing that I have been courageous enough to make this decision. To go with it in my fifties. To be willing to change a life that was stale. Life is too short to waste it. I feel brave and I feel a sense of anticipation. I feel the sadness of goodbyes melting away and a sense of joy taking its place. I have things to look forward too.
I feel like I’m in my 20’s again, about to embark on a brand new adventure with my whole life ahead of me.
That’s a good place to be.
That long bitumen road awaits. See you at the other end.
It’s taken me a while but here the story continues. This is how life in Alice panned out. Click on the link here Living Life in Alice Springs
I’m not sure what Kevin and I were thinking when planning our honeymoon 29 years ago. It was a bizarre destination but we were so excited, so eager and so bloody naive.
Other newly-weds honeymooned at 5 star resorts in tropical island paradises sipping cocktails and taking romantic strolls along palm fringed beaches.
Not us. Its bull dust all the way.
We spent our honeymoon in our 4WD travelling to the Kimberley’s up the top of Western Australia. From Alice Springs. Across deserts. In October.
Yes, we were ignorant Central Australian dwellers who had no concept of “the build up to the wet” in Northern Australia. The time of year when ‘mango madness‘ sets in and everyone goes ‘troppo’.
For the clarity of any foreigners reading this post, both terms are Aussie Slang for “the irrational behaviour of a person suffering from the effects of living in tropical heat”.
It was hot up North. It was so bloody hot. We slept in a double swag on the roof rack of our Mitsubishi Triton 4WD. Romantic in a distinctly Aussie kind of way I guess. It was so hot that we would spray each other with a squirty bottle at night and hope for a stray breeze.
Our wedding gift from our work colleagues was a 12V three way travelling fridge, which was perfect and so generous. Except, we couldn’t get it to work on gas. So there we were at night, lying on top of our swag, getting bitten by mosquitoes, squirting each other with water and we didn’t even have a cold drink because the fridge didn’t work. “I’d kill you right now for a cold drink of water” we would say to each other. At least we were both in sync.
I do love that our honeymoon was an adventure though. As a result of our naivety we had a couple of bonuses. Firstly, there was hardly another soul travelling the infamous Gibb River Road in October. We had most places to ourselves because no one else was crazy enough. Secondly, because it was so hot we swam in every glorious, picturesque waterhole in the Kimberley. That was wonderful.
That brings me to Fitzroy Crossing, just after we had crossed the Tanami Desert and visited Wolf Creek Crater. (You know – Wolf Creek, a bloke called Mick Taylor lives there and savagely murders tourists) Fortunately that classic movie came out a few years after our honeymoon.
Fitzroy Crossing is a Kimberley town with character. We booked ourselves on a boat cruise of Geikie Gorge, which was carved by the mighty Fitzroy River. Its a spectacular gorge with towering white and grey walls. The cruise was great but it was just so HOT. The cruise operator told us where we could go for a refreshing swim in the river.
Irresistible. In we plunge, just Kevin and I. We splashed around a bit then were just floating serenely a few metres apart, enjoying the coolness.
Suddenly, right in front of Kevin, two eyes pop up out of water. Two armoured, evil, yellow reptilian eyes that look him straight in the face.
“CROCODILE” he yells, in a highly agitated voice, scaring the crap out of me as I was blissfully unaware. There’s a huge flurry of splashing as he literally runs on water to get back to the bank.
And leaves his new bride in the river to get eaten by a crocodile………
He’s very sheepish when we tell this story now. His excuse is “well, I didn’t really know you very well back then”
What we didn’t know back then was that there are two kinds of crocodile in the North. Very bad ones and not so bad ones. Saltwater crocodiles are real bad and you never, ever want to be in the water with one. They will make a meal out of you before you can blink. Fortunately, Geikie Gorge has the other variety. Freshwater crocodiles are quite harmless unless provoked. He was just popping his head out of the water out of curiosity.
However, my loving new husband didn’t know that. I did make it back to the bank safely under my own steam, just a few seconds after him. It seems that I too can run on water……..
Believe it or not, 29 years later, we are still together. We have a good laugh about that incident. Apparently he has finally gotten to know me by now and finds me quite valuable. We are still in sync. We tried a resort style holiday once and it just wasn’t our thing. Together our hearts still long for dusty roads and remote waterholes. Although we no longer sleep in a dusty swag on the roof rack. Our “Royal Swag” on the roof these days has fly screens, a sink and a really cold fridge. There will always be another adventure just around the corner and that is what my travel blog is all about. Read on……..
Camping, sometimes, is purely about escaping the rat race and having a couple of days of peace and quiet. Its good for the soul. Far away from the drone of highways, the view of concrete slabbed buildings, ticky tacky houses, retail madness and work. Some of the cattle stations in the North Queensland region have capitalised on this market and given us some wonderful camping options. A taste of country life.
Woodleigh Station is just perfect for this and easily accessible from Cairns. A two hour drive up via the Atherton Tablelands and then a turn to the left 20km past Ravenshoe on a dirt track signposted Woodleigh Station.
So what do I love about camping at Woodleigh Station? I like camping on grass. I like big shady gum trees. I like being next to a river you can look at, swim in and canoe. I like the sounds of native birds – magpies, lorikeets, kookaburras, butcher birds and galahs. I like being able to have a lazy campfire all day long. I like stunning sunsets and starry night skies. I like the absolute serenity. I like the cows and horse that wander nearby to chew the juicy green grass. I’m suddenly a country girl again. I love that.
The weather was warm and a little bit sultry in late March so a swim in the river was very refreshing. The water was a shade of caramel, which was unusual. Usually it is lovely and clear but a storm across The Tablelands the previous night washed away a lot of rich volcanic soil. It was still nice.
The clouds look a little ominous at times and we did get a little bit of rain during our weekend here but it just added to our experience. The lovely smell of summer rain and the array of colours it created in the sky at sunset were spectacular. This is mother nature doing her thing beautifully. Our campfire didn’t go out despite the rain, so it wasn’t a wash out.
So, our Woodleigh Station experience was pretty much perfect and a great camping destination getaway close to Cairns. As always, just avoid long weekends as then there will be more people than cows. And that would be a shame.