Walks in and around Alice Springs in the Northern Territory

When my family first moved to Australia we spent the first six months living in Warrego, a small mining township 45km west of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. I had a great time there as a young boy and as a result have always had a soft spot for the ‘Territory’.

I made my first visit back in 2010, some 30 years after we had left, flying in to Alice Springs and then driving up to Tennant Creek, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been back to Alice Springs several times since and have done some great walking in the area.

The major attraction for walkers are the West MacDonnell Ranges that start on the edge of Alice Springs and extend westwards. In addition to an excellent, scenic drive along Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive, there are a series of enjoyable day walks as well as a the long distance Larapinta Trail (definitely on my walking to-do list).

I’ve covered some suggested day walks in previous posts:
1. Simpsons Gap to Bond Gap (along the Larapinta Trail)
2. Woodland Trail to Rocky Gap
3. Ormiston Pound walk
4. Redbank Gorge to Mt Sonder (the final stage of the Larapinta Trail)

All of these are thoroughly recommended, but if you could do only one then the Ormiston Pound walk would be my top recommendation.

In addition to these walks there is also plenty of opportunity to take some shorter walks in Alice Springs and its immediate surrounds. In particular, there are some good trails centred on the Alice Springs Telegraph Station, the site of the first European settlement in Alice Springs. Three that are worth doing, and all of which start at an undercover information board just near the entrance to the shop and Historical Reserve are:

1. Bradshaw Walk
Named after a Postmaster at the Telegraph Station in the 1890s, this is an easy walk of 2.5km that proceeds west through the carpark, climbs through acacia shrubland and eventually turns back towards the Todd river joining the Riverside walk back north to the Telegraph Station.

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2. Trig Hill and Cemetery Loop Walk
This track proceeds from the information board to the Alice Springs Waterhole before traversing alluvial flats and low granite outcrops to the base of Trig Hill. A short, sharp climb leads to the summit and fantastic 360 degree views. Continuing northwards, the path soon turns west towards the cemetery which holds the graves of five early settlers. From here the path meanders around granite outcrops and through Acacia and Senna shrublands back to the start. Another easy walk of around 2km.

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3. Spencer Hill and Stuart Walk Circuit
This easy walk of about 5km proceeds east from the information board, crosses the Todd River and then shortly after meets a junction with the Spencer walk (this is the return route). Continuing straight ahead (east) the path traverses ridges and gullies and turns south to the boundary of the reserve. The path proceeds through a gap in the boundary fence, turning south-west to meet another track junction signposted as the Spencer Hill walk, following this north to the first track junction and then back across the Todd River to the start.

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The walks above are all marked with coloured trail markers that make route finding pretty simple. This fact sheet provides more information about the Telegraph Station and includes a map of the walking (and mountain biking) trails.

The Telegraph Station is about 4km north of Alice Springs, and is accessed via Herbert Heritage Drive which joins the Stuart Highway. Alternatively, you can walk from the town centre along either the west or the east bank of the Todd River.

The map below shows the starting locations of each of the walks covered in this post:

Fellwalking: Rannerdale Knotts/ Whiteless Pike/ Wandope/ Grasmoor

This was a very enjoyable circuit walk in the North Western Fells of the Lake District, taking in Rannerdale Knotts, Whiteless Pike, Wandope & Grasmoor.

I started at the small car park off the B5289 where the footpath down from Grasmoor over Lad Hows meets the road. I then walked down the road (or the grassy if somewhat muddy path beside the road) to the starting point of the track up to Rannerdale Knotts (starting just before Hause Point)

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The path soon starts climbing steeply and it’s not too long before the ridge line is achieved.

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From which there are great views of Buttermere and Crummock Water.

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After descending from the ridge the path joins with another footpath that leads up to Whiteless Pike (at this point you could return via a footpath that follows Squat Beck for a short but enjoyable ramble).

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The weather was fantastic so the views just kept getting better.

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Whiteless Pike was a good place to stop for the rest…

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…before the walk along Whiteless Edge to Wandope.

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From here there a good views accross to Whiteside and up to Crag Hill.

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If you have the time and inclination you could take a detour to Crag Hill, but I took the path west to Grasmoor…

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…resting and taking in the views from the summit before returning via the path south and then west over Lad Hows and back to my car.

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All in all a great day out. Buttermere is close by and a great spot for a post walk beer.

