The West Macs

Trip Start Sep 08, 2011
Trip End Jan 08, 2012

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Where I stayed
Alice's Secret Travellers Inn Alice Springs
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of Australia  , Northern Territory,
Thursday, October 20, 2011

Today was the first of two tours that I'm doing while in Alice Springs. Later in the week is the big one, Uluru, but today was the West MacDonnell Ranges & Gorges a.k.a. The West Macs. It’s a range of mountains that run to the west of Alice Springs. In the interests of symmetry there’s also a range that run to the east of Alice, called – wait for it... – the East MacDonnell Ranges & Gorges.

It was a fairly early start (7:45am) and rather than a huge coach of tourists it was a mini bus with just 8 of us; 4 Australians, 2 French women, 1 Korean and me. And the guide of course. From the outset, I should say that the ranges are amazing, but the guide, Tony, was brilliant – it was like being shown around by Sir David Attenbrough and an Ocker mate at the same time.

We were set to be travelling all day, visiting/seeing various sights. The tour started slowly with the first stop being at Flynn’s Grave. I didn’t really get it – maybe I hadn’t fully woken up yet – but it appeared to be where this Flynn fella (something to do with the Flying Doctor service, I think, but I could be wrong) was buried with his wife. The site was marked with a huge boulder of some Aboriginal significance that I didn’t quite understand on the grave – but I took a photo anyway. As Bev (back in Adelaide) would have said, "George, you’re such a tourist!" Guilty as charged.

Next stop: Simpsons Gap. On the way we saw a strange sight. There were numerous trees that had been burnt, but the tops of the trees were green. Tony explained that these were special trees. Being Australia, they were adapted to burn in bush fires, in fact they thrived on it, because it was in these fires (at certain temperatures, but that’s a whole different story) that the trees released seeds to be germinated. Furthermore, the trees never completely died in the fires. Special trees? They were zombie trees!!! Is nothing normal in Oz?

Simpsons Gap was a short walk from the mini bus and well worth the visit. It does what it says on the tin – it’s a gap in the range, but it was impressive. What was most notable about it was that it contained the first body of water I’d seen since entering The Northern Territory. Granted it wasn’t much, just a stream, but something is better than nothing. I wouldn’t have worried about it too much normally, but I have to cross an empty river bed every time I go into the town centre. It starts to play on your mind after a while.

With that done we made our way to Standley Chasm. This was more than a short walk from the mini bus. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t (or at least didn’t seem to be) particularly long, but it was a 40 minute round trip on foot, which by my reckoning is about 2 miles. Again, however, once we’d got there the 'effort’ had been worth it. It was like the Gap, but bigger, hence the Chasm. There was no water here, but just being there made you feel really small.

Next on the agenda, after morning tea, was a short stop at the Ochre Pits. Ochre was mined by the Aboriginals and then traded between the different tribes for medicinal or artistic purposes. Then came one of the highlights of the day: Ormiston Gorge.  After lunch, we donned our swimmers (swimming trunks/bathing suits for those of you not up on your Australian English) and headed to the gorge which had the most spectacular view of the day and a lake. Open water with no crocodiles, sharks or jellyfish? I was in like a shot! The whole experience was fantastic; the water was great and the backdrop was simply awesome (and I use this in the correct sense of the word).

Reluctantly we left Ormiston Gorge, although as an incentive Tony had promised that we could swim again later in the day. We headed to Glen Helen, which, apart from yet another amazing gorge, had a restaurant/bar. At this point the group split up, half (myself included) walked off to see the gorge, while the other half had just about had enough and decided to stay at the bar and have a beer or two instead. Their loss.

On returning to the bar, Tony was in conversation describing how brilliant something was. The phrase he used was, “It’s the duck’s nuts!” I almost fell off my chair with laughter. He couldn’t work out how I hadn’t heard that before, so I told him that we don’t use that expression, what we (the Brits) say is, “It’s the dog’s bollocks!” It was the turn of the Australians to fall about laughing. They’d never heard that before and thought it was the duck’s nuts!

Our final stop before returning to Alice was Ellery Creek Bighole. Yet another awe-inspiring gorge, with great sand and the most beautiful lake. Unbelievably, it was almost tiresome saying superlatives to describe beautiful spot after beautiful spot. Simply put, it was wonderful. Naturally, we went for another dip in the lake. The only thing in my mind, while in the water was, “This is as good as it gets.” While planning this trip to Oz, top of my list of things to visit was Uluru, but now I feel I might be disappointed, because the West Macs were/are spectacular.

I had commented to Tony, that I’d noticed (maybe ‘noticed’ isn’t the right word as you could hardly miss it) that most of the highway we’d travelled on was straight and I was wondering if I could get a photo of a suitably straight stretch of road as it is an icon of Australia. “No worries.” On the way back, true to his word, he stopped and let me go out into the road to take the photo. My day was complete.

I loved the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, but this was way better. If you ever get the chance, go to the West Macs!
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Paul BB on

George, you philistine, Flynn was THE Flying Doctor and founded what is today the Royal Flying Doctor Service. It is as iconic as you get in Aus without having claws or teeth. Glad you took a piccie though.

Paul BB on

Further to my last comment, if you have a $20 note on you, have a look and you will see a picture of John Flynn on one side.

georgegoode on

Forgive my ignorance, Paul. I'm just a South London boy, living in Spain, what do I know about Aussie history. I've looked at the note and others and the only person I recognise is the Queen on the 5 dollar note. I'm expecting a potted history lesson from you over a few beers.

georgegoode on

Helen, you really are doing your damndest to put the wind up me aren't you? As if angry arachnids, starving sharks, killer crocs and radioactive rays weren't enough to scare me witless, now you want to throw marauding marsupials into the mix? Woman, what's wrong with you????

Sam Mule L Jackson on

Let me get this right - bollocks is bad but dog's bollocks is good, right? What about the dingo's dick? The wallaby's willy? The kangaroo's...

I'll get me mofo coat.

Helen on

What do you ,mean what's wrong with me. I've been here too long - enough said :)

PS Paul reckons an Aussie history lesson - potted or other wise won't take too long.

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