When we were at Uluru, Matt had booked the car into a mechanic at Alice Springs – so we had a deadline to get to town. The last day of exploring the West Mac’s was going to be a bit brief to make our deadline into Alice by the next day – first stop though was Glen Helen Gorge, just a skip across the road from our beauty of a campsite on the Finke. There we met a family from Melbourne, travelling on pretty much an identical route to us, with two primary aged kids. Also like us they had done a similar trip six years ago too. We chatted briefly by the gorge and got a caravan park recommendation from them for in Alice Springs.
On to Ormiston Gorge – a beautiful waterhole with sandy beaches and impressive rocky escarpments. The girls explored a bit and did some rock hopping while we tested the water with our toes – freezing! Upon leaving though Harriet had what quite possibly could be her most epic of meltdowns (which is really saying something!) It started because she didn’t want to leave the rocks she was climbing on…or rather, she wanted to climb down “HERSELF!” and not be helped (I say that in inverted commas…when really she doesn’t say anything/any words, “herself” definitely not being one of them…) When Harriet makes her mind up about something, that. is. IT! There will be no swaying her or coaxing her or convincing her. She will argue a point (even though she’s clearly wrong) until she is blue in the face. Often until she’s at least a slight tinge of beetroot. I hear you: most toddlers will do this, not unusual. But Harriet’s is nek level. So, I have learnt, rather than butt heads and get nowhere or let the situation escalate, sometimes just sitting and giving her time and space is the best medicine. So I sat on a rock further away from her until she was ready to stop screaming and wailing – whilst the other visitors to Ormiston Gorge enjoyed the serenity of a full blown toddler meltdown! Eventually I convinced her we needed to head to the car, on her terms. Dealing with Harriet often goes against the grain of my parenting intuition – never negotiate with terrorists…but, as usual, Harriet Gwen teaches me daily how to flex and compromise. All was going so well – until we got to the little cafe/kiosk in the car park and she saw the ice cream freezer. Well. The old stop drop and scream tactic came into it’s own when she was told under no uncertain circumstances she was not to have an ice cream. I was then the parent walking across the car park with what resembled a manic, fitting, writhing wild animal in my arms (barely in my arms, she was thrashing about so much I was basically holding onto an elbow and an ankle and hoping for the best). What ensued was trying to get the writhing, screaming, thrashing and screeeeeeeeching banshee into her car seat. It took Matt and I a good ten minutes of holding her down, using all of our strength and co-ordination to get those straps on and buckled up. We had never witnessed her quite as worked up as this, I really think unless you saw it you couldn’t believe a child could be in such a state. Her little heart was thumping out of her chest, not to mention THE NOISES coming out of her – a purely animal, guttural wail. I truly thought she would have to either pass out or vomit soon (she has done the latter in the throes of a complete meltdown before). With her somehow restrained in her carseat, we drove off, in the hope she’d calm down and fall asleep…no such luck, I think she escaped her carseat another three times, with us stopping and repeating the whole process of the SCREAMING and us pining her little body down to get her buckled up again, for someone seemingly so little she nearly outnumbered both of us in strength! Definitely in determination. She finally succumbed to sleep, and poor exhaustion, and then Mummy had a big old cry herself. Harriet’s outbursts of fire and fury certainly take their toll, I feel completely mentally and emotionally drained after them.
So – that was Ormiston Gorge! Pretty sure we won’t forget it anytime soon, nor the lucky tourists and park rangers who got to witness the shenanigans of one H.G. Steendam and her poor parents struggling in the carpark to restrain her.
Onwards! To Ellery Creek ‘Big Hole’ – we’d heard it was quite the place for a swim, with sandy beaches and shady trees, and as soon as we walked into the pretty spot we knew we’d been there before. On our school trip in 2003 we definitely came here, but both of us had forgotten. I remembered clearly I had a photo of Matt swimming here in the freezing waters. Sitting on the sand we met another couple with two little girls Eleanor and Harriet’s age – so far mostly the families we’d met had had older children, or just friendly grey nomads, so this was great! Girls to play with! The family were camped at Ellery Creek for the night, and although we really wanted to stay the night there too, we had to head into town for the mechanic the next morning, so bid them farewell.
