A long weekend in the West MacDonnells

Nirbeeja, a happy camper

We were excited to learn that, hot on the heals of the Anzac Day long weekend, we were to have another long weekend here in the Northern Territory.  Who said this was an uncivilised place?  What were we to do with three days off? The answer was obvious – we’d “go bush”.

Now, deciding what to do was the easy part, where to go not so simple.  Alice Springs is the largest settlement for around 1500km in any direction, and Alice has a population of less than 30000.  So you get the idea – there is plenty of bush out here. 

We knew that with a long weekend and the onset of the tourist season, the larger, better known places would be busy, so we opted for some bush camping at the Serpentine Chalet area of the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Now, don’t get the wrong idea about ‘Chalet’.  There was once a rudimentary chalet there, built in the late 1950s, to accommodate the intrepid folk heading west.  In those days the roads were rocky and rough, and travel was slow. Once the roads improved people no longer stopped there, continuing on in a single day to the better known Glen Helen and Ormiston Gorges.  The chalet was demolished in the late 1960s, and all that remains are some concrete slabs and a bit of rubble.

Bush camping is welcome in the area, though the track is 4WD access only and there are no facilities.  Which was just perfect for what we wanted – a weekend away from everything.  We threw the swags in the back of the Diva, along with some other camping gear.  Cooking would be done on a campfire.  And we threw in some survival rations – champagne, red wine, chocolate, bacon, eggs, mushrooms and tomatoes for breakfast……you get the idea.  We were going to rough it. 

Off we headed, into the West MacDonnells which were almost unrecogisable from our visit last September.  Then, vegetation struggled to survive in a harsh, rocky, though stunningly beautful environment.  Heavy summer rains had simply transformed the region.  The vista was now predominantly green, softened noticibly by grasses along the roads, across the ridges and in the valleys.  Trees had put forth new growth, and most of the waterways still contained water.  Insect life abounded, as did birds.  Zebra Finches, Budgerigars and Diamond Doves were everywhere, and we noticed other less common species – Grey Shrike Thrushes, Grey Fantails, Painted Finches and White Winged Trillers to name a few.

Needless to say, we had a perfect weekend and returned to civilisation relaxed and renewed.    The days were lovely, sunny and warm.  The nights weren’t bad either, cool enough to enjoy the campfire but not cold, and the skies crystal clear, displaying the Milky Way in all its beauty, along with shooting stars and satellites speeding across the heavens.


The setting

As we wandered through the lush bushland, Nirbeeja spotted large numbers of birds flying to and from an area just over a rise.  We went to investigate, and found a beautiful waterhole nestled between the hills. We sat and watched as Zebra Finches, Budgies and Doves, along with a few others, came to drink from the waterhole, then fly off to continue their feeding elsewhere.    It was a perfect setting, like a hidden Zen garden.

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