Monday, 21 November 2011

Alice to Adelaide: The End

Tour Day 5:

Once more we were up before the sun and headed out to our first destination: Dutchmans Stern. We had three hours to walk up and back, roughly the same amount of time we had spent at kings Canyon but this was a very different walk. As we walked to the base of the hill we saw a fabulous sunrise which was much appreciated as we had missed out at Uluru and Cooper Pedy. The walk to the top of the hill was a steady climb though thankfully at a lower incline than the start of the Kings Canyon walk. As I climbed I saw some spectacular views in the occasional instances when the trees cleared. We were all walking at our own pace and as my friend had hurt her ankle she urged me to go on ahead. I quickly fell behind the majority of the rest of the group and enjoyed the peace and tranquillity the solitary climb allowed me. I was also pleased to stop and take photographs without feeling like I was holding up the group. I was worried that I would take too long to reach to top but in the end I was there in plenty of time to enjoy it with the rest of the group, I was not even the last one to the top. Sadly my UK friend didn’t make it all the way to the top but she assured me she enjoyed the part of the climb she was able to manage with her sore ankle. I enjoyed my moor walk last year and knew before I came out here that I wanted to do more walking and this walk confirmed it. The views were spectacular once more and the feeling of achievement of having climbed the hill to see them was very satisfying. Not to mention that the walk itself was most enjoyable. Having said that I’m not sure how a bundled up walk in the cold Scottish highlands will compare to a walk in the sunshine in my shorts and t-shirt! After enjoying the view we retraced our steps back to the bottom of the hill to our bus.

Our next stop was the Wilpena Pound national park but since none of us needed to return to the camp we were able to take the back road and visit the grave of Hugh Proby; the first man to try settle Kanyaka Station which though only 150 years old is now a historic ruin. However between the death of Hugh Proby and its current state it was at one time one of the largest stations in the district making it an interesting historic landmark. Our next pit stop was at the first telegraph station where we lined up and were able to hear as the people at the front and back of the line tapped out messages directly on the old line. On the way along the road our guide stopped occasionally to point out the lizards sunbaking beside (or sometimes on) the road. We even saw a Brown snake from the safety of the bus as we were instructed most emphatically not to leave the bus, I for one didn’t need telling twice.

We made it to Wilpena Pound an hour and a half before lunch and were told to take our time climbing to the lookout point. The trail we were on would give us an excellent view of the hills that surround Wilpena making it perfect for keeping goats in one place back in the early days of settlement. Once again the views were stunning. The area is well forested and though we were told Echidnas had been spotted I doubted I would see anything as the landscape looked so busy with vegetation. I was right and I didn’t but I did see some emu’s running around on my way back. There were three little ones and two larger. I stayed well back enjoying watching their interaction then continued back towards the bus. Though I saw little wild life I still enjoyed the spectacular views the natural basin provided. I was the second last person back and the other were impatient to be off for lunch so we decided I would wait for my friend who was sensibly taking her time due to her sore ankle. I enjoyed waiting in the peace and quiet and hoped that a wee Echidna might even think it was safe enough to venture out. Sadly it was not to be and my friend soon arrived followed closely by the next tour bus. The guide was with the same company as ours and told us she would take up to our lunch spot to save our guide a trip. In my hurry to get going I am ashamed to admit I left my precious camera behind, a fact I only realised after lunch when we were clearing up in order to move on to our next destination.

Our next but by no means last destination of the day was the ruins of Kanyaka Station farmhouses. It was sad to see the place in such disrepair but interesting to see how the first settlers would have lived nonetheless. We didn’t spend too long at the farm house as there wasn’t much to see and there was more to do before our day was done. Our next stop was another lookout point which had a scaled model of the Wilpena landscape allowing us to see the whole formation. We made a quick stop at Yourambulla Caves where some of our group took a short walk to view some Aboriginal rock paintings before heading to our final destination before heading back to the hostel. This was Warren Gorge where we had a quick stroll through peaceful surroundings in the hopes of seeing a Yellow Footed Rock Wallaby or two. We actually about half a dozen and I was gutted not to have my camera on me. I did have my phone but it isn’t anywhere near as good. However I felt privileged to see these once elusive creatures especially as they were ever so cute. After another full day it was now time to head back and make dinner for both groups.


