Into the Outback

This entry has been written over a number of day, I will split the whole post into two I think as it really has got quite big.

Day 1 – 29 April 2013
So after about a week of trying to get a lift out of Adelaide I finally make it out, I stuff myself into a car with three girls, two Italians and a German. Their plan is slightly different from mine but we are at least heading the same way. They are driving to Alice Springs and then back to Adelaide, I depart from them at Alice Springs and then try to get a lift up to Cairns or Darwin. I consider myself truly lucky to be able to do this. I may of mentioned that I am a bit different when it comes to girls, the second thing that enters my mind is not “How can I get them into bed”. Okay I think that from time to time but it’s not something that enters my mind quickly. You see for me travelling is not about how many countries can I have sex with, no not at all. I have told myself that if something like that happens on this trip then great but it’s not something I look for. Maria Frederika and Sara are all really nice girls, I feel a little guilty that I am not able to help out with the driving but there is nothing I can do about that is there.

At the end of day one we had driven nearly 500km and taken refuge at one of the places by the side of the road to camp. Yes I slept in a tent. If you know me at all you should know that I really hate tents and also dislike sleeping in sleeping bags. I just feel restricted and generally in a tent I get way too hot and because of the material it is I can’t seam to cool down. Although my standing with tents is usually that I hate them it is necessary for me to be in one and I therefore just let go of my small bug bear with them. Upon arrival we made polite conversation with an Australian guy called Craig who was happy to chat about the outback and his experiences. After dinner we went to bed pretty much to get a bit of an early start in the morning. I had a real hard time sleeping, I was too hot, forgot my travel pillow and really could not get comfortable on the ground, again this is something I really hate about camping but was willing to give up.

During the general drive as we left Adelaide the road flattened out and began to stretch for miles without twisting or changing. We passed the odd Road Train too, for the people who have no idea what a Road Train is it’s generally a truck that has more than one trailer. Often they have 3, 4 or sometimes 5 so I am told, hauling goods to and from the various remote parts of Australia. They are normally driven by two people taking 4 hours or so at the wheel each. Either in or behind the cabin there is a bed I guess where the second driver sleeps. The idea is for them to only stop to either change driver or refuel (sometimes both) but otherwise their job is to drive day and night throughout the outback. How people can drive along these roads for a job I will never know because the roads are so dull, they are surrounded by large quantities of nothing but bushland.

On The Road

Day 2 – 30 April 2013
After a rough nights sleep I woke up and packed the tent I had borrowed away. We got in the car and went a bit further down the road to get to a roadhouse that had a shower. There we had some tea an a shower before setting off again later than we had expected. Today’s goal was the Opal Mining town of Coober Peedy, after more open expanses of nothing and a stop for an eventful lunch we got to Coober Peedy about 15:30. So why was lunch eventful? I have one word for you and that word is “Flies”. I had heard that at times the middle and northern parts of Australia is overrun with flies and I assumed that it would not be the case when I got here as the weather would be cooling down. What I had forgotten is that the wet season has just about finished which probably helped them to bread and we had lunch constantly trying to swot them away from us and whatever we were eating. These flies are small and come in vast numbers, were not talking one or two here, I didn’t count but I assumed 10-20 around my head and body at all times. Yuk I have another few days of this at least.

Coober Peedy is a strange little town but very functional. They have aa hostel with plenty of space but it’s a bit pricey at $35 a night so we decided to take advantage of an underground campground which only cost us $15 each. The town itself is the hub for Opal mining and you can take tours of the mines as well as visit underground churches, I guess they build a fair bit underground because it is cooler than above. We got there and it was a scorching 30C and this is in winter. Yeah I can’t imagine what it’s like in summer when it hits 45C, I would melt.

Federica and me @ Coober Pedy

We went to bed early after cooking and cleaning up, not much else to do really, can’t afford to go to the bar and not like you can hold a party. Sleeping underground at Riba’s campground was kind of cool though and at least it was not really hot. We had another early start the next day to try and get as close to Uluru (Ayers Rock) as we could.

Day 3 – 01 May 2013
A big drive day, well when your traversing South to North in Australia every day consists of driving hundreds of kilometres, again often seeing next to nothing. The drone and rocking off the car makes me sleepy and I often just drift off into a slumber for a few kilometres, there is really not much else to see or do. After several hours of more driving through nothing we got to the border for the Northern Territory, here we got out, took a few cheesy photo’s and then set onwards. Our battle with flies continued as I said it would for the next few days, it will be like this in NT until they get a cold evening which will kill them off, until then you just have to deal with them and be thankful that they don’t bite and don’t hang around after sundown.

