The Remarkable Red Centre Part Two – Watarrka And The Mereenie Loop Road

We’re waaay behind on our blog posts; apologies if anyone is wondering what’s going on! Yes, we’re now back on board Areandare but still want to document our Australian adventures (and the final NZ ones) for your enjoyment/information, and our records …

Reluctantly leaving Yulara/Ayers Rock Resort on Thursday 16th March, we Jenny (!) drove towards our next destination, Kings Creek Station. A fascinating journey of around 300km. That’s a long distance on a boiling-hot day! Jenny had booked us for a night of ‘glamping’ at their working station, which sounded exciting.

My First Taste Of A Desert Road

Starting on the Lasseter Highway, then turning left onto Luritja Road, there aren’t an awful lot of sights to describe along the way. It was quite amazing despite this, and my first real taste of a desert road in Australia. However, it wasn’t as isolated as I’d expected, as it’s the main route from Alice Springs to Yulara via the Stuart Highway (which takes you 2,720km from Darwin in the north to Port Augusta in the south). We were both immensely thankful we’d chosen the car option, rather than organised coaches, as we weren’t bound by a timetable or sweltering hot – or freezing cold depending on the level of air conditioning!

Along the road, we spotted many signs forbidding entry as the way led to Aboriginal land. Good for them. Why would you allow the ‘invaders’ to access your land after everything that’s been taken from these beautiful people?

One attraction I remember vividly was the Salt Creek Rest Area, which includes the availability of an overnight camp. Here we found a large water tank with a tap and sign encouraging visitors to fill up a container for the visiting birds. Which of course we did. There were lots of thirsty crested pigeons hanging out here. These beautiful birds are usually found in the vicinity of water, as they have to drink every day, and often congregate at watering holes.

The flies were prolific, every time we stepped out of the car we did it swiftly with our hat and net on. Apparently, there’s a strong chance of seeing dingos wandering here, which we hadn’t realised and thankfully didn’t!

From there we got a great view of Mount Connor, which we realised was the mountain we’d mistaken for Uluru (well I did in my excitement!) from the plane to Yulara. I’m obviously not alone. The mountain is also known as Artilla or Atila, or tongue-in-cheek as Fooluru! Described as “a flat-topped and horseshoe-shaped inselberg, part of the same vast rocky substrate thought to be beneath Uluru/Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta/Olgas.” We’d stopped before the rest area when we spotted the flat-topped rock en route.

Many kilometres drive further, we stopped for a break near the Aboriginal settlement of Angas Downs and topped up the water trough for some gorgeous galahs. Here I spotted massive trucks passing by called ‘road trains’ – another first for me! Jenny was under-awed by them of course, whereas I was astonished. Sadly I didn’t manage to get any great photos (they whizz past leaving a trail of dust!). I guess it’s the best way to transport remote areas with goods of all kinds. They literally are the ‘kings’ of the road.

Australia has the longest and heaviest road-legal road trains in the world, weighing up to 200 tonnes (197 long tons; 220 short tons). They transport freight across some of the harshest environments on Earth.”

Kings Creek Station

Kings Creek Station is a working cattle farm, established in 1981, lying 36km from Watarrka/Kings Canyon. We’d chosen this location, rather than Kings Canyon Resort, as it was more cost-effective for us. It offers a range of accommodation options – from camping to luxury tents. We chose the latter, which offered air conditioning – a must in the March heat (see the photo below showing 42 degrees).

I was a little spooked by the large notice on the kitchen window warning of local dingoes living in close proximity. Especially as we had to walk across the path to the toilet. I wasn’t looking forward to that experience during the night! Most people, sadly, including myself, have heard of dingoes mainly because of the August 1980 Linday Chamberlain baby Azaria story. Azaria was taken from their tent at an Uluru campsite – though the furore surrounding the attack led to Linday being imprisoned for three years. She and Michael were only exonerated 32 years later!

