Monday, June 28, 2010

Daily Waters - A Place of Character

Daily Waters is four kilometres off the Stuart Highway and is worth the detour to see this one pub, one servo, no shop settlement. The Daily Waters pub is a place of Character along with Frank the Chook Man who is the nightly entertainer there. There is a caravan park and cabins here and the pub is an entertainment centre of an evening.

The Bar and reception centre of the International Daily Waters Pub
The stage at the Daily Waters Pub
The Kitchen Servery at the Daily Waters Pub
The Service Station at Daily Waters
Frank the Chookman's Caravan

Devil's Marbles to Longreach Waterhole

Birdlife on Longreach Waterhole
It was a late start leaving the campsite at the Devil’s Marbles having taken photos and walked around the marbles again. From there it was into Tennant Creak, a place that I cannot say much about except to avoid if possible. We did however fuel up here and bought lunch for a change.

Settling for a short day, we drove to a roadside rest area known as Attack Creek which is 70 Kilometres north of Tennant Creek. We were now in the tropics and winter seemed far away even though it was only June. While we were at this campsite, we packed our bed Dooners into plastic bags and stored them under the bed. The feather down coat also went into storage; no we will not need them again this winter. The days are now in the low 30 degrees and the nights very pleasant.

Friday was to be another short day doing less than 200 kilometres. Why is that? Well we found a small piece of Paradise. We followed the Stuart highway to Elliott, another town not worth mentioning but the gateway to Longreach Waterhole, 10 kilometres west of the township on a dirt road. There are no signs to show you it is there just a dirt track and a Private Property Keep Out sign. We heard about it in Tennant Creek but the locals in Elliott like to keep the place for themselves.

Longreach Waterhole is a natural watercourse approximately 150 metres wide that leads into the 240 square kilometre Lake Woods and the waterhole forms part of this lake. Lake Woods is a major breeding habitat for many inland birds. As we pulled up there were water birds everywhere. They included Pelicans, Cormorants, Darters, Straw neck and Glossy Black Ibis, Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, Whistling and Black kites, Brolgas, Jabiru, Large and Intermediate Herons, Finches, White winged Thrillers, Rufus Whistlers, Jacky Winter and the list goes on. It was difficult to make time to set up the caravan, I just wanted to go but Coba had other ideas.

Just after we stopped a pair of Brolgas was dancing on the bank opposite the caravan. Then an army of around 500+ pelicans and 2000 little black Cormorants came down the waterhole hearting the fish in front of them and fishing at the same time. They were packed together so tight I do not know how they got their head in the water. This happens several times a day.

Birdlife on Longreach Waterhole

The birdlife on the waterhole was an example of the biggest and strongest beats up the smallest and lives easy on the small guy’s hard work. The Terns would dive into the water and catch fish and the kites would attack them to make them drop their catch and then swoop down and take it up from the water. The little black cormorants need to surface to swallow their fish that they catch and the nearest pelican would attack it for the fish. I saw a pelican grab a Little Black Cormorant in its bill and hold it under water until it let the fish go and then the pelican took the fish. It was nature at its best.

Caspian Tern with a fish
Little Black Cormorant with a fish

Next morning I was up at daylight and out with the camera. It was a shot a second and I did not know where to point the camera next. It is unbelievable that there could be so many fish in this waterway. At times there would be a dozen cormorants in camera range all trying to swallow full live fish. At the same time there were so many birds in the air I wanted to get flight shots. This place was a bird photographers dream.

A Jabiru or Black Necked Stork skims the water at Longreach Waterhole
Pelicans in Flight - Longreach Waterhole
A Black Kite on the lookout for Terns with fish.

By 10.00 am I had to walk away and try for some bush birds. Red-browed Pardalotes were calling in the trees but finding them was another challenge. There was one calling from a tree just outside the van and I had Coba and myself searching for it and we still have not found it. I headed bush and after two hours I saw my first Red Browed Pardalote. An hour later and I had managed to get some shots of these small elusive birds. After lunch we went for a drive following the winding waterway and looking for more birds. In the evening we had some of our caravan neighbours over for a show of bird photos taken along the way. While we were doing this I noticed that there was an eclipse taking place so we followed the moon though part of this process.

