Travelling & Alice Springs – day 320/10

Everyone else thought that someone else on the road trip had written today’s blog. It was only once catching up on blog photos and getting the remaining blogs from Tracey back in Melbourne that we realised the truth. Thus, it is with a great deal of pain and guilt that I am writing this blog a considerable amount of time after Monday the 22nd of August. It is however a fortunate circumstance that nothing happened on that day and there’s not much to remember (or write about). 
We left Kings Canyon with Tracey having seen a wild Dingo pass near by the motel rooms. Katherine and I weren’t so fortunate so we had our eyes peeled to the sides of the road on our way back to Alice Springs. The only ‘wild’life we saw were the emus at Erldunda Roadhouse. A family with two kids were entertaining themselves by teasing the birds and we considered frightening the dad the next time he swooped in to pinch an emu. Mum found it hilarious but we left without scaring dad or kids. 

Back at Alice Springs we didn’t have a trip to a kangaroo sanctuary planned, so we had to console ourselves with other plans for the evening. Firstly though, Tracey returned the car to the airport and found out we had done almost 3,000kms in the 10days driving. Well worth every kilometre. Secondly, we were all in desperate need of a few clean clothes. Well, a lot of clean clothes. 
So, after a few hours of chores and time spent reconnecting with the social network world we had… Pizza! 2x bottles of wine (for the 2 Ninjas), Dominoes (pizzas and cheesy garlic breads) and we were unwinding from days of driving, sore asses and not being able to hear each other (me) when in the car. Plus, we got to listen to and mock the trivialities of modern youths on the opposite table and watch one gentleman take 2hours, seriously no joke, to take chicken off a roast chicken and serve it, what for the drum roll, spaghetti and salad. It was painful watching him.

So, went to bed. But, no day or evening is truly complete without being an idiot. When I thought Tracey was returning to the room, I jumped out from behind the wall in the room to try and surprise her. Except it wasn’t her. It was our new Asian roommate. She totally grassed me out for scaring her, Katherine was in hysterics, I was mortified, Tracey wasn’t letting me live it down, but the poor girl I frightened said it was ok coz’ I was cute. So, I went to bed all embarrassed and blushing. 
Monday 22nd August 2016

Kings Canyon – day 319/9

The usual morning routine (incl. breakfast) takes about two hours for the three of us. But, once everything was in order we had a final farewell up at the lookout to Uluru. Still looking like a prop at a pantomime, we couldn’t believe we were here or how beautiful a solitary rock could be. It was a striking image growing further away in distance as we drove back down the highway. 
We stopped at the service station near Mt. Conner lookout. The view from the yard was pretty awesome as we waited for the attendant to come out and unlock the handles. Not connected to the tills inside the shop, the whole transaction is carried out at the pump and we were on our way after more extortionately priced fuel would safely get us to Kings Canyon. At the only other stop en route for the bathroom, there was the most beautiful pet cockatoo in the tree outside the restaurant. Charlie was able to say ‘Hello’ and we contemplated stuffing him under a t-shirt and taking him with us. But, we arrived at Kings Canyon Resort, without our feathered friend and without a booking on the system. Ninjas sorted the whole situation out as I stayed in the car, nobody wanted to unleash the Kraken. 
A breather and a spot of lunch in the room and we headed off for the afternoon. The yawning chasm of Kings Canyon in Watarrka National Park is one of the most spectacular sights in central Australia. Despite the map depicting a steep climb at the beginning of the trail and several AED’s, Emergency Call Radios and First Aid boxes dotted along the route we knew we could do it. The steep climb was the start of the 6km loop of the Kings Canyon Rim Walk. The canyon delivered better views the higher we climbed to the top of the cliff and we weren’t expecting it to get much better than that… but it did. Meandering through the beehive sandstone formations, over plains of rippled sandstone, past trees scorched and twisted from fire and through sections alive with vegetation the walk itself was slow going because we were taking so many photos. Then, we emerged from the honeycomb maze to start viewing the canyon from the middle of a cliff wall and the sheer drop.We traversed the new (and not burned down) metal bridge to Cotterills Lookout. It gave the most impressive view down the canyon with the height giving an eagle view of the creek below. It was also, when viewed from the other side of the rim, undercut and sticking out precariously with very little rock supporting it underneath. That wasn’t a very comforting thought to find out later on. However, until then, ignorance was bliss and the Garden of Eden, down a fleet of stairs was equally blissful. A lush pocket of ferns, prehistoric cycads (plants that have survived from the time of the dinosaurs) and red leaf gum trees surround a tranquil pool. Pooling on top of an impermeable layer of slate, giving life to plants and animals in the area, the pocket of serenity was worth the extra walk down. Tracey and I returned up the stairs to catch up with Katherine who was still recovering from over-doing it with what I think is a cold. We didn’t take as many photos on the last stretch of the walk. Namely we were filling up our memory cards with very similar photos of orange stone, also because it was slowing us down and we could see the storm clouds rolling in on the horizon. Not sure if it was going to hit us or not, the rumbling thunder echoed through the paths and the wind howled, giving a careful warning of what could happen if one was not prepared or cautious. So when we passed a family where the son had twisted his ankle we were eager to help and make sure everyone was down off the walk before any bad weather hit. I had a Panadol in my purse which was greatly appreciated and we caught up with the girls and told them to wait for mum and dad. When everyone was together we promised to wait at the car park until they were down safely. We didn’t do much in the end, but when the rain came and went and they came strolling (and hopping) towards the shaded hut in the car park they were grateful that we waited for them. 

