Top 5 Highlights of Central Australia
Words & Images by Glenn Marshall
Glenn Marshall shares his top five breathtaking sites to visit in the Red Centre of Australia.
(Image: Central Australia has some great remote driving.)
The Red Centre is a land full of ancient geological formations, often intertwined with Dreamtime stories of the local Aboriginal Peoples. While most visitors focus on the West MacDonnell Ranges, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon, there are plenty of other breathtaking sites to check out.
(Image: Palm Valley will blow you away.)
The great thing about Palm Valley is the first crossing of the Finke River which stops all the soft-roaders and two-wheel drive vehicles. You see, access to the Palm Valley campground is only suitable for 4WD vehicles with decent clearance, decent tyres and an air compressor as a definite. The campground offers limited spaces, communal fire pits, tank water, flushing toilets and hot showers for only $6.60 a night for adults.
The track from the campground to Palm Valley has been modified in recent years, making it less gnarly, but high clearance will help you over the rocks that litter the track. From the car park, there are two walking options, both providing brilliant views of the ancient Red Cabbage Palms that thrive only in this section of central Australia.
(Image: Boogy Hole is a challenge to get to.)
Skip this drive if you aren’t fully prepared. Boggy Hole is extremely remote and a place less visited than others. You will be crossing the Finke River many times, even driving along the river in some places — getting bogged is to be expected — but it is these challenges that make Boggy Hole a must for the serious adventurer.
This is not a destination to tow a camper trailer and it is NOT recommended by Northern Territory Parks. Leave the camper at Palm Valley and do a day trip to Boggy Hole. Another option is to park the camper at Kings Canyon Resort, then do a loop via Larapinta Drive, camping at Boggy Hole before continuing south to Ernest Giles Road and back to Kings Canyon.
(Image: The amazing Chambers Pillar.)
Explorer John MacDoull Stuart arrived at this stunning landmark on 6 April 1860, naming it Chambers Pillar after a mate of his. Stuart didn’t leave his tag on the rock, but those that followed him have. William and Mary Hayes took up land at Deep Well, Warne and Randle worked on the Overland Telegraph, and storekeepers, coppers, scientists have all carved their names in the rock. Thankfully it is now illegal and the historic names will only last as long as the weather allows.
Getting to Chambers Pillar is a little easier on vehicles and drivers these days, with a lot of money spent on improving the road and capping the dunes. The campsites are limited and dispersed with only pit toilets and LPG barbecues on offer but at $3.30 per night for adults, it is value for money. Sunrise and sunset are the best times to capture the Pillar.
OLD ANDANDO STATION
(Image: The Old Andando Homestead is a time capsule.)
Only 330km from Alice Springs, Old Andando Station can be accessed via the Old Ghan Track and Finke or by taking Binns Track from east of Alice Springs. This historic homestead has been left as it was when tourism pioneer and owner, Molly Clarke left in 2008 due to ill health, sadly passing away in 2012. The old homestead is open for travellers to explore, with a gold coin donation welcome to help with the upkeep.
It is easy to imagine the hardships that Molly faced in the years from 1969 living with no verandahs, windows or doors and summer temperatures over 50 degrees. Sharing the homestead with ants, snakes and spiders would have been tough. Camping is easy at $10 per adult with flushing toilets and a hot donkey shower.
EAST MACDONNELL RANGES
(Image: Driving into N'Dhala Gorge is breathtaking.)
Every man and his dog explore the West MacDonnell Ranges leaving the East MacDonnell Ranges to folks like us. Emily and Jessie Gap and Corroboree Rock Conservation Park are all impressive, Trephina Gorge will blow you away with its breathtaking beauty. A good day trip covers these four wonders and make sure to throw in N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park to top it all off.
Another option is to continue east and check out the Arltunga Historical Reserve to discover how people mined for gold out there. The remote Ruby Gap Nature Park is 150km from Alice Springs and is accessible by a high clearance 4WD only. It's a 5km drive along the Hale River bed and then a 4km walk to reach Glen Annie Gorge.
Take a step off the beaten track and explore more of the wonders of the Australian outback.