The long gap in the travels of e-bus must be rectified. This has been my recurring thought for months now but the effort and discipline required to sit and think chronologically has lost out to bike time, walk time, wine time etc. Now we have no internet connectivity for about 10 days and I have run out of books on the kindle so fewer distractions means write time! Anyway it’s easy, you just start.
The last 18 months were pretty much spent in WA so we have been able to have an Easter and 2 Christmases with family on the far side, and possibly the highlight was Adrian coming westward ho last December. Christmas then a short month to drive back across the Nullarbor with him and just enjoying special time together and getting to learn new aspects of a very fine young man. 2016 was spent either in Melbourne, on trips to see Catherine in Galway, to a family wedding in Howick, a family wedding in Auckland, a 60th birthday celebrated in the KNP and checking out the wild flowers in WA; life has been pretty extraordinary. I hate having our children all over the world, they really need to get their act together and find a common continent but in the meantime visiting them at regular intervals is as good an excuse as any to travel. Definitely overdue a Catherine time. I will write myself a detailed memory of each of the incredible places we visited, 11 000 species of wildflowers, Monkey Mia dolphins, whales in Exmouth, an osprey stack on the beach at Cape Range NP, the Ningaloo reef, so many highlights, the night sky in Karajini, so many places but not here.
But this trip. After 3 months of battling tradies and the kitchen people a trip away was definitely in order. But where? Having mostly done the west the centre was calling. The Red Centre. Hah, as you will see there is no red centre only a green centre. But I get ahead of myself.
We left Melbourne on the 7th of July with all the thermals to hand basically following a different route but heading for Mildura and the mighty Murray river. Sea Lake and Lake Tyrell a place that seems to be totally reliant on bus loads of Chinese tourists to be viable was the intro to dusty campgrounds. The tourists arrive because the salt lake usually has a very thin layer of water covering it and on a still night the stars are beautifully reflected and truly the horizon and endless skies meet and you cannot tell where each begin or ends. It is a very spiritual place still for Aboriginals. It must be breathtaking at new moon.
Stayed at the same campground, Buronga, in Mildura as before, actually it’s across the Murray river and in NSW not Vic. Must be be geographically accurate! All the pelicans where still there on the river which is reassuring.
Anne and Willy have convinced us of the benefits of electric bikes – go further and longer, still pedalling madly so we put them to the test riding out the Arid Botanic Gardens where we were impressed by the 1000 year old Mallee gum tree. The WOW tree.
Another wow was both bikes got punctures fortunately close to home. On to Morgan in SA where the Murray changes direction from a westerly to a southerly flowing river. (Lots of Pokemon there). In Melrose we were packed like sardines into a teeny space sharing all the horrible SA kids on school holiday. Melrose is best known for its mountain bike tracks on the side of Mt Remarkable but we went on a great rail trail running along the periphery of the park. Enroute we also discovered a fabulous campground at the Showgrounds, quite beautiful and no crazy kids on bikes!
Then onto Woomera, the start of the really dry countryside. A woomera is a aboriginal spear throwing device, which is very effective when you see it in action. It is aptly named as this town is the Australian missile testing centre. The caravan park is however a dump so we moved, unplanned up to Roxby Downs. Expecting a proper mining dust bowl we were pleasantly surprised with a well laid out and populated town with a Woolies, even, and good coffee. Olympic Dam might be just down the road but you would never know it’s there, except at night when the 24 hour shift night lights are as bright as a small town. We paid a brief visit to Andamooka about 30 kms away with a view to staying there. Now that is the dust bowl mining town we were expecting.
Opals are the reason it exists but a tower made from beer bottles is the main tourist attraction. Incredibly Viv decided to phone and found the gap when we had a signal out of thousands of kilometres of no signal! Sometimes we get lucky!
BHP sponsor a arid recovery centre about 20 km north of RD. It covers many square kms and their main aim, in short, is to encourage 4 critically endangered marsupials to become scared of wild cats. One cat kills, on average, 20 things a day. There are about 1 million wild cats in Australia, it’s no wonder far far too many small creatures are on the critically endangered list. The mid size marsupials like bilbys, quolls, bettongs are generally extinct in the wild so these places are so immensely important and interesting and attract attention world wide for research etc.