The viewing area for the sunset behind the lodges was cramped and lacking the promised pop-up bar. Everyone milled around watching the canyons in the distance change slowly to a deep red. I have lost the ingenuity to describe the colours in different ways, but imagine that today’s scene was the transformation of an element in a toaster turning from a dull black to a warm orange. These hills changed from a pale yellowy orange with trees and bushes dotted along the slopes to one alive and vibrant, an intoxicating reddy orange that captivated the soul. It was a rare occasion where I was more transfixed with the view cast by the sunset rather than watch the sun set behind the hills and a bright sky. Plus, I didn’t even take a single photo and lived in the moment. Fortunately, Tracey did…Over to the ‘Thristy Dingo’, it was amazing to see how busy the dinner service was. The Ninjas enjoyed their first bottle of wine and I sipped a bit at the fruit cider before taking it back to the room and enjoying it with a film. Roll forward two hours when they stumbled back to the room, ‘Shitfaced’, and regaling tales of heckling the singer and kids coming up to give them goodnight kisses. I don’t know what antics happened and to be honest, what happens in the outback stays in the outback. Kat and I had some noodles and watched poor Tracey convince herself she could watch a film, passing out with Chicken Crimpys and the iPad on her bed. I should have taken it as a sign that Katherine would be the same with her passing out only a few minutes in to an episode of Friends.  

Sunday 21st August 2016

Travelling & Uluru – day 317/7

Having been woken up by the noisy Dutch family in the room opposite and surprisingly not by the night owl Italian man in our dorm room, we were up and ready to start our 400km plus long drive to Uluru. Managed to be out and on the road by 8am, with a quick stop for an ATM, coffee and petrol fill-up, we were on the open road keeping our eyes open for any kangaroo’s that might need rescuing (let’s be honest, we were hoping to find an orphan kangaroo to become our new road trip buddy!!). Tracey drove for the first two hours, enjoying the 130km speed limit on the ‘highway’ (in the red centre – it is a two lane road with no barriers anywhere…). Tracey and I continued singing along to our ‘Australia Road Trip 2016’ playlist whilst Jayne sat in the back, ignoring the sound of the drowning cats, and got on with catching up with blog writing – she is totally my heroine!!

A quick toilet stop at Desert Oaks services which also claims to be ‘The centre of the centre’. Supposedly the closest one can get to the centre of Australia, although even the sign admitted that there are several places across Australia which are also the centre of the centre. Turns out that this service station also had an emu farm with at least half a dozen huge birds milling around in the enclosed area. You could buy food to feed them in the shop so the moment we came close to the edge of the enclosure, we were ambushed by a pack of fierce looking birds with goggly eyes. We were a bit intimidated until we realised that there was a fence between us!! Back on the road, I was now in the driving seat, much to Tracey’s pleasure as the speed limit had dropped to 110km at the most… It felt painfully slow and I caught myself several times creeping towards the 120 on the speedo. It is so easy to lose track of your speed when the road is so straight and the scenery is the same for miles. Tried to be good and follow the Aussie rule of lifting your index finger to acknowledge oncoming vehicles but I missed quite a few. Getting into the stride of things, I managed to finger a police officer before I was promptly ignored by every other motorist on the rest of the journey. 