There was a small shop and cafè we took advantage of, where for Aus$5 we could buy the Mereenie Loop Pass (more on that shortly). Plus the local ‘delicacy’ camel burgers which we both partook of. As well as cattle, this station kept camels and donkeys! Camels are not native to the country, but their introduction and subsequent escape and increase in numbers is interesting:

Australian feral camels are introduced populations of dromedary, or one-humped, camel (Camelus dromedarius—from North Africa, the Middle East and the Indian Subcontinent), as well as—albeit to a lesser extent—the two-humped Bactrian camel (C. bactrianus) of Central Asia. Imported as valuable beasts-of-burden from British Indiaand Afghanistan  during the 19th century (for transport and sustenance during the exploration and colonisation of the Red Centre), many were casually released into the wild after motorised transport negated the use of camels in the early 20th century. This resulted in a fast-growing feral population with numerous ecological, agricultural and social impacts.”

Australia has the largest population of feral camels and the only herd of dromedary (one-humped) camels exhibiting wild behaviour in the world. In 2008, the number of feral camels was estimated to be more than one million, with the capability of doubling in number every 8 to 10 years. In 2013, this estimate was revised to a population of 600,000 prior to culling operations, and around 300,000 camels after culling, with an annual growth of 10% per year.

So we didn’t feel too guilty eating camel meat!

Swimming & Sunset Walk

We loved the glamping option, which came with a swimming pool (admittedly not the greatest!), and a picturesque sunset walk. Both of which we took advantage of. The pool was ‘interesting’. All along the outside large vicious-looking ants scurried around. We almost managed to avoid them until I felt a pinch on my arm and realised I’d been bitten – the perpetrator continued to cling on! Youch, that was sore. Luckily I had some insect bite cream handy.

We saw lots of lizard tracks on the sunset walk, which I recognised from Verne’s sand drawings at the Dot Painting workshop in Yulara.

Eerily, later we heard packs of dingoes calling (howling) to each other after sunset – I recorded a video that I, unfortunately, can’t for the life of me find now! The night sky was incredible, in another remote location with little light pollution. Walking to the toilet during the night was certainly an experience I wouldn’t want to repeat regularly.

We were up early Friday morning as we intended to get to the grade 4 6km loop Kings Canyon rim walk by sunrise. I walked into the kitchen to make breakfast and discovered two people sleeping on chairs. They’d locked themselves out of their tent in the early hours, as they’d both gone at the same time, locked their ‘tent’ door, and forgotten to take a key! Jenny and I packed up quickly and let them use our beds until the office was open and they could regain access to their belongings.

Watarrka/Kings Canyon – Rim Walk

We’d checked out some information at Kings Creek Station about the walk and things to see whilst on it. From September to April, you must start the walk before 9 am due to the extreme heat and risk of heat exhaustion.

The immensely undulating walk isn’t for the faint-hearted or unfit! It starts with a steep incline to get your blood pumping and your lungs gasping for air! There’s a LOT of climbing and descending, with scenery to die for (I’m sure it actually would be easy to fall and lose your life!). I’d definitely recommend it despite the energy needed.

Dotted around the rim are emergency call devices, including AEDs (Automated External Defibrillator) and places helicopters could land. We could easily imagine how inaccessible it would be to get rescued and tried very hard not to lose our footing and need to be airlifted out! We spotted an abundance of fabulous flora, fauna, birds and insect life.

About halfway around, we found the path to the Garden of Eden and had a much-needed lunch stop. We both found it rather amusing to be eating an apple for dessert sitting there! It was absolutely stunning.

Continuing back to the main track, we managed to outwalk a large coach party that had arrived at our lunch stop along with a rather irritating guide, and we went through the shorter South Walk gated access. The entry to the rim walk from there was closed there due to the extreme heat.

Despite the breathtaking beauty of this experience, we were both extremely thankful to be back in the car, in the air conditioning, with our boots off! It doesn’t sound very far, 6km, but blimey it was exhausting!