In town we drove into the caravan park suggested by the family we’d met at Glen Helen Gorge, and low and behold they were a few ‘doors’ up from us in their caravan. It was dark as we set up and Todd popped down to offer us a BBQ dinner if we wanted it. This sort of kindness and camaraderie of fellow travellers is what we love most about life on the road. We had dinner with the Irvines, and then vice versa the next night they came down to our camp for dinner. Their daughter Maddie was a few years older than Eleanor (exactly the girls’ cousin Violet’s age) and they all played so well together. Their older boy Connor even took Harriet for a swim in the FREEZING cold pool so I didn’t have to get in with her – winning! Of course, the next morning when Matt diligently took the car into the mechanic, as booked in for 8am on Tuesday morning…they told him they couldn’t actually do what needed to be done on a Nissan. Fail. We could have stayed at Ellery Creek! We didn’t have to rush through the West MacDonnell Ranges after all! Not happy, Jan. No matter, we went about our Alice Springs jobs – hitting up the supermarket, Kmart and the op shop for some shorts for the girls (they were churning through clothes in the red dust!)
Little did we know but we would end up spending a whole week in Alice Springs – when we initially intended to spend just two or three nights. We had been travelling fairly flat out since leaving Boort, with only a few stops more than a night, and three nights at Uluru. By the time I did washing, Matt found a new mechanic and we saw a few Alice Springs sights, we had clocked up four or five nights in Alice. We went out to the East MacDonnell Ranges for a day trip, visiting Trephina Gorge – where we started to experience our first really hot weather of 34 degrees. The gorge was wide with stacked rock walls, the walk was along the sandy dry creek bed and Eleanor enjoyed collecting ‘special sticks’ along the way. I swear we have half of Australia’s ‘special rocks’ in the back of our seat organisers in front of Eleanor’s carseat! We made our way back to Alice along Binn’s Track through some cattle properties – of course we couldn’t just drive the regular route like everyone else!
We visited the Pioneer Women Hall of Fame (housed in the former Alice Springs gaol), Megafauna Central in Todd Mall (which was brilliant, highly recommend – the girls loved digging for fossils and the interactive microscope) and we ticked off a bucket list item: the Road Transport Hall of Fame, just out of town and next to the Ghan museum. This place was huge! Very impressive, so much to see, especially for this little trucking industry family. One of my dad’s drivers is in the hall of fame, so we had to find his little framed honour board, as well as the mighty Kenworth displays – Harriet was in heaven!
We also needed to get our fridge looked at whilst in town, as something wasn’t quite right with it and it wasn’t keeping things cold enough (yet was icing up at the back…) We thought it may have been a battery issue, so replaced the battery. Still no joy (although the battery was probably on the way out, anyway). As it was Saturday by now we decided to stay until Monday to get it looked at. So out to Simpson’s Gap we went, soaking up the easy to access sights around Alice Springs at our fingertips…
Sunday was spent at the Alice Springs Desert Park – somewhere we didn’t plan to go, but with some extra ‘Alice days’ up our sleeve, and the girls a bit over museum-type places, we let them roam wild and free through the sandy walkways and scrub of the desert park. This place was great for a family – the grounds are fantastic, a bit like Healesville Sanctuary back home in Victoria. The girls particularly liked the nocturnal house, where we could see all of the animals that only come out at night – a highlight was the precious Mala which we had learnt a little bit about back at Uluru. There were snakes and lizards and bilbys and owls. The little hopping mice were a favourite too! The girls played for literally hours on the playground there, while we waited for the bird show – which unfortunately Harriet was pretty swiftly kicked out of! You were expected to sit still and quiet, a bit of an ask for a very rambunctious two year old, so I took her out while Matt and Eleanor stayed to see the hawks and barn owls swoop about the amphitheatre. The Alice Springs Desert Park got five stars from the Steendam family though – it plum tuckered Harriet out so much she had another epic (epic!) meltdown, potentially to match the Ormiston Gorge loss of noodle. Actually, it was fairly similar – and since then she’s had similar again…and again… It’s really quite the spectacular skill, the screaming so you may vomit/pass out/having to hold her down with four adult hands and passersby thinking you may be murdering your child. Good times…
After getting our fridge back, with the report there ‘seemed nothing wrong with it’ we took it as an omen that we needed to get on the road again…buggered fridge and all, ‘fixed’ or not. And so, up the Tanami Track we headed. Leaving the central Australian capital ’big smoke’ of ‘The Alice’ behind and into the desert we plunged…