Saturday, 30 July 2016

Canyon of the Kings

We made the trip from Palm Valley to Kings Canyon via the dirt road passing through some pretty amazing country. Many people warned us that the road was awful and corrugated to the point your car would fall apart. Turns out they were right and wrong. The road itself was not bad at all, with the tyres down in pressure we were comfortably doing a average of 60 to 70km/h most of the way. 

A few corrugations ...

The downside was that we noticed in camp that some of the underbody panels were not bolted up with as many bolts as they started with. A quick fix with some repairs and we are back fully bolted. Will need to adjust the daily vehicle and camper check routine to ensure they are all there!

There were some inventive slow down signs on the way. 

But scenery was very pretty. 

Long straight roads were far and few between the 300km stretch. 

On the way we did our daily firewood collection. Andi got in on the axe action, taking to the dry timber with some vigour. 

We arrived at the camp around 2pm and setup to get across to the ranger guided talk at 3pm. The camp itself was pretty sparse and we setup on a patch of green grass with a view of the canyon. 

Having so many people around us a bit of a change. After relatively few people at Glen Helen and small group at Palm Valley it seemed like grand central station. 

Turns out the guided walk was cancelled for that day due to the Rangers being involved with burn off, so we heard up the creek walk to stretch the legs. The walk goes up the bottom of the valley. The boys got some reading practise with the signs on the way.  We were saving our walking legs for the rim walk tomorrow

After Palm Valley, the sunset here was spectacular but it just didn't have that flare. The red rocks certainly know how to put in a show, we must be getting spoilt for choice now. 

A quick game of cards at the pub listening to some fairly unique singing and guitar playing. Unique not so good way, and we headed back to camp. Not before we got asked for some of our sunset pictures from Palm Creek though! Have to remember to send them once we get back in coverage. 

Here we are dressed mostly in Red in the red centre!

The next morning we readied ourselves for the walk around the rim of the canyon. It was about 6km, certainly the longest walk we have done so far on the trip.

We headed off around 9:15 passing signs about making sure that you have enough water etc. During the warmer months they have a lot of work making sure people are aware of the dangers of dehydration etc. They close the full rim walk gates at 9am if it forecast to be over 36 degrees. Hopefully it works so that the rescue count is reduced. We have not had such temperatures forecasted and it was a chilly 13 as we headed up the first hill. 

It was pretty steep but the boys flew up in about 15 minutes or so. 

The view from the top was stunning

Once we were up on the plateau it was a lovely rather flat walk. The scenery changes to show more of the beehive style mounds, shaped by millions of years of weathering by wind and rain. 

The boys had a ball scaling some of the rocks without wondering too far off the path. There was always the danger of the vertical cliff face of the rim in mum and dad's mind, making sure we weren't too close. 

We started down thereeeee.

A heart pounding part of the walk especially for Dad was the section of the walk over the bridge to stand nearer to the south walk.  It involved walking over a bridge with a bit of a gap. 

Dad made it but didn't feel comfortable to head further. Katie and the boys took over the camera duties and got some great shots.

This is of the north south face. To give you a sense of scale, there are people in the top right hand chatting near the edge. 

It was a bit breezy up the top. 

 Later when we were on the north rim we watched as people came incredibly close the edge to get a great shot! Not sure if they are brave or otherwise.

At the back of the canyon there is sufficient shelter and water to form a protected spot for plants and animals, they called it the garden of Eden. It was certainly stunning and a big change from the barron rock landscape around. 

We then headed over to the south face of the canyon to see the shear cliffs of the north face. The cream colour is the natural colour of the rock, formed from sand dunes about 360m years ago. The lighter cream colour is and area where there has been a "recent" rock fall.  It darkens up over time with the rusty colour with lichens and leeching minerals from the rock. 

There were people walking at the top of the picture above for a sense of scale. 

It was a lovely walk down the south face on a slightly shallower gradient than the start. 

We passed Kestrel falls on the way back to the car park, a mammoth bit of rock. 

We arrived back in around 2 1/2 hours which was really good considering that the boys hadn't done much walking. They were tired when we got back to the car but that didn't last long as when we were back at camp they were straight back into the playground and hooning round on their bikes :)

Us on the other hand had a lovely relaxing afternoon chilling out. The breeze was a bit chilly but you get out of that and it was glorious. 

We needed to rest up as the next day was "moving day" making it way to Uluru and Kata-TJuta for a couple days. 

The rocks

After Kings canyon we enjoyed the tar road around to Uluru and Kata-Tjuta. It wasnt a very long drive at all and we started to see the sand dunes pop up as the road spears through them heading west.  The colour of the dirt was really red through here and combining the red with the desert in bloom meant a very easy drive for the eyes. 

The first big hill you come across is Mt Conner. In it own right it is a tourist attraction, and it is on private land that is part of the Curtin Springs station. That said it is very often confused with Uluru as travellers are excited to spot big rocks!

We didn't go out there on this trip but it was certainly a stunning view. Across the road we found out that you can the NT's largest salt lake, Lake Amadeus. Interestingly there aren't any signs with infomation on either of these stunning features. It was a matter of talking to people that we found out. 