Arriving at Yulara Resort (the ‘town’ closest to the Uluru and Kata Tjuta rock formations) and tried to check in. Unable to do so until 3pm, we had a picnic lunch in the courtyard of our hotel and then headed over to Uluru to do the base walk. 
Passing through the ranger station to buy our park permits, we drove down the road and were all blown away by the magnificent red rock in front of us. UNESCO site number 53 of our gap year, the sacred rock lies in the traditional lands of the Western Desert Aboriginal people, locally known as Aṉangu. Aṉangu are part of one of the oldest human societies in the world. Uluru is 9.4 km in circumference and rises to a relatively flat top that is more than 340 m above the shallow, red sandy dunes around it. It is truly spectacular, in fact, it looked like it had been superimposed onto a blue sky – it didn’t look real at all as it loomed amongst the desert vegetation.Arriving at the rock, we saw some people climbing it. It seems incredible that despite all the signs and information available about why people shouldn’t climb it, that people still decide to climb this sacred place. Not only do they climb it but they also seem totally inadequately prepared and we saw several people slipping and sliding their way down on the sheer cliff edge. Would have served them right if they had fallen – it’s so disrespectful of the aboriginal culture to this area. 

Starting from the Mala carpark, we escaped the crowds and took the meandering journey through acacia woodlands and grassed claypans. There were plenty of signs to teach us along the way about the diverse plants, animals and geological features of the park. From Kuniya Piti, we followed the snake-like grooves at the base of the rock which were left when the ancestral being Kuniya journey to Mutitjulu waterhole, where we were inundated with people off the day tour from Alice Springs so we didn’t linger to long. I don’t think any of our photos do Uluru justice. We spent about 3.5 hours waking the 10.7km around the the base, although the sections where we weren’t allowed to take photos passed significantly quicker than the sections where we could. Each angle gave us a different glow and perspective on the enormous rock, with its many caves of different sizes and the blackened marks on the rock from algae when the waterfalls cascade during the wet season. Heading back to the resort, Jayne quickly whipped up some dinner for us as we had an early shuttle bus to the ‘Field of Lights’. The art installation is by artist Bruce Munro and consists of more than 50,000 slender stems topped with frosted glass spheres that glow in the darkness. We walked around the pathways that wind through the middle of the installation, which were even more captivating under the dark sky littered with stars and a full moon. Getting advice from the security guard, we headed up to the view point and looked at the installation from above, the moon casting a glow over Uluru – it was spectacular and it is easy to understand why people lose track of time up there and miss there last shuttle bus back to the resort. 

Friday 19th August 2016

Travelling & Alice Springs – day 316/6

Woke up in Wauchope at the Devils Marbles Hotel.

I’d had the best of sleeps, I’d had the worst of sleeps, as the bed was so snuggly and the hotel so quiet, yet the constant fear of sleeping in the gecko drop zone meant I feared waking up covered in geckos screaming “where’s my tail?”

We did the old showers and breakfast routine and were soon on the road….

Long and winding road

…… 11 May 1970, Lennon McCartney 
Well that song was not written about the road from the Devils Marbles Hotel to Alice Springs! It had been discussed earlier that there was a chance of possibly sighting some aliens in the town of Wycliffe Well. 

Wycliffe Well is the UFO capital of Australia and only 12 minutes from the Devils Marbles so off we went dragging Jayne by the hair kicking and screaming as she was more convinced it would be lame as opposed to AMAZING like Katherine and I believed. It turns out it was a mix of both. The locals were clearly milking the aliens for everything they’ve got! It was so bad it was great!! We took the obligatory alien photos as you do and hit the road again. The long tedious drive was made better by mine and Katherine’s excellent car karaoke to our newly put together “Australia Road Trip 2016” playlist on my iPhone. Such classics as “Hangover, Goodluck and Battlefield (now Boulder field due to the rocky scenery), were sung completely in tune and beautifully like a couple of songbirds. Jayne seemed to be so mesmerised by our soulful tunes and pitch perfect renditions of modern pop classics that she promptly put in her headphones and caught up on writing blogs. Oh well, it was her loss…..

