Day 2 – The Road Trip Begins! + The West MacDonnell Ranges

Written by: Dian

Setting off from Alice Springs

After around 11 (!) hours of much-needed sleep (legit knocked out), we got up near 9 am the next morning to collect the car which would take us around the Australian outback for the coming week. Lyn kindly offered to drive us over to the rental place and accompany us while we filled out the various forms.

We had opted to rent this car from a company called Australian 4WD Hire. We paid a 20% deposit when booking the car online, and then paid the remainder a month before the trip.

The rental place was actually run by NT Outback Tour Services, a subsidiary of Australian 4WD Hire.


At the office, we were briefed about the car and had to sign a contract for the rental. We also had to pay an 5000 AUD bond which would be refunded when the car was returned in good condition. Any damage to the car would be deducted from this amount.


  • A 5000 AUD bond, with no additional fees
  • A 2500 AUD bond, with a non-refundable fee of 15 AUD for each day
  • A 1500 AUD bond, with a non-refundable fee of 25 AUD for each day

The latter two would work better for you if you have a smaller budget to work with / a lower credit limit / don’t want to charge a large amount to your card. But we went with 5000 AUD, thinking we could get a full refund.

(Side note: we were actually charged ~5400 SGD on the credit card after factoring in the exchange rate and merchant fees :O After returning the car, they refunded the bond without the merchant fee. We emailed to ask about the rest of it which they eventually refunded (more than 300 SGD). I’m not sure if they forgot to refund it to us, or whether you’d have to request for it, which is kinda shady… but at least we got it back. Always worth checking your statements!)

After settling all the admin stuff, the manager showed us to our car and the gear that came with it. We didn’t get the car we booked online, they told us we had been upgraded from Mitsubishi Triton to a Mitsubishi Pajero:

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Explaining to a sleepyhead all the equipment provided

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It was a relatively new car, complete with complimentary camping gear, e.g. a tent, a portable stove, chairs, etc. We were shown all the existing scratches and damage on the car from previous use, so we wouldn’t be penalised for those when we returned it.

Once we decided all was good to go, we drove back to Lyn’s place to have breakfast and pack up.

Good ol’ cereal and toast

We also had to do some last minute prepping before hitting the road.

Our emergency water supply for in case we get stranded, Touch wood!

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We called out to her and she came scurrying out, getting in last pats! BYE ALICIA 😥

So we said our goodbyes to the two ladies (we would see Lyn again after the road trip) and Alicia, and off we went!!

Exploring the West MacDonnell Ranges

The West MacDonnell National Park is massive. We covered quite a lot of ground that day. Long post ahead!

And that’s not including all the turn offs into the various gorges!

To get to our first stop for the trip at Glen Helen Lodge, we would have to drive 132 km past the West MacDonnell Ranges. We weren’t planning to rush the drive down though, because we intended to make some stops along the way to see the natural sights.



We started our drive at around 11.30 am.We were both pretty excited at this point! The sun was out, but it was a cooling 20 degrees or so that day.

First up was the picturesque Simpsons Gap, which was actually one of our favourite places in the entire trip:



First selfie on the road!

Take note of the hat Brandon is wearing (with a fly net over it). He bought it at a store in the Alice Springs town centre, unbeknownst to him that his ownership of the hat would be short-lived.


Simpsons Gap is named for… well, the gap. Apparently, people like to come here at sundown to attempt to catch the sun in just the right spot for the perfect sunset photo. It’s apparently a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing.

We think the sandy areas in the picture above are filled with water in wetter months!

After snapping some photos, we walked closer to the gap. It was quite windy.

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Out of nowhere, an especially strong gust of wind came, blowing Brandon’s hat into the water. Of course I asked him to scramble for it but he didn’t want to get his shoes wet so he didn’t attempt to.

We were the best of friends. But we must part ways.
Can you see the defeat?
No? Here’s a close up. It’s somewhere among all those pixels

RIP in peace – 16th Oct 2016 – 17th Oct 2016

He would spend the next few days looking for a replacement hat. But that’ll be detailed in future posts.

That view when you face away from the Gap! @_@
Always up for a photo!
We both seized this photo op because ~wanderlust~ tbh

Next up, we drove for 40 minutes and got to Standley Chasm, an Aboriginal-owned natural reserve. It’s called Angkerle by the Aborigines.


When you first arrive, you’ll see a cafe. This is where you can buy admission tickets.