Once back it was all hands on deck to chop veggies and get the preparation underway and before long dinner was well underway. Once our help was no longer necessary some of us settled in to watch the second half of the Rugby world cup. I was please when New Zealand won as I think they deserved it the most though it was a close game, especially at the end. Rugby over it was time for dinner and a relaxing drink. We had clear up duty as well as we had done nothing the previous night so once everything was cleaned all that was left to do was to sit outside with our drinks and enjoy the rest of our evening.

Tour Day 6:

Having managed to fit all but one activity into our second last day all that remained was to get on the bus and head to Adelaide via the Clare Valley and a few wineries. Our first stop was a quiet winery who’s name I forget so therefore I assume their wine wasn’t worth remembering either. It was a short walk from the winery to our lunch area where bacon wraps and sarnies were the order of the day, very exciting especially as the bacon was nice and crispy. Our next stop was Annies Lane who I think do a rather nice Chardonnay not to mention there distinctively interesting Rose (of which I purchaed a bottle for my friends in Adelaide) and our last stop was the Taylor winery where I preferred the Semillon Sauvignon Blanc from their white Jaraman range and, surprisingly for me, their Jaraman Shiraz. Once we were all feeling slightly tipsy and happy our guide wisely handed out the evaluation forms and it really was the end of the tour. Within a few hours we were in Adelaide and checking in to our respective hostels. It wasn’t quite over yet though as we decided to meet up for one last meal at a nearby pub. It was a lovely way to end the tour and though most people bailed two of us did make it to the casino. It was the first time I have been in a casino for over three years and I am pleased to say I did my man proud by coming away with more than I went in with (I am sure he was giving me a little help along the way!). All in all it was fitting end to a fabulous week and I can honestly say I would recommend that anyone who is spending time in Australia do this tour. It was expensive but our guide made sure we got out moneys worth for sure. Five stars, two thumbs up and big smiles all round. Epic.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Alice to Adelaide: Heading South

Tour Day 3:

The third day of our tour started with a long lie, the sun was actually up before I stepped outside the tent! The rain had stopped sometime during the night leaving large puddles behind which I side stepped on my way to breakfast, grateful I didn’t need my umbrella to get there. Once everyone was up and about and had eaten we cleared away the breakfast things, loaded up the trailer and were soon on the bus again off to out next adventure. Our destination this time was a mining town called Cooper Pedy via another important aboriginal site known to us as the breakaways. Australia is ancient. The hills and mountains have been eroded to their present size and the long gone seas have left deposits which have solidified and been eroded by weather and tectonic movement giving the seemingly endless landscape stunning features such as Uluru, Kings Canyon, Kata Tjutu and now this vast area broken up by once again similar yet different features. Unlike the previous sites we didn’t venture down in to them but admired them from above (taking the obligatory million photographs of course) until it was time to get back on the bus and finish the drive to Cooper Pedy. On the way there  we were split in to two groups and informed that we would be set challenges along the way to Adelaide and the team with the most points at the end would get a prize. Sadly as the last to get on the bus my friend and I were separated by a German couple and we ended up on separate teams. Though this worked out quite well for me as at least all of my team spoke fluent English!

After unloading the trailer our first stop was at tour of the one of the many mines in the small town. We started with a film explaining the history of the town and how it came to its current incarnation. The main feature and attraction of the town after the opals is that it is mostly underground. After the second world war the men who returned head to Cooper Pedy to make their fortune. As there were no trees for miles around the ex-soldiers, used to building trenches, simply dug in to the hillsides and made their homes there. These days the residents use machinery but living underground is still the predominant way of life there.  After the film we were shown how opals are cut and polished from their rough state in to the stone we see in the stores. Next we were taken underground to see a basic hand mined room that showed how the original settlers lived before being shown a modern setup which looked a lot like a any other home except for the lack of windows. We walked from the house through some tunnels where we were given a short talk on current mining methods and shown a seam of opal in the rock. A quick look round the shop and cultural centre and it was back to our accommodations for lunch. Like much of the town out hostel was built in to one of the hills making it a very different hostel than any I had staying in before.