I stopped to take a photo at Barrow Creek telegraph station that had nice old brick fences and buildings as they looked nice and I felt that there wasn’t much else to look at during this long tedious drive. We cruised the Stuart Highway like three badass chicks on a legendary road trip, loving the open speed limit i cruised past losers doing 100km per hour. I even shot passed the police of which we had been following for a little while. When we next stopped at a roadhouse to fuel up the police pulled up as well and proceeded to remove a young handcuffed indigenous man for a toilet stop whilst the other officer stood guard by the van with the other prisoner. When they returned him to the van they ordered food for both prisoners and themselves.

Next we detoured to a small community and roadhouse off the Stuart Highway about 135km north of Tennant Creek. This was Aileron. Home to the giant statue on the hill of “Anmatjere Man” which was erected in 2005. At 17 metres tall and weighing 8 tonne he is certainly impressive! He was on that hill for 3 lonely years until he was finally given a family. In 2008 he was given a wife and child that are situated at the base of the hill with a goanna that is on the end of her spear. Up close it was surprising to find that her anatomy was scarily correct and large..

We arrived at the YHA hostel in Alice Springs and checked into our 6 bed female dorm (that had 4 beds and a man)! 

After scoping the establishment we headed off to the supermarket for supplies for the next three days at Uluru/Kings Canyon. We rushed back in anticipation of our trip to the Kangaroo Sanctuary! I knew about the Kangaroo Sanctuary from the BBC mini series called Kangaroo Dundee about Chris ‘Brolga’ Barns who set up a baby kangaroo rescue centre just out of Alice Springs. He nurtures the Joeys like he’s their mother as most of the mummy kangaroos have been killed on the road. There bodies are designed to protect their young even in the pouch where they tense there muscles to protect their newborns from trauma. Due to the BBC documentary, Brolga has received generous donations from around the world to help build and better his sanctuary. He raises most of the kangaroos to be a part of a mob and be released back into the wild together as kangaroos need friends and family to survive. He currently has 15 joeys in his care but only three are available for visitors and educational purposes as they will be staying with him at the sanctuary. The others are kept separate and away from visitors as they need to be released into back into the wild. This experience was quite possibly one of the happiest times in my life and I think it shows, all you have to do is look at the photos. Katherine, Jayne and myself were so excited it was ridiculous. Just getting to cuddle the tiny baby Joeys was amazing.

We made our way back to our coach transfer and headed home to the YHA for a late dinner of tacos and wine. 

 I checked my bunk as I was still recovering from night of the gecko. We headed off to bed exhausted from the night of kangaroo cuteness.

