Another early start, 5 this time. And we still didn’t make it to our planned destination, the lookout to watch the sun rise behind Uluru. So Kev decided to change the program a bit and we started with the base walk around Uluru, a stunning 12 km walk. Many parts of the rock are still enormously important for Aboriginal people and you’re not allowed to take photos in order to respect their tradition. Climbing the mountain is still allowed but many believe it shouldn’t be permitted anymore. We were lucky and the moral decision was taken off our shoulders due to the hot weather (when the expected temperature reaches 36 degrees or it is windy the climb is closed). I could imagine it looks most stunning from the ground anyway rather than at the top.
We even spotted a rare Thorny Devil, a cute little fellow that looks much scarier than it is.
During a short walk guided by Kev we heard many interesting stories from creation time when kangaroos were still able to fly and snakes were big enough to carve rivers into mountains. The information centre offered nice cool drinks and back at the camp we prepared burgers with the lot for lunch and then jumped into the freezing pool and had the afternoon off.
To watch Uluru during sunset we drove to another lookout where we had some prepared snacks and some beer while watching Uluru on one side and Kata Tjuta on the other.
Uaah, 5.30am is an early start. But it was worth it, when we reached the Outcrops of the Stuart Ranges we had amazing views of the landscape in the morning sun, the moon still up. The landscape changed again dramatically, now everything was deep red, just a few green bushes around.
For lunch we stopped at the border of SA and the NT where we had sandwiches and a extensive photo session … the first of a few …
Kev had come up with a game, the wheel of fortune. Each time we stopped the position of one wheel marked a number of the passenger list and the two designated persons had to do funny things like hopping around the bus like a kangaroo.
We also went past an Aboriginal community to visit their art gallery but unfortunately it was abandoned. The community members must have been off to a ceremony or something alike. Those communities are quite traditional, they only have teachers for basic maths and English and medical support. Normally no white people are allowed to enter those areas, heavy penalties apply. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos because Aboriginals think that their soul can’t rest once they’re dead if they are shown around on a photo. The little village was very dirty, lots of wrecked and burnt car corpses and rubbish everywhere. A view little kids waved to us but that was the only sign that there was actually someone living there.
Following the Lasseter Highway, we rushed towards THE mountain, Uluru (formerly known as Ayers Rock but now officially renamed to its Aboriginal name). Lasseter was a guy who apparently found a huge amount of gold but wasn’t able to carry it all back so he returned to civilization to get more camels. But when he came back to the outback he wasn’t able to find the spot anymore but instead met some Aboriginals which was the first encounter of a white man and Aboriginals. They obviously couldn’t understand each other but he followed them on their way from water hole to water hole and ate what they ate – not quite. At some point he must have eaten some poisonous berries (the desert is full of food but you have to know when you can eat what) and he eventually died. His body was found although there are doubts that it is really his.
Uluru and Kata Tjuta (question: which famous American TV star resembles the shape of Kata Tjuta? Hint: the person is male and laying on his back) are both located within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. All visitors have to stay in Yulara, a little town and resort now owned by an American company. The resort features accommodation, a pool and facilities. From the local lookout we watched Uluru in the light of the setting sun we actually missed sunset by a few minutes but it was nevertheless amazing.
The day ended with a great stir fry and some beer before a short night in our swags.
The desert from above and below
The day started rather exciting: a scenic flight over the desert! A few of the group decided to change perspective and enjoy a totally different view of the desert. We flew over an area called the painted hills where the morning sun created amazing colors on the rugged surface. A totally recommendable trip!
Before we headed off (Kev had actually managed to fix the tyres) I went to the pub to look for Joergs student card which he had left here, following an old tradition. Almost a fluke but I found it! And of course I left my student card, too.
We had actually met two thirds of the population of William creek – at the moment three people are living there! Apparently they used to be five but two couldn’t bare the crowds anymore and moved away recently.
In the literal middle of nowhere we stopped for some group shots and built a memorial made of one rock for each group member at the side of the road.
Crossing the dog fence a couple more times we approached Coober Pedy, the opal city. 80% of the worlds opals are found here, and 80% of the people live in dug-outs rather than normal houses. Inside those caves the temperature stays at a constant 21 degrees whereas outside temperatures vary from -5 in winter to 55 degrees in summer! While mining in town is not permitted anymore, people still try to find opals by officially extending the house which means here digging another room – and obviously if your lucky you find an opal and become rich!
Coober Pedy also made it to the cinema: because of the vast and moon-like appearance of the place movies such as Pitchblack, Mad Max and Red Planet were shot here.
We had fish ‘n chips for lunch and then joined a museum tour where we learned about the history and practice of opal mining. I didn’t know for example that opals a valued according to the number of colours rather than weight or size! Now I know.
