The Outback

Trip Start Nov 12, 2004
Trip End Aug 28, 2005

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Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Outback! Crocodile Dundee country!

We flew out from Melbourne to Alice Springs and it didn't take long
for the Victoria cloud to clear and for us to get an amazing view of
the outback at 32,000 feet! It's all red with not a soul, road, house
or town for hundreds of miles.

Alice Springs was a funny place. It's probably one of the most famous places in Australia yet it's smaller than Ware (or Arlesey for you Bedfordshire folk) with a population of about 25,000. Apart from a couple of supermarkets and an array ot tourist shops there isn't really a great deal here.

The climate here is also completely different - hot, dry and dusty in the day, yet bitterly cold at night and first thing in the morning.
We did go to a couple of really interesting places and we did buy
ourselves the ultimate Australian souvenir - a didgeridoo! You can
all have a go when you come to our house!

Our hotel was more of an apartment. It was a luxury to have a private bathroom, a sofa and (get this!) a TV!! We spent most evenings curled up watching Neighbours/Blue Healers and even Jamies School Dinners!

Anyways, we paid a visit to the Royal Flying Doctor service. Remember that really bad Aussie soap of the 80's called the Flying Doctors? Well, it's all real (kinda). We got an insight into how the service works, had a nose into the control room where 2 planes were out - one tranferring a patient from Alice to Adelaide for specialist care, and another on a life or death emergency. The service is run completely on donations and it's incredible when you see just how vital the service is to the people of the Outback and the Northern Territory.

The next day we headed out of town a bit to the Alice Springs Desert Park, basically a nature reserve set up to show people how life exists in such a harsh climate and the different areas and habitats that make up "the desert". Fascinating stuff, especially contemplating how the Aboriginies have managed to exist out here for so many thousands of years.

On our last day in Alice, we decided to hire a car and head out to the West MacDonnell Ranges, the mountain range that runs either side of Alice Springs. First stop was Simpsons Gap, a gorge forged into the rock by a river that hardly ever runs, over thousands and thousands of years. The echo down there was great and the size of the rock face was impressive- we even saw a rock wallaby hopping about in some of the rockfall debris! Next was the Standley Chasm. It was a long walk scrabbling over rocks but when we got there it was great. The walls of the chasm
glowed red in the sunlight and it was strange to emerge at such a
place after trekking through forest to get there.

We stopped at several more places, but the most notable were the
Ormiston Gorge and the Ochre Pits. The Ormiston gorge was a stunning waterhole surrounded by mountains and eucalyptus trees. In the summer it's a popular swimming spot but in the winter the water is bitterly cold so we weren't tempted. The Ochre Pits is an area where the Aboriginies would get their Ochre paints to decorate themselves for ceremonies and to paint. The colours are really vivid and they came off really easily just by running a finger along the surface of the rock.

The following morning we left Alice bright and early to make our long
bus journey to Uluru (Ayers Rock). We made a couple of stops along the way, at one place buying a piece of Aboriginal art from a local artist. We got our first glimpse of Uluru when we were still about 70 miles away (that's how flat it is out here!) and it was really
impressive. The patterns and lines in the rock were really soft and
smooth, not harsh and jagged like a regular mountain.
Ayers Rock Resort (where everyone HAS to stay) is cleverly hidden in amongst the sand dunes, so it can barely be seen from the road. The hotel that we were in (The Lost Camel) was really modern and funky. No TV though - bit of a running joke there amongst the staff of the resort (Where are the tellys? With the camel!) but it was pretty luxurious - especially by backpacker standards!

On our first evening there, we climbed a sand dune just in time to set the sun setting around Uluru. A spectacular sight - one that just has to be seen!

Day 2 and we decided it was about time we stretched our legs again, so we embarked on the 9.4km (6 mile) walk around the base of Uluru. It was hot and dry and the flies were persistant (thank heavens for my dorky yet indespensible flynet!) but what a FANTASTIC experience. It took us 2 and a half hours and it was just as well I had my flynet otherwise I would have swallowed a lot of flies - my mouth was agape pretty much the whole time. Being so close to such a famous sight, and one that I've been looking forward to for so long was incredible.

We had a couple of hours vegging by the pool before it was time to get myself glammed up ready for our "Sounds of Silence" dinner that evening. We were collected by bus at 5pm and driven out to a private viewing point for the sunset where we had champagne and canapes (including crocodile and kangaroo, both of which I tried, along with sushi which is actually quite nice!). After the sun had set, we were led down to the dining area where we were served unlimited wine and a fantastic dinner of Aussie delicacies while the night sky unfolded around us. All of a sudden we looked up at the sky to see the most spectacular, 3 dimensional array of stars that we have ever seen. The waiters then blew out all the candles and we were in pitch darkness in the middle of the desert surrounded by these stars. An astronomer then came out to show us the milky way, all the constellations of the zodiac (which can be seen in the southern hemisphere) and the Southern Cross (the Aussie equivalent of The Plough - everyone knows it!) We then got the
opportunity to look up at the planets through her telescopes where we saw Jupiter and Saturn, and got a closer look at the gadzillions of stars in the Milky Way. It was just the best evening - one that we'll remember forever.

Gluttons for punishment that we are, the next morning we were up at 3.15 (that is not a mistype - 3.15am) to get ready for a coach trip
out to Kings Canyon. I was all set to do the base walk of the Canyon but somehow got persuaded to do the rimwalk, so after 5 hours sleep and 4 hours on the road, I found myself hiking up 500 uneven, rocky steps to the top of the Canyon, and then rock scrabbling my way along the 7.4km track. It was so worth it though. The views from the top were amazing and I feel really proud to be able to say that I climbed a Canyon! I wasn't even the last one back to the bus!

The next morning we had a well deserved long lie in, vegged by the
pool a bit more and then headed out late afternoon to the Olgas (or
Kata Tjuta). Kata Tjuta is the less famous part of the Ulura - Kata
Tjuta national park, but it's just as spectacular. It consists of 36
rock domes protruding from the sand. We took a walk between 2 of the domes in the centre of the Olgas before heading back to catch the sunset. Unfortunately it was really cloudy so the sunset didn't happen!

The next morning we awoke to find it was chucking it down with rain!
Typical - hasn't rained here since last September! Trust it to appear
when we're here! Still, at least we got to see all the amazing
sights. Many people are only here for 1 or 2 days - imagine landing
thinking you're in for 2 days guaranteed blazing sun to find it peeing

Time to move on again - this time we're off to Cairns in the tropical
north. More sun, possibly a bit more rain, but another chapter! This
book seems to be getting to the end very fast. Let's make sure we
enjoy every paragraph eh?!
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