Starry, starry night

Starry, starry night
Alice Springs, Australia

Alice Springs, Australia

We made it back to Alice Springs without a scratch on the van. I heard some horror stories up there – one couple who forgot to unwind their canopy and ripped it off and another 4WD who saw a campervan on its side on the back road linking Kings Canyon and the MacDonnell Ranges. Insurance explicitly doesn’t cover either cases.

Anyway, we didn’t do much in Alice, as you do towards the fag end of a holiday. There had been a lot of driving and walking, and we were tired. We ate out a bit, saw the free light show in the reptile park and spent some more time with Celia and her sister.

We stopped off at a camel farm and took a short ride. It was way more comfortable than I thought it would be. Now I regretted not going on a morning safari at Uluru. It would have been a totally atmospheric way to waltz through the desert. The swaying of the camels had a hypnotic quality to it.

The campervan was far better than we thought. It’s a great way to see the country. It was easier to drive than I thought and a lot more comfortable. Not sure I’d want to drive it in the city, but out here it was perfect.

There was a lot of walking, but it was satisfying. The desert had a calming effect on us all, and I was happy I’d listened to Josefa about seeing some of Australia’s famous sites rather than shooting over to Bali, like I wanted. It is a pilgrimage for a reason.

The Rock

The Rock
Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia

For most visitors to Australia, the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge are probably the most iconoclastic site in Australia, along with kangaroos and koalas. For Australians, I think Uluru has the edge. It used to be a pilgrimage when I was growing up – visiting and climbing the rock made you an inch more Aussie.

Anyway, to see it on the horizon was definitely special. Right in the middle of the desert! It was quite epic. It almost looked like a film set or a Photoshop image stuck behind the deep blue sky.

My parents visited years ago, and it seemed like the whole operation was rough edged, with camping and drop toilets and not much else. Now it has a swanky village built up around the park. We stayed in the caravan park, but looked at the hotel anyway. Great pool!

The Rock isn’t quite as epic up close. It’s nicer from a distance. It was closed for climbing. The rangers use any excuse to close it. This time it was the distant threat of rain. It had been closed a week after three men had to be rescued after trying an alternative route home. I wouldn’t have climbed it anyway, with the guilt Jo and Rosa put on me and the wishes of local Indigenous tribes not to climb. They stand at the base handing out leaflets on the days when it is opened.

We were pretty tired so just managed the guided tour around part of the base, though we still made it back for the sunset.

Perhaps more impressive from a walking perspective is Kata Tjuta. I could never remember the name of it, so still called it the Olgas. We took the longer than expected Valley of the Winds walk. Didn’t take enough water, I was wearing sandals and it was hot. Probably not ideal, especially with Aidan complaining half the way, but we made it to the lookout and back. Tough walk, but totally worth it.

The Indigenous art gallery and centre was a good stop off. I don’t mind Australian art at all, but the cost of the holiday was already sky high and I couldn’t quite drop another $300 on art. Sort of regret it, but I had my eye on a didgeridoo back in Alice Springs. Balked at that too in the end! Now I know why ****** souvenirs are so popular.

There was a calming effect in the desert here. Nothing moved too quickly. The local Indigenous people look more contented (having possession of the park) and friendly than in Alice Springs. It had a better feel. The sand was warm and red, the stars just a bit brighter. It was a good place to spend a few nights.

It was busier than I expected though. Cars turned up and I saw more than one sleeping overnight in the back seats, as the budget hotels and hostels were all full. Glad we had the luxury of the van, especially as it got particularly windy one night.

The Big Walk Around

The Big Walk Around
Kings Canyon, Australia

Kings Canyon, Australia

It’s funny how six hours drive in the outback means little. If it was in Melbourme, we’d be heading over the border and almost at Dubbo! Here, it means endless plains of brush and red dirt.

We decided to break the trip up with a night at Erldunda (the real centre of Australia!). It had the worst flies I’ve ever experienced – and this was in moderate heat at the start of spring. The flies followed you everywhere. It was even worse at the Erldunda filling station and shop. Everyone stopped here, and the toilets seemed to hold half the fly population of the Northern Territory. I have no idea what summer would be like, or how the English backpackers working at the counter coped with it.

Kings Canyon was only a lazy four hours up the road from Erldunda. They was little between either place. No wonder Alice Springs is geographically the most isolated major town in the world. In the time we drove we’d have made London to Moscow.