After the tour I went for a stroll around the town, not too easy in the heat but I was rewarded with a huge road train stopping right in front of me. Impressive! I also came across this funny sign which makes totally sense as there are about 1.5 million holes in the ground and they never get closed (someone might want to dig deeper).
After dinner we went to the Underground where we played pool and table soccer (a very rare thing in Australia, actually still the only one I’ve seen here down under so far). We slept under ground that night, in bunks dug deep into a hill.
Crossing the worlds longest fence
7am was wake up time today. After a short morning walk we were back in the bus, Kevin hammering down another dirt road, taking a short side track to a dam which was actually unexpectedly nice!
Back on the highway we stopped at the little coal miners town Leigh Creek where all miners live that work in the nearby mine – the largest coal mine in Australia. Enough coal for another 60 to 70 years apparently exists there. Given the amount of coal which is mined each week (a train with 160 carriers carries 10000 tonnes of coal to Pt. Augusta! Weekly!) that’s pretty impressive. In a cafe we taste some bush food, Quandong Milk Shake and pies. Really yummy!
Another stop gets us to meet Talc Alf, an interesting fellow analysing the alphabet and putting a lot of meaning into letters and names … not my kind of cake but interesting. And a short walk around his weird house in the burning sun quickly showed me that living in this heat for as long as he has been living here could easily result in the development of such theories …
Following the famous Oodnadatta track we’re back on a dirt road for the rest of the day. Whenever you come across another car the driver waves, a very nice gesture I find. A short detour took us to the ruins of the town Farina. In the old days they used to have averything like a cricket ground but now only the bakery is still sort of working (well, and sun bathing is possible, too). The pub there is still licenced (you get the licence for a building, not for a person) so any takers?
Driving through vast desert we came past some Kangaroos resting in the shade of the occasional bush, while Kev was taking it a tad easier on the surprisingly well maintained track. Historical highlight of the day was probably the dog fence that we passed. It’s actually the longest fence in the world, winding along 5300 km through South Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. It was built to keep the dingos out of the southern regions. Dingos are the wild dogs in Australia. They all share the same DNA because one pregnant female dog was brought to Australia and so all Dingos are of the same blood. A couple of them can kill 10000 sheep in two weeks so the fence is maintained very well.
Passing a sculpture park with lots of weird constructions we also visited the salt lake Eyrie South (or at least we saw it in the distance) and a mound spring known as The Bubbler. Even spas exist in the middle of the desert!
After sunset we arrived in William creek where we stopped for the night and noticed two flat tyres. Obviously we only had one spare and the jack stopped working, too. But Kev was quite positive to be able to fix it in the morning.
This night everybody slept under the stars and while Kev and I sat next to the fire we listened to the different snoring noises before going to sleep ourselves.
How it all began
After a night at Grace Emily (a pub down the road from our hostel) and just a couple of hours of sleep we got up early to pack our things and waited outside to be picked up at 7am. Still pretty tired it took a while to get used to sitting in a bus, being driven around rather than driving myself. A nice change though! The group was very mixed and obviously we didn’t know any of the others yet. Some seats were empty but in Coober Pedy four more would join us. But that’s another story.
While Suzan was organising the musical background (well done by the way!) Kev told us from time to time about the regions we were driving through or the places we could see to our left and right. It started all pretty green, hills and trees and didn’t look very different to Victorian landscapes at that stage. But we weren’t really far away from Adelaide yet anyway. Leaving the clouds of the city and the sea behind us we were heading into the Flinders Ranges along the B82, blue sky awaiting us at the horizon.
We stopped a few times on the way in little country town like Clare and Laura (which is famous for its ice cream) where we learned more little details like the reason for the very wide roads in those towns (thanks already to Kev for being a really good guide!). We also passed the oldest town in the Flinders Ranges, Melrose.
While it was getting sunnier and warmer Claudia was fighting hard in her sleep, trying to keep her head upright. Pretty funny to watch but when she woke up next we actually swapped seats so she could sleep leaning onto the window. I wasn’t really tired but really exciting, trying to soak up every little bit of impressions along the way.
Kevin was flying low rather than driving and a s a result we lost a couple of swags off the trailer. For those who don’t know Swags (from the Aussie term Swagman), those neat inventions are basically a very sturdy bag of canvas with an integrated foam mat inside and a zip to open. You can but your sleeping bag inside and ready is your weather and dingo proof bed!
To the tunes of the Australian legend INXS we crossed the historically important Goyder Line which was drawn in 19th century by surveyor general George Goyder marking the 250 millimetre rainfall area from the Eyre Peninsula around to the Riverland. According to his report, based on one year of researching the weather conditions of the region, only south of the line farming would be worthwhile. So those patches of land were sold for a much higher price than everything north of the line. Some settlers tried to prove him wrong and farmed the cheap land north of the line – numerous ruins of those farms witness that Goyder was actually right.
In Quorn we toasted sandwiches on a barbie for lunch and had a rest in the park. Quorn used to be a big railway town (the old Ghan stopped there) with 20 massive pubs (normally towns would have rather two or three).