Then back on the Stuart and up to Coober Pedy, aboriginal for white man down a hole. And there are many, holes that is. In order to prospect for opal the only way is to dig a 30m deep hole about 1m round. If you find no opal you move on. There are more than 5m holes in and around town. None are filled in. Then there are the horizontal holes in the hills which the locals call home.
Opal mining is now banned in town but you can do reno’s. If you are lucky your extra bedroom will pay for itself, plus maybe even a new underground bowling alleyon first rolling into the junkyard that is Coober Pedy we were planning how fast we could leave. After 3 nights and a good look around we like it, but only to pass through. If you do visit, go to John’s for a pizza, best ever.
Then further up the Stuart and hang a left about 200 km before Alice. Onto the Lasseter Highway that takes you to Uluru and it’s lesser known partner Kata Tjuta. Both are spectacular in different ways and deeply moving for all the coach loads of tourists. Uluru is a true icon; identifiable from a distance and from any direction. Up close it is even more amazing – smooth and almost alive. It’s colour changes throughout the day but it when the sun is going down that it shows it’s red glowing trademark. Kata Tjuta or Many Heads is a series of domes, green treed valleys and vertical walled chasms all joined together and hiding some fantastic waterholes and currently creeks. There are some wonderful walks there that are tough but well worth the effort. We spent 4 nights in Yulara, the town nearest to Uluru. Nothing is cheap from beer to diesel.
Next Kings Canyon. Great expectations especially the Rim Walk.
We also had 4 nights here. Biggest bonus – a large flock of red tailed black cockatoos roosting in the trees around the resorts sewage plant, always prime birding areas and not too stinky. There were also lots of dingoes day and night, many of them are now camp dependent and are mangy, sad creatures. We saw one that was limping badly, had been attacked presumably by other dingoes and was very thin. When we reported it the comment was ‘sorry can’t do anything they are protected’….
There is a short cut to Alice Springs on the Mereenie Loop which saves about 100 km but the road is terribl so back to the Lasseter Highway then to the Stuart Highway and on to Alice, a good 350 km but all on bitumen. The red dust out here is every we have been led to believe, fine and gets in EVERYWHERE.
Having read A Town called Alice many years ago, had a romantic view of an outback village with one main street, hotel and a bar. No longer. Alice Springs is a vibrant, sort of modern place with so many traffic lights I lost count. The town is dominated by the dry Todd River and the famous gap where the river, road and Ghan rail line all pass through the MacDonnell range.
The greatest pleasure and surprise was the network of cycle tracks and trails. If you can, ride the trail to the Desert Park and spend the day there making sure you get in early and leave late as there are heaps of interesting talks and mini tours. There are many Aboriginals just hanging out on pavements, parks and open spaces, but way friendlier than some of the smaller towns where the feeling is bugger off white fella! Too late.
The West and East MacDonnell Ranges (the Macs to the locals) National Parks are a main reason visits arrive in their tens of thousands each year into Alice. The West Macs are the better known with all the gaps, gorges and water holes each different and worth visiting.
The East Macs are less known and are more difficult to get to with gravel roads and 4 wd tracks the norm. We stayed at the Ross River homestead which has a bitumen road all the way, why no one knows. Maybe it’s the NT transport ministers farm. It used to be part of a 1 million plus acre station but is know only a paltry 24k acres after the homestead was carved off. Because all the surrounding farmers shoot the dingoes they have found sanctuary there. Trephina Gorge Nature Reserve is a well run and with toilets but no showers is one of the better places to stay, it is very small and friendly with great walks requiring less or more endurance- many times been happy with new Nordic walking sticks! Life was harder without them.
We will leave the bus in Alice Springs for about 3 weeks while we fly to Melbourne then onto Auckland for Adrian’s 30th birthday. Where we go next is undecided; north and west are beginning to get too hot. East maybe or south, have to wait and see what the weather is doing.