The Kings Canyon Resort (everything is a resort here) was fully booked, so I was glad I paid well ahead. Everyone seemded to be from Melbourne, driving up for the school holidays in 4WD and caravans. We saw a sore looking dingo in between the caravans.

We took a mini walk along the Kings Creek Walk. Josefa and Aidan worse orange fly protectors, although there wasn’t many flies. It was good practice for the full Rim walk.

The Rim walk took around four hours, and it was coincidentally one of the warmest days of the trip, in the low 30s. It was a breaktaking walk around the surpringly green basin of the canyon. We broke off to take a look at the Garden of Eden where water feeds the ferms and gums and billabong. I even went back a second time after I realised I’d dropped the nib for my Camelbak canteen.

We definitely deserved the Magnum ice-creams, which we had to fork out around $8 each. The ice box had stopped working in the van, as had the air-conditioning, both temporarily. I don’t think we were charging the van properly at night. We got used to the cost of everything soon enough, from the $2 a litre petrol to the food and the water.

We even managed a swim in the busy pool. However it tipped just above freezing ( the nights here kill the water tempreature) so Aidan lasted about two minutes. I’d promised the kids a pool each day, but it looked increasingly likely our bathers would be underused.

High water

High water
West MacDonnell National Park, Australia

West MacDonnell National Park, Australia

We’d only come to the MacDonnell Ranges for a couple of nights, but such is the number of gorges snaking off the Namatjira Drive you could stay here a week exploring them all.

We went to Ormiston Gorge. There had been so much rain we found ourselves cut off half way into the walk. A couple of hikers were wading chest high across the other side, but I didn’t fancy carrying Aidan on my shoulders. It was warm enough to dry off quickly, but the water was still cold.

In the end we retreated, but it was a decent hike. A lot of people gathered at the water hole, including an entire family in Western Bulldogs supporter gear. They were hanging out for the Bulldogs to play Hawthorn (or was it GWS) in a few days’ time.

We couldn’t quite get brave enough to try the water, but we did back at Glen Helen in the gorge and river behind the caravan park. The water was fresh, cold and drinkable. Felt like swimming in a really clean dam with spectacular cliffs overlooking you as you swam.

We tried Serpentine, but only went on the mini walk as we headed off on the long drive to Kings Canyon. One thing you get used to here is a four or five hour drive. It just doesn’t mean much, and as it is basically non-stop at 100 km/h until you reach your next destination, easy driving too.

Spending time with Alice

Spending time with Alice
Alice Springs, Australia

Alice Springs, Australia

It’s been eight months since we travelled to Central Australia, but since I managed to update the two-year old trip to Europe, why not our wonderful holiday in the dead centre?

Good excuse to upload photos, anyway.

It was great to get away from a frigid Melbourne. We’d heard about the cold winter mornings in the Territory, and the tempreature wasn’t promising (around 17c with rain) but it was nice to be wearing a T-shirt again.

We took our 4WD and headed through Alice Springs. I was surprised at how small the town was. It’s similar to an Ararat or Shepparton in Victoria. Lots of aboriginals, lots of campervans and lots of policevans. It was cool to be somewhere we’d read about so much.

A huge centipede greeted us in our bathroom at the hotel. Nice welcome! Certainly woke us all up. We ambled around the town, went shopping for groceries for the two weeks and drove to the top of Anzac Hill for a spectacular sunset.

We also visited a couple of friends who now call Alice Springs home. Celia lives an almost nun-like existence on a spiritual retreat, working for the Anglicans and reading, praying and contemplating the spiritual life. She seemed most content and clearly loves the desert life.

Catherine is a school teacher who I hadn’t seen in twenty years. We experienced a downpour of biblical proportions as we drove out to see her and her family. She seemed to be looking forward to moving back to Melbourne – teaching obviously taxing on her.

The next day the Todd River was flowing! An unsual sight for locals, and if I remember rightly it signified good luck or an early summer or something similar.

We spent a good morning at the famous Desert Reptile Park. It felt a little sparse with a lot of walking between the exhibits, but the bird show was good and the snake exhibits reminded us not to run around the shrubs barefoot at night.

We took ownership of our campervan and drove out into the plains of the desert and the Todd River flowed by us out of town. We all really enjoyed our time in the town, even though the pool at the hotel was freezing and living in the one hotel room for a couple of nights pushed us a bit far. Good practice for the six person campervan!