Destination: Uluru, Part 2

Day 4 : Friday 16th December : Coober Pedy to Uluru

We had another long drive ahead of us but our destination was now very much in sight. A few days before we had booked ourselves a special treat for when we reach Uluru and so we had a deadline to achieve.

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Having left Coober Pedy we headed north on the Stuart Highways for 490km before turning left on to the Lasseter Highway for the final 260km into Uluru. Had we not had a couple of breaks along the way this would have been our only turn!

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One of our stops was at the Northern Territory border, the forth state we would enter on this trip. After this I only have Western Australia before being able to say I have been to all the states in Australia!

Not sure why but it seemed like an amazing achievement to have reach this far!

Continuing on our next short break was to check out the amazing sight of Mount Conner which appeared off to our left.

img_2640So far I had been happy just to push on and reach our destination, but increasingly there were places I would have liked to have visited. Unfortunately when time is limited you simply cannot stop and admire every sight; but you can note them and go back. Mount Conner is one such place that is on my list.

As you approach Uluru the rock slowly comes into sight. It is without any doubt an amazing sight. After such a long lead up to this trip and an incredible drive over the preceding fours days our destination didn’t disappoint. Uluru is truly one of the wonders of this world; impossible for me to describe or for my photo’s to do justice. All I can say is if you haven’t already, go visit. Everyone needs to see this place!

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As we were slightly ahead of schedule we headed straight for the national park to get a closer view. When we arrived the temperature was 40C+ and so while we did take a walk to get up close and personal, it was a short one.

Uluru, as most people are aware, is a sacred site for the local indigenous population. I had heard before going that while climbing the rock was still possible it was discouraged as a point of courtesy. When we arrived the climb was closed because of the extreme temperatures. A sign near the climb entrance stated that the park was working towards closing it on a permanent basis. While not wishing to cause controversy, I really don’t understand what there is “to work towards”; just close it. You don’t need to climb this place to appreciate its size, magnificence and wonder!

img_2655Our campsite for the night was at the Ayers Rock Resort; this wasn’t a difficult choice as there are no other camp grounds any where nearby. We setup, had a much needed shower and header off for the evening.

uluru-1As mentioned previously, we had decided to treat ourselves for reaching our destination. We booked “A Night at Field of Light“; watch the sunset while drinking a glass of the sparkling stuff – or beer as my companions preferred – followed by dinner under the stars, a talk about the constellations and then a walk through the the Field of Light, an art installation by Bruce Munro.

It was a brilliant experience and the prefect way to end the first leg of our journey; too much to drink, amazing food in the middle of nowhere (not sure how they managed to produce such good food in such a location), good company, both my fellow travelers and the other guests around our table, and an incredible view of both the rock and the stars.

Distance covered; 750 km.

Day 5 : Saturday 17th December : Uluru to Kings Canyon

After a late night and too much fun it was a very early start!

It is essential to see Uluru at both ends of the day and while our alarms were set it was still a struggle to get up and going after the night before. Rather than pack all our gear we simply emptied the back of my car – currently I only have the two front seat – and set off on a mad dash to make the viewing point in time. It is safe to say my car isn’t made for quick corners and so Phil had a rather uncomfortable journey.

However we made it, just, and what an incredible sight.

The Outback is amazing in the way that it transforms as the sun moves across the sky and the light patterns change. Uluru was truly spectacular in the dawn light. Every bit as magnificent as it was during the sunset the previous evening.

An amazing experience. An amazing adventure. An amazing destination.

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img_2702Having had four long days in the car, today was to be a little easier; if you can call 320km in +40C temperatures an easy day!

img_2704We left the Ayers Rock Resort after a leisurely breakfast and headed for the Red Center Way and our next stop, Kings Canyon. A much steadier progress giving plenty of time to enjoy the views.

Once at the canyon we took a slow walk. The temperature hadn’t let up; there was a storm in the air which increased the humidity and discomfort further.

At the canyon car park there is a sign giving details of the various walks. One was around the rim of the canyon itself. Without doubt it would have been incredible, but there was an almost vertical 100m “staircase” climb to get to the top! Thankfully, due to the extreme temperatures, the walk was closed so we didn’t actually have to bottle out.

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Instead we took a gentle stroll along the canyon floor which provided spectacular views up the almost sheer walls. The sights were just amazing adding to the ever increasing list of incredible, spectacular, sights we had seen so far on this journey.

One negative however, were the bloody flies! They were everywhere and extremely persistent.

Camp for the night was at Kings Canyon Resort. Hot showers, cold drinks and very tasty pizza’s. A quiet and relaxing evening.

kings-1We hadn’t seen that much wildlife on our travels so far. A few kangaroos as we left the campsite in Baroota and emu’s on the side of the road in various places but that was about it.

As we drove through the campsite there was a sign warning about dingo’s and advising caution. We didn’t take much notice other than to make a general comment, but as we walked back to the bar we came across a female scavenging for food. One more species for our list.

