The Great Outback Experience

Trip Start Mar 04, 2004
Trip End Jul 02, 2005

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Where I stayed
Yulara Resort

Flag of Australia  ,
Wednesday, April 14, 2004

5:30 am in Alice Springs and I am wedged into a mni-bus with 20 others. We are here for a 6-day Adventure Tours trip from Alice Springs to Adelaide, taking in Uluru, Coober Pedy, the Flinder's ranges and much more. Seated beside me is Noel from England. He's a big lad and I'm in the window seat. This situation lasted for about 30km, which was when my knee started getting sore and I bailed out to the only open single seat. While the others moved seats during the next six days I hung on tenaciously to my seat, only moving when it was my turn to share the front for half a day with Matt, our guide.
The main event of the first day was King's Canyon. It was hot out, but not brutal. Matt said once he had been on top of the King's Canyon walls and the thermometer was about to burst at 51C. That's crazy to be walking in. The hike started with a 100m vertical climb. This confirmed for me that most backpackers aren't really outdoors people. I was surprised to see how out of shape some of my fellow travellers are. I don't really understand how you can be out of shape and enjoy a country to its fullest. Certainly New Zealand cannot be truly experienced by someone who can barely make it up a 100m climb or who feels that a 6km walk is a 'killer'. I'm not trying to be elitist, it was just interesting to note. Gives me a better insight into why I have found so many tours to be so lacking in challenge.
King's Canyon involved a walk around the top and a descent into the aptly named Garden of Eden. The garden is actually a water hole and its associated stream that runs through the canyon, bringing life in an otherwise harsh environment. The swim in the water hole was divine. WIth the soaring cliffs on either side and the knowledge of the sun-baked landscape just out of eyesight, it feels like a secret privelege to swim there.
The bus has ridiculuously small seats and none of the amenities of the Desert Venturer. For me it was a living example of relative deprivation. We spent the night camping at Yulara Resort, near to Uluru.
Another early morning, but no worries cause the second day was the star-studded one. We were off to see the sunrise at Uluru. Uluru is the Aboriginal name for Ayer's Rock and I think as more people visit there, the name Uluru will eventually replace Ayer's Rock. I wanted to climb the Rock but early in the morning the climb was closed due to wind. This happens a lot. Also the Anangu people really really dislike it when you climb the Rock. Instead Noel and I walked around the entire base of Uluru. We were at a good spot when the sun came up and got to see monolith change colours and hues, glowing in the seconds before the sun came fully up. I was awestruck by the sense of contained power emanating from Uluru. I took a lot of photos. The subject matter was literally and figuratively too big to fit into the frame. The entire base of Uluru is is dotted with sights of significance to the Anangu people. Matt explained to us how most of the sights, like most of the Aboriginal culture, is separated into men's business and women's business. There is a high level of secrecy so that the other sex usually has no idea what is going on at a given ceremony.
After the walk we headed about 30km north to Kata Tjuta (silent T) which is also called the Olga's. This is a series of 36 huge rocks that looks a bit like heads. The were formed by a whole bunch of boulders being glued together by clay. This area is apparently more sacred than Uluru and is reputedly only used for men's business such as secret initiations and punishments. All Matt knew about the punishment system is that it often involves getting jabbed in the leg with a sharp spear. The Valley of the Winds, besides being a romantic and evocative name, is is great 8km walk to do. We also saw some camels lounging in the shade, making use of the hidden waterholes at Kata Tjuta.
Once the walk was completed we raced to the Uluru sunset viewing area. Not exactly tranquil as there were 30 tour buses there, each one setting up tables with chilled champagne, crackers and cheese. Matt brought along some budget champagne for us, and we mingled with the rich Japanese tourists. When magic hour came, well, frankly, we got screwed. Just as Uluru was beginning to change colour a low bank of clouds rolled in and shut off the light show. I suppose this means I will have to come back some day.
16th April: Up at 4:30am for an 800km drive. Ouch, this was not fun. I did manage to get caught up on my current events as I tore through 5 up0to-date TIME magazines, an adventure mag and one examining the veracity of the claims put forward in the best-seller The Da Vinci Code. I got to know Luke, Andy and Marcus from Oxford, who gave me tips on buying 'genuine fakes' in Malaysia and where to find MP3 CDs for 80 pence. We arrived in the late arvo (Aussie for afternoon) at Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world. We stayed at a hostel that was cut into an opal mining mountain. In fact, the whole town is built on top of an opal field. First up was a mine tour and explanation of the unique underground architecture of the town, which was necessitated by the lack of wood and the fact that everyone was drilling holes anyway. Using the last rays of the sun we went noodling, which means sifting big piles of rock to try and find opal. After everyone left, including the bus and guide, I was still up to my elbows in dust and grit hunting my fortune. I did manage to find a fair-sized piece but sadly it turned out to be the worthless kind. I still think it looks cool. That night we had a pizze dinner and Niels the Dutchman somehow convinced me that it would be okay to eat until it hurt. Oh well, I'm never one to turn down food. Incidentally, Neils and I had fantastic poltical and strategic discussions the entire trip. Makes me remember how much I enjoy those subjects and people to debate them with.
Next day another long journey of 700km to the Flinder's Ranges. Australia is very big country and you realize it the most in the outback. The whole way the five Dutch travel agents were yelling "SKIPPY!!" in unison everytime they spotted a kangaroo or wallaby. We stopped at pure white salt lake on th way, which I was keen to run out onto until Matt told us is was used as a bombing range by the Aussie Air Force and still have live bombs lying around. Bizarrely, there was no sign indicating this.
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