Time: Around 5.25 hours
Grade: Moderate day walk
My rating: A+
Map: The English Lakes: North Western Area (OS Explorer Map Series)
Wainwright Guide: The North Western Fells (50th Anniversary Edition): Book Six (A Pictorial Guide to the Lakeland Fells): 6
Access: The walk starts at a small car-parking area just off the B5289. Google street view now covers this area, here’s a view of the parking area on the right. There’s also another carpark just before this one – either one will work.

Four more walks in New Zealand’s South Island

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After last year’s visit to NZ I was very keen to go back and explore some more of the beautiful South Island.

Following are four more fantastic walks.

1. Mt. Somers, Canterbury

Mt Somers provides for an invigorating and reasonably tough day walk. The effort to reach the summit is rewarded with excellent views of the Southern Alps and the Canterbury Plains.

The walk commences from Sharplin Falls carpark, a small parking area at the end of Flynns Rd, accessed via the small village of Staveley. The start of the walk is clearly marked and initially follows the Mount Somers Walkway before branching off just after Staveley Hill to climb towards the summit. The track climbs pretty much all the way – there’s very little respite – and the last section to the summit is exposed and steep.

Time: At least 6 hours return
Grade: Hard day walk
My rating: A
Photo gallery.

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2. Bealey Spur, Arthur’s Pass National Park

This is a simply fantastic walk that provides expansive views while not being particularly strenuous.

The walk starts at Bealey, 10km or so before Arthur’s Pass Village.  There’s a signposted parking area just off the SH73 (note there’s nowhere to park within Bealey itself). After climbing to meet the end of the road into Bealey, the track then climbs though beech forest before entering an open area with tremendous views. The track continues uphill past a tarn and through some more forest eventually reaching Bealey Hut. Although the track officially stops here, you can continue further up the spur if time and weather permits.

Time: 4 hours or so
Grade: Moderate day walk
My rating: A++
Photo gallery.

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3. Avalanche Peak, Arthur’s Pass National Park

A classic walk with magnificent views. This is a fairly tough walk and the last part of the ridge is exposed, narrow and requires a bit of scrambling and a head for heights, but experienced walkers will find it well worth the effort.

The walk starts at the DOC visitor centre in Arthur’s Pass Village, where there’s plenty of parking. The initial part of Avalanche Peak Track is a rather steep and strenuous haul up through beech forest with lots of tree roots across the path to trip up any walkers not paying attention. Once the track breaks through the tree line it follows a spur and then climbs up to meet Scotts Track. From here there’s a rocky and narrow ridge which leads to the summit.

From the summit you can either return the same way or go down Scotts Track which is a bit longer and not quite as steep as Avalanche Track, but provides some variety and also passes the Arthur’s Pass Chalet on the way back to the visitor centre, providing a great spot for a beer.

Time: At least 6 hours
Grade: Hard day walk
My rating: A+
Photo gallery.

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4. Lewis Tops, Canterbury

This was a great walk to finish my trip – the Lewis Tops route provides for some fine ridge walking, with great views and attractive alpine tarns.  Thoroughly recommended.

The walk commences off the Lewis Pass Highway about 20km from Springs Junction. There is an old car park right next to the start but when I was there it was overgrown and flooded. The St James Walkway carpark to the east is a better choice and is only a short walk away (it does require you to cross the highway though so care needs to be taken).

The path itself soon enters beech forest and starts climbing. After an hour or so the tree line is reached and the track follows a spur, marked with poles, to a knoll. From here the track is not marked, so it is worth taking a note of the descent point before continuing along the ridge. You can continue as far as time and energy allows, taking in great 360 degree views before returning the same way.

Time: A minimum of about 4 hours
Grade: Medium day walk
My rating: A++
Photo gallery.

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Four walks in New Zealand’s South Island

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Last year I made my first visit to New Zealand’s South Island for pleasure rather than business and was able to do four terrific walks, all of which are thoroughly recommended.

The walks are in the southern part of the South Island, in the general Queenstown area and are as follows:

1. Key Summit, Routeburn Track

The Routeburn track is a famous New Zealand walk of 32km. It commences (if walking west to east) from The Divide which is on the road that goes from Te Anau to Milford Sound. Key Summit is accessible from the first part of the track and provides for an excellent half-day walk with excellent views if weather permits.

Starting from The Divide which is a parking area by the road with a shelter and toilets, the well-formed track climbs steadily for an hour or so, before reaching a sign-posted turn-off to Key Summit. From here it’s a steep climb to the treeline and thereafter a more moderate walk along a track that loops about the tops and provides fantastic views of Fiordland.

