On Tuesday we left Gracetown via Candy Cow fudge factory to buy some honeycomb and chocolate caramels before also making a quick drop in at Busselton to see the southern hemisphere's longest timber jetty (1.84km!)…weather wasn't great though so we didn't walk all the way to the end as we needed to get back to Perth to return the camper. Trying to ease our time with the bags we went to our hostel first in the Northbridge district of Perth. Once we negotiated the one-way street system w checked in to Britannia on William then headed over to Apollo. They were having big refurb done though so upon our arrival the offices were empty and stripped bare causing Hel to panic that they'd taken everything and disappeared with our bond money. We were soon directed to some porta-cabins out the back though where we spoke to a brand new manager and let him know the problems we'd endured with the camper and that we wanted to claim back some food ruined by the fridge (which after the first day remained between -5 and -15!) and a meal or two for having to eat out. He quite quickly obliged and was very apologetic and friendly, adding what we were asking for up to $140 and then bumping that up to $200 for our "general pain and suffering" (his words!) which was a great result. We jumped on a bus back to town to the hostel which was in a good location but not all that nice so we headed straight back out so as to not have to spend time in our room. Having used all the food we'd bought for the camper week we needed to find somewhere to eat and eventually settled on a Mexican restaurant which was very popular with the locals and a good change to our diet. Unsure how to fill more time we sought out a cinema (only one in the whole centre of Perth, which happened to have a special offer on entrance prices that night) but the only film on wasn't showing until 9pm and it was only 7.30pm. Back to the hostel then for a quick shower and re-pack ahead of our flights the next day before heading back to the cinema to see Anonymous (film with Rhys Ifans asserting that Shakespeare didn't write his work…pretty good). Found a first use for the sleeping bag liners and tried to get some sleep.
Our flight the next day was easy enough, under 3 hours over to Alice Springs where we got a taxi over to the Heavitree Gap Lodge we'd booked for the first two nights on the outskirts of Alice Springs town centre. We got there and up to the room which was really nice and a welcome relief after the previous night's hostel (and we'd got an online deal so was the same price as the hostel, but SO much better). It's a motel and camp site but has a pool, restaurant, bar etc too. Their main feature however is being at the bottom of a section of the McDonnell ranges and every night between 5-7 wild rock wallabies come down and can be fed by guests. So we watched them hop around for a bit before getting a quick dinner deal at the local tavern where everyone working was English! And which Hel likened to being in somewhere from Crocodile Dundee.
On Thursday we headed into town on the free shuttle laid on by motel and explored Alice a bit. It's pretty small and has loads of aborigines around which contrasts to WA. Went to a gallery and museum for aboriginal art which was cool and read a lot of info there on their culture. We also checked out some of the hostel accommodation in town, which was a chore in itself as it was SO hot, as we had to make a decision as to where we wanted to spend the next 3 days. Fortunately for us and our preference at staying put for more than one or two nights, the hostels would have cost around the same price as the deal we have here at the Heavitree so we extended our room here. Returned to a chilled evening back at the motel and BBQ'd some meatballs to accompany our final packs of noodles! Friday was just a blisssful day lounging by the pool all day ahead of the trip we'd booked for Saturday in 36 degree sun, which also allowed time for Hel to catch up on her journal. We had BBQ'd some Meat Rissoles for dinner alongside some jacket spuds and beans, which was a lovely feast before attempting to get an early night ahead of our adventures the next day (although the movie channels foiled our early bedtime as Benjamin Button was on, and then we were woken earlier than intended by the disco resonating from a room beneath us.)
So Saturday we got up very early (530am) for our pick up to head to Uluru (Ayer's Rock). 4 hours by coach even from Alice Springs! Really good guides Matty and Tic took it in turns to drive the bus and inform us on the history, geology and botany of the areas we passed and they helped to make it a really special day. First we saw Mount Connor (aka the fake Uluru as it looks very similar and caused by same tectonic event) and nearby salt plains. Then onto Kata Tjuta another awesome natural rock formation and had a walk into one of the canyons before back to timetable and across to the Aboriginal Culture centre and had a look around (as well as an icee and ice cream!) although could not take any pictures as the aborigines see their art and the spirit of Uluru as being too special. Soon enough it was time to head to Uluru properly despite having been able to see it for a while. Got to the base and had a couple of walks with the two guides, explaining how the formations and marks on Uluru were explained in aboriginal culture and played a key role for them. Having been awesome weather all day (and in excess of 38 degrees without a cloud in the sky) it started to cloud over slightly so they made decision to have the BBQ dinner early at a secret spot they favoured away from the tourists they detested (apparently by choosing that particular tour we became adventurers and free-thinkers = not tourists!) Food was great (BBQd hot dogs, salad and champagne) and was slightly away from the Uluru base so a pretty awesome view too. Then joined the crowds at normal sunset location but unfortunately it had clouded over too much to be worthwhile. We did however buy a print directly from an aboriginal artist who was there, which is cool. All that remained was the long journey back to Alice. Interesting to see a few animals on the way back in the headlights (kangaroo, cattle, mice, rabbits, possums…). Had one stop at a roadhouse where in the toilets was the biggest spider I have ever seen sitting on its web hanging from the ceiling! Eventually back to Heavitree just after midnight. Long day but really good and well worth it.
Today the clouds are still lingering so again we're happy to still be at Heavitree as they have an indoor reptile show to go and see as well as lots of movies on and the Aussie Apprentice! Tomorrow we are off to the East coast where we aim to start our bus tour from Cairns after a week or so of exploring. Hope 11/11/11 was a lucky day for you all!