Return to Dreamtime by Air 2003 – Part 1

Dreamtime by Air 2003 – Part 2

(Click on photographs to see a larger version. Note: Some file sizes are quite large; not recommended for people using a dial-up connection.)

Here is a map of where we went. The numbers correspond to the days in the trip report.

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Day 3, Wednesday 13 August: Oodnadatta, Painted Desert, Pukatja (Ernabella)

We had originally planned an early morning start to allow a ground tour for photography of the Painted Desert, north of Coober Pedy in the Arckaringa Hills, however once again rain had fallen overnight, and the plane was unable to land on the airstrip at Arckaringa Station.

Glory around shadow of planeWe flew instead to Oodnadatta, where the plane could be refuelled. On the way we encountered thin mist and clouds, but with clear skies above. The shadow of the plane was very visible on the clouds, with a halo effect of light known as The Glory surrounding it.

About 80% of the inhabitants of Oodnadatta are Aboriginal, a legacy from the days when they worked on the local stations. (When wages laws were enforced, the local stations didn’t keep on many of their Aboriginal stockmen.)

Pink Roadhouse OodnadattaAdam, the local entrepreneur, owner of the Pink Roadhouse, plane refueller, and bus tour driver and guide, gave us a tour of what the town offered. We saw the fine old railway building, where the Ghan once ran, and were given a tour of Odnadatta aboriginal school. There a dedicated staff are trying to let children contact modern life elsewhere. As well as painting, drawing and crafts, there was a computer room. We took no photographs because many Aboriginal people don’t like to be photographed, and we didn’t want to offend anyone.

The children tended to be shy at first, as for some guiding us through the school it was their first time to do this (they don’t get a vast number of tour groups). Dougie, the ten year old guiding us, got more and more vocal as we talked to him. He can’t read and write as yet, as this is his first year at school. When he showed us the library, he pulled out The Lord of the Rings, and said he was going to read it, bcause he liked the movie.

The school was trying to raise funds for a field trip to a city. They had recenly had nearly 30 students visit the snow for the first time ever. Snow scenes were really evident in their painting and projects. They did say it was too cold.

We walked back to The Pink Roadhouse, where we had lunch and chatted to some tourists in 4WD vehicles, waiting for the road to become passable again so they could leave town. Motel rooms and camping spots are available at the roadhouse. (08) 86707822.

Painted Desert, South AustraliaPainted Desert, South AustraliaInstead of visiting the Painted Desert on the ground, we flew over it, nice and low.

This area of spectacular colorful hills is composed of sediments originally laid down by the ancient inland sea. It was quite beautiful and reminded Jean of the similarly-named area in the SW USA.

We flew to Pukatja (Ernabella) Aboriginal Community, set in a beautiful valley in the Musgrave Ranges, in the vast Anangu Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal Lands, just south of the NT border.

Ernabella airstripWe toured the art centre, where beautiful batiks and paintings are produced. The spare space in the plane won’t last long, given the number of paintings acquired by members of our group. Again, we took no photographs.

After returning home, we discovered that an artist friend of ours, Nick Stathopoulos, had been at Ernabella in July, and had spent 3 weeks painting a mural on one of the school’s water tanks, with the help of some of the students. We wish we had known, so we could have seen it. has photos.

Airstrip near Uluru (Ayers Rock)Leaving Pukatja, we landed at Uluru (Ayers Rock), to refuel, then flew around Uluru and Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) before crossing Amadeus Basin in the Simpson Desert and landing at Kings Creek Station, PMB 164, Alice Springs NT 0872, phone (08) 8956 7474, at the foot of the George Gill Range and 36 kilometres from the magnificent Kings Canyon.

The airport waiting room at Kings Creek StationIan and Lyn Conway established Kings Creek Station in 1981, with virtually nothing. Now it’s quite a pleasant place for tourists to stay, though we failed to discover the electric blankets on the beds in the tents and so spent a cold night.

Safari tents at Kings Creek StationCamping spaces and a few motel-style units are also available. Eric attended an evening show (films, talk and demonstrations) about earlier days in the area and life there today.

The station is the largest exporter of wild camels in Australia and sells camels for live export, live domestic sales and meat. 36 documentaries have been filmed at Kings Creek and the station hosted Australian Geographic’s fourth expedition.

Day 4, Thursday 14 August, Kings Canyon, Finke Gorge and Palm Valley

We left early in the morning for a walking tour in Watarrka (Kings Canyon) National Park. The road is now sealed all the way in to the carpark, so many more tourists can get there easily, in contrast to only a few years ago.

View of Kings Canyon from the climbMost of our group, including 80 year olds, took the 6km return walk around the rim of the Canyon. In deference to Jean’s bad knee, we opted for the short Creek Walk, about 1.5 km, which meanders up the centre of the canyon to a lookout point on the left hand side of the valley. From there we got a good view of the sheer cliff face at the end of the canyon. In the morning the sun lit the right hand wall. The walk took about an hour.

