The East MacDonnell Ranges are not all one national park like the West MacDonnell Ranges. There are the Emily and Jessie Gaps Nature Park, Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve, Trephina Gorge Nature Park, and Arltunga Historical Reserve. Zyg and I took a day after the 2010 VT Meet in Alice Springs and either drove to or visited all of the above sites. We also went to the Ross River Resort, stopped at the Terry "Fish" Gill Memorial, and saw a wild camel. We did not make it to the Ruby Gap Nature Park or the N'Dhala Gorge Nature Park. From Alice Springs it is 7 km to Emily Gap, 15 km to Jessie Gap, 42 km to Corroboree Rock, 73 km to Trephina Gorge, 91 km to N'Dhala Gorge, and 110 km to Arltunga.
The Corroboree Rock Conservation Reserve is located 51 km east of Alice Springs on the Ross Highway (Hwy-8) in the East MacDonnell Ranges. It is a now vertical, dolomite rock outcropping from the Bitter Springs Formation, which was formed in salty lakes 800 million years ago. It is part of the Eastern Arrernte Perentie Dreaming track. A perentie is the world's fourth largest lizard and can get up to 2.5 meters long and weigh 20 kilograms. Corroboree Rock has a loop trail around it (15 min return), a picnic area and a dunny; however, camping is not allowed there. See also a videoclip from the viewing area, and a travelogue with the flowering plants that we saw there.
It is 34 km from the Corroboree Rock access road to the Ross River Resort. We had driven ~12 min (it was between there and Mount Benstead Creek) when I saw a wild camel a bit of a distance off the road. I got Zyg to stop and took some pictures. Evidently it is not so unusual to see wild camels in Australia, since Australia has the largest population of feral camels (~1,000,000) and the only herd of dromedary (one-humped) camels exhibiting wild behavior in the world. Zyg said the only unusual thing was that it was by itself. We saw it again when we were driving back to Alice Springs in the dark. It was closer to the highway and we saw it in the car lights.
Thousands of camels were imported between 1840 and 1907 to open up the arid areas of central and western Australia. They were used for riding, and as pack animals for the exploration and construction of rail and telegraph lines. They were also used to supply goods to remote mines and settlements. The camels were mostly guided and cared for by Muslim cameleers known as "Afghans." Some handlers came from Egypt, Turkey and Persia; however, most came from northern India and the area that is now called Pakistan. The men were all, almost always incorrectly, called Afghans or simply "Ghans." Today, the increasing numbers of wild camels, and their impact on native and agricultural vegetation, have caused them to become pests.
On the Ross Highway just a little east of the turn to N'Dhala Gorge, there is an interesting memorial to Terry "Fish" Gill. We would call it a "descanso" here in New Mexico, USA. He was evidently killed while riding his Harley motorcycle on 23 Aug 1998. It just so happened that we were there 12 years to the day later. As his memorial says we are "here for a good time, not a long time." The following exerpt from an article in the Alice Springs News by Erwin Chlanda on 31 Aug 2006 described what happened and how he is remembered each year by "Fish's Run":
FISH WOULD HAVE LOVED IT.
By ERWIN CHLANDA.
Terry Michael “Fish” Gill, aged 44, died at dusk on August 23, 1998.
He was riding his Harley Davidson motor cycle about five kilometers east of Ross River, in that awful light just after sundown.
Going quite slowly he might have glanced into the rear vision mirror, to see where fellow biker Trevor “Poodge” Packham was, when Fish hit a camel, was knocked backwards and most likely had his spine snapped when it struck the number plate mount sticking up from the rear mudguard.
When Poodge, who’d seen the sparks of the crashing bike ahead of him, got to Fish seconds later, he was lying dead by the side of the road.
“He’d passed away,” Poodge last Saturday told 200 people on the spot “where Fish had his accident”, as his brother Bryan “Beez” Gill puts it.
“There was nothing we could do for him,” recounted Poodge.
