Ghan to Alice and Outback Tour

Trip Start Sep 28, 2003
Trip End Sep 29, 2004

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Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Well I was back on the train again. I had kind of got used to all the train travel by now, especially having done 5 days already. However this journey was to be a bit different, because it was on "The Legendary Ghan"!

The main difference being that because the Ghan has only recently opened (earlier this year) it is extremely popular (with Australians as well as us tourists). This meant that EVERY seat was taken. I soon realised that this was not going to be quite as comfortable as the Indian Pacific. Even though the Ghan is thought to be new, the carriages most definately were not. The seats were older and had footrests that dug into my ankles. The seats were not perfect for the average 6'5" frame like my own. I may have mentioned this for the Indian Pacific but I will mention it again here. I used a piece of cord I had with me, to tie the footrest up and as out of the way as possible. On the Indian Pacific doing this just prevented the rest from falling out of its "stowed position" onto my ankles. On the Ghan it is a must - the end result is uncomfortable, but not as bad as without tieing it up!

As every seat was taken, there was no way to spread out a bit also this meant that the buffet and lounge cars were extremely busy. This mean that my journeys on the Ghan were not really going to be comfortable and it did not take me long to come up with the possibility of flying from Darwin to Sydney to save 3 days on the train, however I made a decision in the end to carry on as the rail pass I had bought meant that it was all paid for.

When I got on the train I had pretty quickly been asked by an English chap sitting next to me, if I would mind swapping seats with his wife so that they could sit together. This wasn't too much of a sacrifice, the only effort being to shift all of my carry-on bags to the next seat. The guy who I swapped seats for bought me a can of beer to thank me. I ended up sitting next to another English chap (I wasn't the only one)called Jeff. He was to do a similar thing to myself, planning to spend one week in Alice before continuing on the Ghan upto Darwin. We ended up heading to the same hostel (the YHA) in Alice Springs.

However - back to the train. Fortunately they seemed to have a different set of films on this train, so we were not stuck with the same ones again as we had been on the Indian Pacific. When we got there Jeff suggested we walk to the hostel, as it looked close on the map. We did not however account for the temperature being a fair bit warmer here. Cannot remember what it was exactly, but it was a fair bit warmer than Adelaide.

By the time we had walked up the platform to collect our bags and then back down most of the length of the train to get out of the station, we had walked a long way and were pretty hot. Nevertheless we carried on and eventually got to the YHA about half an hour later.

The YHA was pretty good, with some individual bathrooms quite near the dorm we were in. It was laid out around a swimming pool and communal outside area, the hostel was also pretty central to the town centre. I had already booked the trip that I was going to go on from Alice. This was a 3 day tour with a company called Wayoutback ( Wayoutback are one of the few companies that have much smaller groups and also travel in LandCruisers which allow access to the unsealed roads. I had hoped to be able to go on the Wayoutback 5 day day safari, but unfortunately, there were no spaces on a 5 day that I could fit into the week I was in Alice for.

Neil and Kell (housemates from Sydney) were actually getting on the train that I got off to continue their journey upto Darwin. I met up with them for a while and they told me about what they had been upto in Alice, also about Ayers Rock. I got some food with them at their hostel, while they prepared for the off, and got a lift back into town as they headed for the train.

I spent the rest of the day getting some food from a cafe and then I met Jeff later for a few beers at a (oh no!) English style theme pub.

So I was up early the next day to be collected for the tour at 6.10. Along came the Wayoutback Troopie (Aussie slang for Troop Carrier). Our guide, Sauce jumped out, and introduces himself. Sauce did not look like the most likely guide with his long hair and beard, but he definetely proved himself on the trip. There were also a group of four other people being picked up for this trip from the YHA. We spent the next 10 minutes or so running about Alice to pick up the final two people for the trip from Alice. We were to collect a couple from Uluru resort, when we got there later today. Without the final couple there were 6 Germans and myself, Sauce soon suggested that the Germans try to speak English as much as possible to make sure that him and myself were not left out too much.

