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Down Under: MacDonnell Ranges & Mereenie Loop

Now that I’m ready to hit the road fully loaded with camping equipment, I need to decide my route. There are two main routes to drive to Uluru from Alice Springs.

The first route, more direct and dull, was to drive on two paved roads heading south, then west, taking between five to six hours [463 km /288 mi].

The other was to go slightly north and west along the West MacDonnell Ranges, hop on to an unpaved dirt road [known locally as an ‘unsealed’ road] called the ‘Mereenie Loop’ and then do a bit of a circle heading west, south, and west again. This is about 14-hour drive [660 km / 411 mi], and this route is called the ‘Red Centre Way’.

I choose the Red Centre Way, along the West MacDonnell ranges over a six day period. Now, the rental company provided me with a Wi-Fi type device in the vehicle and emergency service. Given the lack of Wi-Fi on the Greyhound and the lack of any cell service on my phone the entire time from Darwin to Alice Springs, I had to question the rental company exactly how I’d contact them or anyone without any coverage.

As it turned out, there was no Wi-Fi or cell coverage for most of the drive and certainly not in the places you’d need it most!  Their response, ‘there are plenty of people on the road that will be happy to assist you’. Hmmm, let’s keep that in mind.

The MacDonnell Ranges

The MacDonnell Ranges [MacDonnells] are very near to the exact center of Australia. They are a series of mountain ranges spanning approximately 640 km/400 mi long in an east-west direction. Quite fascinating given so much flat territory in the outback. The MacDonnells, were formed over 1000 million years ago and are compromised of sediments from approximately 1400 – 2400 million years ago.

These ranges were named after Sir Richard MacDonnell by John McDouall Stuart, whose ‘Horn Expedition’ reached them in 1860.

The West MacDonnell Ranges stretch west of Alice Springs for approximately 161 km /100 mi. In 2014, it was decided these ranges would now be referred to as the Tjoritja. Apparently, Tjoritja has no specific meaning, but is how the MacDonnell Ranges have been known for a long time by the Western and Central Arrente people.

These ranges are also just south of the Tropic of Capricorn.

Nobody in site – along MacDonnell Ranges

As I hit the road I felt a sense of freedom. Contradictory to the rental company response of ‘plenty of people on the road’, there was barely a vehicle in sight in either direction once I hit the West MacDonnell Ranges.

Somewhere close to 4.30 pm, I decided it was time to pull in somewhere for the night.

It’s worth noting I have never, ever, in my adult life been camping alone, I’ve only camped a couple of times in my adult life as part of tours, and as a child, I can remember camping only once or twice, but these are just vague memories.

John Flynn, a missionary who founded the Royal Flying Doctor Service

I decided to pull into an area called Ellery Creek Big Hole, which was recommended from the guy who checked me into my vehicle.

As I pulled in, there were about 10 spots for camping vehicles but not a soul in sight. I think, ‘oh shit’ or is it ‘oh great’, I’m in the middle of nowhere, by myself. I’m really not sure if this is a good or bad thing.

I parked and started preparing for the night and preparing a bite to eat. There weren’t any ‘wash’ facilities, so no shower after all, just a sponge wash in all the areas that count. Thank goodness, one of my packing essentials was a travel towel and wash cloth.

As the sun starts to set, a few other vehicles started to roll in. It’s nice to be alone, but better to know that there are people around in case anything happens. When you think about it, there should be ‘enough’ people around, not too few, as that in itself can also be ‘spooky’ depending on your camping neighbor/s.

1st night camping, finally some company

different variations of camping

The day temperatures were very comfortable at 20-25C [68-77F], however I did not expect the nights to be as cool as they were, 6C/42F.

Whew, now, do I break out the camping equipment? Being my practical myself, I really couldn’t be bothered with the hassle, and since I had an entire back seat in the truck, I decided to just get cozy and sleep in the back.  Needless to say, I hoped I’d sleep through the night without the need to use the bathroom during the night.

sleeping in the back of the truck

The most beautiful site this and every night on this journey was the sky with the gorgeous moon and stars shining so bright, so clear. As you recall only 2% of Australia’s population live in the outback, there is nothing here but nature.  The sunrises and sunsets were stunning.

