Published 4×4 Australia Magazine 1994. Republished here 2002. Photos updated 2011
Where the Hale River cuts a swathe through the Amarata Range, 150km east of Alice Springs, the river sands glitter with fragments of sparkling stones.
When explorer David Lindsay sifted through the sands of the river bed in search of water, his thirst was quenched. On seeing the brightly coloured and red rock fragments he thought that they might be rubies. In 1886, after reporting on his travels and his find of sparkling stones, the first mining rush to Central Australia was on. Hundreds of fortune hunters swooped in from the southern cities to this remote part of the Australian Continent.
But they were to be disappointed. The bright pink, red and opaque rock crystals and fragments were only beautiful garnets with no commercial value. Down on their luck the fortune seekers drifted away only to discover gold, mica and copper at Arltunga nearby. One of the miners, who became destitute, took his own life in a fit of despair. The gravestone of J.P.Fox, carved with a pick axe by his fellow miners, stands lonely on a windswept rise at the northern end of Glen Annie Gorge.
The Hale River, known as Lira Altera by the Eastern Arrernte aboriginals, has its head waters in the Harts Ranges, floods through the plains to the north of the Arltunga Ranges, cuts through the gorges of Glen Annie and Ruby Gap and finally, after flowing some 400 kilometres, dissipates into the Simpson Desert beyond the Allitra Tableland.
Ruby Gap Nature Park, which encompasses Glen Annie Gorge is run by the Conservation Commission of the NT with a resident ranger stationed at Arltunga where there is an information centre. There you may see a small museum and get advice on what to see and what to do in the area.
Arltunga, a historic gold mining reserve, lies 110km east of Alice Springs along the Ross Highway. From there the track winds east towards the Amarata Range and gradually deteriorates in condition. The 38km from Arltunga to the entrance of Ruby Gap will take about one and a half hours. It is quite a scenic drive along the foothills with numerous small gullies to cross. This harsh arid land which would seem to have very little ground water supports a great variety of flora and a good number of bird species may be spotted by the keen observer.
Once at the entrance of the park the track drops down into the Hale River and the next 5km could take up to an hour to drive as you wind your way in and out of the sandy river bed. This part of Australia depends on late summer or early winter rains to tide it over from season to season and there is almost always running water in the river. Care should be taken when on where you drive in the river as the water stream may flow underground and a dark patch of sand may prove bottomless. Some inexperienced drivers have been caught in the quicksand. The drive through the red cliffs of Ruby gap is very spectacular. This drive should also only be attempted by high clearance vehicles as there is a fair amount of rock hopping to do. Nearing the end of the gap a sign reads “IT IS NOT ADVISABLE TO DRIVE BEYOND THIS POINT”. You are not prohibited from travelling further but no responsibility is taken for your actions should you decide to proceed.
Glen Annie Gorge lies another 2km or half an hours walk further on. The main obstacle, apart from rocky ridges in the river bed, is a section of large loose boulders about 100 metres wide which could stop even the most experienced four wheel driver in his/her tracks. Having diff locks or and winch fitted to you vehicle would be a distinct advantage. When we did the trip we were driving a Toyota Landcruiser FJ55. At one stage we had all four wheels clear of the ground and had to winch off to get traction again. Once past this obstacle there is a short section with very soft sand which will bring you to the water hole at the mouth of Glen Annie Gorge. This is as far as you can travel by vehicle. Here you may have a total wilderness experience in the solitude of the tranquil waters of the gorge, interrupted only by the croaking of frogs, the rasping noise of crickets and the occasional eerie call of the Thick-knee Bush Curlew. In the early morning dawn you may see Black-footed Rock Wallabies go about their business high up on the cliff face while Teal ducks and Little Grebes paddle around the rock pools foraging for food.
The fit adventurers may hike up into the ranges to get panoramic views of the surrounding gorge and hills. At present this remote area is under survey for further development. The most likely scenario would be for entry on a permit system so that visitation numbers may be restricted on any given period. There may be camping areas set aside and toilet facilities provided.
On your next visit to Central Australia be sure to enjoy the remoteness and beauty of this place.