September-November now! After spending a few weeks north of Adelaide, where we got hailed on and frosted up, we had a hissy fit and true to our style decided to go somewhere warmer. Like Alice Springs. I bought myself a digital SLR in Port Augusta as a birthday present, but didn’t realise i’d need a different card, so was unable to use it until we got to Alice Springs (you’ve only missed Coober Pedy, which didn’t grab me at all). As it worked out, I finally got to use it on my birthday, heading out to the West MacDonnell ranges. And what a landscape to practice on. Alice Springs was so much more beautiful than I expected, in a rugged, sun-bleached, ancient sort of way. I can see how people travel to the outback and end up living there, it’s spectacular in a whole different, much more peaceful way than the coast.
Ellery Big Hole was gorgeous, and we stopped and ate cake. Note how tiny the kids are in the lower right? It was discarded as a possible camping area because there was no shade, and it was very hot. We had to go out and buy summer clothes when we got to Alice because we had nothing suitable-my morning there in jeans was almost intolerable.
We carried on to Ormiston Gorge which was even more beautiful, dumped the camping gear to set up later, and went swimming for the rest of the day. Happy 28th birthday to me!
That evening we had the whole gorge to ourselves and stayed there until dusk. Then we went back, the kids went to bed and the husband and I sat up spotlighting dingoes prowling around. Absolutely perfect. A dingo stole the full wetbag on our last night, and I found it 50m off the track in the morning. We then got to say ‘A dingo stole my wetbag!’ in bad Australian accents.
After a few days, however, the heat was getting to us in a big way, and we ran out of sunscreen, which was an absolute necessity when you could get burnt in under 10 minutes. So back to Alice, the caravan park, and the pool! Where we spent most of the rest of our time.
The view from Anzac Hill
Dirty desert feet-honestly, the dust got smeared on everything, especially being hot and sweaty. It was impossible to keep clean. We were scrubbing all feet before bed to try to preserve our bedding somewhat.
While the husband kept spotting jobs advertised and trying to convince me to stay there, I was more realistic. The cost of living is astronomical-and to tell the truth, I felt uneasy being somewhere that is so unsustainable. All the food is trucked in, the water is pumped from the Great Artesian Bore-it all felt a bit like a house of cards to me. While were were keen to go to Darwin everyone heading south discouraged us-it was late October and the build up to the wet, and having lived in Cairns for four years we knew what that was like. Bearable in a well ventilated house with fans, but in a plastic tent it wouldn’t be so fun. So we decided to go south-west and check out the big rocks. Originally we planned to go west again through the MacDonnells via the Menindee loop through Aboriginal land and onto Kings Canyon, but apparently the road was terrible-30km/h, flat tyres sort of terrible. As we weren’t particularly equipped for serious 4WD conditions we wussed out and took the main roads to Yulara. It’s about 450km from Alice, and 250km off the Sturt Hwy-much further than I would have guessed before going!
Uluru (well, duh). My advice? Skip the sunset viewing, it’s crowded and not very impressive. Instead, spend dusk at Mutijulu waterhole, and watch the animals appearing to drink. Much better.
Kata Tjuta, which is about 50kms away.
I was surprise by how much there was to see around Uluru, the general media view is of a big featureless rock. But there’s lots of trees, waterholes, caves, sacred sites and historical sites around the base. There’s also an awesome mudbrick visitor centre which cannot be photographed. I was not happy, as I wanted a house like it so needed photos as a reference. It was insanely touristy of course (and we were there at the quiet time) and Yulara, being basically a resort for tourists, was sterile and unremarkable. But there was a free air-conditioned bus that we did many laps on around the complex. We did a bushfood session which was wonderful-the indigenous woman who ran it was lovely, she ran to no-one’s schedule and showed all the kids one by one how to use quandongs for sunscreen and make a honey drink from grevilleas.
We had lots of Steve Parrish moments up there-I do like reptiles so the desert was fun. Seeing a big goanna near the kitchen and alerting the Japanese tourists was hilarious-they were scared but intrigued, with lots of squealing. Not so fun was finding a centipede in the tent under my pillow, and hacking it up with a spoon.
This snake was the funniest. We were walking back from the Mutijulu waterhole at Uluru at dusk, and spotted this snake crossing the path. We yelled ‘SNAKE!’ and all started running towards it to get a better look. It was hell-bent on reaching cover away from the seven giants thundering towards it, and we didn’t get any closer than about 20m away before it was gone for good. The international tourists behind us were horrified though. We must have confirmed all of their stereotypes about Australians all being lunatics like Steve Irwin, leaping on poisonous reptiles. They stayed very close behind us while the kids checked out the tracks, and didn’t leave us until the carpark was in view.
Then began the looong trek south again, with the vague view of settling down somewhere there, overtaking cattle-filled road trains….
…..past the opal diggings at Coober Pedy….
….and the last desert sunset for a while.