Why visit Glen Helen Lodge in the MacDonnell Ranges
After reading so many mixed reviews about this popular spot in the West MacDonnell Ranges of late, we wanted to find out what’s the truth behind Glen Helen Lodge. It’s always been an area we have looked forward to visiting and seeing on our trip. With its location right within the National Park, the Gorge a short walk from the camp ground and lodge, fabulous hikes and easy access to the other gorges in the area- it was really a must visit place for us.
So what had happened .... What’s the story?
We arranged to sit down with the Lodge Manager and gain some insight into the history and recent changes at Glen Helen.
Glen Helen has an extremely long and incredible history dating back to the 1900’s. The Glen Helen Station originally begun at the vision of Fred Raggett in 1905, it was privately purchased in 1938 and expanded into a station chain over the next 23 years. It then changed hands 4 times over the next 31 years before being purchased by the Ngurratjuta/ Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal corporation in 1992. After 4 short years it closed as a camp but continued to provide a stop for fuel and beverages until it’s first lease in 1999 when the Lodge was reopened for camping.
Following this lease the now iconic Glen Helen Lodge then entered its second lease for a period of 12 years from 2006 to early 2018, when at last the Ngurratjuta/ Pmara Ntjarra Aboriginal corporation took back ownership and began the new era in the Lodges expansive history with vision of change, growth and a want to give back to the local community.
During the leases there were many great upgrades, services provided and reviews accordingly. But in the final years of the second lease things began to change just the same as things often do in life. Droughts happen, people and staff leave, business gets tough and imagine all this happening in the remote central outback.
Come the end of the lease, the Ngurratjuta/ Pmara Ntjarra Corporation took back ownership and in early 2018 the rebuild begun, in an grand effort to restore the once iconic Glen Helen Lodge back to the highlight that it had always been known to be.
The Glen Helen Lodge grounds and buildings were in sad disrepair. Many of the facilities and utilities were at the end of their life cycle and needing a lot of attention. The owners stepped up to the challenge and began the upgrade planning and implementing phases immediately.
The Aboriginal Corporation invested heavily first into the new large amenities block closest to pub. With both seperate mens and womens sections, each consists of toilets, hot showers and wheel chair accessible toilets.
Starting off with the unseen needed upgrades was the mains water. This is always a monumental task for any person or business, let alone a completely serviced accomodation park. There were countless pipes replaced and the big one was the upgrade of the water pump passage to lodge.
Also attended to straight away was a complete overhaul of the Electrical systems, wiring and breakers throughout the grounds. A major power upgrade was needed to re distribute overloaded power supplies, dispersing even loads of power throughout the facilities; ammenities, running services, overnight accomodation rooms and the lodge itself.
Lastly was the undoubtedly crucial waste water system replacement. A complete new system and running pipes was needed to be installed. this system takes months to get the perfect setting to ensure all pumps and levels and pressures are working to maximum efficiency. This is now at the final stages of its settlement period and working well. This new system is monitored and controlled by a private company in Melbourne.
More recently the Lodge has opened up its new camp kitchen and it has been very well received. Located closest to the powered camp sites but only 20m from the unpowered camping area, it has a BBQ, fridge, microwave, kettle and large prep benches with a washing up sink- it truly is an incredible asset for the campers.
In the pipe works the manager shares exciting plans of future upgrades and services to come. There plans for renovations, make overs and new buildings, starting with fresh carpet recently laid in the lodge and the new stand alone functions area which is currently in the building stages- set to hold weddings, events, celebrations and more. And in the not to distant future the Lodge will be offering a unique experience with local indigenous tours.
There were more secret plans in the mix for the future of Glen Helen Lodge that will include continued redevelopment and redesign to different buildings and grand plans for the camp ground, but we all have to wait for these exciting changes to be announced. Funnily enough after all these major investments, repairs and upgrades there are still all those remote running costs. Prices of outback business’s always teater on the slighter higher side to those running any type of business closer to the coast. Access to services; such as utilities, trades, resources and staff are all things to be considered.
