We stopped for fuel at Kings Creek again on the way out of Kings Canyon, though this time we didn’t blow our budget on food. It wasn’t long before we hit the Ernest Giles turnoff and I pulled over to let some air our of the tyres for the 100km dirt road. We set off along the dust red road and after the first 25km I was cursing our bus tour mate and wondering what he’d got me into. The road had sections that were washed away and others that were flooded, a reminder of the recent rains they’d had. I managed to manoeuvre around the wet and sandy section of the road and the next 50kms weren’t too bad.
It was after this that we found ourselves following another 4WD and had a few moments where the bright red brake lights up ahead gave us plenty of warning of some of the hairy driving I had in store. I think the worst was a dry river crossing with a very deep rut right across the road that we had to cross – after some pretty rough corrugations and this tricky section I was almost ready for a Tena lady (a comedic reference lost on the kids).
Towards the end of the road we saw the turnoff to the meteorite site and decided this would be a great place to stop for some lunch and a walk around. We boiled the kettle for some cuppa soups (it was after this extra long lunch stop that I decided to buy a thermos for these such occasions) and walked around the rim of the meteorite before we hit the road again, stopping when we got to the bituman to pump up the tyres again. It was at this point that I realised that the air hose was a bit short to reach from the bonnet of the car to the wheels of the camper – luckily our Ark Pak has the right terminals on it to attach the air compressor to pump up the camper tyres.
Not long later and we finally hit Alice and the Big 4 Caravan Park where I was easily convinced to book 7 nights with a 10% discount (I’m a salespersons dream when I’m tired). The caravan park had a great pool and waterslide area plus playgrounds and jumping pillow so I figured we’d get some R&R time in while we were here.
After we set up it was quite late and I couldn’t be bothered cooking so we took our bus tour friends’ offer up on a night out of pizza and some night-time sight seeing around Alice. It was good to get the guided tour for the practical things like supermarket, laundromat and hairdresser for the next day.
The next day was a lazy day where we slept in before hitting the shops for some laundry washing and grocery shopping. Miss6 also wanted to get her hair cut so after being quoted $35 for a haircut and told that ‘this is normal and what I’d pay if I were back in Melbourne’, I found another hairdresser to cut it for $18. Back to the caravan park for some swimming and relaxing and I’m feeling more energised for the rest of our week here.
I’d booked us onto a tour to Palm Valley as the recent rains had flooded the Finke River only a week or so ago and the drive in was for more serious 4WD than our little Rav4. It turned out that our bus tour friend was co-driving the bus we were booked on and he’d told us we’d get picked up at 7am. I got a text at 6.25am to say “we’ll be there in 5 minutes to pick you up” – the kids were still fast asleep! Me and my kids are not morning people at the best of times but we managed to get out of bed, get dressed and run to the front gate in the 5 minutes it took for the bus to arrive.
The drive to Palm Valley included a stop at Hermannsberg first – while the history of this place is interesting, as a morning stop off it was a little bland and took time away from being at Palm Valley. The drive into Palm Valley was pretty hectic in some parts and I was glad that I hadn’t taken my car into this area. We arrived at Palm Valley and it was like a tropical oasis among a rugged mountain range with bright colours, huge green cycads and crystal clear waters. The pathway was still being repaired after the recent rain but the workmen assured us that we could do the 2km trek around if we wanted.
Unfortunately, I was the youngest adult on the bus by a few decades and our other passengers seemed more keen to get back to the bus to eat their packed lunch than to take a walk around the very destination they’d paid to see. Our main bus driver seemed pretty happy to herd us back onto the bus for lunch too so we were left pretty disappointed at being so rushed – it seems to be the norm for some of these bus tours and I’m glad we’re taking ourselves around most of our destinations.
The next day we’d booked in to do a sunrise hot air balloon ride so it was early to bed for an even earlier morning – two early starts in a row – what were we thinking?
The mini bus picked us up at 5.45am and we happened to be on the bus with a couple who live in the next suburb back home in Melbourne. I wasn’t sure how to describe what we were going to be doing to Miss6 as I’d never been in a hot air balloon before and wasn’t really sure what to expect. We clamoured into the basket in the dark of the morning and our pilot let off a burst of gas which frightened the life out of Miss6 who then clamoured out of the basket so fast crying I couldn’t stop her.
I thought I was going to have to get out too and stay with her but our bus driver told me to relax and he’d look after her. She went and sat in the front seat of the bus and I could see her crying. Just as the basket started to move I could see she’d changed her mind and put her hands up for me to get her – by now she was crying hysterically and it broke my heart.
I started sobbing and the other couple in the basket told me to look away and enjoy the ride, she’d be fine. I felt like the Wizard of Oz taking off without Dorothy – the bus driver reminded me a little of the scarecrow and it wasn’t long before the two of them were on the radio to the balloon being silly and laughing and I knew she was fine.
We landed safely and Miss6 met us for some champagne and OJ to celebrate. It was at this moment that the pilot asked for my credit card to pay and I remembered that I had to pay for Miss6 anyway! If I’d remembered earlier I would’ve held onto her tighter in the bloody basket.
With such an early start to the day, we were back to the caravan early enough for lunch and a swim at the pool. I managed to sit by the pool after having a swim and actually read my book. I’d brought my reclining camp chair and a few novels on this trip with visions of me just kicking back reading and relaxing the whole way when in reality, this was the first moment I’d actually sat and read.