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Finally before bed we decided to take a walk out to the sunset viewing platform. None of us were sure we had the energy but it was definitely worth the effort. As the sun slowly descended a storm began to build. It had rattled around earlier in the day and now it was back. The clouds building combined with the lowering sun to create some incredible colours in the sky and across the hills in the distance. At one point fork lightening struck the canyon in the distance to complete the impression that the gates of hell itself were opening.

Nature can certainly beat any man made light show when it decides too.

Distance covered; 320 km.

Day 6 : Sunday 18th December : Kings Canyon to Erldunda Roadhouse via Alice Springs

Breakfast and then off. Our destination today was back down the Stuart Highway in preparation for the next step of our adventure.

I said at the beginning of part 1 of this blog that we had a destination but no defined return route. There were a number of options, one of which was to take a track north of the Simpson Desert back round to Birdsville. Well that will have to wait for another time because in the end we decided to head south and a track which, to be honest I hadn’t heard of before, that would hold a whole new set of memories and destinations to which one day I would like to return.

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From the campsite we hit the first proper dirt road of the trip heading for Alice Springs. While we had seen plenty of red dirt over the past few days this was our first experience of really being part of it. The proper Red Center!

It is true to say I am beginning to run out of different ways to describe just how incredible the scenery is. I have used “incredible”, “amazing”, etc., so many times but still this journey and this country continued to give new views, new scenes and new memoirs. If you are reading this and can’t get your head round what I am trying to describe then get on a plane, hire a four wheel drive and get out there. If you don’t drive anywhere else in the Outback do the Red Center Way. You will not be disappointed and I have no doubt you will end your holiday knowing that you have experienced a real Australia adventure.

camelsSomewhere along this section we came across some wild camels. Australia has the largest population of wild camels in the world, but more of that later. I have included a picture which unfortunately isn’t the best as we were too far away, but it does go to prove their existence.

glen-helenAs we continued towards Alice Springs we crossed through the West MacDonnell Ranges. img_2788So much to see but no time! However we did make a couple of stops. First at the Glen Helen roadhouse, sorry Homestead Lodge to be correct, for a cold drink and a short break in the cool and then at the Ellery Creek Big Hole where one of our number was brave enough to go for a swim – she was warned about the wildlife but we decided if the worst happened one less passenger would increase my cars fuel economy.

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As today was Sunday it turned out that Alice Springs was shut! Well that may be a little unfair but we did try and get something to eat in a bar but they didn’t server food. We tried to get some beer for the evening stop but all the bottle shops in Alice Springs are shut on a Sunday – this apparently being due to a considerable problem with alcohol abuse in the area. Woolworth’s was open, just, so we stocked up on provisions, found a McDonalds to grab some lunch, they never close even in the very center of Australia, and headed south to our overnight stop.

Our final 200km of the day was down the Stuart Highway on nice smooth tarmac with a cold drink and dinner waiting for us.

Distance covered; 530 km.

Destination: ULURU, Part 1

While dates and routes were only finalised a short time before we set off, the destination was never in any doubt. Neither Phil or I had been to Uluru and the opportunity for me to undertake a proper Outback Adventure was way too good to miss.

img_2560While we both had our cars, me a Land Rover Defender and Phil a Land Rover Discovery, there was an awful lot of other stuff to get sorted before we could set off.

The list for me seemed almost endless and without doubt the credit card took a huge hit. Tent, sleeping bag and bed, cooking equipment, table, chairs, fridge, awning and so it went on. There were also the bits for the car itself such servicing, a new tyre, two way radio, etc., etc., etc.

Once we settled on the start date for our adventure, Tuesday  13th December, everything began to come together. We even managed to set out our first three overnight locations although the return journey was to remain undecided until we got to our destination.

By Monday afternoon pretty much everything was packed, loaded and ready to go. Maria, who was joining us for our trip, arrived from Brisbane on Monday evening and so we were set for a very early start next day.

Day 1 : Tuesday 13th December : Sydney to Balranald

6am Cafe Geo, Lane Cove North, the designated start of our journey to Uluru.

But first some breakfast!

Rigged and ready to go, we set off about 7am heading west out of Sydney through Katoomba and the Blue Mountains. Our route took us through Bathurst, past the icon Mount Panorama motor racing circuit and onward.

Today was all about distance and covering the miles, but none the less we got our first feel of the amazing scenery to come. This was particularly the case along the Stuart Highway between Hay and our overnight stop of Balranald where the land became flat and increasingly baron with a huge sky that carried on forever.

img_2565Our stop for the night, after over 10 hrs driving, was the Yanga Woolsheds near Balranald, a spot Phil had visited on a previous trip. This was my first opportunity to set up all my gear and make sure that not only was it all complete, but that it all worked. Only one minor problem was a missing part on my brand new ARB awning. Of all the things which could have gone wrong this was simply an annoyance, and easily resolved as it turned out.

img_2576As always when I go travelling my faithful sidekick Safari Bear was on hand to make sure that we didn’t get into too much trouble or lost somewhere in the Outback!

Distance covered; 875 km.

