It was a slow start to this part of the tour, when we departed from Alice Springs at 12noon. the group was larger than from Darwin to Alice, meaning less room on the bus, but more people to potentially get along with!
The first day was pretty much just driving, we drove around 450km to get to Kings Creek Station, where we were to spend our first night.. first night in the swags! This caused some concern with a couple of the groupies, who hadn't realised that a swag is basically just a big, waterproof, canvas sleeping bag with a thin mattress in it and that similarly to a sleeping bag, your body is inside it but your head is exposed. There IS a flap you can put down, over your head, to protect it but I decided to go brave and exposed and was thrilled that I did when, waking up at successive points throughout the night, seeing the sky darker and darker and filled with even more stars each time, it was great!
Our destination for the first day of the tour was Kings Canyon, a series of canyons and rock stacks and towers reminiscent of Aztec ruins or something. We got up at the ripe old time of 4am in order to be there to complete the 3hour walk before 10.30am, when the heat would become unbearable for walking in. It was a good old hike, lots of leaping up steep scrabbly rock steps and then the view from the top was just awsome, could see in the rock patterns from where the waves had once created ripples, zillions of years ago when the entire area was covered by ocean; incidentally how the canyon formed: there was sand, the ocean came up over it, compacted it down into layers. The earths crust moved, the water receded, some bits were thrust up at angles into the air. Water and wind eroded bits, other bits stayed... ta-da, big stacks and canyons! It was expained a bit better than that but I have not the blog writing enthusiasm to expand today.
After the Kings Canyon hikey, we went back to the camp, packed up and drove to Uluru campsite where we would spend the next two nights. Partway along the road, we were told to look out for 'uluru', with a prize for the first person to spot it.. it was a trick! With the immense Mt Connor looming up on the horizon, which did look like the 'ru from a long way away. Mt Connor is actually nearly the same size as uluru, but apparently it's lack of fame is due to its being a lot more boring to look at, not nearly so appealing a rosy colour and with little sacred significance to the local aboriginals. After lunch, the REAL Uluru appeared. Very immense and very impressive, it IS a big rock. It actually looked a bit differnet shape to on the famous pictures, a little more rounded and not quite as wide. Apparently most of the pics of it are taken from one angle so it really doesn't always resemble that iconic image.
We got to watch a sunset from a lookout near the camp, which was more of a sunset over our destination for the next day, Kata Tjuta or the Olgas.
Another 4am start the next morning to hike around Kata Tjuta (meaning "many heads"), 36 big round lumps of up to 236m high. They were formed of mud with rocks embedded in it, got pushed upwards by plate movement etc. the hike was awesome, hard going and hot by the end, intersting to see all different pictures in the rock, where there were cracks or holes or whathaveyou.
We visited the Uluru cultural centre, which was really interesting, with all info about the different reasons why it is sacred for the local people and bush tucker (like sucking the honey-filled abdomen off of a honey ant *shudder* and eating roasted Skinks. mmm.). also made a big deal of the reasons why the aboriginal people don't like tourists to climb uluru (basically its super sacred to them wiht lots of dreamtime and creation stories attached and tourists are living a big dirty footprinted scar on it).. I had already decided long ago not to climb it, but if I hadn't then the cultural centre would have persuaded me. Interestingly, the only people that climbed it in our group were the three koreans, think this is due to the way australia is marketed in korea, with "climb the mighty uluru" being a big selling point, and something that people back home almost 'expect' them to come home having done.
We watched sunset over the rock (from the angle that most of the piccies are taken from) and it was impressive! We had wine and cheese and olives while we sat and watched and it was all very sophisticated.
The next morning was finally time to do the walk around the base of uluru, which is something like 8km. We started at 6am so as to be done by the time the heat of the day set in. Uluru is frickin MASSIVE up close! It is 360m high, bright teracotta-y red, not unlike the cliffs of devon. And its not nearly as smooth as you'd think from the pics, it is pitted and wavy with inlets and out-bumbs and caves and cracks and chasms and chunks missing and weird markings and stuff. All of which actually make it a lot more interesting, the variations in it are great! The walk was lovely, the sun was just coming up and cast this golden glowing light on the rock and interesting shadows, and the infuriating flies were not quite yet out in full force.. plus for once, I had actually remembered to take my head-fly-net, that my friend Joan gave to me after kakadu, and it was super-effective at preventing me from being driven insane by the flies.
