Dalhousie Springs & Mt Dare Hotel

Dalhousie Springs & Mt Dare Hotel

Hot springs, vast open plains, and horizons that go on for ever. This is the real remote South Australian Outback experience.

Location

Dalhousie Springs and Mt Dare Hotel are both located within Witjira National Park, South Australia. This NP is bordered by the Simpson Desert to the east, Pedirka Desert to the west, and the Northern Territory border to the north. The town of Oodnadatta lies approximately 230kms south of the springs.

When to visit

Between March/April and October. Outside of this, temperatures can easily reach above 40C. Also, in the rainy season river crossings may be flooded and roads closed. Regularly check for road closures here.

Getting there

From the Northern Territory, the main access roads are the Kulgera-Finke Road, the Alice Springs-Finke Road, or the Old Andado Track. Allow plenty of time on these roads, particular the last two, as they are slow going and can be very rough. Expect deep corrugations, sand and sections of bull-dust. Both are quite scenic drives.

From the south/south west, access is via the Oodnadatta Track which can also be rough.

Access from the east, requires a Simpson Desert crossing in the more challenging direction (east to west). This route requires a lot of planning and preparation, and is for the more experienced off-roader who is preferably travelling in a convoy. You will also need to allow 4-5 days to cross from Birdsville.

Fuel

Fuel is available at the following locations:

Alice Springs – Gas, unleaded and diesel (available 24hrs). This is also the closest major town for stocking up supplies, and other goods and services.

Finke – Opal and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Kulgera – Gas, unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – not available overnight)

Oodnadatta – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Birdsville – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Mt Dare Hotel – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Track info

There is no off-road track per se, unless you’re coming from the east, as the roads to Mt Dare and Dalhousie Springs from all other directions are public access roads, though they are dirt and can be rough. Deflating your tyres can make for a more comfortable ride.

Make sure you take at least one, if not two, spares for this trip. And, I would definitely recommend at least having ATR tyres fitted to your vehicle. The gibber plains are renowned for being pretty merciless. We, unfortunately, got two punctures, with one newish Cooper ATR having to be thrown out ($$ ouch). Luckily, though, the other puncture was repairable.

Given the degree of remoteness, it is also advisable to take other spares such as belts and plugs, as well as some basic tools and a UHF Radio. If you get into trouble, you can radio ahead to either Oodnadatta’s Pink Road House or Mt Dare Hotel – both of which offer vehicle recovery and mechanical assistance. While it is remote, you are still likely to see other vehicles passing by and may be able to flag these down if necessary.

A HEMA Desert Tracks map, as well as the Witjira National Park map (download here), are useful to have. And, if you’ve researched your route, you can’t go wrong. The roads are well signed.

Camping

Camping is available at three locations in the park.

Mt Dare Hotel – this is a paid campground connected to the hotel. See here for information. Fires are permitted, though collection of firewood is not permitted within Witjirra (even if you could find some), so bring your own. Mt Dare is around 70km NW of the springs (allow approx. 1hr 20mins).

Dalhousie Springs – this is a paid campground approximately 100 metres from the main spring. Toilets and cold showers are available and there are two rubbish disposals nearby. Be warned – the flies and mozzies are pretty ferocious here. Camp fires are not permitted.

3 O’clock Creek – this is a paid bush-camping spot. You can pick a spot anywhere along the dry creek. Fires are not permitted but there is a water tank. There were hardly any mozzies here when we visited and the flies were nowhere near as intense as at the springs. However on sundown, they became pretty friendly.

These campgrounds are well marked on the Witjira NP and HEMA maps.

Things to see and do

Mt Dare – The hotel is a great place to stop, even if you’re not camping here, and have a meal or a refreshing drink. It’s also a bit of a quirky Aussie Outback pub, well worth a visit to appreciate the atmosphere. Plenty of birdlife are attracted to the grassy surrounds and waterhole at the side of the pub, which makes it a great spot for birdwatching or just relaxing and listening to the sounds of the bush.

Dalhousie Springs – Apparently there are around 120 springs in the park, but access is only provided to the main spring where you can swim. A constant 38-39 celsius, the spring feels like a hot bath– great for a relaxing soak in the winter months but not so much when we visited in September and the outside temperature was 37c. There is also a short walk that loops around the main spring, and a smaller nearby spring.

Witjira National Park – Aside from the springs, which seems to be the most popular attraction, there are other things to see and do in the park:

  • Explore heritage-listed Dalhousie ruins and other historical sites.
  • See the remnants of old bores sunk to encourage and sustain station life in this harsh environment, long before Witjira became a national park.
  • Birdwatching – some rare species can be found within the park, or be entertained by the squabbling and antics of the Corellas.
  • Hiking – There are three moderate hikes listed on the park website.

