And so the outback adventure began. Well it was billed as a trip through the desert, stopping at places like Uluru (Ayers rock), and well to be honest I didn't read the brochure (this explains a schoolboy error later on). So up at 6.45, piked a free breakfast from the hostel and waited for my Wayward Bus. When a bus from Adventure Tours Australia turned up I didn't really bat an eyelid as I was the only person waiting so I asked the driver if he wa sheading to the outback, he said yep and on the bus I got. It transpired most people were waiting for the Wayward bus but wearn't as trusting as me, so we got off to a late start. But an amusing one as the driver came out with some classic lines including "I've never done this trip before". Alarm bells maybe should have started ringing... And so we started the 3000km trip north, with a first stop at 10.30 at the Seven Hills Winery in Claire Valley. Happy days, wine tasting again! Then further on to a town called Laura for a barbie lunch and a quick pit stop at a place called Pichi Richi to take photos of the old Gahn railway. A chappy on our bus called Pete (West Ham fan, so all forgiven) turned out to be an Old Gahn fanatic. We saw lots of it over the week. Its really not that exciting. Anyhoo, while travelling up through South Australia, the scenery began to change dramatically, and we saw more of what I would call the real Australia, i.e., sand, a few mountains and not much else. Except Whirly whirlys! Little cyclones picking up sand as they move along. I think it was about now that we actually passed through one and got a sense of not being in Cansa anymore. Next stop on route was at an old cattle farm called Kanyaka homestead. No idea why apart from to "make some pictures" as the europeans kept saying (on our bus, 3 English, 3 Swiss, 4 Germans, 1 Northern Irish, 3 Dutch, 1 Belgium and an Aussie Sheila). The onto the Yourambulla caves to check out some Aboriginal Art and then into Wilpena Pound which was to be our camp for the night. We had fish and chips for dinner. For some reason, fish and chips is popular in the outback. Any ideas where they get fresh fish from? Me neither. Anyway, had our dinner and a couple of beers while getting to know everyone, then went to get our swags (small tarpaulin sleeping bags with built in matresses) out of the campsite trailer, and discovered we had no key for the padlock. Not a problem according to our driver (Tom). Off he went to find a ranger, and came back with a pair of bolt cutters. As you've guessed, Tom was Australian. Problem solved, and our fist night under the stars. Slightly worried about bugs wandering into my sleeping bag, but as Tom assured us, they would only come in while we wearn't sleeping so just a few ants to remove and off to the world of nod. To be woken up half an hour later as a couple of kangaroos decided to investigate the kitchen area. Lesson of the night (apart from bring keys), put food away overnight...
Woke up at 6am, as its hard to sleep outdoors when the sun starts to come up. Bit too light and hot. So a few slices of toast and off we went for a 2.6km trek up Mount Ohlssen Bagge for views of the Pound. And somehow 3.6km down. I think they used a YTS kid to do the signposting. Chilled out at the camp for a few hours, had some tune wraps for lunch and then started the drive north again. Passed through Bunyeroo Gorge (Made pictures at Razorback Lookout) and the Brachina Gorge for a bit of a geology lesson (something about sandstone...), and a stop at Parachilna for another look at the gahn (Pete was happy) and a stop to use the facilities in the pub (i.e. carry out for later). Apparently the film Rabbit Proof Fence was filmed here. I've never seen it. And then more driving to the last stop of the day in Angoichina Village, where we ate Kangaroo steaks amongst other things and slept in beds in a hostel. No pillow though, walking jacked came in useful again.
And onto day 3. The real adventure day as it turned out. Got a bit of a lie in, up at 7.30. After brekkie, a quick picture making stop at Aroona Dam and onto the town of Copley to sample Quandong Pies! Sadly not as oriental as they sound, Quandongs are some sort of plum. Quite tasty, should've splashed out the extra dollar for custard though. Then onto Leigh Creek Coalfield to look at a big hole in the ground and up to Lyndhurst to meet a chap called Talc Alf. Nice chap but obviously has spent too much time in the sun and spent an hour explaining the meaning of names to us by drawing pictures on a blackboard. Lost the plot after a while and played fetch with his dog. He also had a peddle powered washing machine, his own pub with no beer and was trying to start his own political group. Then the digital zoom on my camera broke. Last time my camera broke, we got interviewed for American radio. Hmm. Anyway, we escaped "Talc Town" as some suspisious white graffitti said on the wall by the railway and travelled along to a town called Marree for lunch. The flies started to get annoying roughly around this time and a few clever lads produced their fly nets to wear. And so off we went along the Oodnadatta Track for the 200km drive to William Creek where we were to stay for the night. Took a slight detour to view Lake Eyre South (big old white salt lake) and then another stop at Curdimurka Railway siding (Pete, you have a lot to answer for). Had a look at a natural spring at Mound Springs, and then stopped at Cowrad Spring for a swim. In a pool about 3 feet square. And then we started driving again. Only to pull over as the bus ran out of diesel. 36km short of William Creek. Possibly the same distance as the last 4 pit stops put together. So what do you do when you get stuck in the outback? We've all seen bushtucker man and Ray Mears survival expert. Well, some of the lads played catch with a rock. Not very sensible really. So we had a rummage through the trailer and found a football. Much better idea! Had a kick around, hoping that a car might pass by that we could score some diesel off, but after an hour or so, we realised we were on our own. So we graffittied a signpost (incase it was the last thing we ever wrote...), pulled up a load of disused train sleepers (not sure Pete approved of this), started a fire and made a curry. This survival lark is easy! And then as the sun went down at about 8.30, Tom said he was going to walk the rest of the way and get some fuel, the rationale being that if no car came by before lunch the following day we would run out of water and then we could be in real trouble in the heat. So myself, Andrew (NI) and Ifa (spelling (?), Dutchy No. 2) volunteered to keep Tom company (in case of dingoes, aboriginees, koalas, whatever), and besides there was no way I would have got to sleep on the bus. So the trek began. First 3.5 hours easy, birght moon on a white road, couldn't get lost. Had a break about midnight, then another hours walking and another 5 minutes break. After the next hour we had run out of shapes (all the food we had on us apart from a chupa chup lolly), the moon had gone down and some of us were imagining things on the road. So we had another break, someone started snoring and I suggested a quick hours power nap to gather our thoughts before the final push. Nobody disagreed, an alarm was set and we all sparked out in seconds. In the sand on the side of the road with water bottles for pillows. Actually incredibly comfortable! The alarm went, up we got and carried on the trek, looking out for any sign posts that might just tell us what distance we had left to walk. We had passed one at 27km, and then another at 17km, so we were hoping to see one at 7. Instead we saw a memorial to the old telegraph system in the area. And a tree where the locals used to hang wild cats called the p**** willow. Then we saw two lights in the distance, this time not making it up and after about 5kms made it into William Creek! Just in time as the water ran out and we grabbed some swags to bed down till the pub opened and we could get some fuel.