Thursday 18th August 2016

Travelling & Devil’s Marbles – day 315/5

I’m really hoping that today’s blog will be relatively quick and easy to write. It involved a lot of driving, lots of music, and a whole load of fun. 
Leaving the resort by 07:30 we treated ourselves to a coffee at the garage before hitting the highway. There were a few wallabies by the side of the road still enjoying the coolness of the morning and lush vegetation and Tracey saw her first wild dingo. It didn’t appear to be eating any babies. 
About 3km off the highway, after a number of bloated (ready to pop) cows , we had a stop at Daly Waters. An important staging post in the early days of aviation − Amy Johnson landed here on her epic flight from England to Australia in 1930. Just about everyone stops at the famous Daly Waters Pub and we were now part of the posy. Decorated with business cards, bras, banknotes and memorabilia from passing travellers, the pub claims to be the oldest in the Territory (its liquor licence has been valid since 1893). It has become a bit of a legend along the Track, although it may be a bit too popular for its own good. 
Further down the Stuart Highway there was a change of drivers. Katherine was at the wheel and had to learn how to deal with the heat shimmer on the road, the dips in between the visible sections of road and the white blobs of vehicles that one second are far off in the distance and suddenly really close due to the speed and misperceptions of the terrain. She did a sterling job and even overtook a road train (on a bend). Tracey continued to teach the young padawan the tricks of the road and we chewed up a fair distance before lunch. 
Our lunch break was spent slagging off the grey nomads who couldn’t decide what they were doing with their caravan. It was quite painful watching the drama unfold like a bad black & white film. If there was a frying pan handy I would gladly have taken part in the antics. But, Tracey had us back in the car heading south before we lost the plot altogether. Katherine created a playlist and I carried on catching up with blogs in the back. I had to put in headphones at several points with the dodgy karaoke in the front being very loud (and bad). 
The gigantic boulders in precarious piles beside the Stuart Hwy, 105km south of Tenant Creek, are called the Devil’s Marbles. Karlu Karlu is their Warumungu name, and this registered sacred site has great cultural importance. The rocks are believed to be the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent. Stopping at 3 points at the site, the main site has a ’15-minute’ walk that loops around an area – we spent much longer going around marvelling at the granite formations from different angles and trying different camera settings. This geological phenomenon is particularly beautiful at sunrise and sunset, when these oddballs glow warmly. We did sit down for the sunset spectacle, knowing that tonight’s accommodation is only a few minutes down the road and we’d be there before it was dark. Thus, we witnessed the stone change from a rich golden glaze, to a warm terracotta, to a gentle ochre. The disrespectful people climbing all over the rocks took very little away from the majesty of the transformation and when our shadows were as long as the giant formations we were admiring we left. Arriving at the hotel we had completed our 791km journey and finished the longest leg of our road trip. Settling in to the room, the peace was disturbed as Tracey was attacked by a gecko. Rather, it must have been stuck in the air con unit above her head and it only dislodged when the tail fell off… the tail that continued to wiggle on her bed. With hysterics in full swing I disposed of the sadly deceased reptile and gave her the iPad to watch The Inbetweeners. I’m sure all trauma was soon forgotten as she laughed away while we fell asleep.

