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By Claudia Riley
A Perentie lizard moves ponderously across the riverbed, its forked tongue flicking in and out, tasting the air, looking for food.  The quiet whir and click of digital camera shutters is the only sound on a breathlessly hot afternoon as tourists capture memories of a day out in the Australian bush.  Ormiston Gorge is Central Australia at its unbeatable best.

The drive to Ormiston Gorge (135 km west of Alice Springs via Larapinta Drive on accessible, sealed roads) reveals the spectacular scenery of the West McDonnell ranges: parallel, rocky ridges stretching far into the distance, the red earth, shrubs in various shades of green and sky of brightest blue so characteristic of this part of the world. Floodways crossing dry river beds bear witness to the fact that when the infrequent rain puts in an appearance, the landscape can look dramatically different.

Ormiston Gorge is an easy day trip from Alice Springs for a picnic at the waterhole. You can also camp at Ormiston Gorge to get an early start for the Pound walk. Pulling into the car park, the gum trees give plenty of shade. A five minute stroll down a paved path brings you to the wild beauty that is Ormiston Gorge.

After heavy rainfall, you’ll spot abundant wildlife around the waterhole: small lizards sunning themselves on the rocks or drinking at the water’s edge; a heron patiently balancing on one leg looking for an unwary fish to provide its next meal; a kite wheeling through the bright blue, cloudless sky; the odd nosy wallaby daring to approach in search of discarded tidbits of food. The flora is both tenacious and delicate, sending roots deep down into the soil to reach water while displaying exquisite flowers after a fall of rain.

After picnicking by the waterhole and giving the kids some time to splash around, it’s worth having a look into the main gorge around the corner. There, the sandy river bed opens up before you, scattered with rocks and boulders of various sizes, enclosed by crumbling orange rock walls.

Amazingly, small ghost gums not only grow in the riverbed, but cling precariously to the rocky walls of the gorge. Their roots disappear into the weathered rock, eking out survival in this harsh environment where rain and rich, fertile soil are equally scarce. A children’s paradise of climbing fun, the adults will find themselves reflecting on the forces of nature that carved out this gorge over time. The roots of trees, shrubs and Spinifex grass infiltrated the rock and bit by infinitesimal bit, cracking and breaking down the rocks through the ages. The power of water, sun and wind combined together to erode the gorge into what it is today.

Depending on the age and fitness of visitors, there are a variety of walks on offer, from the easy 5 minute stroll to the waterhole, to the 20 minute Ghost Gum walk which provides views looking down into the gorge from the hillside, to the full length Ormiston Pound walk, which takes the visitor around sloping hills, through the flat, rock-strewn expanse of the Pound and back through the Gorge river bed in around 3 to 4 hours. Be sure to bring sturdy walking shoes, a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. Entry is free, so if you want to get a true appreciation of outback Australia, Ormiston Gorge is definitely worth a visit.
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