Crossing the border

Heading north through Australia gave me a pretty good idea for an app. I’m not sure when I will find the time to code it but I think I should, there might be something already out there that does this but at petrol stations heading North the price of fuel tends to ride as expected. These Roadhouses are remote places and have to import their fuel so they have to price it higher, although if your clever you can skip one Roadhouse in favour of another because it’s not always more expensive at the next one. The idea is simple.. build a HTML5 interface to an app that you can update and search for fuel stops in Australia. In fact why stop at Australia, why not include the whole world. If you use the app via mobile we can use GPS co-ordinates to calculate/register where you are and also give you distance to the next stop. I think the app would be really easy to build and I might give it a go, recruit a few buddies to help me design/build the thing and make profit via adverts or something.

I knew a little about the Red Centre of Australia before but now I know a bit more why they call it that. We stopped to have a quick look at Mt Conner, this is written in the guide as being the false Uluru because travellers sometimes get it confused with Uluru. Either that or they cannot afford or don’t want to afford the $25 entrance fee into the Uluru Park, the sand near Mt Conner is of a deep burnt Orange, looking Red in low light, this is unlike any other sand I have seen before, it’s as fine as any ideal beach but of course totally a different colour. At the end of the day we settled in a place called Curtain Springs which gave us free camping for the evening and a place to cook which is always useful, we set up tents and chatted to some of the other people in their camper vans and such before settling down for the evening. One other thing that amazes me about this road trip that I have been on is the amount you can see in the sky. I rarely see stars like this, okay you could in Yosemite but it’s only places with no or very little light pollution that you get to see this many stars in the sky. Every time I see it my mind boggles at the thought that each one of them is a sun with potential worlds around it and maybe there is a being out there looking back at the stars and thinking the same thing. It’s not the kind of thing you can ever explain to someone, nor do I think I can capture such a thing with a photo but I might try.

Protected from flies in the Red Centre

Day 4 – 02 May 2013
We camped the night in a place called Curtain Springs, a free camp site about 100km away from Uluru then our assault began early. I thought the $25 fee to get in felt a bit steep but at least you get a pass for 3 days to see what is at Ayers Rock. Most of the tours that I have seen offer you a basic 1 day, the three day one was one I was looking to do was $330 but now I don’t need to take that which is great for my bank balance. There is no way to get out of buying the 3 day pass unless you can hide in someone’s car or something like that, not that I would encourage such things anyway. The funds go to the upkeep of the park, preservation of local indigenous wildlife as well as the helping the aboriginal owners of the land. For the 3 day pass to be cost efficient you are going to need a car to get to and from the park (although I have heard rumour about people sleeping in the park but your not allowed). I can’t help but think that if they provided different options for the pass (as in 1 and 2 days) for cheeper would they not make as much money?

Anyway I digress, we got the the start of what is known as the Mala walk by 8am, Here a ranger gives a free tour of a small walk near the rock. The ranger was full of information about aboriginal life and introduced us to some of the caves that are used to prepare younger aboriginal boys for manhood. If your going to Ayers Rock then I advise you take up this free tour, it’s about 2 hours lng and you really cannot sniff at the price. Ayers Rock is now being called Uluru, it’s original tribal name and nothing quite prepares your brain to take in the awesome nature of the rock itself. Yes this thing is one big rock, 300m high, 3.2km wide and apparently two thirds of it are still underground, that truly made my mind boggle. You can easily (if you can stand the heat) spend hours looking at the rock and watching it change colour as the light from the sun bounces off it and changes it from a dark brought to a fine almost luminescent orange colour. It is after all the largest piece of Sandstone known on Earth and is rich in Iron deposits which you can see by the rusty colour. There is a choice to make when you get to Uluru and that is to do with climbing. You can still climb the rock on days that you are allowed to, but the Anangu tribe people are trying to stop this, it’s up to you and the weather if you climb or not. Me personally I want to show respect for the people who worship at any place, I would do the same in a church or temple and to the Anangu tribe this is a very spiritual place. I could not of climbed even if I wanted to anyway because of the high winds on the top of the rock, but for me the there was no thought in my head about climbing the sacred rock.

Uluru

After the tour we took a break for lunch at the nearby Yulara resort, of course we did not buy their food but took our own being poor backpackers. Then after lunch we drove back and took on the Base Walk which circumnavigates the rock in a 10km loop. It does not really matter where you start this walk but make sure you have water and enough time for it, there are a few places that you will want to stop and stare at for a while, The path is nice and flat so nothing to worry about apart from de-hydration. After the walk we stood to watch the sun set and change the colours on Uluru as it did, again this is one of those things pictures just do no real justice for, you really have to be there and find some peace inside your head as the tourists buzz around you taking millions of photos.