Wednesday 17th August 2016

Litchfield – day 311/1

We had previously discussed with our room mates the night before what their plans were for the morning. They didn’t seem to mind/care if we were up early and getting ready for the day. Yet, we felt that with tension still in the room from our comments about being married, we thought it was best to prepare. So, in the tight little bathroom showering and changing, there was little point in saying we were clean, but a bit fresher – the bathroom was disgusting and nothing to do with being a girls only dorm room. But, we finished packing in the tv room with Olympics on in the background and I headed to Coles to get brekkie. The walk to the shop was fine, the walk back was ridiculous, with the sun literally peeking over the top of the buildings in the 30mins I was in there and the heat was intense. The big slab of watermelon was perfect and the warnings still didn’t prepare Katherine for the temperature outside on the way to Thrifty. 
Tracey was like an eager puppy waiting for us, looking out the window of Thrifty as we approached the office. There might even have been some wagging, who’s to know. With hugs all round and excitement bubbling, we were a little deflated when told the car was delayed as they were fixing a puncture in the wheel. The car was getting a thorough inspection due to the long distance journey we were taking and we could all have had another hour in bed. I guarded the bags while the ninja twins went across the road to Coles for snacks, lunch and plenty of water. We spoke to the lady behind the desk for a bit and she kept pronouncing the town of Katherine as ‘Kat-er-eye-n’. We were interrupted and sat down to listen to the very stuck up and pretentious French couple who wanted to return and swap their car for one that didn’t have Thrifty written on the side of the vehicle. We did really well not to burst out laughing and before long we were packing our stuff into our rental and hitting the road. 
Leaving Australia’s only tropical capital city, we were on a ROAD TRIP!!!
Zooming down the road with the speed demon at the wheel (Old Ninja was sticking to the speed limits – they just seem extreme for us from ‘Up Top’ opposed to those ‘Down Under’) we soon reached Litchfield National Park. It may not be as well know as Kakadu, but many locals rate it higher, with a saying ‘Litchfield-do, Kaka-don’t’. The 1,500 sq km national park encloses much of the spectacular Tabletop Range, a wide sandstone plateau mostly surrounded by cliffs. The many waterfalls of the area are a highlight of the park, feeding crystal clear cascades and croc free plunge pools. But before we reached any of these infamous waterways we stopped at the iconic termite mounds. Now, in all the years I’ve watched the magnificent Sir David Attenborough and other nature programs, not once have I read or heard the info that was in the Lonely Planet. The tip of these mounds are the places where they bury the dead. The height of the the mound correlates to the age of the structure but that extra bit of info was cool. Speaking of cool, the structures are perfectly aligned to regulate temperature, catching the morning sun, then allowing the residents to dodge the midday heat, built in a north-south orientation. I’m sure the way they create folds in the mound also helps to cool the structure. While we were all suitable impressed by the size of the Cathedral Termites (aptly named), the GAdventures tour looked like they were fed up and bored, imagine the faces of people sucking on a few lemons. But, more impressive was the boardwalk that brought us out to a field of magnetic termite mounds. It was like a cemetery of tombstones, varying in size and design and a wicked feat of natural engineering. So, we arrive at Buley Rockholes, an area where the water cascades through a series of rock pools that provide the perfect site to simply cool off and relax. But Katherine seemed far from relaxed, tense in a stare off with this guy at a picnic bench. Tracey was ready to say something, while naturally I was too focused on looking for wildlife. Plus, I’m getting better at ignoring stares and pig ignorant people. But, suddenly there was a realisation between the two of them that they did in fact know each other – they worked together in London. It’s a freakishly small world! So after meeting Ben and his girlfriend and all five of us chatting away for a bit, we settled on a sandstone outcrop under some shade and had our lunch. An occasional bit of bread in the quiet pool to attract the fish and we enjoyed the tranquility of the area while still hearing the kids bomb in to the pools.  I didn’t need to navigate to our next destination. Florence Falls is within walking distance but we drove around the corner to maximise our time in the park. A spectacular double waterfall set amidst monsoon rainforest we didn’t descend the 135 steps to the bottom, but admired it from a viewing platform. The echoes of shouting and laughter coming up from the plunge pool faded as we walked back to the car, passing a few trees with low hanging ant nests. Off to Tolmer Falls, it should have been one of the most readily accessible waterfalls of the park. However, they were renovating the walkway during the dry season and we went for a little walk through the bush walk to get to the views. Being sensible and bringing plenty of water for the 2.4km round trip, we thought we might have to part with some of it for the people underestimating the heat and terrain. We did try and warn a few on our return but it fell on deaf ears. But, we were rewarded by our efforts and scout attitude with incredible, beautiful views of the valley. The falls were only small being dry season, but it was still really nice. It would have been cool if we glimpsed any of the elusive bats of the area, but they were probably hiding from the scorching sun. We missed the turn off for Greenant Creek. It wasn’t signposted in the direction we we’re travelling and it was a bit of a concealed entrance. But, it was meant to be. We carried on to Wangi Falls (pronounced ‘Wong-guy’) and decided before even seeing the pool that we were going swimming to cool down. Changing in the first dirty toilets we’ve experienced at a public facility, we were togged off, ignoring the warnings for crocs and splashing about in the crystal waters with water cascading down the rock face in two places. We found a nice spot between the two downpours, sat on the rock, chatted, ignored the whiny ginger kid, convinced Tracey it wasn’t acceptable to steal a noodle to float around and did a few bombs. With beautiful rainforests around the pool and dramatic backdrops we may have spent a considerable amount of time in the shallows reenacting the end scene from a Dirty Dancing and laughing hysterically at our attempts. Not using the free wifi at the site, (why the hell would you want/need wifi in an area like this) we returned towards Batchelor and checked in to Pandanus. Slight panic moment when they didn’t seem to have our booking, the lovely Debbie showed us our cabin and the kitchen facilities. A quick nip in to town before it got dark, we returned with stuff for dinner (severely overpriced) and cooked up a satisfying meal using the hamster dryer (otherwise known as a George Foreman grill) and enjoyed watching Night at the Museum 2. Well, we all started to watch it, only one managed to see it through and turned off tv and lights… yours truly. 

Saturday 13th August 2016