The following information will help you enjoy your visit:

  • Entrance fee is paid at the café
  • Gates open 8:00am – 5:00pm no entry after 4:30pm
  • No pets are permitted
  • Do not feed the dingoes
  • All native plants and animals are protected
  • Limited access for large caravans

Entry fees:

  • $12 Adults: Self-Guided Access To ALL Walks
  • $10 Concessions-Seniors, Students, NT Residents
  • $7 Children Under 12
  • $30 Family of 2 Adults/2 Kids
  • $18.50 ppn For Overnight Camping & Access

It was the only stop along the Ranges where we had to pay an entry fee, but the money does go toward preservation and the local Aboriginal community, so we decided, eh, why not?

We decided to grab a bite (pesky flies kept trying to land on our pies, grrr) and then pay the fee to do the Chasm walk, which was a 45 minute return journey.

Flies the WHOLE way, hence the stupid fly net
The trail branches out into this harder path which is part of the famous 223 km-long Larapinta Trail. Ain’t nobody got time for that


And finally we got to the actual Chasm itself:

It’s bigger than it looks!
Tiny tourist for scale.
On the way back.

There were barely any people on the walk. We appreciated the quiet, taking in our surroundings as we walked. Mind you, it would have been a lot more peaceful if not for the flies you have to keep swatting away.

So, moving on, we had to go on over to the next stop right away because we were strapped for time. The next stop was an hour away.

We stopped by this Red Centre Way signage along the way for photos! You can see these signs from time to time along the way.


With the proud driver!


After an hour of driving, we reached Ellery Creek. It was a very short 5 minute walk from the carpark. Lovely view, with the red cliffs and the waterhole.

Inviting waters, yes. But it’s freezing!

Many websites will claim you can swim here. When we asked our Airbnb host Lyn about it, she scoffed and said “good luck”, because the water is freezing even in summer. We were there in spring. ;'(

We didn’t even bother, and we were right not to. We dipped our hands in the water, and found it was COLD. There were still people who swam though, I don’t know how they did it. Shame, but it’s still a nice spot for a picnic.


Our next-to-last stop, the Serpentine Gorge, was a shorter drive away but we had to go off-road, meaning we were in for a rocky drive! This was the most bumpy drive that day.

Our bumpiest drive on the trip would happen on day 3, so watch out for that!



This place is apparently good for wildlife sighting, but we only caught sight of a few birds.



Absolutely gorgeous scenery!

This walk was the quietest of all. Good for quiet reflection.


For the last stop before Glen Helen, we dropped by Ormiston Gorge. This was another bumpy ride since we had to go off-road again.


Because it was nearing sundown, there weren’t many people there, only a family swimming and having a picnic. Water was chilly though. Pass!


We admired the view for a while, then set off for Glen Helen Resort where we would be spending the night.

Glen Helen Gorge and Resort


The resort was located right in front of the Glen Helen Gorge!

We had to check in over at reception first.

The reception was in the same place as their Restaurant & Bar! Talk about convenient.

We decided when planning the trip that we would get hostel beds for that night, so we could adjust to the outback.



The resort is actually quite old and run down. But they get away with charging high prices for rooms because they have the monopoly that far out in the desert. We paid 35 AUD per person for the cheapest accommodation.

Good news was that we had the room meant for four to ourselves! Actually, I think that whole block we were in was empty. That’s the shoulder season for you.

We wanted to explore the place but first things first… dinner!

The pantry and washing machine areas… also quite old.
0 Michelin Star dinner!

All about that hobo lyfe. Free tea from reception, canned pasta in a mess tin, cup noodles and instant mashed potato. Restaurant dining would have cost us at least 20 AUD each.

Some photos from when we went exploring afterwards:




The colours in the sky tho *_*

Before turning in for the night  (it was starting to get chilly!) we headed out because Brandon wanted to show me the stars and take photos of the Milky Way.

We tried walking out to the resort a bit to get away from the light and then we heard growling in the grass. We were legitimately concerned. Dingoes? Demons? Stomachs hungry for supper? We hastily made our way back to resort only to realise the growling was coming from one of the nearby campervan’s sliding doors. Goddamnit.

The moon was full that night though, and it rose fairly early, so there weren’t so many stars but we did get to see a large full moon that day.

We slept through a cold night (12 degrees!! And back in the Alice Springs Desert Park it was 34 degrees! Desert y u do dis), ready to go on a long dirt road drive the next day – day 3!


2 thoughts on “Day 2 – The Road Trip Begins! + The West MacDonnell Ranges

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