Post lunch we were given a quick tour of the town including an underground church and the coolest grave ever before stopping at a lookout point and getting a good overview of the town. Tour over some of us stopped by the public noodling area to look through the waste rock for small opals. I was a bit sceptical but it was surprisingly addictive and we found many pretty rocks but no big opals, though our guide did find a small one worth cutting and polishing. Noodling is dirty work so I was glad we had time for a shower before our pizza dinner, especially as we wouldn;t have to do any prep, cooking or clearing up ourselves for once. Usually dinner signals the end of the days activities but not this time. After dinner we were taken to Josephine’s Gallery where we saw some pretty good aboriginal art work and didgeridoos. Josephine’s isn’t just a gallery though it is also a Kangaroo orphanage. They take in orphaned Joeys and bring them back to health before releasing them to the wild or into one of the many sanctuaries in the country. We were fortunate enough to meet some of the orphans who for whatever reason wouldn’t survive in the wild and a couple of new arrivals that they hoped to release once they were well enough to survive on their own.  As if all this wasn’t enough we then had the added bonus of being taken out to a shooting range and I had my first attempt at using a shot gun. I am pleased to say I hit two of the clay pigeons though I am sure it was blind luck not skill both times and am even more please to say that our highest scorer was a fellow scot! 

Tour Day 4:

Day four was a day of driving. We were up with the sun and left Cooper Pedy shortly after 8am to head south once more. We did stop at the flying doctor run way and attempted to land our own paper planes across it but the wind had other ideas. The direction of the wind meant that most of them went sideways rather than across the road! My team had the ingenious idea of scrunching up one of the planes and throwing it though so we won the challenge for which team got a plane furthest across the road. We passed through Glendambo which had the most interesting population sign I have seen yet and stopped at Lake Hart; one of the smaller dry salt pans it seemed to stretch for miles in to the distance. We stopped for lunch at Woomera where I earned some bonus points for my team by drinking a small sup of salad dressing before checking out the nearby birds. After lunch we stopped to look at some old rockets and planes as the town has it’s own rocket range. Woomera is a strange town. It has a tiny population yet it has a baseball field and oval that are kept in excellent repair and though many building look deserted there is evidence that people still live and work their though we only saw a handful of people whilst we were passing through, It’s easy to see why it could be the object of more than one conspiracy theory! After lunch we had a quick look at the rockets and planes on display nearby then it was back to the bus and on to our home for the next two nights, an old converted Mill in a place called Quorn. Once there we were given a break from meal duties as a tour going North were also going to be there for the same two nights so they took cooked and cleaned giving us a much appreciated break. After a day in the bus it was nice to spend the evening relaxing outside with a cold cider before getting an early night as we had a busy day ahead of us the next day. We had agreed to fit the last two day tour in to one so that we could stop at some wineries on the way in to Adelaide!

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Alice to Adelaide: The Red Centre

Alice Springs:

On arriving in Alice Springs the first thing that I noticed was the heat. I had been warm in Queensland but that was nothing compared to the heat I was now experiencing. Thankfully my time in Queensland has instilled good habits in me. I was sure to drink plenty of water and my first purchase was a white sun hat to replace the one I had left in Queensland.

We arrived early in the afternoon and therefore had a few hours before we could check into our hostel. Whilst the receptionist informed my friend of the town layout and recommended a place for lunch I took the opportunity to change from my jeans in to my shorts. All set we headed into town for some dim sim and lychee tea. As we had an action packed week ahead of us my UK friend headed back to the hostel for a well deserved rest where as I wanted to explore the town whilst I could. The receptionist told my friend about a good lookout point called Anzac Hill so I headed that way stopping to purchase my hat on the way. The town was small but bustling with tourists and even some locals.  It was lovely to walk through it on my way to the lookout point. Once there it was a short walk up the hill and the view was worth the climb. I took many photos of the gorgeous surroundings then headed back to the hostel in the hopes of checking in and getting a shower. Once these tasks had been achieved my friend and I had an early dinner at the hostel bar before retiring to our room as we were up before the sun the next day.