The climb at the beginning of the Kings Canyon walkAt this point Jean decided she could manage the climb at least part way up the 300-metre steep incline at the edge of the canyon. At the base of the walk is a plaque to a 47-year-old English woman who died from a heart attack while attempting it. Undeterred, we continued, though slowly, and enjoyed the breathtaking view of the valley floor and the canyon walls on two sides.

View of another canyon in Kings Canyon area, from top of climbThe Parks people have estimated that the full walk (on which the rest of our group had gone) will take around 4 hours at a leisurely but sensible pace. The sign, and our leader David, said 3 hours. After our climb back down to the now-crowded carpark, while waiting for the others to return, we entertained ourselves by watching a group of workers rebuilding the picnic shelters and other facilities that had been burnt out by a major fire earlier in the year. Fortunately, the newly-built and quite large toilet block was fully functional. A food van in the carpark was selling cold drinks, ice creams, meat pies and other snacks.

Eventually the others turned up, some complaining of knee and leg aches and pains. By then Jean was voicing similar complaints; apparently the climb had, indeed, been more than her knee was happy with. Back on the bus, we returned to the Kings Creek Station airstrip and boarded our planes.

We had originally been scheduled to fly across the Petermann Hills to Papunya Art Centre. Papunya is a small community of approximately 250 people located 240 kilometres west of Alice Springs. It was established as an administrative centre by the government for the Aboriginal people of the region who were displaced from their traditional lands.

The Central and Western Desert Art Movement began there in 1971 when a school teacher, Geoffrey Bardon, encouraged some of the men to paint a blank school wall. Unfortunately, aboriginal art is no longer sold at Papunya, and the community declined permssion to enter, so we cancelled that landing.

Instead, we flew across the western MacDonnell Ranges, which provided wonderful views of this rugged range at a relatively low altitude, and landed at Hermannsburg Mission, known for the Namatjira family watercolours. We were unable to tour the mission, but that was the only place in the area where we could land and move to ground transport for the next stage of our trip, while the planes fly onto Alice Springs for the next few days.

With prior permission from the Ntaria Council, (08) 8956 7411, it is possible to camp at Hermannsburg. The only food available is at the Hermannsburg Tea Rooms which our tour book says “provide light meals and drinks in a pleasant, old style tea room atmosphere”.

Palm ValleyWe didn’t stop, but immediately boarded a 4WD bus for a tour of Finke Gorge, Palm Valley and Gosse Bluff.

Finke Gorge National Park is 19 km south of Hermannsburg. The park’s unique Palm Valley has palms of the genus Livistona mariae (a variety of cabbage tree palm) which are relics from a previous age when the centre of Australia was much wetter. The nearest similar palms are found either on the coast of Western Australia or the coastal strip of New South Wales. The cycads are unique to the area.

Palm ValleyPalm ValleyPalm Valley’s importance had been recognised as early as 1923 when some areas were designated flora and fauna protection areas. The park is home to over 400 plant types of which more than 30 are considered rare.

After driving through some spectacular scenery, over increasingly rough roads (the last 16 km of the journey is along the rocky bed of the Finke River and its tributary), we arrived at the carpark for the Palm Valley Walk. This 1.5 km walk is as “an easy walk along the creek bed” but involved a lot of scrambling over rocks, so Jean and several other people gave up quickly and just sat in the shade to enjoy the good view of the red cabbage palms, spectacular scenery and bird life.

View from Palm Valley lookoutEric and the others carried on, and eventually returned with glowing reports of the views from a lookout at the top of the gorge wall.

Palm Valley has a camping site and quite a few people were camped there. It even has solar showers, and piped in water supplies.

Back on the bus, and running late (a constant theme of the trip), we hurtled along the rough roads to Tnorala Conservation Reserve, also known as Gosse Bluff. This feature (175 km West of Alice Springs) was created approximately 142 million years ago, when a comet core struck Central Australia leaving one of the largest impact structures in the world, measuring roughly 25 kilometres in diameter. Much of the crater has been eroded away, and the original bed of the crater is now two kilometres below the surface.

We were supposed to walk around part of the area, but as sunset was upon us, we settled for a distant view from Tyler’s Pass and then continued on.

Glen Helen GorgeIn the early evening, after an extremely rough ride over the “shortcut” road, we reached Glen Helen Lodge, near Glen Helen Gorge at the far western end of the spectacular MacDonnell Ranges, where we were to stay for two days. Glen Helen Resort PO Box 2480, Alice Springs NT 0871 phone (08) 8956 7489.

Here we enjoyed a basic but comfortable room, with ensuite, doonas, heating and air conditioning, and an outside coin-operated washing machine and dryer. We threw our clothes in the washer and retired to the bar to indulge in a cold beer before enjoying a barbecue at sunset. The BBQ was great, but we ware glad to get inside out of the cutting cold wind. There was lots to eat, chop, steak, sausage, bacon, and salad. An acceptable glass of house red from the bar, and apple strudle and cream afterward. The entertainer was excellent on guitar and banjo, but the speakers were too loud for us.


Page last updated 4 October 2007.