Fish’s orange Harley Shovel Head 1978, only slightly damaged, was restored and Beez rode it on Saturday to lead a pack of more than 80 bikers in the eighth Fish’s Run, a social phenomenon in The Centre, and proof that Alice is still a small, caring community.
The crowd, some having arrived in cars and utes, stood in sad silence as Beez played “High” by the Lighthouse Family, one of the songs played at Fish’s funeral.
“He’s here,” said Beez: the cairn on the accident site is a mock-up bike, only the handle bars and petrol tank coming from the crashed Harley.
Half of Fish’s ashes are in the left-hand fuel cell...
Fish's Run is still a big event each year with online articles and YouTube videos.
We stopped by the Ross River Homestead for lunch when we were in the East MacDonnell Ranges. It is shown as the Ross River Resort on maps and highway signs, but the on-site signs say Ross River Homestead. At a glance it looks like a place that has seen much better times. It is a large place in a beautiful location 78 km from Alice Springs. Originally it was the Loves Creek Homestead, which was built in 1898 by the Bloomfield family as a working cattle station. However, I think Zyg and I were two of a handful of visitors in the whole place. The cabins were 50 AUD per person (double occupancy). There were gasoline pumps but I hate to think of what the price might be. In the dining room a "Hamburger with the Lot" and "Fish and Chips" were each 20 AUD. I got the sausage roll and chips for 5 AUD and a ginger beer for 4 AUD.
We actually stopped at the Trephina Gorge Nature Park on our way back to Alice Springs at around 6 PM. It was starting to get dark. We only had time to do the Gorge Stroll (500 m, 20 min return) up to the waterhole. There are four other longer walks. The Trephina Gorge Walk (2 km loop, 1 hour return) goes up to the rim, back down to the gorge and returns along the creek. The Panorama Walk (3 km loop, 1 hour return) goes to Mordor Pound in the north and back. The Ridgetop Walk (10 km one way, 6.5 hours) is a difficult walk but has great views and plant life on the way to the John Hayes Rockhole. You should arrange a vehicle to return to the trailhead or add 8 km along the road and 1.5 hours. The Chain of Ponds Walk (4 km loop, 1.5 hours return) has an easy 20 min walk to the edge of a narrow gorge with great views, but some difficulty getting down into the gorge and back to the trailhead.
The gorge is located 85km east of Alice Springs about 9 km off the Ross Highway. Camping grounds with dunnies, picnic tables, gas barbecues and drinking water are provided at Trephina Bluff and Trephina Gorge. Camping is only permitted in designated camping areas. No water is provided at the John Hayes camp ground. See also a videoclip.
The turn for the road to Arltunga is 77 km east of Alice Springs and 7 km before you reach the Ross River Homestead. It is a 33 km piece of unpaved road, which runs through Love Creek Station (private land) and is probably best negotiated with a 4WD. From Arltunga you may return directly to the Stuart Highway north of Alice Springs via the Gardens Road on the Arltunga Tourist Route (119 km).
In 1887 alluvial gold was discovered in a dry creekbed downstream from Paddys Rockhole. There was a gold rush and Arltunga officially became Central Australia’s first town. To get there, fortune seekers had to travel 600 km from the Oodnadatta railhead, often on foot. At one time 300 people lived in Arltunga. Now it is a historical ghost town and an interesting place to visit. There is a nice Visitors' Center which explains the history and has outdoor displays of real artifacts. You can even try your hand at panning for gold in the courtyard display (see another tip). The Visitors' Center is open from 8 AM to 5 PM daily but is unmanned. There are running water toilets. Camping and fossicking (rock collecting), including the use of metal detectors, are not permitted on the Reserve. However, fossicking is permitted in the adjoining Fossicking Reserve by Paddys Rockhole for holders of a current NT Fossickers Permit. The Parks Service has a good information sheet for exploring Arltunga. See also two travelogues for more pictures of the inside displays and outside displays. There is also an excellent technical paper on the Excavations at Arltunga, which has a detailed history of the area.