The kids eventually convinced me to go on the water slide so my R&R finished off with some juvenile fun with the kids – that’s what this trip is really about, the book can wait. I managed to get in for a last minute remedial massage so after our swim I left Caleb in charge and had my first hour alone since we started the trip. It wasn’t the best massage but it did the job and the lady giving me the massage had spent two years travelling Australia so she talked the whole time about her travels and tips for good places to check out on the rest of our trip.
After a few days already in Alice we thought it was about time we headed to the Information Centre in case we’d missed anything from our personal tour guide. The only additional recommendation was to head to the Desert Park so we added that to our itinerary for the weekend and set off for the Women’s Pioneering Museum. Master14 and I found it very interesting and luckily for Miss6, there were activity sheets and audio displays to keep her amused and entertained. Next up, we went to the Reptile Centre which, for around $35 it only took us about an hour to get around it all (and that was reading every single placard for each display). Luckily the kids also got about half an hour of handling some of the reptiles including a large Olive Python which impressed Master14. Miss6 and I had already had a similar experience at a crocodile park in Darwin previously so we weren’t as enthusiastic about what they had to offer. We decided against fitting anything else in and to have an early night before our big day of gorge touring on Saturday.
We left early in the morning (though, as is the norm for us, never as early as we would hope) and headed straight to Glen Helen Gorge followed by a real coffee at Ormiston Gorge (by Melbourne standards I’m a coffee novice but I’ve realised since travelling that I am in fact now a coffee snob and that ‘mocha’ is much like a foreign language!) and some hot chocolates for the kids before our walk along the gorge. We hiked up to lonely tree hill and took in the spectacular views of the gorge before venturing down into the gorge for some possible wet feet and rock scrambling. On the way down we were fortunate enough to spot a rare black-footed rock wallaby playing on the other side of the water. Our descent into the water soon scared it off but faced with the prospect of taking of their shoes and scrambling through the water and over rocks, the kids disappointment soon faded. The gorge was an adventurous and pretty way to spend our mid-morning before we headed to the next sight on our trails.
The Ochre Pits were only a short walk to look at but also a nice spot to enjoy some lunch of fresh rolls, roast chicken and salad that I’d packed for us. From the Ochre Pits we headed to Serpentine Gorge and the sign said it was only a short walk so we thought we’d get it out of the way pretty quickly. As we headed along the track, a man casually said ‘it’s worth the walk’ – we chuckled quietly thinking ‘this is a pretty easy walk and we’re nearly half way already what’s this guy on about?’. It was just after the halfway point where we saw what he was talking about, the flat pathway suddenly became quite vertical and meandered up the rocky hillside. I was impressed with Miss6’s approach to the challenge, she channelled her inner ‘tour guide’ and provided running commentary on the rocks, wildlife and a promise of afternoon tea on the ‘bus’ once we’d finished the climb! Master 14 did his usual speed walk ahead where he could spot any potential dangers or tough spots for his little sister to get over (such a thoughtful prince he is). The man was right, the view from the top was worth the vertical walk and we stood there and enjoyed the meandering valley below with its cycads growing among the red rocks.
Back to the car (aka tour bus) to head to Ellery Creek Big Hole which we’d been told was a great swimming hole for the kids. The weather was a little cool the day we were there so swimming wasn’t really an option but we could just imagine this place on a hot day, with tourists and locals alike sprawled on towels all over the grass, taking to the beach entry water for some cooling refreshment. Today however, we settled for some volunteer tourists taking our photo (complete with blurry finger over the camera lens!) and a little walk around before we made our way back to the car.
Coming to the end and next up was Standley Chasm. Though we’d missed the midday sun photo opportunity, the walk in and chasm itself were still picturesque and as Miss6 had fallen asleep in the car on the way in, the bribe of some free biscuits from the lady at reception (this is the only gorge you need to pay an entry fee for) made the walk a very sweet treat as she woke up!
The day was fast coming to an end but we managed to make it to Simpson’s Gap just before sunset for some random phone service (the phone suddenly went off as I parked the car) and some late afternoon colours on the water and rocks as the sun slowly retired for the day.
We finished off the day with a quick stop at Flynn’s Grave before it was home for dinner and bed – I think we were all a little exhausted after a very long adventurous day.
The next morning we headed out to the Desert Park for what I thought would be a few hours so that I could head back to camp for some blog writing and early pack-up before we leave the next day. For a single adult family rate I paid around $50 and we ended up spending around six hours there! We started the day with a bird display where a large hawk flew so close to my head that I’m sure I felt it touch me! In the words of Master14, it was an amazing show and a great start to the day.
Next we headed to their reptile display which had more to look at than the reptile park we’d spent time at earlier in the week. I think the highlight for us all though was the 45 minute bush tucker survival workshop with Damien, a local Aboriginal guy that taught us how to find food and water in the bush. Miss6 got to volunteer out the front as a traditional Aboriginal woman with her imaginary baby under one arm, digging stick in the other and her basket on her head.
Our ‘few hours’ ended up being most of the day so cleaning and pre-packing was done mainly in the dark with a lovely visit from our personal tour guide to help entertain the kids while I packed up. When we left the next morning the rain had started and we thought we’d picked a good day to leave – it’s been a great week and we’ve enjoyed ourselves. We may even have to come back to visit!