Storm-clouds over Alice – the Todd River flows

Ominous cloud approaching Alice.  9 April 2010

9 April 2010

Alice Springs is famous for its Henley-on-Todd Regatta, an annual ‘boating’ event held on the Todd River in the centre of Alice Springs.  Why is it famous?  Well, because the boat races only ever take place on the dry, sandy river bed.  The ‘boats’ are carried across the sand by their crews in a race to the finish.  Indeed, the only time the Regatta has ever been cancelled has been when there has been water in the river!

It was with this image of the Todd River in mind that we arrived in Alice Springs late last year.  Dry river bed, not a drop of water in sight.  We both spoke of how much we would like to see the river flow, but didn’t hold out any hope.  

We were wonderfully surprised in early January when around 140mm of rain fell in the area over a couple of days, and the river flowed.  The surging brown waters fairly raced through the town, crossing causeways and providing a spectacle for visitors and locals alike.  Unfortunately, the lure of an unlikely swim in the Todd proved too strong for some, and a couple of drownings occurred.  Apparently, this is a common occurance when the excitement of seeing the river flow overwhelms the judgement of some onlookers.

The river has flowed and two occasions since then; in February, and then again last weekend (April 2010).   Alice Springs has experienced unusually high rainfall so far this year.  In the whole of 2009, 77mm was recorded at the nearby airport.  To date in 2010, around 493mm has fallen.  It is little wonder, then, that the countryside is now so lush and green.

Mother nature has leapt into action.  Insects are breeding, grasshoppers and locusts are everywhere, tadpoles, frogs and fish have filled the waterholes, the birds are breeding and so are the kangaroos.  The wildlife looks well fed, content, and on the lookout to procreate!  Thick grasses cover fields that only recently consisted of baked red earth.  Native trees and shrubs are putting out new growth.   All this is entirely in keeping with Australia’s Red Centre, where sporadic rains are put to good use by nature.

For a couple of days after heavy rain the river roars past; literally roars past that is – you can hear its rush, like a jet engine, from at least 50 metres away.  Then it stops flowing, and gradually the large pools recede, contracting until they are little more than puddles hiding between the rocks.  Eventually, they too disappear into the sand, except of course, for the large, sheltered permanent waterholes for which the MacDonnell Ranges are famous.

We have wondered where the enormous volume of water goes when the river floods.  The best we could learn is that it heads in the general direction of Lake Eyre and the Simpson Desert, and is gradually absorbed into the countryside as it goes, filling the underground aquifers and spreading life to the land it crosses.

Local naturalists were proclaimimg that the rainfall early in January was sufficient to keep the local environment healthy for the remainder of 2010.  We can only guess as to the benefits the tremendous follow up rains will have brought.

We hope you enjoy the photographs and videos.  They give some idea of the river as it rages through town, but cannot capture the excitement of the event.  You have to be here to experience that magic!



A footnote: local legend holds that anyone who has seen the Todd River flow three times will never leave Alice Springs.  We are getting nervous!


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