Still on the road – Alice to Kings Canyon
Namatjira Drive “hugs” the McDonnell Ranges, which means that it goes through a slightly less dry area of the red centre; the rain that falls on the Ranges flows onto the adjacent terrain and provides enough water for a fairly decent vegetation cover. One side effect of this is that almost everything that is built around that area has to take into account the possibility of rain and the consequent flash floods. This is very visible on the road, in fact: every few kilometres, one will see a sign saying “DIP” and the road will, well, dip. That’s where the water will go through when it rains. (One will occasionally see signs such as “So-and-so Creek” followed by a dip on the road — not a bridge, as one might expect, as the so-called creek will be dry most of the time)
The section of the road before the fork was reasonably deserted; I saw cars going the other way, but not very often — say, once every 5 to 10 minutes. Every single person who drove by me waved; I guess that’s what one does when there is limited human contact. The following section was even more deserted, if that’s possible (and, yes, people would still wave).
And this is a good thing: the view is so beautiful that one can’t help but look away from the road with an alarming frequency. The colours, the mountains, even the vegetation, everything was different from what I’m used to, and very beautiful. I stopped several times on the side of the road to take pictures, and every single time I saw many, many animal tracks on the dust. Not many tire tracks (but a disturbing number of beer cans and cartons), and almost no roadkill — I guess not many people drive through there at night (the insurance on my rental car specifically forbade driving from sunset to sunrise outside urban areas).
There are several turn-outs on the road leading to local attractions, usually towards the mountains. I didn’t have time to go to all of them, but I did stop at one: Serpentine Gorge. I have to say that I almost gave up soon after I left the road, as the track leading there was unsealed and, honestly, not very good. The gorge is some 6km away from the main road, and it’s a beautiful place, with a good parking area and wide, marked walking tracks to the gorge and to a lookout located high on the hills. When I arrived, I found two tour vans already parked there, and some 20 backpacks simply lying on the ground of the parking area — with not a soul around. I did see the tour group later, coming back from the gorge while I walked in the other direction. Very trusting people, apparently.
I tried following the track up to the lookout, but had to give up because it was quite a steep and rough climb; I stopped when I reached a sign pointing straight up where I couldn’t discern anything remotely resembling a track. I had a good view from there anyway… and then I went back down and toward the gorge, which is beautiful — it’s quite a contrast, in fact, to find what amounts to a small lake in the middle of all that dryness.
Other notes from this road:
- I didn’t see any native animals other than birds, but I did see cattle crossing the road in front of me (plenty of time to stop, though — it is a very straight road)
- what I didn’t have time to stop for was a big piece of rubber that detached from a truck tyre and that was on the middle of the road just after a blind dip/curve; I drove over it doing about 90 (the speed limit is 110km/h), but it wasn’t a problem for the car (I did stop to drag that off the road)
- didn’t see any police cars either
- but I did see many signs delimiting aboriginal areas and indicating that alcohol and pornography are prohibited there (I can understand alcohol, but pornography?)
- there’s not a single petrol station between Alice Springs and Glen Helen Gorge; that’s why everyone says that, in the Northern Territory, you should refuel your car at every opportunity…
The “good” portion of the road ends in Glen Helen Gorge, which is another gorgeous (ha, ha) place about which I’ll write in the next instalment.