At Apollo, we are thrilled to receive happy campervanning stories from our guests. So without further ado, we’re proud to share with you a story by Dr. Sue Joseph of Sydney of their trip through the famous Red Centre of Australia:
Driving through the West Macs in the Red Centre of Australia (turn left from Alice Springs coming from the south onto Larapinta Drive) feels like travelling through an Albert Namatjira watercolour landscape – everywhere, the rolling ranges, splattered with his eerie, slender, ghost gums. I really believe these mountains should be retagged the Namatjira Ranges – it seems he either conjured them through his art for us, almost like he painted them into existence; or they created him. Either way, it is impossible to drive out here without thinking of his work. Once on Namatjira Drive, direction Glen Helen Resort (turn right off Larapinta, about 100kms west of Alice, for exceptional, if pricey [well worth it!] meals; booking essential) the road is like a gentle, gliding, tarmacked roller coaster, taking us through the most breathtaking colour palette – violets and reds and oranges, creating an almost Royal Blue haze across the ranges at times. It is possible to not come across another vehicle anywhere, as far as you can see. But here, we know we are on the tourist trail – the camp sites give it away. And the people at Simpson’s Gap (an important spiritual site to the Arrernte Aboriginal people); Standley Chasm (Angkerle Atwatye, owned and operated by local traditional people of Iwupataka Land Trust); and the Ormiston Gorge (Kwartatuma in Arrernte language). Less people than at Uluru and Kata Tjuta but still substantial company when wandering throughout this most astonishing landscape; solitude is hard to come by on this Red Centre trail.
But driving the East Macs from Alice Springs, it seems not so much travelling through a Namatjira watercolour landscape; it is as if we are in a Namatjira watercolour landscape. Somehow, this side of the ranges is closer, more visually accessible than in the other direction. Turn right at the Ross Highway, just before the Gap, coming into Alice Springs from
the south. Head towards Ross River Resort (this Ross River has absolutely nothing to do with the mosquito-borne Ross River fever, which emanates from Queensland), and watch the magic unfold. It is sunset as we drive, so the escarpment on the left is high, dark and a tad foreboding. On the right, however, the escarpment is sizzling with a lightshow, somehow glowing deeper and more intense as we go, racing the setting sun; a kaleidoscope of colours – reds, oranges, purples. Most of the turn offs to sites here are on unsealed roads so our Apollo Winnebago cannot pass, but we drive on past the turn off to Trephina Gorge on our left, sealed, and make a promise to explore the next day.
We three – photographer The Dutchman; his sister, Ella the Explorer; and myself – are heading for the Ross River Resort, 88 kilometres east of Alice Springs at the end of the sealed road. At one point the Ross Highway becomes just one lane – you must pull over if a car comes towards you. Only one did, on the entire journey. And then suddenly, it becomes the dual Ross Highway again. We are a little intrigued but mainly grateful that it is sealed and we can get our Apollo RV through.
We arrive at Ross River Homestead Resort just before dusk. The homestead has been an ongoing tourism concern in some form or other since 1958, when it was excised from Love’s Creek. The Bloomfield family built the original Love’s Creek Homestead in the 1898 as a cattle station. The actual homestead was gazetted on the Northern Territory Heritage Register in 2001. The homestead hangs much memorabilia and old photos of by-gone days – it is a veritable museum of a past that managers Jodie Solczaniuk and her father in law Roman Solczaniuk are more than proud of.
We make our way to the campsite, and are stunned at the location – the site away from the Homestead is seemingly hugged by ragged orange and red escarpment. It is a serene, gum-filled meadow, with powered and unpowered sites, and basically, only two other campsites set up. We feel we have landed in road/people-weary traveller’s heaven. The silence is so loud, we just sit and look and listen. Birdsong is sweet and a gentle breeze brushes through the RV when we stop.
We fall in love, all three of us. This is the perfect respite before our travels back to Sydney.
Jodie tells us we are lucky. She says: “On the weekend there will be 800 rogainers here.”
I look at her in shock. Eight hundred of them; rogaining is an off-road, course-plotting sport, derived from orienteering, across 24 hours, non-stop.
“Yeah, orienteering on steroids.” She laughs.
We are relieved we arrive – and will be well gone – before the rogainers do. It seems all too daunting.
“And in May, we have 1500 for a music festival every year.” She adds quickly: “We don’t cater for them either.” This is the Wide Open Space usic Festival, held annually at Ross River Resort.
We later learn that the rogaining meet is the 2016 World Championships with the world’s best competing. But as the forward phalanx of this particular meet begin arriving and filling our once empty campsite – the volunteer organisers – we know our time at Ross River is coming to an end.