Fly Profile

Furiously friendly in September! Take a fly net or plaster yourself with this stuff (Tip: the thicker cream in the jar seems to work best).

Davenport Ranges National Park

Davenport Ranges National Park

Like Ruby Gap Nature Park, this trip offers some of the best remote camping you’ll find in the N.T. A scenic ridgetop 4WD track, plenty of deep swimming holes, private riverside bush camping spots, and an abundance of waterbirds and wildlife (including the resident wild donkeys), all make for a really great camping trip.

Location

Davenport Ranges National Park is located approx. 180km SE of Tennant Creek, Northern Territory.

When to visit

Between March/April and October. Outside of this, in the wetter months, temperatures typically reach 40C+ and the many river and creek crossings are likely to be impassable and access roads closed after rain. Check road conditions here.

Getting there

There are three routes leading into the park from the Stuart Highway. 

From the North, you can take the LH turn at Bonney Well to Kurundi, approx. 90km south of Tennant Creek. The Kurundi Rd provides the most direct access to Whistleduck Creek camping area (approx. 60km). And, if coming from the north, it is also the quickest route to Old Police Station Waterhole (approx. 170km).

Alternatively, you can access the NP through Ali-Curung. To get to Ali-Curung, take the Kinjurra Rd, approx. 60km further south than the Kurundi turn-off. Once past Ali-Curung, the road becomes the Murray Downs Rd which then joins up with Taylors Creek Rd. Continuing on this route provides access to the Frew River Track (an alternative 17km off-road track which leads to the two bush campgrounds at Frew River, and to Old Police Station Waterhole). If you prefer to stay on-road, you can get to Old Police Station Waterhole by staying on Taylors Creek Rd.

Further south, you can access the NP by taking the RH turn onto Taylors Creek Rd, approx. 42kms north of Barrow Creek on the Stuart Highway.

The conditions on each of these roads can vary. When we visited the NP, Kurundi Rd and Taylor’s Creek Rd had been recently graded. However, each has the potential to be rough and corrugated and after rain, their red clay base means they are likely to be both slippery and boggy. There are also numerous creek crossings on these roads, some of which will flood after only a little rain. A 4WD is recommended for all of these roads.

All roads and fuel points are clearly marked on the HEMA Great Desert Tracks Eastern Sheet map. The maps on our Garmin GPS, however, were unreliable. It is also useful to print off the Davenport Ranges NP map, available here.

Fuel

Tenant Creek – Gas, unleaded and diesel available 24hrs. This is also the closest major town for stocking up on supplies, and other goods and services.

Kurundi Station – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Epenarra – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Murray Downs Station – Unleaded and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Ali-Curung – Opal and diesel (restricted hours – call ahead to enquire)

Barrow Creek – Unleaded and diesel (early till late)

Track info

Whistleduck Creek Rd – The drive into Whilstleduck Creek campground, from Kurundi Rd, is by way of a reasonably well-maintained dirt road. There are some sandy patches and it’s a little narrow in places but essentially the road is good. After rain, water in the shallow creeks, muddy terrain or washouts could present a challenge.

Taylors Creek Rd – Between the Stuart Highway turn-off and Hatches Creek, the road is mostly red dirt. It’s a little sandy in sections so it’s a good idea to deflate for an easier ride and to lessen any corrugations. The section from Hatches Creek to the Frew River off-road track (approx. 80-90km) was narrow and rough in sections, and much slower going than expected. There was a lot of quarry rock of various shapes and sizes on the track so good tread on your tyres will definitely help minimise the risk of punctures. Deflating your tyres will also help to soften the ride over the rocks and provide better traction through the sandy sections.

Frew River Track – If you’re concerned about your paintwork, this is not the track for you. The vegetation has overgrown the track in numerous places and scraping along your vehicle is unavoidable. The upside, though, is that it’s a scenic 11km drive along the ridgetop with some great views. The track itself was not particularly challenging when we drove it, with only a couple of rocky obstacles and some ascents and descents. NT Parks & Wildlife recommend a high-clearance 4WD. However, if you have an understanding of wheel placement and are experienced in picking good lines, then this is very doable in a standard 4WD. Like with all tracks, heavy rain could change the terrain considerably so it’s a good idea to check on the state of the track before you go. And, if at any point you’re not sure, ask a friend or passenger to spot you and talk you over any obstacles.

For those not wanting to take the Frew River track, stay on Taylors Rd to loop around to Old Police Station Waterhole. This route only adds an extra 8km to your trip and will get you to the Old Police Station Waterhole quicker.

Track footage

Video 1 – An example of the road between Hatches Creek and the turn-off to Frew River Track. While this section of the track is more river rock, most of the road is quarry rock of various shapes and sizes.

