THE MOUNTAINOUS Heat of OZ

Hale River Homestead

WORDS RON MOON PHOTOS ALASTAIR BROOK

We pulled up for the night at the edge of the stream, with towering red raw rock making an awesome backdrop to our campsite.

Our journey through the ranges of Central Australia had started a few days earlier when we had left Alice Springs and wandered along the tar of the Ross Highway to Trephina Gorge. This is a far less visited region than the West MacDonnell Ranges and Iím not sure why as the country is just as spectacular. Along the way we had passed the more frequented Emily and Jesse Gaps, places we had visited in the past, so we pushed on to Trephina which is just 85km from the Alice.

There are a number of walking trails in the park, and the one through the gorge itself leads onto the Ridgetop Trail which takes you in a long loop over the rugged hills to the John Hayes Rockhole. Along the way youíll find some faint Aboriginal rock art tucked away in low overhangs, while the views from the high points of the ridges take in a sweeping panorama of rugged range and hill country.

The rock hole is also accessed via a rough 4WD track off the main dirt road into the reserve, and we explored around here to find the only pools of water still visible after a long dry spell; this region of the ranges missing out on any water that had flowed farther east down the Hale.

After a second night camped in this idyllic setting we tore ourselves away and headed east, stopping briefly at Ross River Homestead. This is one of the iconic places in the East Macs and was originally established as the homestead for the Loves Creek station back in 1890. In 1957 the Ross River Resort was established, it being one of the first such establishments in Central Australia and, under a variety of owners, it has supplied rustic and authentic outback accommodation and camping since. Just wandering around the interior of the original bar and dining room areas is a fabulous experience, with history and character oozing from the woodwork.

From the homestead we headed for the historic reserve of the gold mining centre of Arltunga and what was the first European town in Central Australia, and the impetus for the establishment of the township of Stuart, later to become Alice Springs.

Following on from the failed ruby rush of 1886, alluvial gold was discovered the following year at Paddys Rockhole, just outside the current boundary of the historic reserve; and importantly for modern day fossickers, right beside the designated fossicking areas that border the Arltunga Historic area.

WE PULLED UP FOR THE NIGHT AT THE EDGE OF THE STREAM, WITH TOWERING RED RAW ROCK MAKING AN AWESOME BACKDROP TO OUR CAMPSITE

Iíve been here on numerous occasions but always find the place interesting and generally find something I havenít seen before. The Government Works area is always worth a visit and this trip we stopped to check out the old cemetery at the Crossroads, as well as the Golden Chance Mine, once one of the most productive gold-bearing deposits in the area.

As we headed north on our journey through the East MacDonnell Ranges we stopped at the Hale River Homestead, where thereís good camping and accommodation as well as a fabulous bush bar, cold drinks and hot food (bookings for meals are essential). It would make a great base for exploring throughout the region. We could have settled in for the evening but instead took the opportunity for a drive to Fredericks Lookout, about 6km from the homestead, where you can admire expansive views over the Hale River valley to the Harts Range to the north.

These fossicking tours are run each day during the tourist season and most people head for the more easily found garnet fields, while the keener gem hunter can head off to a zircon field to try their luck on these harder to find, albeit more valuable, gemstones.

Thereís plenty of opportunity to bush camp among the ranges within these two designated areas, while a few facilities are available at the Spotted Tiger camping area south of the Atitjere Aboriginal community, that can be found just south of the Plenty Highway not far from the Harts Range Police station. The community also hosts the Harts Range Picnic Races, which are held every August and attract up to 4000 visitors. From our discussions with one of the locals it is a great weekend and one weíll have to put in our outback calendar for the next trip.

WE HEADED FOR TOWER ROCK, ABOUT 70KM NORTH OF THE PLENTY HWY AND ONE OF MY FAVOURITE PLACES TO CAMP IN THE REGION

Not far away was the Boxhole Meteorite Crater, which was a place I had tried to get to in the past but, without permission from the local land owner, I wasnít prepared to enter the property. Anyway, nowadays there is a public access track that can be found a few kilometres north of the Dnieper homestead access road, so we took that into this rather bland-looking crater (read: hole in the ground) which is, for those with a bent in geology and meteorites, a much more important structure.

For our last night we pulled up at the Mt Swan homestead and threw down our swags. The light was fading fast as a flock of slow, wing-beating and pretty uncommon black cockatoos flew low overhead to roost in the trees along the nearby creek. Then the stars came out in all their glory - it was a fitting end to our wanders through the mountains of Central Australia.


FOR information on the parks and reserves of the East MacDonnell Ranges, including Tower Rock, go to nt.gov.au/leisure/parks-reserves

Hale River Homestead - Camping and accommodation see: www.haleriverhomestead.com.au

Atitjere Aboriginal community - Fuel and supplies. Camping at Spotted Tiger camping area.

Mt Swan Homestead - Camping, accommodation, supplies and fuel: phone (08) 8956 9582