The Dutchman is not well, so stays with our Apollo RV as Ella the Explorer and I venture out onto a walk towards N’Dhala Gorge. The track is wide and open, running behind the campsite and beyond. It is lined with ghost gums; river reeds hug the sandy bed of the river. We have to shelve our shoes and socks at one point, and wade through three small waterways to get to the other side of the track. It is cold but somehow, deeply refreshing on
our travel-weary feet. As we walk towards the gorge, I feel like Alice through the Looking Glass – I feel smaller and smaller as the escarpments soar above us. We walk all the way to the pass, scaring a herd of very pretty, very nervous-seeming cows. They scatter as we approach, bunching together before turning and watching us warily. At the gorge, there is a little waterhole, desert-wintertime cold and quite deep-looking. It is afternoon, and the seasonal sun is low in the sky. The escarpment reds become more orange, and the river reeds light up as if illuminated from below. It feels like magic, this place.
And we are the only ones here.
The walk is about one hour, round trip, but take a book or picnic, and just sit and be consumed by the silence; by the nature; by the majesty of it all. The aloneness. There are more than 5,000 Aboriginal rock carvings here; and a small wild camping ground, but only for foot traffic or four-wheel drive access.
Roman calls the gorge the ‘Falling Down Wall of Babylon’. He laughs as he tells me but I am not quite sure why. He has worked for resort owner the Grollo Group for the past 30 years, at various resort sites including Mt Buller in Victoria. He is here for only part of the year, helping manage the Homestead Resort and campsite with Jodie.
The night before we arrive, there was a wedding held here; and Jodie is bracing herself for the weekend onslaught of rogainers.
Roman says: “We have religious groups and school groups, and people hold conventions here.
“There – I built that convention centre.” He points to the large grey structure near the entrance to the campsite.
Apart from the campsite and convention centre, there are air conditioned cabins with ensuite; bunkhouse accommodation; a small swimming pool and spa; Wi-Fi Internet (for a small subscription which travels with you throughout the NT); a café/bistro; refuelling, ice available to buy and re-gas for gas bottles; and a restaurant and bar, serving home cooked meals. But you have to reserve a table by 4pm, so Jodie, who also cooks, knows you are coming. Ella the Explorer is ecstatic that she can buy a serving of wedges with chili and sour cream for lunch; and no one blinks when I tell them I am vegetarian.
So, we head to the Homestead at 6.30 on the dot, for our meal. It looks wholesome and hearty, steaming away in the Bain Maries – and there is plenty of it. Jodie cooks for more than 30 people, and comes up to us before guests are invited to serve themselves.
“Are you the Joseph table?”
“Yes, that’s us.”
“Well, you go first because I know what will happen,” she looks straight at me. “All the non-vegos will eat everything and there will be nothing left for you!” She tells us this with an inner knowledge of the eating habits of hungry travellers.
So we do, serve ourselves first. There is fried rice for me, with delicious roast potatoes on the side and a cabbage/carrot/celery stir fry dish that is great. The Dutchman tries both the lamb and the pork, and although still under the weather, devours it all. Ella the Explorer tucks into a decent roast lamb meal, and is ecstatic, once again, to find potatoes as she likes them – if not wedges, then roasted.
It is a large barn size dining hall, strewn with wooden tables, nestled against the northern wall of the original homestead – the original bush timber roof-line juts through. The ceiling is made of tin, and the floors are stone. Despite its size, it is cosy, made all the more with the raging original cooking fireplace on the other side of the wall, the smaller lounge room next door. The bar is stocked with wines, spirits and beers. And the meal is just $20 a head.
Roman tells me he is looking to hire a couple to run the campsite and tend the 500 date palms he has recently planted behind a wire fence, surrounding the campsite.
“We are building a home for them down there,” he says, pointing behind him.
I ask him how hot it gets in summer.
“It would not be unusual to get 20 straight days of 40-50 degrees.” He keeps a straight face and genuinely does not seem too bothered by that; I can simply not imagine it.
I tell The Dutchman about the couple-search and he asks me if I want to; drop everything and run away to the Outback. It is so tempting – the beauty and peace here is mesmerising. The heat would be a challenge, but so is working in the city and doing what we do. It really is the dearth of people out here; the quiet; the birdsong; the light; the serenity.
It is enchanting; I feel almost bewitched by it.
I wonder if we could do it; just pack up and go Outback.
I wonder. Even as we drive away, I wonder. And I know this place will haunt my dream-filled sleeps, and infuse my waking hours for weeks, if not months, to come.
And I know one day, we will be back.