Friends visit Alice Springs – we show them the Red (or was that Green) Centre

Field of wildflowers beside Binns Track, south east of Alice Springs

Our friends Christopher and Janice from Canberra made a flying visit to Alice Springs last weekend.  It was Janice’s third time here this year, and Christopher’s second.  They almost consider themselves to be locals now.

Their visit had been planned for a couple of months, and we were hoping the area would still be as pretty as we assured them it was.  All year we kept reporting flowing rivers, regular rainfall, wildflowers and abundant wildlife.  In the end I think they visited just to shut me up!

They were only coming for a few days, with the implication that good weather was at the top of the wish-list, especially since they were escaping Canberra’s chill. We’d had so much rainfall here over the winter that we were hoping for at least some sunshine for them, and passable dirt roads.  In fact, the week before their arrival most of the dirt roads surrounding Alice Springs were closed due to heavy rain.  Thankfully, our prayers were answered and we had perfect weather all weekend, and the roads we wanted to travel on were open.

We had an action-packed weekend planned for them, though we were mindful of balancing our desire to show them everything with their need to slow down and absorb the experience.   It’s easy to forget just how powerful the country is around here, and that visitors often just love to be in it.  To stop, absorb and feel.    We hope we got the balance right.

It was overcast when their plane arrived on Friday, but the clouds soon cleared to brilliant sunshine as we lunched outside, and I breathed a quiet sigh of relief.

That afternoon we visited the annual Desert Mob art exhibition, a stunning display of the latest works from the Aboriginal art centres scattered far and wide across the deserts of inland Australia.  Next we went on a bushwalk near Simpson’s Gap, along the Woodland Trail.  This gave our visitors their first view of the region’s wildflowers, their first view of budgerigars in the wild – a colourful and noisy experience – and an opportunity to take off their shoes and socks and paddle in a running creek in central Australia.    That evening we went on the Nocturnal Tour at the Desert Park, being guided around a 4 hectare outdoor enclosure, able to walk among rare and endangered wildlife in natural surroundings.

Janice, Nirbeeja and Christopher on Woodland Walk, soon to get their feet wet!

Nirbeeja, Chris and Janice surrounded by Mulla Mulla

Wildflowers on Woodland Walk

Click on the following link to watch a short video of an adult budgerigar feeing its young in the nesting hollow.  Nirbeeja didn’t realise she was providing a commentary on the scene!


The following day we explored the East MacDonnell Ranges, visiting Emily Gap to experience its beautiful rock art and waterhole.  This is an important place in the Caterpillar Dreaming stories of the local Arrernte people.

Next was a trip to Trephina Gorge, always a lovely place, but especially so now with its creek in flow and large deep waterholes.  There was even a small waterfall, something I never expected to witness in the Red Centre.  It proved a perfect place for lunch.  We detoured on the return walk to the car, along a rocky path overlooking the gorge, giving spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and dotted with a surprising variety of wildflowers.  It was interesting to note that over the course of this year, there have been significant changes to the shape of the sand-banks and river course through the gorge.  Such is the power of the rivers here when they flow.

Close-up of Central Bearded Dragon

Janice and Chrsitopher enjoy the refreshing waters of Trephina Gorge

A rare sight indeed - a waterfall in central Australia, at Trephina gorge

Wider view of our gorgeous lunch spot

The insects also enjoyed the wildflowers

Click on the following link to view a short video of the waterfall at Trephina Gorge.  Okay, I admit it’s a small waterfall, but really, how often do you see any waterfalls in central Australia.


We had booked in to stay overnight at Ross River Resort, further along the base of the range.  The term “resort” conjures up images of Five Star accommodation, cocktail bars, drink waiters and designer outlets!  Well, you’d be a little disappointed if that was your expectation at Ross River Resort, but in fact the experience is so much richer there. 