Video 2 – One of many overgrown sections of the Frew River Track.

Video 3 – An example of much of the Frew River track, nothing too complicated.

Camping

There are three different camping areas within the national park:

Whistleduck Creek Campground – The camp spots here are secluded and, for the most part, spaced well apart. A couple of sites are right on the river bank but when we visited there was very little water in these sections of the river. This is a paid campground with self-registration at the entrance. Fire pits, composting toilets, and picnic tables are provided.

Frew River Campground 1 and 2 – The Frew River off-road track is the only way to access these two campgrounds. Both campgrounds have a small sign, directing you to them, though not overly conspicuous. Coordinates are, therefore, provided below. The two campgrounds are 1-2 kilometres apart on opposite sides of the river bank. Campground 1 is bush camping by a swimming hole with lots of birdlife. There are no facilities here. Campground 2, on a narrower section of the river, has fire pits and picnic tables but no toilets. Both are smallish in size.

Old Police Station Waterhole – This is a well-signed and well-defined campground with self-registration and payment box at the entrance. Set up camp anywhere along the riverbank, within the boundary. While this is not as secluded or private as the Frew River campgrounds, in less busy times you are still likely to have ample space to yourself. Fire pits and composting toilets are provided.

GPS camp spot coordinates

Whistleduck Creek – S20 38.183, E134 46.789

Frew River Campground 1 – S20 46.064, E 135 11.202

Frew River Campground 2 – S20 45.746, E 135 11.605

Old Police Station Waterhole Campground – S20 45.152 E 135 11.101

Things to see & do

Whistleduck Creek – There are two good swimming holes at Whistleduck Creek. The first is Irrmweng Rockhole which is about a 50m walk from the Day Use area. A little further upstream, and also an easy walk, is Injaidan Rockhole. This is probably the more attractive of the two swimming holes, nestled at the base of a towering rock face. There are no other official walks at Whistleduck Creek – just a great place to unwind.

Frew River Campground 1 and 2 – Great for relaxing. There are no official walks, but it’s good for birdwatching and spotting other wildlife visiting the waterholes.

Old Police Station Waterhole – This is an ideal spot for swimming. It’s by far the biggest of the swimming holes even after months of no rain. It’s over 100m in length and stretches the width of the river. There are also lots of river gums dotting the banks and, apart from providing a shady camp spot, they’re perfect for hanging the hammock. There is also a short walk up to the old police station ruins on top of a nearby hill.

Fly profile

Friendly in mid-October.

More info

NT Parks & Wildlife – Davenport Ranges National Park

Roma Gorge

Roma Gorge

A lesser-known gorge in the famous West Macs. Full of ancient petroglphys, a permanent waterhole, and ghost gums contrast against a backdrop of rust-coloured cliff faces, this is a gem of a gorge that is easily accessible by 4WD in the dry.

Location

Located 155 km west of Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia, in the East MacDonnell Ranges.

When to Visit

Between March/April and October. Outside of this, temperatures can easily reach 40C +. And, in the rainy season, river crossings on Larapinta Drive and Namatjira Drive may be flooded and roads closed. Regularly check for road closures here. After heavy rain, the track into Roma Gorge will be impassable.

Getting there

From Alice Springs, follow Larapinta Drive into the West MacDonnell Ranges and take the RH turn onto Namatjira Drive. Follow Namatjira Drive until you reach the LH turn to Roma Gorge. You can return to Alice the way you came or continue along the Namatjira Drive loop until it joins back up with Larapinta Drive (via Hermannsburg).

Fuel

Fill up in Alice Springs for the cheapest fuel. Unleaded, diesel and LPG gas is available 24hrs. The return trip to Alice is easily done on half to one tank. Nearby Glen Helen Resort, and Hermannsburg, have diesel and opal (restricted hours – contact for details).

Track Info

Coordinates for Roma Gorge turn-off S 23 36.193 E 132 27.318 or 23°36’11.6″S 132°27’19.1″E

 

Allow approx. 30mins each way for the 4km track in to the gorge. A high-clearance 4WD is recommended on the gorge sign but we found this to be an easy track in the dry season, doable in a standard 4WD or even a SUV.

The well-defined track follows the river bed the entire way except for the last 300mtrs or so. It’s mostly a compacted track of river rock and some firm sand, with no real obstacles. Deflating, while not necessary, will make the ride over the river rocks a lot smoother.

This track is easily done if you are a single vehicle. However, after rain or flooding, wash-aways or water in the river could make this a more difficult track, so plan your visit and if in doubt take a second vehicle with you.

Track Footage

Video 1 – The beginning of the track. As you can see, it is mostly a compacted track, which meanders through the river gums and along the river bed.

Video 2 – This was probably the “most challenging” obstacle on the track. Easily doable in a standard 4WD or SUV.

