Apparently you haven't seen the real Australia until you've seen the red centre, so at considerable expense I was going to spend the next 7 days doing just that. Despite looking at endless options there's no-way around that fact that it's expensive to get to, and in the end rather than flying we opted for a 3 day, ball breaker of a coach journey from Cairns to Alice Springs. We left Cairns at a ridiculous 6am and most of day 1 was a long boring bus journey with nothing of interest to see - I was starting to think I'd made the wrong decision taking the bus. In the afternoon we made a stop at the Prairie hotel pub which was in the middle of nowhere and was a very quirky little pub. I couldn't understand a word of the outback slang the bartender was saying but successfully managed to obtain a couple of beers. He also had camels, buffalo and emu's in his back garden so that was a bit different from the Field Head back home.
That night we stopped in a place called Hughenden, which is famous for its excavated dinosaur and it's big model of Hughie the dinosaur in the town centre. We had a buffet tea their including chicken wings and spaghetti bolognese. Given the towns population of 600 there was no other option but to drink with the locals that night before I clambered for some sleep given the 6am rise again the following morning. The other outback note to make at this stage was that warm water comes out of the cold tap - I'd have killed for that in some of the hostels in Thailand but in this heat I was longing for the cold tap to work.
Day 2 and we were back on the road again very early in the morning. Shane our driver had taken to playing a really annoying Aussie song called 'G'day, G'day' to us that he promised would get stuck in our heads by the end of the trip (..and it did!). By mid morning we'd arrived in the town of Winton, named after the celebrity national lottery presenter Dale Winton. Winton's famous for 4 specific things including the birthplace of Qantas airways, holding the record for the longest road train ever at 36 trailers long (which has been subsequently been beaten by an 84 trailer long road train elsewhere in the country), the great sheep shearer strikes from the last century and also for being where Banjo Patterson wrote the Aussie anthem Waltzing Mathilda
. Now I always thought that Waltzing Mathilda
was about some bird called Mathilda being waltzed about by some bloke, but no this isn't the case. The song's about a bloke who stole a sheep, but sheep stealing was an offence punishable by a lifetime of hard labour in them days, so when he saw the rozzers coming to get him he shot himself in the head. A Mathilda is what a sleeping bag used to be called and waltzing is the side to side motion of a wanderer carrying a Mathilda. Interesting huh? Oh and it has a population of 650.
After Winton we stopped of at a couple of lookouts including one called the 3 sisters (called Mary, Maude and Kate - Kate looked familiar) and these were impressive in a grand canyon stylee. We then stopped of for a BBQ lunch at a cattle shed which was a bit different from my usual BBQ locations. In the afternoon we stopped of in a place called Middleton, whose population is a whopping 6. Despite this it had a pub, football stadium and a Hilton Hotel. After Middleton we headed to our stop for the night, the Wirrilyerna cattle ranch in the shire of Boulia. Now this was a relatively small ranch but I thought it was massive, but apparently there are some ranches in Australia that are as big as The Netherlands, Belgium or Denmark. The bloke who owned the ranch was also the local publican, the butcher and the mayor of Boulia - talk about job sharing.
After catching the sun setting into the middle of nothing we had dinner by the campfire, spaghetti bolognese, followed by dessert which Mary their pet kangaroo enjoyed with us. While I was sitting by the fire I got chatting to a girl called Lynn from Leicester and after a bit I noticed that she kept looking at my feet. Now I was aware that I'd spilt some ketchup on my toes at lunch that I hadn't bothered to clean of yet so I assumed she was analysing my unhealthy level of hygiene, but eventually she piped up with "Do you want to be in a book?". She went on to explain that she was a photographer and was writing a book called 'Itchy Feet' and that she wanted to photograph me and my feet for the book. Cool I thought and I've always been up for having my feet in a book (??) so she went ahead and shot me. Once the book is out I will be expecting many more calls for moddeling work from the likes of Armani, Versace and Clarks shoes so watch this space.