Tour Day 1:

Early start for a 4:45am pick up. Our bus was late due to a computer error which meant our guide didn’t know where to pick us up until it was fixed. We were a wee bit worried but a quick phone call soon put us at ease. We signed into the tour with three other tourists then it was on to Kings Canyon in Watarrka national park.  On the way to the canyon we got our first glimpse of some Aussie camels at our first pit stop and then some lunch  at our second. Lunch was prepared by all of us under the supervision of our guide. Once at the canyon everyone on the bus chose to do the longer hour walk along the top of the canyon instead of the shorter walk along the canyon floor. It was hard work but worth it for the spectacular views. Unfortunately my UK friend slipped and hurt her ankle but she soldiered on and we finished the walk within the allotted time. Thankfully it was then time to get back on our lovely air conditioned bus for the drive to the camp site. Dinner like lunch was prepared by all of us and followed by a discussion of the activities for the following day and demonstration on how to roll and unroll a swag. We then cleared up the dinner things and after a quick shower it was another early night but this time under the stars! I have never been so glad to wear 24/7 contact lenses. I woke up in the middle of the night and there was Orion, upside down and clear as anything. It was pretty awesome.

Tour Day 2:

Our second day started with another early morning as we had a lot to fit in to our day. We started our day by driving a viewing platform near Uluru in the hopes of seeing sunrise over the rock but bush fires over the previous few days meant that the air was hazy and we were disappointed. Though the photography opportunity was not as impressive as it could be the haziness gave the rock a mystical look making my first look at Uluru more impressive than I expected. After the sun was well and truly up (even though we still couldn't see it) we drove to Uluru and walked around the base. Climbing Uluru is allowed but the Aboriginals dislike it as for them it is a deeply spiritual act which should only be attempted by elder men who have proven themselves worthy. There was no way I was going to attempt to climb it due to my low level of fitness but even if I was abler I am not sure that I would. I can understand why it was such a spiritual place to the aboriginals and I wouldn't attempt it just to say I had done it. On arriving at the start of the base walk we discovered that the climbing path was closed so my unfitness and opinions of climbing were immaterial. My main impressions of Uluru were that it was smaller than I thought it would be yet more interesting. At some points on the walk it towered over us at others the side gently climbed away from us towards the sky. We were privileged to hear the basic versions of one of the many creation stories associated with Uluru before we started on the walk and as I looked at it I could see why there would be so many. It wasn’t hard to see shapes an images in the rocks face and easier yet to understand why upon seeing Uluru the aboriginals would see the associated stories. I only wish that we were privy to more of them.

After visiting Uluru we were taken to another important aboriginal site Kata Tjuta, known also as the Olgas. Sadly my UK friends ankle prevented her from attempting the full base walk at Uluru but she managed to walk round the most interesting quarter of it and once at Kata Tjuta she also made it to the end of the small trail that wound between two of the massive rocks. I kept my pace slow to keep her company and used the opportunity to take many more photos of the rocks which were formed in a similar yet different way to Uluru giving the landscape a much difference appearance. Fortunately for my friends ankle it was as short walk and we were soon back on the bus and heading to meet our next our group and bus. On the way to swap buses it started to rain. We had been told the previous day that there had been a higher than usual amount of rain but it was still something to see it for ourselves especially as an impressive lightening storm accompanied it.

We had a short break away from the bus whilst our bags were swapped over and the buses refuelled. We had been warned that our next guide was a bit larger than life and we were soon able to experience this for ourselves as within the first hour on the bus he was throwing chocolate to us and playing games with us. Us newbies were also given paper, pens and stickers and told to make name signs for above our seats. We were also all convinced to hand over some form of ID as we were soon to cross from the Northern Territory to Southern Australia. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I am sure you will be unsurprised to find out that the ID was for our guides amusement. ID in hand he then had us all line up and step across the border together before returning our ID to us. Border crossed we then crossed back and got on the bus and crossed it again. On crossing the border it started to rain again and this time instead if a short storm it was evident that it was there to stay. On arriving at our camp site we hurried inside and after storing our possessions in the nearby permanent tents started making dinner. With twice as many people the task we divided in to those who prepared diner and those who cleared up. It was nice to have to only do half the work and a great opportunity to get to know the members of our new group especially as we had a later start the next morning so didn’t have to rush off to bed. Though sleeping in a tent wasn't as good as sleeping under the starts with all that rain I was glad of the shelter and am pleased to report that even with the inferior scenery I slept just as well as I had the previous night