After our walk we were back in the bus for the longest day driving, 750k to Coober Pedy, through the outback. It was long! As we neared the pedy, the landscape began to be dotted with heaps of dirt, from excavations, it looked a little bit like a scene from mars or somewhere! It was an interesting place, with 60% people living underground in houses dug into the sides of hills. It looked more like a quarry than a town, every front garden had a mine shaft and heap of rubble in it; apparently opals are not a reliable source of income so a lot of opallers have day-jobs too then dig in their spare time.
That eve, we had pizza then off to the only nightclub in coober pedy, which was actually pretty cool with some very retro tunes and a discoball on the celing! The next morning, we were up at 7.30 and deposited onto heaps of rubble, to 'noodle' for opals, basically just sifting through to try to find anything shiny that might have been overlooked... most people found something to get excited about but having not been told what opal looked like, we weren't even sure what we were looking for (maybe that was part of the plan to give us less chance of striking opal)! AFTER the tour around the opal museum, where we discovered that most of our 'shiny' things were in fact, potch, colourless and therefore worthless, opal.
Our opalistic expectations exhausted, we had another long drive ahead of us, towards the coast. We stopped along the way at one of a number of salt lakes which, contrary to their name, have no lake in them! They were all dried up huge white expanses of salt, left over from when the ocean covered the land here, but many have been dry for up to 20years as they usually only fill up with floodwater flowing down from queensland and the north as rainfall in the area is not high enough to fill them. So they were hot and dry and salty and were were harrassed by the MOST numerous and persistant flies I have come accross, they drove me to distraction! I resorted to waving a stick aroundabout my head and infront of my face and accidentally scratched my eye and cheek with it :(
Later that day, we hit the coast again! The sea was a beautiful and welcome sight and we were thrilled to discover that it was still warm and summary in Port Germein, a small seaside town. Our last night in swags was halloween, but no mishaps occurred apart from most of us being bitten mercilessly by mossies... the ONLY drawback of a swag.
Sunday we motored into the beautiful rolling green hills of South Australia. After over a week of outback landscape, I found myself gazing greedily out of the window, drinking it in.. it was simply the most beautiful sight for sore Devon eyes since my arrival in Aus, it was very south-of-france, with big trees and sheep and fields of waving corn and vineyards. It gave me a nice warm fuzzy feeling, like i LIKE SA.
We did some wine tasting in the Clare Valley, and again the next day in the Barossa. All very sophis and I discovered that I actually DO like wine, think my tastebuds were misinformed by only having had cheap s*** wine before. It's still not as good as cider though!
And that was it, I am now in adelaide. After the first day mid-30s, it got icicles, necessitating me to buy some furry boots and thick, long, leggings. Ade is a NICE city. It's a bit posh and very middle-class, with loads of gorgeous old buildings and cathedrals and parks (I have HAPPY eyes!). The way into the city is pretty ugly through endless industrial stuff but once in the centre, it's very pleasing. I coudl spend a week or two here.
Plan had been to get work in SA but on phoning a few places and being told that the work was starting in one or two weeks, I hurriedly booked myself onto the great ocean road for sat so I have 4days in Adelaide then do the 3day tour, then have 4-days in melbourne then I will stay in melbourne for a few days and as SOON as the hostel I want to go to for fruit picking has work, in teh next couple weeks, I will jump on a bus back here. This is better than sitting around in adelaide kicking my heels, for sure.
So, with only 4days in this city, I got on with the business of seeing stuff (Glenelg:cold and windy, Haigh's Chocolate Factory Visitor Centre:YUM, Hahndorf:German, The Casino:$$$, St Peters Cathedral:Peaceful, The Museum of SA:REALLY good! and then this afternoon the SA Art Gallery, which was also pretty cool). I'm not in TOO much of a rush to do stuff, as I will definitely be returning here for at least a day on my way from melbourne to Berri when the work appears.
That's it then! Looking forward to the GOR, and looking forward to melbourne and looking forward most to getting back to Berri and starting work, I'm so frickin BAD with money when I have it, I'm WAY better at saving when I have no choice but not to spend!