The Government Battery and Cyanide Works was established in 1898 as a facility for crushing and processing ore from the mines. It really only lasted until 1913 when the mining activity faded away. There are 10 buildings and sites that are marked on a self-guided walking tour that takes about 40 minutes. See also a travelogue.
The Old Police Station was built in 1912, and underwent a major renovation in 1985. We did not stop but you can step into the gaol and sense what it might have been like to be a prisoner. Nearby you can examine the Two-stamp Battery erected to crush White Range ore by the McIntyre family in the late 1950's. Also nearby is the Kangaroo Well, a 23 m deep permanent water supply, which was one of the more productive wells in the district. There is a walking path between the Government Works and the Old Police Station (1.5 km, 20-30 minutes one way).
The Christmas Reef Mine dates back to 1896, when a German prospector, Frederick Messau found gold in a vein of white quartz. Fred staked out his claim and started digging a shaft the hard way with just a pick and shovel. The shaft evenually reached a depth of 7.5 meters. It is believed that Fred abandoned the Christmas Reef mine in 1898 and moved to the newly-discovered White Range Goldfield. Fred died in 1913 at age 60 from throat and lung disease caused by the quartz dust he had breathed during years of working in poorly ventilated tunnels. The Christmas Reef Mine is located on the trail to the MacDonnell Range Reef Mine and only a couple of minutes from the trailhead. You can still see the quartz vein in the wall of the shaft.
MacDonnell Range Reef Mine Walk is a self-guided walk that is 0.9 km and ~30 min return. Along the way you pass the Christmas Reef Mine and a number of shallow holes with low mounds. This is where surface soil and gravel were "washed" using precious water or "dry blown" using rapidly moving air to recover alluvial gold. Some nuggets up to 3 oz were found. BTW, the same parking area is also the trailhead for the Golden Chance Mine Walk (1.7 km, 60 min return). The walk to this mine offers the opportunity to examine one of the miners huts of "dry stone" construction. Also from the Golden Chance Mine, a short 200 m ascent to the top of the hill gives a spectacular panoramic view of Arltunga. Unfortunately we did not have time to go to the Golden Chance Mine.
The MacDonell Range Reef Mine was worked intermittently from 1892 to 1908. Over its lifetime it produced 248 ounces of gold from 353 tons of ore. This made it one of the area's largest and richest mines outside the White Range mines. The shafts are covered with gratings for safety reasons but some have ladders down into the mine, so you may experience the world of gold-miners almost a century ago. The tunnels are only about 4 meters below the surface. Take time to let your eyes adjust to the darkness, and see the seams of quartz that were dug out only using hand tools. This mine is one of the few underground mines at Arltunga. Don’t forget to take a torch!
During the rush to Arltunga in 1903, the Crossroads area was chosen as a township site for Arltunga. Several buildings were erected after a well was drilled in 1906. However, soon the gold fields petered out and the town never grew beyond these original buildings. The Glencoe Hotel operated at the Crossroads from 1910 until at least as late as 1924, but it sounds like it would have gotten bad TripAdvisor reviews. The NT Times and Gazette wrote: "linen is an unknown quantity - no sheets, table clothes, mattresses, ... one person I heard asking for a bed was given a blanket and free permission to sleep where he liked with the exception of the bar." Nothing remains of the Glencoe Hotel today.
The remains of the Bakehouse are on the southwest corner, an information board on the southeast corner marks the former site of Jack and Jean Shaw's house and the Crossroads Well, the northeast corner is the former site of the Glencoe Hotel, and the Crossroads Cemetery (see the next tip) is just a little further northeast.
The Arltunga Crossroads Cemetery is just a little northeast of the Crossroads. There are only six graves. You can see the gravesites of early miners like James Woodford (2 Apr 1855 - 23 Sep 1921). His is the only grave with a headstone and it has a rock wall around it. There is also what is believed to be the grave of William Smith who worked the Great Western Mine. His grave is surrounded by timber posts and a rail fence.