“The Plenty’s been closed” we’re told at the Alice Springs Visitor Information Centre and my heart plummets. This is our short cut to the East Coast but it seems a recent downpour of rain has thwarted our travel plans. Such is the fickleness of nature.
We’re in week-three of our six-week road trip through Central Australia, a round journey of some 9000 kilometres. Our plan was to travel from Melbourne to Uluru, and then cut across the Plenty Highway once we had explored the Red Centre of Australia.
The Plenty is part of The Outback Way, Australia’s longest shortcut. It’s like no other self-drive experience capturing the diversity of our iconic attractions and landscapes. At its entirety the 2800km shortcut links Queensland to Western Australia, passing through remote regions where the landscapes, big horizons and night skies make it a photographer’s dream.
The Red Centre was the focus of our trip and encapsulates that epic feeling. For me, that first sighting of Uluru was almost spiritual. Walking around its base, marvelling at the changing colours of the rock and experiencing the Field of Lights was undeniably magical. However, beyond the iconic rock there’s plenty more outback magic to be found.
Tucked away within the East MacDonnell Ranges, less than two hours from Alice Springs, is Trephina Gorge Nature Park. This area is less well known than its West Mac cousins, yet it offers some of the most beautiful camping in Central Australia. With fewer crowds and plenty of spacious camping areas our Dove Outback felt miniscule against the backdrop of towering red rock ranges.
This is a bushwalker’s paradise with a range of spectacular walks close by, including the popular one hour walk from the campground to Trephina Gorge. Slightly further afield, along the four-wheel drive track that leads to the John Hayes Rockhole campground, is the Chain of Ponds walk. This challenging three hour trek had us scrambling up cliff rocks, around the water hole and beside imposing red walls that, in parts, rivalled the spectacular Kings Canyon Rim Walk.
Drive to the isolated N’Dhala Gorge, an area akin to an open-air museum, with ancient Aboriginal rock carvings and for a challenging four-wheel drive adventure head to the remote and spectacular Ruby Gap Nature Park. Don’t miss hugging the towering Ghost Gum just off the main road, one of the most picture-perfect gum trees you’re ever likely to see.
Close by, at Ross River Homestead, there are showers available, great hospitality, cold beer, directions and fuel, albeit very expensive at $2.30 litre when we visited. We discovered the Plenty Highway was still closed as we edged closer to our next destination of Gemtree.