Time: Around 3 hours or so
Grade: Easy/moderate half-day walk
My rating: A++
Photo gallery.

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2. Routeburn Flats Hut, Routeburn Track

This walk takes in the eastern end of the Routeburn Track finishing at Routeburn Flats Hut.

The walk commences at the Routeburn Shelter at the northern end of the Routeburn-Kinloch Rd. In addition to the shelter there’s a carpark and toilets. The trail itself soon crosses the Route Burn river and continues through forest before climbing steadily, crossing the river again and then eventually reaching the hut which has a delightful setting.

The hut itself is designed for overnight walkers, but has a large common room which provides a good spot for lunch before returning via the same route.

Time: Around 4 hours
Grade: Easy/moderate half to full day walk
My rating: A
Photo gallery.

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3. Ben Lomond, Queenstown

Ben Lomond holds a commanding position above Queenstown and is an obvious target for a walk. There’s a reasonably well formed track to the top, and experienced walkers will enjoy an excellent day walk.

I took the (expensive – like everything in Queenstown) Gondola to Ben Lomond Saddle to save some climbing. From here there’s a short walk past a luge track and then a brief section within forest, before a steady climb to a saddle and then the final pull westwards to the summit. The summit has magnificent 360 degree views, taking in Lake Wakatipu, Mt Earnslaw and The Remarkables.

Time: 5 hours or so
Grade: Moderate/Hard day walk
My rating: A+
Photo gallery.

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4. Roys Peak, Stack Conservation Area, Wanaka

This walk takes in Roys Peak in Wanaka and like the other three walks provides excellent walking and fantastic views. To start with there a great views over Lake Wanaka and when you finally crest the ridge fine views of the Southern Alps.

The route commences at a small carpark just off the Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Road about 6km out of Wanaka. Following a jeep track for most of the way, the route is easy to follow although not signposted other than at the start. It actually looks a bit easier than it is, in the end it’s a solid climb and will probably take at least 5.5 hours. I got the full four seasons on this walk, with sun, then rain, then a bit of snow and then a fine afternoon.

Time: 6 hours or so
Grade: Moderate/Hard day wlak
My rating: A++
Photo gallery.

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Bushwalking: Mt Rufus, Tasmania

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Another terrific day walk in Tassie, this time taking in the summit of Mt Rufus in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St. Clair National Park.

The walk commences from the National Park Visitor Centre, seven or so kilometres along a sealed road from a turn-off at the Lyell Hwy. The visitor centre sits at the southern end of Lake St. Clair and is a popular and busy spot with camping, cabins, a visitor centre and a licensed cafe.

The walks in this part of the park all start by following a closed (except to management vehicles) vehicular track that proceeds west from the visitor centre. After about half a kilometre a signposted track to Mt Rufus is reached. This track climbs steadily west for about four kilometres to a junction. Ignoring the link track, the path proceeds to climb west, before turning south-west and the north-west to work around a prominent rocky outcrop. There’s a final steepish pull up to the ridge line and then a fairly leisurely stroll up to the prominent summit cairn.

Views from the summit are simply magnificent with Lake St. Clair to the east, the Franklin-Gordon Wild Rivers National Park to the west and to the north, Cradle Mountain and the wilderness traversed by the Overland track.

From the summit you could return the same way, but if time permits a better option is to descend north-west to a saddle and then eastwards towards Shadow Lake, before following the path through forest, an impressive clearing that requires careful attention to staying on the track as this area is rather boggy, and some wonderful woodland that includes one of Australia’s few native deciduous trees, the deciduous beech (or Fagus)*. I was there in autumn, so the leaves had started to change colour and this part of the walk was particularly attractive. The path eventually arrives at Watersmeet where it’s a 1.5km walk back along the vehicular track to the visitor centre.

All-in-all a definite A+ must do Tasmanian walk.

* I thought this was Australia’s only native deciduous tree, but a bit of research revealed that there are several others, although all are monsoonal deciduous (i.e. they lose their leaves just before the wet season) – the beech is the only native winter deciduous. This page has more information.

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Bushwalking: Ormiston Pound Walk – Ormiston Gorge, Northern Territory

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From the car park walk over to the walk information display board and then follow the path clearly signed Pound Walk and marked along the way by a red triangle. During my visit in July 2010 ‘Caution Notices’ had been added to the Pound walk signs warning of the high water level in the gorge as a result of the recent extensive rainfall and the possibility of having to resort to wading and swimming to complete the walk. Not wishing to turn around after driving all the way from Alice Springs I pressed on hoping that only a short stretch of the track through the gorge would be affected.

