AWOL Around Australia… Red Centre – East

“I can’t believe it’s the same truck, it’s so quiet!” said N, after we hit the bitumen for the first time in six days. Meanwhile in the drivers seat, the tiredness of not just this morning’s endeavours, but also the storm last night, meant the easy driving was sending me to sleep. We popped on some music and cruised away the miles, crossing the boarder into the NT and soon arriving at Kulgera roadhouse/pub/campground. This was going to be our stop for the night as the light was fading, plus it had a bar…

Not the most idyllic setting, but they can’t all be like that.

Anyway it had its own Territory charm.





We were up early, I was keen to get to Alice in good time. As I knew we would be paying for camping there and wanted to make the most of doing that. Plus, there were those wonky rear shocks to fix.

So that was first order of business in Alice Springs. We found ARB, I confused the assistant by referring to our truck as a ‘105 series Land Cruiser’ which is Toyota’s and general industry naming for the solid front axle version of the 100 series. Slightly surprised he didn’t get this, I converted to ARB speak for him – rear shocks for a solid axle 100 series. Not that is mattered anyway, they didn’t have any in stock, and Monday would be the earliest they could get here. Again I was slightly surprised at this, as this is still a pretty popular vehicle. Anyway, I popped back down the road to TJM, who had them on the shelf. A quick call to Ashley to let him know I wouldn’t need any sent up, these will do for now and we can sort the suspension properly when I get back the Adelaide.

We booked into a campsite for two nights. Did a small restock of supplies, and while N tackled our considerable washing from the last week. I bolted in the new rear shocks.

Red dust sticking to everywhere the old shock oil had vomited out. Plus GOLD! these have to be good!

A lazy day was in order the next day. We had a wander round Alice Springs, it didn’t feel significantly different a town to what it did last time we were here, 19 years ago. Then just lazing around the campsite, catching up on emails, internetting, exercise, writing the journal, etc.

Right Central Australia, let’s see what you’ve got! Our new neighbour who had pulled in yesterday in a late model Y61 Nissan Patrol, towing a camper trailer (then proceeded to set up a tent – as he was staying two nights, apparently he also has a swag if he’s staying just the one – all because the camper trailer takes two hours to set up…) and proceeded to reel off all the name tracks he had done (and was also slightly crestfallen when I said I wouldn’t rush back to doing the Oodnadatta Track), was also slightly surprised when I said we were heading east. Surely all the big attractions were to the west of Alice Springs? Anyway, that’s the difference, as to how we go about exploring. It’s definitely a generational thing in my opinion, the older folks seem to like ticking specific boxes. Also we just like finding things for ourselves, good or bad.

We headed north up the highway before heading east on the Plenty Highway, a single lane strip of bitumen with dirt run off each side. You come half on/half off for a car or another 4×4, Road Train? I suggest getting right off, and letting them have the bitumen.

A brief stop at Gem Tree caravan park – the place to stay if fossicking is your thing – we then soon hit the dirt to head south.

I air down for the first time this trip. You don’t want too low tyre pressures on those rough outback roads with a heavy load, in my opinion.

This looked promising. The gate to adventure?

Several hours later of not particularly inspiring dirt road, I was wondering if maybe we should have headed west after all. The land we were passing through seemed to be either a station or an Aboriginal reserve, all clearly signposted that leaving the road or camping where you wanted to was not allowed. Also, I could see the impressively rising rocks of the East MacDonnell Ranges in the distance, we just didn’t seem to be getting any closer. We arrived at an approved camping ground on one of the stations. I didn’t particularly want to spend the night in an established camp you had to pay for, with other people. It was still early enough I decided to push on, hoping we could get out into less regulated bushland.

It was a gamble worth taking. We cleared the boundary of that station in less than an hour and then made it to the turn off for Ruby Gap,  not in anyway difficult, but definitely more of a 4×4 Track than we had been on till this point.

The scenery started to come to us.

We passed one touring Hilux coming the other way but that was it. Eventually the shadows got long enough that I decided we should stop and camp while it was still light.

A Discovery 2 came past whilst I was making dinner, nice folk and we had a bit of a chat. They were driving back to Alice Springs that night! I wished them luck, it sounded like Ruby Gap would be worth the drive when we got there in the morning.

So not every meal I make is fancy. Tonight’s quick and tasty supper was the ingredients you see here plus bread. I like this simple fare as much as any other food.

After cleaning as much of the fesh fesh off the camping gear as possible (the choice was lumpy grass or bull dust, so I chose flat and dusty) we finished the rest of the track into Ruby Gap. This was the sort of landscapes I had come to the Red Centre for.

Blue, red, blue.



The 5km track in the nature park was definitely 4×4 only. Difficult? No, a bit soft in places and some rocks to negotiate. Slow? Most definitely.



Speaking of rocks…

Just look at the lower rocks. You can literally see where the earth has folded them up, crazy.

What I love about these sorts of places is you can literally drive INTO the scenery. Frequently not an option in the more popular tourist spots.



This was as far in as we got.

It was possible to find a way through these rocks and I’m sure Bertha would have made light work of it. However this trip isn’t really about wheeling for wheeling sake, so if we don’t need to risk it, we won’t.

Ruby Gap is a spectacular spot. There were probably another 4 trucks here camping, all well spread out. We wound our way back out and headed back on the single track that leads in and out. Through the forest of white trees.


Back on the main dirt roads, the rocks continued to impress.






We were now en-route to our next destination, N’Dhala Gorge. First we stopped to have a closer look at these trees that were in flower. We had seen them all over Central Australia and they seemed to be just about he only thing in flower. In this particular spot they were very prolific.

Another Outback traffic jam.

It was mustering season. This lot were being rounded up by a small helicopter, a couple of dirt bikes and a 70 series farm ute.

N’Dhala Gorge was a short walk from the road. It contains some very old Aboriginal rock art, luckily with interpretive signs, as they could really be anything now.

Walking into the gorge.



This is probably more my sort of rock art, by M.Nature.



Back in the car park the Hilux we had passed yesterday pulled in. I chatted with the old boy driving it for a bit, about all sorts as sometimes happens. Finishing up with why Australian don’t eat more goats!

We found some paddocks containing mustered cattle and horses, and also a community of black cockatoos. I’m not great at photographing wildlife but I gave it a shot.



We trundled on, I had half an idea to find somewhere to bush camp again that night, but once we got off the stations it was just a main dirt highway, with lots of bull dust. Probably used by the road-trains coming in to pick up all those cattle. Nothing very appealing here, so we just headed back to Alice to get ready to head out west the next day.

Air Up!

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