A drive through the Territory

After a visit to Nitmiluk National Park it was time to head south from the Top End deep into the Red Centre. Here are a few highlights of a couple of drives to and from Alice Springs.nt1

The first day was a long 1200km slog from Katherine to Alice as I wanted to get there before dark. There weren’t too many stops to enjoy the scenery but I did check out the Telegraph Station at Barrow Creek 200km south of Tennant Creek.  Barrow Creek was named in 1860 by John McDouall Stuart after South Australian MP J H Barrow. One of the 15 telegraph stations of the Overland Telegraph exploring party was set up here in September 1871 by John Ross as it assessed Stuart’s route through Central Australia. The site was chosen due to surface water and for a well site. It was completed by 1880 with an elaborate stone fence, wagon shed, blacksmith’s hut, cemetery and a verandah. A century later the microwave telecommunications link replaced the telephone carrier wave system making the station redundant.

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I landed in Alice late that evening and the following morning I headed further south. My destination was King’s Canyon and then on to Uluru, but my travels there deserve a blog post of their own so I won’t talk about them here. But when I was looking at the ways to get to King’s Canyon I thought there were two ways, a shortish way via the Mereenie Loop but which involved getting permits to go through Aboriginal land and also had long stretches of dirt. Then there was an all bitumen-route via the Stuart and Lasseter Hwys but considerably longer in distance. Then a mate told me about the Giles Road, a dirt road of 100km named for explorer Ernest Giles but a short cut to the Canyon and some beautiful desert views along the way.

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On my way from Kings Canyon to Uluru, I passed another monolith. Mt Conner is visible from the Lasseter Hwy and so resembles Uluru many people are fooled into thinking it is Uluru. Indeed I made that mistake when I first took this route 16 years ago and was surprised to see Uluru when I thought it was at least 150km away.  Fool-uru strikes again. Mt Conner is an impressive rock in its own right, a 650m-tall flat-topped, horseshoe-shaped mesa, part of the same substrate beneath Uluru and Kata Tjuta.  Known as Artila in Dreamtime stories it was the home of the feared Ninya, or Ice Men, the creators of cold weather. Explorer William Gosse gave it a European name in 1873 after South Australian politician M. L. Conner.

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Mt Conner is now on a private property called Curtain Springs, a pastoral lease on 416,400 hectares that is a combined cattle station, roadhouse and tourist resort. With no room at the Ayers Rock Resort I stayed the night here at its free camping and checked out its pub for a beer and a meal. I didn’t have time but the property runs walks to Mt Conner and the equally impressive nearby salt lakes.

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I caught the red desert dawn the following morning on my way back to Alice Springs.

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But I did a quick detour back 10km on the Giles Road to check something I missed on my way out – the Henbury Meteorite Craters. Around 4000 years ago, a large meteorite travelling at 40,000 kilometres an hour broke up before impact and hit the ground at Henbury. Several tonnes of nickel-iron alloy were scattered around a wide area and a 44kg piece is now in the Alice Museum of Central Australia. At the site there are 12 impact craters from seven to 180m wide and up to 15m deep. Over time the sharp outlines were worn down by wind and rain to become board undulating mounds.

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My time in Alice is also worthy of a separate post so I’ll fast forward a couple of days to my drive north again to Tennant Creek and back to Mount Isa. First stop is Aileron 150km which has a hotel and roadhouse and also one of Australia’s curious “big things”. In Aileron’s case it is two big things “the Anmatjere Man” and ” the Anmatjere Woman And Child”. The larger statue of the man on the hill is 17 meters tall and weighs eight tonnes. The 2005 sculpture by local artist Mark Egan is made from steel frame, mesh wire and ferris cement.  The same artists added the woman and child monument three years later.

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Further north again is Wycliffe Well, self-styled “UFO centre of Australia”. Situated 375km north of Alice it has the inevitable roadhouse which is covered in otherworldly art. According to Vice magazine which drove through here in 2017 it was originally developed by former owner Lew Farkas who tried to capitalise on Wycliffe Well’s notoriety as the spot for UFO sightings. There have been UFO sightings around Wycliffe Well for decades apparently “because of its cosmic alignment of landforms, tectonic plates, and manmade structures, which emit a type of UFO-friendly energy.” and its proximity to US military intelligence base Pine Gap. “So, you know, aliens,” Vice concluded.

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My base for the last night before heading for home was the Devils Marbles Hotel at Wauchope another 40km up the road. Here I took the time to do a couple of late evening hours walk around the Marbles, or Karlu Karlu to give them Aboriginal name. I was there most recently in January and wrote about it in more detail here.

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