Sunday was a repeat of the first two days although several pelicans left the waterhole soaring up until they were out of sight before heading off, probably to Lake Eyre. We had our third great sunset again this evening and it was necessary to capture the moment for the memories. Monday morning it was on the road again, next stop – Mataranka.

Sunset at Longreach Waterhole near Elliott in the NT

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Alice Springs North to Devil's Marbles

Tuesday 22nd June 2010. After a lazy start we fuelled up and hit the road around 10.30AM. Leaving Alice Springs we detoured into the Old Telegraph Station on the northern edge of the city. This place is worth a visit but I do not know about the $8.00 admission fee to get into the station itself. The old telegraph station is on the banks of the Todd River where there is a waterhole that was thought to be a spring. It has since been found that there is a depression in the granite rock shelf that traps and holds water from the wet for a longer period than the rest of the river. This was believed to be a spring and was named Alice Spring by Surveyor William Mills after Mrs Alice Todd.

The original waterhole at the Old Telegraph Station - Alice Springs

The Old Telegraph station is also the track head for the Larapinta Trail for people starting from the Alice Springs end of the track. For us it was the end of the track. Just over from the track head a mother and Joey Wallaroo were sunbaking on a rock but decided to move while we were there. Wallaroos are more common in this area than Kangaroos.

Wallaroo's at the Old telegraph Station near the start of the Larapinta Track

Not long after leaving Alice Springs we crossed the tropic of Capricorn. We were now officially in the Tropics. Our next stop was a station property called Aileron which has a service station, store, motel and caravan park. It also has an Aboriginal shop where they sell artefacts and paintings done by the Anmatjere People of the area. As we approached the settlement, we observed a giant statue of an Aboriginal man with a spear standing on the top of a hill behind the settlement. We found out that this statue is 17 metres high. At the Craft shop there was another sculpture of an Aboriginal Woman and child. The woman would have been around 8 metres high and the child around three metres high. They had been all done by the same artist and were very good sculptures. Inside the craft centre aboriginal people were painting in their own art style.

Statue of Aboriginal Woman and Chila at Aileron
17 metre high statue of anmatjere Man at Aileron

Leaving Aileron we came across a plague of Grass hoppers. Several Brown Falcons were in the trees along this stretch of road as grass hoppers are part of their staple diet. Also Black and Whistling Kites were plentiful floating on the air currents above the road waiting for the cars to disturb the grasshoppers.

Around 4.00pm we stopped travelling for the day and set up our bush camp around 40 kilometres south of Barrow Creek on a track into a windmill. Because of the water from the windmill, birds were plentiful. Occasionally the wind would come up and the windmill would come to life with a groaning and squeaking sound. There were several interesting things in this area including giant ants that made their nest in the ground and decorated the edge of the nest entrance with dried needle leaves from one of the trees growing in the area. Large Powder Puff Fungi were also breaking through the ground crust and were plentiful. This had probably been caused by recent rains.

Giant ants nest hole decorated by falen Needle leaves
Wednesday Morning we set off again with a short day planned and a drive of around 150 kilometres to The Devil’s Marbles. I stopped to photograph some old vehicles from the past along the way at Wycliff Wells.
Relic of the past - Wycliff Wells (One for you Bob)
We arrived at the Devil’s Marbles for lunch and set up our caravan in the camping area. Camping fees in the NT Parks and reserves is very reasonable at $3.30 / person / night or if they have hot showers they are $6.60 / person / night. The afternoon was spent exploring the area and finding the best spot to take my sunset photos from. We were now back in the tropics and were happy that the warm weather was with us once again.
Devil's Marbles sunset shot
Devil's Marbles - Daytime shot
Devil's Marbles late afternoon shot
First light at the Devil's Marbles before sunrise.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Return to Alice and Trephina Gorge

Our flight from Sydney to Alice Springs on Saturday had a bonus in it when we flew over Lake Eyre. The weather was clear and we were given great views of the giant saltpan that had filled with water. The thing that surprised me was the number of islands in the lake. Our flight path took us over the area between Lake Eyre and Lake Eyre South. I think that the pilot bought the aircraft down to a lower altitude to give us the views. For once I never had a camera with me so I missed out on the photo opportunity.