The Mereenie Loop Road

We then headed to Alice Springs, our final destination in The Red Centre. The shortest route was via the Mereenie Loop Road – one of many roads in Central Australia that pass through Aboriginal-owned lands. All visitors wishing to use this route must obtain a permit to do so. We’d bought one at Kings Creek Station. It’s an unsealed corrugated road, and advisable to only drive in a four-wheel drive car.

Jenny’s cousin Craig had warned her not to drive it. But she chatted with a number of others and did some research, and we decided we’d risk it. She’d also checked with the hire company and they had said it was fine to drive their car on it.

One of the first sights that interested us were the terrific termite nests. I got Jenny to stop after we’d passed dozens of them, so I could capture them for posterity. I gingerly stepped into the sand, gently, just in case I stumbled upon any snakes or other such creatures! Thankfully they must’ve all been sleeping.

There were more bird baths at water stops and scenery to take your breath away below an astounding azure almost clear blue sky.

We were hoping to see kangaroos 🦘 or camels 🐪 along the way. Not a chance sadly – evidence of a large animal’s excretions only! The best we saw was a small drove of donkeys. Similar to the camels in the desert, feral donkeys were first brought to Australia around 1866 as pack animals to replace horses, which had succumbed to native poisonous plants. They’ve been declared a pest, owing to their damage to vegetation and erosion of soil. In 2005 there were reportedly over 5 million feral donkeys in Australia.

We’d spotted unusual yellow plants along the roadside at regular intervals, initially looking like flowers, and wondered what they were. Eventually, we stopped to inspect them close up and realised they were spherical. I thought I’d discovered they’re called desert apples, but that’s not coming up on searches now. Does anyone know? The donkeys we saw obviously enjoyed eating them.

We did also spot an occasional large lizard sunbathing on the road, which Jenny (hopefully!) managed to avoid squashing.

Absolutely amazing! We both loved this road.

Potters And Painters In Hermansberg/Ntaria

Jenny had been keen to pass through Hermannsberg, though I had no idea what she was hoping to see there. I’m so glad she did as it was a unique experience meeting some of the most down-to-earth and beautiful women on the planet.

Albert Namatjira

Just before there, she spotted a sign for Namatjira Drive. which meant nothing to me. I discovered it’s the surname of a famous Aboriginal landscape artist called Albert Namatjira aka “flying white ant”. Namatjira was the first Northern Territory Aboriginal person to be freed from restrictions that made Aboriginal people wards of the State (seriously!!!), when in 1957, he was granted restricted Australian citizenship (again – seriously?!!), giving him the right to vote, have limited land rights and buy alcohol. The first – how shocking is that fact? Awfully to me, as I’ve said before. Aboriginal people lived on and ‘owned’ this land for over 65,000 years before the British invaders arrived 250 years ago. Once again, the pomposity and belief in their own self-importance of privileged white men astounds me.

Check out this superb painting – – of Mount Connor. Jenny was ecstatic to be able to visit the place where he had painted. We saw and heard lots of black cockatoos nearby.

The Ntaria/Hermannsberg Potters

Ntaria, is an Aboriginal community in the Ljirapinta Ward of the MacDonnell Shire in the Northern Territory of Australia, 125 kilometres west southwest of Alice Springs, on the Finke River, in the traditional lands of the Western Arrarnta people. In the 2011 census, the population was 625. The name Hermannsburg originated from the town of the same name in Lower Saxony, Germany where the two Lutheran missionaries who established the Hermannsburg mission in 1877 (where Albert Namatjira was born in 1902), had done their training before immigrating to Bethany in South Australia’s Barossa Valley.