What I was really impressed to learn bout Glen Helen Lodge was that they are completely self sufficient by means of power, water and sewage. They are responsible for all running costs of these facilities. Providing their own generators; to power all lighting, all appliances (both commercial and domestic), rooms/ suites air conditioners and heaters, along with the services and pumps to power these services.
Glen Helen also have their own bore for all water access for uses in; preparing/cooking/ cleaning of all food and beverage services, flushing toilets, hand washing stations, showering ammenities, washing machines, lodge cleaning services and there is untreated bore water tap access around camping areas, this is provided for bucket style use only (non potable water and not for van filling or plug in).
These are all costs that are taken into account when setting outback accomodation tares and additional service costs. And again as seasoned Outback travellers to be honest, Glen Helen Lodge actually provide very reasonable expectations on their food, beverage and accomodation prices. If you want a little more luxury, for example- a powered site over unpowered or an escarpment view over a standard room (which is over a campsite) the prices are according. After all, you are out here on an Outback Adventure, tailor your visit to suit your desires and any limitations you have.
If camping within a park style environment for a cost is not your style, there are a few near by camps you can pick from- then come to the Glen Helen Lodge as a place to visit for the divine views, the spectacular gorge, the incredible rock wall, the breathtaking sunsets and/or the insatiable meals (breakfast/lunch/dinner), coffee and cakes and even cheese platters and wine. The ingredients are bought local and majority of all the food is made on site or by members of the community. The Lodge Chiefs prefer to use local spices and Dukkas from the area to give their signature dishes that special touch.
The most common recent review comments answered.
The powered and unpowered camping sites are somewhat limited in size and availability, people often find this as a point to be disappointed. What you may not understand is that Glen Helen Lodge is boarded by the national park and the land outside the fences is not theirs to expand on. Glen Helen Lodge have maximised the space they have to ensure access to sites is maintained, service facilities are seperate to accomodation and the roads provide a flow around the property for guests, staying or just visiting.
Rubbish collection and removal in the outback is a very expensive exercise. In most outback camps across all states and especially within all National Parks of Australia, you are expected to take your rubbish with you. You create it, be responsible for it- keep it minimal, not only will that make it easier for you to transport it, but you will also helping the environment. Being within a National Park the owners do not have the luxury of building a rubbish pit that can be filled then burned off or buried like in other remote areas.
The camping/ accomodation and food costs have been pretty well covered in the write up. When you are in the remote outback, expect that costs will reflect the area you are in and also the services being provided. Glen Helen Lodge, although undertaking major changes and making massive financial investments in the continued redevelopment of the site have extremely competitive prices for an outback tour location with so much to offer.
So after finding out all of the information about Glen Helen Lodge we can look back at the reviews now and say a lot of the initial required upgrades were the hidden changes, the things behind the walls or under the surfaces that inevitably must take first priority. But as the visual appearance of the grounds is taking shape you can truly start to appreciate the time and attention the Lodge is receiving and how the once iconic Glen Helen Lodge is returning to it former glory and is destined to be even better than ever.
This is not your typical caravan park, it is an authentic outback lodge nestled in Central Australia. The endless dust and lack of vibrant grass and trees is not often a luxury you get to enjoy this far from the coast. As mainly travellers of the Australian Outback, we can say dirt and dust is everywhere you visit off the coast... It just gets more abundant the closer you get to the centre. But it should be something to consider that in areas like Glen Helen, you come for the divine landscapes, incredible rock formations and flowing rivers, these are what you get to witness and enjoy. The dust can be washed away but these majestic visions will never leave your mind!
Open your mind to the remoteness of the West MacDonnell Ranges, the divine landscapes, the magical sunsets and unique nature of the Outback and your expectations of the area are sure to be certainly fulfilled.