From now on we were following the old Ghan line into the Flinders Ranges. The soil was slowly turning red, bushes and trees became much sparser and the mountains of the Flinders Ranges were already clearly visible. At an Aboriginal art site, the Yourambulla caves at Kangaroo Mountain where Kev explained to us some of the habits and traditions of Aboriginal people in Australia. After another short stop for a quick toilet run (some really ran!) in Hawker we turned off the Highway onto a gravel road, not far away from our destination for today, Parachilna Gorge.
Pretty much everybody must have woken up from their dreams when suddenly Suzan cranked up the volume, AC/DC at their best, and Kev pushed the pedal all the way through the floor. Bang, a first pothole, only to be followed by sounds that convinced me that we would need more than this one Bus (called Dizzy as far as I remember, what a perfect name in that case) to get through seven days of Kev driving. The second bang sounded like all wheels came off at the same time, but we were still driving so I guess not yet … shooting over a hill I’m sure we were airborne for a while and the loud Whoooaaaah from behind only increased Kev’s effort to destroy the coach! But he was clearly enjoying himself a lot (so was I, would have liked to drive myself, though) and eventually we actually made it to the campsite, an old tuberculosis station where we had a great BBQ for dinner and sat around the fire before Suzan, David, Kev, Claudia and I slipped into our swags to enjoy a night in the Outback under the stars (and what stars I can tell you, amazing! Although the bright full moon spoiled the view a bit).
A tad late but here’s finally the last missing bit of our road trip is covered. Funny enough it’s the first week!
Wow, one week has gone by already! It feels like we started the engine of our Wicked camper named ‘Murdoch’ just yesterday …
A week full of excitement and fun, but I should start telling the story from the very beginning, right? Okay, back to last Tuesday. Having finally packed my things for the big trip we went to Footscray to pick up one of the famous Wicked Camper Vans. Two seats, a bed in the back, gas stove, cutlery and saucepans, and even camping chairs and a table for outside, packed into a groovy Toyota Hiace – this would be our home for the next week. Waving good-bye to Steve, we headed west for the first round of our Tour Down Under 2008!
We reached Geelong without any trouble and even found an Aldi to shop for supplies such as Gewuerz Spekulatius and other yummy items. At that point Claudia decided to have a go in left-hand traffic … well, lets say, it takes some time to get used to driving left and having the indicator on th eright side of the steering wheel. Thank good the pedals are the same! Anyway, after some minor traffic hazards caused by a crazy Wicked Camper we came to this bit where we weren’t quite sure where to go and Claudia decided to take the straight lane – at least with the wheels on the right side of the car. Yelling “Randstein, Randstein” at the top of my voice couldn’t avoid the unavoidable: The front left tyre hit the kerb pretty damn hard and a few metres further we could hear this unpleasant “pfffttttt” …. thank god there was gas station just across the road and we had a spare tyre with us, too. Half an hour and a lot of laughter later we continued the journey towards the ocean. What a start! Not even half way into the first day and already a breakdown!
But it should stay the only one for this very first day and we reached Bells Beach at the Great Ocean Road shortly after nightfall. We still had some pasta left from lunch so we didn’t even have to cook but rather slipped into our warm sleeping bags (it was freezing cold!).
The next day started like the first: A car failure. This time it was rather my fault as I had trusted the battery too much and left my mp3 player plugged in all evening – too much for old Murdoch. We took it easy then and had a looong breakfast before a friendly couple from Melbourne gave us a jump start and we drove on along the coast to the 12 Apostels where we just missed the sunset and parked the car on top of Gibsons Steps which lead down to one of the secluded beaches. They’re officially closed but we took a stroll down to the beach anyway and decided that this would be the perfect location for breakfast the next day.
After visiting all the other arches and rock formations along the coast we headed up inland towards the Grampians. I still had an unfinished project there to deal with … it’s still unfinished but we still had two exciting days there, a totally bogged car (ooops, my fault) and a poor wallbie caught in a fence, and of course some good climbing.
The last couple of days were spent driving along the beaches south of Adelaide, on the beautiful Fleurie Peninsular. All the beaches were deserted, and it was still rather cold but that should change as soon as we arrived in Adelaide | See the pictures
Hey there! I must have found Australia’s slowest computer ever … hence no pictures or stories yet, but they will follow as soon as the internet gets faster! Hopefully in Alice Springs next week … until then I just wanted tolet you know that everything is going well …
This morning I picked Claudia up from Southern Cross Station and just a moment ago we booked the first tour (an Outback Cruise with Groovy Grapes) and a flight from Alice Springs to Darwin. Tuesday morning we’ll head west to start the Tour Australia! The Red Centre, north, east coast, New Zealand and Tasmania are the rough shape of the things to come. Stay tuned and read all about it here on felixsalomon.net!