On our arrival in Alice Springs we retrieved our vehicle from the long term car park and went into Alice to replenish our supplies. We then collected our caravan and headed for Trephina Gorge in the East MacDonnell Ranges. When we arrived, the camping area was full so we set up in the overflow camping area which we had all to ourselves. After setting up I went for a walk to try and find some birds to photograph. I managed to get some near our camp site one of which was a different Hooded Robin. The common bird in the area was the White Plumed Honeyeater.

The Hooded Robin at Trephina Gorge
That night was extremely cold so it was an early night into the bed to warm up. Next morning I was up before the sun and I headed down the road towards Trephina Bluff and into the creek to get photographs. It amazed me the colour change in this Bluff as the light changes through the early morning. I then headed back to the caravan before walking into the gorge to check things out. On my return I managed to talk Coba into doing the ridgeline walk around the top of the gorge and then returning through the gorge. I was surprised at the difficulty of this walk mainly due to the rocky condition of the land as well as poor physical condition.
Trephina Bluff from our campsite - Taken before the sun came up
Trephina Bluff from Triphina Creek in the early morning light.

That afternoon we went for a drive into John Hayes Rock pools which is a 4X4 wheel drive. The track ran along the river bed in several places with one section being just boulders to drive over. Needless to say Coba was no real happy. The rock pools were nothing and I felt that I had wasted the effort to drive there. That night we tried out the generator as we had not used it to date on this trip. All went well and I had power to run my computer and charge batteries.

Monday morning it was up again before sunrise but this time I headed into the gorge for photos. Trephina Gorge is the jewel in the crown of the East MacDonnell Ranges. I took the opportunity of the soft light to photograph the gorge, returning to the caravan for breakfast at 9.00 am. We then packed and hooked up the van to move on. Our first stop was Ross River Resort where Diesel was $2.30 / litre and petrol was $2.35 / litre. From there it was back to Corroboree Rock where I had hoped to find the Grey Fronted Honeyeater. There were no Grey Fronted Honeyeaters but I did manage to find and photograph two Painted Finches. My main reason for going to Trephina was to look for these birds but I could not find any there. I had all but given up on these finches so this had been a lucky break for me finding them here. Then it was a short stop at Jessie Gap and into Alice Springs.

Lookin down into Trephina Gorge from the Rim Walk
River Gums in the soft light of dawn in Trephina Creek
Morning sunlight on the red cliff in Trephina Gorge
Early Morning Reflections in Trephina Gorge

Trephina Gorge is a beautiful place and we both could have stayed there longer but we had coved it and it was time to go. Tomorrow (Tuesday) we intend to move north and hope to find warmer nights. The days are beautiful but the nights are cold.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The West MacDonnell Ranges

The West MacDonnell Ranges.

Rock formations in the West MacDonnell Ranges

Tuesday Morning (9/6/2010) and we checked out of the G’Day Mate Caravan park in Alice Springs and headed into the West MacDonnell Ranges.  I was told by Michael Barrett from NT National Parks that Stanley Chasm was worth a stop and I should get some birds to photographs there.  Michael is a contact on Flickr so I sought to use his local knowledge to my benefit.   Our first stop was Simpsons Gap and our arrival there bought back the memories from six years earlier when we camped here while walking the Larapinta Trail. We had covered 25 kilometres that day carrying our heavy backpacks and, on arriving at Simpsons Gap, we abandoned the dusty gravelly camping area that had been set aside for campers for the clean comfort of the sandy river bed.  The gap was still as beautiful as that day and as I walked down to the waterhole it all came back to me. 

While we were here, I observed the cruelty of nature where two young Ringneck Parrots, which I suspect only left the nest that day were attacked by other birds.  One was attacked by two butcherbirds and the second by Yellow Throated Miners.  The one attacked by the two butcher birds was near the end of its short life while the one attacked by the miners had made it into trees but it also was in trouble.  Sad but this is the way of nature. 

Early morning at Simpson's Gap before the sun rises above the gap.