Camping

Camping is not permitted at the gorge or within the national park boundaries. The closest campground is at Redbank Gorge (approx. 7kms or so from the Roma Gorge turn-off). There were signs, however, that people had been camping along the track.

Things to see & do

This is a pretty gorge, home to numerous petroglyphs said to be over 10000 years old. It is a sacred Aboriginal men’s site, and the carvings can be seen on many of the rocks in the river bed as well as on the gorge walls.

There is also a permanent waterhole here but the Aboriginal elders ask that you don’t swim in the waterhole. And, chances are, you probably won’t want to as it was quite stagnant at the end of the dry season when we visited.

The only official walk here is the 300 metre walk into the gorge to see the petroglyphs. There are no other defined walks/hikes in the area.

Fly Profile

A little friendly in mid-October.

Ruby Gap Nature Park

Ruby Gap Nature Park

Stunning gorges, deep waterholes, hiking, ruby-red garnets, peace and quiet. An easy off-road track in the dry, this is one spot where you really can get away from it all.

Location

Located approximately 150km east of Alice Springs in the East MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory.

When to Visit

Between March/April and October. Outside of this, temperatures typically reach 40C or more and river crossings are likely to be impassable due to the rainy season.

Getting There

From Alice Springs, head approx. 6 km south. Turn left onto the Ross Highway. Stay on the sealed road for approximately 75km, then take the LH turn to Arltunga Historical Reserve. This is a corrugated dirt road (approx. 38km), with numerous wash outs at creek crossings and run-offs. At Arltunga, follow the sign straight ahead to Old Ambalindum Station until you reach the turn to Ruby Gap Nature Park.  This is the track to Ruby Gap.

Fuel

Fill up in Alice Springs, for the cheapest fuel. There is fuel available at Ross River Resort but this means going a further 7kms along the Ross Highway past the Arltunga turn-off. Both unleaded petrol and diesel are available here on request.

Track Info

While it is only a further 38km to the reserve from the Ruby Gap turn-off, allow approx. 1.5hrs for this section of the track. If you have some off-road experience, this is not a difficult track in the dry season. It is mostly a narrow, gravelly track with some rocks and ditches. There are, however, numerous dry riverbed crossings so some sand experience is useful and you’ll need to deflate your tyres. The track gets a little more interesting on the 5km drive into the park to reach the furthest point, but it is still very doable with a standard 4WD, though NT Parks & Wildlife do recommend a high-clearance 4WD. It is not advisable to take 4WDs past the 5km point, even in a high-clearance 4WD, due to the advanced rock crawling terrain encountered further up the gorge. Due to the remoteness of this location, if you don’t have much 4×4 experience, then it is important to take another experienced driver/vehicle with you.

Track Footage

Video 1 – An example of the 38km tack between Arltunga and Ruby Gap Nature Park. It’s slow going in some parts.

Video 2 – The sand track, just as you enter the nature park boundary. Not too tricky. Deflate slightly for better control.

Video 3 – One of the few rock crossings on the way to the camp spot, on the 5km section of track within the park boundary. We are slightly lifted, but as you’ll see you don’t need to have super-high clearance unless you plan to go beyond the recommended car zone.

Camping

Camp spots – We passed numerous beautiful camp spots both in the river bed and along its banks, as we drove in. Inarguably, though, the best spot was at the farthest point, 5km in. It’d been eight months since it had rained in the Red Centre but here there were still decent water holes, thick green reeds, resident ducks, frogs and a grassy camp spot – all nestled at the foot of a magnificent rich, rusty red cliff face. It couldn’t have gotten any better. The vista was breathtaking, the silence golden, and we had it all to ourselves.

Facilities – There are none within the park so don’t forget your shovel.

Fires – Fires are permitted but the collection of firewood inside park boundaries isn’t.

Rubbish – Bins aren’t provided so all rubbish needs to be taken with you.

GPS Camp Spot Coordinates

The coordinates at the 5km mark, where we camped are:

s 23 28.452 E 134 59.463

It is possible to go beyond this point, though not recommended, and definitely not if you’re travelling alone.

Things to See & Do

The 2km hike to Glen Annie Gorge was well worthwhile. This is a spectacular section of the gorge with a deep swimming hole. Be warned though, the water is icy.

Garnets are also plentiful throughout the gorge and while fossicking is not permitted, it is easy to spot and appreciate these beautiful red gems. 

Ruby Gap is a photographer’s delight and because of the waterholes, it is also a good spot for bird and wildlife spotting.

Oh and, don’t forget the hammock. There are plenty of sturdy river gums along the banks which you can use to set it up and just relax.

Fly Profile

Friendly (in October).

More Info

NT Parks & Wildlife – Ruby Gap Nature Park