Life in the Big Hole: bliss filled days at Ellery Creek

My favourite thing about Ellery Creek Big Hole is the lackadaisical name, only Australians would reduce over 300 million years of geological activity to the phrase ‘big hole’. You can’t fault it for accuracy, the water is thought to be up to 27 metres deep in places. I like to imagine that the complex process of allocating an identity to this remarkable natural phenomenon occurred over a couple of pints (or more) at the pub in an absurd drunken conversation in Outback Australia. Luckily there is plenty more to love about this place besides its name.

After four weeks on the road in the tiny Camper Jazz I am easily delighted by minimal luxuries. These include, but are not limited to: gas BBQs, shade of any kind, somewhere to hang my hammock, flushing toilets (which send me in to fits of glee), a pool and my favourite bonus – room to sprawl my things well beyond the confines of Thelma-Louise’s four doors. Ellery Creek campground offers these in abundance for the bargain price of $5 per night, and for good measure the universe has thrown in Michael the Swiss Baker at no extra charge.

Ellery Creek Campground

My Ellery Creek Campsite

The waterhole fills up with tourists by the bus load during the day but camping on site gives me the delight of my very own private crocodile-free wild swimming location in the mornings and late afternoons (unless you count that one time the local paper pulled the best April Fool’s prank ever). My days have fallen in to a very relaxing routine of wandering down for a sit by the water at sunrise, faffing about camp cooking things unnecessarily on the BBQ just because I can, lazing about reading in the hammock until I get too hot at which point I pop down to that big hole to for a dip in the refreshingly cold water. Hypothermia isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think Outback Australia but that water is cold enough to cause the odd tourist or two the need for a thermal blanket and a good few hot chocolates if they’re not careful. Refreshing on a hot late October afternoon, life threatening in a wintry July.

Reading in the hammock

Lazy camp days

One particularly energetic day I fancy myself an adventurer and engage in a bit of Larapinta Dreaming. The Larapinta Trail is a gruelling 223km hike that has seen many a helicopter rescue, I wander off to check it out with the idea that one day I might return and tackle it myself. Ellery Creek is the junction for sections six and seven and it doesn’t take long either way for it to become apparent as to why even prepared and experienced hikers succumb to the heat. About half an hour on the trail and I conclude that wandering for up to three weeks through the Outback without air conditioning while carrying a pack is more likely to land me on the news being rescued than to achieve personal glory.

Thankfully Michael the Swiss Baker is on hand and has wine and freshly baked warm bread to cheer me from my thwarted dreams. A fellow campsite member, I have been watching as he appears to have formed his own routine of venturing in to the wilderness, returning with firewood, then preparing some kind of dough which he later pulls out from the hot coals as perfectly baked poppy seed bread. To my delight, he offers this to me on a daily basis usually accompanied by wine and fabulous conversation. It is all very hunter-gatherer (and a bit sexy if I’m to be honest). Granted this is a case of Bear Grylls equipped with solar power, a fridge/freezer and an impressively large cooking pot – still, one cannot ignore the more-primitive-than-an-electric-oven process which makes it all seem like a feat of survival.

I can’t promise you’ll get your own Michael if you head to Ellery Creek but I can assure you it is well worth a visit regardless. At less than 100km from Alice Springs it is a good way to dip your toe in to the Aussie Outback without being too far from civilization and down the road at the equally beautiful Ormiston Gorge there’s a kiosk and showers if you’re after creature comforts. I have also discovered that it is the perfect base to explore the West MacDonnell Ranges, full of gorges and wonders including the Finke River which locals claim as the oldest river in the world. Though Aussies have a habit of claiming all kinds of things given enough beer so I am not able to confirm or deny this as fact.

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