From Simpsons Gap it was on to Stanley Chasm to catch the Midday spectacle of the sun directly overhead the chasm.  This is something like an ancient sun ritual where mere mortals gather to witness the sun in a certain location when it lights up this narrow canyon slot.  It was $8.00 / person to go see the chasm as it is on Aboriginal land but I asked if we could camp there the night and that was $4.00 / person with entry into the Chasm.  Can’t work this one out but took it and said thank you.  Later I walked back along the Larapinta trail towards Brinkley’s Bluff and managed to get photographs of four types of Honeyeater and a Pardalote.  By the time I returned to the camp site, track walkers had walked in and again the memories were there.  I recalled the 17 kilometre section from Brinkley’s Bluff into Stanley Chasm.  As well as our heavy backpacks we had to carry water for two days on this section and the climb to Brinkley’s was a steep 600 metres high.  I remember carrying 8 litres of water up to our camp on the top of the Bluff.  That day when we arrived at Stanley Chasm, Mike and myself put away two large hamburgers.  Graeme and Margaret managed one each. 

Like ancient sun worshipers, People gather in Stanley Chasm for when the sun is directly overhead and lights up the chasm.

Next morning we packed up and travelled to Ellery Creek Bighole, another memorable place from our Larapinta backpack.  Ellery Creek was almost half way and we had arranged for a hot dinner to be bought out from Alice Springs as a feast and celebration for reaching the half way mark.  This was also the place where some of the group decided that they had done enough, pulling out and leaving four of the original team members going on with the challenge.  Ellery creek today has changed since we used it as a camp site six years ago.  It now has modern toilets with solar powered lighting and gas burners and hotplates for people to use.  We dug a hole in the bush for a toilet and cooked on our camping gas stoves.  The shelter we used for our celebration dinner is still there.

The Ellery Creek Big Hole.

It was then on to Glen Helen and the gorge where the Fink River flows through the range on its way to Lake Eyre.  This is a beautiful place and I have always loved this spot.  I have been here several times and it is always great to visit again.  Glen Helen was our camp site for Day three of our Larapinta Backpack.  We celebrated Margaret Smiths 60 birthday here with a barbeque where the“resourt” supplied the meat and the salads.    By now you may be thinking, boy this was some backpack, always eating out.  Well the backpack took the four of us who finished the walk 17 days and we utilised catering services on three occasions.  These are the three that I have mentioned.  The rest of the time we carried our three meals a day and cooked our own.  We did have three food drops carrying supplies for up to six days at a time along with everything else that we needed.  It was hard but it was a challenge and the experience was great.   Also the beauty of the area can only be seen by walking in the areas where the vehicles cannot go.  Most of our campsites were nowhere near a road and there was no vehicle access.

The Finke River flows through an opening in the red range at Glen Helen.
The red cliffs tower above the Finke River at Glen Helen.

Redbank Gorge was the end of the road for us this trip.  The dirt road into the place had not improved.  The camping area was still a red dirt surface.  We had intended to camp here but I must be getting soft as on seeing the place again I made the decision to return to Ormiston Gorge to camp that night.  As we walked down to the river bed into Redbank Gorge, we saw the six tents of people doing the Larapinta trail and I assumed that they had left them set up while they climbed Mt Sonder.  A recent flood had come down the river and through the gorge and the build up of floating materials was still in the trees.  We walked the rocky track to the gorge which had changed since our last visit.  A build up of sand now covered the rock shelf at the entrance of the gorge. 

Redbank Gorge is where we started our walk to do the Larapinta Trail in August 2004.  Three of us also climbed Mt Sonder making it to the top.   The track to the top of the mountain from Red Bank Gorge is 8.5 kilometres so double this for the round trip.   Mt Sonder is 1,300 metres high.  We started after lunch and were back before dark.  Not a bad feat for 60 year olds.

Seeing Mt Sonder really hit me and bought a tear to my eye.  Mt Sonder is a blue mountain ringed by the red ranges and of the West MacDonnell’s.  It has always impressed me from the first time I saw it.  It is a beautiful mountain that stands out like a sapphire on a red velvet cloth.  Seeing the mountain again my thoughts turned from the things that happened on the track to the people who I did this walk with, especially the three close friends that I shared the full experience with.  This was only one of many walks that we had done together and we had built up a respect and friendship that only lucky people ever know.   We challenged each other but also helped each other.  Sadly bad knees and other ailments have stopped two of us from doing these things together and although we sometimes talk on the phone, I really miss their company and the great times and challenges we shared as true friends.