Our first destination was very nearby, it was Anzac hill which overlooks Alice Springs. Here the tickets and National Park entry fees were to be collected, before the trip proper begins, there were also hot drinks and biscuits available. There were two other trips being administrated here at the same time. One of these was the Wayoutback 5 day tour and the second was The Wildway tour. Wildway is a sister company to Wayoutback, offering a cheaper trip that has a very similar itinery, however the groups are generally larger and typically use a Coaster bus for transport.

On our way to Uluru (Ayers Rock) we stopped at a couple of places. The first was a Camel farm where many camel based things were available. From Camel rides around a yard (didn't look too exciting) to Camel burgers (gave that a miss also) but they also serve egg and bacon sandwiches (this I did have). I thought I had seen loads of other tours taking place on the West Coast, however this was tour city, with 6 or 7 coaster buses pulling in here just after us.

We also stopped at a couple of roadhouses on the way. One called Mt Ebenezer, which was run by the Aboriginal community. There was a great art gallery here with original aboriginal artworks, and I really wish I had bought some now, because the quality was just great and after this I didn't see any of a similar quality or price again. Particularly not where the money would go directly to the community that produced it. We also stopped at another roadhouse to buy some beer and wine for the trip. On the way Sauce teased us byasking who had seen Ayers Rock. (There was a huge red rock - not too dissimilar from Ayers rock, in the distance.) Then he explained that it was in fact Mt Connor - not even close to Ayers Rock.

We arrived at our first campsite for lunch and Sauce went to pick up the final couple for the trip from the nearby Uluru Resort. Uluru is the Aboriginal name for Ayers Rock. In the afternoon, we went to the the Uluru Culture Centre. This is run by the Anangu Aboriginal tribe within whose land the rock lies.

The Anangu people ask you to respect their views by not climbing the rock itself, although you may still do so if you wish. They have various sacred sites around Uluru. However the main reason that they ask you not to climb is that they get very upset when someone is hurt while climbing the rock.

All of our group decided not to climb the rock itself, although Sauce did not try to persuade us one way or the other. I have heard from others who did climb, that the view is fantastic, however it is a hard climb.

Instead of climbing the rock, we all walked around the base of it. Sauce pointed out a few "highlights" at the start, before leaving us to complete the walk. There were several interesting different features on the surface of the rock, such as dents in the shape of a vast pair of lips. Around many of these areas were signs asking us not to take photos of sections of the rock, these were some of the Aboriginal Sacred Sites and similar.

When we completed the walk, we were taken to the Sunset Viewing point for Ayers Rock. As you may imagine, there are lots and lots of coach parties here. (Cars go to a slightly different viewing point you see on the way.) One of the differences with our tour is that we got Champagne to watch the sunset with. You didn't see any of the coaster bus tour groups with Champagne - well... sparkling wine. We returned to the campsite where the swags came out, and we all sat on our swags while eating our dinner. We also enjoyed toasted marshmallows and beers (but not at the same time).

The next morning we saw the sunrise from a different viewing point. The actual platform is around 40 km's from Ayers Rock, but it is adjacent to The Olgas (or Kata Tjuta - Aboriginal name). Unfortunately our group wasn't the quickest to get up and out, so we were not quite the first group there, in fact we were probably the last. So we didn't get the best vantage point. However the view was still not bad and also the Olgas (our destination that day) looked very impressive. We were first to leave however, this was partly due to the fact that Sauce had told us that if we were not first to the next stop which has toilets, there would be huge queues from the bigger tours. I think that this was the only time on the three day trip that everyone moved quite as quickly as they did.

After our toilet stop (when we narrowly beat 20 or so others to the toilets) we headed down the road to the Olgas. This was an amazing walk through the middle of a collection of huge boulders.

I am pleased that Sauce found us able to do the whole 7.4k walk rather than a shorter walk. The scenery here was amazing and I enjoyed this walk much more than the one around the rock. As many of the trips from Alice are three days long with the same basic itinery, you tend to see the same faces at the different places you go to. Among other groups on the walks - we saw both of the other groups that had been doing ticketing at Anzac Hill the previous morning.