Day 3 and all 34 of us were up before 5am to catch the sunrise. Nothing that spectacular and I took much more interest in my towel I was using as a magic pillow on the bus. En route to Alice Springs we stopped at a 5 metre tall termite mound and a small park for lunch where the bus broke down, but Shane managed to fix it within 2 hours - phew, didn't fancy being stuck in the backend of nowhere for longer than necessary. We also entertained ourselves with a game of on bus tenpin bowling. Some coach drivers would have told us to buckle up and stay sat down while the bus was moving, but Shane had us all up and playing tenpin bowling for the prize of a cuddly Koala. By the end of the trip Shane had turned into a bit of a legend and even posed for our Aussie Tigers picture.
We finally arrived in Alice Springs at 6pm but after the pre 5am start, all I could do was have a quiet night in as we were due to be up at 6am the following morning for our tour around Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Day 4 started by getting on board yet another bus for the long journey to the town of Yulara. Our group was a lot smaller than the previous group from Cairns to Alice, but it included three girls we'd met on the previous tour, Jessica, Ana, and Madeleine, so we had a few familiar faces on board. After a couple of hours driving we arrived at a rest stop where the main highlight was $5 camel rides. Too cheap to pass up, I was soon on board a camel and trotting away down the track. On the return to the stable the camel broke out into a run which although only lasted for about 20 seconds, I'm sure it battered by nads black and blue - I take my hat of to all the explorers who traveled by camel for days on end.
After having lunch at our base camp, we then went on a gorge walk through the middle of Kata Tjuta. Kata Tjuta and Uluru are both massive rock formations and considered sacred places by the Anangu people (an aboriginal tribe) and are both really impressive to see. After the gorge walk and a wander around the Anangu cultural centre, we headed of to Uluru (a.k.a. Ayres Rock) to see sunset. Uluru is the biggest rock in the world and with the onset of sunset the rock changes various colours from a vibrant orange, to a deep red to almost a purple colour. I celebrated sunset with a beer while quite a few of the parties around us were toasting sunset with a glass of champagne - gotta stick to your roots.
That night rather than beds we slept in swags which are similar to sleeping bags but a bit more mattressy. This was a real highlight of the trip for me, lying under the millions of stars, all of them incredibly clear and you could even make out the milky way and some of the bigger planets. The following morning I woke up at 4.45am without surprisingly being bitten half to death by insects. After breakfast we headed out to Uluru again to see sunrise and then did a 6km base walk around the big rock. From here we traveled the huge distance to our next base camp which was nearer to Kings Canyon. That night we prepared a meal on the camp fire and had ... spaghetti bolognese. Excellent, I'd had spag bol for 3 of the last 5 days but this was made particularly special by a large piece of charcoal which I ate thinking it was just a chunky piece of meat under the bad light conditions.
On day 6 we were yet again up before 6am to go walking around Kings Canyon. Like a little grand canyon this place was pretty cool but I'd seen grander places in Australia. Good exercise nonetheless. From Kings Canyon it was a big old journey right back to Alice Springs and after 6 days I was looking forward to a day off from sitting in a coach for most of the day. Back in Alice we got together for dinner with some others from our group and I had Camel pie (tasty, like a leaner version of beef) and tried some Emu sausage (nice but heavily seasoned so still not quite sure what Emu tastes like). We then carried on drinking in Alice with Jessica, Madeleine, Ana and Gavin, including a bar where they have a live web cam and you can get people from back home to buy you drinks via their website. If only I'd had my mobile with me as I'd have been onto you all to get me a drink.
Day 7 was our last day in Alice. I didn't really find a great deal to do or see in Alice Springs without a car so I spent my time productively lazing by the pool for 8 hours. When the 8 hours was up I was back on my now favourite mode of transport - the coach - for a 22 hour journey north to Darwin - woohoo!!
The outback was an amazing place and although a tourist trap it isn't the same as the more commercial places on the east coast. I'd recommend to anyone to go there and not miss out this part of Oz.