An early morning shot of Mt Sonder.  The further away you view it from the bluer it gets.

There is still a place where the wild Dingo calls and that is Ormiston Gorge.  You can hear it howl either at dusk or early morning.   Back in the days when I was still backpacking we would often hear them close to the camp but there is no fear of being attacked by them.  There is a Dingo here at Ormiston Gorge who still goes through the camp every night and fishes in the river during the day.  Yes that is correct it fishes in the waterholes and does catch fish.  It runs the fish up into the shallow end of the pool where it can then catch them.   It is not tame in any way and will not allow anyone to approach it.  We spent two nights here as there are hot showers and flush toilets in the National Park Camping area.  Also there were a variety of birds here that I wanted to photograph.  A flock of over a dozen Spinifex pigeons would wander through the camping area on a daily basis looking for seeds.  These are the most colourful of all the Australian pigeons. Grey Headed Honeyeaters claimed the territory at the top of the camping area attacking any other small bird that came within their range.  Grey Crowned Babblers also frequented the campsite while White Plumed honeyeaters andBrown honeyeaters played chase me through the trees.   A Western bowerbird claimed the scraps from the barbeque that the crows had missed. 

Ormiston Gorge is a beautiful place with walks along the ridges and through the gorge.  At present the water level is still up and it is not possible to keep dry feet when walking in the gorge section.   Also the tracks in the riverbed are very rocky due to the recent flooding in the area.   Ormiston Gorge is a camp site for the Larapinta trail walkers.  The track section from Glen Helen is short enough to allow walkers to arrive at Ormiston early enough to set up their camp and explore the gorge.  Ormiston Gorge was our first food pickup point when we walked the Larapinta.  We also had the afternoon exploring the gorge.

The swimming hole at the entrance to Ormiston Gorge is a five minute walk from the camp grounds
The lush conditions following recent rains show at old cattle yards beside the road to Ormiston Gorge

The road into Serpentine Gorge now stops 1.3 kilometres from the gorge and it is a walk from this point.  This gorge has wonderful swirl patterns in the rocks and the climb to the top is spectacular.  When we walked the Larapinta we arrived here for Margaret’s 60th Birthday and we celebrated with two small bottles of scotch that I had secretly carried in.  This campsite had also been on the red dirt and some of us traded this site for a sandy section of the river bed.

Coba and I arrived back in Alice Springs on the Friday Afternoon as the town was setting up for the Fink Desert Race.  All accommodation was full but we had booked into a caravan park before we left for the West MacDonnell’s so we were guaranteed a spot.  We were well into cleaning out the fridge and freezer getting ready to leave the van and fly back home on the Sunday.  This gave us an excuse to dine out so we took the opportunity to spoil ourselves on the Friday and Saturday evenings with restaurant meals.  Sadly for us the Finke Desert Race started on Sunday and so was our flight back to Sydney so we were not able to witness this event.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Alice Springs - The Centre of Australia

Alice Springs - The Centre of Australia

Leaving Rainbow Valley just after 10.00AM we were in Alice Springs by lunch time and booked into the G’Day Mate Caravan Park. After lunch it was into the visitors centre and then to Coles for supplies.

Sunday morning found us driving the road into the East MacDonnell Ranges but we only visited Emily and Jessie gaps and Corroboree Rock before turning around and returning to the caravan. That afternoon we went to the Botanic Gardens in Alice Springs where I observed a Western Bowerbird trying to encourage his lady friend into his bower. The lesson I learnt from this is that it is a female trait in all females be it man, beast or bird but there was no way that that female bower bird was going to be temped. She was not going to enter that bower. He was tempting her with all his trinkets but nothing worked.

