After over 800km of tarmac along the Stuart Highway, we turned onto the Plenty Highway to smash out a leg of Binns Track.
It’s a relatively new 4WD track that was named after Bill Binns, a ranger who worked with NT Parks and Wildlife for 32 years. His dream was to get tourists off the beaten track to explore the lesser known beauties of Central Australia. The track is 2,191km long and starts at Mount Dare on the SA/NT border. It then goes through Alice Springs, winds north passed Devils Marbles and finishes at Timber Creek, just beyond Gregory National Park.
Our portion of the track is about 300km and runs through the East Macdonnell Ranges, an area rich with history, before finally rolling into Alice Springs.
This was our first stop before hitting the dirt. There is a little food store where you can peruse a small selection of groceries or take away hot food. The lady behind the counter was super friendly and tipped us off about the road closure along Cattlewater Pass, which ended up saving us both time and petrol.
Next door is a gem shop and Juz took the opportunity to show the guy behind the counter a rock she found in the Kimberley. She was happy to learn that it’s a smoky quartz, just as she suspected, and also learnt what to look for when we go fossicking.
We put some fuel in the tank at $2.30 a litre before moving on. Once we hit the dirt track, about 7km down is a turn off for a fossicking area. We stopped in, picked at the gravel for a while and realised we had no idea what we were doing so we continued to Artlunga Historical Reserve.
Arltunga Historical Reserve
The road was a combination of bumps and corrugations, and smooth, winding roads with peaks and valleys and it took an hour or so to get to Artlunga. It is said that Artlunga was central Australia’s first town, born from a gold rush that started in 1887. People came from all over the country, often on foot, to get a piece of the action, and the settlement once supported around 300 people.
We checked out the opening of an old mine at Joker Gorge and even climbed down into some old mines that were along the Historical Mine Walks. The Old Police Station was cool to check out, and it was interesting to learn that it was rebuilt in the 1980s because it was torn down by people who believed gold was hidden in the walls.
On our way out, we sussed out the historical exhibit in the Visitor Centre, which had interactive displays and a rusty ute out back, before continuing along the track to Ruby Gap. It was slow going but the scenery was gorgeous and we even saw some brumbies!
Ruby Gap Nature Park
There is absolutely no way you will get to Ruby Gap Nature Park without a high clearance 4WD. The road is chronic and rain can make it virtually impassable.
Ruby Gap got its name when a guy was exploring the region in 1886 and found what he thought was a ruby in the dry bed of the Hale River. People rushed to the area to find some rubies and after they flooded the market, their quality was questioned. In 1888, they were found to be garnets, not rubies, so all the miners picked up their gear and moved over to Arltunga to look for gold.
Camping in Ruby Gap is $3.30 per person per night and you can camp anywhere along the river. On our first night, we camped along the sandy creek bed and we were absolutely shocked at how cold it was. We built a fire, pulled out the blanket, and had a cooked dinner with lots of warming spices. We stayed up a little longer than usual because there were no mozzies and eventually went to sleep huddled together for warmth.
The morning chill was debilitating and the sand sucked any warmth out of our feet. We revived the fire and worked on warming up our numb toes while we waited for the sun to rise over the escarpment. When it was finally warm enough to change out of our pyjamas, we went further up the river bed to explore Glen Annie Gorge.
The walk through the gorge was slow going because of the sandy river bed, and getting distracted by the shiny red stuff between the rocks didn’t help. It took us about three hours to walk 2km to Glen Annie Gorge because we spent so much time trying to find a garnet bigger than a grain of sand. The waters at Glen Annie were bitingly cold so we had a quick refresh before heading back along the walking path.
We spent another night at Ruby Gap, but this time on dirt instead of sand. We built a great fire and tended it throughout the night as we told stories, listened to music and sipped on Boston Bay Riesling Mistelle.
N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park
After a few crossings over the Ross River, we got to N’Dhala Gorge Nature Park at around lunchtime. This area is an important site for the Arrernte people, as it contains over 5,000 rock engravings, art sites and shelters. The east 1.5km walk into the gorge exhibits the old petroglyphs that tell of the Caterpillar Dreaming story.
Camping is available at the park but there are minimal spaces, facilities and shade.
Trephina Gorge National Park
Located in the East MacDonnell Ranges about 85km east of Alice Springs, Trephina Gorge is not only a great spot for travellers but for the locals as well. Camping is at $3.30 per person per night, and there are three campgrounds to choose from.
We stayed at the Trephina Bluff Campground, and once we rolled in, we were approached by Jess from A Girl and Her Troopy http://agirlandhertroopy.com/. We had a good chat about our Troopies and our travels as the sun set and cast an orange glow over the bluff. The night turned out to be very chilly so we went to bed not long after dark.
We woke up at the crack of dawn to attempt the gorge walks. To warm ourselves up, we did the Panoramic walk first, which started off with a steep incline up to the top of a hill that provided fantastic views of the gorge and the bluff. The Trephina Gorge walk was a little milder and we stopped at the top of the gorge to have breakfast.
We were originally going to skip Corroboree Rock but in the last minute, we pulled in to check it out. As we approached, a huge dome of grey dolomite rock appeared over the trees, and while we were doing the short walk around the rock, we soon realised that it wasn’t a dome, but more like a giant coin half-buried in the ground. Cool!
Corroboree Rock is an outcrop of dolomite from the Bitter Springs Formation, which began as the bottom of a salty late about 800 million years ago. Dolomite is a soft, grainy rock, similar in texture to limestone, but it’s made mostly of magnesium carbonate instead of calcium carbonate.
Emily & Jessie Gaps Nature Park
Emily and Jessie Gaps are found along the Heavitree Range, and they are a short 10km drive from Alice Springs along the Ross Highway. They exhibit more rock art that tells the Caterpillar Dreamtime story, and if you’re lucky, you can spot some wild budgies chirping in the trees.