We then headed back to our camp at Uluru and quickly had lunch before heading over to Kings Creek Station. The drive over to Kings Creek was two or three hours and took us back towards Alice. We had a relaxing early evening enjoying our next campsite, which was right out the back of the Cattle Station, at least a kilometre from where the other tours stay.

It was not long before we had cracked the beers open again and we were soon starting to enjoy the two unusual features of this particular campsite. Firstly the bush toilet. A flushing toilet in such a remote location was a bit of a novelty. This was Rolls Royce of bush toilets. To qualify as a bush toilet though, this particular dunny, did not have a door. This allowed you to see the bush while letting nature take its course, an interesting experience.

The second surprise at this camp location was the bush shower. Running with the theme of the bush toilet they had also forgotten to put a door on. Still even the idea of having the view did not compensate for the thought of a cold shower. It was then that we discovered that the toilet had its own, wood burner powered boiler. So when we took it in turn to head to the shower, we each took our own little pile of wood. This shower was awesome, absolutely the most memorable shower I took in Australia.

We enjoyed another meal cooked on the campfire and more marshmallows before turning in for the night. The next morning, while clearing up someone discovered that they were missing a torch, that they had laid by their swag overnight. Sauce had a look around and asked anyone if they had lost some tissues. He found a few bits of tissue a hundred metres or so, from where we had slept. Indeed someone had lost some. Sauce then mentioned that he had seen a dingo hanging about near the camp overnight and that the dingo had probably taken the torch as well as the tissues.

On this our final day, we were going to head to Kings Canyon. There is a walk up to the top of the canyon where you walk around the edge of the canyon. The walk started with a climb up Heart-Attack Hill. A steep hill worthy of its name, however thank goodness steps had been carved into the side making the ascent a bit easier.

The views at the top were amazing, but soon Sauce got us moving again to continue our walk. At the very start of the tour someone had asked if we would get to see Koalas on this trip. Sauce had said that he would see what he could do, and it wasn't long before Sauce was pointing out a specific type of tree, explaining it as the type of tree that we may see one of the famous Kings Canyon Koala's in. Then he pointed "Look.... just up there a koala!", we had been hoodwinked. A previous guide had put a toy Koala about three inches high at the top of a tree. It was then that we found out that Koalas live nowhere near the red centre and there was absolutely no chance of seeing a real one.

We continued on the walk and the views and different rock formations were absolutely mind-blowing. Though the highlight of this particular walk was the Garden of Eden. This is a waterhole slap bang in the middle of the Canyon, surrounded by high rock walls. After seeing all of the rocky desert scenery it was a little oasis, surrounded by lush greenery. Noone from our group chose to take a dip. It had not been so long since we had got up in the freezing cold and even though we had warmed up a bit, no one felt like plunging into the chilly pool.

There were more amazing views as we continued our trip around the rim and back towards the car park. It was sad to be heading back to Alice Springs, as I think you start to get to know each other in a group after a few days and it seemed strange that it was nearly over. However Sauce still had an ace up his sleeve. This was something that I had been previously tipped off about by a friend who had come through this way a few months before me.

Dinky the Singing Dingo!

Dinky lives at a roadhouse called the Stuart's Well Roadhouse - also known as Jim's Place, 90km's south of Alice on the Stuart Highway. Jim rescued him from a Dingo Cull as a puppy, a few years back. Simce then Dinky has made a bit of a name for himself. He used to howl when Jim's daughters practiced the piano and it was not long before dinky took an interest in the piano himself walking up and down the keyboard, howling along to the "music". Well we were lucky neough to get a demonstration.

Dinky collects for the Royal Flying Doctors and we donated some money after hearing and seeing this most amazing dingo. Dinky was rewarded with a small ice cream by the owner for his efforts.

However we were back on the road again and Sauce proposed that we met for a drink and a meal at a place in town called the Sport's Bistro. Sauce actually is part owner of the Bistro, we went along with his reccomendation and all met up there for a post trip drink and also an enjoyable meal.

In the next entry, Snakes, Camels and choosing a Top-end trip!
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