As we continued towards Yalara, the town just outside the park where we were to camp, the boys were impressed with the number of different hotels.  It also has an airport that services daily flights from Alice Springs. Melbourne, Sydney and Cairns. With a large IGA and petrol station, it is a lovely little township. 

We arrived around 1pm and we were warned about a potential lenghty check in time. No such problems for us and we headed off to site 6A for setup.

We had only two nights here and had a fairly long list of things that we needed to do including bike rides round the base, going to the cultural centre, attending the  guided walks, doing walks round the Olga's and if possible a helicopter ride. We were a little lost as to how we could do this all in a 24 hour period.

We had planned to do a ride around the rock that afternoon wth the boys bikes and hiring a couple for mum and dad. This plan was thwarted some what by the need to repair two punctured tyres in time after running over the many little bindis at Kings Canyon. The repair kits we had had the rubble glue either gone off or simply leaked out so we had to go into the IGA and get a new kit. We got the last one on the shelf! Woohoo!  

Getting it back home we found it too had been on the shelf for some time and so had gone off and leaked as well. :-( We went round the camp and finally found a group of people that were able to lend us some. Meant a late night repair job and rescheduling of what we were wanting to do.  

We did have a lovely sunset that evening watching the redness of rock come alive from the campsite viewing platform. 

The colours of the desert are just stunning especially at sunset and sunrise. 

So up early the next morning we headed into get into the park and organised the bike hire for 1pm, had a wander round the cultural centre whilst also trying to organise helicopter flights. A very busy morning that meant we didn't get the most out of the centre itself. The buildings themselves reminded us more of an African village. With a number of thatched roofed picnic areas and buildings. It took us back to previous trips in Zimbabwe. 

The centre it self entailed a lot of reading but we were able to impart some of the history of the park with a video that showed the struggle the Anubgu people had to be recognised as the traditional owners of the land. Oh how silly us white fellas look trying to climb the rock, bringing up ideas of how it should be run and ignoring the people that had managed the area for mellenia previously. 

It wasn't long before we moved off to the 10am daily ranger talks at the base of the rock. Our guide Mick lead us for over two hours round the Mala walk explaining both the traditional stories and symbolism of the rock features. It was amazing how the rock is the basis for explaining their laws, with men and women only places and an incredibly complex web of infomation. Two hours was just scraping the surface.  We needed more time here to really take it all in.  

There was also the scientific facts and how the rock came to be.  As part of the ancient mountain range some 900m years ago that has been folded, uplifted and weathered, it remains the worlds biggest free standing monolith. Interestingly only 348metres is above the ground with an estimated 6km of rock still under ground.  That is one BIG rock!

The rock itself is a spectacular sight, larger the life as you get up close. It looked like a marshmallow has been melted over rocks with not a flat spot anywhere. The shapes including the caves were just aweinspiring and meant many a photo was taken. 

There was of course quite a bit of discussion about how people still need to climb the rock even though the traditional owners have asked us not to. Our guide said that there are still an estimated 30,000 - 40,000 that climb it each year.  There have been over 40 of deaths since the 60's but it is believed many more perished before the chain link went up. The concern by the traditional owners is one of respecting their sacred site as well as concern for people's well being.

The guide explained that there is legislation as part of the original lease that means the climb will finish in 2019, an election year! Attempts by protestors last year to cut the chain hadn't stopped the climb so let's hope that the legislation is allowed to stop the silly idea of climbing the rock. 

The walk seen here in the photo above was closed on the day we were there due to high winds at the summit. The next day we did see people climbing it though .. Mm mm

After a quick lunch we were off on our 15km loop around the base. The boys did really well, we can't remember the last time they rode this far. The bikes were a good way to get around, allowing a bit of pace in some places while being to meander through the many gullies and quiet spaces the rock offers. 

The rock in full bloom with pussycat tails everywhere. 

It was very well laid out path and lots of infomation about the different rock features and some of the traditional stories they symbolise. It simply wasn't possible to capture in pictures the features particularly the place where water falls occur. Uluru is actually the aboriginal word for "weeping" and you can certainly imagine how special this place is when it rains. The dark black marks are where algae grow, making a colourful contrast to the sandstone.

This year is an unusually wet year with them receiving more than their annual rainfall by the end of July. Their rainy season is normally summer. So then place is in full bloom. 

Not sure if it's the same furniture maker from up in Kakadu but the ironwood designs are just great. Amazing workmanship. You need a crane to lift 'em though. 

We arrived back to drop the bikes off before making our way over Kata-Tjuta via a fuel stop. It's 40km away and we hadn't filled up since arriving. Andi fell asleep on the way there, an indicator that  we were working them pretty hard. 

We arrived there around 4:40 and with the sun dropping close to the horizon the temperature went with it. We were doing the short 2.1km "lookout 1" walk of the Valley of the Winds.  The breeze lived up to its namesake and so we didn't stay long there. 

The Olga's were named after the sister of the King of Stutgard. There are also a few other bavarian named icons such as Lake Amadeus in the region as well. Whilst it is easier to grasp Uluru from the ground it is much more difficult to see the spectacal of the Olga's as its so spread out. Never mind we had booked a helicopter ride for that reason and it didn't disappoint. 