The Western Bowerbird. Bowerbirds are the engineers of the bird world. Not only do they build a nest to lay their eggs and raise their young, The male bird also builds a a stick structure called a bower which is a love shack where he encourages the female into this bower and they mate.
Monday was a visit to the Desert Park which kept me amused. I was really impressed with the birds of prey display where the handlers work with hawks, falcons, owls and even a magpie.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Port Augusta to Alice Springs

Port Augusta to Alice Springs

It was Tuesday Morning 1/6/2010 and we packed ready to leave Port Augusta for the run north. The rain had stopped and the sun was out although there were still clouds that looked threatening. I talked Coba into allowing me to go into the Arid Lands Botanical Gardens again for one last attempt to get a close up shot of the White Winged Fairy Wren but sadly they were all too shy and I was not able to improve on what I had taken. My only trophy for that morning was a couple of more shots of Redthroats. (Small bird that lives in the grass and small bushes.)

Our first stop was a six kilometre detour off the highway into Woomera, The home of the Australian and UK rocket testing as well as nuclear bomb testing. This town is owned and operated by the Australian Government. Tourists are welcome and there are displays of rockets, military aircraft and artillery displays.

One of the display parks in the town - Woomera
Misile in Woomera

Down the road the threatening clouds soon turned into rain and the day was spent driving through continual showers. At Glendambo there was water everywhere from the heavy rain that had hit the settlement before we arrived. We continued on up the road and spent that night camped at Bon Bon rest area along with a dozen other vans. This rest area had a toilet, which made it a suitable stop for the night. That evening the weather cleared and we were to learn that we had seen the last of the rain for a while.

At lunch time the next day we drove into Coober Pedy and booked into one of the caravan Parks. It had 160 sites and that night the park was full. There were three other caravan parks in Coober Pedy so this tells how many vans were on the road. After lunch we did our own town tour. Coober Pedy is a typical small operators mining town. The Opal mines start 45 kilometres south of the town and extend to 30 kilometres north of the town. The town is one large junk pile. The view from the lookout tells it all. Typical of the junk in the yards at Coober Pedy

From town we went out to the Breakaway Range which is a spectacular line of eroded hills with many colours making the landscape unbelievable when it comes to the colour of the area. This area is also part of the local Aboriginal heritage and there is a permit fee required to enter the area.

The Castle in the Breakaways
The Breakaway Range
From the Lookout - Section of the Breakaway Range

Next morning we continued north with the intention of going into the Painted Desert. Sadly for us the road was closed and we were not able to enter the area. This is the second time that I have missed out on seeing the Painted Desert but we were told that it is similar to the Breakaway Range. We continued north stopping to check out bird sites and that night (Thursday 3/6/2010) we bush camped down a dirt track off the Stuart Highway. This turned out to be a great spot for birds so I left Coba in the van while I went chasing birds to photograph. I managed to get Chats, Wood swallows, Zebra Finch and the rare Bourke’s Parrot. I ended up seeing eight of these parrots in total while I was there. For anyone wanting to go there the GPS co-ordinates are 26 Degrees 11’ 52” South and 113 Degrees 11’ 17” East.

Bourkes Parrot

Next morning I again saw the Bourke’s Parrots but only managed a distant photo. The finches were there but the chats and wood swallows had gone. Breaking camp and moving on we made it to Rainbow Valley at around 2.00 PM. This was our campsite for the night. I managed to get a good shot of a mature Brown Falcon here. Zebra finches were in plague proportions.

Brown Falcon - Rainbow Valley
I had been here before but had hoped for water in front of the coloured hill but again we were out of luck. We watch the hill change colour as the sun set. The red reflection on the hill and cliff of the valley changed to red in this light. Rainbow Valley - Sunset Photo
Rainbow Valley - Daytime Photo

Darkness came in fast as there was no moon until late into the night. As a result the stars were spectacular. It has been many years since I have seen a night sky like this. The Milky Way stretched right across the night sky and the Southern Cross was lost in the millions of stars that shone like diamonds on black velvet. Saturday morning and I was up before the sun and out photographing the hill of Rainbow Valley. The chill in the air froze my fingers and it was back to the caravan for a hot cup of coffee.

From Rainbow valley it was in to Alice Springs where we managed the last caravan site in the caravan Park. We will now spend three days here before heading out into the gorges.