Here we parked up and entered the Hermansberg Potters studio, with absolutely no realisation you’re supposed to book a visit in advance until we looked on the website later. We met a friendly young man from Sydney at the desk, who welcomed us enthusiastically nonetheless. Around the studio were an array of brightly painted urn-type pots, all with lids on also painted. I spotted a small one with a sunflower painted on it – I do love sunflowers. The young man asked if we wanted to see the potters at work. “Oh, yes please!“, we both said.

Sadly we weren’t allowed to take any photos. But you can see more on their website – including profiles and photos of all the artists. There are a couple of men too. What gorgeous women they were. The sound of their chatter and laughter reverberated around the room. Strong intelligent women who seemed comfortable in their skin. Very unlike most western/white women who feel the need to have their hair and make-up done daily and wear the latest fashion! It was obvious they loved what they were doing. They reminded me so much of my dear departed mum who was comfortable n her own skin and also used to paint prolifically until her later years.

At one stage we got locked in, as the husband of one of the potters was angry about something. The women appeared totally unfazed, and one of them shouted back at him through the window 😝 The young man wasn’t so sure, and requested that we didn’t leave while he called the police. They were miles away so no help whatsoever. Eventually, we decided he was no threat to us, and left quietly …

I decided to buy the small sunflower pot I’d spotted. It was painted by Claire Pareroultja who wasn’t present that day sadly. I’d have bought a larger one as they’re so delightful, but we have limited space on the boat. Unfortunately, Jenny didn’t buy anything and later regretted it. I haven’t seen anything on the website without a ‘sold’ sign. These potters travel the world with their pottery. Like many Aboriginal things, they’re all about storytelling. Jenny had chatted to one artist who showed her what she was painting, which was all about the predominance of social media nowadays.

Another amazing experience.

A short drive away, I fervently asked Jenny to stop in order to take a photo of a road sign I spotted. Hoorah for a First Nations person (I’m assuming) writing the REAL name of the places. All signs in Australia and New Zealand should have both IMHO. It makes perfect sense to me. New Zealand is discussing bi-cultural signs throughout the country and is just introducing them in Hastings (go Mayor Sandra!), to the shock and horror of some. Oh, what a surprise, it’s coming from the centre-right National Party; another of their twisted attempts at gaining votes from people I’d rather not spend time with. I’m pretty sure we have had bi-lingual signs in Gisborne for decades with no detrimental effect to my knowledge. Bilingual road signs are the norm in many countries, including Scotland, Wales and parts of Europe.

Minister for justice Kiritapu Allan (sic Gisborne MP) said the comments were an insult to New Zealanders’ intelligence.“Seems like they think New Zealand isn’t smart enough,” she told New Zealand newspaper outlet Stuff. “The rest of the world has embraced bilingualism and multilingualism – which is reflected in their road signs. This is a real insult to New Zealanders and our IQ.” Both she and prime minister Chris Hipkins called the statements a form of “dog whistle” posturing to win votes via reactionary race politics

Can you believe the audacity of the ‘Australian’ women in this video talking about ‘bending over backwards to accommodate the indigenous population using a language they would have to learn‘. Oh. My. Goodness. I rest my case. Have they any idea how ridiculously racist and self-entitled they sound? It can’t just be me … Surely?

Next Stop Alice Springs/Mparntwe

I’ll carry on using Aboriginal and Maori place names whenever I can …

Our next stop was my long-anticipated special place. Where my darling friend Andrée Marie intentionally took her life in October 2017. She’d DEFINITELY be with me on the signs and everything else to do with equal (at least!) rights for indigenous people.

2 thoughts on “The Remarkable Red Centre Part Two – Watarrka And The Mereenie Loop Road

  1. Sounds like you got a crash course in indigineous politics while you were there. More and more towns and cities and locales have both their English and First Nations names on signs, and as far as I know no-one’s died from it. 🙂 … humans are such a silly species sometimes.

    • First Nations yes. I’ve studied Māori politics since 2001! Both appall and fascinate me.

      I can’t comprehend that those women can be allowed to say what they said in public – on the TV! It’s abhorrent 🤬

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