There are 38 beehives cones and one is more than 100 metres higher than the rock!   We took on board the info from the mornings walk and noticed the different type of rock (conglomerate) for Olgas, as apposed to sandstone for the rock. 

We arrived back home with pretty exhausted boys. They did an excellent job at all the activities with minimal complaint. 

The next morning we were on a tighter than normal deadline as we were being picked up at reception at 9:40 for our scenic flight. Like military precision we were packed up, water filled and all showered, ready to go at 9:10. Phew! But boy did that next 30 minutes drag on!  Plenty of questions like, where is the helicopter? Can we go play in he playground till they come? But we waited patiently and the bus arrived to take us to the airport. 

Very professional mob. Here we are in front of our chariot for the next 30 minutes.

Griff got the front seat this time and the grin from ear to ear showed he appreciated it. Andi, Katie and Stu were across the back seat.

And what a flight it was, perfectly clear day with no cloud. The scenery was just amazing. We will let the photos speak for themselves

What a stunning way to end our visit to the rocks. Very special place indeed.  We arrived back at Charlie and Ernie just around 11. We made short change of a quick snack and then hit the road for highlight of the trip according to Griff - Coober Pedy!!!

Heading west to the ranges

We woke to a chilly morning in Alice with a heavy dew. We are on the move again, heading west through the West MacDonnell Ranges for a few days. 

We heard about the spectacular gorges and mountains colours and shapes, so it went on the must see list.  And boy they didn't disappoint. 

We had a few chores to do before we left in the morning. Doing a fuel stock up was needed as the prices are quite a jump of 50cents or more as we head west. Also we needed to get a gas bottle refilled/swapped to ensure we have a reserve. This proved trickier than thought as the last swap we did through Canberra Bunnings gave us a bottle that can't be refilled as it was 4 years past it's 10 year refill limit! Not happy Jan!  Heading then to Bunnings resulted in them not having any to swap! An order wad due tomorrow but that didn't really work for us. Double doh!  So lesson learnt and we will check the dates of the bottle we get when swapping next time!  In the mean time we will just have to run off one and plan to refill at Kings canyon or the Rock if needed. So a late departure of 11am from Alice was a little later than expected. 

Leaving Alice the mountains start on your right and then slowly build up on both sides as you make your way down the valley. 

Views are just spectacular. Hard to convey in photos really. 

We stopped at a number of the gorges along the way towards Glen Helen Gorge and "Resort", which was the destination for the evening. 

Starting at Standley Chasm before making our way through Ellery Creek Big Hole and Serpentine Gorge.  A final stop at the Ocre pits saw us finish a very active day with a number of walks to explore this amazing place. 

Standley chasm - a little put off by the entry fee as its on private land but a very pretty place.  We timed our visit perfectly with the sun coming straight down lighting things up. The rocks really do seem to come alive when the sun strokes them. 

Ellery Creek Big Hole - with the coldest water we have experienced on the trip, so chilly even the boys only ventured a toe or two. 

Serpentine Gorge

Ocre pits with yellow, red and white Ocre on display. 

A view of the different colour strata at the pits. 

We arrived at our destination around 4pm, a little exhausted from the physical exercise during the day. We need to build up some fitness as the Kings Canyon Rim Walk in a few days is meant to be fairly physical!

Booked in for two nights, we had a lovely view of the gorge from our kitchen 

The resort/caravan park puts on live entertainment in the evening. A lovely solo guitarist by the name of "Slim Pickens". He was just great, with a lovely mixture of bluesy songs including a few from the "oh brother where art thou" sound track, one of our favourites. Compared to the other entertainment at Mataranka, he put in a awesome set of 2 hours without a break. Very good indeed.

The story behind the ranges is fascinating, about 1.4 billion years ago there was an massive uplift that raised the tips of the ranges to within himaylaya height of 10000m. Then over the years it has eroded and the same forces that lifted it have then twisted it sideways and folded it over. After millions of years you are left with an amazing set of structures that are pure geology porn!  The forces are simply stunning. 

From Redbank Gorge

The next morning we ticked off the remaining Orminston and Redbank gorges. Both had a bit of walk in, so we stayed at both a while to soak up the atmosphere.

At Redbank Gorge we met up with  some walkers who were doing the Larapinta trail. The trial is the full length of the range over 13 days or so (223km ish) and they were on day 12 planning their ascent of Mt Sonder the following morning to be at the peak for sunrise. Remarkably the people didn't look like they were walkers, or maybe it was the fact they had walked so far already, they looked uncomfortable walking off from the picnic table. Maybe something to do when we are young and kid free again!

We returned to camp with a stack of firewood collected from outside the park. It was due to be a chillier evening. Turns out it wasn't but the fire was a nice change. 

We woke the next day planning to go to Palm Valley, it's a bit further south but in the same sort of area, only a 200 kms or so. The neighbours next door to us at Glen Helen convinced us to go. Turns out it was possibly the best camp we had all trip.  For details you will need to get the next instalment of the Ross adventures titled Palm Paradise.