Sunset: Redbank Gorge

another lovely sunset

The next day I pulled myself together, enjoyed a hot cup on tea and a sandwich and as it slowly stareds to warm, I made my way to the waterhole. The Aboriginal name for Ellery Big Hole is Udepata. The permanent water made it a special meeting place for the Aranda people on the fish and honey ant dreaming trails.

I then hit the road continuing west along the ranges and my first stop Serpentine Gorge. This is the first chance I’ve had to test out my prior fear of heights since my NLP course and breakthroughs last month.

Views along MacDonnell Ranges from Serpentine

Views along MacDonnell Ranges from Serpentine

All along the walk and especially the climb, I recounted my incantation both in my head and shouted it out loud, especially since there wasn’t anyone around to call me crazy.

The incantation used on our NLP course for me was simple, easy and all encompassings: ‘All I need is within me now, I am confident, I can do it, YES!’.

Click here to learn about incantations [or copy and paste the URL:].

Views along MacDonnell Ranges

walking to Serpentine Gorge

Progress, I made it up the gorge quite easily and faltered some on my way down, for a short way, I had to do a ‘bum slide’!

As I left, Serpentine Gorge, I plugged in my iPod and listened to my favorite playlist.  All of a sudden, I found myself, out of the blue, crying to songs I’d never imagine I’d cry to, songs on my favorite playlist, which I listen to frequently and never had an emotional response to before.

I recognized this response as an energetic release. It’s difficult to tell if it was a result of the energetic pull of this area or continuing results from my NLP breakthroughs or a combination of both. Regardless, I’m grateful to experience these releases.

sleeping outside at Redbank Gorge

Over the next couple of days I continued to make my way across the MacDonnells. I was more comfortable camping in the remoteness.

One night at Redbank Gorge, there were only two other campers.

At Redbank, I even braved to sleep outside in the open, bundled in the sleeping bag with hat, gloves, double socks and all to keep warm.

It was only on night five or six, that I found a place to have a proper shower, well an ‘actual’ shower!

What I loved about this experience was in this part of Australia, you can really pull over and camp just about anywhere. In the official park areas, there was an honor system, where you would put your fee in a box that would be collected by the rangers the following morning. In most areas, people also tended to clean up after themselves, there were exceptions of course.

another camping venue

Views along MacDonnell Ranges

Along the ranges, you can easily stop for an hour or a few to walk along the range, gorges, water holes, etc.  In fact you can nearly walk the entire range if you had the time and health.

While camping this way, you could keep to yourself or hang out and chat with others along the way. If travelling alone on the drive, you’ll certainly need to find ways to keep yourself entertained.

I happened to be driving in the ‘dry’ season, I imagine it would be quite a different experience in ‘wet’ season.

along MacDonnell Ranges

Views along MacDonnell Ranges: Ormiston Gorge

Views along MacDonnell Ranges

FINALLY a $3AUD shower!

The Mereenie Loop

Mereenie Loop: one of the 3 other vehicles on the long, deserted road

I decided to take this route for a couple of reasons. First, if I didn’t take the Mereenie Loop and wanted to do the MacDonnell ranges, I’d have to backtrack to get to Uluru.

Second, it is Aboriginal designated territory and I was keen to see if I’d be lucky to meet anyone along the way.  You do need a permit for Mereenie Loop given it’s Aboriginal territory, which was fairly easy to obtain.

This portion of the drive is even more isolated than the MacDonnell Ranges. It approximately 65 kilometers of all rough, dusty, hot and dry road all the way. There are no water sources, facilities, petrol, supplies or other services.

I was lucky if I passed a total of three cars the entire way in either direction, not including those abandoned along side of the road. Other than that, I saw absolutely no other people and caught just a bit of wildlife.

What a great opportunity to get crazy. At one point I stopped, got out of my truck and shouted my incantation over and over. I also did the same for my personal incantation I created. I must have shouted a few other things as well, why not, I certainly didn’t have to be weary or shy and I could really ‘get into it’.

Here are a few shots along the Mereenie loop.

Mereenie Loop:

Mereenie Loop: dingo

Mereenie Loop

Mereenie Loop: wild horses

Mereenie Loop:

After the end of the Mereenie loop I continued to Uluru/ Ayers Rock with a few stops along the way, stay tuned for next weeks post to learn more.

Happy Journeys,


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