Day 5 – 03 May 2013
Another early start for the day, we need to do a fair bit of walking today so it’s best to start early with the sun as vicious as it gets in Australia. Okay it’s nowhere near what it could be but I am certainly living in fear of getting burned. Don’t worry though, the first thing I do is slap on a layer of 30+ and for today I am wearing one of my long sleeve shirts to keep the sun off, thank goodness I brought them with me. Today’s plan was to take on The Olgas, A mountain range that is in the same park as Uluru, the tales being Mt Olga itself. There is a 10km walk around and through the Olgas which is what we decided to take on called the Valley Of The Winds.

I am enjoying the way my brain is currently dealing with people and things. There have been times when I would of worried a lot about what has happened and even the consequences of them but this has been happening less. I think I am beginning to find it easier to figure out what things should concern me and what things I should just not worry about. I’m not saying that I have conquered the instinct to take on other peoples baggage but I have certainly got better at sorting it into the relevant piles. I am hugely thankful that these people are okay driving and being with me for this length of time which sounds like I think that I am a horrible person to be with and I know that I am not but it’s just good to be heading this way and seeing all this without having to resort to a really expensive tour. Anyway back to The Olgas or Kata Tjuta to give them their proper name. The walk itself is more challenging than the base walk around Uluru, with a lot more climbing and decent over rocky ground but the views are pretty special. Depending which way round you do the loop depends on if you tackle the main gorge first or second, for us it was second. I don’t think it matters which way you do it, my only advise is take your time and soak up the views that the walk gives you as they are really nice.

There is a smaller second walk there too which takes you into the main Olga Gorge known as the Tatintjawiya Walk, this is also quite pretty and much less demanding than the main loop, well worth the 1 hour it will take you to walk to the end and back. This was followed by a long lunch break taken in Yulara while we took advantage of some open power lots to recharge phones, laptops and what not. The final moments here were spent watching the sun how down over both The Olgas and Uluru. I know yet more sunsets, how dull you must be thinking, but seriously when you see it you will understand. We spent the night back in Curtain Springs and planned for the days ahead to get up to Kings Canyon.

Day 6 – 04 May 2013
We had a slow start to the day, doing some washing and generally sorting ourselves out before heading up to Kings Canyon. The route up to Kings Canyon from Uluru is fairly short at about 200km but when you get there you really are limited by the places you can stay. Of course there is nothing to stop you from going there, walking round and then driving to another place but should you not want to do that you have 2 places to choose from and both of which are expensive even if you are camping at $19 a night per person for an unpowered sites. Sadly Kings Canyon suffered from a bush fire not that long ago and one of the walks (The Kathleen Springs walk was closed due to the damage the fire had done to the walkway, however the main Canyon Rim walk was open and we decided because it was incredibly hot (30C+) we decided to take on the 4 hour walk tomorrow. The rest of the day was spent for me hiding from the sun, I know 30C is not hot for this area since it is becoming winter here, but for me 30C is like being stuck in a sauna that I can’t get out of. Luckily I have been very open and honest about this and can be very vocal when I need to, I took on more water today than probably anybody just trying to keep my heat under control. We didn’t do anything else during the day, just took it very easy and discussed with various people if it was possible to do the Mereenie Loop in the car.

The Mereenie Loop is a 155km dirt track that connects Kings Canyon with the West Macdonald Ranges which was going to be our next destination. Various people in our group had read that you can or cannot drive throughout this with a 2WD vehicle. I had done a bit of research myself which pointed out almost exactly the same, some people had done it without any problems but was just slow going and other people damaging their car. For me it was not a risk I was wanting to take and I made that very clear to the people I was with. Basically if we got stuck we would have water but probably no food for a few days at most, also we could not guarantee any of us would have phone signal way out there so if we did get stuck we may not be able to call for help. Should we be able to call for help we will have no idea when help will come and may not be able to deal with that as a problem. If you take all these factors and weigh them against the fact that it would of been a fun adventure to try we were in my opinion un-prepared for what might happen, again I explained how I felt about this in great detail. In the end we decided not to take on the loop much to my relief.

And this is probably where i will leave this post, it’s long enough. I will try and update again once I am back from the West Macdonald Ranges, maybe before if you are lucky and tell you all about them. Then of course it’s off to Cairns by plane and I need to figure out what to do down the East coast as I approach the end of my time here in Australia. I know my bank account is fully aware that I have spent nearly two months here but it really does not feel like that sometimes.