Day 2 : Wednesday 14th December : Balranald to Baroota (Port Augusta)

Again we needed to cover the miles with a good 8 hours driving ahead of us, before we added a slight detour. Maria made a couple of phones calls once we were on the road and managed to locate a replacement for the missing awning part and so we headed for ARB Regency Park, Adelaide. It seemed rather strange saying we would be there in approximately six hours but this didn’t seem to phase them. Distances and journey times are very different in this country.

Having left our camp site we soon crossed our first border into Victoria, which also meant the first time zone change. Only half an hour this time but sufficient to leave us a little confused about what the time was until we got back in to New South Wales some days later.

We continued to head west crossing through into South Australia; not only did we have another time zone change, but we also had to go through a quarantine station which required us to give up all our fresh fruit and vegetables. For one of my companions the loss of oranges was almost too much to bear!

At some point along this route, but unfortunately I didn’t note exactly where, we got a sight of one of South Australia’s pink lakes. Although I had read about them before the trip I wasn’t expecting to see one. The colour, which is very pink, is caused by an algae not minerals as I had previously thought.

The detour into Adelaide was very successful with the missing part waiting for us when we arrived as well the fly screen awning room Phil wanted. This proved a huge benefit a few nights when it was almost impossible to do anything for waving mosquitoes, and other insects, away.

For reasons I can’t quite remember Port Arthur was mentioned as a possible destination for dinner. Which was an interesting choice as it soon became apparent that Phil was actually thinking of the penal colony in Tasmania. However, on checking the satnav’s we realised that there was actually a Port Arthur in South Australia and it was roughly on our route – clearly it would seem wrong not to visit.

Although Port Arthur is available to select on our various navigational devices and is shown on Google Maps – feel free to check – there isn’t actually anything there! Not a single thing! No buildings, nothing. Just a road straight through empty fields. Have a look on street view. Having checked google while writing this section I have discovered that it is listed as one of South Australia Lost Towns! This became another standing joke of the trip – who suggested going to Port Arthur.

By this time it was getting late and we wanted to be off the road before it got dark. Kangaroos start moving about at dusk and they haven’t yet been taught their Green Cross Code; hitting one could well end our trip. As it was on our way we pulled into Port Pirie and had dinner in a local pub. An interesting experience; one of many on this trip.

img_2572While eating Phil found a camp ground at Baroota (Rodeo Campground) which proved to be an excellent choice. Although wet and muddy as we pulled of the track we were met by the owner who pointed us towards his brand new barn which provided the perfect cover for our camp keeping us nice and dry as it poured with rain over night.

Distance covered; 700 km.

Day 3 : Thursday 15th December : Baroota to Coober Pedy

From Baroota we headed north on the Stuart Highway for our next overnight stop and a place I have wanted to visit for some time; Coober Pedy, the opal capital of the world.

But first we had a long distance to travel.

There were three things that we experienced while driving this section of our trip which will stick with me …..

The long straight roads! Several times we stopped just to look at where we were heading and where we had come from. The roads were straight heading off in to the distance with nothing around but hot, barren earth.

At one point the main highway had been widened and signs posted at each end of the section to designate it as an emergency landing strip for the Royal Flying Doctors Service. Its when you see things like this that you begin to realise just how remote the area is.

Following this link to see exactly where the RFDS planes are flying in real time.

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img_2599Next came our first Road House. As with any long, remote, trip you always have your eye out for the next fuel stop, in my case I generally had to refill twice a day. Spuds was one such stop on the junction between the Stuart Highway and Olympic Dam Road.

Not far on from Spuds, out of the right hand side of the car, you will see Lake Hart. A shimmering white salt lake which appears to go on for ever. My picture doesn’t do this incredible natural wonder any justice. In the heat and bright summer sun it was just truly amazing to behold.

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img_2606We pulled off the highway and stood on the railway track to take in the full wonder of the view. This proved to be our first proper “off road” driving of the trip, albeit just a few hundred yards.

coober-pedy-outback1Coober Pedy was exactly as I expected, having seen it a number of times on the the TV.

coober-pedy-outback2You know you are getting nearer as the number of man made earth piles increases almost to the point were the entire landscape is disrupted by mining. The process, as I understand it, is rather simple. You did a shaft, lower somebody in and if there is an opal you keep digging; if not you start again. And so it goes on. The evidence of this is everywhere you look as you approach the town. Clearly some people have struck lucky, or simply got better organised, as their spoil heaps are considerably bigger.

img_2614The town itself is very functional, dusty and as I would image mining towns in the Outback have looked ever since man started digging holes. It is a small town with only the necessities, grocer, bank and of course a bottle shop. There are a few concessions to visitors such as the Underground Hotel, working mines to be toured and an underground church. All except the church were shut when we arrived.

As the summer heat is extreme in this part of Australia many people choose to live underground where the earth maintains a manageable ambient temperature all year round.

The Stuart Range and Highway were named after John McDouall Stuart who was the first European explorer in the area. He was the first to complete the South to North crossing of the continent which he achieved in 1862. The plaque in the photograph below commemorates this achievement.

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Distance covered; 600 km.