After a short walk alongside the access road the path drops down to the left into Ormiston Creek which has to be crossed before picking up the path again as it rises gently upwards to the first ridge line. Cross over the ridge following the well-marked path as it meanders through the rocky terrain eventually reaching a prominent saddle and a nearby viewpoint from where there are spectacular views of the pound. After crossing another ridge line the path drops down into the pound descending towards the broad bed of Ormiston Creek.

Noting the red triangle sign on the other side of the creek marking the paths position an interesting time was had in finding a suitable crossing point which did not involve the removal of socks and boots. After trying various options a series of boulders in the riverbed was eventually found which finally allowed an uneventful crossing. A further two creek crossings were negotiated in a similar manner until finally picking up the path as it left the creek bed and meandered into the gorge. As the path continued further into the gorge across sandy beaches and rocky terrain it eventually became necessary to resort to scrambling across large boulders beneath the towering red cliffs. Due to the amount of water it became progressively more difficult to find a suitable route through the gorge and to link up with the Ghost Gum Walk. Despite wading through the water to waist level it became obvious that the only way to get through would be to swim the final stretch as indicated earlier by the caution signs at the beginning of the walk. I decided that this was not a sensible option as the water was becoming increasingly cold and the prospect of a long drive back to Alice Springs in wet gear was not particularly appealing. The decision made I retreated and made my way back to the start of the walk the way I came in. As it turned out this was not such a bad outcome as it was only early afternoon, the sun was shining and although it lengthened the walk the views were magnificent and I did manage to dry out by the time I got back to my car.

Overall this is was a very enjoyable walk despite being unable to complete the full circuit due to the water level in the gorge. The views along the walls of the Pound and the red towering cliffs inside the Gorge are stunning and well worth the effort.

Start & Finish: Ormiston Gorge Visitor Centre approx 135 km/2 hrs drive west of Alice Springs.
Distance: approx 9 kms circular walk, allow 3 – 4 hrs or approx 17 kms return to Gorge along same route.

Fact Sheet available for down load here.

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UPDATE:

I visited Ormiston Gorge last year (2013) – there was a lot less water and so I was able to complete the full circuit without getting my boots wet. I did the circuit clockwise (opposite to that descibed above) starting with the Ghost Gum walk which delivers fine views before dropping down into the gorge and permitting completion of the circuit walk. I’d recommend doing the walk this way – if there is too much water in the gorge to navigate, you’ll find this out at the start rather then the end of the walk, and then can make a decision about how far to walk the other way if you are so inclined.

See here for a photo set of the walk.

 

Bushwalking: Hartz Peak, Tasmania

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This is another great day walk that is easily accessed from the lovely city of Hobart. It provides for excellent alpine walking with extensive views and secluded and attractive lakes and tarns.

The walk commences from a car park at the end of the gravel road that leaves the C632 road (see access below). There is a large visitors shelter and the path to Hartz peak is clearly signposted. Follow the path, which is boardwalks for a good deal of the way, as it climbs slightly and passes a signposted track to Lake Esperance (worth a side-trip). The path reaches Ladies Tarn another 1km or so further on at which point the track becomes less well used but still easy to follow, turning westwards for a short but very steep climb up to Hartz Pass.

From here the path turns south climbing steadily, marked by regular signposts with orange arrows and a series of small cairns. A bit of rock scrambling is required to attain the summit. The summit has a trig point and there is a small wind shelter nearby. The walk returns by the same route.

The day I was there in May the weather was pretty terrible on the way up to the summit – no views but plenty of wind and rain, which pretty much describes the weather when I did the walk in May 2008. Nonetheless, it was still enjoyable – or perhaps invigorating is the best word. Highly recommended, but please be ready and equipped for poor weather. There were a few Japanese tourists walking ahead of me in jeans and casual jackets – thankfully they only went as far as Lake Esperance as they were completely un-equipped for the conditions.

Walk date: 9th May, 2010
Time: Around 4 hours
Grade: Moderate day walk
My rating: A

Access: Follow the A6 from Hobart to Geeveston. From here take the road signposted ‘Hartz Mountains National Park’ and keep an eye out for further signposts. Eventually a gravel road is reached (just after Arve River Picnic Area) which leads to the car-park and start of the walk.