Two hours later the sun was up, the flies were out and I needed my morning sabaticle. So while Tom talked the local publican into selling some diesel and went off to fill up the bus, I got talking to a couple camping behind the pub and had a nice cup of coffee. For some reason turned down lamb chops for breakfast, must have been the disorientation as the paper were to later say. Then the bus pulled in, all those that had stayed in it or on a tarpaulin outside looking slightly dishevelled, and there was a mad scramble for the showers. Funny how us four walkers were the last in. None of us were moving particularly quickly i suppose. But did manage an incredibly relaxing shower, and was just on my way to the pub for a cooked breakfast when a chappy on a quad bike turned up saying we were local legends and would we mind doing an interview for the news. How could I say no to that! So an on camera interview for the channel 7 news (was on that night apparently), lots of picture making for the papers (3 at the last count with a future one to appear in a German newspaper as a couple on the bus won their trip and would have to report what happened on their return), and a phone call to some journalists for the radio. All the time being fed beers by the quad rider, just what you need after a marathon! Oh, and we can be found on at least 5 different websites and a forum! Ace. About 11 we left William Creek, well, after Tom had gaffer taped the back windows which had both been smashed on the drive back by pebbles pinging off the trailer, and some time later crossed the dog fence which stops the dingoes getting into the sheep grazing areas in the south. And that afternoon we made it to Coober Pedy. Where people live underground to avoid the heat. And there are sandstorms. And strangely the spaceship off the film Pitch Black. I would say thats the nearest you will ever come to living on another planet. So strange. Not full of dwarves though as I had hoped.And more fish and chips for lunch! A trip round the Umoona Opal mine, where we learnt that for about 40 grand (aussie) we could build an underground house and get a patch of land and become Opal miners). Was tempted for all of about 30 seconds, then went to bed as we were actually staying in a hotel underground and frankly, I was nackered. Off the others drove to see the golf course, and managed to have a blow out at 80 odd kms an hour. The bus was cursed I'm sure. Woke up later that afternoon in time to get some pizzas and drive out to the Breakaways lookout for sunset viewings of pretty much martian landscape. Possibly the best scenery I've seen on tour so far. Then bed.
Day 5, up at 6.30, last lie in for a couple of days, and then 2.5 hours on the Stewart Highway for a pit stop in a town called Marla (where I finally bought a fly net for my hat, so happy). A couple of hours further along we passed into the Northern Territiory and the red centre, stopping for lunch in Erlunda and a picture making stop of Mount Conner. Parked up in the national park had a sunset viewing of Uluru and cooked a stir fry for dinner. Played cards for the evening and jumped into a swag, not using a sleeping bag anymore as it was too hot at night.
Next morning, up at 5am for a sunrise viewing of Uluru (bit like the night before to be honest), before driving up to the rock and completing two walks, on 9kms round the base and another, 2kms to look at a watering hole. I actually think the rock looks better from a distance and did wonder why my knees were aching somewhat while walking... A stop for an ice cream and then back to camp for lunch and a swim in the pool before hiding from the sun for the afternoon and a sunset viewing of the Olgas, more rocks, used to be a part of the same range as Uluru. Spag Bol for dinner, more cards and a swag to sleep in.
Day 7, up at 4.30 for sunrise at Uluru / The Olgas (long days now...) before a 7.5km trek through the Olgas. Probably wise as we did manage to just about beat the sun. Got showered, had lunch, and was back on the highway about 12.30.Just before 4 we arrived at the Kings Canyon Resort for more pool action (water polo, German speakers vs the allies) and a barbie before heading a couple of kilometers into the bush to our campsite. Most people chose to sleep in tents here as there were dingoes everywhere. Not dangerous to us (too big to eat), but they like to run off with interesting smelling objects like shoes and pants. Anyway, while in our kitchen shack playing yet more cards, we saw a f**king big huntsman spider. I chose to sleep with the dingoes. On top of my swag as it was too hot to get inside. I lived to tell the tale.
Final day, up at 5.20 for brekkie and a walk through Kings Canyon. Probably the nicest walk as we avoided pretty much all the blazing sun. Lunch back at the resort, and a 500km drive up to Alice Springs, only broken by a toilet break (where I bought some Camel Jerky, rather good), arriving in town some time around 5pm. A shower later we all met up in a nearby back packers bar to remeniss about our adventures. And read through the papers people had bought. And then have to retell the story to other tour groups who recognised yours truly from the papers. And have a few beers on the company boss who turned up to find out what actually happened. And then a stumble to bed, not to a swag.
Toms tours, Toms tours what ya gonna do when they come for you....