Central to the resort is the homestead, well over 100 years old, with thick walls and a bar area that whispered stories of wild nights gone by.  The place just reeks of character.  The walls of the homestead show photos of the region going back to early last century, giving visitors a sense of time and place, at least in terms of European history in the region. We stayed in cabins, and they were perfect for the setting – comfortable, simple and rustic.  Stone floors, hessian covered walls, fridge, coffee/tea-making facilities, a hot shower and comfortable bed!  And, thank goodness, no TV.

We had a few drinks, purely in the interests of restoring vital fluids of course, a wholesome meal and then sat around a campfire enjoying good company, a glass of red, and soaking up the ambience of the MacDonnell Ranges.  To complete the setting the full moon came up over the hills.  It was a wonderful way to finish off a perfect day.

View of Ross River Resort from ridge above the homestead.  East MacDonnell Range in distance

Happy campers!  Nirbeeja, Janice and Chris relaxing around the fire at Ross River Resort.

Male Bush Stone Curlew at Ross River Resort

Seed pods of Silver Senna

Harry and Sandra Osborn, the care-takers of the resort, really looked after us during our stay.  We had a big, wholesome cooked breakfast on Sunday morning, fortifying us for our planned explorations that day.  After breakfast, Harry took us on a walk to show us a couple of Bush Stone Curlews on the property.  This was a real thrill, especially since I had only written a post concerning this bird species the week before.  We were impressed with Harry’s obvious knowledge and respect for the birds, and his care for us not to approach so close as to alarm them.  (Some guides place the experience of visitors above the safety and well-being of wildlife, but we applaud the approach taken by Harry.)

A little sadly, we drove out from Ross River Resort, nonetheless happy that we had thoroughly enjoyed our stay.  Our adventures next took us on a drive through spectacular country, and along a sandy trails, to N’Dhala Gorge, a place we had visited earlier this year with Christopher and Janice to show them its prolific examples of petroglyph rock art.  The last time we visited, the area was hot and dry, and waterholes had contracted to a few small, semi-stagnant pools.  What a difference a year’s good rainfall makes.  The waterholes were now full of water coloured a soft ochre by the rock and soils of the gorge.  The steep rocky sides of the gorge were covered in wildflowers, flowering shrubs, and greenery, making it difficult to believe we were in central Australia.  It had the feeling of paradise, a perfect setting in which to discover anew the ancient rock-art treasures of the gorge.  To complete the experience at N’Dhala, we encountered a Brown Quail near our lunch spot.  Brown Quails are not supposed to be found in central Australia, but obviously this gorgeous little bird had forgotten to read the relevant guide-books!

The Caterpillar Dreaming petroglyphs at the entrance to N'Dhala Gorge

One of the lovely waterholes at N'Dhala Gorge

Nirbeeja soaks up the atmosphere beside a watehole

Chris and Janice beside a waterhole at N'Dhala Gorge

Brown Quail.  Someone forgot to tell him he isn't supposed to be in this area!

Click on the following link to listen to a short recording of frogs singing at N’Dhala Gorge.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them.

Leaving N’Dhala, we joined the southern loop of the Binns Track, a new experience for all of us.  The countryside flattened out as we travelled, becoming more open and sandy. 

We were greeted by a beautiful and rare sight as well drove along, completing the loop back to Alice.  Fields of wildflowers – purples, pinks, yellows, whites.  It was a breathtaking drive.  It was in fact a challenge to see the red soils and sands after which the wider region is named the Red Centre, such was the proliferation of wildflowers. 

Fields of wildflowers besides Binns Track.  Where is the red earth?

Native Everlasting Daisy beside Binns Track

Red-Tailed black Cockatoo sighted on our way back to Alice

Returning to Alice, we finished a memorable weekend at the Hanuman Restaurant, enjoying its quality food and wine.

For Nirbeeja and me, it was a perfect weekend.  Gorgeous countryside, wildlife experiences, wildflowers the equal of any we have seen, and the company of dear friends.  We hope Chris and Janice enjoyed themselves even half as much as we did!

3 October 2010

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