Trip to Uluru – Day 4 West MacDonnell Ranges
The mountains to the west of the gap (Heavitree gap) are called the West MacDonnell Ranges. Alice Springs itself is located at this gap in the MacDonnell Ranges (source: https://www.outback-australia-travel-secrets.com/west-macdonnell-ranges.html)
Ormiston Gorge showcases the spectacular geology and landscapes of the ranges. The Gorge has a near-permanent waterhole, estimated to be up to 14 meters deep. Contrary to previous walks, this area had an interesting variety of native flora and fauna including a number of relict plant species (‘Living Fossils’) remaining from a tropical past.
To get here we traveled off to Ormiston Gorge. Another great hike. This time it was the ‘Ghost Gum Walk’ or ‘Pound Walk’ – not sure which one we took. Access to the Ormiston Gorge is via Larapinta and Namatjira Drives. We begin our climb, another arduous one, but was different than previous as it had much greenery and water holes. All of us had an urge to dip in the waters, but couldn’t since few were not so clean and were extremely cold. It is said that prolonged exposure, even during summer can result in hypothermia. Few of our team members still endured a waterhole which was just near to the visitors center. I and my son took off to take a dip. Our feets touched the water and…..a cold wave went through our spines. The water was indeed extremely cold. There were few swimmers in the pond mustering all the strength they have. My son still wanted to get in and he got in only to stay in there for less than a minute. He was literally shivering and eager to get back under the blistering sun. Who would have imagined such a cold phenomenon in the middle of a desert? The following picture is of another waterhole we found out during our hike.
We were experiencing an arid landscape, high cliffs, waterholes, and plenty of native flora and fauna. While walking we came across small creatures which we all could see far on the rocks. These were no monkeys or mountain goats. They were Black-footed Rock Wallabies, perched high up on the rocky slopes. If you see close to the picture on your left, you would see one bang in the center soaking under the sun. They were far on the cliffs and this is what I could capture from my telephoto lens. They were everywhere, popping out of nowhere, jumping around dangerously (at least for us) from rock to rock.
Earlier in the day, we had encountered one of the venomous – the Redback Spider, a female, and it was right under the bench we were sitting while reading the information boards. Though they can be found everywhere in Australia, I saw it for the first time. If you find one in nature, you are not supposed to kill it but let it be. Our guide slightly pulled out the web where she was so we can take a closer look. At 1 cm body size, she occurred harmless to us as she was lazily hanging there in her messy web, oblivious of her surrounding. Let me rest this case here or we might go on a tangent giving a zoology lesson..!!
Coming towards the end of the walk, we experienced something which we haven’t seen. The Ochre Pits. We could see the yellow and red layers in the ochre walls in abundance on the banks of a sandy creek. This is the area where the Aboriginals mined ochres for their ceremonies – raw material for paintings and ceremonial body decoration. Certain kind of ochres is rarer and more valuable. Being a culturally active site, we were not allowed to touch, use or remove the ochre. Took it all in and moved on.
The landscape had so much vegetation and a much-required shade from the blistering sun and the oppressing heat, we decided to spend more time mucking around, taking photos of surroundings and the group. All of us had a very good time here. Soon it was going to end as we were to regroup and join at the parking lot where the van was parked. We drove through the Owen Springs Reserve following the footsteps of the first European explorers. Tonight we were to rest at Owen Springs, spending another beautiful night under the southern stars, complete with campfire, cooking a hearty meal on the coal, and sharing today’s experiences and wondering what’s next. Tomorrow was the final day of the camp, so we’re sad too. The group has already said goodbyes to two families (couples, who were visiting from Holland) yesterday since they had only booked a 3-day trip.
This was a different night. This site was completely Outback, Wayoutback. No tents, no commercial activity, no establishments of any kind, no water, no nothing. We and our van, that’s it. We camped next to a river bed which was now completely dry. As we have planned to reach this site with ample daylight we were able to check around and set up things before it was dark. Few of us hiked another hill to watch a spectacular sunset. Few of us took out all the swags that we have carried from the previous campsite since this site had no such facility to store them. We made a makeshift table which was going to be our food work area for that night. A partner of our guide joined us at this location. He was another guide working on a different route and company but from the same hometown. Time was our enemy. We had to race to set up everything – our swags, our belongings required for the night, torches, food preparation – before it went dark. And soon that area was engulfed by the darkness and a light fog started building up. The campfire was now on. Production of coal had begun. In all that chaos we lost a crucial ingredient, I think it was the wheat flour or something. Since it got all mixed up with the sand we couldn’t save much.
You could see in the above picture how prepared were we. A toilet roll secured in place for an emergency, swags ready, food and fire being prepared. This log was the only sitting area above the ground. The damper was being cooked once again, so we all were very happy. The entire crew was huddled around the fire as the temperature continued to drop. This was our last camp of the trip and was purposely set it up that way to give us a complete native feel of what’s it like living in the outback.
After another hearty meal, we jumped into our swags, bundled up and started chitchatting. No one wanted to sleep. Few of us – the Bravehearts – thought of taking a quick stroll in the night so we did. Some of us found good old trees as a barrier to getting the unwanted fluids out..:-). Soon the entire area was covered with moonlight. It was such an amazing scene. So serene and sublime. Stars were shining brightly. It was an open sky amphitheater, way away from every man-made thing. Just us and the sky above. Nothing artificial. It was late and every one of us begin dozing off and soon slept. All was eerie and so quiet other than occasional stirrups and someone waking up for bathroom breaks. I am sure most of us didn’t sleep at all due to the chillness and openness we were put into. Awaiting for the sun to come up and another day of the hike.